Globalizing Bad Taste in Cars, BRICS+Beckham Edn

♠ Posted by Emmanuel at 4/29/2012 11:42:00 AM
[A weekend feature! It's been such a long time, but rest assured that I still speak of political economy.] Way back when, anyone with a passing familiarity with the automobile business knew what the most important auto shows were: Detroit, Frankfurt, Geneva, Paris, Tokyo. The presence of marques on parade varied by where the automakers hailed from along with how far along the vehicle prototypes on display were in terms of becoming production models. To be sure, some will always be fated to show duty. If you've been to one of these events, there isn't much variation among them: pretty girls broadly beaming from the stands ("Excuse me miss, but do you come with the car?"), corporate types mulling about in dark suits, and more-dishevelled motoring journalists taking photos and lining up road tests.

Fast-forward to 2012 and certain geographic certainties have changed. China overtook the United States as the world's largest passenger vehicle market in 2009. Naturally, automakers and the general public in the run-up to this inevitability began to ask: "Why isn't there a major auto show in China given that it is the new promised land for automakers and as demand for cars in industrialized Europe, Japan and the US wanes?" Voila! The Beijing International Automotive Exhibition or more informally the Beijing Motor Show was born in 1990 and has been held biennially alike its more famous global counterparts.

To be sure, it's been slowly gathering momentum despite being held in a city famous for smog and its negative implications for glamorizing automobiles. So there you have the first component in this tale of auto industry globalization in the emergence of the PRC. Another, though, concerns the make under consideration here. I've long followed the process by which Indian conglomerate Tata first considered buying then bought the formerly Ford-owned British marques Jaguar and Land Rover in a process of "reverse colonization." While the Tata Group is today's equivalent of the Indian Company that Makes Everything--do you know anyone else who's bought into English tea and cars--there remains the question of how "British" these products now are.

Hence we have the very dubious attempt here to (1) reinforce "Posh Britishness" [that's capital P, mind you] by de-emphasizing who exactly owns Land Rover, (2) glamorize its vehicles by signing on probably the world's most famous footballer's wife and (3) feminize this SUV brand renowned back in the day for making the most rugged of go-anywhere vehicles alike the Land Rover and the Defender. While this trend of gas-guzzling off-roaders being used for everything but real 4x4 action has been going on for a long time now, we've certainly reached new highs--or lows depending on your point of view. Combine all these things--the big Chinese market, Indian wannabes aspiring to Cool Britannia, and a Chinese auto show in search of a marquee launch--and you get the Range Rover Evoque with Victoria Beckham. It's fitting that such prissiness at the Beijing Motor Show is covered not in, say, 4x4 Magazine but in Vanity Fair where Missus Beckham describes her co-creation as--get this--a "[hand]bag on wheels":
I’ve driven a Range Rover for as long as I can remember, and I have a lot of respect for Range Rover as a brand and for their heritage. So I think it feels very natural. I think that people will look at the car, and they’ll obviously see Range Rover, but they’ll also see me. It looks like me. I joked the other day—I had a matte-black crocodile structured handbag with me, and I looked at the bag and I looked at the car, and I said, “The car looks like a bag on wheels.” It’s very me. It’s very, very me.
She reassures us, however, that there is a subtle machismo at work here by invoking her hubby, that alpha male character:
And I was adamant—I didn’t want this car to be seen as super-girly. I wanted it to be a car that I want to drive, and I wanted it to be a car that David wants to drive as well. Everything that I do has quite a masculine feel about it. Though the clothes I design are very feminine, they also have a very strong masculine feel about them. I’m feminine, but I wouldn’t say that I’m girly in any way at all.
As a competitive response to the Range Rover / Victoria Beckham lash-up, I eagerly look forward to the Hummer / Paris Hilton Special Edition combining all-season, all-terrain prowess with the cuddliness of a miniature pooch. For the PR flaks, maybe it should do Missus Beckham one better to be described as a chihuhua-in-a-handbag-on-wheels. To paraphrase a certain song, automakers have been asking the Chinese what they want--what they rilly rilly want. And if the result is as appalling as the Range Rover Evoque with Victoria Beckham, well, its Indian owners couldn't care less about whiny aesthetic critics who aren't paying customers anyway.To be sure, this move has long been underway with various luxury makes producing oversized gas-guzzlers that target mainly bling-bling and soccer mom demographics, but never in such a blatantly cutesy fashion.

But if that's what they want--what they rilly rilly want--then I guess we'll just have to grin and bear it.