Archive for December 2012


Another milestone: Autocade reaches 2,000 models

30.12.2012

The last few times Autocade reached a milestone, I blogged about it, and since this one is a bit of a Duesy, it deserves to be recorded.
   The car cyclopædia has reached 2,000 models, with the Opel Kadett D getting us there.
   It also passed 2½ million page views during December—I noticed it was about to cross 2 million back in March 2012. Not huge numbers if you break it down per day, but for something that was meant to be a hobby site, it’s not too bad. I also notice that it gets cited in Wikipedia from time to time.
   The history has been noted here before, especially when I first started it in 2008. It was meant to be an editable wiki, but, sadly, in 2011, the bots became too uncontrollable, and I made the decision to lock down the registration process. A small handful of people—I count four, including myself—have contributed to the site with content and programming, among them Keith Adams of AROnline and Peter Jobes. A fourth contributor, whose name I have forgotten, provided some early info on Indian cars.
   It’s still a bit light on American cars, mostly due to the issues of converting from cubic inches. Some of my references aren’t that accurate on this for the same reason, and I want to make sure that everything’s correct before it’s published. Most US sites just record cubic capacity in litres when metric measures are given, and we need to be more accurate. But we will get there.
   Of course, over the years, we have recorded some oddball cars. So, as I did for its fourth birthday, here is a selection. My thanks to Keith and Pete, and to all our readers.
   And since I blog less these days—Facebook (including the fan page), Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and the rest seem to take more of my attention—I imagine this is my last entry for 2012. Have a wonderful 2013, everyone!

Rambler by Renault: after Renault bought IKA’s operations in Argentina in the mid-1970s, it inherited a design based on the Rambler American.

Image:Renault_Torino.jpgRenault Torino. 1975–81 (prod. 100,000 approx. all versions). 4-door sedan, 2-door coupé. F/R, 2962, 3770 cm³ (6 cyl. OHC). Continuation of Rambler American (1964–9)-based IKA Torino, rebadged Renault after it took over IKA in 1975. Facelift in 1978. Very subtle changes thereafter, with Renault logo eventually displacing the Torino prancing horse. Two versions at the end of its run, the Grand Routier sedan and ZX coupé. A planned, more modern successor never saw the light of day.

Ford by Chrysler: Simca took over Ford’s operations in France in the 1950s, and the model it inherited, the Vedette, stayed in production long enough in Brazil for Chrysler to put its own badges on it when it bought Simca out.

Image:Chrysler_Esplanada.jpgChrysler Esplanada. 1967–9 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2505 cm³ (V8 OHV). As with Regente, rebadged when Chrysler took over Simca Brasil. Power reduced to 130 PS; comments for Regente apply here, with the principal outward difference being Esplanada’s higher trim level. Slightly more powerful engine.

Chrysler by Volkswagen: this one is perhaps better known. Chrysler found itself in such a mess by the end of the 1970s that it sold its Brazilian operations to Volkswagen, which eventually rebadged the local edition of the Hillman Avenger.

Image:1991_Volkswagen_1500.jpgVolkswagen 1500/Volkswagen 1500M. 1982–91 (prod. 262,668 all versions). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1498, 1798 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Facelifted version of Dodge 1500, itself an Argentine version of the Hillman Avenger. Had a good history as a Dodge in the 1970s, and sold on that goodwill as well as robustness; but largely seen as an economy model for VW in the 1980s. Five-speed gearbox from 1988, with air conditioning on more models.

Volkswagen by Ford: as part of the Autolatina JV in Brazil, Volkswagen and Ford rebadged each other’s models. A similar experiment was happening in Australia between Ford and Nissan, and Toyota and Holden, around this time.

Image:Ford_Versailles.jpgFord Versailles (B2). 1991–6 (prod. unknown). 2- and 4-door sedan, 3- and 5-door wagon. F/F, 1781, 1984 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC). Volkswagen Santana (B2) with redone front and rear ends, and addition of two-door sedan and three-door wagon. Part of the Autolatina tie-up in South America between Ford and VW, replacing Corcel-based Del Rey. No different to Volkswagens in that market, with same engines. Wagons called Royale, but five-door only added in 1995. Fairly refined by early 1980s’ standards but ageing by time of launch, though better than Del Rey.

While we’re looking at South America, the Aero-Willys probably deserves a mention. Autocade doesn’t have the Ford-badged versions there yet, but it will in due course. Thanks also to acquisitions, Ford wound up with Willys in Brazil, and built a Brooks Stevens-penned design till it was replaced by its own Maverick in the 1970s. Here is that car, with an old platform, but more modern (compared to the 1950s’ version) styling.

