Home » My ‘Genius’ Idea For How Chinese Automakers Can Build Their Popularity In The U.S. Via Brand Partnerships And…Red Lobster?

My ‘Genius’ Idea For How Chinese Automakers Can Build Their Popularity In The U.S. Via Brand Partnerships And…Red Lobster?

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As Ryan Howard once explained to Batman, McDonald’s is not a burger business, but a real estate company. With holdings of more than $53 billion, that might be true. Ray Kroc learned early on that owning prime spots and leasing them to franchisees at a profit would make far more money than what he got from his cut of sales.

Indeed, nobody (or almost nobody) goes to McDonald’s because it has the absolute best product on offer. You go there because, well, it’s there. You’re hungry, you know it’s fast, it’s acceptable, but most importantly there’s usually a golden arches right in your path.

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Like it or not, cars are much the same way. Car people like most of us will ship some piece of crap across three states to have our dream machine; Jason famously had a little car he wanted imported to the docks and dragged it home in David’s ancient pickup truck. However, for most shoppers the convenience of the buying and service experience is extremely important. If that doesn’t exist, forget about selling your wares here- it just isn’t going to happen.

The Sleeping Giant Awakens

You might have noticed from even casual glances at this website that there are a whole bunch of carmakers from China popping up on a seemingly daily basis. Just recently a 100 percent tariff was placed on any new Chinese EV sold in the United States; more than likely, the introduction of these tariffs will work initially, but that doesn’t mean Chinese EVs will never come to the U.S.

China Cars 5 12 24 Scaled 2

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Beyond tariffs, these Chinese carmakers have an even bigger issue: I’ve never heard of most of them, and some look like knockoffs of something else, so I wouldn’t even know which ones to choose without a lot of research. I can tell you one thing, though: I’m not going to just order one sight unseen without driving it. No, I have to go to a dealer first, try it out, and know there’s a place to take it back to if something goes wrong. That’ll be a major problem for these manufacturers.

Seriously, how are these firms going to build an honest-to-God, brick-and-mortar dealership network to sell their wares? That’s a massive investment. Also, if there’s no name recognition with these brands it will be a difficult hurdle to get over. For example, China’s top maker with a long history of making luxury cars (Honqi) sells some impressive rides, but are consumers really going to spend top dollar to buy from a brand they’re not familiar with?

No, as I explored in my Costco car idea a little while back, we’ll need a collaboration of firms to make this work. I’m imagining a Chinese EV builder, a clothing and outdoor gear brand, and a struggling restaurant chain. No, really.

The Never Ending Shrimp Ends

If I ever end up on death row for, I don’t know, maybe somehow developing a product that has caused the demise of thousands of people, I know that my requested “last meal” will likely include the cheesy rolls from Red Lobster. Why not? The food is sometimes a bit of a greasy mess but the rolls alone make the visit worthwhile. I don’t go very often, so I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that they’re tethering on the brink of collapse. The closure of 15 restaurants is imminent, and I hope they can turn it around but you just never know.

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Lobster 5 19
Wikimedia, Wikimedia

I will say one thing- their restaurants seem to be in pretty prime locations. The two closest to my house are not only right next to retail magnets but they’re both either surrounded by or within a few hundred yards of a “car dealer row”, the side-by-side lineup of automobile showrooms that you see in suburban neighborhoods. If you replaced these restaurants with a new car store then buyers would have no choice but to stop by on their Saturday afternoon jaunt to look at new vehicles.

I’d Rather Have An LL Cool J Car

Which Chinese manufacturer would we choose for the venture? Does it really matter? There’s no name recognition and many seem like they could competently make whatever the U.S. consumer wants: an image, a good purchasing/service experience, and reasonable reliability/quality.

