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Future Cars and the Search for White Space - The Lohdown

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 5/18/2015 Edward Loh

Welcome to the future cars issue ( get your July 2015 issue of Motor Trend on newsstands starting on May 29 ), our showcase of what carmakers are working on now and what is coming around the bend. Many of the vehicles you'll see in the pages that follow are attempts to find "white space," that is, a new vehicle segment to exploit.

Research

The search for white space is fundamentally a marketing exercise. Despite the terminology, auto manufacturers aren't looking to fill some perceived void or satisfy consumer need; it's the other way around. The concept is to create a product so desirable, consumers must have it, even though they never knew they wanted it. Think Apple and its parade of white space-filling iDevices.

Will the Mercedes-Benz GLE “coupe” be a hit, or a miss like Acura’s ZDX?

While the search for new markets can produce legitimate hits such as the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Ford F-150 Raptor, it can also result in head-scratchers such as the Nissan CrossCabriolet and BMW X6. Manufacturers often use concept cars as a way to explore potential white spaces, as Mercedes-Benz did in 2003 with the Vision CLS—the concept that birthed the peculiar four-door coupe segment. Hyundai's Santa Cruz concept on page 52 is an excellent example of another exploratory white space walk.

But does the world really need a Fiat 500X or Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe ? Are people really clamoring for what Rolls-Royce is cooking up?

If you're an automaker, the answer is: It's worth the gamble. The U.S. economy continues to rebound on the back of retail auto sales. As I write this, the industry posted its third best sales month since the recession. GM showed a first quarter profit for 2015 of $945 million versus $125 million for Q1 in 2014. Consumer confidence is high, gas prices have stayed low, and business is booming.

Car manufacturers large and small are looking to capitalize on this demand with entirely new vehicles for even the tiniest of segments ( Aston Martin DBX, anyone?). The model line segmentations and extensions of some manufacturers, a conceptual cousin to seeking out white space, are dizzying. Just look at what BMW is doing with the iconic 3 Series. It used to be you had your choice of sedan or coupe, maybe a wagon. Now, along with the 3 Series sedan and 4 Series coupe (which birthed its own 4 Series Grand Coupe sedan), you can have a 3 Series wagon, a 3 Series Gran Turismo, X3 SUV, and X4 SUV "coupe." The latter four all offer four doors, a hatchback, seating for five, a turbo four-cylinder engine and AWD, yet BMW will tell you they cater to completely different buyers. It's all psychographics, they say, and you know what? They're half right.

The good news is that if what's in the white space doesn't make any sense to you, it just needs to be erased. Honda and Acura experimented with the Accord Crosstour and ZDX, Scion with the iQ. Remember when Ford tried with the Freestyle/Taurus X and Dodge added a Magnum SRT-8? All gambled, lost, and moved on to the next.

2008 Dodge Magnum Srt8 Front Three Quarters© Provided by MotorTrend 2008 Dodge Magnum Srt8 Front Three Quarters So take a careful, critical look through the Future Cars feature to come and let me know what you think on Twitter @edloh. Just because a white board concept makes it all the way to the metal on the showroom floor doesn't mean it's meant to be.

Future Cars and the Search for White Space - The Lohdown

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2016 Mercedes Benz GLE63 S AMG 4Matic Coupe Side Motion View© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mercedes Benz GLE63 S AMG 4Matic Coupe Side Motion View
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