Gulfstream's rebranding was more than a simple change of nomenclature. Have the rewards outweighed the risks?
Two years ago, at the showcase National Business Aviation Association convention, Gulfstream surprised the industry by rebranding and expanding its product line. Out went the hallmark GIV and GV brands, to be replaced by a somewhat-confusing continuum of products ranging from the mid-sized G100 to the long-legged G550.
"We have felt for some time that there is a fundamental shift in the marketplace away from deciding which aircraft I want to buy to how do I satisfy the transport requirements of my corporation?" says Gulfstream president Bryan Moss. "A lot of the decisions we have taken flow from that fundamental shift. It led us to believe a family of products was what was important."
NBAA 2002 saw the unveiling of an expanded seven-aircraft product line-up, each aimed at a specific price/performance point. Before the announcement, Gulfstream had four models: the ultra-long-range GV-SP, long-range GIV-SP, super mid-size G200 and mid-size G100. After the shake-up, the GV-SP became the G550 and the GIV-SP the G400, and two reduced-specification versions of these aircraft were introduced: the G500 and G300, respectively. The rebranding aligned the expanded large-cabin family with the existing G100 and G200 and the seventh member of the line-up, the new mid-size G150.
To understand the significance of the move it is necessary to go back to when Gulfstream was a single-product company. From the first flight of the GI in 1958 to the introduction of the GIV-SP in 1992, each new Gulfstream superseded the previous model in production - usually after around 200 aircraft had been built. Each new model gave Gulfstream's select clientele something new to move up into, but with each move up market the company left behind niches that were quickly occupied by competitors offering alternatives.
In the 1990s, several events occurred that transformed Gulfstream. In 1990, the company was acquired from Chrysler and taken private in an $850 million leveraged buyout by investment firm Forstmann Little. In 1993, the manufacturer announced that the next Gulfstream, the ultra-long-range GV, would be produced alongside the GIV-SP - the first time the company would produce two models simultaneously.
In 1999, Gulfstream was acquired by General Dynamics in a deal valued at $4.8 billion. Two years later GD acquired Galaxy Aerospace for an initial $330 million and the Astra SP and Galaxy business jets, built by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), joined the Gulfstream stable. The mid-size Astra was subsequently renamed the G100 and the super mid-size Galaxy the G200.
"We looked at the GIV and the GV. We looked at the Galaxy acquisition. We knew a family had to have some kind of similarity," says Moss. "After countless hours and days of heated discussion it started tofall into place. There was a symmetry that lent itself to our view of the marketplace." The somewhat shocking outcome was a fundamental revamp of the 45-year Gulfstream franchise.
"Were there agonising, difficult decisions along the way? Absolutely," says Moss. "This was the franchise in the industry we were talking about." Eventually the doubts were exorcised, he says, but concerns remained. "It made sense in the marketplace - but not immediately, and that was the risk." The risk was to Gulfstream's reputation if it failed to meet customer expectations at either extreme of its broadened product range.
The revamped product strategy has been beneficial to Gulfstream, says Moss. "We have been able to earn business with the entry-level G100 and immediately begin moving them up the food chain," he says. "The G300 has allowed us to compete for business we could not have won if we did not have an aircraft at that price/performance point." Customers have begun moving up, and down, the product line, Moss says: a G550 operator adding a G200 instead of another G550, for example.
Gulfstream's line-up has changed a little since 2002, and now comprises:G100: 11,180kg (24, 650lb) maximum take-off weight (MTOW); 5,000km (1,350nm) range; Mach 0.8 cruise; 1.45m (4.75ft) -wide cabin; G150 (to replace the G100 from 2006): 11,795kg MTOW; 5,000km range; M0.8 cruise; 1.75m-wide cabin; G200: 16,080kg MTOW; 6,300km range; M0.8 cruise; 2.18m-wide cabin; G350 (replacing the G300): 31,160kg MTOW; 7,040km range; M0.8 cruise; 2.24m-wide cabin; G450 (replacing the G400): 33,250kg MTOW; 8.060km range; M0.8 cruise; 2.24m-wide cabin; G500: 38,600kg MTOW; 10,740km range; M0.85 cruise; 2.24m-wide cabin; G550: 41,230kg MTOW; 12,500km rage; M0.85 cruise; 2.24m-wide cabin.
The ultra-long-range G550 is Gulfstream's brand and technology flagship. Introduced in 2001 as the "Special Performance" (SP) upgrade of the GV, the G550 was the launch platform for Gulfstream's PlaneView integrated flightdeck. Based on Honeywell's Primus Epic integrated avionics, the PlaneView cockpit features four large, 355mm (14in)-diagonal, liquid-crystal displays.
The PlaneView displays include an integrated navigation map showing flight plan, terrain, traffic, airways, airports, navigation aids and weather. Sidestick-like cursor control devices, working with the triple flight management systems and pull-down display menus, allow graphical flight planning. Electronic charts and real-time video can be presented on the primary flight displays.