As a card-carrying Autopian you probably look at, say, how the hybrid model of a certain car might have more power than the more expensive “S” model for fewer bucks, and the ride/handling compromise with the 20-inch wheels is better, right? Most Americans don’t even begin to do that.  They flat-out don’t care. The best-selling vehicles in America are things that the majority of Autopians wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

You see, many buyers aspire to a car not for the zero to sixty time but instead for how it works as an accessory. A car is seen as a purse or a shoe, not a track day tool.  As such, it can be key for a car to share a brand name with products that relate to a certain lifestyle. Let’s look at SUVs: What are they supposed to represent? It’s usually a way of enjoying the outdoors, so it’s no surprise to see that there were Eddie Bauer Fords and Orvis Jeeps.

One of the original enjoy-the-environment brands, Subaru, teamed up with outdoor gear maker L.L. Bean in the early 2000s to make special edition Outbacks. Here’s one being promoted by pre-toxicity Lance Armstrong in 2003:

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2003 Subaru Outback Magazine Advertisement 6000x3000 All 1641410121
Subaru

That tie-in contract ended around 2010, so what if a new-to-the-U.S. Chinese manufacturer teamed up with them to sell cars- particularly planet-friendly EVs- in their stores? Yeah, but they’d need new and different kinds of stores to do this in. I know just the locations: move out the fish tanks and grills, because L.L. Bean Motorcars is coming to a former Red Lobster location near you!

Here’s a standalone L.L. Bean location:

161226 Southbarrington Xlargeretina
L.L. Bean

Here’s a shuttered Red Lobster restaurant location…

Lobster Outside 5 19
Wikimedia

…and now the same place with a new facade placed over much of the front (though the “Bar Harbor” style stone at least still works with the L.L. Bean gestalt:

Ll Bean Store Outside 5 19

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Inside, the exposed-beam ceilings of the old Red Lobster still work, but the booths are ripped out and replaced with a real fish pond and area for merchandise like clothing racks and a shoe wall. Watercraft is on display, and cars in the showroom area have placards next to them with color choices and a touchscreen to explain them more. Demos are parked outside for test drives, and we’ll need to add a service/new car prep area where the kitchen used to be.

Ll Bean Interior 5 19

As you can see, the cars are just one of the props in the while “lifestyle” presentation; nobody will care if it’s a BYD or ORA or some unknown brand. If it’s got a warranty and a kayak on top, they’re ready to hit the road in their new L.L Bean vehicle.

God’s Plan…For Trust Issues

Ah, but what about that Chinese luxury brand with some amazing new cars? Hongui is not going to sell on name alone- do you care that they made limos favored by Chairman Mao back in the day? No, but I see a way to possibly sell it AND help a former Degrassi High School actor in his ongoing rap beef. That’s right: Drake’s OVO Brand (“October’s Very Own) sells overpriced hoodies and such in marble-clad high-end mall stores so the next logical step is an EV, right? Have you got a line of cars yet, Kendrick Lamar? No, you don’t. Who’s winning now, y’all?

Drake 5 19
Wikipedia, the Bishop

The Rolls-Royce-looking E-HS9 EV SUV would be a good one to start with, and maybe another more affordable model offered before the line could be expanded (just like Lexus and Infiniti did in 1990). The façade over the old Red Lobster would include the signature marble-and-black material with the gold owl (at least, I think it’s the signature, since I’ve only ever visited the OVO store in Eaton Centre).

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Like the L.L. Bean store idea, these car sales locations could certainly sell OVO apparel as well. I see offering a bunch of bespoke options for fabrics, leathers, and woods on the cars and you’d have a design consultant in the OVO dealership work with you to buy a Drakemobile. You’d be getting the Bentley experience on a car that only costs $100,000 or so instead of $400,000 (well, $200,000 with tariffs, but maybe Canada doesn’t have that yet?).

Again, the Dead Lobster:

Lobster Outside 5 19

..and then Drake’s car and clothing store:

Ovo Outside 5 18 2

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Even if America isn’t ready yet, there’s plenty of Red Lobsters in Ontario and I’m sure some of those will be getting the axe. Hey, it’s not like Will.i.am Motors is going anywhere, and I wouldn’t look for a Sean John car any time soon. Or ever.

