Bahar Bozdogan

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Can luxury brands (specifically cars) be at the leading edge of sustainability?

To drive a Rolls Royce, a Maybach or a Mercedes S Class would be a message that the owner couldn’t care less about gas overconsumption and the warming of the atmosphere.

The question is to what extent can luxury brands incorporate sustainability demands and yet remain luxury?

To be more specific:
What is the challenge for premium cars while promising a Sustainable future?

  • Aug 6 2012: Sustainability is the fancy word for the perpetuation of a social good. The luxury market of goods and services, itself, is based on exclusivity. Those affluent few that can afford luxury items do so because it sets them apart and help define their social station in life. "I have the means" so therefore I will make or purchase this luxury item.

    With that said, if an auto manufacturer were able to produce a very high end car based on sustainable features and green thinking and still make it exclusive such as a limited run or qualifications to even purchase the car. Everyone wants something they cannot have.

    Also, sustainability is also not necessarily only for the end product. It is also the way in which a product is produced usually at a premium on new manufacturing processes to reach sustainability. This cost would be passed along to the consumer in some way.

    I would look for the luxury brands begin transitioning to green processes and probably not as much of the end product.
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    Lejan .

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    Jul 18 2012: 'Luxury' and 'sustainability' are contrary towards each other. Anything else is just marketing.
  • Jul 18 2012: Let's see if some of the EV startup companies like Tesla survive to prove or disprove this theory. So far it is leaning toward not.
  • Jul 18 2012: In my opinion, it's not impossible for luxury cars to be at the leading role of sustainability.

    I turned to the Oxford dictionary for the definition of "luxury", which goes ''a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense''. This definition doesn't mention anything on sustainability, which indicates a possible integration of the both characters you talked about.

    Although internal combustion engine still dominates at the current stage (or even in next fifty years, depends on technological development), many auto manufacturers, including some luxury brands, are massively investing on the research of next generation, environment-friendly vehicles. However, the current cost to be enough sustainable is too high to be feasible for economical cars. But this is not so much a problem for luxury brands. And some rich guys today are willing to show that they have a conscience for the environment. So, there's market.

    And don't forget that a car does not only consist of an engine --- the manufacturing process of the other components could be made sustainable too. And that will further add the value of a car.
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      Jul 18 2012: You make a very important point here which I left out. Luxury brands, and consumers, should not have a problem paying a little extra for new technology, they shoudl be the target market. The fact that luxury consumers seem to have a problem paying for sustainabillity was the issue I was addressing. I did only make half the argument.

      Rich men, and attractive women, have an important role to play in encouraging this movement though, especially in a "capitalist" society, where the government is unlikely to get involved in promoting sustainable living. I think Tesla and the green BMW's, aren't producing the extra sex appeal culturally, that they probably deserve, and that is unfortunate... but only half the story.
  • Aug 2 2012: Also, wouldn't smaller contributions from everyone (think everyday items) make a far more plausible, greater and more lasting contribution to sustainability? Smaller contributions undeniably have the potential to make a big impact.
  • Aug 1 2012: While such luxury brands have the potential to be at the leading edge of sustainability because of their premium pricing and often high profit margins, it will depend on the extent to which they have to compromise their design stands. With such luxury brands, aesthetics often triumph over environmental factors. You just have to look at the electronics sector, take for example the new iPad or the new MacBook Pro with Retina display. These products have premium prices and are some of the most aesthetically designed products on the market, however, both products are very difficult to recycle at their end of life.
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    Jul 23 2012: Good point, agree on the shift to green solutions amongst the affluent. BUT I do think that we have to look at sustainability from a wider perspective - particularly for high end.

    Sustainability could mean encouraging companies to act in a democratic way. It could be about improving our personal space & time and providing cultural value. Or the product could be improved by using 'ethical' components.

    It goes beyond the usual 'care for environment'. It is constantly evolving.
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    Jul 22 2012: I think that's already happening. Look at the Tesla Model S. Technological advances always are seen in more expensive products first. Luxary cars are all about showing status and impressing people. There was a time when show a complete disregard for the price of fuel was a sign of wealth and prestige. Those days are over. Now, people like to show off they're green technology.

