Lack of imagination | Inquirer Business
Skid Marks

Lack of imagination

/ 11:33 PM March 13, 2012

Some of the most progressive and enduring companies today with a very strong brand equity, not to mention a very strong and supportive customer base, are run by people passionate about their work. The late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, is perhaps the best example of this.

In the motoring world, there are a great many examples as well of charismatic leaders who, whether most will admit it or not, were some of the most difficult, egotistical and yet highly driven megalomaniacs of their time: Enzo Ferrari, Ferrucio Lamborghini, Soichiro Honda, Ferdinand Piech of the Volkswagen Group, Bob Lutz of Chrysler/GM fame and fast forward to today, Akio Toyoda.

These people shared a passion for cars and creating cars that real car guys would buy, without alienating the bread-and-butter customers, yet ensure that there was a halo-image cast over the entire product line-up. Perhaps not Enzo Ferrari and Ferrucio Lamborghini then, for bread and butter customer cars.


But now, the danger facing car companies are serious and imminent. It isn’t global warming nor the dependence on fossil fuels, ever-tightening emissions regulations and fuel consumption fleet averages. It’s the general lack of imagination behind building a car.


I always tell people that buying a car is second only to buying a house. A house is arguably the single most expensive purchase a person will make in his/her life. A car is second to that. Hence, there must be that emotional connection, a sense of affinity, loyalty and ultimately, happiness with the car they are buying.

Even the most rational and objective car shopper who looks for nothing but fuel efficiency and resale value, plus after-sales maintenance cost, will admit that a boring, butt-ugly car will never find its way into their garages. And who builds boring, butt-ugly cars?

It’s definitely not the engineers. Left to their own devices, they’d all probably build a car that can travel at the speed of sound, lap the infamous Nurburgring in under 7-minutes, seat 5-adults, be as refined as can be and yet still return 100 km/liter fuel consumption, given enough time with no constraints. Eventually that is.

No, it’s the bean-counters, the accountants and the money-men behind the organization who make dreadfully ugly and boring cars with zero sex appeal. It’s the committees who are better at creating red tape and bureaucracy than cars, who make cars butt-ugly and boring when they place all these constraints and limitations on how a car must be built. Bean-counters only see numbers, or more specifically, costs. Committees only see a majority vote to decide on what is ultimately, a compromise, rather than a decision that makes sense.

Gordon Murray once said that during the design and engineering of the McLaren F1, once the fastest, most expensive and most exclusive road car in the world, there was only one engineering-related clash, because Gordon Murray decided on everything, and while not workable on an everyday-car level, cost was of no concern. A typical car will have an engineering-related clash in the thousands during its design because the bean-counters will tell the engineers various constraints and limitations.

Of course, I don’t discount the importance of these bean-counters. Car companies of course need to turn in a profit, otherwise they’d go bankrupt and we’d all end up walking again. But these bean-counters and various committees should take on a secondary role, rather than the lead role in designing and building a car.


Some of the established Japanese car companies are falling down into this sad downward spiral.

No wonder the Koreans are making huge gains locally, as well as globally.

I do hope car companies start putting in more fun and excitement into the cars they make and sell, rather than what they think will help make and sell a car. I’m no expert, but I know I’m a car guy, which is why I’m beginning to like the upstart brands more than the established brands.

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Proof? Just look at the Hyundai Genesis Coupe or the Kia Sportage or the Chevrolet Cruze with that marvelous diesel engine, along with its arch-nemesis, the Ford Focus diesel. Fast cars, fuel-efficient yet exciting cars, and very good-looking cars. None of them are Japanese, too.

TAGS: cars, Design, engineering, Motoring

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