Posts tagged ‘1990s’

March 2021 gallery



All galleries can be seen through the ‘Gallery’ link in the header, or click here (especially if you’re on a mobile device). I append to this entry through the month.

Ford Taunus by Otosan, 1992: more at Autocade.
   Tipalet advertisement, sourced from Twitter. Based on what my parents told me, this wouldn’t have appealed even then!
   Fiat Ritmo Diesel, Tweeted by Darragh McKenna.
   Emory University letter, Tweeted by Haïtian Creative.
   The Jaguar XJ-S was first marketed as the S-type in the US—more at this Tweet from the Car Factoids. More on the XJ-S here on Autocade.
   Bree Kleintop models Diff Charitable Eyewear, shared on Instagram.
   Alisia Ludwig photographed by Peter Müller, from Instagram.
   The Daily Campus, February 19, 2021, and Metropolitan Police newspaper quote, sourced from Twitter.
   Ford Cortina Mk II 1600E two-door, one of 2,563 made for export only. Source: the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Alisia Ludwig photographed by Weniamin Schmidt, shared on Instagram.
   Ford Cortina Mk II 1600E advertisement, sourced from Twitter.
   Morris 2200 HL advertisement: more on the car at Autocade.
   More on the Dodge Charger L-body at Autocade.
   More on the Samsung XM3, also at Autocade.

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More TV Dregs, please


I was looking through the old JY&A links’ section, which dates back to the beginning of the site in the 1990s (indeed, back to Windows 3·1, as we couldn’t use a file name with more than three letters in the suffix). The last revamp of its look was over 15 years ago, judging by its appearance, and, although I attempted to update it to the current template, I decided the result was duller. It’s not an area where too many images were used, and the old look was probably more representative of what it is: a relic of the original dot-com era. As I explain on the introductory page (which has been facelifted), one reason for keeping it is to honour link exchanges that I made with other webmasters at the time, but I doubt it’s examined particularly often. The main text column is wide on a modern screen, but it would have looked fine at 1,024 by 768 pixels 15 years ago.
   One site that I linked, at its last update (which was probably around 2003 or 2004), was the humorous TV Dregs, which is written in a documentary style, about the lesser known TV shows that aired in the UK. The catch: every entry is fictional. It got me thinking about what it could have had if it were updated, and while I’ve done these jokes before (the Game of Thrones one I have cracked ad nauseam on social media), this was an attempt to write the entries in a TV Dregs style. They’re not as good as theirs but then I’m not a professional humorist. I might have to send them a note to let them know that 18 years after their founding, they’re still getting visits from me and eliciting some laughs.

Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011)
With Changing Rooms, Restoration Home, DIY SOS, and Love Your Garden each dealing with different aspects of home renovation, HBO responded with Game of Thrones, where seven teams competed to fix toilets, to win the coveted prize of the Iron Throne. Hosted by Channel 4’s Jon Snow, it featured celebrity appearances, notably from Sean Bean in the first series. Given the locations, participants often got wet and the show became known more for the nudity as clothes had to be dried; but the ideas in the show got particularly extreme with on-set weddings, and in series 4, poisoned wine, to force players to finish their toilets in record time so they could relieve themselves. Host Snow even appeared to have died on the show, though fans knew he was all right since he appeared on Channel 4 News the next day.

The Master (BBC, 2006)
With Doctor Who revived, the BBC were keen to capitalize on its success with a spin-off centring around its recurring villain, the Master, this time played by John Simm. Who alumna Billie Piper kicked off the series with the unforgettable voiceover, ‘My name is Rose Tyler. I had an accident and woke up in 1973.’ Set in the 1970s, with the Third Doctor exiled to Earth while the Master ran rampant with his weekly schemes, it was highly acclaimed, though certain fans were up in arms with the regeneration scene at the end of series two, when the Master turns into a woman (Keeley Hawes). The show was eventually merged back into Doctor Who, placating fans who were glad that the Doctor would not suddenly change gender.

The Master even dons the Ninth Doctor’s jacket

Colombo (ITV, 2003)
With the cancellation of Columbo in the US, after a final episode with Billy Connolly, producers were keen to continue the concept but, with interest in foreign-location police dramas (Wallander, Zen), it was retooled from the US setting to one in Sri Lanka, guaranteeing support from Asian diaspora. Still starring Peter Falk in a humorous fish-out-of-water tale, the gamble didn’t really work, since, as was pointed out at the time, only the supporting characters were played by Asians while the star remained white. It was also very predictable as Patrick McGoohan played the villain, albeit with different disguises, each week.

