15 shades of GIMS (Part 2)

Part two of Lukas von Rantzau’s ‘virtual Geneva’ review considers the more rarefied air amid the luxury marques. 

Bentley

Bentley’s CEO Adrian Hallmark welcomes us to a walk around the Crewe flagship of flagship showrooms. With the former Top & Fifth Gear presenter, Vicki Butler Henderson firmly by his side the conversation flows rather pleasantly. Eloquence, we are reminded, is a more important precondition for career success in Britain than in other European countries.

We are not quite finished thinking these thoughts, when the presentation turns to the coach-built Bentley Bacalar and its similarly overstyled designer, Stefan Sielaff. If one were to conduct a study on the varieties of German accents, GIMS wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

In the post-Motor Show Age, charismatic CEOs will rise in value.

McLaren

07_GIMS_McLaren

McLaren decided to turn the event into a celebration for the entire company. Stuffed into the nooks and crannies of McLaren’s Woking headquarters, it seems like the entire staff has gathered to witness the event. The crowds are cheering on BBC News anchor Kate Silverton, whose hairstyle I am sure has received more than enough attention already, and McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt as they announce the start of “the first ever McLaren Motor Show”.

Mr Flewitt doesn’t miss the opportunity to thank the gathered company staff for the successes of the past year, a nice gesture. Old and new models are praised with a mixed bag of attributes from the marketing dictionary before the rather shy McLaren chief test driver takes to the stage and lets us envy him for a few minutes for what must be quite the dream job.

McLaren, the relatable supercar company.

Porsche

08_GIMS_Porsche

Instead of a quota-saving female presenter, Porsche chose to have their show hosted by former racing driver and brand ambassador Mark Webber. Of course, neither racing credentials, nor being the head of a major German car brand, equate to public speaking talent. The conversation with CEO Oliver Blume about the new Porsche 911 Turbo seems, with all due respect, rather rehearsed. Matters become more fluid when Frank-Steffen Walliser, Vice President of the 911 and 718 product line takes over and proves that not all German car executives need to be sent to Story Telling School over the summer.

A strong product can make up for a weak presentation.

Aston Martin

09_GIMS_Aston Martin

Like its British peers, Aston Martin greets us in a showroom attached to the company’s headquarters. Yet, it takes a moment for the viewer to be sure to not have accidentally tuned into a sequel to The Godfather. Mr. Stroll’s air, near perfectly completed with pinstriped suit, pocket square and sleek grey hair, will make anybody with Mafia boss ambitions between Sicily and New Jersey look pale by comparison.

Apart from this rather superficial observation, the Aston Martin presentation raises another, more important eyebrow. Who is this intended for? Consumers? Journalists? Investors? Aston Martin mostly seems to address the latter group. Yet, what Mr Lawrence reads from the teleprompter, by the looks of it, possibly at gunpoint, sounds not unlike the captain of the Titanic attempting to reassure the passengers that the ship isn’t sinking, just as the hull starts breaking in two. This is unlikely to convince anybody; journalists, consumers, or investors, that Aston Martin is a sound company.

Would you buy a used car from Tony Soprano?

DS

Finally, the French contribution rounds off this relentless GIMS broadcast. The overall flavour reaching us from Paris is refreshingly different and indeed very French. Subtitles? Quoi?

DS’s opening shot shows a gigantic French flag wrapped around a female mannequin’s body, before the camera turns to DS’s new Directrice Général, Béatrice Foucher. And voilà, all other attempts to create an illusion of gender balance we witnessed today, appear futile in comparison.

Madame Foucher goes on to take us inside a secretive studio, where we are awaited by the brand new DS 9. There, in what may be the most theatrical scene of the day, suddenly one of the rear door’s of the car flings open and a DS designer climbs out of the backseat. As much as he tries, none of his subsequent explanations about this supposed new flagship model can answer the question the stands in the room like an elephant: What right does it have to wear the DS badge?

A reminder that the we should expect more from the French than a DS 9.

Better luck next GIMS

Shouldn’t it be possible to present a car in a more appealing way than a smartphone? Well, not one of the presentations we have been given throughout the Geneva virtual press days has lived up to this benchmark.

Instead of inspiring stories, we have encountered an industry stuck in the past and in the midst of an identity crisis. Do car manufacturers still know why they do what they do? Do they have a vision that can carry their organisation into the future?

If so, we didn’t get to see it today. Instead we were overwhelmingly presented with generic marketing fluff that is not going to inspire many to share it with their friends, seek a job in the automotive industry, let alone buy a new car.

