Adieu 2020

A year in microcosm. 

A visual metaphor. Image: Freedom of Creation

There it goes. The year that wasn’t. Worst year ever. One which has at times felt something more akin to a grim combination of Groundhog Day and Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. A painful year for most, a life changing one for many others. But still as they’d say round these parts, mad for road. But at this brief period of reflection before we wend further onward, there remains as much to ponder as there is to give thanks for.

Initially, I considered whether there was any point in crafting a 2020 retrospective, especially since so little appeared to have occurred over the course of what has mostly felt like a year in abeyance. However, looking back over 12 months of material, I was somewhat bemused by how much did in fact occur.

We begin our rearward glance in February (when the World was still young and easy) – your editor suggesting that Volkswagen’s 8th generation Golf might well be its last – at least in a form we would currently recognise; a matter which courtesy of the C-19 effect, is likely to have gone from outside possibility to racing certainty.

March saw the seemingly impossible occurring, when, as the pandemic’s first wave cut a swathe through mainland Europe, the Geneva motor show was cancelled, with carmakers having to frantically, and amid highly variable standards of presentation, cobble together virtual debuts for their Springtime offerings – something which seems likely to become an even more regular occurrence in the post-pandemic landscape, if only for cost reasons.

An embarrassment of vowels and consonants were fruitlessly expended upon the denizens of Crewe this year; largely because there was rather a lot to be said, sadly little in any way edifying. Whether it was to (not quite) bemoan the demise of the Mulsanne, decry the advent of the (and let’s not mince words here) frankly risible Bacalar, or to virtually (and in some cases literally) facepalm in the exalted presence of the facelifted Bentayga, the Flying ‘B truly excelled itself in 2020.

Somewhat akin to a pair of drunkards tussling over a half eaten bag of Quavers, late Spring also saw the unedifying sight of Renault and already embattled Borgward AG engaged in a legal battle over a rhomboid. Given the current pandemic and its ongoing effects upon lives and livelihoods, one has to question the motivation behind this, even had there been much of case to answer. But insanity, much like novel coronaviruses appears to be contagious, given that later this year, both PSA-Citroën-DS Auto (take your pick) and Volvo offshoot, Polestar, became embroiled in a similar and similarly pointless courtroom battle over the idea of North.

As summer beckoned in a somewhat coquettish fashion, we considered the possibilities offered by Citroën’s electrified Ami microcar. While far from a universal solution to personal mobility, there was nevertheless much to commend the double chevron’s effort – perhaps the most interesting vehicle to carry that much-debased brand emblem for decades. Fiat too looked back to look forward in 2020, introducing a fully electrified 500 for European markets -set for delivery this coming year.

July saw reports of Ineos’ most original Grenadier 4×4; the patriotic UK billionaire, Jim Ratcliffe’s vanity project-cum kick in JLR’s crown jewels. Mind you, breathless eulogies from Autocropley notwithstanding, the announcement later in the year that Ineos would purchase Daimler’s otherwise mothballed French Smartcar factory rather than invest in Blighty took the wind out of certain more patriotic sails. We must assume Mr Ratcliffe has a highly developed sense of irony.

September: amid the mellow fruitfulness we were graced with the advent of a new generation of S-Class. Latterly, the Sonderklasse has become just another car launch, eliciting a half-hearted shrug at best – the latest W223 being no exception. Calmer outside, but a giddy mess within, the Mercedes-Benz of old is not only buried, but carries a moodily-lit stake through its heart. Not to be outdone, its even more recently announced Maybach equivalent is everything, but more – much, much more.

To October then, and alongside renewed restrictions on movement and mingling in many parts, we were greeted with the ever-revolving spectre of Jaguars past, as renewed concerns surfaced over the medium-term fate of the limping cat, and of newly installed JLR CEO, Thierry Bolloré’s likely course of action to administer desperately needed stem cell therapy – or its automotive equivalent. Denial has been the JLR management default setting on this matter up to now. Crunch time, one cannot help feeling is imminent.

