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Pretty Wraps – How the auto industry sees itself, Pt. 3
by Thomas Wagner | 10/3/2009
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Shapes and products change fast, even in the automobile industry, where development costs are immense and product cycles far longer than in other branches of manufacturing. For all the changes (in models), the emphasis is always on remaining unmistakable, i.e., on not losing sight of the core of the marque. The latter is closely bound up with the design of the respective marque, in which context today design means far more than merely styling.
It thus seems all the stranger that Toyota, in a commercial presenting four new cars (from the Verso via the IQ and the Urban Cruiser to the Avensis) inserts the models into a sketched, abbreviated narrative that not only addresses how children grow to become adults, but how one Toyota model develops into another. It is hard to gauge exactly what is being said: Toyota has a clear place in our own biographies and is as much a part of us as are our favorite dolls/toys, the friends of our youth, or our first boy/girlfriend. Now this may seem trivial and banal, but the desire to remain loyal to a marque seems in fact to exist, as otherwise such family stories would not get told time and time again. Faithful to the adage: My wife has left me, but my car is still faithful.

Something else is also amazing about the commercial and gets easily overlooked. What the commercial stages is the vivacious genealogical transition from one period in life and one particular car model to another, as the carbody of the respective model gets simply whisked off like a veil when a new stage/period is reached, and from under it emerges the respectively new and different car. So what are we to understand this to mean? Is the design more than merely a wrapper? Does the switch from one model to another entail changing nothing more than the sheet-metal drapes? Does this imply that design has once again simply deteriorated into styling?

A film by Volkswagen also hinges on the notion of stripping off the covers: It advertises the fact that the company offers a regular service-and-maintenance program free of charge. Here, more strongly than in the Toyota commercial, unconscious elements come into play. Because even if the US variant of the VW Golf looks as if it were new, an indefinably old car resides beneath its ‘outer skin'. Which begs the question: Does the skin of every new car model not simply conceal an older one? Does design exist to disguise the old? And little help is offered in this commercial by the black Beetle that is forever commenting indignantly on the return of what has long been repressed.

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