Image:1963_Aero_Willys.jpgAero Willys 2600 (213). 1963–8 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2638 cm³ (6 cyl. OHV). Rebodied Aero, considered one of the first all-Brazilian cars, originally shown at the Paris Salon the year before. US platform as before, and modern styling by Brooks Stevens, but this shape was unique to Brazil. Engine now with 110 hp. Rear end altered in 1965, and spun off upmarket Itamaraty model in 1966.

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Fifty-three years of the Nissan Bluebird: a long-lived model line comes to an end

24.12.2012

I’m not the biggest fan of the Nissan Bluebird, but a milestone happened earlier this month that a lot of the motoring press seems to have missed: the demise of this 53-year-old nameplate.
   Starting in 1959, Bluebird has been a mainstay of the Nissan line-up, and even when the traditional Bluebird line finished in its home country in 2001, Nissan kept the name going with the Bluebird Sylphy, a car based around the Pulsar.
   This month, with the third-generation Sylphy launching in Japan, after its release in China and Thailand, the Bluebird name disappeared—which had been expected, if you examine the evolution of Japanese (and many American) model names. Celica Camry gave way to Camry; Corona Premio gave way to Premio; Chevelle Malibu gave way to Malibu.
   So as a tribute to the Bluebird, here are all the ones that are on Autocade. Diehard Nissan fans, of course, know that the lineage continues in a way—the Altima line is directly derived from the Bluebird’s, and is its spiritual successor.

Image:Datsun_Bluebird_(310).jpgDatsun Bluebird/YLN 704 (310/311/312/DP311/DP312). 1959–63 (prod. n/a). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 988, 1189 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Akiro Sato-styled range, giving Datsun a more contemporary-looking entrant, but still with Anglo influences. More competitive than upright 210, and the first Datsun notching up some decent numbers in export markets. Hugely improved ride and handling. Semi-monocoque body. Larger 1·2 (48 hp) still similar to BMC B-series, which had powered Austins that Nissan built under licence, created to head off Volkswagen Käfer, which was doing well in the US. Wagon from 1960, automatic from 1961.

Image:Nissan_Bluebird_(410).jpgNissan Bluebird/YLN 705B (410/411). 1963–7 (prod. n/a). 2- and 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 988, 1189, 1299 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV), 1595 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC). If the 310 saw export success, then the 410 broke those records convincingly. Pininfarina styling was more globally appealing, especially in the US, and, at home, Bluebird overtook its arch-rival, the Toyopet Corona (T40), in sales. Lighter than predecessor, monocoque construction, longer wheelbase, shorter front and rear overhangs. Carryover engines initially. SS sport sedan in 1964, similar to Deluxe but with two 38 mm Hitachi side-draught carburettors, taking power to 65 hp, and four-speed gearbox. Two-door models in 1964; facelift later that year. In 1965, 411 series, with minor cosmetic changes. SSS (twin SU carbs, 90 hp, 1·6 from Fairlady) from 1965, starting a Bluebird tradition that would last till the line’s demise. Further minor changes in 1966. Range included a Fancy Deluxe model, supposedly targeted at women. Built in Taiwan by Yue Loong as YLN 705B.

Image:1969_Nissan_Bluebird_1600_Deluxe.jpgNissan Bluebird/YLN 706 (510). 1967–72 (prod. unknown). 2- and 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon, 2-door coupé. F/R, 1296, 1428, 1595, 1770 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC). Most famous of all the Bluebirds, thanks to modern OHC engines, excellent performance, and competition history. Four-wheel independent suspension—the first for a Nissan. Moved upmarket to accommodate introduction of Sunny in 1966. Seen as more advanced than rival Toyopet Corona (T40). Minor changes to grille in October 1968, coupé added the following month. Largest 1·8 added in 1970 for Bluebird SSS. Remained in production even after launch of larger Bluebird in 1971, after which the Nissan Violet filled the role of a smaller mid-size car. Exported as Datsun 510 or Datsun 1600.

Image:Nissan_Bluebird_U_1600_GL.jpgNissan Bluebird U (610). 1971–6 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan, 2-door coupé, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1595, 1770, 1952 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC). Bluebird U replaced successful 510 series, which ran alongside for the first year. Not as well loved, with performance emphasis gone, in favour of interior equipment and mid-Atlantic styling. Performance 1800 SSS model from May 1972, with five-speed gearbox; mid-term changes 1973. Two-litre from August 1973, with longer front end. Usually exported as Datsun 160B, 180B and 200B depending on engine size; South Africa called this the Datsun 180U.

