Blue and Three Together, So Goes The Song

We have a bit of crystal ball gazing from the chief designer of Toyota, reported in Automotive News. The mainstream car will go extinct. Not that surprising, really. But why do we have a Ford Taunus as the main image? 

1972 Ford Taunus coupe:

Starting with the idea that a large proportion of the cars made in the future will be externally controlled (“self-driving”), people’s relationship to cars will change. Simon Humphries’ vision is that most cars will be anonymous containers on wheels and a small remainder will be highly specialised luxury or performance items. He imagines “pure race cars” can be created.

That class already exists, they are racing cars and useless for very much if you aren’t a driver of the highest calibre. Even if Mr Humphries means something like what we call track day cars, that still leaves a market of about ten thousand cars in Europe, I would guess. They aren’t in high demand.

We’ve talked about this before. Here the interesting bit is that the guesswork is coming from the industry and not me. There’ll be some design work to be done on the new transport pods and then not much design work to be done thereafter, it would seem. (Read on to find out why the Taunus is the main picture for this article.)

Meanwhile, regarding the time in between now and the time when most vehicles are pods, VW are imaging drawing inspiration from Apple.  “Apple has brought about a design aesthetic with its iPhone and iPad that set it apart from rivals such as Samsung Electronics and Sony and helped make it the most valuable company in the world,” says the report.

What’s the clonking, crashing sound like a plate dropping on a floor? That’s the sound of a point being missed. Apple’s hegemony rests on their remarkable interface not merely the looks. People wouldn’t pay for these gadgets if they didn’t work as they do. The reason the competitors don’t command higher prices is not just because they look less attractive but because the interfaces are quite poor.

2014 VW Up

VW is very good at styling cars and are also quite good at their interfaces. Turning to Apple for guidance is like Eric Clapton turning to Mark Knopfler for guidance. Sure, Knopfler can play but Clapton can too. All Knopfler can do is tell Clapton how to play like Knopfler.

In a way some of VW’s range are already the automotive equivalent of an iPhone. Let’s try to imagine what Apple’s Jonny Ives would say to VW’s designers: “do it like Dieters Rams would do it”. Well, they are half way there without utterly freezing their design in plastic aspic.

What Braun discovered with Rams was that good and all as timeless product design is, the public gets bored. It’s not unlikely that any Apple-inspired design language will also be thrown away at the next model cycle (if there is another model cycle).

VW have very interestingly entirely misunderstood that good UX is about how things work much more than how they look and looks support functionality. And in a way, the fact VWs really haven’t ever been much about lovely controls and more about style (of some type) means naturally they’d imagine people buy iPhones for their four rounded corners.

Turning back to Toyota again. One of our readers, Markus, pointed out the horrific rear accommodation in the Toyota C-HR. I have been dwelling on this ever since. We do listen to our readers.

Toyota C-HR. Image credit:

Regarding that back seat, rather slowly a thought crossed or re-crossed my mind. What if these vehicles are taking the place of that fad of yesteryear, the “personal coupe” or two-door saloon? Yes, the C-HR has four doors – and by the same token many coupes have four nominal seats and were as unlikely to have rear passengers as this car.

One key difference is that when you bought a coupe you really knew the rear passengers were not a high priority. There must be, in contrast, customers of this car who imagine rear passengers will be expected to sit in the back on a regular and extended basis because of the fact there are doors for them.

1979 Olds Cutlass Supreme: car

Can we think then about dividing this burgeoning class of cars into a) those which are not intended to carry rear passengers much and b) those which are intended to carry rear passengers? Now I get this distinction, I have reassessed the C-HR and I still like it – it isn’t a family car though. It’s the modern equivalent of a Ford Taunus coupe or Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera.

Author: richard herriott

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

9 thoughts on “Blue and Three Together, So Goes The Song”

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head with the C-HR. Who is it for?

    If it’s supposed to be an alternative to a family hatchback, it fails because the rear passenger compartment is so miserable and kids will vomit in protest.

    If it’s supposed to be an alternative to a coupe or sports car, it should be judged on those terms… and found wanting.

    C-HR or GT86? Only one of these cars has genuine merit – and it’s not the hybrid crossover.

    1. The C-HR of course.

      Which tells you a lot about the state of the current car market, and little about the intrinsic value of these two models.

    2. Hardly a scientific approach or anything, but from observations in the Republic of Ireland (where I have spent the winter) C-HR’s are predominantly purchased by retirees – mostly (but not exclusively) by women. Therefore in my view, the Personal Luxury Coupe analogy holds.

  2. I think you are giving too much weight to this “VW wants to be like Apple” story. In the original article, Bischoff never mentions Apple but only talks of design in a very general way. The part of the article you quoted was a quote by the author who, I imagine, only inserted Apple into the article for clickbate purposes. It definitely worked though.

  3. I suspect that the trend towards 5-door cars in general is driven by ageing populations. It’s not feasible to ask many older people to climb in to the back of a 3-door vehicle, full stop. So, if you want to carry more than 2 people, however occasionally, then you’ll need more than two doors, even if it’s cramped once you’re in the back of the vehicle.

    1. … and, thinking about it, for those with children, the need to be able to fit child seats easily implies a 5-door, not a 3-door. I’m sure a lot of the popularity of SUVs derives from pretty ‘mundane’ factors, such as the ability to get people and objects in and out easily. I guess this could imply that the autonomous vehicles which we may end up travelling in could be fairly SUV-like, or a least have wide opening doors and high seating positions.

  4. The CH-R seems to be a replacement for the old workhorse Toyota Matrix, though with far less attention paid to function than form.

    Having been cooped up in the rear of a Matrix sitting in what appeared to be the bottom of a deep black hole trimmed in offcuts from cheap handbag manufacture, one can only imagine the sensory deprivation in the back of the CH-R. Still, the elderly women crowd that seems to buy them for the same reason floral print dresses remain attractive, couldn’t give a fig. As you say it’s unlikely that many adult humans will ever travel back there willingly.

    BTW the Olds Ciera had a fine back seat. The correctly deformed car you actually link to is a Cutlass Supreme which had a titchy rear seat due to RWD – the personal luxury coupe of the late ’70s along with the Chevy Monte Carlo.

    Cannot stand the Apple stuff myself, far too twee. My artsy friends in the advertising business swoon over the stuff, but everyone else I know gets on with life with Android. Even in electronics tastes vary for myriad reasons. The IPad browser is awful IMO.

    1. Bill: I have tripped up again in the blizzard of Cutlass variants. I really have to find a way to make sense of this. What I don´t have is a set of brochures or some definitive link between images and the names. When you call up a search term like 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera you get a lot of Olds, Cutlass and Ciera. I think many owners haven´t identified them properly and idiots like me also misidentify them. At least I showed and Olds coupe of some type. Curbside Classics are not going be impressed.
      I agree, the C-HR is very much about form and not about function. Still, it´s an impressive study in whatever the heck it is trying to achieve.

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