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West Africans have outclassed us in the race for home-made cars

At the close of 2014, I took a brief look at the goings-on within the local automotive industry — and in Uganda — but, unknown to me, things were happening on a much grander scale in West Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria also have homegrown motoring scenes.

Unlike the Ugandans, they are not dealing in futuristic, technology-soaked, flamboyantly styled prototypes.

Unlike us, they are not trying to make an “African” car.  No,  they have an entire industry, a whole line of cars that run the gamut, from regular pint-sized saloons to full-on SUVs to ready-to-work commercial vehicles. Here is part of the lineup:

Kantanka

A Ghanaian apostle is behind this one. In addition, he has some aeronautic prototypes in the pipeline. Talk about ambition.

The Katanka line-up is publicised by two vehicles.  One is an SUV of indeterminate size. The photos on the Internet all lack reference points from which to deduce the actual size of the car.

Given the design characteristics, I’d say it lies somewhere between an X-Trail and a Landcruiser Prado, with the bias being more towards the Prado.

It has a whiff of the Prado J150 about its countenance, what with the toothy grin and slightly Mongoloid, slightly off-square headlamps.

But it also has the very square corners around the bonnet leading edge and fender tops which typify the Nissan X-Trail. From the A pillar rearwards, it starts to look a little like an Isuzu Wizard.

There are roof rails to complete the SUV-ness of it all.

It might sound like a mess, but it actually isn’t. The whole car somehow seems to gel together in an inoffensive, pseudo-Chinese, lightly “I’d-expect-this-from-TATA-on-a-good-day” manner.

There is no word on engines, suspension or transmissions, but expect something generic, possibly crate-borne from General Motors or Japan.

Spec levels are not indicated, but judging from the external cues — mirror-mounted repeater lamps, roof rails, alloy rims, fat tyres, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors, fog lamps, rubbing strips and side-steps — I’d say the specification inside must be generous too.

Oddly enough, I did not see sun-roofs in any of the photos, and yet as a trend, a large number of cars sold in West Africa come with sun-roofs. Maybe it is an optional extra.

There is also a double-cab pick-up, which is clearly an Isuzu DMAX. I mean it; it IS a DMAX without the “Isuzu” name on the grille; instead, it has the Kantanka logo: a circle circumscribing a filled-out 5-pointed star.

What did I say about copying the hell out of existing vehicles?

Innoson

You cannot leave Nigeria out of any action that goes down in West Africa, and they throw their hat in the ring with the Innoson. While Kantanka’s cars are expected to hit the streets sometime this month, Innoson already have units on sale, and they have the widest range of cars, and also the most Chinese-looking.

Their fanciest filly is an SUV which, oddly enough, only appeared in black in photos. Maybe there are other colours available.

It looks like what the Toyota Fortuner should look like. The overall appearance is even better resolved than the Kantanka, and one would be forgiven for assuming that it not locally made. I especially liked the rear; it wears that chunky and butch SUV uniform of roof spoiler, vertical tailgate, large lamps, fat bumpers complete with integrated reflectors and rear screen wiper with considerable aplomb.

But admittedly, it also comes off as being a bit too cliché. In a parking lot game of spot-that-rear, expect any of these answers: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer or some Ford something-or-other.

The interior smacks of General Motors too. Dual tone plastics, buttons festooned all over the centre console, a few million cubbyholes and a thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, which I also swear, is straight off the new DMAX.

The Nigerian Road Safety Corps, among other clients, get a double-cab iteration of the Innoson, and well, it is a Grand Tiger (Chinese double-cab), like the ones our policemen use. The resemblance is uncanny.

Rounding up the line-up is the IVM Fox, the only car identified by name. It looks like yet another Chinese copy of a European econo-box from the late 90s or early 2000s, a Ford Fiesta/Citroen Saxo kind of thing; or maybe a KIA… nowadays Korean cars are barely distinguishable from their European rivals.

 

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The future of the auto industry in West Africa looks promising, and for two very good reasons:

  1. West Africans are fiercely patriotic. They go everywhere in their national dress, come out in full force to cheer their national sports teams, and they strongly support their local producers.