Image:Nissan_Bluebird_1800_GL.jpgNissan Bluebird/Datsun 200B (810). 1976–81 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon, 2-door coupé. F/R, 1595, 1770, 1952 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC), 2143, 2393 cm³ (6 cyl. OHC). Bloated replacement for U series, evolving its predecessor’s styling, mixing sharp angles with a slight coke-bottle. Marketed in 1976 as a heavy-duty car in Japan, and the concept stuck. Not that successful in the home market with the second fuel crisis looming and its mixture of fours and sixes, though sold relatively well abroad. Built also in Australia (from 1978) as Datsun 200B, and exported from Japan to most countries as 160B, 180B and 200B, but called 810 in the US. Long-nose G6 versions housed straight sixes, while the sheetmetal was later used on long-nose G4s with the four-cylinder units after the mid-term facelift in 1978. Twentieth anniversary of the Bluebird nameplate 1979, with special commemorative edition. Production ceased in Japan in 1979, making it the shortest-lived Bluebird there, though continued in Australia to 1981.

Image:1980_Datsun_Bluebird.jpgNissan Bluebird (910). 1979–86 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon, 2-door coupé. F/R, 1595, 1598, 1770, 1809, 1952 cm³ petrol, 1952 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC), 2393 cm³ (6 cyl. OHC). Squared-off Bluebird began Nissan’s 1980s’ rise, dropping its alphanumeric model codes in many markets. Badged Datsun for export initially, with Nissan badges appearing in 1981. Sold in US as 810, 810 Maxima, and then Maxima from 1982. Conventional, despite sharp, boxy styling. End of Japanese production 1983. Facelift in Australia in 1985.

Image:Nissan_Maxima_(U11).jpgNissan Bluebird (U11). 1983–90 (prod. unknown). F/F, 1595, 1809, 1960, 1974 cm³ petrol, 1952 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC), 1998, 2960 cm³ (V6 OHC). 4-door sedan, 4-door hardtop sedan, 5-door wagon. Boxy front-drive Bluebird, resembling its predecessor. Stylistically out of step with the rounded styling of the 1980s, yet it was Nissan’s mainstay in the mid-sized sector in many markets. Called Maxima in US, with 3-litre V6 and longer nose similar to home-market hardtops’ and considered sportier than Toyota rivals; other markets made do with smaller engines. Europe received this model for two years until the Nissan Auster (T12) was sold there as the Bluebird from 1985, though the station wagon—lasting into the U12 era—continued there.

Nissan Bluebird (T72). 1987–90 (prod. unknown). 4- and 5-door sedan. F/F, 1598, 1809, 1973 cm³ petrol, 1952 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC). Facelift for British version of Auster, now fully built in the UK. Front slightly smoother than Japanese version, with some concessions to 1980s’ trends, though regarded as a dull, domestic-appliance range. Incredibly reliable, earning it adherents.

Image:1988_Nissan_Bluebird_Hardtop.jpgNissan Bluebird (U12). 1987–91 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan, 4-door hardtop sedan. F/F, F/A, 1598, 1809, 1973 cm³ petrol, 1952 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC), 1809, 1998 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Nissan concedes that 1980s’ design was more curvy than it insisted upon for U11. Range included four-wheel-drive and turbocharged (1·8 and 2·0) models, as well as ATTESA four-wheel-steering option. SR20DET two-litre turbo engine first appeared on ATTESA SSS model. Australian version, Nissan Pintara, had 2·4-litre option and some were exported to Japan. Sold as Nissan Stanza in US, though unrelated to Stanzas sold in Japan during the 1980s.

Nissan Pintara (U12). 1989–92 (prod. unknown). 4- and 5-door sedan. F/F, 1974, 2389 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC). Huge hype leading up to ‘Project Matilda’ Pintara launch—only to discover it was just an Australianized U12 Bluebird. Dull, and not a unique car that could take on Mitsubishi Magna. Twinned with Ford Corsair (1989–92). One bonus was a Superhatch (Bluebird Aussie in Japan, Bluebird Sporthatch in New Zealand), designed by Nissan Australia, which made the range look appealing. Quality down from Japanese models and relatively few survive. Last Australian Nissan as company exited local production in 1992.

