A year in microcosm.
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.