It, therefore, follows that these cars will most likely move units. Innoson and Kantanka will shift metal in numbers that Mobius can only dream about, and they will be cheered on by opinion shapers in their communities.

That is not what one would expect around here. I don’t see an “opinion leader” selling his gold-plated Landcruiser VX in exchange for a gold-plated Mobius II.

  1. They have numbers on their side. They have the massive populations necessary for breaking even — if not making outright profit — sales levels, and they have giant economies to back it all up, with oil fields and sizeable export quotas as an added bonus. There is plenty of money in West Africa and they are not afraid to spend it. To make money, you must spend money. Expect to see massive investmentbeing channelled in Innoson’s and Kantanka’s directions.

A third, not so important reason:  West Africans will get one up on East Africa just to rub our noses in it. Anybody remember #KOT vs #NOT?

To the south

Tanzania has been at it too, although they decided to go the commercial way and not spend too much effort coming up with their own thing.

They have is a truck line called the Nyumbu.  Their Ministry of Defence and National Service apparently “developed” a truck (they clearly didn’t) and the result is an Ashok Leyland Stallion/G-90/U Truck/e-Comet (they all look the same), which in itself was a derivative from IVECO (Fiat) or British Leyland.

All they did was change the headlamps from single squares to double round, then change the name from “Ashok Leyland” to “Nyumbu”. Lower down the hierarchy is another Nyumbu.

It is hard to describe without sounding nasty, but if it were painted a dull green and sent back in time to the Soviet Union during the Second World War, it wouldn’t be out of place.

Their final entry in this list is a tractor, which is… very basic, and is also called a Nyumbu. Sadly, the website I visited did not distinguish these vehicles properly by model.

 

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It is clear from the visions of West Africa — and Tanzania, we’ll give them that too for now —  that  setting a milestone, more so in the motoring industry, does not necessarily call for a dramatic paradigm shift in existing frameworks.

It might not even be necessary to set a milestone at all. Our  Mobius has been roundly outclassed from all directions, Mr Joel Jackson is not setting new production standards like Henry Ford did with the Model T, he is not introducing new technology like Elon Musk with his Tesla cars; and, admittedly, the Mobius II is not going to conquer any markets like the Toyota Hilux, unless, of course, we go the South East Asian way and make importation of motor vehicles prohibitively difficult, if not downright impossible.

But then again, neither is the apostle from Ghana or the brains behind Innoson.

Some of the techniques necessary to push sales might seem a little underhanded (plagiarism) and/or unfair (punitive import tariffs on foreign cars), but look where it got Hyundai and KIA – where they are right now, worrying Toyota and Peugeot.

Ford… again

Speaking of Henry Ford, he is the man who created FoMoCo, the Ford Motor Company, the same company that told us they would bring in the Mustang in the last quarter of 2014.

I’m yet to see a contemporary Mustang in the country. If they exist, I’d also like to take one on a road test, thank you.

Ford also wants us to be Focused. They are not accusing us of being scatter-brained, no. They want us to drive Ford Focuses, Foci, Foca, or whatever you call more thanone Ford Focus.  It is with this in mind that they chose to announce the presence of the new Ford Focus in their showrooms.

Anyway, the car in question is the new Ford Focus, and FoMoCo says a lot of things about it, most of which I choose to ignore until further notice. However, one or two things I pay attention to.

The Ford Focus has mostly been a driver’s car in spite of, or because of, it’s front-drive platform.

It is, or was, a fun handler: easy to chuck into a corner, fiddle around with throttle and steering to create various levels of understeer and bite, all the while staying safely out of the undergrowth.

The compact dimensions ensured its responsiveness and ease of handling, and a small, naturally aspirated engine created both  fuel economy and smile-worthy maintenance costs. No wonder it became a successful rally car.

The words I paid attention to in Ford’s press release were about it having a lower, wider stance than the outgoing car, which in turn had a lower, wider stance than the Mk I model before it.

How much lower and wider is the current Focus, which I have not driven, compared to the original model, which I have driven? And how much more fun is the new one than the one before it? The answer lies in a road test.