Genius, Right?

Let’s face it: Most of us buy branded products since we assume a certain level of quality and performance associated with the name. It doesn’t matter that many of these items are made in a factory on the other side of the globe. EVs have caused a paradigm shift in the way cars are made, the players have already included companies with names nobody has ever heard of (Polestar, Lucid, come to mind), and I don’t see how familiar brand tie-ins won’t be part of the equation. It’s up to you as Autopians to know what is under the skin of the upcoming Mr. BeastMobile.

Relatedbar

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I Asked Our Daydreaming Designer To Imagine What Would Happen If Sony And A Lawnmower Engine Company Made Hybrid Cars In The 1980s – The Autopian

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Chris D
Chris D
30 days ago

Two brands could share the same store, since, as one wag recently quipped, Honqis do love Tang.
And old Red Lobsters are just the right location, because when it comes to buying Chinese cars, something about them definitely seems kind of fishy.

Ben Chia
Ben Chia
30 days ago

You know what, that’s not something unheard of. BYD here (Singapore) tied up with a number of casual restaurant chains to offer a ‘lifestyle concept’ where the menus feature pictures and info about BYD cars, the staff are trained to answer car-related questions and refer to a salesperson if required, and a test drive can even be arranged if the restaurant is located in a relatively large mall where the cars can be parked.

It’s not a very hard-sell concept, and BYD insists that the dining experience remains the priority for these restaurants. But it’s just another avenue for people to find out more about the brand and their cars.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
30 days ago
Reply to  Ben Chia

British Motor Holdings/British Leyland had a deal with the Cunard Line for awhile in the mid/late 1960s to have a small car showroom display in the shopping centers of their transatlantic ocean liners, with sales staff and info materials. Think it was mostly used to display Jaguars and Austin-Healeys originally, and later on, Triumphs.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
30 days ago

There are Orvis Jeeps?
I mean, Orvis sells clothing and equipment for going out and looking like you’re fishing using things that look like something fish would want to eat but merely fool of the fish and then the pretend fisherman tries to reel in the fish with woefully inadequate line that will break if you sneeze at it and if they succesfuly get a hold of the fish they let it go because the whole point is to dress up and look like you are fishing, and the easily broken equipment is a point of pride.

Jeep on the other hand sells cars that…

Hmm, perhaps it’s the same thing after all.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
30 days ago

There’s a fly in the ointment. Red Lobster doesn’t own their buildings anymore, when a private equity firm got a hold of the parent company they immediately lined their pockets by selling the buildings and leasing them back. This significantly increased costs and did far more damage than endless shrimp. Like Cerberus era Chrysler they got rich quick at the expense of long term health of the company.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
30 days ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Yeah, it’s broken up over about 3 REITs, but, still, they’re going to want to find new tenants for their buildings ASAP, Freddy’s Frozen Custard can’t fill them all

Also, speaking of REITs, Seritage probably has a few empty larger format stores available

Lardo
Lardo
30 days ago

I knew some guys in the 80’s who made a lot of $ turning shuttered Pizza Huts into bars. The architecture at the time lent itself to it. They had boxes on the outside around the windows, the new owners just closed it all in to make a dark bar. They had all you can drink, ladies nights, etc. and generated great $ numbers. Then they sold. The business model was hard to sustain for the new owners…

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
30 days ago

You know, if you’re really trying to sell the Maine-lifestyle in that L.L Bean dealership, the Chinese suv should be parked in the dooryard with out of date inspection sticker, all four tires flat and some clover growing around it. Then when you ask to test drive it, some guy comes up and says “Can’t get there f’r here, bub”. An out of work lobster-man smoking a dart tells you to go back to Massachusetts. And you pay a 3 dollar toll just to enter. And you’ll think to yourself this truly is The Way Life Should Be tm.

Octopusmode
Octopusmode
29 days ago

I’ve lived my entire life in Maine and can confirm.

Interestingly enough, I live in close enough proximity to L.L. Bean and have never set foot in the store or owned anything from the brand.

