How Focus Groups Failed Aztek, PT Cruiser – General Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp. focus groups forecast product success

How Focus Groups Failed Aztek, PT Cruiser – General Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp. focus groups forecast product success – Brief Article

Gerry Kobe

The irony of the slow-selling Pontiac Aztek and sold-out Chrysler PT Cruiser is that both represent a process that failed. In the case of Aztek, the product development team and numerous focus groups failed to alert management that the styling was a turn-off to the very audience it targeted. And in the case of PT Cruiser, Chrysler’s planners missed the fact that the car had a much broader appeal than originally intended. The bottom line: neither car is selling to plan.

“If I were going to have a problem, I’d rather have Chrysler’s,” laughs Kay Polit, principal at A.T. Kearney’s Costa Mesa, Calif., office. “But neither problem is good. The sad part is that the whole industry has been down this road at one time or another because of the same faulty process.”

Polit points out that the root cause of the problem is the lack of honest information flowing from focus groups up to the executive level. What’s the son for it? By the time focus groups are done, so much money has already been spent on the program that it would be a career killer for a program representative to inform management that the vehicle missed the mark.

“Ideally, GM should have stopped Aztek in its tracks when it did so poorly in clinics,” Polit says. “They might have been able to save it if they changed a few pieces of sheet metal, but instead somebody edited the data they got and senior management was making decisions on some pretty intensive editorialization. So now the carrying cost of a very large days’ supply and the cost of incentives will far outweigh what it would have cost to fix it early. Selling the vehicle at this point is probably going to cost them more than it did to design and build it.”

In Chrysler’s case, focus groups told it that the PT was a slam-dunk success, but Chrysler viewed it as a niche car and moved very cautiously on volume.

“Manufacturers tend to scrutinize niche vehicles harder,” Polit offers. “The data was staring them in the face, but they rationalized their decision because they know it’s hard to sell a niche vehicle to somebody that doesn’t want one. A car like a Toyota Camry is easy to move by adding incentives because it has a broad market appeal, but niche buyers are looking for something specific and those buyers are limited. Chrysler scrutinized too hard and didn’t come up with the right magnitude.”

Polit says getting design concepts in front of consumers earlier and before so much investment is involved will go a long way toward resolving the industry’s problem. She applauds GM’s efforts with its virtual clinics and says other manufacturers need to take advantage of the research that can be done online. Suppliers too should clinic new products and features.

And most importantly, any company bothering to do a clinic shouldn’t modify its data.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Cahners Publishing Company

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group