Embracing the Past

by Tim Kiek
05 Feb 2019
Embracing the Past

“Online retailing hasn’t taken hold as it has in other industries – and this isn’t a surprise. Purchasing a car isn’t like buying a loaf of bread; it is a large and emotional investment and so it isn’t best suited to the online model which works on speed.” So says SsangYong UK CEO Nick Laird in an exclusive interview for IMI Magazine in which he discusses his strategy for raising the Korean brand’s profile in the UK (pages 34-36).

This isn’t to say that Nick intends to annul SsangYong’s broadband contract for 2019 and order in the pigeons; he just doesn’t think that the internet represents the sunlit uplands when it comes to vehicle retail. Instead, he believes that for a small (in UK terms) automotive company (SsangYong is anything but small in South Korea) to roil the established waters it needs to buck trends – not follow them. In SsangYong’s case, trend bucking means placing all of its faith in the expertise of its carefully chosen dealer network and focusing on relationship building – an approach which many other brands are consigning to the annals. It certainly isn’t a revolutionary approach, either, but this is exactly the point: just because something has been done one way for a while it doesn’t mean that doing it a different way is automatically preferable.

This sentiment contradicts society’s overarching narrative, a narrative which can be roughly summated as: ‘looking back bad; going forward good’. Contained within this credo are the words ‘going forward’, now a ubiquitous idiomatic prefix for any sentence vaguely concerned with the future. Linguistic scholars would tell you that patterns in language don’t develop autonomously; language is a reflection of the lives of those who you use it. Thus the ‘going forward’ incantation is a clear corollary of a society which refuses to view things through the prism of anything other than a lens fixed firmly on tomorrow’s world.

This disavowal of the past manifests itself in many troubling ways – take the downturn in UK new car sales figures for 2018 which has spawned numerous elegies from the automotive commentariat. Yet if one was to look back just a little bit then it would be clear that, far from necessitating a requiem, the overall figures merely represent a return to something that approximates normality. In fact, instead of being lamented they should be welcomed as an affirmation of how well the retail sector has done in the last few years.

And this is what looking back can do. Instead of the restless dissatisfaction and rash decision-making fostered by a mind set which steadfastly refuses to use the wing mirrors, looking back cultivates both a calmer perspective and more considered strategising. Nick Laird is certainly convinced that his traditional, dealer-centric approach will end up paying dividends for SsangYong – and ‘going forward’ I am sure he will be proved right.

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