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