The Unger Games (ITV, 2012)
This remake of The Odd Couple takes place in a dystopian future, with Donald Sutherland as Oscar and Stanley Tucci as Felix, taking over the lead roles. Look out for a young Jennifer Lawrence as police cadet Marie Greshler, in the role that propelled her to fame. The principal change each week from the Neil Simon original was that Oscar was always finding ways to kill Felix, albeit unsuccessfully, though the shocking and dark finalé sees now-Officer Greshler plan to kill Felix, but turns on Oscar instead. A grim ending to an otherwise humorous sitcom.

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Branding ourselves in the 2020s: a revamp for JY&A Consulting’s website,


Last night, I uploaded a revised website for JY&A Consulting (, which I wrote and coded. Amanda came up with a lot of the good ideas for it—it was important to get her feedback precisely because she isn’t in the industry, and I could then include people who might be looking to start a new venture while working from home among potential clients.
   Publishing and fonts aside, it was branding that I’m formally trained in, other than law, and since we started, I’ve worked with a number of wonderful colleagues from around the world as my “A team” in this sector. When I started redoing the site, and getting a few logos for the home page, I remembered a few of the old clients whose brands I had worked on. There are a select few, too, that I’m never allowed to mention, or even hint at. C’est la vie.
   There are still areas to play with (such as mobile optimization)—no new website is a fait accompli on day one—and things I need to check with colleagues, but by and large what appears there is the look I want for 2021. And here’s the most compelling reason for doing the update: the old site dated from 2012.
   It was just one of those things: if work’s ticking along, then do you need to redo the site? But as we started a new decade, the old site looked like a relic. Twenty twelve was a long time ago: it was the year we were worried that the Mayans were right and their calendar ran out (the biggest doomsday prediction since Y2K?); that some Americans thought that Mitt Romney would be too right-wing for their country as he went up against Barack Obama—who said same-sex marriage should be legal that year—in their presidential election; and Prince Harry, the party animal version, was stripping in Las Vegas.
   It was designed when we still didn’t want to scroll down a web page, when cellphones weren’t the main tool to browse web pages with, and we filled it up with smart information, because we figured the people who’d hire us wanted as much depth as we could reasonably show off on a site. We even had a Javascript slider animation on the home page, images fading into others, showing the work we had done.
   Times have changed. A lot of what we can offer, we could express more succinctly. People seem to want greater simplicity on websites. We can have taller pages because scrolling is normal. As a trend, websites seem to have bigger type to accommodate browsing on smaller devices (having said that, every time we look at doing mobile versions of sites, as we did in the early 2000s, new technology came along to render them obsolete)—all while print magazines seem to have shrunk their body type! And we may as well show off, like so many others, that we’ve appeared in The New York Times and CNN—places where I’ve been quoted as a brand guy and not the publisher of Lucire.
   But, most importantly, we took a market orientation to the website: it wasn’t developed to show off what we thought was important, but what a customer might think is important.
   The old headings—‘Humanistic branding and CSR’, ‘Branding and the law’ (the pages are still there, but unlinked from the main site)—might show why we’re different, but they’re not necessarily the reasons people might come to hire us. They still can—but we do heaps of other stuff, too.
   I might love that photo of me with the Medinge Group at la Sorbonne–CELSA, but I’m betting the majority of customers will ask, ‘Who cares?’ or ‘How does this impact on my work?’
   As consumer requirements change, I’m sure we’ll have pages from today that seem irrelevant, in which case we’ll have to get on to changing them as soon as possible, rather than wait nine years.
   Looking back over the years, the brand consulting site has had quite a few iterations on the web. While I still have all these files offline, it was quicker to look at the Internet Archive, discovering an early incarnation in 1997 that was, looking back now, lacking. But some of our lessons in print were adopted—people once thought our ability to bring in a print æsthetic was one of our skills—and that helped it look reasonably smart in a late 1990s context, especially with some of the limited software we had.

   The next version of the site is from the early 2000s, and at this point, the website’s design was based around our offline collateral, including our customer report documents, which used big blocks of colour. The example I took was from 2003, but the look may have débuted in 2001. Note that the screen wouldn’t have been as wide as a modern computer’s, so the text wouldn’t have been in columns as wide as the ones in the illustration. Browsers also had margins built in.

