Above: Chris Evans and Rory Reid talk about the McLaren F1 in Extra Gear.
Now that the new new Top Gear has aired in New Zealand, I have to say that it isn’t really there yet. But unlike much of the UK, I’m not going to dis Chris Evans, who is a consummate gearhead. The reason: I have a memory that goes back beyond February 2016.
When Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman brought Top Gear back in its current form in 2002, it was actually disappointing. People seem to forget James May, who originally replaced Clarkson in the original Top Gear, wasn’t even on the show. My memory of the studio audience was that there were about four people hanging around Clarkson as he introduced âŠ wait for it âŠ the CitroĂ«n Berlingo. Which he took to France (insert Clarkson pause) to buy cheese.
The idea of a show with a perfect complement of three hosts who got on well with each other, each playing a caricature of himself, did not exist for the first year, and even after May replaced Jason Dawe, it took a while for those personalities to emerge. It’s rare to get three hosts to play those roles as well from the get-goâTop Gear France (which is actually made by the BBC) is an exception, and every other foreign edition of Top Gear that I’ve seen doesn’t quite have it.
But Clarkson was a ratings’ winner. When he first quit Top Gear (or ‘old Top Gearâ), the series which started with Angela Rippon as its host in the 1970s, ratings fell from six million to three million. The TV environment was different a decade and a half ago. And the BBC persevered because at that time he hadn’t offended Mexicans or Argentinians, or assaulted an Irishman, or Piers Morgan.
However, importantly, the public was quite happy letting things develop. They could have gone and watched Fifth Gear with its familiar line-up of ex-Top Gear presenters, but they stuck with Clarkson, Hammond, and whomever the third man was.
Twenty sixteen. Enter Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc (somewhere between the ending of Friends and today, the space seems to have disappeared in his surname), both personalities who love cars. They are disadvantaged by not having been motoring journalists, but they are entertaining. The show doesn’t flow well with the studio segments, the stars introducing each other doesn’t work, and I’m nostalgic for the reasonably priced carâalthough at least the French have continued la tradition. However, because everyone expects the show to remain on a high, the internet jury has been nasty. No one demanded an overnight success before, but they’re out for blood now. It’s an unfair position to put Evans in.
The absence of motoring journalism experience could have been filled quite easily. We were originally told of a huge line-up of Top Gear presenters, to which I thought: great, the BBC is going to give a big roster a go again, something that we hadn’t seen since the 1990s. In there we saw names such as Chris Harris. Yet Chris Harris and Rory Reid have been relegated to an internet-only show called Extra Gear, which is meant to serve Top Gear in the way Doctor Who Confidential served Doctor Who, with a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, deleted footage, and some sensible road testing around the test track of models not covered in the main show.
Here’s the thing, and this has been said in the British press: these two guys have great rapport, and come across better than Evans and Le Blanc. I vote for them to be on the main Top Gear. They are more personable, humorous, and relatable. I wouldnât be surprised if they found a way to work them both in next season, and why not four hosts?
One thing Harris and Reid have is that they know their stuff after serving in motoring journalism. They arenât rich guys who happen to love cars, but guys who have worked that passion into careers. Harris, in particular, put integrity ahead of kissing up to Ferrari and Lamborghini. I have tremendous respect for these two guys, and thereâs simply more heart in Extra Gear than Top Gear, which at present feels a bit empty and by-the-numbers.
I donât blame Evans at allâthe man had a herculean task. The producers probably tried to reduce Top Gear into formulaic chunks and believed that by cooking with those ingredients, they’d have a winner. This is a reminder that you cannot create heart from a formula: you canât predict where it surfaces. Now that we know itâs there with Reid and Harris, the BBC would be wise to capture it. Let Top Gear evolveâafter all, it did between 2002 and 2015âbut also let these personalities do their thing.
Iâve done this a few times now: looked through my yearâs Tumblr posts to get an alternative feel for the Zeitgeist. Tumblr is where I put the less relevant junk that comes by my digital meanderings. But as I scrolled down to January 2015 in the archive, Iâm not that certain the posts really reflected the world as we knew it. Nor was there much to laugh at, which was the original reason I started doing these at the close of 2009.
