Reasons to be cheerful and anger management, the madness of parking, accidents, and autonomy, Citroen’s oli shouts Enough! and perhaps we should, too. And how to build a resilient organisation.
17 October, 2022
Welcome to Looking Out, a newsletter about the auto industry, mobility, design, and the cultures that surround us. Looking Out is brought to you by Joe Simpson and Drew Smith of The Automobility Group. If you like what you see, tell your friends!
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Reasons to be cheerful | JS
Why it’s interesting: It’s easy to get despondent about the state of the auto industry. But there’s also plenty to cheer…
I was going to write about the XM. But there’s not much I want to add that hasn’t been articulated by my erstwhile co-writer (below), or over at design field trip, of the concept that foretold of the car.
Not a reason to be cheerful
I’m a believe that car design reflects popular culture, and – maybe sometimes – vice versa. The reality is the XM is a rather sad reflection of where society is at – scared, defensive, in-ward looking and with increasingly polarity, especially between the haves and have nots.
It’s easy to default to a collective ‘arse in hands’ moment about the auto industry, so let’s tack against the prevailing wind and hold up a few reasons to be cheerful.
First among them – as I sit on a plane headed to Paris, is the prospect of a French car industry that is resurgent, and investigating interesting, difficult and worthy topics.
A reason to be more cheerful
Most obviously, Citroen’s Oli. An antidote to the ‘more is more’ approach of the XM this effort to push sustainability beyond just shoving a battery in it is a breath of fresh air. Rather than treating the worthy goals (sub 1000kg, 40kWh battery, fewer materials) as some reason to apologise, they’ve been put together in an arresting form, that doubles as a piece of street parkour equipment when parked. Drew has more below.
Never ones to be usurped, Renault is continuing to explore how it might remake the Renault 5 – the car that started the modern small car trend. After the 5 EV, the rather wonderful and playful 5 Diamant in collaboration with Pierre Gonalons (above image) comes drift-friendly R5 Turbo 3E. I rather like how in these concepts Renault is exploring the different characters of 5. Super genial, non?
Plus despite the relative lack of success of its Twizy, Renault shows its ongoing commitment to the wider mobility picture through its Mobilize off-shoot. The Solo EV looks particularly relevant in the context of some of the questions we’ve been asking around micromobility.
Renault’s Dacia brand is on the act too, with the Manifesto concept (above). An ‘essential’ concept car that – like the Oli – it seeks to reduce weight and part count, is playful (it uses sleeping bags as its seat covers) and sets out with the idea of democratising access to the outdoors. Bravo!
Finally, a waltz through what’s good in the world of car design right now wouldn’t be complete without a mention of an utterly rampant Hyundai, who’ve followed the ground-breaking Ioniq 5 and Vision N74 concept with the Ioniq 6 – a modern interpretation of the ‘streamliner’ – an electric sedan designed to maximize range and running with the wilfully different look it’s taken to achieve that.
It may lack the well-resolved qualities of the Prophecy concept that hinted at its coming, but the Ioniq 6 is proof the creativity is not-only alive and well in Hyundai’s Namyang, Seoul, Frankfurt and Irvine offices, but that the people who work there have their fingers on the pulse of some of the relevant, more joyful aspects of modern pop culture. Here’s to more of that.
Citröen’s oli shouts Enough! | DS
Why it’s interesting: In May, I sent out a prayer for an OEM to buck the bigger battery-is-better trend. Citroen’s answered my plea.
(Citroen is garnering plaudits for it's delightful oli concept. It's cute. It's tough. It's a little slice of pugnacious positivity in a world gone awry.
It's also a compelling counterargument to EV arms race in which most OEMs are engaged. To add driving range, manufacturers pile in more battery capacity to increase performance and range, which then requires more battery capacity to counteract the weight of that extra battery capacity. Yes, it really is that circular and exhausting. It's also immensely wasteful.
