The i8

I made the press launch of the Toyota Prius in 1999. At the time it was a revolutionary car that Toyota was hoping (but not entirely confident) would sell. They had identified specific markets to introduce it in and undoubtedly had plans in place for the follow on model. But it was one car, one car only. And now, after a decade of one model, Prius becomes a brand with a suite of vehicles wearing Prius badges.

BMW has added a number of mild hybrids to its existing lineup over the past few years, but the ‘i’ sub-brand is just that, a brand within a brand. And, as Prius has now become a sub-brand for Toyota, you can’t get there with just a single vehicle.

bmw i3 i8 la auto show 2011 041 655x436

A lot of car companies would be overjoyed to offer a car like the i3 with great performance, decent interior space, and incredible technology displayed in materials and construction. And make no mistake, the weight of the ‘i’ sub-brand is behind the i3. It is the volume product and the one that has to be right. It bears the fate of the ‘i’ sub-brand on its shoulders. But . . .

The i8 is sitting there, a halo car, positioned several rungs above the i3’s role as an mega-city mover. The i8 defines the other edge of the sub-brand, and while it may sell a 10th of the volume of the i3 (or less), it does more to define the promise of the sub-brand than the i3. The i8 may be a bit of a magician’s slight of hand, a distraction while the foundation is laid for the i3 to succeed. The i8 is instant success; sexy, clever, and powerful.

The i8 is there as an assist. It isn’t the steak, but the sizzle. But sizzle it does (and I still want to drive one! BMW, are you listening?)

A Saab Story

For whatever reason watching the torturous termination of Saab has reminded me of nothing less than the Monty Python, ‘Bring out your dead’ sketch from the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, the actual demise of the storied marque is anything but funny.

Saab marched to a different drummer. It took a mix of two stroke engines, front wheel drive, and aircraft ergonomics/styling to entice a slightly counter-cultural, intellectually inclined following to emerge. The brand got stronger into the 1970s thanks to success on the rally
circuit and innovative product. Saab embraced turbos early and built some roomy, quick, and slightly off-kilter offerings in the 99 and 900 lines.

But, as BMW is aware of, it takes volume to survive as an independent, especially to cover the costs of research and development. Saab was gobbled up by GM and the product got bland. Yes the key-in-the-console quirk still existed but the rest of the car didn’t speak to the brand’s heart. The slightly surreal Swedish soul was sanitized into oblivion and the brand’s fortunes suffered as a result. It would not have made it on its own, but it could have stood better management in the last 15 years than it was provided.

Of the automotive brands that have ended under GM’s stewardship, the loss of Oldsmobile and Saab have hurt the most.

Happy Holidays

The winter solstice sees celebrations in a number of major religions. Of course, Hanukah has begun, and the Advent season is in full swing. Whatever you’re doing to celebrate this year, our best wishes to you and your families and those you hold dear. Spend time with them, laugh and dine together. Do that which makes us human and civilized and if you’re traveling may your journey be safe. Thank you for your readership and here’s wishing you a Froehliche Weihnachten!