Posts tagged ‘history’


If FCA kills Chrysler today, then it’s another chapter of a company weakening its brands

01.06.2018

There’s a rumour circulating that Fiat (specifically, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or FCA) will kill the Chrysler marque today.
   The range currently consists of two models: the ageing 300 and the relatively fresh Pacifica.
   It seems to be another step in the mismanagement of car marques, especially US ones, something I wrote about many years ago when Condé Nast Portfolio was still running. (Note: it was a published letter to the editor, not an article.)
   Marques do disappear, but when the wrong ones get killed off, long-term it leaves the company in a weaker state.
   DaimlerChrysler found that out in the early 2000s when it decided Plymouth was surplus to requirements. Suddenly, its entry-level budget brand was gone—a very bad move when the recession hit later that decade. Plymouth had been conceived as a low-priced line that kept Chrysler afloat during the Depression.
   DaimlerChrysler then found itself having to sell Plymouth products under the Chrysler marque, which was traditionally the priciest between Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler.
   Today’s Chrysler resembles, at least in market ambition, the one of old, where it offers reasonably good quality vehicles, with Plymouth a distant memory.
   It also offers Fiat a relatively premium brand in the US market. It’s not Jeep, Ram or Dodge, all of which have very different brands, messages and brand equity.
   The fact it is light on product could have been solved long ago if Fiat had adopted the sort of platform-sharing that is now commonplace in the car world—you only have to look at Volkswagen and the Renault–Nissan Alliance, now Renault Nissan Mitsubishi. Even Jaguar Land Rover is realizing economies of scale with Jaguar SUVs and a car-like Range Rover (the Velar).
   While Chrysler found that the 200 had flopped, there was always room for a premium, American SUV to take over from the Aspen, for example. If Jeep can build SUVs on Punto and Giulietta platforms, why couldn’t Chrysler, aimed at very different buyers?
   The truth is that Fiat has a very confusing platform strategy, something I alluded to in earlier posts both here and in Drivetribe, and there appear to be no signs of bringing any harmony to the mess.
   The firm hasn’t been properly merged, and not enough thought has been given to reducing platforms, and sharing them between marques. There’s more in common on this front between Fiat and British Leyland than between Fiat and Volkswagen, which it once vied with to be Europe’s number-one.
   The domestic range has cars on platforms shared with Ford, Chrysler and GM, not to mention OEM vehicles from Mazda, Mitsubishi and Peugeot. I might not love SUVs, but the public does, and the Fiat range is light on them. There’s not enough of a global effort, either: the Ottimo and Viaggio are Italian-styled, based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta (or more specifically the Dodge Dart), and they are only sold in China—a ridiculous situation when Fiat doesn’t have a CD-segment saloon in any other market. The rationalization of the range in South America has helped, with the Argo and Cronos streamlining a confusing array of Palio, Linea, Siena and Grand Siena models, but they bear little resemblance to the models on offer in Europe.
   Lancia, which had benefited from Fiat platforms, is practically dead, its 500-based, Polish-made Ypsilon being deleted this year. As models at Lancia died out, they were not replaced. Yet things could have been so much better, had Fiat allowed Lancia the sort of freedom it needed to sell Italian luxury and innovation. Those values are different from Alfa Romeo’s, yet through its conduct, Fiat seems to think that if Alfa and Lancia have similar prices, then they must vie for similar buyers. They never did. It seems to believe that costs will be saved through axing marques and model lines, which can be true in some cases—but those cases tend to presume that what remains, or what replaces them, is stronger.
   I’m not being a Luddite or pining for the “good old days” when it comes to Chrysler. I hold no romantic notions for the brand. But I do know that once they’re gone, the firm doesn’t necessarily find its resources are freed up to pursue surviving lines. It finds that it’s lost a segment that it once fielded.
   It’s sadder to realize that Chrysler, as a group, was much stronger in the early 1990s, with record development times and good platform-sharing. Plymouth was in the process of developing its own identity—the PT Cruiser and Prowler heralded a new retromodern design language that was to spread throughout the range, while utilizing the same platforms as Chryslers and Dodges.
   Fiat itself, too, was a strong company at this same period, riding high on great styling, with a reinvigorated line-up. Think Bravo, Brava, Barchetta, Coupé Fiat, 456, Quattroporte, Delta, Dedra, Kappa, 145, 146, GTV and Spider. A lot of these vehicles were talked-about, and considered some of the most stylish in Europe.
   Last year, in Europe, luxury marques Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi all outsold Fiat, supposedly a mass-market brand. Its market share in Italy and Brazil, traditionally places where it was strong, has continued to dip.
   In the US, it’s the same story, with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi all outselling Chrysler both last year and year-to-date.
   It’s all very romantic, and good press, to show off premium Alfa Romeos and Maseratis, or money-making Jeeps, but many of these models don’t donate any of their architecture to Fiat’s troubled brands.
   In 2018, when you see that certain Fiat marques aren’t getting access to platforms, you have to wonder why—especially when so many other big players don’t place such restrictions on their brands.
   A new 500 and Panda might be around the corner, but we’ll need to see far more logic applied to the business, especially with Alfa’s Mito and Giulietta looking more dated, Fiat’s range in a mess, and Chrysler barely making an effort in China, a market where its sort of positioning would have attracted luxury-conscious buyers who might prefer foreign brands, such as Buick.
   Even if Chrysler gets a stay of execution, Sergio Marchionne’s successor will have a very tough job ahead.

