Posts tagged ‘Ford’

The last American Falcon


I’m fascinated by the 1970½ Ford Falcon for a number of reasons. The first is the obvious one: rarity. This car was built for only half a model year, from January to August 1970. If you think it looks like a contemporary Torino, you’re right: it’s basically a very stripped-down Torino. Yet you could spec it with any of the engines from the Torino, including the 429 in³ V8 (and some did). Which brings me to the second reason: why would anyone really bother with it, if you could get a Torino for a bit more? (That answers why this car only lasted half a model year.) And that leads me to the third reason: what was going through Ford’s mind at the time? That’s where it gets interesting.
   At this time, Ford was undergoing managerial changes, with Henry Ford II firing Bunkie Knudsen (who had been lured away from GM). That happened in September 1969, by which time the decision to go ahead with the Falcon had already been made. This is, in other words, a Knudsen initiative.
   Federal regulations made the 1966–70 Falcon obsolete because it had a dash-mounted starter—the rule was that they had to be in the column. However, it’s curious that Ford made this call to put the Falcon nameplate on a mid-sizer, considering it had made its name as an ‘economy’ car (by US standards). If you read the brochure, you’ll find that this was all about size. Ford bragged that the car was 2 ft longer. Yet for this half-model year, it was still marketed as an ‘economy’ car.
   I imagine as the US headed into the 1970s, there was no sign of the fuel crisis on the horizon, so there was nothing wrong about size. Why not spoil the average Falcon buyer, used to a smaller car, with something much larger? Hadn’t upsizing already happened on every other model line out there—by this point the Mustang was about to grow into a monstrosity with massive C-pillars and terrible rear visibility?
   Ford (and the other Big Four makers) had been known to blow one model line up, then start another little one, and the Maverick had already been launched for 1970, and was now doing the compact work. By that logic, Falcon could grow more, even though other solutions might have been to either replace the Falcon with the Maverick or simply shift the Falcon nameplate to the Maverick—but both would have involved “downsizing”, and in 1970 that was not in the US car industry’s vocab. The panic hadn’t set in yet.
   Fourthly, this is a beautiful shape. Unnecessarily big (till you consider it had to accommodate the 429), but a beautiful shape. The 1970s hadn’t really started in earnest, so we hadn’t seen some of the really garish shapes that were to come. This has that 1960s classicism coupled with 1970s uncertainty. There’s still some optimism with jet-age inspiration, but the lack of practicality foreshadowed the style-first, single-digit mpg “road-hugging weight” cars that were round the corner, cars which no one truly needed but Detroit, in its optimism (or blindness), believed Americans did. There’s still something very honest about the last US Falcon. After this, only the Australians and Argentinians kept things alive, but those are other stories.

Also published at Drivetribe.

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Wikipedia corrects serious error after 12 years


Well done, Wikipedia, you got something right. It only took you 12 years.
   Nick, who appears to be a senior editor at the site, fixed up the complete fabrication that a user called ApolloBoy entered about the ‘Ford CE14 platform’ in 2005, after I wrote a pretty scathing piece on Drivetribe about Wikipedia’s inadequacies, in part based on an earlier blog post I wrote here.
   I am grateful to Nick who I expect saw my story.
   However, errors still abound, and as I pointed out in Drivetribe, another user called Pmeisel, who appears to have been an automotive industry professional, said back in February 2005 there was a real confusion between development codes and platforms on Wikipedia.
   While Nick has largely fixed the problem—he has noted that it was the European Ford Escort of 1990 and its derivatives that CE14 should refer to, and not much earlier American cars—there remains the lesser one that there is still no such thing as a ‘Ford CE14 platform’, just as there is no such thing as a ‘Ford C170 platform’, and so on.
   Ford did not use these codes to refer to platforms, they used them to refer to specific models.
   Let’s see if the Wikiality of this page will at least begin to disappear from the ’net, 12 years after ApolloBoy made up some crap and allowed it to propagate to the extent that some people regard it as fact.
   I have enquired into Wikipedia from time to time, enough to know it is full of mistakes. But the errors do seem to happen far more often in the Anglophone one. Perhaps those of us who speak English are more willing to commit fictions to publication. Goodness knows we have seen an example in print, too. Does this culture lend us to being far less precise with a poorer concern for the truth—and does that in turn lead to the ease with which “fake news” winds up in our media?

