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  • MilesDriven

A Grilling

The cherry atop the designers creations has become so bloated it blinding. Maques are now blended and lost within promise.

indoor design

Ranting about the styling choices of particular manufacturers chasing market share in a customer base that is growing ever harder to herd is harsh. On the other hand, ranting about an industry that has thoroughly lost its way as the fine-tuned minds of yesteryear hand on the baton to a generation unsure whether it is a doorstop or a sex aid is fair game. At least that's how I see it.

The rather weak and poorly formed argument by some commentators in the industry is simply that this is what buyers like, and especially Chinese buyers, who account for a bigger and bigger slice of the pie.

With such lacking appreciation of this industry, we should have never have heard of the Citroen Xsara Picasso, be offended by the thought of the original Mini Cooper and have never have heard of Mr Enzo. The car industry is supposed to lead, this includes risk and occasionally reward. The Picasso may be offensive to a petrol head, but families clambered over one another for them in the early 2000's. An original Mini featured crumbled zones that included, your head, knees and torso, and considering its home market was still sore from stepping down as the leader of the world, a slightly embarrassing realisation that we needed to move forward, efficiently and abruptly. Add to this that anyone with sense would laugh at the idea of a red car that cost as much, or more, than a house, and would start most of the time, and you have a car industry filled with the characters we love. Chancers, risk-takers, innovators and passionate creators, they have filled the hearts of many with joy and given birth to an entire industry within an industry of people so enamoured by their ability that sculpted metal has brought them together from every corner of the globe, every religion, ever age and every budget to a central zone of appreciation. No matter if you are a working-class, dyed in the wool Ford fan or a flamboyant playboy with a soft sport for topless... supercars. Here is a land of passion, and it seems that the industry, pulled from one end of environmental concerns to safety criteria to endless market growth. Has forgotten, or even worst, ignored, the fact that it must step out into the cold and take risks if it is to survive in a climate where new electric car companies crawl out the woodwork each week, eager, cunning and daring.

Nothing symbolises the quagmire legacy automakers are in better than the latest attempts to impress, from boring performance cars that only shine on paper, to designs that aren't clever or funky, but the wrong side of vulgar and frankly, ugly.

The big German trio has been wowing the crowd for years with new tech, new engines, new ideas, led from flagship models they sell at a loss, to a few people that see catastrophic depreciation as par for the course. All three are guilty today of a design that seems to be ever drifting closer together, without much to stamp their name in the sand, and with a front end that not even a mother could love.

If, and I would contest that it is an if, certain markets demand this then make sure it will not do damage to the brand as a whole. Standing out and showing off isn't the same when everyone is attempting to dazzle in the same way, much like the thousands of young people starting careers in new media, only to find that their replication of someone else's idea has more creators than viewers, the pond is well and truly drained dry. Fifteen years ago I waited, in a tiny hut by a gate for a managers brand new BMW 750i to roll up. There was no missing it, the road presence was established to those in the know, and it stood out, without noise, much like a tailored suit from an Italian designer would stand out in an office of off the rack workers. They're all wearing the same thing, but you could tell the one who had paid eight times the price if you knew anything about suits and someone who didn't would know there is something different even if they couldn't really identify it.

There is hope. I wouldn't write all this if there wasn't

A month after sitting in that hut by our gate waiting for the 7-Series to appear from the heavy rain and mist, I took out a Mercedes S-Class. It was a year old and a local customer of ours, who never strayed from the three-pointed star had asked to see it. He never came to us. Not only could I tell the car apart from a lesser Mercedes, but I felt different than I did behind the wheel of the BMW. Both had a unique approach, just enough of it came through the steering wheel and had left the designers pen to create a lasting impression.

Within that year I drove the Jaguar XJ, Audi A8 and VW Phaeton, as well as the Lexus LS and a short drive of the Volvo S80 - the last on the list out of production by the time I got my mitts on it - and they all looked and felt different. Even the Audi and the VW had their own character. Something long lost today.

The grills car makers are fitting today feel like an apologetic bowing out. It's as if they have all agreed to pull the curtain at the same time and mould themselves into one, where costs are lowest, profits are highest, and dignity goes to die. There is a reason people gather at old airfields in the summer, car parks at the crack of dawn in spring and convention centres in the midst of a wintery blizzard. It's an undistorted genuine passion, it used to be led by the manufacturers themselves, today it feels as if they only turn up for data on what comprised contraption they can profit on most next.

There is hope. I wouldn't write all this if there wasn't, this phase has only just taken grip, and much like a confused teenager, it doesn't have to be the same in five years time. As consumers we can insist on driving cars that are better in action than on paper, we can insist on innovation beyond our imagination, and car companies can get going on making sure the rot doesn't set in. Much like the owner of an old Land Rover, the chassis may be rusting, and the engine may be lumpy, but throw enough time, love and money at it, and you can emerge in the spring ready for some fun again.

On a personal note, having seen the industry grip me young, and begin to struggle today, I hope most of all that young people can be brought into the spectrum of enthusiasts. This all dying out in thirty years is a possibility, ask Harley Davidson as they battle for survival, young blood is essential.

We don't want to all be crowded around a Porsche 997, E46 M3 or Ford Sierra Cosworth one day, and see that every one of us is wrinkled and grey, still clinching the baton our elders gave us, with no one to pass it on to.


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