Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 9

This episode is really visual. To see our line-by-line review of the Toyota Century SUV in real time, watch along on YouTube

Criticism and the automotive industry make for uncomfortable bed fellows.

We put so much heart and soul in to creating a car that when someone points out its flaws, it can be like being told that someone doesn’t like our child.

Except the cars we design are not our children.

They’re manufactured products that have an enormous impact on the world around us.

They influence the way we think and behave.

They shape our understanding of public space and how we share it.

And they consume vast quantities of natural resources in their manufacture and use.

So, as car designers and design strategists, alongside the engineers, product planners, and leadership we work with, we reckon we have a responsibility to question intently the impact that our work has, and to think deeply about what we have to do better.

That the Toyota Century SUV is the object of our critique in this episode is almost neither here nor there. There are any number of new cars that fail to meet the needs of the moment in which we find ourselves.

But as way to understand how design and product planning decisions can have such a remarkable impact on the perception of a brand, the big SUV, and the way it toys with the ethos and mythos of Century, is hard to miss.

We’re not here to denigrate or mindlessly criticise.

We are here to get people to look up from their day-to-day, look out for the shifts and signals that are going to impact their work, and connect the dots that lead to a more sustainable, more equitable future.

With this episode, we’re making our first, messy, and very public attempt to create a template for having critical conversations about the future of the automotive industry, and the role of design within it. We’re not going to get it right first time, but we’ll keep trying.

So whether you yelp in agreement with us, or shake your fist with rage that we dared question the status quo, take this as an invitation to speak up and share your views, not just with us, but with the Looking Out community.

Over the coming months, we’ll be developing a series of Looking Out interviews. Our aim is to present a diverse set of perspectives on where we should be headed. And if you’re reading this newsletter, or listening to or watching the podcast, chances are you’re someone we’d love to hear from, or you know someone we should speak to.

So drop us a line at theautomobilitygroup gmail.com and let’s start a conversation.

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November 23, 2023 Toyota Century SUV Criticism Design

Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 8

Take a peak at the design secrets behind the new Tesla Model 3, also known as Highland, and how they give Tesla an incredible pricing advantage against legacy OEMs.

Joe and Drew also discuss a small French company called Lormauto, which is reinventing the origianl Renault Twingo as a EV designed for life.

And they take a looks at the interiors of the new Mercedes EQS SUV and E-Class, and the new Mini, to see what they say about the future of German car makers.

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November 23, 2023 Lormauto Tesla Renault Twingo Mercedes-Benz EQS E-Class

Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 7

In this special episode, Joe and Drew take a look - both macro and micro - at the recent IAA, also known as the Munich motor show.

The motor show itself:

This is the second coming of the biennial motor show in Munich. We talked about how it’s evolved and what it means for brands who are compelled to show at the Messe, or exhibition grounds, and in the centre of the city.

The Mercedes CLA and the state of Mercedes design:

Although sporting enough Mercedes badges to make a Louis Vuitton trunk blush, Joe’s quite complimentary of the CLA concept. And the EQXX blows his mind with its intelligence and execution.

The new BMW 5 Series:

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the new, €98,000 5er. A dog’s dinner outside and evidence inside of just how hard BMW has had to work to make this new, electrified platform pay, all at the cost of customer experience.

The BMW Neue Klasse:

It’s not all bad news at BMW as the Neue Klasse shows a brand returning to form. From its delightful glasshouse to serene interior, it shows a promising future for the 3 Series.

The €45,000 Renault Scénic:

What was once a compact, family MPV has turned in to another crossover for the upwardly mobile. While beautifully designed (and better finished than the BMW 5 Series) it’s up against the Tesla Model Y. Old world values versus new world tech: FIGHT!

The geopolitical backdrop:

The Chinese brought it home to the Germans, and the Germans don’t like it. The EU is investigating China’s subsidies but it better be careful: don’t bit the hand that feeds you, as the saying goes.

The death of European automotive design has been exaggerated:

But it is struggling. Automakers desperately need to find a renewed sense of focus, a greater sense of connection to a rapidly evolving younger market and, perhaps, consider a pivot to America in order to thrive.

Any other business:

Joe discusses the emerging AV clustercuss in San Francisco and how Volkswagen’s desultory efforts to build an American charging network have driven their competitors to adopt Tesla’s charging standard.

Drew, on the other hand, is delighted by a company that’s electrifying original Renault Twingos and announces our new Instagram account.

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July 19, 2023 IAA Munich Motor Show BMW Renault Mercedes-Benz China Germany

Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 6

In this episode:

GMs post-CarPlay Culture

So GMs gone out on a limb and said they’re ditching Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for their next generation of cars. To help them on their way, they’ve hired Mike Abbot, formerly head of Apple’s (notoriously) flakey iCloud services.

