England made the Nissan Qashqai, in both the design and manufacturing sense. Appearing from an unexpected quarter and disregarded by the industry media’s chattering classes, it not only became a European top-ten seller within three years, but also defined the parameters of its own sector for fourteen years and two generations. There was no doubt that there would be a third generation, but the world around the Qashqai was changing rapidly. To put rest to uncertainty arising from the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, Nissan confirmed in October 2016 that there would be an all-new, third-generation Qashqai, and it would Continue reading “And Now We Rise, and We Are Everywhere – (Part Three)”
In a few weeks time, Alfa Romeo will reveal to the world a car which will unite the massed ranks of automotive press in labelling it ‘make or break‘. Like Alfa Romeo’s reincarnation plans over the years, the tally of make or break Alfa Romeos has been depressingly numerous, but what unites them is a single stark characteristic: none has delivered upon its promise. The latest of these dates from 2015, when the current Giulia was announced, but given that crushing disappointment is a feeling all too familiar to those who admire the Milanese car brand and wish it success, the betting appears to be only for the brave.
Because, by the looks of things, the Giulia is on the ropes. Now, as we all know, saloons of all stripes are in retreat, even those of a more specialised, rear-wheel drive, sporting bent. Customers, we are reliably informed no longer Continue reading “The Serpent’s Egg”
Following the 2005 launch of the well-received Outlook full-sized crossover SUV, next up for replacement was the once popular but now fading L Series mid-size saloon. The replacement was introduced in 2006 and called the Aura. This was based on the GM Epsilon platform shared with the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra C and Signum, Saab 9-3, Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac G6 and Fiat Croma. It was powered by either a 2.4-litre version of the GM Ecotec engine or 3.5 and 3.6-litre V6 units, installed transversely with FWD.
The L Series estate was not replaced, and the Aura was offered only in four-door saloon form. Stylistically, the Aura dispensed with the Saturn family look, closely resembling the Vectra, both inside and out. It also dispensed with the thermoplastic external body panels, another Saturn hallmark, in favour of a wholly conventional construction. Just two trim levels were offered, XE and XR. A mild hybrid version of the former was introduced in 2007, called Green Line. The Aura was manufactured at GM’s Kansas City plant. Continue reading “Falling Back to Earth (Part Five)”
Car making CEOs are not generally known for their comedic skills. One expects variations of sobriety; suits, stoic faces, a modicum of good manners – even to the press. This is not a charity. Making money (and cars) is serious business. Anomalies do however occasionally surface. Maybe the planets line up in a certain order, a particularly cheeky Chateau Neuf de Pape loosens the guard, revealing the (not so) inner Dr. Nefario (with Gru peering over his shoulder) for a moment, allowing an otherwise unmined niche to Continue reading “Despicable Me – Parts 1,2,3 (And 4)”
CX and Gamma – Separated at Birth or Perfect Strangers?
In the third and final part of this series, we examine whether the CX and the Gamma were mechanically and technologically related at any point in their histories, and what – if any – politics, corporate or otherwise, affected their development paths.
Notwithstanding its phenomenal impact on the market, the Nissan Qashqai’s continuing success was dependent on staying ahead of a growing battalion of rivals, and evolution was necessary to maintain its dominant market position. The next generation Qashqai, codenamed J11, was presented in November 2013, and sales commenced in February 2014. With the J10’s success, Nissan Europe had already entered an new era of design and business confidence, evidenced by the bold and controversial design of the 2010 London-styled Juke, a pioneering B-segment SUV.
The new Qashqai was far less adventurous than the wilfully quirky Juke, carrying over some cues from the J10 original to a more angular and rugged form. The articulation of the flanks, a clamshell bonnet, and a more aggressive face, hinted at Nissan’s upcoming ‘athletic’ global design vocabulary, soon to Continue reading “And Now We Rise, and We Are Everywhere – (Part Two)”
After a more than a decade, Saturn was still struggling to achieve a level of sales that would make it viable on a stand-alone basis within General Motors, and the company had never turned a profit. US sales had recovered in 2002 to 280,248(1) units, thanks to the successful launch of the Vue SUV, which alone sold 75,477 units in its first full year on the market. Total sales were, however, still below the peak of 286,003 seen back in 1994, when Saturn had just a single model line, the S Series.