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Autocade hits 13 million; and what’s the deal with Nissan’s withdrawal from mainstream passenger cars?

21.05.2018

Some time during May, Autocade exceeded 13 million page views. I can’t tell you the exact day, since it wasn’t a milestone that we’re socialized into noticing: I just happened across it one evening last week. It’s currently on 3,665 model entries, the latest being the Porsche 944. Admittedly, we haven’t added the premium brands as quickly as some mainstream ones.
   Since I’ve kept a log of this since the site’s inception (for reasons unknown to me now!), here’s how the traffic has progressed:

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for thirteenth million)

   In other words, it has had more visitors in the last four months than in the same period prior to that. If the June 2017–January 2018 period was anomalous, then we could say that Autocade is getting progressively more traffic.

Incidentally, Nissan, in both Australia and New Zealand, stopped selling passenger cars (apart from the 370Z and GT-R) last year, but it was only recently I came across their explanation. I had thought it was supply and demand, that people were heading into trucks, crossovers and SUVs more, but the official explanation is that Nissan knew about new Euro 5b emissions’ regulations and couldn’t be arsed to meet them.
   There are some supply and demand issues here: Nissan claims they were small volume, and the Pulsar ‘was mostly sold directly as a rental.’
   Still, to turn away even the rental market and hand it over to someone else doesn’t make sense, especially as a well understood rule in marketing is that it costs a lot more to get a new client than it does to retain an existing one.
   There’s no way Nissan didn’t know of this impending change, and it’s a shame it has exited a sector which it once sold very well in (remember the Sunny, or Datsun 120Y, of the 1970s?). With Renault New Zealand even more patchy in passenger-car sales, Renault Nissan Mitsubishi could find itself with a very small footprint here with passenger cars, especially as petrol prices hit their highest level yet. I’ve seen one sign where 95 octane is going for above NZ$2·40 per litre, and I paid a few cents shy of that last week.
   There are Qashqais and X-trails everywhere here, and maybe the group is perfectly happy with the economies it gets with those models’ Renault Mégane IV platform. And we’re not exactly a massive market.
   It just seems a bit short-sighted to me.

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Ford to stop selling passenger cars in the US and Canada, save for Mustang and Focus Active

26.04.2018


The Ford Focus Active: by the turn of the decade, this will be the only four-door passenger car Ford will sell in the US and Canada