   We really did keep this till 2012, with updates to the news items, as far as I can make out—it looks like 2021 wasn’t the first time I left things untouched for so long. But it got us work. In 2012, I thought I was so smart doing the table in the top menu, and you didn’t need to scroll. And this incarnation probably got us less work.

   There’s still a lot of satisfaction knowing that you’ve coded your own site, and not relied on Wordpress or Wix. Being your own client has its advantages in terms of evolving the site and figuring out where everything goes. It’s not perfect but there’s little errant code here; everything’s used to get that page appearing on the site, and hopefully you all enjoy the browsing experience. At least it’s no longer stuck in the early 2010s and hopefully makes it clearer about what we do. Your feedback, especially around the suitability of our offerings, is very welcome.

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Posted in business, design, internet, marketing, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »

Searching for Murray Smith


Earlier today Strangers, the 1978 TV series created by Murray Smith, came to mind. Smith created and wrote many episodes of one of my favourite TV series, The Paradise Club (which to this day has no DVD release due to the music rights), and penned an entertaining miniseries Frederick Forsyth Presents (the first time that I noticed one Elizabeth Hurley) and a novel I bought when I first spotted it, The Devil’s Juggler. He also wrote one of my favourite Dempsey and Makepeace episodes, ‘Wheel Man’, which had quite a few of the hallmarks of some of his other work, including fairly likeable underworld figures, which came into play with The Paradise Club.
   Yet there’s precious little about Smith online. His Wikipedia entry is essentially a version of his IMDB credits with some embellishments, for instance. It doesn’t even record his real name.
   Don’t worry, it’s not another dig at Wikipedia, but once again it’s a reflection of how things aren’t permanent on the web, a subject I’ve touched on before after reading a blog entry from my friend Richard MacManus. And that we humans do have to rely on our own memories over what’s on the ’net still: the World Wide Web is not the solution to storing all human knowledge, or, at least, not the solution to accessing it.
   It’s easy to refer to the disappearance of Geocities and the like, and the Internet Archive can only save so much. And in this case, I remember clearly searching for Murray Smith on Altavista in the 1990s, because I was interested in what he was up to. (He died in 2003.) I came across a legal prospectus of something he was proposing to do, and because it was a legal document, it gave his actual name.
   Murray Smith was his screen name, and I gather from an article in The Independent quoting Smith and his friend Frederick Forsyth, he went by Murray, but the family name was definitely Murray-Smith. Back in those days, there was a good chance that if it was online, it was real: it took too much effort to make a website for anyone to bother doing fake news. My gut says it was George David Murray-Smith or something along those lines, but there’s no record of that prospectus online any more, or of the company that he and Forsyth set up together to make Frederick Forsyth Presents, which I assume from some online entries was IFS Productions Ltd. Some websites’ claim that his name was Charles Maurice Smith is incorrect.
   Looking today, there are a couple of UK gazette entries for George David Murray Smith (no hyphen) in the armed forces, including the SAS in the 1970s, which suggest I am right.
   Even in the age of the web, the advantage still lies with those of us who have good memories who can recall facts that are lost. I’ve often suggested on this blog that we cannot fully trust technology, and that there’s no guarantee that even the official bodies, like the UK Companies’ Office, will have complete, accessible records. The computer is a leveller, but not a complete one.

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Was it six networks or only five? In all this excitement, they’re ‘Still the One’


I’m sure there are many, many more examples of this tune being used to promote TV networks, but it seems to be a standard in at least three countries I know, and probably far more besides.
   It is, of course, ‘Still the One’, which ABC used in the US to celebrate being the top-rated network there in 1977 for the second consecutive year. It was rare for ABC to be on top, but I think the general consensus was that jiggle TV got them there.
   Australia, which has always had a lot of US influences, then used it for Channel 9 in 1978 and included the original American footage. It would have been properly licensed but in the days before YouTube, and less international travel, few would have known of the origins.
   It was then adapted for the Murdoch Press’s Sky One satellite network in the UK the next decade (did they first see it in Australia?), before being revived by 9 in Australia in 1988. It was adapted once again for TVNZ’s Channel 2 here in New Zealand to kick off the 1990s.
   The slogan was used regularly by 9 as the 1990s dawned though new songs replaced the original, and by the end of the 1990s, both Channel 9 and its NBN sister were using the familiar tune again.
   Was that the end? In 2003, WIN, another Australian network, brought it back for their promos. As far as I can tell, WIN, a regional broadcaster, doesn’t have a connection to 9, but instead has an agreement with the Ten Network there. Just to make things confusing, 9 was using it at the same time, and it continued to do so into the mid-2000s.
   A quick internet search on Duck Duck Go reveals it was originally a song performed by the band Orleans in 1976, from their album Waking and Dreaming. The song was written by the then-married Johanna and John Hall. It charted at number five in the US. Given that it was used by ABC in 1977, it would have been a familiar tune to Americans at the time. I wonder if the Halls expected it would become a TV network standard in so many countries, and what did they think?
   Let me know if there are other countries and networks that used this—I’ve a feeling it went even further!



