Posts tagged ‘BMW’


Go well, Dave Moore

02.06.2017

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of my colleague and friend Dave Moore on May 31, which I learned about a few hours after.
   You don’t expect your mates to drop dead at breakfast while on a press trip, especially not at the age of 67, and it’s particularly painful to know he leaves behind a wife and two children.
   The only solace is that he was doing something he loved, in a beautiful part of New Zealand, Wanaka.
   One of my good memories is driving with Dave along south Auckland roads, each of us in a new BMW 650i Cabriolet, during the press launch in 2011. Good manners prevent me from saying what speeds we were doing, but as this is a public blog, let’s say it was 101 km/h on a 100 km/h road. Remember Dave was 61 at this point but he still had the reflexes of a guy half his age.
   Having travelled up this road earlier (this was our return journey), we knew the likelihood of anyone coming the other way was remote. We decided to wind things back down to 50 km/h when we hit the main road and about 200 m down was a police checkpoint!
   We beamed innocently, as though we were doing the legal limit all the time.
   Back at BMW, Dave said to me, ‘That was good, but you could feel a bit of flex in the chassis. Let’s hope they fix that for the M6.’
   Dave was a good bloke. We didn’t always agree but we were always civil about it. On that I have no regrets. He hated mispronunciations (d’Or being pronounced as Dior was his pet peeve) and his politics tended to be further right than mine, but we never let that get in the way of a healthy respect for each other. He was in a good place in his life after quitting the top motoring post at Fairfax New Zealand, and doing his own thing. His daughter was moving up in the foreign service and doing exceptionally well, and he was deeply proud of her. The only photo I have of him is a silly one (he’s on the left and no, I don’t remember why three of us put the napkins on our heads) but usually when you’re on a press junket, you’re not taking photos of your colleagues!
   Dave was still posting on social media right up till his death, remarking how he was enjoying his view at his accommodation in Wanaka.
   There’s something fitting about his Facebook cover photo being his beloved dog, Ruby, walking alone into the distance.
   Our last conversation online was discussing the death of Sir Roger Moore a week before. Dave remembered Ivanhoe and we talked about Robert Brown playing the serf to Roger Moore’s Sir Winifred. Sadly, it wasn’t a car conversation, but it’s not a bad one to end on.
   My condolences to Dave’s family on the passing of a much loved and respected man.

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Posted in cars, media, New Zealand | No Comments »


Volkswagen’s scandal won’t spread to other German car groups

24.09.2015


If you want a humorous take on what happened at Volkswagen this week, the above video sums it all up.