The same presentations given as intended at Geneva’s Palexpo would have been equally boring. The journalists would have sat through them, just to politely never speak a word of them again. The internet of course, is less forgiving. The view counters on the respective YouTube channels establishes the lack of interest in any of these videos as a fact. Most struggle to reach 10k views.

Lacking interest in cars cannot be cited as the reason for this meagre turnout. Third party YouTube channels harvest millions of views by translating the same press statements into only slightly more appealing video clips. Along the way, manufacturers lose control of the message, and miss the opportunity to build a direct connection with the audience.

The 2020 Geneva Motor Show is the moment for manufacturers to realize that they are missing an enormous opportunity. Properly embraced, re-inventing the product presentation could create much more than just a buzz on social media. It could instill a desperately needed, renewed sense of purpose into the disorientated, soul-searching organisations we have encountered today. Have they received the memo?

Author: Lukas von Rantzau

Founder & editor of www.TRANSPORTMUSEUM.net, an online-only museum for aesthetic, strategic & historic reflections on how to move people & things from A to B.

28 thoughts on “15 shades of GIMS (Part 2)”

  1. An interesting and thoughtful review, thank you Lukas. There’s an unmistakable sense of ‘fin de siècle’ to these presentations, a feeling that they’re talking, but nobody is really listening anymore. Had they been made live, at least there would have been an audience to create an illusion of engagement.

    Yesterday’s downbeat comments on DTW regarding the prognosis for GM, one of the automotive giants of the 20th Century, articulated the pessimistic outlook. As a life-long enthusiast for all things automotive, I find myself increasingly disengaged from the industry and its curent products. None of the new generation of EVs has yet made me think “I want one of those!”

    Our MINI is booked in for its annual service on 30th March, so I will hopefully have sn opportunity to take a look at the new MINI Electric. It’s still a compromised product and it’s range is too short to make it viable for us. Perhaps the ID-3 might be good enough to fire me up again? Time will tell.

    1. Thank you for you thoughtful comments, Daniel.

      Veering slightly off topic, your thoughts about EVs remind me of an interesting experience I had in the local Tesla Showroom the other day. I dropped in only by because I had some time to kill but quickly found myself in a little chat with the sales rep.

      After he (unsuccessfully) tried to demonstrate how the X-Wing-Doors (is that what they are called?) automatically avoid obstacles, and after maybe 2 minutes of talking about the Tesla, our conversation turned to his plans to purchase a petrol powered track day car.

      We went on to speak another 20 minutes at least, discussing the pros and cons of BMW Z4s, Porsche Boxsters and so forth. From the driving enthusiast’s point of electric cars just don’t cut the mustard. For the millennial LA commuter, things might of course look a little different. The former group appears to dominate the traditional car manufacturers. The latter group appears to dominate Tesla. This is probably also the reason Tesla’s videos get more views on YouTube.

    2. Regarding new (or transitional?) automotive technology, I was at a local garden centre today and a chap pulled up opposite my Boxster in a newish Panamera Hybrid. I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a proper look at it and we got talking. It was a beautifully built and handsome car to my eyes, but looked just enormous next to the Boxster for, what is, effectively, a four-seater. He expressed the view that it was just too heavy, laden down with all that hybrid tech, and was unlikely that Porsche would replace it with another hybrid.

      My very limited experience with hybrids (a couple of days driving a Lexus NX) left me pretty cold. It was fine at low speeds but felt very heavy, hence stiffly suspended with a brittle ride, and really sounded strained when accelerating at motorway speeds.

      I hope EVs will prove more entertaining to drive, otherwise I’ll only have my OAP bus pass to look forward to.

    3. I meant to add that the Panamera was in a most unusual aubergine colour, like this:

      It looks darker at first glance than in the photo above, but dark red metallic fragments in the paint made it look very striking.

    4. I like this dark red Panamera! I’m always delighted to see when people choose an actual colour for their cars.

      The problem with cars being too heavy and too large isn’t an exclusive problem of hybrids and EVs. Conventionally driven cars suffer from the same, caused by excessive regulations and comfort ‘needs’. A well conceived battery EV at least has the advantage of a low centre of gravity. Unfortunately, this is mostly given up by presenting them in SUV form with increased height – your Lexus NX is an example for that. The DS5 hybrid I’ve driven some years ago was similar to your description, but apparently that’s not the fault of the hybrid drive – the combustion powered versions are said to be even worse in this respect.