The aged S Series was finally pensioned off in 2002 and was replaced by the Ion. The new model was based on the GM Delta platform that underpinned the Opel Astra, Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5. It was offered in four-door saloon or four-door Quad Coupé variants. The latter featured narrow coach(2) rear doors with concealed handles that could only be opened by first opening the front door, similar to those on the Mazda RX-8. An estate derivative was no longer offered. Continue reading “Falling back to Earth (Part Four)”
Amid the less frequently visited outposts within automotive history’s archives, intriguing and fascinating things can sometimes be found.
Until fairly recently the family business of Automobiles Marsonetto was still active as a concessionaire of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia in Villeurbanne on the outskirts of Lyon. Founder of the company, Mario Marsonetto was the son of an Italian mason but was more interested in automobiles than following in his father’s footsteps. By his early twenties he had successfully trained to become a coachbuilder, having gained valuable work experience by rebodying passenger cars – mainly Renaults and Citroëns – as well as trucks. Continue reading “Chacun Voit Midi à Sa Porte*”
‘Place your tray tables in the upright locked position…’
Steve Cropley is seemingly a worried man. The veteran auto-journalist wrung his hands this week over the lack of meaningful intelligence emerging from Thierry Bolloré’s JLR boardroom over the future direction of the serially-troubled Jaguar brand. Almost a year has passed, he stated since the French CEO announced the Re-Imagine plan for the car business, which is attempting to emerge from a series of crises: political, pandemical and of its own making.
Almost as swiftly as the automobile had become established, thoughts moved to racing, pitting not only drivers’ skill but also that of the engineers, fabricators and supporting teams. Races were conducted on dusty or muddy European public highways (weather dependant), but as speeds and risks increased, the building of a dedicated course for such pastimes entered the minds of a number of British motorsport aficionados. Hill climbs and trials had of course existed from early on, but the onus upon developing the world’s first proper motor racing track lay with one Hugh Locke King – creator of Brooklands.
In the summer of 1906, keen early adopter of the newly fangled motor car, wealthy landowner Locke King was cajoled into building what journalist Bill Boddy would reverentially call The Track. With little opportunity for the British racing enthusiast taking the fight to those on the continent, Locke King agreed to Continue reading “Lost Worlds”
For those who believe in such things, the decision of General Motors’ Chairman and CEO, Roger B. Smith, who was Saturn’s adoptive father and head cheerleader, to retire on 30th July 1990, the very day the first Saturn car rolled off the production line in Spring Hill, Tennessee, might have been an ominous portent.
Amongst the other divisional heads within GM, particularly at Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac, there was growing resentment towards Saturn and a feeling that their divisions were being starved of investment as a consequence of the huge costs incurred in bringing Saturn to market, alleged to be up to $5 billion. It did not help those who would later attempt to Continue reading “Falling back to Earth (Part Three)”
What do we think of when we think of the Nissan Qashqai? The promising 2004 concept which introduced not only the name, but also the talents of Nissan’s London design studio? The worthy but visually underwhelming crossover which made its debut in Paris two and a half years later? The sales phenomenon which led to Nissan’s Sunderland factory producing more vehicles per annum than Italy’s entire automotive industry?
For this writer, the conclusion of the fieldwork element of a four week crash-course in Qashqai Studies is that it is Europe’s incognito car champion. Once I had set the radar on the self-effacing crossover, I suddenly found them everywhere, in all generations (they seem to last well) and trim levels. Before this, I would have more readily paid attention to items of street furniture.
Could a joint venture between Citroën and Lancia possibly have been on the cards, especially before they briefly shared a roof under Fiat?
Trouble in Turin…
Under Gianni Lancia, the Italian firm ran a costly racing program that gobbled up whatever profit its modest sales brought. Its cars were expensive to begin with, aiming squarely at the upper echelons of Italian society. In the post-war context, Lancia’s export efforts were always hampered, and not just by the high import taxes of the era: its cars, for all their mechanical refinement and excellent driving experience, had a niche appeal, which eluded the majority of the newly-emerging (or re-emerging) affluent potential customers. Too many of them viewed Lancias as too expensive for their body size, engine displacement, horsepower, and acceleration. Plus, they wanted something far more flamboyant. Clearly, the times had changed, and so had buyers’ tastes.