Image:1992_Nissan_Bluebird.jpgNissan Bluebird (U13). 1991–5 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan, 4-door hardtop. F/F, F/A, 1597, 1839, 1998, 2388 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC), 1974 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC). Most curvaceous Bluebird, looking smaller than predecessor, complemented by more formal ARX hardtop. Sedan sold in US (where it was designed) as Nissan Altima. Rounded shape previewed direction of the larger Nissan Leopard J. Ferie. Range included, as before, ATTESA four-wheel-drive models. No wagon. Not that successful in Japan due to rounded styling; fared better on export. Independent rear suspension, with improvements in handling compared with U12. Centre of this model was used for Chinese EQ7200 series.

Image:Nissan_Bluebird_SSS.jpgNissan Bluebird (U14). 1996–2001 (prod. n/a). 4-door sedan. F/F, F/A, 1769, 1838, 1998 cm³ petrol (4 cyl. DOHC), 1973 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC). Dullest Bluebird, the end of a long-running line. No hardtop this time, only a single boxy sedan that was deemed to be the popular, conservative style—but was out of step again with consumer tastes. Shared platform with Nissan Primera (P11), hence a shorter wheelbase and overall length compared with U13. Minor changes in 1997 and 1998, with engine improvements. Fortieth anniversary of Bluebird nameplate in 1999 with limited-edition model. Pulsar-based Sylphy introduced in 2000 as final Bluebirds deleted the following year.

Image:2005_Nissan_Bluebird.jpgNissan Bluebird (EQ7200). 2000–5 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1998 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Chinese version of U13 Bluebird but with formal front and rear ends, lengthening car considerably. Built by both Dongfeng Motor Co. (東風 or 东风) and Yulon Motor (YLN, 裕隆). Usual Nissan virtues of a good engine and reliability; less inspiring to drive as model geared toward comfort. Updated to EQ7200-II in 2001, EQ7200-III in 2003 and EQ7200-IV in 2004. Last model to wear the Bluebird name without the Sylphy tag. Electric hybrid version (dubbed HEV) without Nissan or Bluebird names, still being trialled as of 2009.

Image:2005_Nissan_Bluebird_Sylphy.jpgNissan Bluebird Sylphy/Nissan Sunny/Nissan Sunny Neo/Nissan Sentra (G10). 2000 to date (prod. n/a). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1497, 1769, 1998 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Typical Japanese sedan, well engineered but not that inspiring. Effectively a four-door Nissan Pulsar (N16) with luxury appointments and a formal grille, appealing to traditional Japanese buyers. Long-running Bluebird name kept alive, but since it was not part of the same lineage, the Sylphy word was attached. Successful, even selling in modified form in Korea as Samsung SM3 (N17), and exported as Nissan Pulsar to some markets. Japanese production to 2005. Called Sentra in Malaysia, where it was facelifted in 2005 and continued in to the 2010s; Egypt assembled this model as Sunny, later Sunny EX.

Image:2006_Nissan_Bluebird_Sylphy.jpgNissan Bluebird Sylphy (G11). 2005–12 (prod. n/a). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1498, 1997 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Second-generation Sylphy, keeping the Bluebird nameplate, dating from the late 1950s, alive (though in Singapore, the Bluebird tag is missing). Although related to the US-market Nissan Sentra (B16), marketed as a rival to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord in Taiwan. Very roomy and longer than Sentra—4,610 mm length. As with the Sentra, the Sylphy is on a Renault Mégane II platform. Cast off to China in 2011 as the Dongfeng Fengsheng A60.

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A look back at 2012: from an Italian Job remake to a royal pregnancy

17.12.2012

Last year, it was quite humorous looking back on 2011 and what appeared on my Tumblr. And since my decade summary in December 2009 was a bit of a hit for some of you, I thought it might be worth a review of the year. In case you thought you missed out on much from the other blog, don’t fret.

January
   My friend Rachel Russell arrives in London. She writes, ‘Walking around London last night was like being in one of those ’80s “dystopian future” science-fiction movies. Similar to a zombie apocalypse.’
   Lucire blacks out its cover image for SOPA. I say it was like the time Bill Nighy ran headline-only pages in State of Play (the original one, not the Russell Crowe remake). It would affect free speech and the economy, I argued, and urged Americans to act.
   I fly to see Players in India, the remake of the remake of The Italian Job. It’s terrible. Wellington features as itself, but it also doubles unconvincingly for Sydney in some parts.
   The Indian PM has bad news for the economy: GDP growth is forecast to be only 7 per cent this year.