During my 2010 mayoral campaign, I noted that if New Zealand did not diversify its economy to have more of a focus on technology, there could be a problem. Relying on primary products (I didn’t say dairy specifically) wasn’t something a western economy should be doing and, of course, one signal that things would change in Wellington would be my idea for free, inner-city wifi. I wasn’t trying to be a smart-arse; I was just pointing out an obvious fact, one that has taken many years for others to be concerned about, with Fonterra payouts dipping. News travels slowly.
   Right now, this Reuter article (sorry, folks, having grown up in New Zealand where ‘NZPA–Reuter’ was in the newspapers every day, the plural form doesn’t come naturally to me) suggests that the Volkswagen débâcle could harm other German car makers. How great that harm is depends on how tied those brands are to the German nation brand. The danger is, according to the article, that with the German car industry employing 775,000 people, and car and car parts being the country’s most successful export, a dent in their reputation could have drastic effects for an economy. According to Michael Hüther of the IW economic institute, the car industry is at the core. Having other industries that are strong is important to any economy, and Germany has ensured that, despite one taking a knock, it has others that will keep it ticking over. Nearly 70 per cent of the German economy is in services. There will be worries in foreign exchange, but I doubt we’re going to see other German car makers tanking because of this.
   But Volkswagen, some argue, is very wedded to the German psyche. Its founding, which no one really talks about because you’d have to mention the war, ties it to the state, and its postwar resurrection was borne out of the British Army wanting to get the people of the former KdF-Stadt some gainful employment. It was the great German success, the company whose Käfer became a world-beater, overtaking the Ford Model T in terms of units made.
   The VW symbol is very German, borne from their graphic design ideas of the 1930s. The German name, the quirkiness of the Käfer, its relative reliability, and its unchanging appearance probably tied VW and Germany closer together in terms of branding. For years, you would associate Volkswagen with ‘Made in Germany’, just as you would with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, even if a sizeable proportion of their production is not German at all today. (Mercedes and BMW SUVs are often made in the US; Volkswagen makes its Touareg in Slovakia. Volkswagen is one of the biggest foreign players in China, and in Brazil it’s practically considered a domestic brand.)
   Think of the postwar period: Germans weren’t always smart about how to market their cars. BMW had a bunch of over-engineered cars that were completely unsuited to the market-place, such as the heavy, baroque 501; it wound up making the Isetta under licence toward the end of the decade because it was in such deep trouble. Volkswagen eschewed fashion in favour of a practical little car that, too, placed engineering ahead of marketing fads. From this, the idea of German precision engineering was enhanced from its prewar years, because engineering was, by and large, top priority. Mercedes-Benz, being far more successful at selling its luxury cars to the rich than BMW, cemented it and added cachet and snobbery.
   It was only the foreign-owned makers in Germany that went for fashion, such as Ford and Opel, selling convention to the masses wrapped in pretty clothes: the Ford Taunus TC had styling excesses demanded by Ford president Bunkie Knudsen at the time of its development, but it broke no new ground underneath.
   Nevertheless, any time Ford sources from Germany, whether it’s for the US market or here in New Zealand, the notion of “German precision” seeps through in the marketing; when the sourcing changed, as has happened with the Focus here, it’s very quietly dropped. The German car manufacturers carved themselves a nice, comfortable niche, thanks to an earlier era which, to some extent, no longer exists.
   Mercedes-Benz decided it was not about ‘Made in Germany’ some years ago, favouring ‘Made by Mercedes’, and turned itself into a marketing-led organization; quality suffered. Volkswagen, in its quest to become the biggest car maker in the world, and the master of everything from Škoda to Bugatti, did what GM did years before, by allowing each brand to maintain its character but sharing the stuff that customers didn’t see. It, too, became more marketing-led, and it’s not had a stellar performance in owner surveys for a while.
   You could say that there has been a gradual separation between the brands and what we hold about the German national image in our minds. The “Germanness”, which once accounted for the companies charging a premium, has been decreasing; Volkswagens, in many parts of the world, are affordable again, even in the US where the NMS Passat is built locally in Tennessee. South African- and Mexican-sourced Volkswagens in New Zealand are cheaper in constant dollars compared to their predecessors of a generation before. The German image is not gone altogether—the name, graphics and the æsthetic of the product see to that—but it does mean the effects of the scandal might not spread to other brands as much as some commentators think.
   The original study that showed Volkswagen was cheating on its emissions’ tests in the US, which is nearly two years old by now (it makes you wonder why it only surfaced in the media this week), also showed that BMW performed better than what it claimed. It’s not impossible for the other manufacturers to separate themselves from Volkswagen, because their individual brands have become strong. Thanks to the weaker relationship between Volkswagen and the German brand, this scandal will likely confine itself to the single car group. It’s not great news for the world’s biggest car maker, but its compatriots should see this as an opportunity more than a threat.

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Posted in branding, cars, culture, globalization, marketing, media, USA | 2 Comments »


There can be only one, unless you forget to register your design: the Range Rover Evoque and the copycat Landwind X7

21.04.2015


The stunning original: the Range Rover Evoque.