Channel 9, Australia (1978)

Sky One, UK

Channel 9, Australia (1988)

Channel 2, New Zealand

Channel 9 and NBN, Australia (1998)

WIN, Australia

Channel 9, Australia (2003)

Channel 9, Australia (2006)

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Have we stopped innovating in online publishing?


For a while, we’ve been thinking about how best to facelift the Lucire website templates, to bring them into the 2020s. The current look is many years old (I’ve a feeling it was 2016 when we last looked at it), which in internet terms puts this once-cutting edge site into old-school territory.
   But what’s the next step? When I surf the web these days, so many websites seem to be run off one of several templates, and there aren’t many others out there. After you scroll down past the header, everything more or less looks the same: a big single-column layout with large type.
   I know we have to make things responsive, and we haven’t done this properly, by any means. The CSS will have to be reprogrammed to suit 2020s requirements. But I am reminded of when we adopted many of the practices online publishers do today, except we did them nearly two decades ago.
   Those of you who have been with us a long time, and those who might want to venture into the Wayback Machine, might know that we provided “apps” for hand-held devices even then. We offered those using Palm Pilots and the like a small, downloadable version of the Lucire news pages. We had barely any takers.
   Then Bitstream (if I recall correctly) came out with tech that could reduce pages to a lower resolution and narrower pixel width so those browsing on smaller devices could do so, and those of us publishing for larger monitors no longer needed to do a special version.
   So that was the scene 20 years ago. Did apps, no one cared; and eventually tech came out that rendered it all unnecessary. It’s why I resisted making apps today, because I keep expecting history to repeat itself. I can’t be the only one with a memory of the first half of the 2000s. As a non-technical person, I expect there’d be something like that Bitstream technology today. Maybe there is. I guess some browsers have a reader mode, and that’s a great idea. And if we want to offer that to our readers, it can’t be too hard to find a service that we can point modern smartphone users to, and they can browse all sites to their hearts’ content.
   Except I know, as with so many tech things, that it isn’t that easy, that in fact it’s all so much harder. Server management hasn’t become easier in 2020 compared with 2005, all as the computing industry loses touch with everyday people like me who once really believed in the democratization of technology and bridging the digital divide.
   Back to the templates. I wrote on NewTumbl yesterday, ‘Remember when we could surf the web pretty easily and find amazing new sites, and creative web designs, as people figured out how best to exploit this medium? These days a lot of websites all look the same and there’s far less innovation. Have we settled into what this medium’s about and there’s no need for the same creativity? I’m no programmer, so I can’t answer that, but it wasn’t that long ago we could marvel at a lot of fresh web designs, rather than see yet another site driven by the same CMS with the same single-column responsive template. Or people just treat a Facebook page or an Instagram feed as their “website”, and to heck with making sure it’s hosted on something they have control over.’
   And that’s the thing: I haven’t visited any sites that really jumped out at me, that inspires me to go, ‘What a great layout idea. I must see if I can do something similar here.’ My very limited programming and CSS design skills aren’t being challenged. This is a medium that was supposed to be so creative, and when I surf, after finding a page via a search engine, those fun moments of accidental discovery don’t come any more. The web seems like a giant utilitarian information system, which I suppose is how its inventor conceived it, but I feel it could be so much more. Maybe the whole world could even get on board a fair, unbiased search engine, and a news spidering service that was current and didn’t prioritize corporate media, recognizing that stories can be broken by independents. Because such a thing doesn’t really exist in 2020, even though we had it in the early 2000s. It was called Google, and it actually worked fairly. No search engine with that brand name strikes me as fair today.
   I am, therefore, unsure if we can claim to have advanced this medium.

