woensdag 18 januari 2012

Japanese Carmakers Driving Backwards

Something that has been bothering me lately has to do with the Japanese. Not the fact that they are recovering from an earthquake, or that their nuclear plants have gone underground, literally. No, somehow the Japanese car makers are ruining it, for themselves. Remember the good old days when you would dream of owning a Subaru Impreza WRX, or a Mitsubshi Lancer Evo, or a 9000rpm revving Honda Civic Type R? Ordinary saloon cars became bedroom poster heroes. Nowadays I would not even put my dead body in any Subaru, or Mitsubishi, nor Honda. Why?

Everyone who has ever looked for a second-hand car knows them, those overly engineered but lethally boring Japanese cars from the 80s and 90s. The outside was all-right with lots of options and colours to choose, but the inside came only in one colour: GREY. Dashboard, seats, carpet, doorhandles, sunvisor, everything was grey. It is really like driving a block of concrete; tough as hell, but everything you see is grey. Still Honda, Toyota and others survived. Old people are grey themselves and like something to last for ages, that's why they bought Civics and Corollas en masse. And as the Japanese could make them for 12,50 a piece they even made money out of it, great business it was. Moreover, in order to appeal to younger people, they employed the most mental engineers you could find in Japan who turned those cars into rally car. Which were then released into forests around the world, and more importantly: the streets where real people drive on.

Unfortunately, modern old people (contradiction on purpose), don't want everything to be grey, dull and more reliable than the universe. Therefore the Japanese had to innovate, making their cars more Lexusourious and still last till Infiniti. This all worked rather well until a good five years ago, when they thought the world was ready for Japanese design. To me, Japanese design still stands for paper walls, very very low tables and honeycomb hotels (although I never saw any of those in real life). Japanese car design however, stands for vague design languages (which I dislike in general) and cars which seem a little odd, but not in the good bonkers retro Citro├źn way. The Japanese have a sickening obsession with lines and folds on the bodywork of the car, their cars are almost wrinkly, so many lines are there on their skin.

Kings of vague design languages are Mazda. First they came up with 'Nagare' where:
"the challenge was given to the team to invent a novel means of registering motion in vehicles whether they were moving or still".
But why? It would just make me unsure if the handbrake was working properly or not. Imagine a street parked full of Nagare-inspired cars and having to cross it, that's Japanese roulette, not a design language. Looking into the names of various concept cars the designers took this as a chance to put a lot of Wind jokes into car names, but more of that later. After the 'Moving or maybe not or maybe it is' generation they were asked to put more soul in the car by adding 'the expression of faster, more forceful movement'. And thus far, the cars which should be looking like Fiat Panda's struggling up a hill don't even look that bad surprisingly.

With such a design language come cars which are themed around the concept of playing with farts wind. Best known is probably the Furai, which translated from Japanese means 'The sound of a wind'. Why they didn't call it the Mazda PFFFRRTTT! remains a mystery.

Ever wondered what the atmosphere looked like? Please look further, because Mazda's Taiki (atmosphere) is not really what you hope to be living in. "The challenge was to incorporate elegant and refined design treatments that express Japanese concepts of mysterious beauty and intelligence within a dynamic body shape". Never mind, could be worse, they could have actually produced it.

One of the worst concepts (in my opinion) is this: the Mazda Hakaze (Ha=leaf, Kaze=wind). Believe it or not, it is not designed in Japan. Some megalomanic German Japanese of Mazda's European Design Center came up with this 'compact crossover with a roadster feel'. “The design team took inspiration from sports and outdoor activities in the wind or in the water giving the sensation of being free and allows us to break boundaries,”. Unfortunately not sir, you're still stuck in a Mad Mazda, now please follow that man in the white coat. 

But what I miss most in the modern Japanese cars is any bit of Samurai, they are so modest, so average. Yes, the Japanese are champions in making cars which are average, when the Europeans are trying to be different. Japan used to deliver sport coupes which any European car maker thought to be unprofitable. Supras, Celicas, RX-7s and 8s, you name it. Even putting slightly oversized engines into average cars produced brilliant things. But not anymore, now only Hybrids are made in Japan, and wrinkly cars.
You used to be cool.

donderdag 12 januari 2012

Sehr Clever, how VW turned the Polo into the new Golf

It has been an ongoing trend at the launch of new models, the new Fiesta/Polo/Panda has to be bigger than the previous one. Be it by a few centimeters, it is a purely symbolic measure to convince the customer that the new Panda/Polo/Fiesta gives you more value for money than the old one. And when you stick to this trend for long enough, you eventually will make room for a new model. Therefore, Polo is the new Golf, dahling!
A small statistic to underline what I am saying here, it compares the length and width of the several generations of Polos and Golfs:

Generation // Length // Width // Difference
Polo I        // 3.51m // 1.56m //
Golf I        // 3.71m // 1.61m // +0.2, +0.05

Polo II      // 3.72m // 1.57m //
Golf II      // 3.99m // 1.67m // +0.27, +0.1

Polo III    // 3.71m // 1.66m //
Golf III    // 4.02m // 1.70m // +0.31, +0.04

Polo IV   // 3.90m // 1.65m //
Golf IV   // 4.14 - // 1.73m // +0.24/0.5, +0.08

Polo V   // 3.92m // 1.65m //
Golf V   // 4.20m // 1.76m // +0.28, +0.11

Polo VI // 3.97m // 1.68m //
Golf VI // 4.20m // 1.79m // +0.23, +0.11

In their lifespan the cars grew 46 and 49 centimeters in length and 12 and 18 centimeters in width, which doesn't seem like an awful lot, but on a car of 4 meters in length 50 centimeters represents 1/8 of the total length. Some funny lines to be drawn, the current Polo is virtually as big as the Golf II/III, which was not a small car, was it? Even the Polo launched in 2001 can be called equal to ye olde Golfe. I am also slightly surprised that the Golf doesn't turn out to be as much bigger than the Polo as I believed it to be.

But what is the point of this conspiracy comparison of yours, I hear you think. Well, have you noticed how many company cars have changed from Diesel Golfs into three-cylinder Polos? Exactly what VW wanted to happen, they make their small(er) Polo a bit bigger to resemble a smaller, more nimble and efficient Golf and price it a little more practical and there is your new Volkshatch. With the Polo being the new people's hatch, Volkswagen make the Golf a little more luxurious by putting a satnav in (I assume) and make some more cash on that. Until some point in the future, when the Lupo/UP!/Whateverthesmallcariscalled becomes big enough to be the Polo, I mean Golf, er?? Hatchback. Which is what will happen this year, the new Lupo is quite close to the size of the initial Polo. In 35 year Volkswagen have moved every car so gently that they created room for a new model, marketing +1.

Now don't you tell me this is not true, Rally fans should have noticed by now that Rally cars have shrunk from Focus/C4 size to Fiesta/DearShiny3 (DS3 for others). Are the cars any slower? No. Could the new regulations have been applied to the old, bigger cars? Sure. But then people would still be buying Focusses/C4s. Where are the times when a big Pantzer Merc S-class or a gigantic Volvo 240 Estate could be qualified as a touring car? Everything is becoming smaller, which is fun in the city, but I want to see big cars going sideways on a track.

WTCC Champion 2019: Kimi Alonso in a 1.25l, 3 cylinder Ford Ka.
I warned you ;)