There has been a lot of ongoing press about Landwind’s copy of the Range Rover Evoque (a road test of the Evoque comes next week in Lucire, incidentally), one of my favourite Sloane Ranger SUVs. There’s no way Landwind would have come up with the design independently, and, if put before most occidental courts, there would be a finding in favour of the Indian firm.
   People are right to be upset, even in China, which has plenty of firms these days that spend millions on developing a new car and hiring the right talent. The days of SEAT Ibiza and Daihatsu Charade rip-offs are not completely gone, but if you read the Chinese motoring press, the journalists there are as condemning of copies as their colleagues everywhere else.
   The impression one gets in the west is that this is par for the course in China in 2015, even though it isn’t. While there have been firms that have gone from legitimate licensing to copying (I’m looking at you, Zotye and Yema), the reverse has tended to be the case in the Middle Kingdom.
   The latest article on the Landwind X7 appears in Haymarket’s Autocar, a magazine I’ve taken since 1980. I even think Autocar is being overly cautious by putting copy in quotation marks in its headline. It’s a copy, and that’s that.
   Landwind has maintained that it’s had no complaints from Jaguar Land Rover, while JLR CEO Ralf Speth says he will complain. Considering it’s been five years since the Evoque was launched, and news of the copy, and Landwind’s patent grant from 2014, has been around for a while, then saying you will complain in 2015 seems a little late.
   In fact, it’s very late. What surprises me is that this is something already known in China. I’m not the most literate when it comes to reading my first language, but as I understand it, a firm that shows a product in China at a government-sponsored show, if it wishes to maintain its “novelty” and prevent this sort of piracy from taking place, must register it within six months, under article 24 of China’s patent law:

Within six months before the date of application, an invention for which an application is filed for a patent does not lose its novelty under any of the following circumstances:
(1) It is exhibited for the first time at an international exhibition sponsored or recognized by the Chinese Government;
(2) It is published for the first time at a specified academic or technological conference; and
(3) Its contents are divulged by others without the consent of the applicant.

   The Evoque was shown at Guangzhou at a state-sanctioned motor show in December 2010, which meant that Jaguar Land Rover had until June 2011, at the outside, to file this registration. JLR reportedly missed the deadline [edit: with the patent office receiving the application on November 24, 2011].
   The consequence of missing the period is that an original design becomes an “existing design”. While it’s not entirely the end of the road for Jaguar Land Rover in terms of legal remedies, it is one of the quirks of Chinese intellectual property law, which, sadly, is not as geared to protecting authors as it is in the west.
   The approach one would have in, say, a common law jurisdiction, to prove objective similarity in the cases of copyright (and, as I understand it, a similar approach under patent), does not apply there. (Incidentally, this approach is one reason BMW could not have won against Shuanghuan for its CEO, which is usually mentioned by Top Gear watchers as an X5 copy. Look more closely and the front is far closer to a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado’s, and there’s neither a kidney grille nor a Hofmeister-Knick. It’s a mess, but Shuanghuan could easily argue that it picks up on period SUV trends, like the triangular sixth light found on an Opel Astra is part of a 2000s æsthetic for hatchbacks.)
   If you go back to November 2014, the South China Morning Post reported on this matter, again quoting Dr Speth in Autocar.
   He’s found it ‘disappointing’ for a while, it seems, but back in 2014 there was no mention of going after Landwind. An A. T. Kearney expert backs him up, saying, ‘… copying by Chinese original equipment manufacturers is still possible and accepted in China.’ It’s increasingly unacceptable, but, there are loopholes.
   I’m not arguing that this is right, nor do I condone the X7, but you do wonder why JLR hasn’t taken action. The above may be why JLR has stayed silent on the whole affair.
   This is why I read nothing on any action being taken by JLR when the Landwind was first shown, when a patent was granted (a year ago this month), or when the X7 was last displayed at a Chinese motor show.
   The SCMP piece is a much fairer article, noting that Chinese car makers have become more sophisticated and invested in original designs. It also notes that consumers are divided: while some would love to have the copy, another felt ‘ashamed about Landwind,’ points usually ignored in the occidental media.
   Land Rover has traditionally been swift in taking on copycats, and it had fought Landwind’s EU trade mark registration in 2006. This firm is known to them.
   Landwind, meanwhile, has a connection to previous Land Rover owner Ford, through Jiangling, which has a substantial Ford shareholding. Could some pressure be brought through Ford?
   For now, Jaguar Land Rover’s trouble with its patent registration has yet to make it into the western media. It’s doubtful that state media have ganged up on Jaguar Land Rover, considering it has a partnership with Chery, and invested in a new plant in Changshu. It really needs to be asking its lawyers some serious questions.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, general, India, media, UK | 2 Comments »