In a surprise move, Ford has announced that it will cease selling passenger cars in the US and Canada by the early 2020s, excepting the Mustang and the Focus Active.
   The announcement was actually for ‘North America’ but as Ford of México does a reasonable trade on Figos and Fiestas, it’s hard to see the policy be uniform right across the continent.
   It’s a cost-cutting exercise, designed to save $25,500 million in five years, and trucks and SUVs simply make more money for them. Small cars mean small profits. In fact, car sales lag those of the F-series, Escape and Explorer in the US. Shares have risen on the news.
   That means Americans and Canadians will say goodbye to the Fiesta, Fusion (the four-door sedan counterpart to the Mondeo) and Taurus, the last of which is already superseded in China. If you liked the cooking RS and STs, then too bad. Lincolns are losing money for Ford, too, so maybe the Continental will vanish—given the Fusion is history, the MKZ will follow. That doesn’t leave much in the Lincoln line-up.
   My initial reaction was that the economies of scale would worsen: if you’re not developing for a global market, will development costs be successfully amortized in the same period? We have, however, seen the Japanese do reasonably well with products strictly for the North American market, e.g. certain Acuras and Hondas that are sold only in their neck of the woods. We also know most of the costs of the car are in the platform and architecture, and Ford has shown decent adaptability, particularly with the C519 Focus (the recently released Mk IV).
   Ford says the cuts will come from sales and marketing, engineering and product development, as well as material costs, manufacturing and IT, in that order, according to Automotive News.
   The fact that product development and engineering rank so highly there is worrying to me.
   They’re bandying the word efficiency about a lot, and that always has me worried. That’s the word you used to hear from corporate raiders like Slater Walker. Things can look efficient while they’re being weakened.
   CEO Jim Hackett says he’s feeding the healthy parts of the business, ‘and deal decisively with the parts that destroy value.’
   While it’s true that the crossover, SUV and truck markets are strong, as they are in many parts of the world, I can’t help but think that Ford isn’t preparing itself for tougher future scenarios.
   Energy crises can come unpredictably, for one. Ford was late to the downsizing game in the 1970s because it saw the dollar signs with big cars. By 1977, GM had stolen a real march on Ford. By the turn of the decade, Chrysler was back from the brink with fuel-efficient cars while Ford sailed into the red.
   Chrysler found itself too truck- and SUV-heavy with the recession of the late 2000s, and its entry-level nameplate Plymouth had already vanished, thanks to mismanagement by Daimler earlier in the century.
   While there’s not always a need for a full line—AMC taught us that extending yourself too far isn’t always wise—I wonder if Ford is leaving itself vulnerable.
   Crossovers like the Escape, which might outsell the Fusion, are being beaten in the market-place by the likes of the Toyota RAV4, so it’s not as though Ford is that strong in all the markets it wishes to remain in.
   GM, having pulled out of Europe and Russia, might be in better shape because of its position in China. Ford trails GM when it comes to its Chinese footprint, although it will remain in Europe.
   Ford’s Jim Farley says the company is looking at new types of vehicles that are spacious, versatile and economical, which hopefully will fill the gap should economic surprises surface. Because you need something cheap to hook buyers and get them to the brand. That’s not going to happen if Focus Active is the smallest car in the line-up.
   Ford is likely to have these on global platforms. But that signals to me a real need to remain strong in R&D. Failing that, Ford is looking to partner up with someone, and it may already have an idea who that is.
   I am speculating here, since I don’t have any figures outlining what proportion of revenue is devoted to that area.
   Nevertheless, this sounds like an appeasement of Wall Street.
   That leaves one concern over nameplates. Ford has successfully introduced nameplates over the years because the product was right: Cortina, Mustang, Escort, Capri, Fiesta and Focus among them. But it has also failed by killing nameplates and replacing them with ones that had no real goodwill, such as Five Hundred and Freestyle.
   Whatever Ford has in mind, I hope for their sake that the new product is compelling, as much as the Mustang and Fiesta were when they appeared on the market. Both emerged in the wake of economic recessions, with Ford innovating because it had to.
   In this century, Alan Mulally’s time at Ford had a measured, sensible approach, where you could understand the future. There are question marks over what Hackett has planned, and usually we have some clue what these new products will be four years out. All I know of is that the Ranger will make it to the US again, boosting truck sales, but that’s hardly an innovation. That’s just filling a market niche with familiar product.
   Will Ford do Brasil come up with something that can be sold in both North and South America? Perhaps the next-generation Ecosport?
   There are lessons in history that shouldn’t be ignored, and Ford has one of the most interesting pasts of any car maker. There is, however, a feeling from the announcement that this heralds a time of retrenchment, as its profits fall globally, and net income in the US rising for the first quarter in part due to a lower tax rate.
   Remember, Isuzu also once thought it was a good idea to stop selling passenger cars and focus on SUVs and trucks. And they’re no longer around in North America.