      Even a powerful EV certainly doesn’t deliver a racetrack agility experience. That’s what most people think of when they talk about enthusiasm for cars. For me it’s a bit different. The very few times I have driven electrically, I was convinced by the interruption-free and very quiet torque delivery. For me this is pure pleasure. I don’t especially like noise, certainly not the artificial and obnoxious kind that seems to be mandatory for every car over 150 hp today. That said, I don’t mind an honest and likeable sound of a good old boxer engine – I can’t wait for my GS to be back on the road again…

    5. Even though the Panamera needed a wash, the colour was very striking, so worthy of comment. The owner told me that the supplying dealer tried hard to talk him out of it. The reason given was that it wouldn’t look good unless spotlessly clean, but I suspect their hidden agenda was value and ease of resale. They would probably have much preferred him to go for a boring metallic dark grey or black.

      I wonder how many buyers succumb to such pressure and if that might explain how tediously uniform colours of “premium” cars tend to be. Anyway, good on my new acquaintance for holding his ground.

  2. Regarding Motor shows, it’s been announced overnight that the New York event has been postponed from April to August. The Beijing event, also scheduled for April, had already been postponed indefinitely.

  3. Not for the first time, and entirely too late, we realise that the traditional media formed an important function: to source and gather relevant information, interpret that information, and mediate between the givers and receivers of information.

    These presentations need to be mediated by knowledgeable and enthusiastic journalists to make sense to fans and potential customers. Otherwise… well, they get 10k views on you tube.

    As for what the industry is for – this is a profound question.

    The mission, as far as I can tell, is to become a ‘Sensual Connected Mobility Purity Emotion’ provider. Just drop this in your next investor relations call, and watch the dollars roll in!

    1. Maybe the whole problem of the shareholder controlled company is, that shareholders are much easier to please with your very accurately quoted marketing fluff than with a logical, coherent, well thought-out strategy? And that is not because they wouldn’t appreciate the latter, it’s just that it’s so much harder to come up with. Especially, it takes courage, a quality in particularly scarce supply.

    2. Jacomo, I think here we actually have what you’re looking for – a mediated view of these presentations by a knowledgeable enthusiast. Danke, Lukas! It’s just a pity that this site still is so proudly uninfluential!

    3. A key audience for these presentations and press releases is the automotive industry analysts at the major investment banks and fund managers. These individuals almost universally have a financial qualifications and expertise. They may (or may not) have a particular interest in the automotive industry, but no relevant qualifications or work experience.

      I agree that Lukas’s dissection of these presentations has been very illuminating!

  4. A great series of articles with good points made well.

    Most of these videos are unwatchable, with the BMW one being my least favourite.

    Moderator: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Today we’re looking at this amazing new BMW concept. Let’s speak to the exterior designer. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Hi! How’s it going?

    Ext. Des. Nice to meet you, whoever you are. Our prototype is iconic and brown.

    Moderator: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Amazing! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Now let’s speak to the interior designer.

    Int. Des. The interior’s got white cloth with stripes on, which means it’s super-modern and sporty.

    Moderator: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Fantastic!

    Etc.

    In the Volkswagen one, the script actually includes a question and answer about the environment and why they are moving increasingly to producing electric vehicles. The temptation to shout ‘Dieselgate’ at the screen is irresistible. Also, why was a woman presenter over-dubbed by a man and why do so many of the participants look so bored / tired / despondent?

    Really, this sort of schtick is inexcusable. If they can’t think of something interesting and credible to say, and say it in an unpatronizing way, then saying nothing really would be a better option.

    I saw today that Carwow has just logged its billionth (thousand millionth, I suspect) view on YouTube, representing 68.5 million hours of viewing (it says here). They ‘just’ review cars, and make it look simple; it isn’t – to do it engagingly and pitch it at the right level takes a lot of talent and hard work. The manufacturers are large, experienced and wealthy organizations and must have the resources to do this properly. I don’t get it. Perhaps they don’t know who they are speaking to, or why, any more.

    1. Carwow is a very good example. Their “this is the new E-Class” video racked up more than a million views already. In it, Matt Watson (rather skillfully, no doubt) reads what appears to be the exact content of the press release while official launch video snippets are on replay. (Not media in the traditional sense either, is it?) So, does Mercedes even need to bother with an own product presentation?

      I would say yes. How much imagination does it take, to make a video about a new car as good as one about a new iPhone? And how much better would it be at inspiring awe? Not just in prospective buyers but also in employees who really need to be rallied around a common cause, to make an organisation successful. Anyhow, I’m repeating myself.