Wayne Sotogi’s thoroughly modern Mini (the 10 ft long variety)

11.10.2012

When BMW showed its Mini Rocketman concept, a lot of people applauded it: here was something that was roughly (1959) Mini-sized, rather than the larger car that it has become. In fact, the Mini Countryman gets the most criticism because it is not mini at all, but 4·1 m long (the original Mini was just over 3 m).
   As I wrote elsewhere, I was a big fan of the Mini Spiritual, a show car that BMW displayed, created by Rover’s British designers. It was a smidge over 3 m (10 ft) long yet had incredible packaging, staying true to Mini creator Alec Issigonis’s aims. In fact, when Issigonis tried to replace his own Mini, it was with a design that was smaller than the Mini externally yet more space-efficient.
   So I was interested when my friend, Kiwi expat Wayne Sotogi of Inspia Creative, cooked up the illustration below, wondering if a thoroughly modern Mini could be created and be around 10 ft long.
   This is a concept only, and no consideration has been given to internal packaging and how that might suit modern tastes, but when a Mondeo is wider, taller and roomier than a Falcon, you have to wonder about automotive sizes. Mazda, with its current Demio, and a few other manufacturers have tried to ensure that their current models aren’t larger than their predecessors.
   Personally, I like it (why else would I blog about it?). It has style, the right Mini cues, and if some buyers are OK with Japanese kei cars, then why not?

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Posted in cars, design, interests, New Zealand | No Comments »


Endgame: Saab files for bankruptcy

19.12.2011

If you’re a car nut, then you won’t be mourning, too much, the passing of former Czech president Vaclev Hável. Or, for that matter, Kim Jong Il. It’s Saab that has finally died as it files for bankruptcy after GM, which still licenses key technologies to the Swedish firm, vetoed its sale to Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile.
   GM has a JV with SAIC, the Shanghai automaker, and believes that if those technologies were to find their way into the hands of a small upstart Chinese rival, it wouldn’t be to its advantage. Saab, which had been teetering on collapse since March, when it first stopped production, decided to call in the receivers today.
   GM had issued a statement at the weekend, saying, ‘Saab’s various new alternative proposals are not meaningfully different from what was originally proposed to General Motors and rejected … Each proposal results either directly or indirectly in the transfer of control and/or ownership of the company in a manner that would be detrimental to GM and it shareholders. As such, GM cannot support any of these proposed alternatives.’
   Swedish Automobile, the parent company of Saab, responded, ‘After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to continue and complete the reorganization of Saab Automobile could not be concluded.
   ‘The Board of Saab Automobile subsequently decided that the company without further funding will be insolvent and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors.’
   GM, in the two decades in which it owned Saab, failed to turn a profit with the brand. However, its parting gift, the new 9-5 saloon, was heralded by some fans as a return to form for the company. Hopes were high for it, and the 9-4X crossover, helping Saab back into a position of strength.
   It’s easy to do a post mortem now, but the failure could be levelled at GM’s misunderstanding of the Saab brand. It may have been sensible to shift Saab models on to Opel platforms for economies of scale, but, in doing so, the cars lost some of their character. The lowest point was when GM created a rebodied Subaru Impreza and called it the Saab 9-2X, which fooled few buyers—one has to remember that Saab buyers tended to be well educated. Saab never fitted well in a business which targeted the mainstream: its own cars were always bought by people who enjoyed their quirkiness and the fact they did not follow convention.
   GM only understood this when it was far too late, as the last two models demonstrated.
   When GM itself had to file for bankruptcy protection in the US in the late 2000s, Saab, Pontiac, and Saturn were the victims.
   When Saab was sold to Spyker, its boss Victor Muller invested heavily into the business to try to turn it around—but he, and other investors, would have lost tremendously today. Saab fans will likely remember Muller favourably—after all, he put his own money into the business and shared his supporters’ passion—but in a world where break-even points are at hundreds of thousands of units, Saab’s 30,000 in 2010 were never going to be enough. MG Rover Ltd. collapsed with 2004 sales of 115,000 in 2005.
   As hindsight is 20-20, Saab and Youngman might be accused of wishful thinking, believing it to be unencumbered by GM’s IP rights. However, the American business held the right of revocation over key licences that make up Saab’s 9-3, 9-4X and 9-5 models.
   It’s not the first time intellectual property has got in the way of car businesses. One of the most famous examples was BMW arranging with Rolls-Royce trade mark owner Vickers plc to license the brand for motor cars, as Volkswagen negotiated to buy the Rolls-Royce Motors business. And all Volkswagen really had to do to find this out was visit the Rolls-Royce website home page at the time: right at the bottom, stated clearly, was the message that the Rolls-Royce brand was licensed from Vickers plc.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, design, marketing, Sweden, USA | 3 Comments »


