That Was 2019

Before we begin afresh, we should first cast one glance in the rear view mirror.

Who ‘nose what 2020 will bring? (c) Auto-Didakt

The prosecco has been sipped, the good wishes made and 2019 has already slipped into the past tense. So let us pause briefly before we set out into a new decade and consider the significant moments of the past year as (mostly) documented upon these pages.

We began the year at the shoreline, tearfully bidding Renault’s Twingo farewell from Britain and Ireland. It wasn’t a car which ever really ignited the imagination of the marketplace in either country (we were denied its more inventive and more charming first generation model), but its withdrawal could be read as something of a metaphor. A prefiguring too, since the announcement brought forth a slew of similar announcements from rival carmakers casting serious doubt to the ongoing viability of A-segment cars such as these, owing we’re told to rising costs of emission compliance.

2019 was also the year that the German Prestige Grille Wars got real, with Munich’s Vierzylinder illustrating to us all, but most notably to their domestic rivals, that we really wouldn’t like them when they’re angry. But while the Petuelring’s saloon flagship has the sheer visual bulk to carry its rhinoplasticised proboscis with some credibility, the same certainly cannot be said of its hapless entry-level sibling which also made its unfortunate debut this year. But then, the poor thing is such a plump, undercooked confluence of seemingly unrelated styling features, perhaps the grille is the least of its problems.

March saw the European Car of the Year awarded in somewhat irregular fashion to JLR, who had so much faith in their product’s winning potential they seemingly hadn’t bothered to show up. Fortunately, in a PR saving grace moment of almost Hollywood proportions, a certain Mr. Ian (soon to be past tense) Callum had popped over to the Palexpo for press day, sparing Dr. Speth’s blushes. Heads undoubtedly rolled at Gaydon.

Geneva also witnessed the promised revival of Fiat, with the showing of the charming and innovative Centoventi concept car. The Panda-sized concept embodied some very elegant and rather clever thinking, but matters were quickly complicated by FCA’s announcement later in the year that they too would abandon the A-segment, focusing their efforts instead upon the larger and more lucrative B-sector. Will Centoventi see the light of day? Unlikely we’d say. As for Fiat’s revival? Anyone’s guess.

Late spring brought news that the Ford Motor Company would henceforth desist from making saloon cars for the domestic US market. Cue much speculation and a good deal of soul searching as we pondered how such a state of affairs could possibly have come to pass. Of course what Ford’s Jim Hackett really meant was that the carmaker would instead produce cars that looked a lot more like hatchbacks, which became more obvious later in the year with product announcements like the Escape and towards the close of the year, the Mach One EV.

Electric vehicles of course were very much the mood music of 2019, with a slew of new entrants, most of which would not be available to purchase until this year, but why let minor details derail a positive PR narrative? Volkswagen and Porsche probably garnered the bulk of the column inches, especially so Zuffenhausen, whose Taycan not only looked the part, but received breathless reviews for how it drove. Don’t mention the range though.

Honda too launched their EV, which to their undoubted chagrin didn’t really get anyone particularly excited, while PSA took a more pragmatic route by making their forthcoming and reassuringly conventional looking Peugeot 208/ Opel Corsa twins EV-compatible – a decision which could well pay dividends in the real world.

But there are EV launches and there are Tesla EV launches. Whether the ludicrous-mode Cybertruck reaches anyone’s market in the form it was shown, or indeed, does so at all, it was a marketing masterstroke by the Palo Alto disruptor, who has transcended a rather rollercoaster year and seems set to achieve a semblance of stability – assuming of course its mercurial and rather Twitter-happy CEO lays off the fizzy pop.

Amidst all the bruhaha over Mr. Musk’s latest piece of attention-seeking, the advent of the new-generation Volkswagen Golf went almost unnoticed. This was remarkable insofar as the model represents the VW mothership’s core business and therefore needs to be as close to perfectly pitched as can be contrived. On the face of things however, it looks like a product developed by the company’s ‘B-Team’, while the brightest and best were otherwise occupied – and who’s to argue that wasn’t the case? Is this the first Golf launch that really doesn’t matter?

Towards the end of the year FCA, having aborted a proposed merger with the embattled Renault/ Nissan combine in the spring, announced plans to merge with a resurgent PSA Groupe, thus leapfrogging GM in size, scale and importance. Fraught with difficulty, and incomprehensible to many eyes, this merger of equals appears set to surmount its regulatory hurdles, (the legal ones could be another matter) but how it can be practically made to work, remains a mystery perhaps only Carlos Tavares knows the answer to.