Back in May, I wrote about research from the University of Geneva that showed that 200Km of range would cover 90% of day-to-day driving needs. I also suggested that
"In an industry which sells, for the most part, on more is more and less is a bore, it’ll take a brave team to pursue a message of less is enough."
That brave team is Citroen, and their battle cry is Assez!, or, Enough!
The oli's battery has a (relatively) small 40kWh capacity. The vehicle weighs a tiny (for an urban SUV) 1000Kg. Its top speed is (an entirely reasonable) 110Km/h.
And its range?
Well, by saying Enough! to the engineering bloat that characterises much EV development these days, Citroen offers a projected 400Km.
Which is just about the only thing of which oli has more than enough.
Why it’s interesting: As leaves start to gather on our northern hemisphere streets, here’s a delightful study of the madness of alternate side parking in New York City.
The end of a dream? | JS
Why it’s interesting: Hundreds of billions have been spent on autonomous driving. But signs are we’re not getting anywhere - would the money have been better spent elsewhere?
Business Week dedicates several thousand words to a scathing article detailing how Silicon Valley – mainly its tech companies, but also its associated VC world – have spent the last decade and hundreds of billions of dollars on the dream of autonomous driving, to come not very far at all.
It’s a long article that is worth a read, and what it highlights chimbed in my mind with two recent Autonocast podcasts.
The most recent episode, (264) with Paris Marks, picks up on some of the same points as the business week piece; Marks is arguing for a less ‘solutionist’ approach.
But it was the previous episode, (263) with Jessie Singer – that makes the interesting contrast. In her book, There Are No Accidents, Singer highlights the amount of effort that has been poured in to try and solve the road safety ‘problem’ of the person behind the wheel. In essence, in the last decade, much of that money has been funnelled towards autonomous driving technology. Singer’s argument is that in trying to solve only that particular problem, we’re failing to see the bigger systemic problems that exist related to road safety, and miss out on easy wins to reduce the number of accidents and save lives.
Singer is hardly an apologist for driver mistakes, but her work highlights how, in the very way road traffic ‘accidents’ are assessed, we as a society skew the probability towards driver fault as attributable cause. Accident investigators tend only to look at weather, vehicle roadworthiness and driver behaviour.
So what does she propose? Some of Singer’s arguments are well-known. We’d save many more lives, more quickly, by fitting systems which stopped a car being driven by someone who was drunk. And we have the technology to do this now.
In the race to autonomous, we’vee taken our foot of the gas in other areas and are no longer engaging in the bigger picture of how to make mobility better and safer. Accidents and death rates are going up in the US, for instance, despite cars getting much safer.
So while we’re waiting for the tech to fix all, easier - and quicker - answer might involve reducing a speed limit, building a bike lane or shifting people onto transit. All tend to reduce injury and death. But Silicon Valley (and many auto companies) aren’t interested in this, and Singer argues it’s because they have little to gain.
Once again, we’re left with a patchwork of cities – mostly in Europe – trying to lead, to build better and safer mobility for this citizens. Brussels introduced a pan-city 30km/h limit, which reduced accidents by one fifth. Paris wants to become 100% cyclable, and is building 120km of bike lanes.
It begs the question: How good - and how safe - could we make mobility, if the money spent in Silicon Valley chasing the dream of autonomy, was distributed in a different way?
Anger Management | DS
Why it’s interesting: While resolutely in your face, BMW’s XM is symbolic of a problem far closer to the heart of the automotive industry.
Let's face it: the automotive industry has an anger management problem.
Ever since Audi fitted a child-consuming full-frame grille to the R8 and smudged LED warpaint beneath its lights, designers have been trapped in an ever-escalating battle to crown their cars as the most in-your-face.
In the studios, I'm sure that the A-words - "anger" and "aggression" and "ape-shit" - aren't front of mind. People most likely talk in terms of "expressiveness", "emotion", "intensity", "power" and "passion". But the net result is still a panoply of pissed-off cars taking to the streets.
The situation scaled new heights a couple of weeks ago with the launch of the BMW XM, a 2.7 tonne, USD300,000/EUR290,000 middle-finger salute to good taste, good humour, and good humans.
