Written On the Edge

Automotive News alarmed me with this item, below, about the BMW i3.

Source: Automotive News

(Also, I have learned how to make screenshots on my iPhone). The headline suggests a whole new design, something low and slippery. The car shown is, to the layman, the exact same. Anyone who didn’t love the i3 before will still not love it now. This redesign (if it is one) “counters” Tesla like sending a yoga teacher to fight the Visigoths.

2015 BMW i3: http://www.bmwedison.com

Which brings me to the Americanism “boxy”. Our American readers can supply insight; “boxy” doesn’t capture the visual quality of this car. It’s highly refined and has a wealth of articulations around the apartures. It isn’t a sphere, I agree. It isn’t a Volvo 740 or 1985 Buick Electra. Those were angular.  What does “boxy” mean to our US readers?

There are other terms which are used carelessly. “clean” as in “the car has clean lines”. I am not sure anyone knows what that means.

I am waiting still to know what “square rigged” refers to apart from an angular car; can anything else be square rigged? Ships can be and I can’t easily see how a car could not be square-rigged.

American cars are almost always called “brash” regardless of how plain they might be.

Quirky!: motorstown.com

My point here is that language guides thought as well as vice versa. The appearance of clichees shows thought has been by-passed (Citroens are always quirky – even when they are not).

The AE people needed another word: boxy utterly fails to describe the visual style of the i3. I consider it rather good and it has grown on me as time goes by.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

11 thoughts on “Written On the Edge”

  1. Without properly knowing what ‘boxy’ is, when I read it I see something like the recently discussed Jimny or any of the more minivan-like kei cars. An i3 certainly isn’t boxy. It’s short and rather upright, yes. Is that a problem? A slightly longer front end and wider tracks certainly don’t make it a long, sleek fastback like a Tesla.

    1. The journalist probably regurgitated the press release. By the same token, the Kia Picanto has been given a 1bhp power increase to counter the challenge of the Golf GTi.
      The i3 is nothing like a Tesla in the looks department which is why I’d prefer it.

  2. Sometimes it’s easier to define things in the negative. The Toyota CH-R does not have clean lines.

    1. I take it you don’t much like it. My view is that it’s not intended to be simple, it’s supposed to be complex. The clean lines descriptor is most applied to very smoothly shaped cars or to critique cars that don’t pull off that feat.

  3. Apart from the linguistic details, I must state that I’m highly disappointed with that facelift. The changed details all hint at an apologetic desire to ‘amend’ the car, which only very rarely works. The original i3, albeit by not perfect, was a perfectly sound proposition. Trying to make it appear ‘sleeker’ defies the whole point of what has always been marketed as a car for commuting purposes above all else.

    Even more sobering than the photos Richard has chosen are the official pictures of the ‘new’ i3’s interior. Gone is the untreated wood, recycled composites & natural-looking fabrics look of the original press photo cars’ specification. Now we get brown leather and an altogether more ‘premium’ ambience. Which would be fine for a 5 series, but its all wrong when it comes to the i3.

  4. To this unitedstatesian’s eyes the I3 isn’t boxy. It is a hideous misshapen lump.

    1. I see. On the other hand there are many who do like it. Design can polarise and still be succesful. There are other vehicles to choose from: how about a Nissan Leaf or Tesla x?

    2. Even if I beg to disagree with the viewpoint, Fred, it’s a valid comment given that design is subjective. But the C-HR and the i3 highlight the question of how people read car design. Both vehicles were intended to be uncompromising in appearance. The Toyota is a styling statement above all and as such it’s been a very successful one. Successful in that people have a strong and visceral reaction to it. It is an extraordinary looking device, so much so that I still haven’t formulated a coherent position on its merits.

      The market loves it incidentally – it has recently been outselling its Auris sibling across Europe. What we can take from this is that a car doesn’t have to be visually harmonious to appeal and that in this instance, we shouldn’t expect to see Toyota rushing to facelift the C-HR anytime soon. However, the quality that makes a car visually appealing remains as nebulous as ever.

      The i3 is an engineer’s car and from a marketing perspective, BMW probably made the error of allowing it to look like one. Personally, I rather like it, allowing for the fact that it isn’t what anyone would call pretty. For a host of reasons – only one of them appearance, the i3 hasn’t been a terrific sales success for BMW, hence the hasty and seemingly desperate ‘corrective’ facelift, which betrays BMW’s lack of confidence.

      In my view nobody has managed to successfully define the visual landscape for an electric car as yet. Tesla is derivative and attempts to sidestep its method of propulsion. However, it doesn’t scare the horses. Mercedes and Audi appear to be taking a similar conservative tack with their forthcoming SUV-based offerings. JLR’s forthcoming I-Pace at least seems to be offering a different set of proportions, but until we see the finished product, judgement needs to be reserved.

      Should manufacturers highlight the fact that the car is electric or attempt to hide it? I suppose in the end, the customer will decide. But what is clear is that nobody (in my view) has produced a genuinely desirable looking EV as yet.

    3. Eoin and Fred: there are two approaches to designing an object regarding the customer. One is to find something nobody hates and looks comparatively better than many of its peers. I believe Ford and GM use this approach hence the very consistent designs, give or take. Another one is to try to find what the core market wants. And early adopters typically want something striking and are interested in that. Where BMW might have erred commercially is to focus on early adopters in the first place. Tesla decided to make the new unfrightening. I applaud BMW making a car like this and it is well-executed, on its own terms. Now the question is this: who would have guessed Toyota customers would have gone so madly for the CH-R and that BMW customers would have rejected the i3. I wonder if either firm has sold many cars to their core customers at all. I can imagine many typical BMW and Toyota people don´t much like the cars. Further, the i3 is very expensive for its size; the C-HR is more affordable. File the i3 under “Audi A2 et al” perhaps.

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