Receiving a press release from a renowned German carmaker led Iain Robertson to reflect on a sometime important aspect of humanity that may have been forgotten in a maelstrom of political, economic and health meanderings occupying our minds.
In literal terms, being loyal to somebody, or something, is a state of allegiance, of steadfastness, or even a sense of duty towards whatever it is that draws an individual, or groups of people, towards the subject. Feeling loyal creates a warm environment, perhaps even an appreciation that can lead to shared displays of faithfulness, commitment and even devotion. Loyalty can be, like love, both misunderstood and blind but it must be earned, like respect.
Living in apprehension of becoming my father, I am not alone in having my loyalties shaken to their foundations even by occasionally glacial societal shifts. Loyalty is respectful and often commands unquestioning obedience to ringfence its perceived value. In a broader sense, it is a state of mind that ought to be above and beyond reproach. However, its tonal quality has been eroded over the decades by many factors: easier access to information, brevity in truth, removal of barriers and excessive commercial pressures, among other influences.
Loyalty has become a generational issue. It has also become degenerational, when cracks are noticed in its purported fabric. While I place a high notional value on loyalty, I am also highly aware that I am not as overall loyal as I once used to be. Naturally, I have become as affected by the views and opinions of others through the wider availability of information, as the next person, although my demands for proof positive have increased accordingly and, when it is not forthcoming, or my steadfastness is not rewarded, my loyalty can ebb and flow.
The recent duplicitous behaviour of businessman-turned-leader-of-the-free-world, Donald Trump, creates a primary question about the integrity of loyalty. Having asked the question frequently about ‘In Whom We Trust’, while the sometime reality TV star and several times failed business executive appears to welcome presidential insurrection, even urging his ‘followers’ to breach the walls of The Capitol, it does leave you wondering if he would also welcome them to any one of his several high-end resorts with as much willingness. Trump’s appeal to the weak-minded by way of twisted commentary is a great reason to question loyalty most seriously. His Democrat ‘rival’, Joe Biden, not exactly free of criticism, has a near impossible task of reversing policies ahead of him.
When Ford Motor Company launched its Cortina model in late-1962, my father became a ‘Ford man’. He had been a ‘Merc man’ but he reverted to Ford, often referring to my paternal grandfather’s loyalty to the US-British vehicle manufacturer, which started with the Model T but progressed to Thames light vans for his farm-to-table Scottish butchery business, although even he had owned a Bugatti and an Austin Gypsy 4×4, the latter providing me with a taste for off-roading and early driving skills, the former for an appreciation of automotive beauty.
Cortina, as basic as it was, when compared to the unremitting complexity of today’s transport, became the nation’s best-seller in class, aided by a growing commercial reliance on the seeds of the company car and fleet sectors. Ford dealerships promoted loyalty, as if they were the only outlets capable of it. It worked, until the relentlessness of a government underwritten British Motor Corporation (BMC) drove a largely mindless spike into the heart of an industry that it had controlled worldwide only two decades earlier. The ubiquitous 1100/1300-series of Issigonis designed compact cars, using several model badges to widen its remit (Austin, Morris, Riley, Wolseley, MG and Vanden Plas), succeeded in its best-seller aims but also stretched the bounds of loyalty to snapping point, in the process highlighting that governments should never run enterprises, regardless of perceived employment benefits. Loyalty started to diminish hypocritically.
There was a time in a most forgiving post-WW2 Britain, when Mercedes-Benz, Adolf Hitler’s preferred brand of motorcar, attained a peak of consumer loyalty that was almost 90% repeat business dependent. Even as a schoolboy of the 1960s, I had inferred knowledge of a wartime period 15 years prior that had brought several nations to their knees. Was acquiring an expensive new Merc not a shot across the bows of Great British loyalty…that single quality that epitomised the British military defender of the faith? The erosion of loyalty was chipping away with the passing of time.
Yet, a teensy Czechoslovakian carmaker, Skoda, was also able to boast of incredibly high levels of customer loyalty, every bit as supportive as Merc, even with its rear-engined, rust-wilting, Communist controlled, bargain basement £500 (new!) motorcars. Packed with features not seen on regular ‘western’ European models, like a heater, twin-speed wipers and reclining seats, it sold a consistent 12,000 new cars annually in the UK. Marque loyalty had a relevance that Skoda all too infrequently alludes to today.
However, that German brand I mentioned earlier, which is BMW, has only recently introduced a customer loyalty programme known as ‘Inside Edge’. It describes it shamelessly as the ‘UK’s first company car driver loyalty scheme’, designed to engage drivers with the brand and make life on the go and at home that little bit easier. Poppycock!
In fact, it states without a twitch of conscience that company car drivers choose BMW with the same expectations as retail customers, although their experience with the brand is entirely different. BMW expects its ‘novel’ programme to change this and allow drivers to engage with it, on their terms, benefitting from four key areas: My Work, My Journey, My Life and My World. The programme offers exclusive partnerships and rewards, as well as thought-leadership content and business insights, even managing receipts and reimbursements, with complementary access to Expensify, a global expenses management system, to help keep track of costs while on the road.
Conclusion: Information is the only key with this form of ‘loyalty’. Naturally, it is worth it to BMW and any other brand attempting a replication, as there are sure, now, to be several from across the motor industry. Accepting the pandemic vaccination is a human choice but being led by a Bavarian ring-in-the-nose is not an act of true loyalty, be aware.