But we reckon that hiring a big name from another sector won’t be enough to fulfil GMs connected car ambitions. The company will need to fundamentally rethink their culture, and we offer a few ideas for how they might get started.

The Paris Scooter Ban

Despite a voter turnout of only 7%, 89% of those voters decided to ban eScooters from the streets of Paris.

In one of the cities we’ve previously noted as on of the most progressive when it comes to adopting micromobility solutions, one which has invested heroically in reducing the dominance of the car, it was a sad day.

Joe references some research that shows why Parisians might have felt so strongly about the arrival of the scooters (hint: it has to do with parking), and we talk about the long arc of change in our city environments, and how we might work with it, rather than against it.

Generative AI and Auto Industry Biases

As the world debates whether AI is going to kill us or save us, some automotive designers have taken to generative AI tools like DALL.E and MidJourney with unsurpassed glee.

But as Drew reveals, the tools are currently perpetuating the worst of the automotive industry’s biases when it comes to gender diversity, representation, and inclusion.

It’s a rapidly evolving space and a split is already emerging between designers who love the tools, and those who are against the creative theft that underlies the models on which they’re based.

We talk about the need for car companies to consciously and intentionally engage with these topics to make sure they’re not caught up in another Volkswagen/Xinjinang situation.

That’s it for this episode! Thanks for listening.

If you like what you hear, please leave a review for us on your favourite podcasting platform. It helps other folk like you find us!

And you can sign up for Looking Out - The Newsletter, the sidekick to our podcast, here: automobility.substack.com

Show produced by Chris Frith

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  • The End of Grey at Fiat - Fiat takes a stand against the dull days of grey
  • AI Is a Lot of Work - an article looking at the vast numbers of people needed to classify the content that informs artificial intelligence models

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July 19, 2023 Podcast GM AI Micromobility

Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 5

In this very special episode, Joe and Drew revisit Drew’s interview with the father of micromobility, Horace Dediu.

This isn’t the first time this interview’s gone to air. You may have heard it first time around on Drew’s other podcast, The Next Billion Seconds, or on Horace’s own Micromobility podcast.

It is, however, the first time we’ve sat down to discuss the many implications of what Horace shares for automotive design and strategy.

If you want to cut to our analysis, fast forward to these points:

what does it mean for the industry to make a worse car, and where might we start? (starting at 24m 57s) how does looking down versus looking out change how we think about designing for automobility? (starting at 50m) and just how screwed are the economics of automobiles in a heavily urbanised future? (starting at 1h 14m 57s)

But of course, we’d love you to listen to the whole thing!

Show produced by Chris Frith

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May 15, 2023 Podcast Horace Dedieu Micromobility Design Strategy

Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 4

In this episode of Looking Out - The Podcast, Joe and Drew discuss:

BMWs i Vision Dee, why some folk find her scary, and what she says about BMWs future

Why is it that a lot of folk in the West find robots scary and a lot of folk in the East don’t?

It’s a story that goes way back: about 400 years in the West, and about a thousand years in the East.

It’s also the lens through which we unpick BMWs virtual personal assistant, known as Dee, and her deep integration into their latest concept car.

Is the era of the Ultimate Driving Machine finally coming to an end? And is the Ultimate Entertainment Machine really what’s going to replace it?

(For a deeper dive on i Vision Dee, read Drew’s take here.)

Joe’s surprisingly normal Christmas run in an EV from Gothenburg to Leeds

Who’d have thought that Joe and his family would run out of range before his wife’s Polestar 2? But that’s precisely what happened on the family trip home for Christmas, as toilet breaks, driver swaps and snack stops intervened before the car ran out of charge.

Across the 3,227 kilometres, Joe learned that the factors limiting EV adoption in Europe are less to do with absolute range and the availability of chargers, and more to do with how people think about recharging versus refuelling.

It’s a mindset shift that we need to make if we’re to manage the compromises between vehicle cost, range, weight and safety. But, we wonder, when - and how - is the industry going to tackle that?

Why CES left us longing for a more systemic approach from the auto industry to the challenges we face

The Consumer Electronics Show is the most significant motor show — by a different name — on the global calendar. Suppliers and OEMs alike head there to share their take on the future of the car, and the future of mobility.

It’s quite ironic that they do so in isolated conference halls dispersed across an impossible-to-walk city in the middle of the desert. We reckon it speaks to a deep philosophical challenge that the automotive industry is facing: how do we better integrate our products and services in to existing sociocultural and economic systems, rather than imposing ourselves upon them?

Joe also gives a preview of an upcoming piece for Looking Out - The Newsletter about the Tesla Semi, and Drew wonders what Apple’s struggles in China might mean for the automotive industry.

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January 30, 2023 Podcast BMW i Vision Dee Electrification Charging Polestar