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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Usain Bolt = worlds fastest man. Ferrari California = world’s most challenging butt

People used to get all uppity about the appearance of the full-blooded Bangle-butt on BMWs of yore. No matter how many times I talked about how it was defining a new proportion for luxury saloons and had demonstrable benefits in terms of trunk space, I’d always get shot down trying to justify it.

Well, all of a sudden, Bangle’s bottom is looking a sinuous and seductive as the c-pillar/haunch interface on an air-cooled 911 ’cause Ferrari done got a whole lotta booty-clappin’ going on.

I’ve no doubt there are those who will tell me that the Cali’s trunk can swallow 2 golf bags with room for the owner’s ego to spare while giving the ultimate in security and pose-ability. Those same folk will also opine on how it opens up a whole new market (of desperate housewives) to the illustrious Prancing Horse brand by virtue of it’s accessibility and versatility. They’ll also talk about just how hard it is to manage the volumes and shut lines when working with folding hard tops. Whatever.

Ferraris are meant to be avant-garde poetry in motion. The California’s butt is cockney rhyming slang after one too many ciders.

Indeed, on reflection it’s funny how things come full circle. The best hard-top cabriolet butt in the business? Why, that would belong to the BMW Z4

P.S I know the trunk is popped. It’s still not cool…

[Image Source: WENN via Jalopnik]

Things I hate: Proof positive that Cash For Clunkers is utter lunacy

Need I say more?

Brand Capital and How Not to Spend It

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Over the last decade I’ve noticed an increasing number of brands willing to cash in on their previously unimpeachable images in the chase for bigger margins.

Sloppy strategies and even sloppier products have dealt manifold blows to companies like Mercedes-Benz (1st gen. A-Class, R-Class and Maybach), Porsche (Cayenne) and BMW (X6, X5 & 6Ms and 5 Series GT). For now, these brands can manage it. Decades of superb, focussed products have established strong brand perceptions that will take a few cheap hits (although I’d argue that Mercedes is really starting to try the patience of even the mainstream car nut with products like the new E-Class).

There are other brands, however, that can’t afford to play so loose and free with their brand capital and Aston Martin is a prime example. Read the rest of this entry »

Monocle: An object lesson in practising what you preach…or not.

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In my arena the words premium and luxury get thrown around with an abandon that’s bordering on Wilde-ian in its gayness. Everybody wants a piece of the premium/luxury pie and they’re willing to spend obscene amounts of money trying to convince customers that they have it. Said customers, if the marketing department has done their sums right, will then fork out similarly obscene amounts of money to own their own slice of the premium/luxury pie.

Done right, luxury can be both highly lucrative for the producer and deeply satisfying for the customer.

Yet party as I often am to endless talk – for that’s all it often is – concerning the top end of the market I’ve naturally become a little sceptical whenever the P and L words are bandied about, for it’s rare that the reality even comes close to the hype. Read the rest of this entry »

No, no, no! A V10 does not an Esprit make!

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Although it’s only a rumour promulgated by Evo magazine at this point, the very thought of Toyota lending it’s new Lexus V10 to a future Esprit is enough to make me seethe with vitriolic outrage.

Lest we forget, the original Esprit was the ultimate road-going expression of Colin “to add speed, add lightness” Chapman’s fanatical obsession with elegant efficiency. He was obsessed to a fault perhaps, as demonstrated by the time, when upon returning from a GP race and having demanded more weight be removed from the prototype Esprit’s rear transaxle, he sort of fell on his own sword . He took off for home in the amended mule making it a short distance before the new “added lightness” tore itself free from the car, leaving him stranded on the airport exit road.

If this little anecdote goes to show anything, it’s that Colin would be turning in his fibreglass grave at the thought of a stonking great ten-pot in the back of his little supercar that could, no matter how much Lexus green-washing it may have had or the fact that Lotus may also produce an “eco Esprit”. Why not make all Esprits eco?

I have long thought that the future of maximum driving enjoyment lies in super-lightweight, compact and fuel efficient cars that are unencumbered by concessions to overt luxury or pretensions to practicality, in essence the Lotus approach. The new Evora, by all accounts, stays as true to Colin’s edicts as much as a 2+2 Cayman competitor can, but the Esprit should be the very essence of the company’s fabled light-weight history, not an offensive repudiation.

P.S The sketch in the Evo article makes it look like Lotus has decided to throw the baby out with the bath water, do an Audi and put the V10 in front of the front axle line. Whatever will they think of next?

Coupe + SUV still = Fail

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Did nobody tell Acura of the collective slack-jaw expression that met the BMW 5 GT in Geneva? Or of the decidedly muted market reception to the proportionally challenged, stupendously impractical X6?

I guess not: Acura wants to have this monstrosity in dealers before the year is out.

Somehow one of the automotive design sites managed to find something to recommend in the ZDX’s lazy BMW pastiche but I’m not buying it.