  5. I had a look at the DS presentation of the 9. Even allowing for the short notice, they did not work very hard to use the medium. There is a bloke pointing at the car and telling us things are nice and elegant. They could have used graphic overlays to show the elements we were suppose to admire. And as I said before, don´t tell us it´s nice or elegant, tell us the facts and then say they hope or wish or expect them to be interpreted a certain way.
    Also, the DS9 is a pretty weak design – not bad and maybe in a way nice but also in a way two hundred million miles short of the elegance of the C6, XM, CX or DS.

  6. Hi there Lukas

    A fabulous opening of your DTW account, great reading but I have to admit, I made for selective watching. My favourites were from Škoda and the Bentley affair; the others as you and the responders have so plainly opined are cringeworthy and I failed to watch most of them. We are but dinosaurs compared to the “yoof” who follow trends like a pied piper led charade. No wonder Tesla are “winning” and the old fashioned motor show is swiftly relegated to the non-league.

    As for Mr Herriot and his dislike of the DS9, I have to disagree. I likes it. For me it’s the best thing the goddess has done, by far.

    1. Hi Andrew. I imagine you already know that the DS9 is just a Chinese market Peugeot 508L with a nose and tail job. It even loses the cool frameless side glass of the regular European 508.

    2. I actually liked the people presenting it – they seemed ‘human’ and it was all rather soothing.

      I found the fact that they picked out tiny details (rear D-pillar lights invoking the original DS, the metal strip on the bonnet referencing centre-opening bonnets) a bit sad, though. To me, the overall design is a bit heavy / generic Mondeo (sorry). I’ve seen much worse, though.

      The “Aero Sport Lounge” reminds me of recent BMW and Renault Morphoz concepts (complete with obligatory butterfly doors). Again, it strikes me as being a bit ‘generic’ – an enormous, gold-coloured, coupé-estate-SUV.

    3. Even if it was the best thing DS has done so far that would not amount to much praise. I have to say it´s not even the best thing that DS has done. In the light of its forebears, it reminds me of the last Humber Sceptre in concept. It fails to look better than a Mondeo. That is not faint praise for the Mondeo: it´s a big, imposing car but also affordable and democratic. The DS should be aristocratic and distinctive. If you put a Vignale Mondeo up against the DS9 there is no question the Vignale would win in the lushness stakes.

  7. The display of utter incompetence in recognizing one’s core audience, that this excellent article (and the comments) are focusing on, is indeed puzzling. Not to mention the reputational risk to the major industry players – this is, luckily, virtualized by the fact that no one
    really seems to listen anyway.

    While the above phenomenon may be a reliable gauge of the unpredictable state of affairs within the Industry, there’s a growing awareness that a big part of it is due to a certain flagrantly penetrative notion about the motorcar as such, that is ‘silently’ being imposed from the ‘deep inside’ of the social-media cave. It apparently evolves in scarcely perceptible steps which are, mid-term, setting-in in a rather effective manner.

    Almost as if there is a mass-instilling of a much exaggerated but ultimately, sadly, convincing notion of a ‘Motoring Toxicity’. The car
    as we know it, inasmuch it has become an icon of our civilisation and way of life, is arguably becoming an object of hate without even being aware of this ourselves.

    While there appears to be a plethora of factors behind this phenomenon
    (a long story), there are signs that these processes have been indeed lurking in the background – subliminally alienating the concept of an “overly traditionalistic & evolutive” automotive product.

    One of those tell-tales, at least it seems, is the recently revealed PSA quadricycle-based urban mobility solution, that appears under
    an iconoclastic, almost mythical Automotive brand, underlining
    great expectations of significance. Essentially, it could appear
    under a non-Automotive brand just as well, but at least someone
    is trying to save the essential notion of what a car is (windshield,
    two seats, door, door locks, steering wheel), even in a 45 km/h 7 HP
    form (back to the year-1900 roots?).

    This divorce of the traditionally “happy and fruitful” (perhaps ultimately unsustainable) marriage of the Car and the City, is nothing new in itself.

    It is just that it now enjoys a huge following among both the younger,
    millennial et al. generations, and a more senior generation which
    can recognize the pitfall of the automotive product’s recent dangerous flirting with the excessively luxurious, Platonically irrelevant
    ‘one-of-one’ market segment, windscreen amputations,
    3,456 HP wedges and whatnot.