January, of course, was the month of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which saw 11 murdered, including the famed cartoonist Wolinski, whose work I enjoyed over the years. Facebook was still going through a massive bot (first-world) problem, being overrun by fake accounts that had to be reported constantly. The anti-vax movement was large enough to prompt a cartoonist to do an idiotâs guide to how vaccines work. In other words, it was a pretty depressing way to end the lunar year and start the solar one.
February: Hannah Davis made it on to the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition by pulling her knickers down as far as socially acceptable (or unacceptable, depending on your point of view), while 50 Shades of Grey hit the cinemas, with one person commenting, âSeriously, this book raises every red flag warning signal I learned during my Military Police training. Grey is a ****ing psycho.â Mission: Impossibleâs second man with the rubber mask, Leonard Nimoy, he of the TV movie Baffled, passed away. Apparently he did some science fiction series, too.
CitroĂ«n celebrated the 60th anniversary of the DS, generally regarded as one of the greatest car designs of the 20th century, while Alarm fĂŒr Cobra 11 returned for another half-season in March. In April, one Tweeter refused to do any Bruce Jenner jokes: âthere are kids & adults confused/bullied/dying over their gender identity,’ said an American photographer called Spike. The devastating Nepalese earthquakes were also in April, again nothing to be joked about. There was this moment of levity:
And the Fairfax Press published a photograph of President Xi of China, although the caption reads âSouth Koreaâs President Park Geun Hyeâ. Wrong country, wrong gender. When reposted on Weibo, this was my most viral post of the year.
In May, we published a first-hand account of the Nepal âquakes in Lucire, by Kayla Newhouse. It was a month for motorheads with For the Love of Cars back on Channel 4. Facebook hackers, meanwhile, started targeting Japanese, and later Korean, accounts, taking them over and turning them into bots.
In June, rumours swirled over the death of Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow, whereupon I made this image:
Microsoft rolled out the bug-filled Windows 10, which worked differently every day.
In December, it wasnât quite âStar Wars, nothing but Star Warsâ. There was, after all, Trump, Trump and more Trump, the only potential presidential candidate getting air time outside the US. Observing the primaries, 9Gag noted that the movie Idiocracy âstarted out as a comedy and is turning into a documentaryâ. Michael Welton wrote, meanwhile, in Counterpunch, âThe only way we might fathom the post 9/11 American world of governmental deceit and a raw market approach to political problem solving is to assume that moral principle has been banished because the only criteria for action is whether the ends of success and profitability have been achieved. Thatâs all. Thatâs it. And since morality is the foundation of legal systems, adhering to law is abandoned as well.â The New Zealand flag referendum didnât make it into my Tumblr; but if it had, I wonder if we would be arguing whether the first-placed alternative by Kyle Lockwood is black and blue, or gold and whiteâa reference to another argument that had internauts wasting bandwidth back in February.
Itâs not an inaccurate snapshot of 2015, but itâs also a pretty depressing one. France tasted terror attacks much like other cities, but the west noticed for a change; there were serious natural disasters; and bonkers politicians got more air time than credible ones. Those moments of levityâmy humorous Jon Snow image and feigned ignorance, for instanceâwere few and far between. It was that much harder to laugh at the year, which stresses just how much we need to do now and in 2016 to get things on a more sensible path. Can we educate and communicate sufficiently to do it, through every channel we have? Or are social media so fragmented now that youâll only really talk into an echo chamber? And if so, how do we unite behind a set of common values and get around this?
When I ran for office in 2010 and 2013, I tried to mount campaigns that were the most effective per dollar spent. If you can’t practise it in your own campaign, you sure as heck can’t practise it when in office. J. E. Bush’s massive spend is exactly what you don’t want to see for the numbers he’s getting.
And unlike the “polls” here in those two local body elections, which had no resemblance to the voters’ reality (got to love sextupling your poll numbers), I trust the Vox one is more accurate, being an aggregate of many US polls with large samples.
The sad thing we can take from the numbers above is that celebrity seems to trump (pun unintended) all else. For those complaining about where all the moderate Muslim voices are when extremists speak out, have a look at this. Where are the moderate Republican voices? Outside the US, we don’t hear any in the mainstream media: the US political coverage has been Trump, Trump and more Trump. Extremism gets sensationalist headlines, and sensationalism sells in a headline culture, whether you’re Stateside or here. Similarly, peaceful Muslims just don’t fit the narrative, as this article in The Independent highlights. American legal experts who say that Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country is unconstitutional because it violates their First and Fifth Amendments have parallels with Muslim leaders who say their faith is one of peace, practised peacefully by thousands of millions. They reflect the majority view, but rationality doesn’t sell the nightly news.