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Posted in business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


A quick read from Prof Stephen Hawking in Wired UK

14.03.2018

The late Prof Stephen Hawking’s interview with Condé Nast’s Wired UK is excellent, and a quick read. For those following me on the duopoly of Facebook and Google, here’s what the professor had to say:

I worry about the control that big corporations have over information. The danger is we get into the situation that existed in the Soviet Union with their papers, Pravda, which means “truth” and Izvestia, which means “news”. The joke was, there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia. Corporations will always promote stories that reflect well on them and suppress those that don’t.

   That last bit definitely applies to a lot of the media today, especially those owned outside our country.
   The rest makes for a great read as Prof Hawking talks about AI, the anti-science movement, Donald Trump, and what humanity needs to do urgently in science. Here’s that link again.

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Happy birthday: Autocade turns 10

07.03.2018


Above: Autocade can be hard work—and sometimes you have to put up less exciting vehicles, like the 2001–7 Chrysler Town & Country, for it to be a useful resource.

March 8, 2018 marks 10 years of Autocade.
   I’ve told the story before on this blog and elsewhere, about how the site came to be—annoyed by the inaccuracies and fictions of Wikipedia (who said the masses would be smart enough to get rid of the mistakes?), I took a leaf out of the late Michael Sedgwick’s book and created a wiki that had brief summaries of each model, the same way Sedgwick had structured his guides. I received an emailed threat from a well known British publisher (I’m looking at you, Haymarket, and as predicted in my reply, your thoughts proved to be totally baseless) when we started, and 12½ million page views later, we’re on 3,628 models (I think we finished the first day on 12), with our page on the Ford Fiesta Mk VII leading the count (other than the home page).
   Autocade began as a wiki but with so many bots trying to sign up, I closed off those registrations. There have really been about six contributors to the site, all told: myself and Keith Adams for the entries, Peter Jobes and Nigel Dunn for the tech, and two members of the public who offered copy; one fed it in directly back in the day when we were still allowing wiki modifications. I thank everyone for their contributions.
   A few years ago, I began running into people online who used Autocade but didn’t know I was behind it; it was very pleasing to see that it had become helpful to others. It also pleased me tremendously to see it referenced in Wikipedia, not always 100 per cent correctly, but as Autocade is the more accurate site on cars, this is the right way round.
   When a New Zealand magazine reviewed us, the editor noted that there were omissions, including his own car, a Mitsubishi Galant. Back then we were probably on 1,000 models, maybe fewer. All the Galants are now up, but Autocade remains a work in progress. The pace of adding pages has declined as life gets busier—each one takes, on average, 20 minutes to research and write. You wouldn’t think so from the brevity, but I want it to be accurate. I’m not perfect, which is why the pages get changed and updated: the stats say we’re running on 3·1 edits per page.
   But it looks like we’re covering enough for Autocade to be a reasonably useful resource for the internet public, especially some of the more obscure side notes in motoring history. China has proved a challenge because of the need to translate a lot of texts, and don’t think that my ethnicity is a great help. The US, believe it or not, has been difficult, because of the need to calculate cubic capacities accurately in metric (I opted to get it right to the cubic centimetre, not litres). However, it is an exciting time to be charting the course of automotive history, and because there are still so many gaps from the past that need to be filled, I have the chance to compare old and new and see how things have moved on even in my four-and-a-half decades on Earth.
   Since Sedgwick had done guides up to 1970, and paper references have been excellent taking us through the modern motor car’s history, I arbitrarily decided that Autocade would focus on 1970 and on. There are some exceptions, especially when model lines go back before 1970 and it would be a disservice to omit the earlier marks. But I wanted it to coincide roughly with my lifetime, so I could at least provide some commentary about how the vehicle was perceived at the time of launch. And the ’70s were a fascinating time to be watching the motor industry: those nations that were confident through most of the 20th century with the largest players (the US and UK) found themselves struggling, wondering how the Japanese, making scooters and motorcycles just decades before, were beating them with better quality and reliability. That decade’s Japanese cars are fascinating to study, and in Japan itself there is plenty of nostalgia for them now; you can see their evolution into more internationally styled product, rather than pastiches of others’, come the 1980s and on. The rise of Korea, Spain, China, India, Turkey, México and other countries as car-exporting nations has also been fascinating to watch. When Autocade started, Australia still had a domestic mass-produced car industry, Chrysler was still owned by Americans, and GM still had a portfolio of brands that included Pontiac and Saturn.
   I even used to go to one of the image galleries and, as many cars are listed by year, let the mouse scroll down the page. You can see periods grouped by certain colours, a sign of how cars both follow and establish fashion. There are stylistic trends: the garishness of smog-era US cars and the more logical efficiency of European ones at the same time; smoother designs of the 1980s and 1990s; a creeping fussiness and a concentration on showing the brand’s identity in the 2000s and 2010s. As some of the most noticeable consumer goods on the planet, cars make up a big part of the marketing profession.
   The site is large enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing an academic look at industry using the data gathered there; and I always thought it could be a useful book as well, bearing in mind that the images would need to be replaced with much higher-resolution fare.
   For now, I’m going to keep on plodding as we commence Autocade’s second decade. The Salon de Genève has brought forth some exciting débutantes, but then I should get more of the Chrysler Town & Country vans up …

