…as they like to say in the world of automotive print journalism.
We covered a lot of ground in our theme of the month, Japan, and the response from our clique of readers has been heartening. Most of what I read this month from our readers and contributors was new to me, as was the material I waded through when researching my own items.
Dealing with the Japan theme first, Sean Patrick and others handled the origins of Japan’s post-war development. The general theme is that Japan watched closely what Europe did but its selection of references showed its special set of values and interests. We dealt with notable examples of Japanese concept car design, production design. and the state of the product ranges. Under the production cars, the kei car phenomenon came under scrutiny from several angles such as this and this along with a few apparently randomly chosen examples of neglected classics and unloved daily drivers.
If I have learned anything it’s that Europe and America have looked to Japan for inspiration – because we overlook Japan (or don’t know its market at all) this flow of ideas is harder to spot than the one running the other way. We concluded with a brace of scholarly articles on Toyota and Isuzu which, if nothing else, showed the endless depths of the subject. And we still said nearly nothing about Subaru in proportion to the character and originality of Japan’s most idiosyncratic brand. Given the amount of discussion that fine post generated we could probably do a month on Subaru alone. We may very well return to this topic (Japan or Subaru).
DTW welcomed a new writer to our fold. Following our arcane and confusing initiation rituals (which take place in the Laker Airways Premium Club lounge at Schipol Airport), Mick offered his trenchant views on the perils of corporate design: do you stay the same or do you change? The core of the argument is this: “In 1989 there were 8 different models of passenger car sold by Mercedes. Today there are over 25. This deluge of “choice” of course makes it more and more difficult to retain a familial resemblance throughout the range while allowing each car to have its own individuality.” It is rather hard to be original and distinctive and good all at the same time. In all likelihood Mercedes is confident its brand values can handle a few duff designs, much as Toyota’s can. The rhetoric of design integrity has been quietly jettisoned. Toyota, to their credit, don’t indulge in this which is why nobody hammers them for their occasional lapses.
Chrisward presented a fine duo of articles on cars in movie posters and some insight on the addictive world of video games. Kris Kubrick offered us some reasons to reconsider Chris Bangle’s place in the automotive firmament: “Disregarding one’s view of his body of work and some of his aesthetic choices, what is striking is not just Bangle’s energetic eloquence, but the sheer abundance of concerns he’s addressing. Whether one agrees with him or not – listening to Bangle is certainly not a waste of time, and in sharp contrast to all the gibberish car stylists are unleashing onto those who’ll listen (or pretend to) in this day and age.”
Eoin continued his fascinating series on the Lancia Gamma. Reader Mark James offered this opinion on the topic. He asked isn’t “brand loyalty a significant factor when selling cars? The Gamma’s dated looking
predecessor, the 2000, sold only 14,319 and there was a gap between its demise and the introduction of the Gamma. To increase sales dramatically would have required something revolutionary along with a lot of luck at a time when, as Eoin pointed out, there was plenty of quality opposition. I suspect that regardless of design faults and reliability, this car was doomed from the outset although I’m glad it existed.” Roberto de Iriarte added this point: “The lack of transmission choice surely didn’t help either. If i recall correctly, the Gamma was not available with an automatic until the end of the production cycle.” I’d add that a lack of engines also stuffed its cushion.
On the news front, we handled the retirement of GM´s design chief, the prospect of a Mini saloon, the prospect of no more Jaguar estates and this dim prospect along with the ongoing tribulations of VW (all their own fault). And there’s an Alfa CUV on the way (which fact is not unrelated to Jaguar’s future approach to selling estate cars).
Thanks for reading and contributing. On behalf of our editor, Simon A. Kearne, something to do with sherry and we look forward to seeing you next month.