A "halo car" is something special, a "Gee whiz, did you see that go by? What was it?" kind of car.
Actually, it should be more than an attention getter. My friend, Fred Mackerodt (whom I think is one of the best car marketing guys around) says: "You can drop your drawers in the middle of 42nd Street and attract attention. The halo car should set or reinforce the image you are building. It should define or sharpen the focus of what you are supposed to be."
The idea is that the "halo car" puts a halo over your entire line. People look up to your lineup because of that one model. They come into the showroom to see it and they may end up buying something else. The halo may be a small production run, a few hundred cars, or it may be big volume. The numbers aren't as important as the excitement it creates.
The most successful halo in recent years was the Dodge Viper, a wild, expensive, limited volume (fewer than 2,000 a year) 2-seater. It was brought out by Chrysler when people were writing off the company. And it was, by normal standards, an awful car: Noisy, uncomfortable (it didn't even have rollup windows, just plastic curtains to keep wind or rain out), and it was tough to drive. But the Viper earned its keep in publicity: The incredible design and the willingness to actually build it proved to Wall Street and Main Street that Chrysler was alive and starting to roll, and the halo over Viper spread over the entire company.
Possibly the poorest halo also comes from Chrysler, the more recent Plymouth Prowler. This one looks like an early 1930s hot rod and certainly attracts attention. But it was supposed to spread a halo over Plymouth and be the start of a resurgence. Unfortunately, DaimlerChrysler has decided to get rid of Plymouth, so the Prowler is a halo with nothing under it. What's the point?
The most common halo is the sports car, usually a 2-seat roadster, but sometimes a coupe or 2+2, which is a 2-seater with a very tiny back seat.
The trouble is, I can count 28 such cars in production or on the way, and that's without counting Ferraris (owned by Fiat) or Lamborghinis (owned by Volkswagen) or Aston Martins (owned by Ford).
That is one circus tent-full of sports cars. Half a dozen of these are on the way: There's the BMW Z-8 (about $100,000 I'd guess, due at the end of this year) and the Mercedes SLR, probably in three years at $250,000 or so, (GM) Opel Speedster, which won't be sold here, so why guess the price. The Honda S2000 is due this fall at a bit more than $30,000, I think, and a Toyota, maybe next spring, in about the same price range. Then comes the Ford Thunderbird, maybe $35,000 or so, due in two years or so, and the Cadillac Evoq, maybe $80,000, as a 2003 model.
The point here is that there are enough sports cars already. Doesn't anyone have any fresh ideas? Halo cars don't have to be sports cars or two-seaters. Fred Mackerodt reminds me that back in 1981, when the gang at Pontiac was figuring out how to turn around the division, they used the word "halo" and built the STE, which was the first American attempt to adapt one of our sedans to European-type handling. Pontiac even built an all-wheel-drive version of the STE.
Some people are getting away from the roadster idea. Isuzu has the VehiCross, a wild-looking big-engined sport/utility vehicle, and believe me, that's one successful halo. It turns heads and makes a statement about Isuzu's direction.
Lincoln has another: I believe the Blackwood, that half Navigator SUV/half pickup truck that Ford's been showing, is another almost-perfect halo vehicle. Ford will begin building it in the fourth quarter of 2000 as an '01 model.
If Cadillac hadn't gone so far on the Evoq, I would say: "Stop. The world doesn't need another roadster. Rethink your symbols. Come up with some new kind of vehicle (as Lincoln did), so you have a chance of not just building a symbol, but in starting a trend.
In fact, since the Evoq isn't due for years, why can't Cadillac rethink that? What about a Cadillac Son-of-VehiCross, the big Northstar V-8, stainless steel body, high riding FWD - something we'd expect the Road Warrior to drive? In fact, I'll say that, anyway.
Let's have halo vehicles, but let's have new kinds of halos. Enough roadsters, already.
Jerry Said It All last year columnist Jerry Flint, "The Contrarian," predicted that Lincoln would outsell Cadillac.
In his February column, he noted the "startling" December sales of Cadillac, which pushed Cadillac sales above Lincoln for the year. Of course, Cadillac, of General Motors, had fudged its sales numbers, and the Contrarian was right again, as expected.