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Comment: It's a style thing

If the auto industry knows anything, it's that styling sells. Why do you want a Ferrari? Sure, it's fast and it makes a great noise. But, maybe most of all, it looks great - and it makes you look great, too.

After all, how many Ferrari drivers would like to find out if they still turned heads without the car and all the attendant fine threads, jewels and coiffure?

But what the car guys worked out long ago is that the same magic works all the way down the price spectrum. If you can only afford a Fiat, it still needs to look great. Fiat's asking you to part with a ton of cash to buy it, so the car - and by association its driver - needs to look great. Fiat knows that, and hires the best to staff the styling department.

PiperJet Altaire, Piper
 © Piper
That's better

When it comes to business jets, the same rules apply. There is plenty of competition, and many jet owners look very good pulling up to the airfield in Ferraris.

Gulfstream is as much a style statement as a brand of airborne conveyance. After shedding its turboprop aspirations for jets in the mid-1960s, it quickly rose to the zenith of ramp appeal.

Embraer, new to the light end of the business jet market, learned the value of raw sex appeal for a mould line with its Phenom 100 light jet when it hit the runways two years ago. Despite major teething problems with the aircraft for its first year or so of life, issues Embraer eventually overcame, customers never wavered in their devotion. That conviction came in large part because they had a hot looking aircraft that was giving passersby whiplash.

Piper now wants a piece of that action. At the National Business Aviation Association trade show in Atlanta on Tuesday it will reveal a sleek new mould line and name for its first jet product, the PiperJet. That a change was needed must have been very obvious to the company's new owners, Brunei-based Imprimis, which bought the airframer in total last year.

A scrub of the Frankenstein-like design (rectangular body of a Piper Meridian turboprop, jet wing, and turbo­fan engine way up on the tail, DC-10-style) ensued. The redesign, which Piper is putting the final touches on at its home base in Florida, results in a circular fuselage and a line that is actually attractive, even sexy, even with that big bold pickle of an engine up there.

It's not Brazilian hot nor upper crusty Gulfstream passionate, but it's a huge step forward for a company seeking to tap into the crowd that can and will pay to look marvellous.

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