One question, though: We know there exists a vehicle such as a Ford Focus RS, where is it?

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Can I service these cars in Kenya?

Dear Baraza,

I live in the UK and would like to return home with any of the following cars: Fiat Panda, Ford Focus/Fiesta, Hyundai i10/i20/i30, or Skoda Octavia/Yeti/Superb. Do we have any local service dealership or franchise for any of them in Kenya, please?

Masiya.

Ford and Skoda are handled by CMC Motors who, according to some of my readers, will not touch with a barge pole a car they themselves did not sell.

Hyundai has an outlet too, overseen by the manufacturer itself and they would prefer if you steered clear of their diesel engines for now owing to the muddy, sulfurous sludge that passes for diesel over here. With Fiat it is “Good luck, you are on your own”.

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When your car is turned into a yatch…

Baraza,

Recently, a rain storm in South C tried to convert my Nissan B15 into a yacht; the water line was just below (about 1 cm) the side wind windows.

It refused to float and ended up taking in water. Once safe, I got it towed to higher ground and left it overnight to get as much water out as possible before attempting to crank it.

When I tried, it refused to start up, even though the dashboard lights came on after pressing the cut-out key.

My mechanic later checked it out and found the ECU flooded. This I replaced and the engine roared back to life. I later noticed that the airbag light keeps blinking.

I had this guy with a tablet-like device probing it and said that it probably is not the airbags but the seat belt sensors that are usually close to the floor, so they must have also been baptised in the “South Sea”. How true is this?

I also noticed that the engine starts okay, but when I attempt to drive off, it jerks as if I am attempting to drive off in second gear in a manual car (the car is automatic transmission by the way).

It also has no power and I have to rev hard to get it going. The overdrive button does not work and if I shift to gear two or one, expecting it to remain in either gear, the gears keep changing as if it is on D.

After about 15 or so minutes, everything resolves itself and the gears start working well. If I dare switch off even at this point, the cycle starts all over again. What could be the issue here?

Could you also elaborate on what other damage occurs to submerged cars?

Arthur

Yours is a legitimate case of a near-drowning experience. Most of those problems are water-related, I presume, mostly because they started after your voyage in the “South Sea”.

The tablet-wielding soothsayer’s surmise might not be far off the mark as concerns the seat belts. After all, it was he who was chatting with the car and the car told him the airbags were fine, it’s the belts that needed looking into.

The gearbox too seems to have admitted water, hence the take-off lethargy and malfunctioning overdrive. The overdrive system is electronically controlled, and remember what our mothers told us: water plus electronics equals a bad day.

Other kinds of damage that occur to submerged cars? Besides the filth (I’ve been in such a position before, so that makes two of us), there is also the huge risk of water getting into the engine.

If it gets into the sump, it will be churned along with the oil, turning the engine oil into slugde and wrecking the motor.

If it gets into the cylinders, Lord help you, because the cylinders will try to compress the water (which cannot be compressed), thus damaging the cylinder heads, deforming the piston crowns or warping the con-rods. In which case a full engine rebuild is in the books for you.

In most countries, drowned cars are considered write-offs. An example is the scandal that ensued soon after the infamous Hurricane Katrina incident in the US where some corrupt motor dealers tried to sell off cars that had been submerged in flood waters. Prosecution ensued.

Hi Baraza,

I recently bought an X-Trail 2001 model that has a GT engine, meaning it is turbocharged. I have three questions concerning the car:

1. The gearbox area keeps jerking when in low gears or when reversing. I took it to my mechanic who changed the ATF (which was black as coal). The jerking has reduced but it’s still there when I engage low gear. So the mechanic now says that it might be the gearbox bushes. What do you think?

2. What is your opinion about the model as far as engine performance is concerned? It’s full time 4WD.

3. Where can I get more information on this model? A recommended website will do.

Kirenga

1. Black ATF is not good news. Maybe you should have flushed the system first with some spare ATF before running on new stock. Then again, maybe your mech is right, the gearbox might need new mounts.

2. The performance is electric. It is bloody fast.

3. One of those single car-based forums could be helpful, but beware of idiots; they crowd there and mislead innocent askers.