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Posted in cars, China, culture, design, globalization, India, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


We need to heed the warnings that Harry Leslie Smith gives

26.02.2018

Not that Asian countries get this right all the time, but generally, when a 95-year-old speaks, we (as in many of us with Asian heritage, and by ‘Asian’ I mean a lot of cultures that make up the 3,700 million people on the continent) tend to listen and we revere their experience. And WWII veteran Harry Leslie Smith, who is one of the more active people of his generation, brings us a warning about where Brexit and other developments around the world are taking us.
   The excerpt from his book, Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future: a Call to Arms, in The Independent, headlined ‘Brexit threatens everything I fought for in the Second World War. On my 95th birthday, this is what I need people to know’, makes for sobering reading, and if we don’t heed his words, we could be heading into trouble. Even if you support Brexit, it would still be advisable to read the excerpt and ensure that the future that he foresees doesn’t come to pass.
   Quite telling is this:

Unlike today, no political party in my youth advocated the isolation that Brexit will bring to Britain. Instead all insisted that our military and political survival depended on cooperation and integration with other nations. Yet today, the political descendants of Winston Churchill are turning our nation into a hermit kingdom whose wealth and ingenuity are being squandered for an idealised notion that we are still a mighty power that the nations of the world want to trade with on our terms.

   I have to agree with him there. When a very good friend of mine, whose opinion I respect greatly, and who voted for Brexit, indicated that New Zealand would be at an advantage, I had to point out that even before the UK joined the EEC, our share of trade with the nation was already declining. We had to look for other trading partners, including ones far closer to home to us. While there’s some truth in that UK–NZ ties could be strengthened, don’t expect a bonanza. If our two-way trade with the EU is worth NZ$19,986 million (Treasury figures, year ended March 31, 2017) and the ONS believes the UK alone accounts for £2,500 million (roughly NZ$4,800 million), then some quick calculations (I realize the periods may differ) indicate that the UK accounts for 24 per cent of the total. But the EU, in total, accounts for 14·5 per cent of our trade. In other words, the UK alone accounts for around 3·5 per cent of trade with us. That’s a fraction of what it was in the 1960s, when New Zealand was a sort of Little Britain (no, neither Little Britain nor the historical sense of that term), when Japanese cars were just an occasional distraction on our roads. We have new friends with whom we trade and I don’t think we’re as nostalgic for the days of Empah as Farage, Johnson, Gove et al. We seem to be more realistic, and we realize the war was a long time ago—and we had to be tougher, in part thanks to the UK’s membership of the EEC.
   It’s not just Britain: Smith doesn’t have great things to say about the US president, Donald Trump, either, especially when he recounts the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt.
   And:

The baby boomers were bequeathed by my generation a society built upon a bedrock of personal sacrifice and a commitment to social and economic justice. Yet all of our accomplishments, from the NHS to council housing as well as our unfinished work trying to ensure a more equal Britain, was pawned off by them to the hedge funds, tax-avoiding corporations and political parties that believe governments should be run like businesses.