At the time, I wrote on Twitter:
The BMW XM is the automotive embodiment of an alienated boomer bloke who got hammered at the corporate banquet, made a racist joke, groped the waitress, slagged off the CEO, upended the table and dared any motherfucker to take him on.
The car for our times, then. ^1
An automotive industry veteran - retired, white, male - took issue with my characterisation of the car: my tweet was "overladen with lazy stereotypes". He was further displeased when someone followed up to suggest that the car was an automotive embodiment of toxic masculinity, saying:
Such terms are dangerous (and misleading) when used in relation to humans, but meaningless when applied to cars. ^2
But, really? Are they?
As someone from a couple of minorities - I'm gay, for a start - who's worked in and around the automotive industry for years, I've seen and experienced first hand the privilege and aggression of cis-gendered, heterosexual men at play. Sly jokes about sexuality. Dog-whistle racism. The objectification of women. The piss-poor behaviour that emerges after one too many craft ales or glasses of champagne.
But don't just take my word for it. In the most recent study I could find on diversity, equity and inclusion in the American automotive industry, published in 2020 by Deloitte:
Labour participation of women in the automotive industry is almost half that of in the general workforce (24% v 47%)
45% of women would not choose to join the automotive industry if they were to start their career again
And 35% of women thought that the industry's attitudes towards women had gotten worse in 2020, compared to the 64% of men that though things had improved...
And let's remember that this report only addresses women in the industry. It had nothing to say of people of colour, neurodiverse folk and those with disabilities, or my LGBTQ+ fam.
So how does this relate to the BMW XM, and why should you care?
The XM is both alienating, and alienated from any life-affirming aesthetic or cultural qualities. It's born of a mindset that's set against, and not with the world around it. It's a bellowing individualist at a time when we're gonna need collective effort to build a climate crisis life raft.
As designers, and particularly as automotive designers, we have enormous freedom when it comes to shaping the culture of the world around us. Cars demand that we take notice of them though the visual, physical and psychological space they consume. They are extremely present reminders of the technologically-driven world we inhabit.
As designers, this also means that we have the freedom to determine the semantic qualities of that reminder.
Do the cars we design remind us of the good things in life - joy, love, freedom, togetherness, and optimism? Or do they remind us of our dark side: anger, envy, fear, and pessimism?
In the revised, 1962 edition of Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote:
Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
So this is my question to all the designers and marketers that read this: what do we want to be responsible for?
How do we want to capture the imaginations of the people who we want to buy our products?
On “resilience” | DS
Why it’s interesting: As we move from pandemic to financial downturn to extinction event, organisations will increasingly call on individuals to be more “resilient”. Beware.
I originally published this reflection on LinkedIn, but shared it with Joe privately for his perspective. Being the inquisitive type, having read it, he basically said “Yeah, so what are you gonna do about it?” Good push, Joe. Good push.
To try and put my money where my mouth is, I’ve added a few further reflections to the bottom of the original LinkedIn post, based on my conversation with Joe.
I’ve just finished the incredible EPIC 2022 conference here in Amsterdam.
Top of mind as I sit in the Autumn sun, enjoying a beer, is how resilience, the theme of the conference, has been co-opted by organisations and their leaders as they seek to shift responsibility for their structural and cultural deficiencies from themselves to their employees.
“It’s not us” their actions, words, and remedial programs suggest, “it’s you. And here’s a free sub to a mindfulness app to sort you out.”
But as friend and former colleague Ben Rubin suggests, one of the core components of the successful organisation of the future is its soul.
It’s not a new idea: before the enlightenment and the likes of Descartes, who saw humans as mechanistic beings that operated within mechanistic systems, beings that could be decomposed, disembodied (and discarded), the ancient Greeks saw humans, our cultures, and the environments and ecosystems of which we are a part as inextricably linked. Action (or inaction) in one realm ripples out through our universal connective tissue.