Hi,

I’m currently driving a Nissan Wing road and am considering upgrading to a Nissan X-Trail. Guys tell me that the car has gearbox issues. Is this true, and if so, does the problem affect all models?
James

The Mark I X-Trail automatic seems to bring about serious issues. I know of one that went through two transmissions in a year. The Mark II X-Trail seems fine.

Hi,

Most imported cars come into the country with a pre-installed DVD navigation system. Unfortunately most of the drivers in Kenya never get to enjoy this technology already embedded in their cars because they are in a foreign language and don’t have local maps.

Where can one purchase the Africa edition of these navigation DVD’s?

Chris

You could avoid buying someone else’s second-hand leavings from another continent and buy something that was built for you.

The other option is to be patient and wait for the nerds who live in my basement to complete the project they are working on, which includes translating the MMI from Japanese into English and installing a local map in the DVD.

Hi JM,

I find your article on the Voltz (DN2, May 9, 2012) unbalanced considering that you’ve not driven the car and your assumption that all models are FF. I own a 2003 4WD model that has covered 80,000 km on Kenya roads with no complaints at all.

The handling is great, the braking is awesome and nothing has fallen apart since I bought it two years ago. Kindly take time to drive a Voltz and talk to guys running the vehicle then offer a revised review. That’s just my two cents worth.

Shem

According to Mendelian syllogism, the Voltz had a pretty poor ancestry, so the general assumption is that it too is not much. The Subaru, on the other hand, has impeccable credentials and its lineage is long and impressive.

And I have driven the Subaru. Anything better than that is either German or costs twice as much (same thing, really), and the Voltz is neither of those.

To keep things “balanced”, I will drive a Voltz, and I will write a review. I cannot promise that you will like what you read, but who knows, the shock might be on me.

Baraza,

Please compare the Defender 110 and the Land Cruiser (the one our police use) and declare what you would go for. I would love a car that I won’t need to think too hard about where I want to go, and which is comfortable.

Okoth

Once upon a time, the two were inseparable, the Toyota inching ahead on reliability. But the tables have turned, the Defender now has creature comforts like climate control and leather (for higher spec cars) and electronic toys like ABS and traction control. The Toyota is still as basic as it was 20 years ago.

Dear Baraza,

I am about to acquire a Mercedes Benz 126, possibly a 280SE or a 300SE. I don’t mind much about the fuel consumption, as I do engine power and the how fast the car picks up speed.

Between the 103 engine and the 111 engine, which one is best suited for the 126 series, and would you advise me to go for a manual gearbox, or an automatic gearbox based on the aforementioned parameters?

I would also really appreciate if you would share more information on the 126.

Both engines work pretty fine, though the 103 is considered not “best suited” as such but more superior to the 110 owing to the introduction of fuel injection. However, the 110s had double camshafts while the 103 came with single.

And if economy is not an issue, my favourite 126 is the 560 SEL, with the 5.6-litre V8 up front and curtains on all windows, except the windscreen of course. Such large saloons are best sampled as automatics. Smaller cars (like the 190 E) are the ones that are enjoyable as manuals.

Dear Baraza,

I am shopping for a new car, and since I hate the “Kenyan uniform” mentality, I am looking for something unique yet low priced.

While shopping around, I came across a Nissan Teana, and I like it. It has the sleekness that I am looking for, both with the interior and exterior.

The engine is slightly big, at 2300cc, which I don’t mind. What is your take on this car, in terms of performance, stability, maintenance, availability of spare parts, resale value, and the likes. How does it compare, for instance, with the Nissan Tiida? Which models are its contemporaries?

Nick

The Teana and the Tiida are of two different classes. The Tiida is a weedy, little, underpowered Japanese tax dodge (but looks really good) while the Teana is an executive saloon, whose rivals are the Toyota Mark II and Mark X, and the Mitsubishi Diamante. A full road test of the Teana is still pending on my end.

Hello Baraza,

I’ve always admired mini coopers for their elegance, power and fairly economic fuel consumption. What’s your take on owning one in Kenya? And what other car(s) would you prefer over it?

