Posts tagged ‘car design’


Fun for car anoraks—till you get to the factual errors

08.07.2017

I bought Steven Parissien’s The Life of the Automobile: a New History of the Motor Car, which started off as a good history. I’m 300-odd pages in now and the mistakes are really worrying. There’s also a shocking lack of editing (one part repeated, albeit in different language, and spelling and grammatical mistakes) in the parts I’ve got to now; it’s as though the editor got tired after the first 10 chapters and stopped caring. But the biggest errors are factual.
   I am astonished to learn, for instance, that Harley Earl was responsible for the concept of the Ford Thunderbird (p. 255), that Triumph TR7 production was transferred to Speke in 1982 (p. 293, though Parissien later contradicts himself with the correct fact), and that John Z. de Lorean was a protégé of Lee Iacocca (p. 309). I really have no idea how, but as far as I know, de Lorean was never at Ford, and he had a Chrysler stint long before Iacocca got there. I also never knew that ‘In 1968 the Toyota Corolla became the first Japanese car to be manufactured in the US’ (p. 314; that was the year it went on sale there, and from memory the Corolla didn’t get built there till the NUMMI deal in the 1980s) or that the Opel Ascona C was also sold as the Opel Vectra (p. 337). The Italian Job was released in 1969, not 1967 (p. 224).
   I am frustrated with this book—and now it makes me wonder if the stuff earlier on, which I know less about, was accurate.
   I can understand an editor not grasping the subject as well as the author but there is less excuse in professional publishing for the other problems. Maybe there are few professional proofreaders left, now that spellchecks have been around for a generation or more. I was prepared to recommend this book even a week ago and tolerated the spelling and grammar, but these factual mistakes are worse than what can be found in Wikipedia, and I often label parts of that site as fiction.

PS. (September 17): How much worse can it get, as I continued through? A lot.
   On p. 320, we get an admission that Parissien was wrong on p. 314: the Honda Accord was the first Japanese-branded car to be made Stateside. At least an earlier error was corrected. But they begin again on p. 321: Parissien claims the V30 Toyota Camry dominated the US mid-size car market (it was never sold outside Japan; he’s thinking of the XV10, or the Japanese-market Scepter, which was badged Camry). Correcting his error on p. 322, the Camry was not specifically targeted at the US; it was Toyota’s attempt to create an efficient car from the ground up, and it was not done in 1980, but 1982 (the 1980 Celica Camry was not sold outside Japan). The Paykan deal was cemented long before George Turnbull got to Iran (p. 324), though local content rose in the 1970s for it to be truly Iranian-made and Parissien might mean the shifting of the engine tooling there, if I’m being generous. There is only one world, not multiple ones (also p. 324), unless Parissien knows something about parallel universes that the rest of us don’t. Surely Chrysler managed to launch its T-115 minivan (Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager) before Renault launched the Espace (p. 330), and the Triumph Acclaim was never called the ‘Ronda’ (p. 334), though its successor was.
   On p. 360, in a single paragraph, Parissien makes several errors. The MG 6 launched as a five-door car, not his claimed four. There is no such thing as the Roewe 150, in China or elsewhere. The MG 3 has five doors and is not a three-door counterpart to the 6. The five-door MG 6 launched not in 2011, but in 2010, and the Magnette name was only used in the UK for the four-door. The founder of Chrysler was Walter Chrysler, not Walther (p. 364). The Lancia Delta only became a Chrysler in the UK and Éire, as far as I know (p. 365), and remained a Lancia in most countries. The Belgian designer is Dirk van Braeckel, not van Braeckl (p. 368); Mercedes-Benz never bought an 18·53 per cent stake in Volkswagen (p. 369); and Citroën’s BX was not the last car in that range to have ‘pneumatic suspension’ (p. 372). The Malibu was not a Saturn, but a Chevrolet (p. 375), and Buick was never sold off (p. 376). The Ford Mondeo did not replace the Telstar in all Asian markets (p. 377), and it shared far more than the ‘windscreen, front doors and rear’ with the Contour and Mystique (in fact, the rear was not shared, though there were common engines, platform, and plenty more). It’s not entirely certain that the US market judged the Contour to be too small (p. 378), but there was a lack of marketing (which would have made an even better story than the one Parissien writes about). Ford subsequently filled the Contour’s niche with the smaller Focus Stateside. The CD338 Fusion was never sold in Australia (also p. 378). Ford never resurrected the Taunus in Germany under Alan Mulally (p. 381)—this invention is incredible. VAZ did follow up the 2101 with something similar after it ended production in 1983 (not 1984, p. 382), viz. the 2105, which was about as similar as one could get to the 2101.
   On p. 384, Parissien claims Acura’s Legend sales were ‘disappointing’, after saying they were ‘beginning to sell rather well’ 50 pp. before. The Hindustan Ambassador was not based on the 1954 Morris Oxford (p. 389): that car was actually the Hindusthan Landmaster. The Ambassador was based on the 1957 Morris Oxford III, and was in production from 1959, not 1958. The Red Flag (or Hongqi) marque was not reborn on an Audi A6 (p. 391), but the marque had been used on a version of the Audi 100 C3 from 1988, and no Hongqi bore an Audi–Chrysler–Hongqi brand name. The Chinese company is Dongfeng, not Dongfen (p. 391), and Parissien’s claim that the Everus was sold in the west (p. 392) is news to me, as I am sure it is to its own management. I’ll stop there for now.