A whinge about whinging

19.06.2011

I’ve seen this lament on a few more places now: why bother having a comment box?
   We’ve just had someone tell us at Lucire that there is no such person as Princess Catherine. Well done. We all know that technically there is no such person, if one is referring to the wife of Prince William, but was it worth a comment, when common usage overrides the technical aspects of heraldry for publications like ours? (How often did anyone see the Queen Mother referred to as the Princess Albert?) Am I meant to be impressed that someone possesses everyday knowledge, were we expected to succumb to the whinge, or does this simply highlight the writer’s intolerance?
   If in communicating, you create a problem, then you haven’t properly communicated. And in the communication business, Princess William could create a problem.
   Was the writer not alive when the European media insisted upon Lady Di right up until her death, or, for that matter, unaware that Princess Di and Princess Diana became the everyday convention, even though both were technically incorrect? Or did (s)he approach every medium to inform them of Princess Charles?
   A fellow New Zealander ignored the point of one post on this blog to tell me that it’s not Reuter, but Reuters. Funny, considering he and I are roughly the same age, and would have grown up in an age when ‘NZPA/Reuter’ was commonly in our newspapers (and in those days when people read daily dead trees, the form Reuter became conventional in New Zealand). Reuters, as we know it today, long after it formalized its company name, still made products such as Reuter Textline into the 1990s—and given that this person is also in the media, you’d expect he’d know. (Even the Reuter Textline terminals said they were Reuter Textline.)
   The appending of the s to establishments has frequently been a bugbear. Not enough to write to people about (unless one is the Apostrophe Protection Society), but the disappearance of the apostrophe in Harrod’s, Selfridge’s and Debenham’s, and the confusion of the shops that were branded Woolworth in some countries and Woolworths in others, surely would lead to a 2011 where any form is acceptable depending on the experiences of the writer and personal preference. The exception to this, of course, would be a direct citation about the company itself, where presumably one would follow whatever was on the Companies’ Register, in which case the information service would be Thomson Reuters Corp.
   I used to think I was a bit of a smart-arse, but I don’t go around American blogs telling them they misspelled defence (though Americans have quite publicly complained to me in their role as self-appointed guardians of the language), telling people that Prince Harry does not exist, or write to the Financial Times on the continued misuse of the word billion. (Note: milliardaire is very hard to say.)
   I have pet peeves, but I deal with them in my own little world and in my own publications. I make fun of some mistakes out of humour (Font Police surely is evidence), and I will get on my high horse about house styles and spelling when either happens to be the topic. If I’m responding to an article or a blog post, then isn’t it more productive, in furthering knowledge, to address the point, presume reasonable intelligence on the other party’s behalf (till proved otherwise), and not get stuck on minutiæ? Errare est humanum, after all, and no, I never studied Latin.