Nice car, and seeing how it is built by BMW, Bavaria can take care of it. But avoid bad roads; the flimsy little thing with its Ferrari-like ground clearance will suffer if you don’t.

Other cars that I can compare it to (but not necessarily pick over it) are equally small and equally unavailable in the country and include the Fiat 500 Abarth, or the Twin-Air, a Ford Fiesta ST or, going old school, the Peugeot 106 Rallye, Citroen Saxo VTS, and of course the Daihatsu Mira Cuore Avanzato TR-XX.

Hi Baraza,

I once heard a driver remark that front engine front drive cars are better in rough terrain and muddy roads, while front engine rear drive ones are very poor in such conditions. How true is this and why?

FR cars have a tendency to oversteer (lose traction or skid from the back) while FF cars tend to understeer (lose traction at the front). Generally, understeer is easier to control (just get off the power) compared to oversteer (application of opposite steering lock, feathering the throttle and brakes; getting off the power suddenly can create a much worse counter-swing from the original fish-tail.

Also, with FF cars, the weight of the engine is resting on the driven wheels, improving their traction, so they will not break loose easily.

Dear Baraza,
I would like to acquire a 1993-1995 BMW 320i with an E36 engine. After researching the vehicle on the Internet, I have learnt that this model came with a DOHC engine, what does this mean in terms of power output, fuel efficiency, acceleration and any other aspect regarding this model? Is it a good car to have? Any known issues?

The use of single or double camshafts (SOHC and DOHC) matters depending on the degree of genius of the engineers behind the project.

Most Japanese cars have DOHC engines being the sporty, high performance alternative to their SOHC counterparts (the use of DOHC is what led to things like VVT-i, VTEC and MiVEC), while for others, such as Mercedes, they abandoned DOHC engines for SOHC ones.

JM,

What’s your take on the upcoming Subaru BZR 2013? I understand it incorporates a Toyota body design, injectors and the Subaru boxer engine, but the AWD has been dropped. What does this mean to us STI enthusiasts?

You STI enthusiasts still have your car, the WRX (which has been divorced from the Impreza name the way GT-R was cleaved off the Skyline name).

The BRZ (not BZR) is actually meant to be the next “Hachiroku” — “8-6” in Japanese — a nickname for the exceedingly marvellous rear-drive Corolla’s swansong, the AE86 Corolla Levin.

So loved is that car that, though 20 years old, it has become a collector’s item and is also a tuner special (the chassis blends well with the 9,000 rpm engine and transmission from the Honda S2000, for instance).

Toyota, bowing to public demand, decided to resurrect the Hachiroku, but called the new car GT 86 (the original was AE86). Having a substantial stake in Subaru meant it also commissioned the creation of the BRZ, the identical twin of the GT86.

It has been a rather confusing game of musical chairs with announcements from Toyota every now and then saying one car will be dropped, the other will not, or both will be dropped, or both have been reinstated and will see production. All we can do is wait and see.

Hey Baraza,

I am torn between a 1997 Mercerdes Benz , 1997 Honda CRV and a 2002 Subaru Forester.

1. Which of this cars is more reliable, fuel efficient, stable and cheaper to maintain?

2. Is it true that you can drive the Merc for 20,000 km before taking it for service unlike the Japanese ones that need servicing after every 5,000 km?

Does it mean that the German machines are easier to maintain bearing in mind that you will use it longer before you go for service and that once you change the parts they tend to last longer?

1. Reliability: Look towards Japan.

Fuel economy: Mostly determined by the eagerness of your right foot.

Stability: Saloon cars are generally more stable than SUVs or cross-overs, especially if that saloon car is a Benz.

Maintenance costs: Depends on the degree of abuse the vehicle is subjected to but ideally, while the Japanese cars have cheaper parts, the German car’s parts will break down less often (or need less frequent changing).

2. It is true that in a Benz you could clock up to 20,000 km between services, but that is not what the manufacturer recommends. Rather than counting kilometres, the vehicle uses an elaborate system of sensors and computers to decide whether or not a tune-up is due, after which it will notify you via a dashboard readout.