P.PS. (September 18): Some bedtime reading, or should I say error-finding, last night. On p. 394, Toyota and Aston Martin did not jointly develop the Cygnet: Toyota developed the IQ in 2008, and Aston Martin converted that car to become its Cygnet, and ‘hot hatch’ is a very optimistic description for a city car. Toyota did not launch the Cygnet in 2008 as Parissien claims, nor did it have a say in what customers were expected to purchase the Cygnet: it was aimed specifically at existing Aston Martin owners, not ‘Toyota and Aston expected initial demand to be limited to those who already owned an Aston Martin sports car.’ It was certainly no ‘eccentric experiment’ of Toyota, but of Aston Martin. Volvo never made a model called the A40 (p. 395), and I bet Nissan is surprised to find that the original Qashqai was designed ‘at the firm’s Milan design centre’ (p. 397) when it was designed in London. Maserati never launched a Jeep-based SUV called the Kubang (p. 397), but it did have a concept of that name, and the Levante appeared in 2016 after the book was published. There is no such car as the Porsche Cajun, and if Parissien refers to the smaller Porsche crossover, then that is called the Macan, and it has five doors, not the claimed three (p. 397). The Volkswagen New Beetle was not on a Polo platform (p. 399), but a Golf one, as was its successor (though a newer Golf); and Ford would dispute that its Mustang is a sedan (p. 401). If J Mays’s first name is J (as footnoted), then there is no need to refer to him as ‘J. Mays’ (p. 401). The Ford Ka’s name is not derived from StreetKa (p. 402): that was a model spun off from the Ka in 2002; and some would regard the Mk II model was being superior to the Fiat 500 on which it is based (especially as Fiat adopted some of the changes for its own model). I have yet to see a Smart with a Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star or marque anywhere, unlike Parissien who seems to think they are badged Mercedes (p. 403), and a Smart SUV does not exist unless Parissien is reporting again from his parallel universe (p. 403). There is also no such car as the Kia Exclusive (p. 410).

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Posted in cars, design, interests, publishing, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


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 »


Less Tumblring, less Facebooking—are email and blogging back?