Sadly, death was something of leitmotif of 2020. So too amid the motor industry, where we not only mourned the loss of the four-seater Ferrari, (in anticipation of a prancing nag of a vastly different stripe), the full-scale Mercedes Coupé, and yet another small A-segment supermini. Also being administered extreme unction as we speak is Ford’s Mondeo, set to make a bid for the eternal. But while the blue oval’s European D-segment offering remains hooked to a ventilator, its upmarket US equivalent has already succumbed to the inevitable, taking with it a noble and much loved nameplate. Adieu Continental.

On a more human level, Autumn also witnessed the passing of storied former Pininfarina designer and self-styled draughtsman, Aldo Brovarone; responsible for some of the more subline creations both from Corso Trapani and Cambiano over a lengthy and distinguished career.

To München- Milbertshofen where BMW, seemingly because they can, kept us all highly amused with a succession of increasingly bizarre grille motifs, seemingly contrived to distract from the vacuity of their newest offerings. Certainly, the most recent debut of the iX EV crossover can only rationally be explained as a stylistic and product planning cry for help. Should we send money? Thoughts and prayers seem somewhat short of necessity under current circumstances.

November then, and the dripfeed announcements from Gaydon continued seemingly unabated, with a fairly comprehensive rearranging of deckchairs in the newly opened design centre. Longstanding Land Rover design chief, Professor Gerry McGovern OBE was promoted to World King, sorry – Chief Creative Officer for the JLR group, with overall responsibility for all JLR brands, his previous role going to Land Rover’s former creative director, Massimo Frascella, while the Jaguar gig remained in the hands of Julian Thomson.

All of which was rather thin gruel for reporters or satirists alike, until JLR’s newly appointed CCO elected to say the following on record to a scribe (who most likely couldn’t believe their ears); I’m savouring the thought of helping my Jaguar colleagues to bring Jaguar back to the position it deserves. It’s a unique brand with incredible pedigree and a lot of potential… If it could be developed in a way that freed it from some of the constraints it has had in the past, I think it could be wonderful again.”

Laudable sentiments on one hand, (after all, who wouldn’t want wonderful Jaguars again?), but to say that it was poorly received by the limping cat’s former design chief (and his supporters) would be a mild understatement. McGovern is likely to have realised how this would have been received, so do his motivations suggest an element of much-needed creative tension, a statement of intent – or something more barbed?

Since Mr. McGovern has elected to allow his words resonate within the antechamber, all we are left with is speculation (and there’s been little shortage of that), but the somewhat unedifying spat between the two former colleagues did provide a little light relief to close out a year we’d probably all prefer to forget.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “Adieu 2020”

  1. Thanks for keeping us entertained all of you.
    Definitely a year to forget but your daily content contributed a small proportion of my pre C19 normal so thanks in a small way for helping me stay sane.
    Although I don’t always interact with the posts I read them every day and for the most part they are right in my sweet-spot for content .
    Thanks again and wishing all of your excellent contributors a Happy New Year

  2. Good morning Eóin. My goodness, a lot did happen in the automotive world in 2020, but I can find little to celebrate in your comprehensive account.

    Tacky (both figuratively and, before long, literally) touch screens aside, the Golf Mk8 is, by most accounts and in most respects, a fine car but, as you say, it feels like a last hurrah for the series. The future is the ID.3 and that’s where I’d put my money – but not yet; I’ll wait until we have a proper charging infrastructure before committing to an EV. Yes, I know that’s a ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum, but being a late-adoptor of new technology has always served me well in the past.

    More generally, the thought of spending a lot of my own money on a new ICE vehicle leaves me cold. I suppose the new car market will continue to be supported by leasing and PCP contracts that make it easier for ‘owners’ simply to exchange their car for a new one rather than find the money to buy their perfectly serviceable existing car outright at the end of the lease term. That’s what keeps the whole dog-and-pony show going, so who cares about the excessive consumption of resources it encourages?