February
   Hustle finishes. It’s the end of an era for silly, one-hour, self-contained, escapist British series. Bring out the Persuaders DVDs. Or Jason King.
   Katy Perry used to be a good Brand.
   The British can now read headlines such as ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’ on Sundays now as Rupert Murdoch essentially retitles The News of the World.

March
   Pinterest is buggy. Then it gets redesigned and it looks worse.
   Charlie Brooker asks on 10 O’Clock Live: ‘Do you think [Angelina Jolie]’s annoyed that Joseph Kony has abducted more African children than she has?’
   Some netizens post a picture of Carl Weathers as George Dillon from Predator; others think that’s Joseph Kony.

April
   Westpac débuts advertising which reads, ‘Mind on your money, money on your mind?’ but Snoop Dogg does not shift his accounts there.
   Skyfall buzz begins on my blog.
   The Top Gear boys work on The Sweeney remake and I can’t watch the chase scene without thinking, ‘Turn off the traction control’ in a Borat accent.
   The Avengers débuts at cinemas but Scarlett Johansson is an unconvincing Emma Peel.

May
   Mitt Romney promises ‘A better Amercia’.
   Uh oh: The G. C. This brings back Sir Robert Muldoon’s quotation, ‘New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQ of both countries.’
   Fortunately, Bron or Broen, depending on which side the Øresund bridge you hail from, becomes my TV viewing for this month.
   My bad pun day, in response to a friend watching One Direction and Justin Bieber: ‘They seem like nice Bros. I’m not N’Sync with these 5ive New Kids on the Block but I’ll have to Take That as it comes. Never was in to that sort of music when I was younger, being from the East, 17. Part of the West life, I guess. It would be nice if we saw some Backstreet Boys, but they won’t be among the Wanted for viewers.’

June
   As pressure mounts in the Falklands, Sean Lock says in 8 out of 10 Cats, ‘The Falklands: it takes 14 hours to get there and it’s just a rock covered in seagull shit.’
   The Murdoch Press allegedly writes, ‘highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.’ Why one should use the Oxford comma.
   This lady is pregnant. Or not.

July
   Sue Chetwin of Consumer New Zealand is quoted as saying, ‘It’s marketing 101—[Vodafone New Zealand] seem to breach the rules quite regularly and you’d have to hope that these significant fines are a signal to them that they can’t continue to do that.’ How interesting that I would cite this a few months later.
   Campbell Live runs Miss Universe New Zealand Avianca Böhm’s recordings between her and pageant director Val Lott. Former winners rejoice.
   I Tweet, ‘There is a rumour that the Olympic closing ceremony will feature ‘Yakety Sax’ and a Benny Hill lookalike to chase the torch off-stage.’

August
   Vogue Italia’s legendary Anna Piaggi passes away.
   The Julian Assange case reaches high gear. Michael Moore and Oliver Stone write in The New York Times, ‘If Mr. Assange is extradited to the United States, the consequences will reverberate for years around the world. Mr. Assange is not an American citizen, and none of his actions have taken place on American soil. If the United States can prosecute a journalist in these circumstances, the governments of Russia or China could, by the same logic, demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws. The setting of such a precedent should deeply concern everyone, admirers of WikiLeaks or not.’
   My friend John Butler writes, ‘Ten years from now, no cyclists will bother showing up at the Tour de France. It will just be a bunch of lawyers gathering in an air-conditioned building for three weeks seeing who has the most money to blow filing lawsuits and discovery motions and subpœnas.’
   Samsung loses to Apple in a California court after a jury rushes to its decision.

September
   J-Lou means Jenna Louise Coleman and her surprise début in Doctor Who.
   The Sweeney hits cinemas and Britain goes nostalgic.
   USA Today launches its redesign.
   The return of Alarm für Cobra 11 on German TV screens.
   Lucire changes its 404 page to help with locating missing persons.
   Facebook is accused of revealing private messages when in fact most were wall-to-wall ones that everyone had forgotten about.