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Posted in design, internet, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »

The team approach


At the end of the last century, the National Government announced its Bright Future programme. Their research had identified that one thing holding back our national competitiveness was our devotion to the team rather than the individual, when in fact there have been many times New Zealand individuals have made immeasurable contributions and had not been fêted. It compared us with the US, where someone like Bill Gates—I seem to recall he was held up as an example—could be recognized by many as an innovator, while the equivalent Kiwi wasn’t generally known. One of the first moves was to knight Angus Tait, the Christchurch entrepreneur.
   These Kiwi pioneers are still around—people like Dr Sean Simpson of LanzaTech, for instance, using bacteria to consume carbon monoxide and turning it into ethanol—but other than news programmes, they’re not part of our mainstream, and part of me wonders if they should be. They are doing work that should be rewarded and recognized.
   However, the team spirit that New Zealand exhibits all the time, and admires, such as the All Blacks, the Black Ferns, or yachting’s Team New Zealand, could help with the COVID-19 pandemic, as it’s invoked in our response. The four-week lockdown ordered by the New Zealand government has, from what I see out there, been generally accepted, even if I’ve publicly Tweeted that I’d like to see more testing, including of all those arriving back on our shores, including the asymptomatic. (I note today that the testing criteria have been loosened.) The places held up to have done well at “flattening the curve”, such as Taiwan, have managed it because, it is believed by the Financial Times and others, there is a community response, and, I would add, a largely homogeneous view when it comes to being in it together, helped in part by experience with the SARS outbreak, and possibly by the overall psyche of ‘We have an external threat, so we have to stick together.’ Each territory has a neighbour that it’s wary of: Taiwan looks across the strait at the mainland, since there hasn’t really been an armistice from 1949; Singapore has Malaysia as its rival; and South Korea has North Korea.
   Across Taiwan, there have been 13·5 cases per million population, or a total of 322 cases; New Zealand is currently sitting on 134·5 per million, or 647 cases. Singapore is on 158·7 per million, or 926 cases; South Korea, which is now seeing a fairly low daily new case increase, is on 190·9 per million, or 9,786 cases.
   I support the Level 4 approach in principle, and having the lockdown, and while we aren’t accustomed to the “external threat” as the cited Asian countries, we are blessed with the team spirit that binds Kiwis together. We are united when watching the Rugby World Cup or the America’s Cup as we root for our side, and the unity is mostly nationwide. There are some on the fringe, particularly on Facebook, based on what others have said, with ideas mostly imported from foreign countries that are more divisive than ours.
   On that note, we might have been very fortunate to have the national culture that we do to face down this threat—and not have any one person standing out as we knuckle down together. Even those who are seen regularly delivering the news—the director-general of health, for instance—do so in humble fashion, while our own prime minister goes home after we go to Level 4 and answers questions in her Facebook comment stream via live video. Even if economically we aren’t egalitarian, culturally we believe we are, and it seems to be keeping us in good stead.

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Posted in business, China, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics | 1 Comment »

Peter Hanenberger’s unintended post mortem of Holden


The 2009 Chevrolet Caprice SS, sold in the Middle East but made in Australia.

I came across a 2017 interview with former Holden chairman Peter Hanenberger, who was in charge when the company had its last number-one sales’ position in Australia. His words are prescient and everything he said then still applies today.
   He spent over four and a half decades at GM so he knows the company better than most. Since he departed in 2003 he had seven successors at the time of the interview; and I believe there have been a couple more since.
   A few interesting quotes.

‘It’s [now] a very short-sighted company.’
It feels like it. The sort of retreating it’s done, the dismantling of global operations, and the failure to see how global platforms can achieve economies of scale is something only a company beholden to quarterly stock price results will do. And it doesn’t help its longevity.
   Even Holden, which looked like it was going to simply depart the passenger-car sector at the end of last year before a full withdrawal now, tells us that there doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan in place that the US management is committed to. Not long ago they were going on about the two dozen models they planned to launch to field a competitive line-up.

‘For me General Motors was a global player. Today General Motors is shrinking to an American company with no foresight, which is in very bad shape, which has missed the market.’
Remember Hanenberger said this in 2017, when it still had presences in many Asian countries. In 2020 it very much looks like GM will be in the Americas (where it still fields reasonably complete line-ups, although God knows if they have anything in the pipeline to replace the existing models) and China. Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand are gone or going, and western Europe went in 2017 before the interview.