And speaking of the embattled Renault- Nissan combine; having spent the bulk of 2019 in custody, former Renault/ Nissan CEO, Carlos Ghosn made an audacious break both for the newspaper headlines and for freedom, hightailing it in somewhat eyebrow raising circumstances to his native Lebanon. There is little doubt that more to this exists than is apparent to the eye, but it certainly marks a somewhat dramatic close to the year.

We lost a number of significant automotive figures over the course of 2019, but three stood out for us. Former Jaguar Director of Vehicle Engineering, Jim Randle lost a battle with cancer earlier in the summer, ex-BL Chairman, Sir Michael Edwardes departed this life in the Autumn, while the death of former VW Chairman, Dr. Ferdinand Piëch surprised many by its muted response, particularly given the towering shadow he cast over the entire contemporary auto business.

Here at Driven to Write meanwhile, one could be forgiven for suggesting a similar correlation in the fates of DTW site founders to Spinal Tap drummers, a matter which has led to this founding author rather looking over his shoulder of late. But notwithstanding Richard’s departure (we do hope he will continue to drop in from time to time), it’s been a productive year for the site. We’ve welcomed a number of new contributors, who have broadened the scope and voice of DTW considerably, and to whom I’m tremendously grateful.

To them, to our existing contributors, and to you, our loyal readers and commentators, I extend my thanks for your continued support and very best wishes for 2020.

A very Happy New Year to you all.

 

 

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

16 thoughts on “That Was 2019”

  1. A very Happy New Year to you too, Eóin, and to all at DTW, which remains the most intelligent, thoughtful and civilised corner of the automotive firmament.

  2. It is phraseology like “.. the poor thing is such a plump, undercooked confluence of seemingly unrelated styling features, perhaps the grille is the least of its problems” that make reading DTW such a joy. A prosperous New Year to you all.

    1. Thanks Formula57, we’ll continue to do our best throughout 2020.

  3. A terrific (and typically pithy) review of the year just gone.

    Happy New Year to all at DTW, and best wishes for a successful and happy 2020. What fresh design horrors await us?!

    1. Happy New Year to you too, Jacomo!

      One bit of good news to start the year: the frumpy BMW 3 Series GT is no longer available and will not be replaced:

      It’s by no means BMW’s most reprehensible design, but I certainly won’t miss it.

    2. Yup, the 3GT is destined for future ‘what were they thinking?’ reviews, in which journalists try but fail to get any kind of coherent explanation out of BMW’s design department.

      Still, though… a friend ran one as a company car for three years and was reasonably happy with it. And it has frameless doors, which is always worth an extra point in my book. I am keeping an eye on used prices… it may provide good value family transport one day!

    3. Jacomo,

      if I may, I’ll summarise that future article right away.

      All the GT models were brought to market at the behest of former BMW CEO (and current chairman of the supervisory board), Norbert Reithofer. He believed the concept was genius, and what the boss wants, the boss gets. Which is the sole reason why the 6 (née 5) series GT is still in production.

    4. The 3GT is made all the more redundant in BMW’s range by the 4 Series Gran Coupé, a similar sized but far more acceptable looking five-door hatchback:

      I’d have one of these in preference to the dog’s dinner that is the latest 3-Series.

    5. Yes indeed. The 4 Gran Coupe is a lovely thing (although should it not have been called GT? Anyhow…)

      Unless BMW has been deliberately deceiving us, the new 4 series is set to redefine the word ‘hideous’. I don’t know when it lands, but I am tempted to look away now. There are some things that, once seen, cannot be unseen.

      Incidentally, I am still struggling to believe that the latest 7 series is real… I hope to wake one morning and discover that BMW was, of course, just using a comedy over-sized grille to disguise the true design hiding underneath.

      How we will all laugh.

    6. According to Autocar, BMW claimed that “demand for the (3GT) model is still at the desired levels, the decision to ditch the model is instead part of a major cost-cutting efficiency drive”.

      I wonder what “desired levels” means? My desire would for it never to have existed in the first place and that I never see one again.

    7. Christopher,

      I thought the X7’s grille was oversized, but compared to Domagoj Dukec’s ego it is very modest indeed.

      Perhaps it is all a question of perspective?

  4. That grille reminds me of when a footballer (or other sports person) does the heart shaped gesture with both hands: and just as gormless. I shall now cut open an onion or ten inducing tears to wash away that image – hideous

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