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


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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How can we help those fooled into believing what their local brands are?


How interesting to see a silly Tweet of mine make the Murdoch Press and lead an opinion column—I’m told it even hit the home page.
   It’s a very old joke that I’ve told since 2002, when I walked along Bay Road in Kilbirnie and saw a locksmith sign in Futura. Back then, Dick Smith Electronics had its logotype set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic. I really thought it was a Dick Smith sign at a first, fleeting glance, seeing CKSMITH. The joke was born.
   Most in my social media streams got it except a couple of Australians who had likely come across it via Murdochs a day late, one calling me ignorant (not sure how you can get that from one Tweet), and another ‘ahole’ (is this a misspelling of aloha?). As the funniest guy in their media is John Clarke, who was born in New Zealand, maybe humour doesn’t reach a couple of households there if it has to be imported. And the number of times John’s taken the piss about us, to my thorough enjoyment, means that some of us can take a joke. Perhaps we just have a sense of humour. We have to: it was the only way we could deal with our PM appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. It is, to quote the man, ‘a bit of banter. No drama.’
   The false indignation “on behalf of others” is always a comical one, because it’s usually founded on a misplaced and unjustified sense of superiority. During a political campaign, they’re the ones I find the most humorous and least authoritative. Thick skin came with that territory.
   Neither deserves a response beyond what I said on Twitter, but the second one (with a fresh new account to troll from, always a good sign of someone who won’t stand by their words) highlights a point that I have made on this blog before.
   “Ruby Pond” notes, ‘The guy is pure Oz and started when you were in nappies and tried! Stick to your foreign companies, they really help Oz.’ I’m not sure what I was tried about, not having been to court while I was in nappies, but maybe she’s depending on the fact that not everyone remembers back to their infancy.
   Well done. She got this from an American-owned newspaper website (remember, Rupert’s no longer an Australian, nor is the HQ in Australia and hasn’t been for a long, long time), and, for the record, I’m not as old as the business that Dick founded. There’s also a suggestion that I must be Australian, because, after all, everyone on the planet must be. No other countries exist. I didn’t want to get into trans-Tasman rivalry in such a situation, nor was it appropriate to give a list of Australian corporate misdeeds in New Zealand. The term off-topic springs to mind.
   I told her, ‘Stick to your foreign media, they really help Oz.’
   Hers is that simplistic thinking that gets people supporting foreign-owned businesses when they believe they are supporting local ones.
   Dick’s been one of my personal heroes since his solo helicopter flight and I’ve been a customer of the chain he founded since I was old enough to buy my own tech gear. Entrepreneurs like him are the ones I’ve always encouraged, through mentoring and through my policies. However, the sad story of the company, no longer owned by Dick, is one of corporate greed—which the founder himself has been critical of. We haven’t learned the lessons of so many economic crises: Gordon Gecko’s mantra of ‘greed is good’ continues to drive the corporate world.
   The reason so many multinationals buy local brands is to fool the public into thinking they’re supporting their own. We’re guilty of it ourselves, and I recall using the examples of Just Juice and most of our local newspapers on this blog. People closed accounts at the National Bank when it became ANZ here, because of a suspicion of, dislike of, or rivalry with Australia, perceiving National to be a local bank. The problem there: ANZ had owned the National Bank for years before the rebranding of its own subsidiary, and prior to that it was part of Lloyds TSB in the UK. A lot of Australians think Ford and Holden are domestic players (though, oddly, not Toyota, which probably builds as many, if not more, cars there), just as many Britons still think they are buying British when they shop at Ford and Vauxhall.
   The situation with differs slightly in that that business was started in Australia by Rupert Murdoch’s Dad, and it has grown from there—but the fact remains that its HQ is overseas and that’s where it pays its tax. Help to Australians: not a lot. The Murdoch Press’s globalization agenda won’t be one that the “buy Australian” crowd would support for the most part.