03.01.2012

I’ve been noticing my Tumblr usage drop, and judging by the count here, my updates to this blog have fallen to a bit of a low this year. But, as Tumblr drops, this blog seems to be rising. I imagine 2012 will bring with it another change in how we all share our thoughts online.
   I can’t say for sure why we change from one medium to another. Maybe it’s boredom, maybe it’s due to the things we want to share, maybe the technology has provided us something new. Maybe it’s the need to get back to business after a bit of a lull during the recession: our 2011 billings were up over a relatively quiet 2010, and success breeds success.
   Novelty was the case with Facebook Timeline when I switched over to it in September, but with all its changes recently—such as the nearly endless scrolling we have to do before we get to the month’s summary—the cleverness has worn off.
   To me, what was ingenious was seeing how Timeline chose its selection for the month. I didn’t need to scroll back eight days to see what I wrote just after Christmas. But, someone at Facebook decided we needed that function—as well as a second friends’ box that duplicates the first, but with people’s names next to their photos. Facebook: they are my friends. I know their names.
   In other words, it’s turned into the old Facebook wall, but an untidy version of it. No wonder some people hate Timeline (to the point of Facebook shutting down its own Timeline fan page?): they never got to see the ingenuity of it.
   I made this analogy before, but it’s like the first Oldsmobile Toronado: a pure design in its first year, getting more ornamented with each model year, so much so that the purity is lost. So why even bother changing?
   And, of course, there was Facebook’s predictable failure to recognize any time zone outside the US for the fourth time. In fact, as with October 1 and November 1, Facebook once again thought that its entire 800 million-strong user base resides in California. With Timeline now open to the general public, you would think that they would have remedied this very old bug, but, remember, 11 months ago you couldn’t even restrict your friend search to Paris, France. Paris, Texas, Paris, Arkansas, and Paris, Illinois, sure. Since for a while those pommes frites were called freedom fries, the geographical geniuses at Facebook saw fit to remove the French capital. Did they hire Kellie Pickler as a consultant?

Or was there an edict inside Facebook that it isn’t 2012 till Mark Zuckerberg proclaims it is 2012?
   The difference was, this time, I wasn’t the only schmuck complaining about it on Get Satisfaction. Thanks to the larger audience affected over 21 time zones on the planet, Facebook received plenty of complaints. Once January 1, 2012 hit the US east coast, the number rose even more dramatically, if Twitter is to be believed.
   So if I’ve got tired of Tumblr, and I’m not happy with Facebook forever introducing bugs on to what was quite a clever concept in Timeline, then that leaves this place.
   I’ve grown accustomed to the look since I first created this template in the mid-2000s. I forget which year it was (which is unlike me) but I believe it was 2005. This blog débuted in 2006 after I stopped blogging at Beyond Branding, and at that stage, the template was already done.
   I mentioned that I felt it had dated in a Tweet last month, and found agreement. Friends, if you think it’s dated, you are allowed to tell me earlier! The whole personal site needs a rejig, and that might be something I work on in the New Year (my one, not Pope Gregory’s one).
   On that note, ideas are welcome. I already have a few for its look and feel, and I may simplify the structure to cover my key interest areas. And if I like the new look, then it may render the other places redundant as I toy with how my future posts appear.

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Posted in design, humour, internet, marketing, USA | 5 Comments »