    The divorce is not on the horizon, it’s already fait accompli.

    1. Alex, Christopher, I am enjoying this debate a lot.

      Let me attempt to phrase it in the following way: Candidly speaking, the automotive industry is being torn apart by the struggle between the two camps that are polarizing society at large: Donald Trump in the red corner and Greta Thunberg in the green corner. The rest of us is somewhere in between.

      The inability to question the old imperative of “more is better” (Donald Trump) has lead us to weapon-grade product portfolios, so obscenely far removed from what a car officially is (a box on wheels to haul people and possessions safely and comfortably from A to B) that CEOs are too embarrassed to present their latest creations to a sustainability-conscious media (Greta Thunberg).

      A cul-de-sac? I still refuse to believe that it has to be. Somewhere (very) deep down, even the staunchest environmental activist has some appreciation for cars, just as the most conservative petrol head has some appreciation for the environment. There can be a middle ground. There can be cars that unite. But to begin with, they should be honest, which will make presenting them much easier too.

  8. And while we wait for for the industry movers and shakers to read and inwardly digest the above (and Mr Butt’s elegant article) I shall content myself with 7hp and 907cc of flat-twin perambulation in a machine which seems to offend nobody, judging by the reactions and interest it generates both moving and when stationary.

    Obviously I am not seriously suggesting that a 90-year old motor car is practical 21st century transport – the point is that in 1930 motor manufacturers were able to produced a 4-door, 4-seat saloon car which could happily sustain 40 m.p.h. and 30 m.p.g. The relationship between such machines and their owners (and their owners’ families) were such that they were often given names…… hardly surprising that many still survive. The challenge for the industry in our febrile times is to come up with a 21st century equivalent. I won’t hold my breath.

    1. I think that part of the trouble is that, as with politicians, the public have little trust left in car manufacturers post-dieselgate.

    2. In my view, politicians are almost as responsible for dieselgate as the manufacturers.

      This is not an anti-EU invective at all – most governments in Europe were complicit – but I think in their haste to show that Europe is tackling CO2 emissions they got themselves caught up in issues they barely understand.

      If regulations are poorly drawn then don’t be surprised if people find a way to circumvent them or only respond to the letter of the law and not the intent.

      Unfortunately they have not learned from this: the push for new ‘fleet averages’ of lower CO2 emissions is having the highly perverse effect of promoting lots of new 2 tonne plus plug in hybrid SUVs, while small, efficient city cars are becoming an endangered species.

    3. Christopher,

      thank you for pointing out the link to your (above all, crucially timed) illustrious article. I just read it, today, and have to say that it is indeed an eye opener and relevant to much more disciplines than to the one of solely treating
      automotive design culture/aesthetics.

      The importance of your article from an Architectural point of view is immense.

      There is also a scope of sociologic and philosophical aspects that it helps point out – that are, ultimately, being revealed by the automotive visual esperanto (which to many of us appears as if mere debris of the traditional visual languages the industry once used, which shattered, confronted with the consumer mondialism).
      They deserve, and demand, a far wider scientific audience.

      The trends that seem worrying, do point out an aspect that becomes a certainty:
      the definitive quest for easy-to-read (therefore: primitive), brash status symbols
      that post-internet consumerism has brought us, has chosen the Automobile
      as its pet-product. The hand-held communication devices have become, visually,
      so uniformly overwhelmed by their, 1) basic shape, and 2) lack of exclusivity,
      they don’t cut the mustard anymore as an “icon of success”. And Billions
      were invested in their development.

      Hence, the lights now seem to return to the Automobile, that was
      ‘slightly neglected in the meantime’. Meanwhile, the stark growth of its
      average retail pricing, paves a scientifically solid foundation for arguing the above.

      It will be a while, I reckon, until this subsides (its spread pattern does seem peculiar).

      Until then, it shall continue to provide a good humored opportunity
      (almost a ‘canvas’) for us to amuse ourselves, comparing the new normal
      – the new Automotive Measuring Unit – to what was before. (Pick-up trucks,
      eg. have already entered an entirely new notionally-cultural realm).

      The pendulum will, ultimately, return to a certain middle ground, but only
      if it’s “pulled back” by attempts to (re)introduce a Kei-car like legislative
      product frame (perhaps not really likely on a larger economic scale).

      Whether using the recently announced quadricycle legislative “window” for
      this purpose (notionally/culturally separating “the (mine is bigger than yours) car” from “personal transport solution”) shall suffice, we are about to know relatively soon, hopefully.

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