   But this is how brands work, because they encourage us to make mental shortcuts for the products and services we consume. I’ve devoted a good deal of my professional life to it. Some should encourage scrutiny because of the power they have (Wally Olins noted, many years ago, how some brands need to adopt notions that were once reserved for states), and it was hoped that, post-No Logo, we would be more inquisitive about the backgrounds to the organizations we support.
   Even though it’s our money and time, the sad thing is that this level of inquiry remains the province of the few, those people who are willing to scrutinize their own behaviour and practise what they preach. Social media have helped spread news of corporate misbehaviours (Volkswagen will attest to that) and more people are aware; but to counter that we get more information than we ever used to, and unless something resonates, will we just forget it?
   Therefore, it can only be something where people who have done the proper investigation get to have a say. And like all human endeavours, it can be scammed, so safeguards have to be built in.
   One of the reasons the Medinge Group awarded its Brands with a Conscience accolades for close to a decade was to champion the organizations that were getting it right, inviting transparency and scrutiny, championing good corporate citizenship, and engaging in socially responsible programmes. Among them were companies devoted to doing things right by the communities they were present in, whether it was Dilmah Tea, Tata Steel or Hennes & Mauritz.
   By our championing them, selected by a think-tank of leading brand professionals, we would be able to highlight shining examples of branding, as well as give them the sort of boost they deserved. If positive companies could increase their custom, and if positive non-profits could increase their influence, then we can do some good in the world.
   As people rightly want shortcuts in their busy daily lives, then the work at Medinge, if seen as an endorsement, would help them make a decision about whether to deal with that organization or not.
   It’s nice to be in that bubble, which makes me ever-grateful to get reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. If you’re genuinely desirous of helping your own, then we need to help create more ways of reminding people which organizations do just that. The Brands with a Conscience programme was definitely a very good way of doing it. What shall we do, in the post-peak-Facebook world of the second part of this decade, to get word out? Is it through video, thanks to greater bandwidth, that allows us to experience and understand more? Is this the coming of age of some form of virtual reality? Or, as we did when we first started exploring bulletin boards and email, time again for us to reach out to people in communities very foreign and different to ours through video chats—something like Google Hangouts but actually with people? (Yes, I know, Google fans, I was taking the piss.) Is Skype the service on which this can be built?
   I would have said that technology is the great democratizer, and maybe more of us should be giving out awards to truly deserving organizations, voted on by more of the public. But we come across the issue of quality versus quantity again: the Reputation Institute surveyed 60,000 people in 15 countries and still wound up with Nestlé among the most reputable firms in the world. Nestlé may do very good things in some quarters, but it hasn’t been able to avoid a lawsuit by environmental and public interests groups in California over its water-bottling operation there, or accusations by activists who believe the company wants to privatize water at the expense of public health. Volkswagen was there in the 2014 survey. We decide on image, and that image is the very thing that gets us making bad choices.
   The next innovators are already on to it, and we don’t even know that we seek it. But, in order to self-actualize, maybe organizing us—individuals, not corporations—into global communities is the next stage. We have seen Kiva work so positively, so how about making it more interactive? Naturally we will tend to choose to help those in our own countries first—crowdfunding campaigns show us that—but allowing us to understand another human being’s situation could be the challenge in a time when governments pursue their austerity agenda. Somehow, we can restore, at least to some degree, the optimism we had when we in the first world accessed the World Wide Web for the first time.

