Predicting the future of cars isn’t easy
If no car exists for people to buy, how do you know that’s what they’re going to want?
The most successful car firms are those that can spot trends far into the future and start making cars ready to catch them. See: Nissan.
There are those who raised eyebrows towards Nissan when it abandoned making cars like the Almera and Primera – smooth-riding, reliable, trustworthy, boring family cars like everybody else was making, and carried on making – and decided its large passenger car focus was going to be entirely about weird 4x4s and SUVS and ‘what-is-a-crossover-anyway?’ instead. I know. Ridiculous.
Only now, guess what? It’s not so ridiculous at all. The Qashqai and Juke routinely appear in bestselling car lists right across Europe and it took a decade or more for some car makers to catch on. I could well understand why other manufacturers didn’t immediately follow Nissan, but the absence of an SUV or crossover from several big companies’ line-ups until the past four or five years has remained something of a mystery.
But I’m also wondering how often far-sighted manufacturers actually spot trends emerging, and how much they create trends in the first instance. After all, if no car exists for people to buy, how do you know that’s what they’re going to want?
I’m not sure you just ask them. The old ‘faster horses’ quote rightly or wrongly attributed to Henry Ford about asking 20th-century travellers what they wanted applies. What do I want from a fridge? Somewhere to keep the veg cold and a little light that comes on when the door opens. But what if a fridge could be more than that? Sometimes it takes a visionary to show you.
If you’d asked drivers 15 years ago what they wanted from a car, would they really have said “a betterlooking car, but one that’s heavier, thirstier, worse-handling and worse riding”? Great: have a crossover.
The Suv/crossover/4x4 thing shows no signs of letting up, but what comes after that? Peugeot, Mercedes and Kia wonder if it’ll be lower, more sleek-looking tourers; lush estates and fastbacks.
So far only the Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake exists in small-carsize, but Kia thinks its similarly designed Proceed, to be unveiled imminently, will soon be taking 20% of all Ceed sales. If it is a trend, there’s good reason with it: lower and lighter than crossovers, they’re easier to meet efficiency targets with. Thus primed, in a decade I wonder how established this body shape might be. And if it is, which manufacturers will still be catching up. If you’re not going to start the band touring, at least jump on the wagon before it passes.
Rachel Johnson reckoned her brother Boris’s ‘burka’ column, which got him into bother recently, was the kind of thing written while on holiday in Italy, lunchtime wine chilling in the fridge.
Things are considerably less controversial at Autocar, but it’s an excuse I’ll draft for a lack of clarity: Knockhill has fairly pointed out that making a success of a circuit doesn’t always require an old airfield, as I might have implied in my column last week. I should have been clear that I meant it seems to help new circuits. As the Scottish track, plus locations like Brands Hatch, Cadwell Park and Oulton Park, will testify, an airfield is, in itself, not a prerequisite to having a race track.
It’s also, I suspect, not a coincidence that if you drafted a list of the best race tracks in the land, the undulations of Knockhill, Oulton, Cadwell and Brands would put them right among the best of them.
Merc CLA Shooting Brake: the shape of things to come?
Knockhill: lots of twists but no runway