Dodge revives the Dart, while UK Delta owners revive Lancia

07.12.2011

Dodge Dart preview
Dodge Dart preview
Fiat has announced that it’s going to bring back the Dodge Dart nameplate on a compact sedan based on a stretched Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform for the 2013 model year.
   This was actually mentioned when Chrysler was going cap-in-hand to the US Government, so it’s not a total surprise. The nameplate, however, is.
   It makes sense to me, though if you look at some of the blog comments elsewhere, motorheads are coming out saying it should be used for a rear-wheel-drive sedan that captures the spirit of the original.
   The trouble is, it does. Dart was a compact beloved of schoolteachers, and even if the last one was a variant of the Dodge Diplomat sold in Spanish-speaking countries, enough time has passed for the general public not to be nostalgic for V8-powered Demons, Dart Sports and the like.
   It’s a compact sort of name, and it’s going after a general audience. And it looks too aggressive to be called Omni or Neon. A sporty little Dodge should be called Dart.
   I know that it could be very easily argued that the last time an American company resurrected a hallowed nameplate last sold in the US in the 1970s—the Pontiac GTO—and ignored the heritage, it was a sales’ disaster.
   But the Goat is legendary. Think back to the 1975 model year: did anyone really regard a basic Dart as legendary?
   We’ve already had a four-door sedan from Dodge called the Charger, the Polara name last wound up on a version of the Hillman Avenger down in Brazil, and the Chrysler New Yorker nameplate went on to a heap of different cars in the 1980s (R-body, M-body, E-body, C-body), so this isn’t exactly a company that has been looking after its heritage that well. I dare say the public is used to nameplates being recycled when it comes to Chrysler, sometimes for the better (300) and sometimes for the worse (it’ll be a long time before anyone brings Sebring back).
   The preview shots Dodge has revealed look aggressive, and since a designer is running the decals-and-flash show there, I suspect it wouldn’t look too bad.
   The other nameplate news of late, going in reverse chronological order, is the demise of Maybach. No surprises there, either: if you’re going to charge stratospheric prices for a car, it had better look stratospheric—not a rehash of a Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse. ’Nuff said.
   Finally, I’ve been meaning to blog about this little item for many weeks now: the rebadging of rebadged Lancias, if we might come full circle to Fiat.
   As many of you know, Lancias are sold as Chryslers in markets where Chrysler has a stronghold, while Chryslers are sold as Lancias where Lancia has a stronghold. That means, in Britain and Éire, the Lancia Ypsilon and Delta are sold as Chryslers.
   Car design, however, is no longer a matter of badge-engineering (even if there are certain segments where you can still get away with it, such as city cars and certain minivans). Everything about the design has to reflect the brand’s value. Cover up the grille of a Volvo, and it’s still a Volvo. But the Lancia design language is very Italian, and the Chrysler design language is very American, the insipid 200 aside.
   It is unfair to criticize Chrysler–Lancia given that these cars were penned before Fiat merged the brands, but I thought this customer-level rebranding exercise was a very interesting one on the part of Lancia fans in the UK and Éire.
   A group of enthusiasts located an Italian dealer who was willing to sell them a bunch of Lancia badges, so British and Irish owners could give their cars the complete Lancia treatment.
   It shows something I have talked about in many of my speeches: that brands are increasingly in the hands of the consumers.
   But it also shows that no matter what badge you put on the Ypsilon and Delta, they look Italian—and certain consumers want authenticity.
   Finally, it shows that in a globalized world, it’s no longer up to retailers to tell us what something is called. We have access to the ’net, and we can find out for ourselves. When it comes to cars, where there is a lot of online research, demand might start building from the moment scoop photographs are released. These Lancia enthusiasts have clearly wanted their RHD Deltas for a long time, and they have the means to make their dream come true, regardless of what the badge at the dealership says.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, design, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


