Re­view of the year, in all its hec­tic glory

What a year! Stel­lar cars, in­dus­try tur­moil, in­cred­i­ble turn­arounds and best-laid plans col­laps­ing. Here’s our guide to the tu­mul­tuous past 12 months

- Words Ben Miller, Ben Barry, Jake Groves, Ge­org Kacher & Stephen Bay­ley


Here comes the era of the gas-less car­riage and, so far as de­sign is con­cerned, it does not look an in­spir­ing one. De­sign pack­ages and styles tech­nol­ogy to make it mean­ing­ful. When Benz’s fuel en­gine was a thing of won­der, the first cars still looked like an­cient horse-drawn ve­hi­cles. But as the hu­man and cul­tural po­ten­tial of the ‘auto-mo­bile’ be­came un­der­stood, de­sign­ers cre­ated sculp­tural nar­ra­tives to tell con­sumers sto­ries about cars: travel, pres­tige, sex, power, speed, beauty. Be­cause no one quite un­der­stands what the gas-less car­riage means, no one knows how to de­sign one; BMW’s Benoit Ja­cob made the most con­vinc­ing ef­fort so far with the i3 and i8, but his­tory will see these cars as brave freaks. In an age of anx­i­ety, peo­ple crave se­cu­rity. Hence Ford of­fers an elec­tric ‘Mustang’, full of com­fort­ing as­so­ci­a­tions of grum­bling V8 mus­cle. There will be bet­ter, or pos­si­bly worse, to come. SB


Car­los Tavares’ im­pact at the Peu­geot group is well known but bears re­peat­ing. Prior to his ar­rival, the French car maker lost £4.45 bil­lion and was close to bank­ruptcy. A year af­ter he joined it was prof­itable.

In 2017 PSA bought peren­nial loss-maker Vaux­hall, and re­peated the same loss-to-profit turn­around in just 18 months. And in 2019 Tavares’ PSA monolith de­liv­ered two fine cars: the hand­some, de­sir­able and full-of-flair Peu­geot 208 we were ex­pect­ing; and a truly de­sir­able new Vaux­hall Corsa we most def­i­nitely were not. Oh, and Tavares will be CEO of the about-to-be-merged PSA-FCA. BM


Pre­vi­ously, Mercedes-AMG dom­i­nated by virtue of hav­ing the fastest car on the grid (ex­cept when, very oc­ca­sion­ally, Red Bull or Fer­rari had the fastest car on the grid). But this sea­son, and cer­tainly from the Euro­pean mid-sea­son on­wards (Spa and Monza), the SF90 es­tab­lished it­self as the most pow­er­ful con­tem­po­rary F1 car by some mar­gin, and a ma­chine ready to win race af­ter race. Only it didn’t hap­pen. With the cool, clear-think­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ism of­ten as­so­ci­ated with Ger­mans, Mercedes con­tin­ued to win with strong strat­egy, op­er­a­tional pro­fi­ciency and a clear driver hi­er­ar­chy. Fer­rari, mean­while, de­scended into hot-blooded chaos, sunk by sub-prime calls from the pit­wall and a ferocious in­tra-team driver feud. The truth is less about neat na­tional stereo­types and more about where these two or­gan­i­sa­tions find them­selves. The story of this Mercedes team is com­ing to an end. The story of this Fer­rari team, with a bril­liant tech­ni­cal depart­ment and Charles Le­clerc as the twin pil­lars of its fu­ture suc­cess, is just be­gin­ning. BM


As elec­tric ve­hi­cles be­came an everyday sight in the high street, wor­ries over their sup­ply-chain sus­tain­abil­ity and ethics went main­stream. Take cobalt: roughly 6-12kg of the stuff is needed in ev­ery EV to stop bat­tery melt­down. Prob­lem is, 60 per cent of cobalt is sourced from the Congo, and a third of that is hand-mined, some­times by kids. Then there are the rare earths like neodymium, es­sen­tial to main­tain­ing elec­tric mo­tors’ mag­netic prop­er­ties. China mines 80 per cent of the world’s rare earths, and those mining tech­niques can be ex­tremely toxic.

Sheesh, if it’s not one thing then it’s an­other… but the Re­spon­si­ble Cobalt Ini­tia­tive is help­ing to en­sure your EV’s cobalt isn’t pulled from the ground by pri­mary school­ers, and solid-state bat­ter­ies will even­tu­ally elim­i­nate it al­to­gether (a decade away, es­ti­mates BMW ⊲

R&D boss Klaus Fröh­lich). Mean­while, Toy­ota has de­vel­oped new mag­nets con­tain­ing sig­nif­i­cantly less neodymium. With EV sales ramp­ing up, we’ll see car mak­ers in­creas­ingly vy­ing for squeaky-clean sup­ply-chain cred. BB


For eight years, McLaren has ap­plied the Jamie Oliver five-in­gre­di­ent phi­los­o­phy to its au­to­mo­tive recipe: car­bon­fi­bre chas­sis, mid-mounted twin-turbo V8, twin-clutch gear­box, two seats, di­he­dral doors. Those ba­sics have evolved and been up­graded, sure, and the cars have be­come ever more ac­com­plished, but ev­ery one of the 20,000 or so cars Wok­ing has pro­duced so far has fol­lowed that recipe. The tip­ping point was 2019.