No wonder some have called for the media not to give terrorists coverage, and their argument must similarly apply to all forms of extremism.
I don’t know in which media the million-dollar club is spending in, but these numbers might also show that conventional above-the-line advertising can’t work without complementary below-the-line activity. Trump engagementâfor and againstâmust be pretty good on Twitter, if my own Tweetstream is anything to go by, and that gets his name out more. The man has five million followers on Twitter and, for all the predictions about doom and gloom for the social network, it seems there’s life in it yet. At least it stays up an awful lot more than Facebook.
At this point in 2007, Clinton had a 20-point lead over Obama, and four years before that, when his campaign was trying to buy advertising on our sites, the likely Democratic candidate was a pre-âI have a scream’ Howard Dean. We really don’t know how this is all going to pan out, because on the other hand, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were leading at this point in 1979 and 1999 respectively. MSNBC has done the only poll I’ve seen where they’ve put the likely Democratic candidate this timeâwhich appears to be Clinton, who has spent largeâagainst potential Republican ones. Interestingly, only Carson comes closest to her if he became the Republican nominee; but the question among moderate conservatives and liberals must be how Trump still manages 41 against her 52 (below). Either these numbers will not be borne out at the polls should these two face off against each other, or the answer is simpler than we think: the US political media will talk up a creation of the US political media. They don’t want to be proven wrong, because otherwise they risk losing their perceived authority.
What we do know, unless Sanders gets up there through his populist campaign, is that regardless of the outcome, the United States will swear in another right-wing president on January 20, 2017.
The Dongfeng Fengshen AX7, or a Renault with a Peugeot engine (and I don’t mean the PRV V6 or the old Douvrin), entered into Autocade this week.
With Autocade hitting 6,000,000 page views earlier this week, hereâs a quick anorakâs run-down on the rate of growth. In short: itâs about the same in terms of page views, one million every eight months.
March 2008: launch
July 2008: 500 encyclopĂŠdia entries (four months for first 500)
December 2009: 1,000 (17 months for second 500)
May 2011: 1,500 (17 months for third 500)
December 2012: 2,000 (19 months for fourth 500)
June 2014: 2,500 (18 months for fifth 500)
December 2014: 3,000 (six months for sixth 500)
March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 page views (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 page views (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 page views (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 page views (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 page views (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 page views (eight months for sixth million)
Iâm happy that itâs become a useful resource for so many people. Another blog update when we hit another milestone, but if cars are your thing, pop by to the website or the Facebook page (where there are more auto-trivia).
The latest entries are from the Dongfeng range (the Fengshen AX7 SUV has just gone up as the 3,170th model lineâor, as I cheekily put it, a Renault with a Peugeot engine): one model line short of having all the current ones up. With the growth of the Chinese market, it is important for one site, at least, to chronicle the changes there. We’ve steadily been filling some of the gaps at the old US Oldsmobile brand, too, with all the Toronados now in Autocade.
Thatâs another British General Election done and dusted. I havenât followed one this closely since the 1997 campaign, where I was backing John Major.
Shock, horror! Hang on, Jack. Havenât the media all said you are a leftie? Didnât you stand for a left-wing party?
Therein lies a fallacy about left- and right wings. Iâve never completely understood the need to pigeonhole someone into a particular camp, when I would say most people on this planet hold a mix of views from both sides. Now that politicians are not unlike caricaturesâthere has been a ârightwardâ shift where the policies being adopted by some are so outside economic orthodoxy that they look like what their Spitting Image counterparts would have uttered back in the dayâthis holds more true than ever. We know what subscribing to certain partiesâ views fully and completely is like: we risk looking loony, and, if taken too far, we risk becoming loony.
But the spin doctors and advisers arenât in to transparency. They are into their talking heads conveying what they feel the public responds to, hence Mitt Romney, once an advocate of universal health care in his own state, becoming an opponent of it when he ran for president; or, for that matter, Ed Milibandâs insistence on the âbudget responsibility lockâ, to demonstrate that he had a handle on the economy, when Economics 101 told us that austerity isnât a good way to help the economy along and Miliband began sounding like Cameron lite.