It’s not easy being green – or purple for that matter.
Purple patches: how the car industry seeks them out, wishing them unending. Barrels of confidence too, a strangely metaphorical catalyst. Combine the two and akin to many chemical reactions, effect closely follows cause. The Koreans have lately been planting purple by the acre, nurturing their allotments with generous amounts of confidence, the result being that the Seventh son has germinated. A concept large enough to rival contemporaries such as the Volvo XC90, another all electric family shifter, or indeed the now perfidious Sonderklasse, Hyundai’s epithet for the brute swells with confidence – this is a ‘Category Bending’ SUV.
Ignoring range (or its antithesis, anxiety) and dimensions, look deeply at this auto show reveal. The Seven may very well make it to production as is. Scoff at leisure, the Ionic 5 and 6 barely altered from their own concepts to lines rolling. The (practically) British Racing Green bio-paint makes a great first impression, highlighting how metal requires little, if any adornment. Flanks of elegance reside. Front wheel arch entasis, brawn to the rear. A counter over arch maybe a detail too far – removed for the facelift version, maybe?
Rear three quarter views reveal the gentle barrel roll to the belt line, eyes seeing strength without force. Whilst doubtful the poignée de porte will make it to job one, maybe Hyundai will Continue reading “Seventh Son”
There was great interest and excitement, both from the general and specialist automotive press, when the first car rolled off the production line at the new Saturn manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, on 30th July 1990. Journalists were invited to tour the plant and engage with the workforce. They detected a certain evangelical spirit amongst the workers, who felt that the company was “people-oriented” and that they had a “voice” in the production process. This referred to regular team discussions with their managers and engineers, where problems were aired and suggestions for improvements were heard constructively and rewarded if adopted.
There were practical innovations in the manufacturing process too. The production line was called the Skillet(1) and the vehicles were carried, not nose to tail, but at right angles to the line, thereby reducing its length by 40%. The workers rode on the skillet with the cars and were free to allocate jobs within the teams, to optimise the use of individual workers’ proficiencies. Any worker could stop the line if they encountered a problem or fault.
ZOE’s days may be numbered, but its EV pioneer status is assured.
A decade ago, two quite different, yet in their own way, equally significant electric cars would go on sale. While the Tesla Model S would come to define the latterday electric car as a tech-laden, super-computer on wheels, another – less significant from a purely historical context perhaps – would go on to become the best selling European battery electric car ever, a position it retains.
The 2009 Frankfurt motor show witnessed something of a bombshell from Groupe Renault, the carmaker displaying four fully electric concept cars, each destined to Continue reading “She’s Electric”
For reasons that will be obvious to all, Driven to Write’s generous travel and entertainment budget has been conspicuously underspent over the past two years. Fearing that the suits on the sixteenth floor of DTW Towers might repurpose it for even more lavish fixtures and fittings to garnish their executive office suites, or that a certain DTW colleague(1) might run amok restocking the sherry cellar, I managed to persuade our esteemed editor to sign off(2) on an overseas assignment involving an extended road test of an as yet unspecified rental car.
The car that choreographed a Cadillac lawsuit (and won).
McCormick Place, Chicago, February 1982 – a not entirely salubrious (or meteorologically appropriate) launch venue for a factory convertible. American and British tastes regarding the drophead differ considerably. Ever optimistic for the kiss of solar rays, Blighty could not be satiated. America however, forty years ago felt altogether differently.
In this series, we examine a persistent bit of car lore involving French President Charles de Gaulle and two beautiful, yet flawed cars: the Lancia Gamma and Citroën CX.
As a kid, a teenager and, later on, young adult, I had very little interest in sports, and my artistic talents were pretty much non-existent. So, I looked to car publications for a source of inspiration. Impressed as I was by the detailed reviews and technical columns that contained a wealth of information that would be considered taboo today, I confess I took pretty much everything written there at face value. This applied not only to the reviews themselves, but to other sections of those magazines – from the ones that dabbled in automotive history to the ones where the contributors unfolded their political wisdom.
