A friend of mine rented a Lotus Elise recently. For those who don't know, Lotus makes serious sports cars. This car just plain goes.

Lotus' particular strategy for making fast cars is not making big cars with big engines (1.8L I4). This car is tiny. And, more importantly, this car is really, really light. And that's its secret: it's a powerful engine pushing a small, light car.

Riding in that was a fun experience.

But to my point: I was curious what the actual weight was. Turns out right around 2,000 pounds. I am a fairly proud Mini owner, so I was curious how a Mini compares. I drive the base model (better gas mileage) but there is an "S" and then a "John Cooper Works" option that bumps the total power over 200 hp.

Lotus' goal is little weight and lots of power. In pounds / hp the Elise I rode in lands just under 10 lb / hp. The 2006 JCW Cooper S: 12 lb / hp. I thought that was pretty good. And, as a Mini driver, I'm pretty jazzed that they can attain this.

Mini Cooper But the point of my story is something else. On MSN's Autos site, they have snippets of the ConsumerReports review for some of the cars. I read the one for the Mini (my screengrab of same) and under "Recommended Alternatives," they listed the following:

  • Chrysler PT Cruiser
  • Honda Civic
  • Mazda RX-8

Three very different cars. The PT Cruiser is a retro-styled quasi-mini-van, the Civic is the defining econo-box compact, and the RX-8 is a small Japanese sports car. I'm guessing the retro-styling of the mini, the fact that it is a small car, and it is sporty gives it those comparisons.

It struck me as odd. If you visit the ConsumerReports recommendations for each of those cars, you get more expected results. For example, the RX-8 is compared to the Ford Mustang and the Nissan 350z: all sports cars.

I can see the a thread between each car listed and the Mini - but the Mini is the only one that combines those attributes in that particular blend:

  • Unusual styling
    When I mentioned the Civic to the Mini salesman, his comment: "That's so white bread."
  • Compact car: Fuel economy & size
  • Sporty: It's relatively zippy
    Lotus-zippy if you spring for the high-end and stick it to the environment (you sacrifice economy in the upper engines)

It seemed to me that having to stretch for comparisons was a good indicator of a well differentiated product. If people can see good qualities of other products in yours, but you've blended them in an unusual way - there might just be brass there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008, 12:00 AM

tagged: marketing, differentiation, cooper, johncooperworks, lotus, mini, ptcruiser, rx8, elise