    Jaguar is a company that continues to frustrate me enormously. The recent updates to the XE, XF and F-Pace seem to have made them into the cars they should have been in the first place, but will anyone notice? It’s all so reminiscent of the bad old BMC and BL days, when you would have been crazy to buy a newly launched model, knowing that it would take at least a couple of years (if ever) for them to sort it out properly. Being the right age and something of an Anglophile, I should be very much a natural customer for Jaguar, but my brief ownership experience with an F-Type (and the incompetent and dishonest dealership from which I bought it) will not see me return.

    Mercedes-Benz seems to be becalmed in exterior design terms. The new S-Class is a dreary and bland thing externally, while vulgar and showy inside. Spy shots of the next C-Class suggest that it will be, essentially, the existing C-Class with questionable changes to the detail and Gorden Wagener’s latest flourish, those weird triangular tail lights. Does he think that his signature style is such a perfect expression of ‘Sensual Purity’ that it can continue more or less indefinitely as is? He must have the easiest job ever in the automotive design world.

    BMW, on the other hand, is suffering from a bad case of Tourette’s Syndrome. In almost every case, Adrian Van Hooydonk’s current offerings are undistinguished and poorly detailed designs overlaid with really crass, shouty ornamentation. Hopeless.

    Whilst the imminent demise of the Mondeo marks the end of an era, I’m quite encouraged about its putative ‘crossover estate’ replacement. Ford design seems to be in a good place at the moment. The Fiesta, Puma, Focus, Kuga and Mach-e are nicely resolved and share a good family look, although I dislike the attempt to repurpose the Mustang name for the latter.

    Right, that’s enough moaning from me. Have a good day, all.

    1. Why does BMW need both the iX and iX3? Isn’t there enough ugly in the world already?

    2. Hello Daniel,

      Goodness knows – one is slightly larger than the other, I guess. And all those gormless-looking, Russian doll Volkswagens.

  3. Thanks for that though I have to say the Bacalar (it´s also a Portugese dish of goat´s spleen and dried cod) was revolting both then and now.
    I´ve seen these VW Ideas in my street, humming by the side of the road. Can anyone tell me why the eGolf exists? Or why the current Golf isn´t just an EV as standard? What precisely is the Idea achieving other than perhaps freeing VW designers from the perceived tyranny of Golfiness? The other day a Citroen BX swept past me and I realised what the Idea reminded me of, perhaps subliminally. The BX still seems very radical whilst the Idea doesn´t although it nods to the BX´s C-pillar, in my view.

    1. Hi Richard,
      I can see how the ID.3’s C-pillar might be a nod to the BX’s. But I think it’s rather an iteration of the blocky C-pillar theme seen in the more angular VW/Audi designs (T-roc, Q2, A1, partly in some Sqodas). In my view, the ID.3’s upswept rear-quarter glass should have been parallel to the beltline and the lower edge of the C-pillar (also underlined by the contrasting pattern in some versions).

    2. I had to look at a Google search to remind myself of the detail. Then I altered the quarter-glass as you recommended. It looks tidier though a little more generic. The dropped window line is supposed (I think) echo the “raised” sill.
      Why is the ID-3 not a Golf? Couldn´t they have Golfed the ID-3? It seems a tad timid to have an e-Golf and ID3 on sale at the one time. VW is a major market leader and if they sent the Golf all electric (to quote Algeria Touchshriek) then most of their customers would have followed.

    3. Hello Richard,

      The e-Golf has been discontinued and the ID3 takes its place, on a dedicated electric platform. Although electric vehicles appear to be gaining in popularity, both customers (price, availability, lifestyle reasons) and manufacturers (factory tooling, battery availability, rapidly developing technology, public acceptance reasons) will require time to make the shift, especially when you produce a car as popular as the Golf.

      I’ll be interested to see how (if?) ID3 sales grow over the coming year. Sales were 10.5k in October, and 8.4K in November.