More pre­cisely, 2019’s McLaren GT was the tip­ping point, a model that took McLaren into the front-en­gined two-plus-two arena with… a mid-en­gined layout and just the two seats. Rule-breaker, said McLaren, much like Usain Bolt would be a rule-breaker in the women’s 100 me­tres.

Thank­fully, Wok­ing seems to be writ­ing a fresh shop­ping list: a new hy­bridised V6 is im­mi­nent, de­but­ing in en­try-level Sports Se­ries mod­els with more poke and bet­ter econ­omy, and there’s talk of more seats too. For now, all hail the new Elva and 620R. We’ll let you guess what’s in their pots. BB


At BMW, Oliver Zipse re­placed Har­ald Krüger. At Mercedes, Ola Kal­le­nius stepped in for Di­eter Zetsche. At Audi, Markus Dues­mann will suc­ceed Bram

Schot; three new CEOs fac­ing nu­mer­ous new challenges, not to men­tion the lega­cies of their pre­de­ces­sors. Krüger failed to fix the de­sign dilemma, didn’t push hard enough for more EVs and failed to forge key strate­gic al­liances. Zetsche’s happy-go-lucky im­age clashed with diesel cheat­ing, over-bud­get plan­ning is­sues and nose-div­ing prof­its. Schot was the fall guy who did not have enough time, en­ergy and fore­sight to steer Audi back on track.

What about the new guys? Kal­le­nius is is­su­ing one profit warn­ing af­ter an­other while work­ing to straighten the slack strat­egy he in­her­ited. Zipse is a num­bers man who needs to make sure the vol­ume mod­els sell. Dues­mann has a pow­er­ful friend in VW Group chair­man Herbert Diess, who is go­ing to pro­vide all the sup­port it takes to brush up the four rings, make peace with Porsche and kick-start Lam­borgh­ini. GK


Like any snotty teenager, 16-year-old Tesla gave mixed mes­sages in 2019. In the year that flawed ge­nius and ‘bil­lion­aire bully’ Musk got away with call­ing a hero cave diver a ‘pedo guy’, the cov­ers came off the un­der­whelm­ing Model Y. Mean­while, the Model 3 landed in the UK and blew us away in the elec­tric Gi­ant Test in our Septem­ber is­sue, be­came the 11th best-sell­ing car in the same month and won our sis­ter site Park­ers’ Car of the Year award at the end of Oc­to­ber.

But more sen­sa­tion­ally, 2019 was also the year the an­gu­lar Cy­bertruck (right) was un­veiled, draw­ing gasps of hor­ror and ex­cite­ment in equal mea­sure. It has a shape that will strug­gle to meet pedes­trian safety rules and ar­moured glass that couldn’t with­stand a metal ball thrown by its chief de­signer in a PR stunt gone bad, yet Musk tweeted that the truck had more than 146,000 or­ders just one day af­ter the un­veil. Go fig­ure. JG

James Dyson threw in the towel on his elec­tric car


Pol­i­tics, power plays and fi­nan­cial pres­sure re­sulted in sev­eral car mak­ers do­ing pub­lic U-turns, aban­don­ing pre­vi­ously prized strate­gies and sac­ri­fic­ing valu­able work­forces as the challenges in­volved in large-scale elec­tri­fi­ca­tion be­gan to bite hard.

Nis­san cast doubt over Sun­der­land, mov­ing planned pro­duc­tion of the next-gen­er­a­tion X-Trail from its UK plant to Ja­pan. ‘The con­tin­ued un­cer­tainty around the UK’s fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with the EU is not help­ing com­pa­nies like ours plan for the fu­ture,’ Europe chair­man Gian­luca de Fic­chy ex­plained.

Dyson, mean­while, didn’t just move pro­duc­tion but threw in the towel en­tirely on its elec­tric car project, with James Dyson say­ing he ‘sim­ply can­not make it com­mer­cially vi­able’ af­ter three years of plan­ning and mil­lions in in­vest­ment.

Audi, de­spite be­ing se­verely shaken by the Diesel­gate scan­dal, de­cided to make al­most all of its S cars drink from the black pump.

