The Mooney Aircraft Corporate – A lesson in marketing and manufacturingAviation Marketing 18 Comments
I have always liked Mooney airplanes, because they were always known as fast efficient airplanes for the amount of horsepower. Although they are a little compact and feel a little “tight” on the inside, once you get used to that feeling, they are actually roomy and quite comfortable. I think the latest trouble with the Mooney aircraft corporation, was a lack of direction and forgetting what a Mooney airplane was about?and that was Mooney?s have always been known as the economy champ, and they lost that distinction toward the end of production.
As of 2008, Mooney suspended production of the airplane due to a bankruptcy situation, which isn?t the only time Mooney has gone through bankruptcy. Seems this company has had struggles with capitalization over the years, and they were a small manufacturer that built only four place single engine airplanes. They had tried to merge with Mitsubishi on the MU-2 program, and they have had several investor/owners who apparently just weren’t able to commit to building the aircraft company into a multi-category type manufacture which left them vulnerable. At the same time, you can only take an airframe so far before you need to replace it with something that opens a new segment of aircraft sales, while being able to brand identify what product you are famous for.
My contention is that Mooney confused a lot of buyers over the years, and didn’t hold true to what made Mooney their reputation for performance for the horsepower. I once had an airline pilot friend of mine ask me at Oshkosh, “what Mooney is that?” while we stood at the Mooney display tent. I have always been able to identify airplanes, but this one threw me off because it was the Mooney Eagle, and I couldn’t quite make sense of why it was an Eagle and contrast it with the Mooney Ovation, what, why? Changing names doesn?t mean you will sell more airplanes, and Mooney continued to come up with a different model name when they should have learned from the Beechcraft Corporation on how to maintain the design designation so that people can recognize what they are looking at.
But the real problem with Mooney, was that they didn’t keep the trademark Mooney tradition of fast and economical airplanes. Although the Ovation could run circles around the earlier model M20J or 201, it was about as economical to operate as the Mooney 201, but you would have to seriously educate me on this, since Mooney never mentioned this as a real reason to consider the new improved airplane. Mooney started going after the Bonanza buyer, which by hanging a large engine on the front to make speed at the cost of fuel burn, was almost the worst thing Mooney could have done. Lycoming engines, especially the IO-540’s seem to be a lot thirstier engine than the Continental IO-550. When Mooney put a turbo-charged IO-540 on the airframe they had a very fast airplane, but they didn’t have the interior room that the next performance up-grade buyer wanted.
And that has been the problem with the Mooney, mostly the fuselage had been stretched to the limit of the airframe for all practical reasons, and the cabin just doesn’t have the same “feel” of roominess that it should. People weren’t willing to step out of their Bonanaza, Saratoga SP, or Cessna 210 Centurion just to go fast, the Mooney was just too small for a majority of buyers. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but no matter how much Cadillac tried to make the Cimarron a nice car, it was still a Chevy Cavalier in disguise, and I believe that applies here toward the M20M Bravo. I really think Mooney should have tried to message more speed out of the Mooney 201, 231, and 252 airframes, and figure out a larger six place airplane with the wing and empennage that made the Mooney’s famous.
I always liked Mooney’s use of the top speed of the airplane as a way to identify which Mooney it was, and I would have probably took a serious hard look at how I was going to market the product and kept this aspect. I do think the Mooney airplane has a wing that is very efficient and strong, and would have tried to mate that to a new design that would perhaps have a six passenger cabin, that could cruise 220 miles per hour on less than 20 gallons per hour. What doomed the Mooney Aircraft Co., was the fact that Cirrus had a SR22 that was very quick and offered fixed gear, while Cessna introduced the Columbia that gave the Mooney a run for the money. Had Mooney spent their money on the efficiency game, they would have at least had a niche they could have owned, since anytime the price of fuel goes up, Mooney airplanes hold up their value better than ever.
But Mooney really had to design a new fuselage, because the old one just didn?t have a lot left in the product cycle life to use. The airplane was originally designed back in the 1950’s when people were shorter/smaller/lighter, and most of the newer buyers just didn’t fit in the Mooney airplanes anymore. They have a unique design in that it is a welded steel tubing section surrounding the occupants, and they also have a one piece wing that has been known as one of the strongest wings in the industry, so why not use those manufacturing methods to come up with a new design? Perhaps just widening the fuselage along with a higher cabin would have been all it took, and shouldn?t have been that much to re-certify since the wing/empennage wouldn?t have changed. I know when I climb into a new Bonanza A36, the sit up tall seats and feel of room makes everything ok even though it has a narrow fuselage.
Will Mooney ever make it back? I doubt it. I think the airplane has had its best days and although they could sell a few here and there, it would never be profitable. Aviation needs some innovation, a reason to buy the new product because everyone looks at the Mooney as your grandpa’s Oldsmobile rebadged and isn’t that exciting. Mooney at one time did try a Porsche engine in the airframe, but it cost more money than the stock 201 and carried less and was slower. It did have a cool engine management system, more fuel efficient automated way of operating the engine, but it wasn’t a big enough benefit to say I want one. Perhaps Mooney should have taken the M20R and found a way to pressurize the cabin, which would have given a reason to buy a fast single engine airplane Vs. the fixed gear airplane that was fast otherwise. Mooney also tried this with the M22 Mooney Mustang, but they didn’t sell many of them, the pressurization was a little early in the game, and the airplane was ugly which didn’t help.
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