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Why a Google self-driving car worries me



With Google and Ford announcing they will team up to make self-driving cars, I have some concerns.
   I’m not in Luddite position on the idea of self-driving cars. Potentially, they can be far safer than what we have today. I see so many godawful drivers out there—New Zealand has a very high road toll based on our small population, and it’s not hard to see why—and the self-driving car can’t be a bad thing. Active safety, active cruise control, and other features all point to be a better future on our roads.
   However, is Google the right firm? You don’t need to look too far (especially on this blog) to find some Google misdeed, a company that happily does dodgy things till it gets busted.
   Imagine the future.
   • The car has no brakes until you sign up to Google Plus, then log in.
   • You cannot enter the car till you load a Google Play app on to your phone. You have to agree to a bunch of settings which you don’t even read, but essentially you’ve let them monitor you.
   • If you have a car accident in a Google car, there’s no phone number for anyone to call. You have to sign up to the support forums where you’re told by Google volunteers that it’s your fault for misusing the software. Or they just ignore you. You spend several years trying to get your case heard.
   • Google listens to all your in-car conversations so it can deliver targeted advertising to you, until you opt out of this feature in your Google Account settings.
   • Google hacks your devices while you are near the car, even if you have Do Not Track or other privacy settings turned on. They continue doing this till the Murdoch Press writes an article about it or they get reported to an industry association.
   • Doubleclick targeted advertising appears in the car’s central LCD screen.
   • All routes that the Google cars choose go past advertisers’ brick-and-mortar stores.
   • Google Street View is updated a lot more, which sounds great, till you realize it’s been updated with images from your latest journey.
   • Unless you opt out, Google actually drives you to the store which has the goods you mentioned in a private Gmail message, even though you don’t need the product and it just came up casually in conversation.
   • When US state attorneys-general sue Google over wasted time with the cars driving you to these stores, the penalty is roughly four hours of the company’s earnings.
   Autonomous cars are part of our future. But I’ll opt for the tech of a firm I trust more, thank you. And right now, I even trust Volkswagen more than Google.

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Remarks on the typography of Star Wars


Star Wars is in my feed in a big way. To get up to speed on the film series, I had to start with the memorable theme by John Williams.

Thanks, Bill and Paul.
   And who better to describe the plot than someone else in the science-fiction world, Doctor Who?

   Seriously though, I hope all friends who are big Star Wars fans enjoy Episode VII. It seems to be getting positive reviews, partly because it appeals to our sense of nostalgia. It hasn’t blown anyone away in the same manner as the 1977 original, but then Disney would be very foolhardy to stray for this sequel. If you are building a brand that was at its height 30 years ago, nostalgia isn’t a bad tool—just ask the team that came up with the 1994 Ford Mustang. J. J. Abrams—the creator of Felicity and What about Brian?, plus some other things—has apparently been a genius at getting just enough from the past.
   One item that is from Star Wars’ past is the opening title, or the crawl. I’ll be interested to learn if they’ve managed to re-create the typography of the original: they were unable to provide perfect matches for Episodes I through III because of the changes in technology and cuts of the typefaces that made it into the digital era. The main News Gothic type is far heavier in these later films. ITC Franklin Gothic was used for ‘A long time ago …’ for I to III; this, too, was originally News Gothic, but re-releases have brought all six films into line to use the later graphic.
   However, it could be argued that even between Episodes V and VI there were changes: News Gothic Extra Condensed in caps for the subtitle for The Empire Strikes Back, switching to Univers for Return of the Jedi. (It seems even the most highly ranked fan wiki missed this.) And, of course, there was no equivalent in the original Star Wars—’A New Hope’ was added in 1981.
   Here’s how it looked in 1977:

And if you really wish to compare them, here are all six overlaid on each other:

   I wasn’t a huge fan in the 1970s: sci-fi was not my thing, and I only saw Star Wars for the first time in the 1980s on video cassette, but I did have a maths set, complete with Artoo Detoo eraser (I learned my multiplication table from a Star Wars-themed sheet) and the Return of the Jedi book of the film. But even for this casual viewer and appreciator, enough of that opening sunk in for me to know that things weren’t quite right for The Phantom Menace in 1999. I hope, for those typographically observant fans, that The Force Awakens gets things back on track.

