Venerable Ashtech brand retired in an effort to unify Thales Navigation’s product offerings.

Last October, in a move that may have come as a surprise to some, Thales Navigation, Santa Clara, Calif., recent parent of Magellan Corporation, consolidated all of its professional GPS products, including its well-known Ashtech brand, under the Thales Navigation brand name. A visit to soon after the announcement showed a fading Ashtech logo replaced by the Thales logo and the slogan, “Combining the best of two brands.” This slogan seems to beg the questions, what is the best of the two brands and why combine them?

The press release announcing the change stated that the re-branding was designed to unify Thales Navigation’s professional product offerings and streamline the company’s marketing communications efforts. The move would also allow Thales Navigation to leverage the strength of its corporate parent, Thales (Paris, France), a $10 billion global company, in the marketplace.

Neil Vancans, general manager of the Professional Products Business Unit, explains that the Thales name, as opposed to other brand names such as Ashtech, was chosen deliberately. “The Ashtech name is not well-known outside the United States and it doesn’t embody all the things that Thales does,” Vancans explained. “The name Ashtech certainly stood for technical success but not necessarily for financial success.” Thales views itself as a very strong company financially, representing long-term stability, while still being a leading technical force. “Surveyors, being for the most part conservative with their capital investments, want to know that if they spend $200 or $2,000, the company they invest that in will still be there in ten years,” Vancans said. The Thales name carries that level of security, he added.

“This is the best of all possible opportunities,” Vancans said. “Not only does Thales Navigation offer customers a rich history of product innovation and GPS market expertise, but it now also brings the financial strength of Thales and a great new name that is replete with vision and promise for future market expansion and leadership.”

Thales acquired Magellan Corporation in July of 2001, along with its Ashtech brand, and combined it with France-based Thales Navigation, S.A. to form Thales Navigation. Since the acquisition, the company has reached a number of strategic milestones: restructuring its organization to create two distinct business units, one for professional products and one for consumer products; bringing Vancans on board; and hiring Stig Pedersen, a leading product development and positioning expert formerly of Leica Geosystems, Atlanta, Ga., to drive the company’s GIS efforts. Vancans said he got the impression that something was going to happen at Thales, which is what brought him to the company. He also said he didn’t realize that he would play a part in making it happen, or that he would be this excited about the direction in which the company is headed.

With this brand change, Thales Navigation begins a renewed and focused marketing effort. It will support its dealers and customers during the transition through a comprehensive marketing campaign, including advertising begun last November, a broad website update and other key communication programs. Vancans said any change in technical support or customer service will only be for the better. Thales plans to be able to provide better, more unified service to its worldwide customers by rationalizing volume issues and bringing greater economies of scale.


Specialists in the GPS Market

Thales seeks to differentiate itself in the surveying market, claiming to be the only GPS specialist providers in the market. It does not and will not infringe on the optical surveying equipment market in an effort to maintain its status as a GPS specialist and give dealers a better chance to offer service focused on high-tech products, according to Vancans.

Thales boasts a strong CORS (Continuously Operating Reference Station) offering and launched the first direct Internet-connected GPS receiver, the Thales Navigation Internet-Enabled Continuous Geodetic Reference Station (iCGRS) system. The iCGRS provides direct Internet connectivity with a 12-channel, dual-frequency continuously operating geodetic reference station, making a laptop or other computer system unnecessary for data control, monitoring or downloading. The system features an embedded PC running Linux, an operating system renowned for its stability. The configuration means that the computer is virtually weatherproof and far less likely to crash than an attached Windows-based PC. Further, the iCGRS uses much less power than a traditional PC-based system—a mere eight watts, compared to a minimum of 30 watts for an external PC system. Because of its low power consumption, the iCGRS can be easily solar-powered, something not typically feasible for an external PC. Demonstrating the company’s commitment to making the life of the surveyor easier and allowing more people to engage in GPS surveying, the cost for the iCGRS is about the same as that of a standard reference station.

Thales Navigation continues to market its Magellan brand GPS solutions in the consumer electronics, recreation and automotive markets as, according to Vancans, “it would be difficult to gain more momentum in the consumer market with the Thales name than that which the Magellan name has already achieved.” According to Vancans, Magellan sales have grown “phenomenally” since the merger, to the tune of 50 percent or more.

Vancans hopes Ashtech customers will view the brand change as indicative of Thales’ direction for the survey market: “continuing our commitment to the customer by making products that work better and easier at lower costs.”