‘Maybe it fits into the vision of Trump; America first. But how the world is going to work also in the future is not because of America first and America only. It’s global. I think there will be no GM in the near-future.’
Everyone else is desperate to do tie-ups while GM retreats. I think GM will still be around but it’ll be a Chinese firm.

‘I couldn’t give a shit what they thought in America.’
I don’t mean this as an anti-American quote, but I see it as a dig against bean counters (whatever their nationality) fixated on the short term and not motorheads who know their sector well.

‘For me Holden didn’t have enough product, and the second one [priority] was I wanted to get these cars they had into export. For me it was very clear the products they had could be exported and they should go on to export.’
You saw the failure of this in the early 2010s when Holden failed to keep its Middle Eastern deals, and the US models returned. It could have been so different, though I realize GM was very cash-strapped when they needed the US taxpayer to bail them out.
   Bruce Newton, who wrote the piece, says that the Middle East was worth up to 40,000 units per annum, with A$10,000 profit per car. It cost Holden A$20 million to develop them for left-hand drive. I’d have held on to that sort of opportunity for dear life.

‘There was nothing going on that was creative towards the future of Holden as in Australia, New Zealand and toward the export market. They just neglected this whole thing.’
That was Hanenberger when he visited his old workplace in 2006. With product development cycles the way they are, it’s no wonder they were so ill placed when the Middle Eastern markets lost interest in the VE Commodore and WM Caprice (as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice), and China in the Buick Park Avenue.
   It’s an interesting interview and perhaps one of the best post mortems for Holden, even if it wasn’t intended to be so three years ago.

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Posted in business, cars, China, leadership, USA | 1 Comment »

The death of Holden


GM pulled out of Russia and India, so with hindsight, those of us Down Under, with a far smaller total population, shouldn’t have thought we were particularly special.
   Even where GM remains, such as South Korea, there’s a broken model range, with a big gap where the Cruze used to be.
   It’s becoming apparent that GM, with no more right-hand-drive markets to cater for, will be a company that only offers full lines in China and the Americas.
   Some GM-watchers have been calling for the demise of Holden for years, just as they had called for the deaths of Oldsmobile and Pontiac years before. But as I argued in a letter published in the (also-defunct) Condé Nast Portfolio, each brand occupies unique territory, and, had they not been diluted, could still appeal to certain buyers that more mainstream ones, e.g. Chevrolet, cannot reach.
   Holden was always a tough case in Australia, where we noted it was very tied to nationalism. Once local manufacture finished, its sales plummeted.
   It wasn’t the case in New Zealand, where all cars had been imported for decades and we never had the sense that Holden was our ‘own car’. However, GM New Zealand (as it then was) had created a handful of Holdens unique to this market that the Australians never saw. Once upon a time, it was a more independent beast.
   When Holden ceased Australian manufacture, sales didn’t drop the same way in this country. With Kiwis loving entries in the CD market, the Commodore isn’t an uncommon sight, and remains the choice of the police.
   But the same argument of economies of scale applies to New Zealand, a country with a population of five million: GM had no desire to allow this country much wiggle room compared with Australia. Whatever happened there would necessarily happen here.
   Those 600 jobs that are going include redundancies in New Zealand.
   Over the years it had seemed Holden was on life support. There was a golden age where the HQ series and its derivatives flew the Holden flag high, but after the oil crises, there was a real possibility the company could have bit the dust in the mid-1980s, becoming an import-only operation.
   A plan circulated within GM to replace the top Holdens with Cadillacs, while the rest of the range would be made up of cars from around the GM empire—which, in those days, included Opel and Isuzu.
   But the Australians won the day and the VN Commodore got the green light. By the end of the 1990s, Holden was in great shape, including an export programme for cars based off the VT Commodore.
   You could say history repeated itself with the global financial crisis in the late 2000s—where GM, keen to continue, asked for US$50,000 million from the US taxpayer. But perhaps more importantly, it sold the controlling stake in its venture with SAIC of China to its Chinese partner for a mere US$85 million. That was one deal that allowed GM to raise funds elsewhere, but it also saw the beginning of a technological transfer to China. Even after GM bought back the share, SAIC would get control of the JV’s sales’ company.
   Numerous SAIC cars were built on GM platforms—the Roewe 950, for example. Cars made by GM ventures began appearing with SAIC-owned brands—the MG Hector in India, a rebadged Baojun 530, for one; it also appears as the second-generation Chevrolet Captiva in some other markets. Once upon a time GM might have earned a royalty for any car built on its tech, but it’s unlikely here as the two companies share in the profits.
   While SAIC hasn’t succeeded with MG Down Under, you notice more of a push these days, and it has already made an impact in New Zealand with the Maxus commercial line-up, rebadged LDV. Export sales aren’t a big deal for the Chinese giant, but with the Chinese economy slowing, they could be eyeing up more international markets.
   With SAIC keen to get more of the action for themselves, GM’s operations in many of its outposts became irrelevant.
   Holden held on for dear life and arguably had one of its more competitive ranges for years—but in this context, GM might not have had much choice.
   It has little to do with the consolidation of markets and all to do with much higher-level strategic decisions. After all, hardly anyone in China will have grown up with idea of Holden being Australia’s own car.

