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The George Car

Topics:  Walmart
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

The George Car

Bill Crittenden
The Crittenden Automotive Library
May 25, 2011

"You've bought yourself a George car." Jeremy Clarkson said this to Richard Hammond when Richard bought a Dino 265 that had Ferrari badges attached to it by its previous owner.

For the Americans who may not be aware, Walmart bought British chain store Asda, and with it acquired the George brand of discount clothing.  Why he equated the Ferrari-designed and Ferrari-built yet Dino-branded car with a store brand of good quality basic clothing (I have a lot of George shirts myself) is something I can't figure out, but then it came from Jeremy Clarkson.  Personally, if I were going to insult the "knockoff" quality of a Ferrari-badged non-Ferrari car, I would have equated it with Goach, the knockoff version of Coach bags.

Walmart's store brands include Great Value foods, George menswear, Equate bath & body products, Puritan undergarments, and dozens of others.  What if it included cars?

Now, Walmart's stores are big enough without trying to become a full-service auto dealership on top of it, businesses which due to their complexity and requirements for specialized staff usually aren't bundled with other operations.

One thing Walmart is the best at is using volume and logistics to provide the basics of living for less money (remember, their ad line is currently "Save Money, Live Better").  So, how cheaply could they provide basic transportation?  A Hyundai Accent or Chevrolet Aveo kind of car, available at selected Walmart locations.  Say, the ones that already do auto services?

Now, I realize, Chevrolet and Hyundai dealers would not be happy to see their manufacturers signing on Walmart to compete directly with them.  But there are other car manufacturers that would be happy to sign on, manufacturers you've likely never heard of because the task of building a national network of dealers is just too great for most companies.

Remember Daewoo back in the late 1990's?  They sank their company building a huge national network of dealerships.  These days small company selling basic transportation cars by volume just doesn't have the resources to go national by signing on a thousand dealers and building a half million cars to fill those lots and buying splashy Super Bowl ads to sell them.  Even the established companies are struggling and cutting back (Chrysler just repaid it's government loans yesterday, and General Motors cut two brands recently-Saturn and Pontiac)  Those manufacturers can't do direct sales, either, thanks to state laws enacted decades ago to protect their small-business local dealerships.

What if Walmart was the dealer?  What if somewhere between the lawnmowers in lawn & garden and the auto service bays there were a row of scooters and small cars?  For as many "car guys" I know who would never ever consider driving such a vehicle, there are plenty of people who consider cars nothing more than a mode of transportation and treat purchasing one as an appliance on wheels.  There are drivers who would love to buy a small electric car like those made by Zap or Wheego or ZENN but don't have a dealership nearby.

The popularity of scooters increases with the price of gas, especially as it approaches $5 a gallon.  I've thought of it over the years.  However, there's the issue of the price of the scooter and how many trips of saving gas it would take to pay back the cost.  Even small towns have scooter dealers, but this is where Walmart's economy of scale could step in and make the cost of the scooters much less than the average small independent business could.  Which is how Walmart achieved success in the product lines it already sells.  The small town shops wouldn't be at a complete loss for business, someone will have to service all those new scooters puttering around town!

The benefit to small manufacturers is that their vehicles would be sold in a national network without them having to create it themselves from scratch.  The advantage to Walmart is that most of these small vehicles either get exceptional fuel mileage or are electric, helping Walmart's environmental image.  Having by far the least expensive and most efficient new vehicles in town would further the ideal of "Save Money, Live Better."

And then there are the license plate frames...have you ever noticed how many people leave the dealership frames on their cars?  Imagine hundreds of little fuel efficient vehicles with little blue plastic license plate frames that have the Walmart logo on them.  That's great for a company's image.

Of course, I suppose any major national retailer could try this, but I'm someone who's married to a Walmart associate, I appreciate their "Save Money, Live Better" philosophy (their low prices have helped my family through some tough times) and Jeremy Clarkson's "George Car" comment got me thinking about this, so I used Walmart as the example.  Sears could also be a good fit, as their connection to Sears Auto Centers for warranty work could be an advantage.  But not Target, I can't imagine the bad jokes on late night TV the first time a car with a Target logo on the back gets rear ended...

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