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


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


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 »

All the Geelys on Autocade


The Geely King Kong Hatchback, one of the new entries on the Autocade website.

Not that I blogged it at the time, but Geely’s multi-brand strategy in 2009 felt doomed. Earlier this year, the company retreated, and brought everything from Englon, Gleagle and Emgrand back under its parent brand again.
   It wasn’t unlike Mazda’s attempt to do the same in the early 1990s, when it began selling cars under marques such as Efini, Autozam and Eunos, as well as its own brand. The bursting of Japan’s bubble economy didn’t help things, but the problems went deeper than that. Those who were used to buying a Mazda Capella from a certain outlet were surprised to find that it had become one of these new channels, and there was no Capella or equivalent to be seen. In fact, for those years, there was no Capella—a nameplate Japanese buyers had become accustomed to for decades—as Mazda decided to offer cars such as the Cronos, which went over the 1,700 mm width that landed it in a higher tax bracket.
   We never noticed much of these issues outside Japan, as these cars were simply sold as Mazda 626, and there were fewer signs of the company’s ambitious plans that landed it in such trouble then-shareholder Ford installed a Scot in charge. It was the first time a Caucasian wound up running a car maker there. Mazda felt embarrassed it wasn’t one of their own.
   Geely might not have had the Chinese economy collapse on it, and it may have been buoyed through the 2000s as it went from being a manufacturer of recycled Daihatsus to a major Chinese automotive force, but there was the obvious problem of increasing its marketing costs dramatically. Could it also develop lines for four marques all of a sudden? Remember, too, it would swallow Volvo around this time, giving it a fifth marque.
   The answer was no: Geely wound up shifting various models to different marques, badge-engineering others, and generally confusing the state of affairs for Chinese consumers. There’s a solid argument to be made for Geely at the time though: the automotive market was clearly segmenting, and there was a need to have budget and luxury brands. But it didn’t seem organic, but dramatically forced. I take my hat off to Geely for carrying it out, nevertheless, even if some of the models were lacking: the Emgrand EC7, for instance, had rear torsion beam suspension, and it was supposedly a premium product for the well-to-do upper-middle-class Chinese buyer.
   It all came crashing down earlier this year, when Geely realized that it lost economies of scale in marketing, and the most important player in all of this—the consumer—really couldn’t follow what was what. To top it off, these new brands had no goodwill, just as Mazda’s didn’t 20 years before. Unless you’re willing to push these brands like crazy, it’s a hard battle to win, especially in the most competitive market on earth. China, too, has had a downturn in car sales this year, and the heady days of thinking one can adopt multi-brand strategies without the numbers to support them are over.
   Why has it come up? Today, Autocade has successfully recorded the entire current line of Geelys, and there are quite a few historical models in there, too. It was incredibly confusing, too, tracking the new identities of a lot of the models—did the Englon SC5 get renamed? Which lines were dropped because there was a badge-engineered equivalent? And, as is particularly common among Chinese models we put on Autocade, how on earth shall we translate some of these model names? (The practice is to use the Chinese company’s own translations, where available, and not succumb to using the export names to index them.)
   While some pages had the new Geely names appended to the old Englon, Emgrand and Gleagle model pages, there were new entries for the Geely New Emgrand, the old King Kong line along with the Englon SC5-based King Kong hatchback, the two generations of Geely Vision, and the historical Geely Haoqing (an old car based around a 1980s Daihatsu Charade: to think, at the turn of the century, this described pretty much every car in the Geely range) as well as the new flagship SUV that now bears the name.
   The reason for being a bit obsessive over the Geelys, as well as some other models (we added nearly all the current Cadillacs and a few more Chang’ans), is that with the demise of Auto Katalog, I believe more will go online. If we can present a credible new-car site—although we have a long way to go before we get every current model line up—we may go some way to filling the void with Autocade.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, publishing | No Comments »

The Wikipedia game


The contributors or editors of Wikipedia are often quick to make changes after errors are pointed out. A recent funny one was for the suburb of Cannons Creek, in Porirua, when Wikipedia told a friend’s son:

Cannons Creek is a suburb of Porirua City approximately 22km north of Wellington in New Zealand. The citizens attempted to expel a demon but the exorcism backfired, rendering the town uninhabitable for the last fifteen years.