Mercedes claims this is a better way than giving a ball-park mileage at which to change the oil. It allows careless drivers to avoid engine damage by asking them to change the oil earlier than usual and rewards sober pilots by allowing them to go farther for longer without incurring unnecessary costs.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a 1996 Toyota Hilux 2Y, petrol. I have noticed that because of the endless Nairobi traffic jams, balancing the clutch makes engaging gears difficult even when the clutch is pressed to the metal. What could be the problem?

If the clutch assembly uses hydraulic lines to connect the pedal to the release forks/springs, then either the brake fluid level (yeah, the hydraulic clutch system uses brake fluid) is low or it may have vapour locks (air bubbles) in it. Check for leakages in the lines or at the master cylinder.

If the clutch assembly uses cables, then the cable is loose: it may have slid off a pulley or may be fraying at some point, which means it will get cut very soon.

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How the Probox escaped list of ugliest things

While last week’s article may have been a bit controversial, it did not provoke a post-bag of outrage as sizeable as I may have desired, but there were responses.

Suspects were fronted, and disagreement reared its ugly (pun intended) head more than once.

Of note was the concord over the Toyota Will’s lack of visual appeal. This is how those who replied thought of my lists, and these are the offenders and unrecognised beauties.

Toyota Platz

One reader, a lady — quite obviously — defended the Platz as not just an art student’s runabout, but also a means of escape for those who cannot afford costlier hardware but would still wish to eschew the insanity that passes for public transport around this corner of God’s green planet.

Maybe, but just because women like it does not mean it is pretty. It still maintains its place on the queue of syphilitic warthogs on our roads.

Toyota Probox

Most of our readers expected to see this box on wheels vilified as an eyesore, but let us be honest, is it really that bad?

Yes, it lacks any sort of charm whatsoever, but keep in mind that this successor to the venerable Corolla DX is a commercial vehicle first, and commercial vehicles are not really about getting dates. They are meant to lug stuff and staff from one site to the next.

The Probox is what the Fiat 124 estate would have looked like had the Italians kept building it: instead, they gave the whole factory, plus parts, paperwork and foundries, to the Russians; who rebadged it the Lada Riva; and who in turn handed it over to the Egyptians; who still build the damn thing exactly as it was built 30 years ago.

That it is not sold (or imported to these shores) saves it from occupying a place on last week’s list of nasty sights; otherwise it would have been a more fitting replacement for the Probox.

Porsche Cayenne

Evidence that automotive ugliness is created by the manufacturer but propagated by the customer appeared in my inbox in the form of a man claiming that this car is “cute”.

What’s more, he went ahead to claim that it should have been listed there instead of the Jaguar XJ. Have your cataracts checked, Sir. In no way is this car “cute”.

The Nissan Micra is “cute”, and so is the Ford Fiesta, but the Porsche Cayenne has been listed as one of the ugliest cars in recent history, and not even by me.

The face of a 911 sports car grafted onto the body of a Volkswagen Touareg does not make “cute” anything. Thank God that the Porsche has the performance to justify the asking price.

BMW X6

A vitriolic response showed up on Twitter about “this writer thinking that the X6 is ugly”. What would you call the result of mating a swimsuit model’s torso onto the lower extremities of Arnold Schwarzenegger?

An aberration, most likely. BMW’s attempt at creating a niche that nobody asked for got the acerbic reaction it deserved from the world’s motoring Press.

The X6 tries to be a sports car and an off-roader, but it fails at both and loses the looks along with it.

It is too heavy to be any good on-road; and too focused on trying to be impressive on-road to be any good off it; and the huge, tall body with that sloping roofline leads to an epic fail in what would otherwise have been a good alternative to the Range Rover Sport.

The Design Process

It is time to start pointing fingers, and, to narrow down the list of likely suspects, we have to look at what exactly goes on during the design process of a given motor vehicle.

While it can sometimes be done purely by computer (leading to designs as disparate as the manufacturers are far apart: the Nissan GT-R is not pretty, but the Ferrari 458 Italia is, and both are computer-generated.