And fiercely stub­born Mazda, un­til re­cently con­vinced that con­tin­ued de­vel­op­ment would save the com­bus­tion en­gine, an­nounced its first EV.


Mu­nich’s prod­uct plan­ning and de­sign di­rec­tion have – amid some great work, such as the lat­est 3-se­ries – of­fered up some of the hardest pills we’ve had to swal­low over the last 12 months. Af­ter years of spec­u­la­tion – and much to the cha­grin of car en­thu­si­asts ev­ery­where – BMW fi­nally ⊲

made the switch to a front-wheel-drive plat­form for its 1-se­ries hatch and 2-se­ries Gran Coupe. These, along with the X7 and Con­cept 4 – pre­view­ing 2020’s 4-se­ries – gar­nered huge amounts of crit­i­cism for their vis­ually chal­leng­ing grilles. Not that de­sign boss Do­magoj Dukec was both­ered: ‘So­cial me­dia crit­i­cism? This is nor­mal – if you want to make recog­nis­able de­sign, you have to do this, to po­larise.’ BMW is also start­ing to look like it’s lag­ging be­hind in the EV race; Audi’s e-Tron and Merc’s EQC are as yet un­matched by Mu­nich, which is also dither­ing about what to do with its next 7-se­ries while Mercedes shows us the way with the EQS. JG


It should’ve been a dream year for Citroën’s World Rally squad, with six-time champ Séb Ogier back in the fold. Vic­tory on the sea­son-open­ing Monte sug­gested busi­ness as usual. Ex­cept even the tightly coiled French­man couldn’t rou­tinely mas­ter the tightly coiled C3, and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Toy­ota’s Ott Tä­nak smelt blood – the Es­to­nian de­nied in 2018 by me­chan­i­cal woes, but now full of preda­tory speed, know­ing Ogier could be beaten. Ogier was al­ready on the ropes when the sea­son reached a thrilling (if pre­ma­ture) end in Spain and Tä­nak tri­umphed with a rally re­main­ing, non­cha­lantly flat-out to the end.

If ral­ly­ing reeled from not hav­ing a French cham­pion named Sébastien for the first time since 2004, there were more twists than the Turini to come: Tanak dra­mat­i­cally switched to Hyundai, Aus­tralia was can­celled due to fires, Ogier’s wife sent her ‘#Shitroen’ tweet while him in­doors left for Toy­ota. Citroën quit, say­ing there weren’t any good rally driv­ers any­way. And most of us watched ab­so­lutely none of it… BB

The WRC reached a thrilling cli­max and Tä­nak tri­umphed – the first non-French, non-Sébastien champ since 2004


Ariel and Caterham still ex­ist, Land Rover’s new De­fender ar­rived and (equally for­eignowned) Lo­tus an­nounced its new dawn with an elec­tric hy­per­car named Evija. Clearly it’s an elec­tric hy­per­car, but the jury’s out on whether it’s also a true Lo­tus.

But mostly there was bad news: In Jan­uary, JLR an­nounced 4500 job cuts. By Fe­bru­ary it was clear As­ton’s flota­tion hadn’t gone to plan, with its pub­lic list­ing cost­ing the com­pany £136m. And Honda con­firmed it will close Swin­don in 2021.

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 ??  ?? The other dirty C word: cobalt. Not just a prob­lem for VW’s ID 3 elec­tric car
The other dirty C word: cobalt. Not just a prob­lem for VW’s ID 3 elec­tric car
 ??  ?? Ford sug­ars elec­tric pill with EV as Mustang
Ford sug­ars elec­tric pill with EV as Mustang
 ??  ?? Car­los Tavares hits the high notes
Car­los Tavares hits the high notes
 ??  ?? Musk sur­vives, Zipse ar­rives, Zetsche goes
Musk sur­vives, Zipse ar­rives, Zetsche goes
 ??  ?? BMW’s Krüger: out
BMW’s Krüger: out
 ??  ?? Tesla Model Y. Why in­deed
Tesla Model Y. Why in­deed
 ??  ?? GT: the first McLaren in years that didn’t truly con­vince
GT: the first McLaren in years that didn’t truly con­vince
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 ??  ?? Tesla Cy­bertruck: eclec­tic elec­tric
Tesla Cy­bertruck: eclec­tic elec­tric
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 ??  ?? Now front-driven, tak­ing away the only USP the 2-se­ries had
Citroën’s WRC dream crashed to earth
Now front-driven, tak­ing away the only USP the 2-se­ries had Citroën’s WRC dream crashed to earth
 ??  ?? Ogier: #Quitroën
Ogier: #Quitroën
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 ??  ?? Some good UK news: new De­fender looks like a win­ner
Some good UK news: new De­fender looks like a win­ner

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