This exposed me to a non-trivial amount of rather dubious narratives that were (and some still are) presented as some sort of indisputable truth. For instance, in my teens I genuinely believed the major car publications’ narrative about a leftist conspiracy led by evil trade unionists and the hard-left populists of PASOK‘ and aided by the ‘unpatriotic communists that aimed to Continue reading “The Phantom Joint Venture – Part One”
Saturn was General Motors’ response to the Japanese invasion of the US auto market.
The Japanese automakers’ penetration of the US market gathered momentum throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. By 1990, this was a major cause for concern, not just in Detroit, but also in Washington DC, where politicians observed the country’s ballooning trade deficit with alarm. The problem was exacerbated by the behaviour of the US automakers themselves, who were sourcing an increasing proportion of their vehicle parts from Japan.
In 1990, the US-Japan bilateral trade deficit in vehicles and automotive parts was $31.1 billion(1). This represented 28% of the total US trade deficit, and 76% of the country’s bilateral trade deficit with Japan. The deficit in vehicles was $20.6 billion, barely increased on the $19.7 billion deficit seen in 1985. The deficit in automotive parts, however, had more than doubled over the same period, from $4.4 billion to $10.5 billion.
The mention of page three to anyone under the age of thirty five probably elicits nothing more than a numerical continuation from the front page. For older folk amid these isles however, the phenomenon was frequently known to turn grown men into quivering heaps. In newspapers commonly known as rags, (tabloids to you and I) the oft-ignored headline (often dubious in nature) would be bypassed in haste in order to allow that day’s young lady briefly describe her tastes whilst baring her upper torso. Workshop banter would ensue.
There being little new under the sun, advertising has been a staple throughout the car industry’s history. And while some would pay happily for front page status, others towards the rear and the rest somewhere in between, one manufacturer chose one magazine and more to the point, one page in particular to Continue reading “Page Three”
As the Corvette became a more serious proposition after the commercially successful but softer by the year C3 Stingray, its publicity material followed suit…
When introduced for the 1968 model year, the voluptuous Corvette Stingray did not meet with the universal praise from the press that GM had hoped for. Of course, the C3 had big shoes to fill after its much loved predecessor, but embarrassing initial quality glitches as well as a perceived of loss of focus as far as the sportscar aspect was concerned did not help its plight either.
The buying public thought otherwise however, and as the seventies unfolded sales of the C3 actually went up year-on-year culminating in its best sales performance (for this particular model) in 1979. Nevertheless, those responsible for all things Corvette within Chevrolet division decided to Continue reading “Blowing Up the Mould”
One of the very few positives to emerge from BMW’s six-year tenure as owner of Rover Group was the successful reinvention of MINI(1). Barely six months after BMW finally disposed of its troubled English Patient, the R50 three-door hatchback was launched. It was a clever reworking of the style and proportions of the original into a larger and (somewhat) more practical package. It was by no means perfect and there were quibbles about the quality of its interior fittings and more substantive criticisms regarding the performance and refinement of its engine(2).
Despite its shortcomings, the new MINI was perfectly in tune with the contemporary Cool Britannia zeitgeist, with its cheeky looks and endless personalisation options. This was perfectly articulated by the dealership environment. Rather than the clean, efficient but rather sterile surroundings of a typical BMW showroom, MINI dealerships were all black walls and colourful neon strip lighting, more akin to the nightclubs supposedly frequented by its typical target customers(3).
Should you have been in the market to purchase a new vehicle in Berkshire just over thirty years ago, you had only to buy The Observer newspaper and locate the twenty eight page Motoring Supplement. From Section D’s headline (B and C dealing with sport and finance one guesses), matters boded well – readers being informed of the £552 million of joint Renault and Giugiaro money funnelled into project X53 – the 19.
Also included was a nicely written test report of the 1.8 litre 8-valve Passat GT (with 118bhp and sunroof as standard) and plenty of information regarding the impending arrival of the ‘F’ plate on August 1st 1988. I passed my driving test two days later and was fully charged to buy my first motor.
The roaring twenties was a favourable decade for Citroën; not only did his cars gain a reputation for reliability, economy of operation and modernity, but the carmaker also was one of the first in the field to appreciate and apply the power of publicity on a grand scale. And we do mean grand. During the 1922 Paris motor show he hired an aeroplane to fly over the city and write his company name in the sky – over three miles long – the first time this was ever done.