The G550 comes standard with Gulfstream's Visual Guidance System, combining a Honeywell head-up display (HUD) with the infrared-imaging enhanced vision system (EVS) developed with Kollsman. Gulfstream was the first to certificate EVS, in 2001, a decision vindicated this year when the US Federal Aviation Administration published revised regulations allowing low-visibility landings using HUD and EVS.
Gulfstream received certification for the G550 in August 2003, deliveries beginning a month later. Certification of the G500 followed in December 2003, with deliveries beginning in May of this year. The two aircraft have the same size cabin, with a 6,000ft cabin altitude at the 51,000ft cruise altitude. The G500 has a lower take-off weight than the G550, which results in less range, but also a shorter take-off distance and higher initial cruise altitude. The PlaneView cockpit is standard in both aircraft, but HUD/EVS is an option on the G500. And whereas the G550 interior is customisable, the G500 is offered with a choice of optional floor plans.
The G450 began life in 2001 as the GIV-X, an upgrade of the GIV-SP/G400. Changes include the PlaneView cockpit, with HUD/EVS as standard; a 305mm longer fuselage with repositioned main entry door for a longer cabin and larger cockpit; and uprated Rolls-Royce Tay 611-8C engines. The G450 has 460km more range than the G400 and better hot-and-high performance. Flight testing began in secret in April 2003 and the G450 was unveiled at NBAA in October last year. Certification was received in August this year, with deliveries to begin in the second quarter of next year.
Large cabin line-up
Completing Gulfstream's large-cabin line-up, the G350 was introduced in February as the replacement for the G300, with certification set for the fourth quarter of this year and first deliveries for the third quarter of 2005. The G350 has the same size cabin as the G450, and the uprated Tay engines, but has a lower take-off weight and less range. The PlaneView cockpit is standard, but HUD/EVS is an option. As with the G500, optional floor plans are offered rather than customisable interior of the G450.
Installation of the PlaneView cockpit across its large-cabin range will allow Gulfstream to offer a common pilot type rating from the G350 to the G550, with minimal differences to training.
Gulfstream's penetration of its expanded market space has been as projected, Moss says, although the G100 and G200 remain relatively slow sellers. The company now has several customers that operate fleets of mixed Gulfstream and Galaxy heritage, NetJets among them. "When we made the decision to acquire Galaxy, we knew we had to do the same with those products as with our own. We have stepped up and done what we should," says Moss.
Steps were taken to integrate the G100 and G200 into the Gulfstream product line. One move was to bring operators of the IAI-built aircraft into the customer advisory group. "We had three distinct committees for flight operations, maintenance, and product and reliability enhancements," says Moss. "We created a fourth for the G100/200 family, including the Astra and Galaxy." This gives operators "instantaneous input", he says, on issues such as manuals, spares, training and service bulletins.
The biggest benefit for Astra and Galaxy owners has been in product support, where IAI did not enjoy a strong reputation. "There was a question whether Gulfstream would step up support for those aircraft, and we did," says Moss. "There is no difference in how any customer is handled from our view."
Gulfstream has been able to improvethe performance and reliability of theIAI-built aircraft, particularly the super mid-size G200. "We have added leverage with vendors and suppliers, and on training and service," says Moss. "We are light years ahead of where we were when we started the process." Gulfstream has introduced a new interior and reduced weight by more than 200kg to improve performance. Dispatch reliability now exceeds 99%, the company says. "The G200 is a legitimate member of the Gulfstream family," adds Moss.
Announced in 2002, and scheduled for delivery in 2006, the G150 is the first IAI-built aircraft over which Gulfstream has had a dominant influence, says Moss. "The G100 has good range, good performance and low operating cost. The one area needing change is the cabin." The G150 has the same wing and engines, but a wider cabin and new nose. "The G100 would win no beauty contest, so we have improved the aerodynamics and aesthetics at the front of the aircraft while preserving the good speed and range performance," he says.
With updating of its large-cabin range complete, and the G150 set to replacethe G100 as Gulfstream's mid-size offering, the company is known to be looking ata derivative of the super mid-size G200 with larger wing and bigger engines. "There is speculation the G200 is the next candidate, and with 100 aircraft out there we are getting a lot of input from customers," says Moss. "The cabin is the main selling point. If there is any shortfall it is in range and performance."
Two years on, Moss is comfortable with the logic - and nomenclature - of the rebranding. "Yes, there was some risk, but I am delighted we took the decisions we did," he says. "We are a little bit ahead of where we guessed we would be in recognition and respect from the industry. Long-time 'roman numeral' Gulfstream customers now know what we are talking about when we talk G100 and G200."
GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC CUTAWAY DRAWING / TIM HALL
Source: Flight International