How much should focus groups and public opinion factor into decisions as to what products a company should or should not offer? It is an interesting question to consider. On the surface it seems totally obvious. Clearly companies will manufacture what people want to buy. The problem with this theory is that as a rule the average consumer is hilariously ignorant about cars!
"Ignorant" may sound harsh but it is actually an understatement. I have a fun game that I like to play when I am bored at a car dealership (which is happening disturbingly often these days). Without being mean or condescending, join in a conversation with someone talking about a car and ask her/him why s/he likes it. Invariably you will hear someone mumble about whatever latest tech gadget the car has, perhaps how quiet it is, or worst of all that it is "green." However, when you press these potential car buyers about any of the actual substance of the car they know absolutely nothing. I have never met any "average consumer" who had even the vaguest notion of what torque is.
So if John Q. Public does not know the difference between torque and horsepower and thinks that any car that has a turbocharger must be inherently fast why should companies listen to him at all? The answer, of course, is that John Q. Public represents the lowest common denominator. Provided that they make a car that makes him happy, the auto-manufacturers will have satisfied 95% of their consumer base. It is clearly far cheaper to add a few more cup holders and a place to mount your iPad than it is to design a new engine. One might be tempted to think that this is only the case of people buying minivans and daily drivers. However, even people spending ludicrous amounts of money on supercars as a rule seem to be equally ignorant about cars and what makes a car a supercar. Most of the time if you ask these buyers why they chose Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Porsche, they will reply with an answer that excludes any mention of the features that make these cars outstanding.
Look! A proper transmission!
One of the important services that car shows provide is a way for companies to gauge the reaction to a car. Audi did just that when in 2008 they reveled the Audi R8 V-12 TDI. Many of you know the R8. In reality it was a rebodied as the Lamborghini Gallardo (VW group owns both Audi and Lamborghini). In the Lamborghini it came only with a glorious NA V-10. In the Audi it also came with a more affordable V8. Audi is famous for their racing diesels. They have won LeMans more times than another manufacturer in the last decade and all with diesels. Diesels make torque--lots of torque. Torque is the force that makes a car accelerate. It is the force that pushes you back in your seat. Diesels also tend to get far better fuel economy than gasoline powered cars. In 2008, Audi showed an R8 diesel supercar, which produced about 500hp and 740 lb ft of torque starting at 1700 rpm! Audi decided not to bring the car into production; there were simply not enough customers who appreciated that Audi had designed a supercar that turned 25 MPG.
In conclusion, the market doesn't know what it wants. For that to happen the buying public would have to know something about what they were buying. So just like in the fashion industry where the gods of fashion like Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld announce to the world what it is they should think is cool, we need an equivalent sage for the automotive realm. Instead of the fashion industry's Ralph Lauren or Karl Lagerfeld, the automotive industry has automotive journalists who write articles about actual relevant information. that is not understandable by most of the "average consumers." Therefore, I am suggesting that once a year someone should have a fancy show where s/he drives cars down a brightly lit stage and says, "This year yellow BMW M5's are cool." Nothing more, nothing less. As the selfless man that you all know me to be, I would like to take this opportunity to volunteer for this position.