Chevrolet’s new Malibu might still look like a Daewoo

01.04.2011

I took a few digs at the forthcoming Chevrolet Malibu on my Facebook yesterday.
   First: a few things GM got right.
   It’s right to put this on a global platform—in this case, the Opel Insignia‘s. It’s also right to make it a world car of sorts, where it can be sold globally with few changes, to maximize economies of scale.
   It’s also right to put in various Chevrolet-like touches. In the above video, you’ll hear the head exterior designer, Dan Gifford, go on about the coupé-like bits that’ll appear on the new Malibu. This only makes sense so that the brand has a certain æsthetic—something which it lacks at the moment as it tries to shift rebadged Daewoos.
   However, I’m not too confident about this car, despite the excellent, award-winning platform.
   Chevrolet’s message of recent years has been so different in each region that I wonder if some will even get the Camaro connection with the Malibu’s rear-light design.
   And this will be, I believe, the first new product from Chevrolet in the Korean market since the failure of the Holden Torana-based 1700 in the 1970s.
   In other words, in the east, where GM has already said the Malibu will make its Mali-début, it will replace the Daewoo Tosca, probably the most underwhelming car produced in the last decade, and a favourite of suicidal Seoul taxi drivers.
   The reason the Tosca is so ugly is that its designers expected it to be dented by fleet customers, thereby improving its looks.
   Daewoo needs to keep some link between Tosca and Chevrolet Malibu. It has to appeal to east Asian tastes, where GM expects to sell a lot of these cars, which means some of the aggression that Gifford talks about will likely be toned down.
   If you look at the spy photos or the animation above, it still looks like a big Daewoo to me, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It is an improvement—don’t get me wrong—but I’m still expecting it to make the designers of the 2006 Toyota Camry appear prescient.

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Roy Axe gives a sincere look at his career

11.12.2010

Roy Axe: A Life in Style

Keith Adams is well known to many motorheads out there. We probably encountered him initially at his excellent AROnline, formerly The Unofficial Austin–Rover Resource. More recently, some of us have got to know Keith as a writer for Octane, where his well researched articles remind me of some of the best motoring journalists’ work. They combine a love of history with a contemporary style.
   Keith turned publisher earlier this year by publishing automotive designer Roy Axe’s autobiography, A Life in Style. I was more than happy to purchase it: this is not a review of a freebie copy that Keith gave me.
   The book serves its purpose in giving a very sincere look at Axe’s career, beginning at Rootes, before his national service, then continuing with the same firm and setting up a design department closer to the ones we know today, before its takeover by Chrysler. Then at Chrysler, Axe worked on both sides of the Atlantic (various 180 and Avenger proposals are fascinating), and headed the programmes that gave us the Simca 1307 and Horizon; and in the 1980s, Axe was head-hunted for Austin Rover.
   After leaving Rover, he founded his own firm, Design Research Associates, which has worked on designs for numerous international clients.
   The book reflects the career of a true gentleman. Axe supplies wonderful anecdotes from his earlier days and he, and presumably Keith, supply some never-before-seen (at least to me) images of prototypes from the studios. DRA’s work is too new to be revealed, and Axe considers that he is bound by client confidentiality on a lot of those projects, with the exception of one for Bentley and some BAe aircraft interiors.
   It is a must for car buffs, as Axe’s designs will have been seen in most corners of the world and, as all books of this type, reveal some wonderful “might-have-beens” at Chrysler (which was increasingly strapped for cash in the 1970s) and Austin Rover (which seemed always strapped for cash in the 1980s, and hindsight says it should have gone with far more of Axe’s team’s designs). It makes for fun comparison with, say, Iacocca: an Autobiography when discussing the era that Axe and his boss were at the company, and seeing the same personalities mentioned, albeit from different angles. The story is told with a personal love for the industry and a great deal of authenticity.
   My principal complaint is the lack of subediting. While there are precious few spelling mistakes—much heftier tomes, such as one John Barry biography I bought years ago, were full of them—parts of a few chapters read as a simple transcript from Axe. And, perhaps for budgetary reasons or the size of the original artwork, some of the images are a bit small. Initially, the underleaded Sabon body type appeared hard to read but surprisingly, I soon adjusted to it, thanks perhaps in part to the good stories that Axe had to tell.
   Despite these reservations, I’d still heartily recommend it. You can order it directly from Keith’s website and it’s perfect for anyone who loves the design profession or cars in general. Even those of you who read this blog for its branding content might be fascinated to see how brands are translated into industrial design (especially important when Austin Rover and Honda worked off the same platforms), and, for that matter, the organizational structure.
   Sadly, Roy Axe passed away soon after the book’s publication, otherwise I am sure he will have received a great deal of fan mail over it.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, design, interests, leadership, marketing, publishing, typography, UK | No Comments »