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Automakers Go Farther on Four Wheels with Cross-Branding

By Evelyn Kanter, July 9th, 2011

It's all about "branding" these days for automobile manufacturers and they've jumped in with both feet -- and four wheels -- to expand their images with unique products that go beyond t-shirts, key chains, and toy cars for kids.

Porsche may have started it 20 years ago with the launch of Porsche Design, famous for elegant and sporty watches, sunglasses, and luggage, even a mobile phone. Everything is sleek and pricey, just like a Porsche.

Lexus wants us to think of them as an eco-friendly manufacturer, so they have teamed with the four-star hotel chain Fairmont Hotels to design so-called "green suites." These eco-chic accommodations contain furniture upholstered with leather recycled from Lexus automobiles and organic mattresses and linens. Guests also can borrow a Lexus hybrid vehicle from the hotel.

Fairmont also has partnered with BMW to offer rugged and stylish BMW Cruise Bikes complimentary to guests in the U.S. and Canada. These are sturdy aluminum bikes suitable for city streets or country roads with an integrated brake routing system that lets riders stop on a dime, just like in four-wheel BMWs.

Audi also has gotten into the bicycle business, with the launch of a new line of hardwood bikes. Audi calls them "a work of art and a mode of transportation that blends beauty, performance and technology." It is a combination that doesn't come cheap.

Audi-branded bikes feature disc brakes and LED lighting in models ranging from eight-speed to 20-speed, and prices ranging up to $7,500. For that price, you could buy a motorcycle and get special treatment at participating Best Western Hotels that includes dedicated parking with a cleaning station, discounts on room rates, and more. Although the Ride Rewards program is in partnership with Harley-Davidson, I'm told that riders of other motorcycles can participate, too.

Audi and BMW are also using their name brands to cross into city architecture business, or at least, funding architects and designers to envision the city of the future. Recently, Audi sponsored a gallery exhibit of what the city of the future might look like envisioned by young international designers. One idea was to cover sides of buildings with grass, much like green roofs that are growing in popularity as an eco-friendly system that actually saves heating and cooling costs.

BMW has partnered with the Guggenheim Museum in New York City for an international exhibit exploring the challenges and ideas for the world's cities. This exhibit invites the public to make suggestions that will be included on a live, interactive digital screen. My suggestion was to institute "congestion pricing" for New York City, as already exists in cities such as London.

Chrysler has partnered with First National Bank of Omaha and MasterCard to launch a credit card that gives cardholders triple points for Chrysler, Fiat, Jeep, Dodge or Ram Truck parts or service. The card has no annual fee, and holders can redeem points for parts or service, as well as for travel and other products.

The Chrysler credit card can be used to buy Michelin footwear, slip-resistant footwear with treads that contact and grip the ground the same way as Michelin tires. Most definitely, branding does give manufacturers traction with customers.

Maybach -- a six-figure-priced luxury executive car -- got into the branding business with its own line of sunglasses. Like the Maybach, the glasses are in extremely limited distribution -- and with 14-carat gold trim, extremely expensive. Bentley has joined the fray, with a Supersports Limited Edition fountain pen and roller pen, produced by the high-end Italian maker Tibaldi, which will produce just 630 of each -- the number of horsepower under the hood of a Bentley Supersport. Writing instruments matched to other Bentley models have wood caps matching the dashboard burl.

Autonomous Driving: Our New Reality

01/23

Autonomous Driving: Our New Reality

Autonomous vehicles are on the road and being tested -- and predictions are that we're moving rapidly towards this reality. We contacted Ron Montoya, senior editor at Edmunds.com and Jeremy Anwyl, an independent auto industry consultant and analyst by email to get their take on the issues.

The Used Porsche Test-Drive: So Far, So Good

01/16

The Used Porsche Test-Drive: So Far, So Good

You may recall, in part one of this story, we'd set out to learn whether one could truly find happiness behind the wheel of a $15,000 used Porsche. To recap, we'd just acquired the cleanest, most mechanically sound 2005 Porsche Boxster S we could find.

Meet Rich Miller: Nissan's Avid Outdoors Truck Man

01/02

Meet Rich Miller: Nissan's Avid Outdoors Truck Man

Rich Miller is chief product specialist of Nissan Product Planning for Titan and Armada and is a life-long truck enthusiast. Miller has been with Nissan trucks for over 18 years, and he has an inside view of what a customer wants and needs in the truck market segment.

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