My support of Major in the 1997 General Election, which went against the prevailing view at the time, was down to several reasons. Unlike Cameron, Major didnât practise austerity, but he did practise conventional economics with the government going more into deficit through increasing spending during the early 1990sâ recession, knowing the stimulus to be affordable, and knowing it had to be paid back once the economy was healthy again. It is interesting to note Sir Johnâs own goal while campaigning for the Tories in this General Election, when he said at the Tory Reform Group annual dinner, âWe need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work.
âHow can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe? I include eastern Europe in that question.â
How indeed. The John Major who was prime minister will have answered that easily, and his own record illustrates just why he avoided such consequences in the 1990s that Cameron was unable to.
The second reason was that I really believed the âclassless societyâ speech, and if you have read his memoirs, or even biographies written about him, then there was a real personal experience woven into that. Critics will point at the fact the speech was written by Antony Jay (Yes, Minister) or the fact that Britain invented To the Manor Born and such sitcoms, but, generally, why should only certain classes have the ability to excel and do their best? Everyone should have that opportunity, and the measures implemented under the Major premiership, while not as far to the left as traditional socialists would have wanted, struck a good balance in my view in an immediate post-Thatcher period. We should always be wary of sudden shifts, whether theyâre swings from the left to the right, or vice versa. A pragmatic approach seemed sensible.
Third, it was precisely that Major was not a Thatcherite, even if Margaret Thatcher might have believed him to be when she made him Chancellor of the Exchequer, a job that he wanted most of his political life. But what we had in his very shrewd opponent in 1997 was Thatcherism, or at least monetarism. As we know from Tony Blairâs and Gordon Brownâs early move in allowing the Bank of England to be free of political control, their belief that this would avoid boom-and-bust cycles was not realized. However, the evidence does show that the freedom has coincided with a period of low interest rates and stable inflation, but equally one can credit the work of the Tories in handing New Labour a booming economy in May of that year. As Major noted at the time, it was rare for a government to lose while the economy was improving, but the Labour campaign, ably assisted by biased media at the time, and the easy pass Blair got from the British establishment despite being very, very vague about his policies, was hard to beat. All he had to do was utter âChangeâ and âItâs about New Labour, new Britain.â It hid, to those of us watching the General Election and the year before it, New Labourâs Thatcherite aims. I am not even that sure what Blair, Brown and Peter Mandelson were doing in the party to begin with.
This might be contrasted with a Tory party weakened through allegations of sleaze (and we know now that no party is any less sleazy than the other, but it depends on when you are caught out) leading Major to fight a campaign largely alone with the occasional publicity boost from the Spice Girls. No matter how specific the PM got, it didnât matter. (Or, as I had told many of my design classes at the time when I was teaching, the Conservativesâ Arial was no match for Labourâs Franklin Gothic, a typeface family that, incidentally, was used by Thatcher in her 1983 election campaign, and by Labour in New Zealand in 1999 and 2002.) It was frustrating to try to discern what Labourâs specific policies were from Down Under, watching the General Election campaign with keen interest. And those lack of specifics worried me from the start, which explains why when I ran for office, I issued a manifesto early in the game. I liked being first, even if the electorate didn’t put me there.
Whether you agreed with Labour or not, and many would argue that the Blair and Brown years were not stellar, the divisions in their partyâwhich I imagine we will see reemerge in the next few daysâindicate that even within there is a great deal of polarization. The Thatcherites are in there, except they are called Blairites. And while Sir John put his weight behind his party out of loyalty, and from his earlier political years witnessing how âLabour isnât workingâ (the WilsonâCallaghan years must have been formative for him given his age), his comments at the dinner are telling on just where modern Conservative economic policies under George Osborne differed to his own and those of Norman Lamont. If people are suffering, if they arenât getting their shot at the âclassless societyâ, then is the place any good? If the class divide has grown, contrary to Sir Johnâs own views, and weakened Britain as a result of the contraction of economic players in it, then even the ârightâ canât support that. To me, I thought conservatism was letting everyone have a shot, and about solid, national enterprise, and this century hasnât given me much faith that that applies very widely.
Labour might have campaigned on that and on preserving the NHS although having listened to Miliband, I was never totally convinced. Perhaps, I, too, had concerns about Labour vagueness, and until this General Election I had not followed the Shadow Cabinet closely enough to know the thinking and histories behind the players. That area, I will leave to others to comment. In some respects, the caricature comment I made above applies to Labour, too.