A few years later, the Eiffel tower would become the world’s largest lighted commercial display by means of 250,000 light bulbs; upon his final descent to the airport of Le Bourget after his 33-hour solo flight, Charles Lindbergh used the lighted Eiffel tower as a guiding beacon. Seizing the publicity opportunity, Citroën invited the aeronautic pioneer to Javel where the entire workforce as well as the domestic press greeted the first man to Continue reading “When Henry Met André – Part 2”
In October 2000, UK rock band, Radiohead released their fourth studio album, the much-awaited follow up to their acclaimed and large-selling 1997 release, OK Computer. But the Gloucestershire five-piece, having foreseen a future trapped upon the stadium rock treadmill instead took a leap into leftfield and recorded a soundscape as haunting as it was alienating. Kid A was received by fans and critics with a mixture of shock, awe and a certain dismay. Many would not Continue reading “Raking the Embers  : How to Disappear Completely”
Why the facelift failed to fix the BMW E65-generation 7 Series’ most egregious faults.
Someone much more literate in such matters than me once used the terms lumper and splitter in connection with automotive design. I find these terms useful and try to be a holistic lumper, but often find myself unduly irritated by what I perceive to be flaws in the detail execution, hence I am an inveterate splitter. This is why Adrian van Hooydonk’s(1) 2001 Siebener has always irritated me to an irrational degree, and why I feel the facelift did little to address its many flaws.
In the photos below, the blue car is the pre-facelift model, the grey is the facelifted version(2).
The most egregious of these flaws are to be found in the area of the rear door, rear quarter panel and C-pillar. The horizontal bodyside crease in the door skin appears to come to a dead stop when it reaches the door’s trailing-edge shut-line. It has to do so to avoid interfering with the curvature of the rear wheel arch. Actually, if you Continue reading “Raking the Embers  : Details, Details, Details”
Calendar pages numbering two hundred and forty months have turned since the E65 BMW 7 Series rocked the upper automotive echelons. With sober feelings toward most blue and white propellers, along with puzzlement as regards their food additive nomenclatures (they begin at 100 – curcumin), this fourth generation flagship has never been a common sight for this particular author. Engaging though, when seen.
To these now more nuanced eyes, time’s hand has been gentle, keeping that deportment smooth with appropriate treatments liberally applied – difficult for granite-made objects. One cannot deny both the heft and gravitas of the machine: move over, coming through.
The Bavarian range topper cleaved opinions practically 50-50 on matters of importance to the average auto enthusiast. Love it, or as many see even today, lost it in the stakes of styling. Customers and commentators alike have lasting memories when the moniker Bangle or much over-used phrase ‘flame surfacing’ climbs the parapet. Is it not time to Continue reading “Raking the Embers  : Love Is Lost”
Introducing the first of a four-day meditation from the DTW editorial team: reconsidering the E65 Siebener on its 2oth anniversary.
Why are we still discussing the E65? It’s because twenty years ago it mattered when BMW produced a new model. As a clear leader in automotive engineering, people interested in the intellectual challenges of designing better cars looked to BMW’s products for clues about the rate and direction of progress. Retrospectively, we still wonder about whether BMW’s thinking was wrong, ahead of its time or instructive. Or a combination of all three.
The E65 attempted to answer some pressing questions, offering solutions to the problem of a changing market, solutions that many did not understand at the time or could accept. The first change in the market related to Europe’s ageing population and a greater awareness of the urgent need to Continue reading “Raking the Embers  : Chi Non Fa, Non Falla”
A few more things to chew on, and they’re low on calories.
Before DTW service returns to normal, one final festive brain teaser. Step away from those biscuits…
 What car model name started life as the name of a four door version of an existing coupé (which frankly did not resemble said coupé much at all) before it became a model name in itself three years later?
When Driven to Write was initiated in 2014, it was with a combination of blind faith, optimism and a certain naivety. Now, almost eight years on, we appear to have established a solid niche amid the outer margins of automotive discourse; well removed from the mainstream, but nonetheless, a distinct and distinctive part of the conversation.
2021 has been another intensely difficult year for us all, so much being lost amid a seemingly endless (if mostly necessary) series of restrictions and privations. Yet, we have demonstrated our resilience; our overwhelming capacity to Continue reading “Welcome to 2022”