   Whereas once upon a time, both Conservative and Labour wanted to uphold the institutions that helped make the UK a decent society—as National and Labour did here—modern ideology has changed the right into something that people like my parents—who voted National for decades—simply don’t recognize today. Even in my lifetime, which is less than half of Smith’s, I find some of the ideas that are being peddled mere caricatures of conservatism. There’s a whole generation—let’s call them ‘Thatcher’s children’—who don’t know any differently.
   Smith doesn’t conclude with this in the excerpt, but I will, as I think it’s a strong paragraph:

And now with our nation in chaos over Brexit, and fascism becoming as great a threat to our security as it once was in the 1930s, the majority in this country and the western world sit like the inhabitants of Pompeii the day before Vesuvius destroyed their city and their lives, ignoring the warning calls of imminent destruction.

   Once again, collective memories are incredibly short—which is why older people who have real experiences they can share so clearly need to be listened to. I mean, why wouldn’t you?

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The last American Falcon

25.01.2018

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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Happy 40th birthday to The Professionals

30.12.2017

‘Anarchy, acts of terror, crimes against the public. To combat it I’ve got special men: experts from the army, the police, from every service. These are the professionals.’

   Forty years ago, ITV began airing one of the UK’s most iconic TV series.
   There’s more at Dave Matthews’ The Authorised Guide to the Professionals, to which I contributed many years ago (yes, I am a fan).
   While there are many quality shows today, The Professionals still holds up reasonably well in terms of action, music, lighting and cinematography (especially if you see the series as restored on Network’s latest set of DVDs), though some of the plots are lacking and there are a lot of outdated 1970s’ attitudes to gender equality and race.
   If you keep that in mind—that it is a product of its era—it’s still an enjoyable show, in part because of my own sense of nostalgia (has it really been forty years?). And the second and third seasons are still, in my opinion, Brian Clemens’ finest hour.

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Why the love? Google tracks you when location services are off; Facebook allegedly listens in on conversations

23.11.2017


Above: We boarded the Norwegian Jewel yesterday—then my other half got a cruise-themed video on YouTube.

Hat tip to Punkscience for this one.
   My other half and I noted that her YouTube gave her a cruise-themed video from 2013 after we boarded the Norwegian Jewel yesterday for a visit. Punkscience found this article in The Guardian (originally reported by Quartz), where Google admitted that it had been tracking Android users even when their location services were turned off. The company said it would cease to do so this month.
   It’s just like Google getting busted (by me) on ignoring users’ opt-outs from customized ads, something it allegedly ceased to do when the NAI confronted them with my findings.
   It’s just like Google getting busted by the Murdoch Press on hacking Iphones that had the ‘Do not track’ preference switched on, something it coincidentally ceased to do when The Wall Street Journal published its story.
   There is no difference between these three incidents in 2011, 2012 and 2017. Google will breach your privacy settings: a leopard does not change its spots.
   Now you know why I bought my cellphone from a Chinese vendor.
   Speaking of big tech firms breaching your privacy, Ian56 found this link.
   It’s why I refuse to download the Facebook app—and here’s one experiment that suggests Facebook listens in on your conversations through it.
   A couple, with no cats, decided they would talk about cat food within earshot of their phone. They claim they had not searched for the term or posted about it on social media. Soon after, Facebook began serving them cat food ads.

   We already know that Facebook collects advertising preferences on users even when they have switched off their ad customization, just like at Google between 2009 and 2011.
   Now it appears they will gather that information by any means necessary.
   This may be only one experiment, so we can’t claim it’s absolute proof, and we can’t rule out coincidence, but everything else about Facebook’s desperation to get user preferences and inflate its user numbers makes me believe that the company is doing this.
   Facebook claims it can do that when you approve their app to be loaded on your phone, so the company has protected itself far better than Google on this.
   Personally, I access Facebook through Firefox and cannot understand why one would need the app. If there is a speed advantage, is it worth it?
   This sort of stuff has been going on for years—much of it documented on this blog—so it beggars belief that these firms are still so well regarded by the public in brand surveys. I’m not sure that in the real world we would approve of firms that plant a human spy inside your home to monitor your every word to report back to their superiors, so why do we love firms that do this to us digitally? I mean, I never heard that the KGB or Stasi were among the most-loved brands in their countries of origin.

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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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