Society

Reeling From Espionage Scandal, Renault Looks To Polish Image

Reeling From Espionage Scandal, Renault Looks To Polish Image

The faux spy scandal debacle couldn't have come at a worst time for the French carmaker, already struggling to regain its mojo on the hyper-competitive European auto market

It's been a long winter for Renault (Marc Lagneau)

It's tough these days to remember that Renault promised to refund 100 French customers the price of their new car. Or try to recall the carmaker's proud announcement last year that it would sponsor the French rugby team, which was destined for a disappointing performance in the Six Nations Tournament? Then there was Renault's excitement over a battery-exchange system in Denmark - with its partner Better Place - in order to start selling its 100% electric sedan there.

Ever since the resounding industrial-espionage-turned-hoax scandal erupted, the automaker's publicity engine has barely been audible, its broader strategy stalled. Before adopting a plan meant to redeem an image that many consider seriously tarnished, the company first has to assess the scope of the damage. The carmaker should start with the French market, since foreign media have been less active than their French counterparts in criticizing the company.

The myriad of market research studies ordered by Renault is likely to offer some insight on the question. The company has set for itself the goal of analyzing the latest mishaps by end of April or early May. But some of the studies are already giving a hint on what the possible effects might be. In the latest Ipsos Posternak barometer, which measures the image of the biggest French brands, Renault ranked 14th, far behind Peugeot (1st) and Citroën (2nd). More worrying for Renault, its "image index" fell by 16 points between October 2010 and February 2011.

Lately, Renault officials have been rather candid about the possible negative effects on the company's image of the wrongful dismissal of three of its executives in a widely publicized case in which they were falsely accused of spying for unidentified outside interest. Still, executives all draw a clear distinction between the "corporate side" and the cars, which seem to be largely unaffected by the popular discontent, according to a recent study conducted by another firm.

After all, during past thorny situations (such as the string of suicides several years ago at company headquarters, or Renault's decision to build the Clio 4 in Turkey and not in France), the same phenomenon was observed: Renault's brand image as a car manufacturer had indeed taken a blow, but the image of the cars themselves was left untainted, according to Stephen Norman, Renault's marketing director.

Image lost, sales down

From a broader perspective, the embarrassing espionage case came at the worst possible time, just as the company embarked on a long-haul mission to regain a solid brand image and address the "systemic problems' that made it lose its way in the past. "Between 1997 and 2003, Renault was the top European brand both in terms of volume and market share," according to a company marketing executive. "Then it slipped from first to fourth place, its image deteriorated and volume fell. In total, we lost 200,000 sales over the 2004-2008 period."

The success encountered by the low-cost Dacia line has somewhat masked these losses, but it hasn't prevented Renault from identifying the reasons. "Two thirds of the lost sales are due to our lack of competitiveness, for reasons which are mainly related to the design of our models. As for the remaining third, it's due to a lack of loyalty on the part of our customers, probably because of quality issues," the marketing manager adds.

Other sources confirm that the alleged espionage did not come out of the blue: "Renault's image was already ailing before the crisis," Opinion Way researchers say. "Citroen is far ahead of Renault from this point of view: the brand is considered to be more rewarding, and it succeeded in regaining the same solid image it had 20 or 30 years ago." Moreover, Renault seems to be stuck in design rut, with only a few models to be really proud of, and none that has created real buzz.

"In Germany, for example, people buy a Renault by default, simply because it is less expensive than others," according to Opinion Way. The disastrous handling of the espionage affair has thus simply added a new layer of troubles to a broader situation.

Well aware of its problems, the French carmaker has been preparing its comeback. One thing is for sure, its strategy will not be based on new discounts; according to Renault management, prices are not the problem. What the automaker really needs are "breakthrough models', like the current Mégane. Surveys have shown that 40% of people bought Méganes because of their design, while only 25% said the same thing about Renault's other models, according Renault's marketing chief Stephen Norman. He believes that all the carmaker needs to redeem its image is to launch one or two new such products, since the car's reliability has never really been called into question.

The only problem is that the next big date is scheduled for October 2012 at the Paris motor show, when Renault will introduce the new Clio and its electric cousin Zoe, with a 15,000-euro sticker price, battery not included. This means that the automaker has to wait another 18 months before it can show off a snazzy new model – and given the fierce competition between European carmakers, the waiting may be the hardest part of all.

Read the original article in French

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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