October
   Some folks are calling Skyfall ‘the best Bond ever’. I don’t agree.
   Ford Mustang fans have a convention in Wellington.
   At Miss Africa Wellington, I say, ‘Unlike another pageant, the judges’ decision is final.’
   The Rt Hon John Key defends his Hollywood studio tour by saying, ‘There’ll always be conspiracy theorists out there but I’m interested in jobs, not people who live in Fantasyland and want to make things up.’
   Hong Kong comes to a head over its identity versus the mainlanders who are coming to the city.
   I mock up a Jack Reacher promotional image:

November
   It’s really hard to turn on ‘Do Not Track’ in Google Chrome (and it does nothing anyway).
   President Barack Obama re-elected for his second term.
   There are no Ford Falcons on sale at Capital City Ford—it really looks like Ford is trying to kill its longest-running passenger car line.

December
   Summer Rayne Oakes’s Extinction now available to the public to view on Vimeo.
   Kate loves Willy, nek minnit, pregnant.
   TV viewers get upset when the Newtown, Conn. shooting cut in to Ellen.

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Volkswagen is a case for critical thinking, not blind following

16.12.2012

Here’s an article from Autoblog that combines several of the themes I enjoy writing about: cars, leadership, management and education.
   I’ve already hinted at this on my Facebook fan page, where I seem to post some of the pithy things these days. I sometimes try to avoid blogging about the same thing—a lot of what you see here are ideas that haven’t changed, especially a lot of the posts about social responsibility and branding.
   I don’t want to dissuade anyone from getting higher education but one has to remember: education, especially tertiary education, is meant to open your mind to other possibilities and to get you thinking about them critically. It’s why I enjoyed papers at law school like public law and jurisprudence: both had lecturers (Prof Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Assoc Prof Ian Macduff) who enjoyed a well reasoned argument, even when it didn’t agree with their own thinking. It’s also why I didn’t appreciate banking law, or several other papers, where you had to agree 100 per cent with the lecturer, and to hell with independent thinking.
   The MBA, then, can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing for those who treat it as it should be: a skill set, providing a framework, from which to analyse things. A curse for those who believe that certain case studies must be followed religiously, failing to take into account the conditions of their own organizations. Which brings us neatly to the Volkswagen case.
   It may be a bit of a simplification to say that MBA thinking killed GM, and Volkswagen has eschewed that to become one of the world’s greatest car manufacturers, but it’s not too far from the truth. If you read period American books on management—or even one of my favourites, Lee Iacocca’s autobiography—there is this idea of what ‘efficiency’ is, usually with a lot of outsourcing, finding cheaper and cheaper bases of manufacture, with another eye on how to raise the share price for the quarter. Not the best way to run a firm, especially when visions need to be set for years, decades or quarter-centuries. I’ve written about that aspect before.
   But the way John McElroy puts it in his article, ‘efficiency’ means an absence of overlap and vertical integration, yet with them, Volkswagen AG is the world’s largest car company ‘if you measure it by revenue and profits. Its revenue of $200 billion is greater than every other OEM. Last year’s operating profit of $14 billion is the kind of performance you expect from Big Oil companies, not automakers.’ Yet:

   Any efficiency expert would tell you that VW is too vertically integrated, has too much overlap and duplication, and has way too many brands. VW, meanwhile, keeps growing bigger, stronger and more profitable …
   Efficiency experts will tell you that on an employee-per-vehicle basis, Volkswagen looks hopelessly inefficient. Financial analysts will tell you that the company woefully trails its competitors on a revenue-per-employee basis. But VW will tell you that it makes more money than any other automaker—by far.

In fact, McElroy goes on to say that Volkswagen looks a lot like the General Motors of Alfred P. Sloan—before the MBAs got hold of it.
   The idea of ‘efficiency’ is often a misnomer. Most of British industry was dismantled with the mantra of efficiency, essentially giving it up to globalist, technocratic forces, helped along by the Slater Walkers and the governments of the time. Those decades, too, were driven by “experts”—and what resulted was neither efficient nor productive. The decline of British Leyland is perhaps one of the most telling examples of period thinking applied disastrously to the British motor industry, its skilled workers now happily picked up by the Japanese, Germans and Indians.
   By all means, if real savings can be had and long-term goals achieved, then efficiency is a wonderful thing. There are areas where technology should aid productivity. But watch out for that word efficiency. It doesn’t always mean what the experts say it means—and if revenue and profit decline as a result of it, and corporate culture is harmed, then you may be better off heeding the lessons that Volkswagen’s management has. Use that MBA as a framework, not as a playbook.

PS.: I took the same stance when arguing over how to save General Motors, as published as a reader letter in Condé Nast Portfolio magazine when it was still running. Naturally, GM followed the downsizing, brand-stripping route because it’s more efficient. Time will tell.

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