This was changed within hours of my Tweeting about it, so a contributor must have spotted the vandalism to the page.
   My earlier one about second-generation Hyundai Sonatas being classified as first-generation ones in the Wikimedia Commons was also remedied, which is good. I imagine someone will eventually see that the new Hyundai i10 cannot be both longer and shorter than its predecessor.
   However, I still hold a poor impression of Wikipedia because of an incident some years ago that suggested that certain people in the hierarchy gamed the system.
   The accusations of a senior editor—who accused me of defamation and tried to force me to remove a blog post with links about Wikipedia’s faults—did not stand up to any scrutiny. The lesson is: if you want to abuse me with legal arguments on email for five days, you’d better get your facts straight when you’re talking to a guy with a law degree. (She got her wish though, because of Six Apart closing down Vox, which is where I had blogged this.)
   It highlighted a certain arrogance among some of the people high up there. I hope she is not representative of senior Wikipedia editors but the amount of errors that I find—very serious, factual ones on things I know about—is ridiculous. Her behaviour suggested that facts won’t get in the way of power trips.
   One major error that has steadfastly remained for years is Wikipedia’s insistence that the Ford CE14 platform was used for a variety of US Ford cars in the 1980s. This work of fiction has made its way all over the internet, including to the IMCDB,* a Ford Tempo fan site, and elsewhere.
   The correct fact is that CE14 was the 1990 European Ford Escort. Wikipedia states that it was used for the 1980 US Ford Escort and its derivatives (Mercury Lynx, Ford EXP, Mercury LN7) and the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz.
   This is incredibly easy to debunk for anyone who has followed the Ford Motor Company over the years, or read a book or a magazine article about it. First: Ford’s alphanumeric codes were not in existence when these US cars were being developed. Secondly, the Tempo and Topaz are not in the C segment at Ford, but the CD segment; but, in any case, they did not have an alphanumeric code. Thirdly, the E in CE14 stands for Europe, which, the last time I checked, is not in the US. Fourthly, the numbers are more or less sequential as the projects are lined up at Ford. If 7 is Probe, 11 (if I recall correctly) was the 1990 Ford Laser, then how on earth could 14 be for a car that came out in 1980? (You can point out that CD162 was released before CD132, but there is another story behind that.)
   The user who created the original, error-filled, unreferenced page has been awarded stars by their peers at Wikipedia. Well done.
   Wikipedia proponents will argue that I should go and correct this myself, but I wonder why I should. I’ve read how Wikipedia works, and a friend who tried to get false information corrected about his wife corrected confirms this. Senior editors check their facts online, and to heck with print references. What they will see is a lot of references to CE14 that back up the error (even though the error began with them), probably accuse and then block the new contributor of vandalism, and the status quo will be preserved. After all, Jimmy Wales—the man most regularly credited as founding Wikipedia—has his own birthday incorrectly stated on the website. It’s what Stephen Colbert called ‘Wikiality’: if enough people believe something to be true, then to heck with the truth.
   The Guardian cites some research at PARC:

   Chi’s team discovered that the way the site operated had changed significantly from the early days, when it ran an open-door policy that allowed in anyone with the time and energy to dedicate to the project. Today, they discovered, a stable group of high-level editors has become increasingly responsible for controlling the encyclopedia, while casual contributors and editors are falling away. Wikipedia – often touted as the bastion of open knowledge online – has become, in Chi’s words, “a more exclusive place”.
   One of the measures the Parc team looked at was how often a user’s edit succeeds in sticking. “We found that if you were an elite editor, the chance of your edit being reverted was something in the order of 1% – and that’s been very consistent over time from around 2003 or 2004,” he says.
   Meanwhile, for those who did not invest vast amounts of time in editing, the experience was very different. “For editors that make between two and nine edits a month, the percentage of their edits being reverted had gone from 5% in 2004 all the way up to about 15% by October 2008. And the ‘onesies’ – people who only make one edit a month – their edits are now being reverted at a 25% rate,” Chi explains.
   In other words, a change by a casual editor is more likely than ever to be overturned, while changes by the elite are rarely questioned. “To power users it feels like Wikipedia operates in the way it always has – but for the newcomers or the occasional users, they feel like the resistance in the community has definitely changed.”

