Selling petrol provides enormous scope for the publicity bods because it is a commodity which sells at the same price whatever the brand and which, to the lay-motorist at any rate, is all “much of a muchness.” Some of you may have a favourite brand and make a point of always buying it; others are probably more influenced by the convenience of petrol station sites than with what they can get when they drive up to the pump, although they are still influenced to a considerable extent by current advertising propaganda — as well as by small talk of the sort which goes “Don’t use — , old boy; burns out your valves in no time,” or “Since my local garage changed to — I’ve never got as low a consumption and the plugs soot up” and so on.
The writer, who used to burn lots of National Benzole until his local and favourite garage was “lost” to monopoly by another brand, has since made much use of non-tied petrol stations and it is then that the “battle of the brands” is evident.
At one pleasant country garage between home and office there is choice of Cleveland, Cleveland Discol, Esso Extra, National Benzole and Shell, from five pumps. Another garage in South London which proudly advertises that it is a Multi-Brand Station, and which we pass when taking a useful back route to the City after entering London via the Kingston By-Pass, presents a choice of Cleveland Discol, Cleveland 50/50 Special Mixture, Esso Extra, Fina, Mobilgas Special and National Benzole, from six pumps. It was here the other day that we discovered Cleveland Mixture to be adequate for our low-compression engine. Those interested in the whys and wherefores of the different brands and grades may be interested in referring to a leading article on different petrols which Motor Sport published in February, 1953.
A publicity expert tells us that the use of one word in conjunction with a given brand may be a big stimulus to sales. Well, Shell, the biggest of them all, offers “I.C.A.” Esso does well with “Extra,” Cleveland is coupled to “Discol ” which reminds us of alcohol fuel as introduced at Brooklands. National Benzole appeals to those who believe in benzole, Fina is “Super,” Power suggests power, Mobilgas is “Special.” . . . which brand do you use, and why?
A Foolish Policy
Motor Sport is in the position of receiving a very enlightening correspondence from a cross-section of the keener type of motorist. Our advice is sought about what cars to buy, new and used, of how to service and restore old models, of what races to attend and how to get to them, and so on.
Amongst this correspondence complaints are sometimes aired. From them it seems that purchasers of new cars expect them to serve without major breakdown or failure of important components at least for the first year of ownership. If something dreadful happens after the guarantee has expired they expect the manufacturer to replace parts free of charge, even if they are required to pay carriage and labour costs.
Whether our cars are really so undependable that their manufacturers cannot decide to stand the full cost of repairs for the first year when these are obviously needed through no fault of the owner is a question so disturbing that we admit to shrinking from it. In cases where free replacements are made there isn’t an atom of doubt about it — the make concerned gains valuable prestige and a customer who might otherwise be lost is almost certainly retained. Unless many dismal failures are expected in a moderate mileage we do not see why a manufacturer cannot afford always to get a car back on the road, and quickly, without charge to his embittered and temporarily disillusioned client. To do so surely wouldn’t cost much in comparison with ambitious publicity drives and competition programmes which have been in vogue for years?
Whether or not such a policy is adopted, let us see an end of excuse-making when a car gives trouble it should never have developed. Because a policy of trying to excuse failures by making excuses, when a customer brings his complaint to agent or manufacturer, loses sales well and truly.
Manufacturers are apt to hurl ready-made excuses when faced with complaints. “Have you bumped a kerb? ” — when steering or tyre shortcomings are reported. “You must use the wrong grade” — when someone complains of excessive oil consumption or bearing wear. “Do you go in for rallies? ” — if transmission failure has occurred.
No car is perfect but the attitude of agent and manufacturer to customer should be as near perfect as possible. We are sure that the policy of “the customer always pays” doesn’t pay in the long run.
The Aston Martin O.C. Silverstone Meeting (July 13th)
Rain showers of unpleasant intensity flooded the course and made driving hazardous at the annual St. John Horsfall Silverstone Race Meeting of the A.M.O.C. The programme opened with Half-Hour Regularity Trials, notable for the ever-more-ambitious attempts by Johnson to drive his Mercedes-Benz 300SL into the Woodcote ditch, in which he finally succeeded. The Bentley handicap was won by Bradley’s 4½-litre in very slippery conditions, after Chaffey’s leading 3-litre had gyrated in a big way at Copse. Burton won a similar race for Aston Martins. Lawry’s Lotus XI took the 1,172 Formula Race, which was a Lotus benefit, and French won the 750 Formula section in his famous Austin “Simplicity” (rebuilt after its recent con.-rod breakage, which resulted from big-end failure), in spite of being pushed on to the grass at Copse.
Graham Whitehead in a DB3S out-drove Blond (H.W.M.-Jaguar), Baxter (DB3S) and Shale (Cooper-Jaguar) in filthy conditions to win a ten-lap scratch race and finished third in the Arthur Bryant Trophy Race, which Jean Bloxham won in her DB2.
Ireland drove well to displace Summers’ Cooper and McMillan’s Lotus in a close-fought three-car battle for the U.S.A.F. Trophy, but star-turn in the wet was Freeman, who cornered his 1936 Speed Model Aston Martin in G.P. fashion, lapping at 71.47 m.p.h. and being unperturbed by a shocking spin at Copse, in the St. John Horsfall Trophy Race which, however, was won by Jean Bloxham, who nobly disposed of the Hon. Plunket’s DB3S, etc., McNab Meredith’s Ulster taking the pre-war section. Whitehead was second to Mrs. Bloxham, lapping at 81.31 m.p.h., but by our timing he was fractionally slower than Freeman through Copse. In a Team Relay Race the 750 M.C. Morris Minor team won from the M.G.C.C. and Morgan 4/4 teams, and the Motor Sport Handicap saw Hollis’ two-seater 4½ Bentley win so easily from Mason’s 4½ Bentley which had a credit-lap start, that Matthews arid Brooks in DB2 and DB2/4 fought fiercely under the impression they were leading. Hollis won at a tyre-howling 69.35 m.p.h.—W.B.