Maybe one company used a Mac while the other used a PC), what we are interested in is the handiwork of living, breathing humans.

Most cars are designed by a team, typically made of people with degrees and backgrounds in art.

More often than not there is a lead designer, though in some cases a car could be drawn by one man only, and this lead designer receives a brief from the big fish in corner offices.

The brief could be to go retro, to “revolutionalise” car design in general, to establish a corporate “face”, or quite simply, to “shock” the world. And it is at this point that problems arise.

While the brief could be worded in such a way that it will sound pleasing to shareholders, artsy types are not known to decipher such flowery language or show initiative that will be at cross-purposes with the administration, so they follow instructions to the letter.

This is how cars like the bug-eyed Ford Scorpio came to exist (the horror, the horror…).

Going retro also sometimes tends to fail quite badly, especially when designers are asked to draw from iconic elements in that manufacturer’s past.

The old Jaguar Mark II was a paragon of elegance, so the English firm thought that visage would look good on a modern car, and they proceeded to slap it onto the S-Type.

The result almost moved bowels. Thankfully, the S-Type has been replaced with the XF saloon. The Porsche Cayenne suffers from a similar problem.

So what would happen if a designer took it into his head to show initiative? Cars like the outgoing 5-series and 7-series BMWs creep into existence.

Chris Bangle wanted to make an impact design-wise, and make an impact he did. The 7 was so bad it had to have a facelift less than a year after launch.

The 5 was “controversial”, to put it diplomatically, and these two cars made the man famous as the “one who will finally bring BMW to its knees”.

It is a wonder these cars were bought at all: it says a lot about BMW’s technological supremacy that they were able to sell any of these cars at all.

Sometimes one man’s need to “express” himself ought to be checked, lest such terribleness afflicts us all.

On some occasions, I presume, the sheer volume of cars under manufacture also leads to bad design, and that, I strongly suspect, is the reason

Toyota scored freely on the list of uglies. Maybe the engineers are coming up with chasses faster than the designers can draw corresponding bodywork art, and so some of them come out a little bit rushed (Verossa). Either that or no imagination at all applies in the overall design (Probox, Platz).
Engineering also fudges up an otherwise passable design, especially when form follows function.

That is how winged and spoilered monsters like the Impreza WRX and Nissan GT-R rise from the depths of factory recesses to fill up your side mirrors menacingly on the road.

A good design could bite the dust when engines get too big or suspension components cannot be well-hidden, resulting in lengthy overhangs and bizarre fender flares; or when the outlandish performance on tap demands the installation of air dams and spoilers for aerodynamic integrity and stability at speed.

Geographical preferences

Can we surmise that geography also plays a part? America has never come up with what we could call a gorgeous motor vehicle — size seems to be their obsession; while the Asians don’t seem to even bother.

But Europe has been constantly churning out a steady supply of stunning bodies, especially England (Aston Martin, Jaguar) and Italy (Lancia, Alfa Romeo).

Small wonder then that all the great automotive artists (both firms and individuals) are registered in Italy.

Bertone, Giorgetto Giugiaro and the great Sergio Pininfarina have been charged by car builders all over the world as great artists, and their skills are highly sought whenever one company wants to have one up on their competition in good looks.

Planned obsolescence is a business concept dreamt up by one Alfred P Sloan, Jr, former head at General Motors in the early 20th Century, and the idea was that, to entice the client base into show rooms on a regular basis, they needed annual model changes in their lineups.

Sounds good, but people tend to run out of creative thoughts rather fast, leaving them in trouble when it is time for another refresh.

This, I think, has also been an affliction in Japan, as it closely follows the surplus of chasses and dearth of designs theory.

Henry Ford, forever the visionary, rejected this notion and stuck to the principles of simplicity, economies of scale and design integrity.

Much to his consternation, the planned obsolescence thing worked and GM overtook Ford in sales soon after.

All in all, I have just one suggestion to make. To all aspiring car designers, do not do it like your colleagues have been doing: at one point take a step back and have a good look at whatever you have drawn before you release it for manufacture.

It will save a lot of people some embarrassment.