For 18 months following its launch in 2004, Motorola could not sell enough RAZR phones. It came in volume, in colour variants, in various retail and network exclusives. It came thick and fast, and Motorola got fat on it – fat, and arrogant and lazy.
Customers, sold on its good looks in the first instance, churned to rival manufacturers on upgrade because of the awkward user interface. In Europe, a market that grew up with Nokia handsets, the interface was clunky and illogical.
No matter, Motorola dropped the price, gave it a facelift and a lick of paint, and made it available to the mass market; then the prepay sector. And, anyway, punters at home still bought Motorola.
A family of RAZR clones and derivatives was born, consumers shrugged, and Motorola started to haemorrhage money. The fact it is now embroiled in a tussle with LG Mobile for fourth spot in the UK, a crucial market, shows how far it has fallen.
But no one doubts Motorola. Its network, retail and distribution partners expect it back soon – well possibly late next year, and certainly by 2009. The arrival of Mike Fenger, and the new autonomy granted UK and Ireland boss Jim Michel, are the first tangible signs of Motorola’s rebirth.
Michel’s counterparts at Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson have full control over their markets. Until now, Michel has been required to call up Chicago every time there has been a dispute or a deal. His job is the toughest of any UK manufacturer chief, but Fenger’s appointment and his expanded control make it simpler to get right, and perhaps to get wrong.
Michel is rightly excited. He compares Motorola in the UK to a “start-up with good backing”.