From mind-blowingly awful “power plenum” grille (plenums this ugly should stay put under the hood) to the hideous confluence of surfaces at the rear via the comically small rear door (look at the opening in the interior shot below), this car makes the vulgar X6 look like the stylistic patron saint of pointless cross-overs.

As one designer friend put it, this car confirms Acura as the world’s premier publisher of 1st-year design student projects.

The lack of subtlety and detailing in the age of the new Volkswagen Polo, with it’s delightfully co-ordinated grille mesh and headlamp bulb caps, speaks volumes about how seriously Acura takes producing a premium product.

2010 GMC Terrain

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And you gave them HOW many of your taxpayer dollars!?

Get mad people. And then do something about it.


Facebook owns your soul (and your photos too)

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The more I read, the stronger my fears grow. Call me paranoid, but the latest storm brewing in Facebook land had the hairs on the back of my neck dancing a merry jig.

Two weeks ago Facebook made a change to its terms and conditions regarding ownership of posted content. As far as I can glean, the new conditions stated that Facebook becomes the owner of all uploaded personal content (photos, videos, comments, notes and the like) and this ownership continues should I decide to delete my account. So even if I wanted to opt out, I couldn’t.

I say couldn’t because upon logging in this morning there was a message stating “…we have decided to return to our previous Terms of Use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.” Damn straight you’ll resolve them. Whether it’s for our benefit remains to be seen. Here is the paragraph at the centre of the furore:

 

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof. 

 

What’s most galling is that these changes were introduced on the sly. I challenge any of my readers to have noticed this transfer of ownership being communicated through Facebook itself.

I’ll admit that have been a willing participant in the Facebook phenomenon. My patience is being sorely tested, however, as the broader implications of my online presence become more obvious. Put it down to the benefit of 20:20 hindsight. If I lose ownership of my content it will be the last straw.

 The problem is, as a person who deals in new cultural trends and observing society’s reaction to the world at large, if I lock myself out I lose this valuable stream of information. As with so many of my generation, I want to have my cake and eat it too…

Play safe people and make sure you go through your Facebook security settings and lock it down. Apparently it’s the only way you have of clinging on to your data.

Adventures in Brand Extension Pt. 1: Audi's Virtual Assistant

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Audi Australia has just installed it’s first virtual assistant in a Sydney dealership and, sadly, it’s a case of  implementation not meeting expectation. This happens all the time (T-Mobile G1 anybody or Apple MobileMe anyone?) but not normally to companies with an otherwise unimpeachable image such as Audi.

For a brand whose presence is so tightly built around Vorsprung durch Technik (Advancement through Technology for the non-German speakers), this 10mm sheet of plastic (rigid hair cut-outs and all) and some projection technology seem positively crude.

The limitations of the technology also mean that the actress had to stand still and try to not use her hands for expression which contributes to an awfully forced experience. I can’t imagine many prospective customers standing around as she delivers her spiel about how great the latest Audis are, it’s just not engaging enough.

To top it all off, she does not posses an “Audi” voice. To those of you unfamiliar with the Australian accent we may all sound the same. We do however enjoy a diversity of accents and manners-of-speech down under and unfortunately the actress used here comes over a bit (see below after watching the virtual assistant and you’ll understand what I mean). It just doesn’t communicate  the level of refinement and sophistication that people normally associate with Audi.

Although I recognise that this is a product of Audi Australia, or perhaps even the dealer, the fact that I discovered this poorly resolved gimmick through Autoblog and YouTube demonstrates that even localised branding decisions can have a global reach.

Head over to YouTube (no embedding was allowed) and decide for yourself whether the virtual assistant is a case of advancement through technology or technology without a cause. As always,  let me know what you think in the comments.

PDM via Autoblog.

No, no, NO! This is not a DS!

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A couple of days ago I wrote about Citroen’s decision to revive the DS moniker as a premium brand.

This is the underwhelming result. The “DS Inside” concept looks like Citroen’s take on a Mini, mashed up with a bit of SUV and MPV for good measure. I don’t actually mind it’s bull-dog stance, bi-color paint and funky B-Pillar/glazing treatment but what kind of a name is “DS Inside”? If there is a Déesse inside, she’d be screaming to be let out of her dowdy purgatory so she can resume her rightful place in automotive heaven.

I don’t have a problem with Citroen trying to shift up market (hey, all the mid market manufacturers are trying it) but I think it’s an epic mistake to sully the DS name with a car that doesn’t come anywhere near the sheer fabulousness of the original. Although images of the interior have not yet been leaked, I’m pretty certain that it won’t turn this particular personal nightmare into a dream come true.

About DownSideUp Design

I'm Drew Smith and I'm an ethnographer and strategist. By day I shape culture and strategy at Seren. By night I sleep (mostly). And once a month, I host an event called Rising Minds, at Shoreditch House.

DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. All views represented here are mine and mine alone and do not represent those of anyone else.

Get in touch at drewpasmith (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.