Therein lie my many posts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on my Facebook. It is precisely because I support business that I am against a good part of what has been leaked so far. (I am aware that many trade agreements are negotiated in secret, so there is nothing new there.) It is precisely because I believe in a level playing field for Kiwis that we should be careful at how we liberalize and in what sectors and at what pace we should do it. The curious thing there is that the substantial arguments (obviously against it) have come from the âleftâ, or friends who identify as being left-wing, while some who have identified as being right-wing have bid me an indignant exit from the discussion by attacking the players and not their utterances, and yet somehow the lefties are branded the woolly, emotional wrecks?
As I wrote last year, âAll I want are facts, not emotional, ideological arguments. On the evidence for me, things are leaning toward the anti side. I come from the standpoint of the market being a man-made construct and people are not numbers.
ââŠ [T]here are cases going on with tobacco companies where they are using IP to argue that plain packs are contrary to trade agreements. So where do you draw the line with public health versus a foreign enterprise profiting? Iâd like to see healthy people not taxing the system, and plain packs were a foreseeable development IMO for a tobacco manufacturer. [I know this is an argument that is typically trotted out, but I use it since there is at least one case out there.] A wise tobacco company would have acquired businesses in other fields (as some have done), just as Coca-Cola, seeing the tide turn against sodas, have bought up water, energy drink and juice businesses. Itâs wise investing, and itâs progress.
âThere is nothing wrong with the notion of a trade tribunal but what has been emerging from the leaks are ones where corporations can be compensated for loss of profits based on, say, plain packaging. If a government is democratically elected to implement such a policy, and corporations have always understood investments to be subject to the laws of the land (including the risk of divestment in some), then should their rights trump that of the citizens? This is the danger here, and this is the heart of the sovereignty argument.
âAnother example is with software patents, which our country has voted to do away with. Itâs been shown that that would spur innovation.
âThe tendency is that TPPA is against these moves, although given the secrecy we do not know for sure. But reading other IP provisions it does not take a big leap of the imagination.
ââŠ Do I believe in global free trade? Absolutely. But I also believe in making sure that people have the means the buy the stuff I sell, and to me this treaty (based on what has been leaked) does not ensure that. I also believe in social responsibility and that citizens have their basics looked after so they can participate in commerce. I am pro-innovation, especially in smaller enterprises where some great stuff is taking place, and we have reasonably robust IP laws already and conventions that govern them. Iâm not saying I have a complete alternative that replaces it, but some of the work we have done at the Medinge Group touches on these issues.â
One argument in favour is: if we are not party to this, then does this mean we will get shut out of it? Iâm not entirely sure we will in that we are already one of the freest markets in the world, although I welcome arguments and past examples. In the areas I know well, the absence of a free-trade agreement with the US, for instance, have never hampered our firm exporting there, but I realize for our primary producers there have been obstacles. But do such agreements mean unimpeded access when itâs so easy, even under WTO, to erect non-tariff barriers? And why should corporationsâ rights trump citizensâ, as opponents are quick to point out?
âAt the end of the day,â to borrow a phrase, all human systems are imperfect. And the market is just as human as any other. My belief is that your own citizens, and their welfare, must be placed first, and we should support our own people and our own businesses. The political caricatures that certain parties have now rendered into human form donât necessarily appear to understand this, certainly not by their actions. This is at the crux of the arguments that I saw from Labour supporters in the UK General Election, and to some extent from those who opposed National and ACT in our one last year. Labour’s loss here, too, in my view, can be placed on a leader who himself came across as unsubstantial on TV as his opponents; and his refusal to resign can be contrasted to the behaviour of Miliband and Nick Clegg yesterday. He could have always pulled a Nigel Farage.
The sooner we get away from notions of âleftâ and ârightâ and work out for ourselves where weâd like our country and our world to head, we will start working together without these false divisions. I might add that âbeing Asianâ in this country is yet another false division. No wonder most people are sick of politics, politicians and âpolitics as usualâ, because most of us cannot be bothered pigeonholing ourselves. We just want to do whatâs decent and honourable and have the chance to get on with it.
Top Earlier today, attempting to get into Style.com meant a virus warningâthe only trace of this curiosity is in the web history. AboveStyle.com is back, with a note that it will be transforming into an e-tail site.
I see Google has messaged me in Webmaster Tools about some sites of ours that arenât mobile-friendly.