    I used to work for a company that installed geothermal heating systems. Our customers were very wealthy. They would use it to heat mansions, pools, even driveways. They want to have an impressive house and say, "its heated with geothermal".
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    Jul 22 2012: IN MY VIEW:
    Today's luxury is tomorrow's common necessity, this is how the market behaves. Poor always use the technology already used by rich. So in order to maintain sustainability of demands they need to sustain innovation. In simpler term they will have to redefine the word luxury time and again. This has been going on and will continue.
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    Jul 19 2012: I feel in the future the only thing sustainable about a luxury vehicle is its price, with crowd-sourcing, open sourcing, and new innovations everyday,a time will come when luxury companies will not be able to compete with communities of people developing ideas for sustainable vehicles. So I see luxury companies not focusing so much on sustainability( or if they do, they will probably borrow community ideas and add fancy names to make it seem better), rather I see them focusing on maintaining image, performance, fancy gadgetz, butter soft leather, and high prices, to remain luxury. Luxury cars and sustainability are almost like oil and water, sure they will spend time with each other, but deep down in side they hate each other.
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    Jul 19 2012: Bahar, For a moment let me expand the box. The wealthy that you speak of are putting a ego on display and could care less about the future ... it is all about here, now, and more importantly ME. Historically the rich acquire the hard to obtain and therefore "valuable". The English royals wore purple as the source for the dye was in India and not available to those without money and means. In the movie the bucket list the rich drank coffee that were derived from cat crap limited and expensive. Kobe beef limited and expensive. The right pate, caviar, special drinks. How about art. Limited painting by the masters are in demand. The largest diamond. This is a game of one-ups-manship that is played on the big stage and all cry out LOOK AT ME.

    Look at the "stars" when they go "out for the night". They wear a silly looking dress that could never be worn anywhere else, will only be wore once, and cost millions. Car makers, booze makers, jewelers, designers, real estate people all laugh all the way to the bank. They, like the rich, do not care about the future ... thier game is to rake it in while it is available ... sould familiar ... ME ... again.

    The problem is that these people talk about green and sustainability but could really care less. IE; Human rights actors, Al Gore the environment, the president and the little people, this is all hype to keep them in the news and more importantly in power and above you and me. These people have all lended their voice but never their money. Obama is a multi millionaire with a aunt on welfare and a uncle on welfare and both in the country illegally. Help the little people ... LOL ... he will not even help family. What a fake.

    I could go on and on but I am sure you get the point.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Jul 19 2012: I think we also need to look at the definition of 'luxury' as the ambition and aspiration to possess and experience the best.

    Now, what is 'the best'? The challenge in this new world is to identify such values. We would all agree that the cultural value of success symbols have suddenly changed. e.g. a Porsche Cayenne used to be a status statement in 2007 whereas in 2009 it became a social embarrassment with the economic downturn.

    Maybe we can look at it by posing the question: How can luxury brands truly understand what is behind the new phase of consumer's dreams and aspirations?

    Sustainability is a necessity for leaders of luxury, it gives an opportunity to anticipate people's dreams and aspirations for a better quality of life. Lexus makes a brilliant example by only concentrating on the 'green' element of sustainability. On the other hand the pitfall of this could be that luxury companies are judged by 'who they are'. They MUST perform well. In effect they should create their own world, beyond luxury.
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      Jul 19 2012: Awesome point. I think that people tend to have a very narrow-minded view of what luxury is, and if it's opened up to included whatever is socially perceived as "best," that allows luxury a lot more room to be interesting and relevant. I've always found luxury goods to be a powerful reflection of the zeitgeist, and sustainability is certainly it.
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    Jul 17 2012: In short... No.

    The main obstacle for premium cars, is culture... One specific negative aspect of Western Culture, specifically. Enjoying rarity, for its own sake. It's actually a built in part of human nature, and it's connected predominantly to sex drive strangely enough.

    You see, a Rolls Royce, and a Bentley, don't cost a million dollars, because they're worth a million dollars. They cost a million dollars, and get away with an enormous profit margin, specifically because they cost a million dollars. In the words of Dave Chappelle "A man doesn't drive a nice car, because men like driving nice cars... A man drives a nice car, because women like men who drive nice cars".

    In other words. If you buy a million dollar car, women, in western culture, will sleep with you, simply because you drive a million dollar car. A Rolls Royce, is absolute proof, that a man has earned enough money, to waste a million dollars on a Rolls Royce. It's a prop which identifies wealth. In that, gas mileage just adds to the value... It proves you can afforde to drive a million dollar car that gets gallons to the mile.

    When a Prius gets you laid... Mercedes will get in the game and throw their money around : )
    • Jul 18 2012: I think you made a point that "rich man in western society wouldn't agree luxury car brands to be at the leading part of sustainability" instead of "luxury car brands cannot be at the leading part of sustainability".

      In other words, I think you only touched on a single aspect of the issue, which is not reasonable enough to arrive at the conclusion you made.

      But I agree with you on the human nature part. ; )