Last edited 29 days ago by Octopusmode
Jon Benet
Jon Benet
30 days ago
Tap-n-Die And Some WD-40
Tap-n-Die And Some WD-40
30 days ago
Reply to  Jon Benet

I’m more of a Combination Pizza Hut/Taco Bell guy.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
29 days ago

YUM!

The Bishop
The Bishop
30 days ago
Reply to  Jon Benet

Yeah, I photoshopped out the Olive Garden in that exact image. They haven’t killed the breadsticks yet!!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
30 days ago

Would these cars be all you can drive?

Larry Brennan
Larry Brennan
30 days ago

HONQI ??? Just pronounce it as English. They desperately need a marketing consultant if they’re going to sell anything here.

RKranc
RKranc
30 days ago
Reply to  Larry Brennan

I always get a laugh out of that one when I read it. Doesn’t hurt that they’re a pretty premium brand in China.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
30 days ago
Reply to  Larry Brennan

Just translate it to English, Red Flag. No negative connotations that I can think of

Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
29 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Small adjustment for the US market: Red White Blue Flag

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
29 days ago
Reply to  Larry Brennan

Rebrand it:
“Hunky”
That will work fine.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
30 days ago
  1. Chinese car dealer in an abandoned Red Lobster
  2. Wheelbarrow full of leftover Endless Shrimp
  3. ???
  4. Profit!
Aaron
Aaron
30 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Every car comes with a frunk full of shrimp cocktail!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
30 days ago

I think we’re already starting. Hasn’t the Cybertruck basically become an Elon Musk-branded vehicle, for better or worse?

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
30 days ago

1. You can buy Cheddar Bay Biscuit mix at Wal-Mart. And it makes an AWESOME top crust for chicken pot pie.

2. I live in a state where weed is semi-legal. If Honqi could set up their dealerships in dispensaries, they would probably make some sales, just because the name gave the customers the giggles.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
30 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I know it is pronounced HONG-chee, but I still think a lifted 3/4-ton diesel pickup with Hongqi printed on the tailgate would be hilarious. I might even buy one.

Last edited 30 days ago by Stig's Cousin
MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
30 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

Thanks for the LOL, needed that today!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
30 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

Get Stig’s Cousin one of those Cheddar Bay Biscuit chicken pot pies stat!

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
30 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Me too! Me too!

Chris D
Chris D
30 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Do you mean the Stig’s fat American cousin?

The Bishop
The Bishop
30 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

..very appropriate name

AssMatt
AssMatt
30 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Or don’t bother–see Jim Garner for Mazda.

Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
29 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

The “Hyundai like Sunday” commercial which seems to have worked.

Honqi, like Munchy? Monk-chi? Haunchy?

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
30 days ago

I thought the Chinese car companies just needed to find some slovenly tech bro shill an app to disrupt the industry and then just have people download an app that gets them a “Free” EV for the monthly fee of $400.

Alexk98
Alexk98
30 days ago

This is amazing. I propose an Easter Egg in every car. In the same vein as Koeniggsegg (I’m not spell checking that, sorry) adds a little ghost logo to every car to honor the Air Force Squadron that used to occupy their factory, these L.L. Bean and OVO cars can have a little red lobster logos embossed on like the underside of the Frunk lids.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
30 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Please–they’re not mere “cheesy rolls,” they’re Cheddar Bay biscuits.

Also, since L.L. Bean is based in Freeport, Maine, that gives them the genuine New England credibility Red Lobster always lacked. Heck, forget the cars–maybe they should reopen Red Lobsters as The L.L. Bean Bar & Grille.

Last edited 30 days ago by Luxobarge
Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
30 days ago

There’s a lot of chain restaurants in the US that have locations in basically every suburb that you would expect a car dealership to be. And a lot of them are on the struggle bus, heading towards irrelevancy. I’m not sure about the brand tie ins, but the premise of the Chinese buying snatching up a whole shitload of Red Lobsters to use as showrooms… isn’t entirely farfetched.

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