    4. Thanks Charles, I was not aware of that. It just shows I am not up to speed any more. I still think they could have made the latest Golf body compatible with ICE and electric power packs. The Golf name could easily carry the burden of transition from ICE to electric power packs. I think the ID is a distraction.

  4. I’m not on the electric bandwagon. In my country electric cars are heavily subsidized and yet an ID.3 in it’s base trim is 50% more expansive than a base model Golf. You do the math. The only people who are not affected are the ones who have company cars and the companies like greenwashing, so naturally you already see a lot of ID.3’s here. For the rest of us: we keep on to our cars for longer and as a result the average age of the cars on the road has risen significantly.

    The Golf 8 is better looking in my opinion than an ID.3. So naturally I’d be more inclined to buy the Golf. But then again if I wanted a Golf I’d get a secondhand Golf 7 as I like that better than the latest iteration.

    There are parts of the world where going electric isn’t really an option. Not with today’s technology anyway. The electrical crowd will of course tell us that the ICE has reached it’s end of development and that batteries are the future. They’re wrong on the development part, as every outdated technology still has room for development and always will have. Battery tech will improve at a faster rate, but it isn’t free, however that’s were society is going.

    I also have safety concerns regarding electric cars. Given the long charging time it’s only natural that people will want to charge their cars at home. I live in an apartment building. That means people want to charge their cars in the underground parking facility. Charging is usually the most dangerous thing about electrical cars. Combine that with the significantly higher temperatures that electrical fires reach compared to petrol and diesel fires and we have a disaster in the making. Our buildings simply can’t handle that kind of heat. Also the fires are difficult to put out, which makes electric scooters a favorite over here for arsonists. Almost daily reports in the local news.

    For me personally range is an issue. I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of everything I need on a daily basis. I only drive to see friends and family. The shortest trip is 100 kilometer one way, the longest is 250. That would make 500 kilometers on a visit as I like to be able to drive back the same day without the need to recharge. Given the still long charge time I’d like to do that on a 80% battery charge, which would mean 625 kilometers of range. Given the poor performance of batteries in the cold, the batteries deteriorating over time and the off chance there’s a detour, I’d settle for 750 kilometers of range. My ICE powered car can do that easily on a single tank.

    I also don’t get the point of city cars. I have lived in major cities and never had the need for driving a car. Not once. Maybe the pandemic wil change this, but only for a while. I like the Ami and these ‘cars’ have a purpose, but it doesn’t seem to be the city. In the Netherlands they’re usually bought by old people who fail to pass their medical test for driving and don’t need a lot range anyway. Second group is young people who don’t have a license yet, but this group seems to be very small. A third group is the people who have their license revoked for DUI. Not sure if given them a new set of wheels is such a great idea. The third group seems to be a significant part of the clientele in France, or so I’ve heard.

    My own car just turned 14 years old yesterday. I hope to own it for at least 10 more years, but the time will come when I have to replace it. As of 2030 it will be illegal to sell new ICE cars in the Netherlands. So I’d be looking at a second hand car instead. That Crown Victoria featured here just a little while ago seems awfully tempting. Only trouble is it will be even older than the car it has to replace.

    1. A very interesting perspective. Two others things which aren’t panning out as planned / spun by PR companies: 1. Self-driving cars (much more complex than first thought); 2. ‘Mobility solutions’ / on-demand car sharing (inconvenient and covid, of course).

  5. There was clearly no love lost between Gerry McGovern and Ian Callum. As much as McGovern’s inflated self regard invites satire, his track record at Landrover is beyond reproach. Whilst he certainly would not have penned every line on every car, he has built a formidable design team and the environment where they can flourish. While Callum provided Jaguar with the new modern design direction it clearly needed, overall his tenure has been a disaster, with several avoidable missteps. It will be interesting to see what Julian Thompson can do to revive the marque, with McGovern offering creative criticism – something Callum clearly needed on occasion. We will see.

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