September 27, 2009

(BN) Lamborghini, BMW Use Alphabet Soup in Name-Game Battle: Jason H. Harper

SePTSDpt. 24 (Bloomberg) -- This is an open letter to car manufacturers -- a request, even a plea. Stop with all the numbers.

I'm not talking about 0-to-60 times or horsepower ratings. I'm speaking of the gobbledygook, alphanumeric model names that more and more carmakers are using.

Consider this month's Frankfurt Auto Show, where we got a first look at new models and concept cars. For every cool, easily recognizable name like the Aston Martin Rapide, we saw many more like the Audi A3 1.2 TFSI and Lexus LF-Ch.

Are these cars or alphabet soup?

I feel like John Nash, the character in the movie "A Beautiful Mind," trying to ferret out hidden meanings in the wash of code. What is behind such encryption-worthy Frankfurt monikers as the RCZ HYbrid4, L1, BB1 or DS3?

Traditionally, upmarket European brands like Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and BMW relied on combinations of numerals and letters. But there was generally an internal, if hoary, logic behind the numbers, reflecting the size of the car or its engine.

The new Ferrari 458 Italia follows this thinking. Its 4.5- liter, eight-cylinder engine makes for the 458 designation. Inside baseball, but fair play.

The logic can get squirrelly. Lamborghini's Gallardo coupe is named after a bull, but the company prefers that the latest iteration be referred to as the LP 560-4.

Posterior Placing

The reason, clearly, is that the V-10 engine is placed longitudinally in the posterior (LP), and puts out 560 metric horsepower -- which is 552 horsepower the way we Americans measure it. The "4" stands for the number of driven wheels, an all-wheel drive. Duh?

To stir the murky waters, other brands have joined the alphanumeric game, including Lexus, Infiniti, Acura and now even Cadillac and Lincoln. Their naming conventions often aren't even tangentially connected to the engineering.

"The letters don't actually mean anything," said John Watts, senior manager of product planning at Acura, which makes the RDX. Acura once had models like the Integra and Legend, but dropped the names in favor of the more "upmarket" letter system in the mid-1990s.

"Studies showed that the Legend name was more highly recognized than the Acura brand itself," Watts said. "We wanted to change that, and over the years it has definitely worked. We're now in-line with the other luxury brands."

Acura sells the RDX, MDX, TSX, TL and RL. The ZDX crossover is up next.

Spectacular Clunkers

"It can be confusing," Watts admitted. "The older generation still struggles with it."

Once upon a time, American brands were known for the naming bravura of their big-block cars. Consider the Thunderbird, Barracuda, Charger and Firebird, not to mention keen alliterations like the Mercury Marauder and Hudson Hornet. The Lincoln MKT doesn't roll off the tongue quite the same.

There were spectacular clunkers. I half blame the death of conventional names on the Ford Aspire, a tin-can economy car with an unwittingly truthful name -- any consumer in their right mind would aspire for something better.

Other unfortunates included the Dodge St. Regis (spiffy!), Renault Le Car (yes, it's a car), Daihatsu Charade (ouch), Dodge Swinger Special (hey, it was the '70s) and Kia Optima (not so much). Entire marketing teams must have been fired.

"There have been some great cars with crappy names and crappy cars with great names," said Matt DeLorenzo, editor-in- chief of Road & Track magazine. "These days, companies prefer to stress their brand name rather than individual car lines. I'd like to see the names come back. We're poorer for their loss."

Alphanumeric Soup

Meanwhile, the fight for alphanumeric soup has become intense.

"You have to register them far in advance," said Watts. "Most of the good-sounding combinations have been taken."

Clearly, or maybe we wouldn't have wacky pilings-on like the RCZ HYbrid4, a concept car from Peugeot, or BMW's X6 xDrive50i and the Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTEC SUV. (Note the random capitalizations and deliberate misspellings -- cues perhaps from the world of hip-hop.)

At the Frankfurt show, the onset of electric and hybrid concept cars put some manufacturers in a playful mood. See the Citroen REVOLTE, Hyundai ix-Metro, VW E-Up! and Audi e-tron. (If any of these cars make production, the names probably won't.)

