Nostalgia, country-of-origin preferences drive social media perception of car brands in SEE

By Petar Galev, Viktor Laskov, Boyan Ivanovich, Maria Simeonova,
Media analysts, Perceptica

The automotive market in Southeast Europe (SEE) offered some interesting dynamics in 2016, as locally produced models vied for the consumers’ attention with some of the global leaders in the field. Thus, the Dacia Logan and the Fiat 500L emerged as the best performers in Romania and Serbia respectively. The likes of the Skoda Octavia, on the other hand, offered a much praised price-quality ratio that helped propel the models to the top three in a number of SEE countries.

This analysis focuses on the top ten bestselling models in five key markets: Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia. Our team of expert analysts then proceeded with assessing their social media performance, pinpointing the two best performing models. During the process, we also had to exclude vehicles that were not comparable to the rest (e.g. SUVs like the Dacia Duster and the Nissan Qashqai). The final stage featured an in-depth analysis of the social media opinion of the two top models in eight key areas plus all other additional comments grouped under the ‘Other’ category. The overall performance under all criteria formed a total social media score that helped determine the best model for each country.

ROMANIA

The Romanian automotive market has been growing in size in the last couple of years thanks to both the country’s robust GDP growth and to a change in local legislation abolishing the environment tax on vehicles without introducing an alternative.

The locally produced Dacia Logan and the imported Skoda Octavia have led the sedan segment, sharing a large consumer base offering their owners low tax rates coupled with relatively low maintenance costs. Sedan vehicles being traditionally the predominant choice for drivers, the Logan and the Octavia are often featured in discussions when it comes to buying a new car. The people mention the low price of Dacias as a main reason for purchase while Octavia is often chosen because people trust the German quality of its car parts.

The new Skoda Octavia is praised for having a high quality engine featuring a lower-than-expected fuel consumption. People discuss the vehicle’s performance in urban environments and mention they have used the car intensively and find it a reliable and problem-free solution for anyone looking for a new car. Both the TSI and the TDI version of the engine are being discussed, with customers praising both and noting that even inexperienced drivers manage to keep consumption low with these engine versions.

The sentiment analysis pitting the two cars in a head-to-head race shows that Skoda Octavia is preferred in seven of the eight categories on which the analysis is based. The largest difference concerns interior design discussion where the Octavia is praised for the quality and comfort it offers, while Dacia is attacked by unhappy customers complaining about the plastic interior.

The Logan prevailed only in the price category due to its low cost profile which fits well a Romanian market that favours strongly cheap vehicles. The Octavia comes with a significantly higher price in comparison, thus it appears that this category is not a selling point for the Czech vehicle, at least among Romanian customers.

In the more technical discussions about consumption, engine and durability, the Skoda is consistently regarded as the better car compared to Dacia. Both cars have low fuel consumption rates, but Octavia manages to tie them up with a more powerful engine, while Logan is criticised for its weak engine, often compared to one of a small motorbike. Both cars are mentioned as durable and reliable, but Dacia is held back by some negative stories from people who had problems with Logans while Skoda benefits from the German automotive industry’s overall positive image. Many customers see the Octavia as an affordable Czech car offering German quality and reliability.

SLOVENIA

Despite decidedly positive mainstream coverage of the models, Slovenian consumers came across as both a discerning and highly sceptical audience in the process of media analysis. Besides being knowledgeable with regards to pricing and technology, Slovenians were also very concerned with the origin of the vehicles they drove.

As was the case with other countries in the region, the final contest of the two most popular models on Social Media came down to a showdown between the Skoda Octavia and the Renault Clio. Despite the latter’s stark advantage in terms of design, the Octavia performed better than the Clio in the majority of monitored categories in social media comments. The car was praised for its sturdiness and affordability, and was often compared favourably to the more expensive Volkswagen. Many commenters described themselves as lifelong Skoda fans, and the fact that the Octavia is produced in the Czech Republic was frequently pointed out as one of its many advantages.

The country of origin was also actively discussed with regards to the Renault Clio, as the car is produced in Slovenia. However, commenters also lamented Renault’s poor car sales and factory conditions, while they celebrated the boost in production, which was expected to contribute to the country’s GDP.

In comparative analysis, the Skoda Octavia’s interior was praised across the board, as the car was seen as spacious and comfortable, almost luxurious, on the inside despite its “boring” exterior. In contrast, the Renault Clio was said to look good on the outside, but its seats were often seen as less than comfortable.

The Renault Clio was seen as more fun to drive than the Skoda Octavia, which was said to be a reliable, but boring car. This was reflected in the disparity between the models in the problems/durability category, where the Skoda Octavia performed far better than the Renault Clio. The two cars performed equally well in terms of energy/transmissions, albeit for different reasons – the Clio won out in terms of drive feel, while the Octavia stood out in terms of reliability.