This post also appears in Drivetribe and Lucire Men.

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Posted in business, cars, China, New Zealand, USA | 2 Comments »

In the 1980s, I thought society would evolve to become more efficient and smarter


Growing up in a relatively wealthy country in the 1980s, after getting through most of the 1970s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world would just keep getting better and things would make more sense as humans evolved.
   From a teenager’s perspective: home computers, with a modulator–demodulator (modem), could bring you information instantaneously and from around the world. As an immigrant kid, that excited me: contact with people “back home” and from other places, making communication quicker. You could hear from others, and you could help others who needed you. And if you didn’t have a computer that could connect to a bulletin board, there was Teletext, which gave you regularly updated information through your TV set.
   Cars were getting more aerodynamic, which meant they would use less fuel, and that was understood universally to be a good thing. MPVs were very practical vehicles that had small footprints yet fitted a lot of people, or stuff, inside. Here in New Zealand, natural gas-powered dual-fuel cars were mainstream, and that meant we weren’t reliant on overseas oil. They also didn’t pollute anywhere near what petrol did—they burned cleanly.
   And since saving energy was understood to be a good thing, who knew? Before long solar power would be the norm for new homes and we’d be putting electricity back into the grid.

Alex Snyder/Wayne National Forest/Creative Commons

   I also heard about recycling for the first time as a teen, and that seemed like a good thing—all that old paper and plastic could have a second life.
   People were interested in being more efficient because no one wanted a repeat of the oil shocks of the 1970s. Nor did we want the government imposing carless days on us again.
   That same teenager would have thought that by the dawn of the 21st century—if the US and Soviet Union behaved—we’d have evolved to have recognized that we had the tools to make things better.
   When the internet came to our house in the 1990s, I saw it as a direct evolution of the 1980s’ optimism. It made sense.
   So through that lens, a lot of what the world looks like today doesn’t make sense.
   We have connected computers, milliards which are handheld, yet some of us are addicted to them and others use them to express outrage, rather than delight in having any contact at all with people thousands of miles away.
   SUVs outsell regular cars in some size segments. They are less aerodynamic, use more fuel, and are less efficient. We have American companies—Ford in the US and Holden here—saying that they’ll stop selling cars in most segments in favour of utility trucks, crossovers and SUVs. Petrol is expensive, and I complain about it, but I guess no one else thinks it’s expensive. Dual-fuel cars are a thing of the past here, for the most part, yet lots of people marvel at hybrids, conveniently forgetting we were decades ahead in the 1980s.
   And solar power isn’t the norm.
   We still, happily, recycle—but not everything we collect winds up being recycled. We have an awareness, but if we kept on progressing as I expected us to when I was Greta Thunberg’s age, then we wouldn’t have Greta Thunberg reminding us that we haven’t.
   I wonder if others in middle age realize that humans have the potential to go forward, and in many respects we do—but collectively there are enough of us who go backward and prevent any real advance in society.
   I like to have the same optimism as teenage me about the future. In terms of myself, many things bring me happiness, particularly in my personal and work lives. Yet in terms of society, I wonder if I can be as optimistic. I know deep down that we are interested in efficiency and treating our planet better (or we say we are), so then who are the ones holding us back, and what are we doing that stops us moving forward? Is it personal greed, hoping others will pick up the slack? Many of us choose products and services from companies that align with our views about what we want—yet are we doing the same when it comes to politicians?

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Posted in leadership, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Sweden, technology, TV, Wellington | No Comments »