Isn't there a better way?

"The truly high-end cars still use names," DeLorenzo said. "Look at Bugatti and Bentley. Rolls-Royce is showing the Ghost at Frankfurt, and that's a great name. So maybe there's a chance we'll swing the other way."

One can hope, because the alphanumeric system is beginning to feel like a nuclear confrontation -- a showdown where all models end up sounding the same. So let me make a suggestion. Gentlemen, the next time you're looking to name a new model, consider this one: eNUFF.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at .

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September 22, 2009

(BN) Rents in the World's Most Expensive Shopping Streets Fall Most Since 1985

Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The global recession is taking its toll on even the priciest shopping streets, where rents have plunged the most in at least 24 years, according to Cushman & Wakefield Inc., the largest closely held real estate broker.

Manhattan's Fifth Avenue ranked as the world's most expensive retail address for the eighth straight year, even as annual rents dropped 8.1 percent in the 12 months through June, to $1,700 a square foot, the New York-based company said today in a report. Rents in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay declined 15 percent to $1,525. On the Avenue des Champs-Elysees in Paris, they were little changed at $1,009.

"The last 12 months have been one of the most difficult periods ever for the retail sector," John Strachan, global head of retail at Cushman & Wakefield, said in an e-mailed statement. "The impact has been much more significant as the full impact of the downturn has been realized."

Shop rents are falling worldwide as household and consumer spending contract and unemployment rates rise, prompting retailers to curb expansion plans. Financial companies have fired 286,400 workers in the past year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The average rent in the 274 shopping streets monitored across 60 countries by Cushman & Wakefield fell 23 percent to $213 a square foot from $276 a square foot a year earlier.

Rents declined in 147 locations, the most since Cushman & Wakefield first published its survey in 1986. They were little changed on 76 streets and rose on 51.

Asia-Pacific Slides

The biggest regional decrease was in the Asia-Pacific, with rents down 15.1 percent. In central and eastern Europe, they slid 14.7 percent. They dropped 12 percent in the U.S. and Canada and 5.8 percent in Europe as a whole.

"A significant resumption of rental growth in the short term is unlikely, at least until the wider global economy and labor market show firmer signs of recovery," Anthea To, a Cushman & Wakefield retail analyst, said in the statement.

Rents in less profitable areas may continue to fall as retailers focus on the places that are most in demand, she said.

Milan's Via Montenapoleone, where annual rents rose 1.5 percent, ranked as the fourth-priciest street in the survey, at $887 a square foot. It was followed by Tokyo at $776 and London's New Bond Street at $768. The most expensive streets in Zurich, Dublin, Munich and Sydney rounded out the global top 10.

Munich's Kaufingerstrasse jumped to ninth place from 12th after annual rents rose 7.1 percent to $470 a square foot, the biggest increase of any street in the top 10 cities.

German Affluence

"Munich's affluent consumers and the region's continuing prosperity make its prime pitches a No. 1 target for international brands seeking to expand into the German market," Inga Schwarz, Cushman & Wakefield's head of research in Germany, said in the statement.

Rents on Dublin's Grafton Street tumbled 23 percent, the most of any of the 10 costliest addresses.

They surged as much as 111 percent in Sao Paolo. Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam recorded the biggest jump in the Asia- Pacific region, at 50 percent.

Mumbai had the steepest decline worldwide, at 64 percent, the broker said.

Other shopping districts in the survey included New York's Madison Avenue, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, Moscow's Tverskaya, Shanghai's East Nanjing Road and Vienna's Kaertnerstrasse.

Cushman & Wakefield's list of the 10 most expensive addresses is based on a ranking of countries by their priciest street. A country can't have more than one street in the top 10.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Woodifield in Edinburgh at .

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September 7, 2009

Time to Get Classy: Picking A Winning Luxury Brand - Consumer Nation -

As the recession eases and it becomes less painful for consumers to
part with their cash, brands that maintained a prestigious image
through the downturn will perform stronger than their counterparts who
slashed prices.