Germany invades America

24 May

Couldn't have found a much better picture, really

Volkswagen's new Passat CC.....oh wait

OK, so German cars have been sold in America for a long time. James Dean, as American as apple pie and widespread gun ownership, saw fit to pulverise himself in one of their offerings, his Porsche 550 Spyder. Herbie, a car with its own conscious mind but luckily without a desire to wipe out the human race (like his Dad, Adolf <cough>), was a VW Beetle. But recently I’ve noticed that the Germans seem to be making the cars look a bit….American-y. Take the Volkswagen Passat CC, which looks quite a lot like a 2005 Buick Lacrosse (who names cars in America, by the way?). Or the easy, unchallenging lines of the Mercedes E-Class Coupé, a car that will look much more at home in Beverly Hills than in Bavaria. The BMW X6 is almost totally American in its concept, promising to cater for the active lifestyles of upper-middle class families, which we might safely assume to be taking lil Scottie to his soccer match on a Sunday.

It seems clear to me that Germany is starting to take its American market a lot more seriously. This may have been signaled by Mercedes’ decision to build its M-Class in America in the late 90s; it was interesting that they chose to build that particular car there, what with it being a Sports Utility Vehicle which the Yankees seem to like so much. The fact is that Americans are suckers for Europe. They think anything that comes from Europe is from some mythical land of wizards and dragons and will infer that they are discerning and classy. In the people of America’s heedless pursuit to each get their own white picket fence, and then fill all available space within said white picket fence with “stuff”, having a European car is a sign to your neighbours that America’s automotive dental floss just won’t cut it for you. You need the best. You need European.

So now, ironically, I believe that the Germans have altered their design ethos to appeal to the Americans, softening the lines on their cars, making them a bit more palatable, a bit easier on the eye. Mercedes were never really that avant-garde in their design, not when compared to someone like BMW; but their current roster of cars is even Mercedes-lite, with that chintz, sparkle and matinee-idol looks that don’t ask too much of the viewer. When I think of American cars in the 90s, they were all very cool looking in a way that was too obvious to make them really good looking. The first car I ever drove, our family’s hired Plymouth Breeze (seriously, who comes up with these names), seemed strangely dynamic whilst not being dynamic at all. It was good looking, but not really. Sort of like those girls that drive minis with giant Red Bull cans attached to the back, or the girls who hold the drivers’ signs on the grid in F1.

So, is this a bad thing? Not really. I don’t give that much of a toss about large German cars. But it might be worth a thought that if Germany starts making all its cars look suitable for the American market before thinking of its homegrown European buyers, are we going to miss out on cars as visually challenging as, say, the outgoing BMW 5-series? Its replacement sets my pants on fire not a lot; let’s hope that the Germans think of the war a bit next time they’re designing a car.


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