   The late Aaron Swartz, whom I have admired, was quoted in the article:

“I used to be one of the top editors … now I contribute things here and there where I see something wrong.” The reason, he explains, is that the site feels more insular and exclusive than in the past. “In general, the biggest problem I have with the editors is their attitude,” he says. “They say: ‘We’re not going to explain how we make decisions, we basically talk amongst ourselves.’

   It appears to be why Larry Sanger, the other guy who founded Wikipedia, left. This very behaviour was something he forecast a decade ago that appears to hold true today (original emphases):

   But there are myriad abuses and problems that never make it to mediation, let alone arbitration. A few of the project’s participants can be, not to put a nice word on it, pretty nasty. And this is tolerated. So, for any person who can and wants to work politely with well-meaning, rational, reasonably well-informed people—which is to say, to be sure, most people working on Wikipedia—the constant fighting can be so off-putting as to drive them away from the project. This explains why I am gone; it also explains why many others, including some extremely knowledgeable and helpful people, have left the project.
   The root problem: anti-elitism, or lack of respect for expertise. There is a deeper problem—or I, at least, regard it as a problem—which explains both of the above-elaborated problems. Namely, as a community, Wikipedia lacks the habit or tradition of respect for expertise. As a community, far from being elitist (which would, in this context, mean excluding the unwashed masses), it is anti-elitist (which, in this context, means that expertise is not accorded any special respect, and snubs and disrespect of expertise is tolerated). This is one of my failures: a policy that I attempted to institute in Wikipedia’s first year, but for which I did not muster adequate support, was the policy of respecting and deferring politely to experts. (Those who were there will, I hope, remember that I tried very hard.)
   I need not recount the history of how this nascent policy eventually withered and died. Ultimately, it became very clear that the most active and influential members of the project–beginning with Jimmy Wales, who hired me to start a free encyclopedia project and who now manages Wikipedia and Wikimedia—were decidedly anti-elitist in the above-described sense.
   Consequently, nearly everyone with much expertise but little patience will avoid editing Wikipedia, because they will—at least if they are editing articles on articles that are subject to any sort of controversy—be forced to defend their edits on article discussion pages against attacks by nonexperts. This is not perhaps so bad in itself. But if the expert should have the gall to complain to the community about the problem, he or she will be shouted down (at worst) or politely asked to “work with” persons who have proven themselves to be unreasonable (at best).

   I do not doubt for a second that Wikipedia was started with the best of intentions. It was a really good resource a decade ago, when it attracted the best minds to the project. It does, I am sure, attract some incredibly talented people who are generous and knowledgeable. I am told the science pages are some of the best written out there because those ones have been held up to the original Wikipedia standards. But many pages seem to reflect the great social experiment of the internet: email was great before spammers, and YouTube is great without comments. Democratization does not always mean that the masses will improve things, especially in the realm of specialist knowledge.
   And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a very long-winded way of explaining why I took the word wiki off the home page of Autocade 12 hours ago. I started it allowing public edits, using the same software as Wikipedia, and these days, only specialists can edit the site. The word wiki, ignoring its etymology, is now too closely associated with Wikipedia, and that brand is just too tainted these days for my liking.

* Since I approached the IMCDB, which actually has people dedicated to accuracy, many of its CE14 references were removed.—JY

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Posted in branding, cars, culture, interests, internet, leadership, media, publishing, technology | 7 Comments »