I’m happy to have written this story at my office desk, after a week of mostly sitting at my desk. I did not attend CES and I did not fly to Beirut for that long-awaited press conference. This week, I’m getting used to the idea of not driving downtown to a convention center that fortunately is no longer called Cobo Hall, in order to not attend the North American International Auto Show, which has been moved to June.
Au revoir, Carlos Ghosn
“I’m here to clear my name,” the former Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance chairman and onetime CEO told a group of reporters in a press conference at a Beirut safehouse. “The allegations are untrue, and I should never have been arrested in the first place.” We knew that was coming, of course. Ghosn’s true revelations last Wednesday did little more than confirm what we thought had happened before his stunning November 2018 arrest in Tokyo, according to reports by Bloomberg and Automotive News. Reminiscing back a decade, Ghosn confirmed rumors from the time that President Obama’s automaker bailout czar Steven Rattner in 2009 offered him the job of General Motors CEO, a job that Fritz Henderson held instead through the forced bankruptcy. Henderson was replaced instead by former AT&T CEO Edward Whitaker.
In 2015, future French President Emmanuel Macron, who was then a little-known 37-year-old economy minister, gave the country greater voting rights on the Renault board. France holds 43.4 percent of Renault, but Macron’s move gave the nation majority blocking control over the automaker—which sounds a bit like the Ford family’s Class B stock—and Nissan executives back in Tokyo worried the country would use it to take over their company.
Ghosn also blames former CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who took over for Ghosn in late ’18 when Ghosn was arrested, and last year was accused, but not arrested for, allegations of financial impropriety himself. The fugitive said he began discussions with scion John Elkann in 2017 regarding a merger of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi with Fiat Chrysler, which, of course, hooked up with Peugeot-Citroën instead, while Ghosn was under house arrest in Tokyo.
The post-Ghosn Alliance is not healthy. While tiny Mitsubishi, the 15th-bestselling brand in the U.S. had a 2.5 percent sales increase in 2019, to 121,046, the overall number six Nissan Group (including Infiniti) was down 9.9 percent, by far the most of the major automakers, to 1,345,681. Nissan has seen sales slip elsewhere. “I’m having trouble seeing any strategic direction,” Bloomberg quotes Ghosn as concluding.
This is what has replaced the Detroit auto show in January:
The latest OLED TVs and handheld gaming PC, the Quibi streaming service, high-tech sex toys, robotic cats, and keynote speaker Ivanka Trump. That’s what CES is about, not so much all the automotive tech you’ve read about here. (The one time I attended CES, Ghosn was a speaker, as it happened.) PRI’s Marketplace talked about the Sony car the morning I wrote this, but the radio show’s tech reporter admitted the car was just a vessel for all the Sony video and audio products you will soon enjoy as your rolling living room drives itself. I think CES is mostly about screens.
But they love the Hyundai/Uber helicopter ‘car’
This “flying car,” which is really a people-size helicopter-style drone designed in part to put Uber drivers and their Toyota Camrys out of business, got a lot of attention early in the week before CES began. I wonder who’s going to pay for all the additional air-traffic control. Some attention was paid to Toyota’s Woven City, which will test an entire ecosystem of artificial intelligence riding around in autonomous cars, all while real humans live there.
Helicopter car could make its debut in ‘Parasite II’
Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite is the best movie of the last year, and in fact, one of the best of the 2010s. It has a car component; one character gets himself a job driving for another character (you have to see this film, and I’m doing all I can to avoid spoilers). The car is a Mercedes-Benz sedan, and the driver’s employer also has a Range Rover at home for his family, and in the final scene there’s another foreign car that plays a part in the plot. The movie is set in Seoul, but the only domestic car that gets any sort of close-up is a Hyundai Sonata taxi.
I describe this because the first time I visited Seoul, in 1999, foreign-brand cars made up something like five percent of vehicles on Korean roads. I can tell you with great certainty there will be no Parasite sequel, but if there were, the Hyundai/Uber flying car could find its way into the driveway, or more likely onto the garage roof, of the rich characters. This is not a good thing. Flying cars becoming a thing only proves what I’ve been writing for years: That cars and trucks as personal transportation is becoming a luxury again, just like the years before the Ford Model T.
Jackie Jouret’s The BMW 2002 – The Real Story Behind the Legend
At CES, BMW showed its i3 Urban Suite, with an all-new 1+1 seating interior designed with a “boutique hotel” ambience and Sound Zone technology that can filter outside noises. BMW had 20 on hand that “can be summoned using an app,” the website Bimmerfile says. There was a BMW X7 ZeroG Lounge with seatbacks that can be lowered by 60 degrees without affecting safety, and the automaker announced the ‘21 iNext will have 5G Internet connectivity.
Casual observers might find It easy to forget that BMW made its reputation with the relatively affordable, practical four-seat sport sedan, the 2002 and its four-door siblings, the 1600/2 and 1602. Whatever you think of the Munich company’s current direction, the BMW 2002 stands as one of the top automotive icons of all time.
Jackie Jouret, who was editor-in-chief of Bimmer, the magazine about BMW for 17 years, has captured the history of this car, covering the engineering, design, business case, and marketing and distribution of it in The BMW 2002; The Real Story Behind the Legend [paperback, 131 pages, ID Media]. Jouret employs her exceptional reporting skills to write about the BMW 2002 in all these aspects without getting too technical or the least bit didactic.
This is a good point for a disclaimer. I consider Jackie a friend, and we’ve been co-drivers on several BMW press trips, so I’m not presenting this as a book review. But you should know that Jouret’s storytelling and editing skills, and her attention to detail, make for a book that will appeal to any sort of enthusiast, not just Bimmerphiles. I, for one, learned a lot more than I knew about the car I first saw live while walking to elementary school in the late ’60s.
That car, parked in a driveway built for the Detroit behemoths of the time fascinated me. Jouret devotes the first few chapters to BMW’s postwar history, including the Isetta bubble car’s modest success in the U.S. in the late ’50s. In her chapter, “The Max Factor,” she effectively shoots down legendary importer Max Hoffman’s claims he influenced Munich to design the car. The book continues with development of the Type 114 and E10 BMW compacts through their variants, and the six-cylinder 2002’s arrival in the U.S., finally, via Max Hoffman.
The final chapters tackle Hoffman’s questionable business dealings in selling BMWs in the U.S. through interviews with Bob Lutz. Maximum Bob served as BMW’s board member for sales from 1972 to ’74, but it was enough time for him to establish the Motorsports division and find a way to help ease out Hoffman as U.S. importer, and he provides sharp insight for Jouret’s book. The BMW 2002; The Real Story Behind the Legend is loaded with, as German auto executives like to say, Faszination. It runs $29.95 and belongs on every enthusiast’s shelf.
The post All the News that I’m Happy to Have Focused on Instead of CES appeared first on Automobile Magazine.