Incidentally, checking our visitor stats, Princess Catherine is the most searched-for way to refer to the former Kate Middleton after April 29; Duchess of Cambridge is second; and no one to date has searched for Princess William among the 1·1 million monthly pageviews, just as no one searched for Princess Charles to get to stories on our websites in the 1990s. So call all of us common. As long as do not refer to the Queen and Prince Philip as ‘Their Majesties’, which the 43rd American president did, I think we should be given a pass.

BMW 650i Cabriolet launch

Over this last week, the Lucire-mobile has been the BMW 650i Cabriolet, a car I had the honour of seeing at the same time as four press colleagues at its New Zealand launch in March. (LaQuisha Redfern has asked me to note that there is sufficient headroom for 6 ft 5 in drag queens.) Cabriolets do turn heads, even in winter, and I thank whomever it was for writing a note that made me smile and leaving it under a windscreen wiper: ‘Nice ride, Jack.’
   The car buff question here is: would I have received the same note in the previous-generation 6-series?

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, humour, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, UK, USA | 3 Comments »


MG taps into BMC’s small-car heritage to market the 3

02.01.2011

SAIC is doing a great job in tapping to the heritage of MG and the companies that have gone before. Hop over to the SAIC–MG site and you’ll see this image to tie in to the launch of the B-class MG 3 hatchback:

MG celebrates its small car expertise

   The imagery tells a good deal of the story already: the Austin 7, the Morris Minor 1000, the ADO 16, the MG ZR Mk II, the MG 3 SW, and the latest MG 3. The text refers to the 80 years of expertise that MG has had in small cars (more if you begin counting the other parts of BMC), how they are beloved of the Royal Family, how such old cars are kept by their fans in Britain, and, after the company created the Mini (a particularly cheeky reference to either the 1959 or the 2000 Mini—it’s intentionally ambiguous), it’s moved on to China.
   My Mandarin is non-existent but I’m guessing that the names referred to in the text are Pinyin transliterations of Morris and Cecil Kimber.
   Never mind that there are probably more Britons buying new German cars these days, and that BMW might not be that happy to see MG claim that it created the Mini. Technically, there is no lying here, and gives MG a far better halo effect among Chinese buyers than it ever had with British ones in its waning days under UK ownership.
   It also helps that the mainstream (state-run) media in Red China don’t go around rubbishing MG and Roewe like the British media were so keen to do with MG and Rover.
   Early indications from Chinese websites such as the China Car Times is that the MG 3’s interior quality leaves something to be desired, while MG fans at Keith Adams’s AROnline site are generally negative about the styling.
   This is not the MG that traditionalists know, with the TF, A or B, but then, the latest MG 3 is probably on a par with the MG Metro of the 1980s as a warmed-over hatch. The MG 6, at least, doesn’t look like the Roewe 550 on which it is based—and that’s a step up from the MG Maestro of the same decade. This promotional message might not work perfectly in markets where MG can’t be readily mixed with Austin and Morris, but as a marketing exercise, the copy and the imagery give MG with a sense of desirability (Chinese buyers might be shifting to favouring local brands, but there’s still a bit of snobbery about foreign ones), and of proven expertise (which few of its rivals can claim).
   It’s the sort of sophistication that few would give credit to a Chinese automaker for having. However, it shows that imagination and humour are not lacking in Shanghai—and even if you don’t like the look of the 2011 MG 3, it’s at least original, unlike the Toyota clones coming from BYD. At this rate, the occident should be worried about the rise of the Chinese motor industry, because even the marketing is getting cleverer.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, design, internet, marketing, media, UK | 3 Comments »