A weekly guide to all that’s rotten in the auto industry, plus some good bits
This year’s Geneva Motor Show emphasises what the perceptive already see, car manufacturers still concentrating their output on producing costly toys for the mega-wealthy, ably assisted in that quest by Britain’s witless right-wing car magazines.
Where were the affordable cars? Vauxhall was absent, and neither Volkswagen (hit by class actions for emission scandal) Fiat or Ford had anything new to show in the world’s biggest car emporium. Curious and significant.
Nothing is learned from history, at least not by car makers. Back in the day British manufacturers chose to make many cars for the masses or they chose to produce few cars for the rich. They are still ignoring car security, (theft is on the rise) eliminating rust areas, (the majority of cars are parked out of doors) protecting against minor dings and dents, (barely a car exists without them) or lobbying government to increase the pace of installing electric boosting stations. They keep on raising prices with the excuse the car buyer demands luxury vehicles. Yes, we want interiors that are durable and interesting, but the trend is individual cars for the elite.
Back in the day Britain had populist Vauxhall on the one hand, and elite Rolls-Royce on the other. Those producing luxury vehicles all went belly up and had to be rescued either by a new owner or by the state. Some never recovered: Riley, Lagonda, Bristol, AC Sporstcars, Lister, Singer of sewing machine fame, all dead and buried. Rolls-Royce was bought and rescued by the Germans, Bentley too – how very unBritish, Aston Martin reborn countless times now with Saudi backing, Jaguar twice on its knees now owned by conglomerate Tata of India. Some have risen from the grave, such as TVR but resurrected with a model three times dearer than any TVR before it, for the rich only.
Manufactures are pandering to the biggest profit suppliers – the stinking rich. Personal motoring is moving away from transportation for the common man. We are expected to buy second-hand, cycle, or take a bus.
With few exceptions evidence abounds todays car makers are rarely ahead of invention the last to incorporate the new that makes driving easer, safer and cheaper. You’d hardly believe that if you feasted on British car magazines. They sing the praises of the latest 200 mph 500 horsepower donkey. They jostle to test the latest unaffordable leather over-padded lounge seats that cost the price of a house. Their supercars are for boy racers to salivate over, people who will never own more than a souped up Citroen AX with a Howitzer exhaust. Something is seriously wrong with society’s values.
Even Jaguar, with its promise of an electric SUV produces a really elegant vehicle from the outside, pretty conventional inside, yet fit for thick wallets only, starting at a predicted £60,000 rising to almost £80,000. Electric cars for the masses are left to Renault.
Cars you once admired are this year bigger, wider, and heavier, when in fact we need them to do the reverse. So, I’ll stick to reporting on the weird and the wacky.
One of the few concept vehicles was the Japanese Fomm 1, an electric micro car for the city and ugly as sin. It has the unusual advantage it can float, a bonus come the next tsunami. A lot of thought has gone in to making it a four-seat car, but its shape repels, offensive to the eye, not aided by the burnt sugar and white top presentation. I’m sorry to report that the front is just as horrible as the rear. Must be from the same designer.
This contraption flies, not a plane but a helicopter. All that stuff on the roof of the Pal V – Liberty is the fold out blades. Good for snow-bound roads so long as there is a helipad on your house roof. Only three wheels, but it’s all plastic so it won’t rust. Watch out for telegraph poles, and wind turbines. It really can fly, has been tested, but can you imagine boy racer or Mr Alcoholic getting hold of one, and a police chase in the sky? I shudder.
Here is the super-contemporary interior of the Hyundai Auto-Vision, why ‘Auto-Vision’ I do not know. Manufacturers are wedded to ever-bigger and fatter transmission tunnels, making the Smart4Two which has none the easiest car in the world to slip from one seat to the other, perfect when parked next to a wall. Here the transmission tunnel is floating, ready to cut you in half on side impact. Still, the carpets are easy to clean. Finding the coins that dropped out of your pocket is also easier.
This is something called the Icona Nucleus. It is so futuristic it is somewhere out in space millions of light years away. It looks weirder doors closed. Icona is an Italian design company, and that vehicle, if I can call it a vehicle, is an electric six-seater. It drives itself. You could describe it as the ultimate self-driving living room. That’s the direction most manufacturers are taking. We like our comforts. Soon will come toilet and shower for long-distance travel. In this instance I fear the designers are striving too hard.
Auto makers never tire of nostalgia. If it sold well back in the 1950s and 1960s lets make it again, but update it. Here is BMW’s Bubble Car made modern, the smallest and the cheapest chariot, a shopping trolley. This version is more stable than its predecessors. It has four wheels and stability control. It brings a smile to your face, and a look of horror in a head-on crash … where the only door is fixed. Unlike the original it doesn’t have a tin can for an engine. It’s electric, 80 miles on a single charge.
Ital Design’s Pop-up is a Dyson cordless hoover probably the most interesting of all the cars at the show. It oozes clever ideas and robust materials. I’m told they are working on a flying version. This one looks as if it cleans gutters as it moves. It is “the next modular transportation system”. I’m not sure about that, not in fitted kitchen white. And the designers have forgotten about speed bumps.
Looking back at the photographs I see most experimentation is coming from Italian companies this year. Whether they manage to sell any of their concoctions is another matter. As for the other marques and brands it was as expected, all glitz and glamour and prices to give you a nose bleed. Progress? Phooey!
PS: Not a single dolly bird, model, out of work actress, or power dresser female to be seen draping a car. Progress in something.
NEXT WEEK: Electric cars – a shocking trend. (I’ll get my coat.)