CROATIA

Croatia boasts a well-developed automotive industry with a long track record in components manufacturing, excellent infrastructure and proximity to the bigger markets and production facilities in Western and Central Europe.

New car sales in Croatia soared 23% year-on-year in 2016 to 43,015 registrations, with Volkswagen and Opel remaining in control of the top selling charts. Renault also surged 33% to overtake the regional favourite Skoda. The situation is a little bit different when comparing particular car models. In the models ranking, the VW Golf took the first spot for the third time in the past four years, followed by the Renault Clio and the Skoda Octavia. Despite winning in the sales category, the Golf was overtaken by the Clio in terms of social media performance where the latter was the undisputed leader.

The Clio managed to beat the Golf in almost all categories, except for country of origin. The VW Golf was often an object of mockeries by users who voiced their discontent with its features. The repetitive design, often described as “plain boring”, limited interior space and the price of the newer models were among the biggest negative reputation drivers. Social media users also believe that choosing the Golf was equal to choosing to engage in and support certain distinctive national psychology characteristics.

On the other hand, the Clio registered mostly positive comments, topping charts in eight of nine categories. Key to its popularity was the low fuel consumption which, when combined with “fresh” and innovative design choices (both on the inside and the outside), helped secure the first place in Croatia.

Media analysis showed an interesting drive behind people’s choices when it came to picking a brand. While the Clio was portrayed as a great “urban car” thanks to its comfortable front seats, low fuel consumption and price-quality ratio, the Golf emerged as a vehicle favoured by manual labourers. This led to social media concluding that Renault successfully implemented the idea that the invoked emotions and overall drive feel were more important than raw characteristics such as engine type, horsepower and transmission. This is exactly where the model shines – users believe that the brand managed to strike to the right balance between price, quality and performance.

BULGARIA

Bulgaria’s automobile market offered some interesting developments in 2016, which further added to some specifics of local car sales. The Dacia Dokker sat comfortably at the top of the rankings in terms of sales for the fourth consecutive year. However, the fact that it is almost universally used as a company car means that it is also virtually absent from social media discussions. Users tend to only discuss their personal cars, leaving company ones behind.

Thus, the Nissan Qashqai, the Skoda Octavia, and the Renault Clio emerged as the most popular models in the country – both in terms of sales and social media presence. We chose to look into the performance of the two vehicles that belong to roughly the same class – the Octavia and the Clio. The differences between the two in terms of social media score were practically non-existent, with the Octavia managing to oust the Clio by the slimmest of margins.

The exterior design seemed to be one of the focal points of social media discussions. While there was little to criticize about the appearance of the Clio, the Octavia was subject to some negative reviews. This mostly had to do with the designer’s decision to split the front lights in two in the restyle version from 2016. The move was viewed as unfortunate by the majority of users. As is often the case, the Octavia managed to make
up for the exterior shortcomings with its spacious interior.

Elsewhere, the Octavia also excelled thanks to its great price-quality ratio, durability, the great drive feel (especially important for Bulgaria’s less than ideal roads), and to some extent – its reasonable fuel consumption. On the other hand, its three-cylinder engine (described as suitable only for the smallish Smart) almost handed the first place to the Clio. The country of origin and the manufacturer are also an important factor for Bulgarian buyers. Perhaps curiously, social media users seem to prefer the French car (the Clio) to the one manufactured by the German VAG concern.

SERBIA

The automotive industry in Serbia has a long tradition and is one of the most prominent economic sectors, supplying numerous European and Asian car manufacturers. Given its history with brands such as the Zastava, it comes as no surprise that the best-selling car in the country for the last year was the locally-assembled Fiat 500L. The brand holds onto the first place for a second consecutive year despite seeing its sales drop 6% to 1,709. Skoda Octavia managed to climb to the second place followed by the traditionally popular in the country Opel Astra. Despite Fiat holding the first place in terms of sales, the brand was overshadowed by Opel Astra which took its crown in terms of social media score.

It would be an exaggeration to say the only reason behind the local success of Fiat is nostalgia, but the country of origin theme was certainly one of the most popular in terms of share of voice. Serbs’ strong patriotic feelings continue to play a vital role when making a decision on buying new cars with users seeing the purchase as a way to support the local economy.

Nevertheless, the media analysis revealed a number of problems related to new cars purchases, such as Serbs’ low income, the rather uninteresting exterior design and poor interior choices. Although Fiat scored better than Astra in the exterior department, it was considered more repetitive than truly revolutionary.

In the eyes of social media, Astra had two traits to brag about – its proven durability and its formidable engine performance. Those themes were also amongst the lowest performing for Fiat. None of the models exceeded the others in terms of fuel consumption, with users from both sides saying they considered purchasing them because of it. On the other hand, users felt vexed about Fiat’s price policy, especially when compared to other brands. Even some of the most supportive commenters admitted that there was a large portion of users who bought the Fiat out of nostalgia about Serbia’s market position in car making and not explicitly because of its advantages over the competition.