autoevolution

Breaking Automotive Taboos is Actually for the Greater Good

Banned because of morality or taste, forbidden to talk about, a vehement prohibition based on social custom, anyway you want to define it, a taboo isn’t just a word with great spiritual basis. Additionally, taboo isn’t just one of those ultra rare words in the English language that doesn’t have Greek, Latin or French roots. It’s way more than that when cars are the background of the bigger picture.
Thank you Captain Cook and thank you South Pacific Islands for giving us this word, but this editorial isn’t about etymology. This is autoevolution and all things auto are our bread and butter. The subject of this piece is a rather simple one in essence, although it isn’t too easy to understand why breaking automotive taboos is for the greater good of everybody in question.

By everybody I’m referring to a given carmaker, the automotive industry itself and us consumers. In a nutshell, what I’m trying to explain with this piece is that automakers sometimes make the right choice by going against the trend and their hardcore fan bases. Without further beating around the bush, I shall now start by talking about the Porsche marque.

Do you remember how much booing and hissing was thrown around by the media and Porsche-loving public back in 2002 with the introduction of the Cayenne? The first SUV built by the brand that gave us the iconic 911 was awaited with mixed anticipation and many people were not exactly impressed by the Type 955 Cayenne’s humble skeleton.

Reskinning a VW Touareg inside and out then stick some Porsche badges isn’t right at all, but you know what? It was the best thing Porsche could’ve done at the moment. I won’t dwell into technical details such as the heavily modified PL71 platform or the first V8 motor employed by the Stuttgart-based manufacturer since the 928 was discontinued back in 1995. What I want to talk about is how the Cayenne saved Porsche.

If it weren’t for its mass-market appeal and its affordable pricing strategy, Porsche would’ve gone belly up by the end of the Noughties due to the massive expenses and slow-selling models of the early 2000s. You know, selling the first-gen Boxster and 996-gen 911 wasn’t enough for that era’s Porsche brand, a financially burdened company that couldn’t get its act together.

If you want to thank somebody or something for saving Porsche, pay your respects to the model all laughed about back in 2002. Furthermore, do not forget to thank Porsche’s decision to sell its soul to the devil and introduce turbo diesel mills on the Cayenne. Europe is mad about them oil burners, be it a mere B-segment hatchback or a full-on Porsche Panamera sports luxury sedan.

I fully agree that the Cayenne and turbo diesel technology are compromises, but without them, the 911 Turbo S, 918 Spyder and Cayman GT4 would’ve been nonexistent today. But Porsche is the tip of the automotive taboo breaking iceberg.

What’s your take on the soon-to-debut Bentley Bentayga, Maserati Levante and Lamborghini Urus? These legendary companies fare better than ever when referring to sales volumes and net income, so why is it necessary for everyone to follow Porsche's lead?

A good answer is the board of directors and the shareholder’s wish to make more money, but it’s not only that. Remember what happened over at Maserati later last year? If you don’t, let me cut to the chase - thanks to the entry-level Ghibli in both V6 twin-turbo petrol and diesel guise, the House of the Trident returned better net income than the pinnacle of FCA and the best name in the automotive business - Ferrari.

More money equals more freedom for Maserati designers and engineers, which ultimately leads to more mass-market-oriented products such as the upcoming Levante SUV. Furthermore, a little amount of that increased net income will trickle into making supercars and jaw-droppingly pretty machines such as the Maserati Alfieri. Because of this, breaking automotive taboos shouldn’t be only acceptable in this day and age, but a strict requirement for brands to keep on keeping on.

Moving on to US-related automotive taboos that were broken only recently, who would’ve thought that 2014 will see a volume manufactuer offer a sub-$60,000 vehicle with more than 700 HP on tap? That’s the best case of value for money us gearheads have ever encountered. However, it wasn’t easy sailing for the Dodge brand before the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat and Charger SRT Hellcat were presented to the world...

After the commercial flop known as the SRT Viper rebranding, Dodge’s new-found sporty brand identity was hit hard. Looking on the matter on hand from another perspective, it’s ludicrous to offer a 707 HP muscle car or four-door sedan for less money than a 2015 Dodge Viper SRT, but the bet ultimately paid off and both the Hellcat siblings and the Viper are now selling like hotcakes. Who do we thank for this? Tim Kuniskis, the gentleman that heads Dodge and its SRT-badged products since April 2013.

On an ending note, does anyone among our younger readers remember what they were drawing when they were kids? Wedge-shaped supercars with machine guns were they? Well, machine guns didn’t make it, but the wedge-shaped supercar lives on, albeit not as mighty as in the olden days when Weber carbs were king of the hill. Nowadays, even hypercars are described by ignorants as souped-up hybrids.

It's a bit of a shame how the Toyota Prius got to inspire McLaren, Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini to experiment with the petrol-electric hypercar. Still, the Countach (and Rod Stewart’s leopard print pants) are no longer fashionable, while the archaic Weber carburetor-fed V12 engine is no longer a production reality due to environmentally-conscious sensibleness.

Howbeit, electric motors + internal combustion = better performance than ever as proven by the P1, LaFerrari, 918 Spyder and the Asterion LPI 910-4. Such mind-bending acceleration figures and low emissions were sci-fi before the 2010s came along, with similar performance and out-and-out excitement reserved only to those few lucky ones that raced single-seaters for a living.

Sitrep: an apparently bad decision made by an automaker may morph into the best thing that happened to that company, so it’s not worth the time and effort to put our purist petrolhead pants on and start bickerin’ about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. The truth of the matter is that if emblematic names such as Porsche or Maserati would’ve have bitten the dust, their deaths would’ve happened only if these companies would've listened to their loyal, purist customers and wouldn’t have stepped outside their comfort zone.

Think of breaking automotive taboos as an all in game of blackjack between a constructor and Lady Luck.

Editor's note: front-wheel drive BMWs can go to hell. That's unacceptable and I'm not even a BMW fan...
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About the author: Mircea Panait
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After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
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