No surprises there, since some of our sites were hard-coded in HTML a long time ago, before people thought about using cellphones for internet access.
The theory is that those that donât comply will be downgraded in their search results. After my battle with them over malware in 2013, I know Googleâs bot can fetch stale data, so for these guys to make a judgement about what is mobile-optimized and what is not is quite comical. Actually, I take any claim from Google these days with a grain of salt, since I have done since 2009 when I spent half a year fighting them to get a mateâs blog back. (The official line is that it takes two days. That blog would never have come back if a Google product manager did not personally intervene.)
When youâre told one thing and the opposite happens, over and over again, you get a bit wary.
To test my theory, I fed in some of our Wordpress-driven pages, and had varying results, some green-lighted, and some notâeven though they should all be green-lighted. Unless, of course, the makers of Wordpress Mobile Pack and Jetpack arenât that good.
Caching could affect this outcome, as do the headers sent by each device, but it’s a worry either for Google or for Wordpress that there is an inconsistency.
I admit we can do better on some of our company pages, as well as this very site, and thatâs something weâll work on. Itâs fair enough, especially if Google has a policy of prioritizing mobile-friendly sites ahead of others. The reality is more people are accessing the ânet on them, so I get that.
But I wonder if, long-term, this is that wise an idea.
Every time weâve done something friendly for smaller devices, either (a) the technology catches up, rendering the adaptation obsolete; or (b) a new technology is developed that can strip unwanted data to make the pages readable on a small device.
Our Newton-optimized news pages in the late 1990s were useless ultimately, and a few years later, I remember a distributor of ours developed a pretty clever technology that could automatically shrink the pages.
I realize responsive design now avoids both scenarios and a clean-sheet design should build in mobile-friendliness quite easily. Google evidently thinks that neither (a) nor (b) will recur, and that this is the way itâs going to be. Maybe theyâre right this time (they ignored all the earlier times), and there isnât any harm in making sure a single design works on different sizes.
I have to admit as much as those old pages of ours look ugly on a modern screen, I prefer to keep them that way as a sort of online archive. The irony is that the way they were designed, they would actually suit a lot of cellphones, because they were designed for a 640-pixel-wide monitor and the columns are suitably narrow and the images well reduced in size. Google, of course, doesnât see it that way, since the actual design isnât responsive.
Also, expecting these modern design techniques to be rolled out to older web pages is a tall order for a smaller company. And thatâs a bit of a shame.
Itâs already hard finding historical data online now. Therefore, historical pages will be ranked more lowly if they are on an old-style web design. Again, if thatâs how people are browsing the web, itâs fair: most of the time, we arenât after historical information. We want the new stuff. But for those few times we want the old stuff, this policy decision does seem to say: never mind the quality, itâs going to get buried.
I realize Google and its fans will argue that mobile-friendliness is only going to be one factor in their decision on search-engine ranking. That makes sense, too, as Google will be shooting itself in the foot if the quality of the results wasnât up to snuff. At the end of the day, content should always rule the roost. As much as I use Duck Duck Go, I know more people are still finding us through Google.
What will be fascinating, however, is whether this winds up prioritizing the well resourced, large company ahead of the smaller one. If it does, then those established voices are going to be louder. The rich melting pot that is the internet might start looking a bit dull, a bit more reflective of the same-again names, and a little less novel.
Nevertheless, weâre up for the challenge, and weâll do what we can to get some of our pages ship-shape. I just don’t want to see a repeat of that time we tailored our pages for Newtons and the early PDAs.
The Geely King Kong Hatchback, one of the new entries on the Autocade website.
Not that I blogged it at the time, but Geelyâs 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 wasnât unlike Mazdaâs 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 Japanâs bubble economy didnât 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 Capellaâa nameplate Japanese buyers had become accustomed to for decadesâas 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 companyâs 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. Thereâs 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 didnât 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 thisâthe consumerâreally couldnât follow what was what. To top it off, these new brands had no goodwill, just as Mazdaâs didnât 20 years before. Unless youâre willing to push these brands like crazy, itâs 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 modelsâdid 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 companyâs 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 GeelyVision, 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 Changâans), is that with the demise of Auto Katalog, I believe more will go online. If we can present a credible new-car siteâalthough we have a long way to go before we get every current model line upâwe may go some way to filling the void with Autocade.