Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dog friendly car - it's Elemental

Honda has introduced a car targeted specifically at dog owners. The "Dog-Friendly Element" was unveiled at the New York Auto show and will be available in Fall 2009. It comes with a doggy ramp, mesh barriers, spill proof bowl, a bed and other features to protect Fido and keep him comfy during transport. Keeping Fido safe in case of an accident means crating the dog, or for some cooperative dogs, hooking them up to a safety harness/seat-belt. Neither option ideal. Owning a large dog, for example, my rear view is somewhat obscured by the crate which sits in the back of my wagon. Not an issue in the Element.

In 2007 the website named the Honda Element the most dog-friendly vehicle of the year. The site, the brainchild of veterinarian Marty Becker evaluates cars on the basis of their ease of use and comfort for dog owners. Honda is leveraging the Element's reputation and is cleverly addressing an important niche by packaging up a dog-friendly model instead of simply marketing options.

What is so surprising is that, with some 45 million dog owner households in the U.S. alone, that this idea has not been pursued by any car manufacturer before. A smart move by Honda. The American pet industry is vast and growing. Last year consumers spent $41 billion on their pets - a number that is projected to grow to $52 billion in two years. Clearly we love our pets.

Honda has a history of considering the needs of man and dog in design. In 2005 they introduced a concept car at the Tokyo car show called the W.O.W. (wonderful open-hearted wagon). This car was specifically designed with the relationship of dog and owner in mind. Amongst its many features, it conceptualized the ability to put a small dog in the glove compartment and interact with him whilst driving.

The new Element, while not an engineering innovation like the WOW is certainly an example of innovative product marketing. With this new vehicle, Honda has a great opportunity to break through the over-engineered car marketing ads with something engaging that creates a strong emotional connection to the brand. I can't wait to see their advertising and social media marketing strategy. Dog owners are a very passionate and social bunch - Honda could have a lot of fun with this.


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