So to tell the individual to be more “resilient” is to place the burden of healing (or creating) the soul of the organisation on the people who - in moments of burnout or crisis - can least bear the strain.
Hot tip: there’s going to be a hell of a lot more folk in moments of burnout or crisis in the coming years…
I’ve left EPIC more convinced than ever that sensing and sensitive organisations will be the ones best placed to face the extinction event of which we are all a part.
Organisations with soul, and connected to the soul, will determine the most humane path forward. But their capacity to do so will be dependent on their ability to support and care for their most valuable sensors: the humans that contribute to them.
So don’t place the responsibility for the resilience of your business on the individual after you’ve already used them up. Instead, be accountable for fostering social resilience at the organisational level. Do the work of nurturing humane organisations that create the conditions for resilience to emerge and, crucially, regenerate.
*Here’s the “So what?” bit*
So, if you’re the leader that’s interested in creating an organisation that’s socially resilient, what can you do?
First of all, listen to the people within your organisation: do you do “resilience” to them, or is the organisation to a greater or lesser extent already socially resilient? Get curious about your own behaviour, and the incentives that drive it. Are you rewarded for behaving in a way that recognises the systemic role that your organisation plays both beyond its borders, and within the lives of your employees? To whom are you beholden, what do they want from you, and how do they pay you for that?
Because that kind of self-reflection can be difficult when you’re embedded in the system you seek to understand, you might want to hire someone to help you hold up a mirror. But what you learn will also show you what changes might next need to be made.
The first change might be at the level of the purpose and, as a consequence, the structure, market orientation, and incentivisation of the organisation. If the purpose of the organisation is not systemically-informed and oriented towards resilience, then it’s going to be very hard to make any further changes. After all, extractive businesses gonna extract. From everyone.
The second change might be at the level of the behaviour of you and your fellow leaders. You are, after all, the folk that set the example for the rest of the business. If your purpose is to be a resilient business, but you continue to behave in an extractive way and are rewarded for it, then how do you imagine others will behave? Shit, as they say, flows down hill. Or rainbows. Rainbows can, too. But as a leader, you get to decide, and then act accordingly.
The third change might then be at the level of your middle management, their teams, and the individuals within them. Your purpose and market orientation has resilience at its core, you’re behaving and are rewarded for creating the conditions for resilience to emerge. Only now can you expect people to enact resilience in a way that is meaningful to them.
The people within your organisation are a resourceful bunch. Give them the tools to think intentionally about what the business needs to foster resilience, and there’ll be ideas popping up everywhere. You then need to give them the permission, the space, the tools, and the incentivisation to embody those ideas in their day-to-day. Before long, you’ll have a cultural movement, driven by new behaviours, traversing and scaling the organisation. The organisation will be building social resilience, and not leaving the burden on individuals.
While this might sound easy, breezy, light’n easy, it’s not. It’s doable. But it’s also really fucking hard. Especially the incentives bit. But the destruction of your organisation because it continues to extract, rather than regenerate, will be way, way harder.
Culture and the practice of self-care | JS
Why it’s interesting: Drew and I wrote independently, but have managed to circle around the same topic - there must be something on our collective minds…
Ade McCormack talks about ‘the learning organisation 4.0’, in an article which articulates how we are in the process of moving beyond the industrialisation era into one where the future is unknowable.
In our new scenario, adaptability and creativity becomes key for both organisations and individuals (as opposed to an ability to follow processes and as learning 3.0 is defined).
But how do organisations navigate this? As McCormack articulates, many of the drivers of success upend the ‘what good looked like’ in the previous era - for example:
“the culture of industrial era organisations, with its focus on process engineering, is generally disdainful of failure and so tends to view experimentation as bad.”
But with “an organisation’s value proposition increasingly defined by its ability to innovate…,” McCormack is talking to Drew’s point, when he says that in essence, the challenge for organisations is how you build a culture where the humans who work for you “are capable of cultivating ideas that give rise to market-pleasing products, services and experiences.”
In McCormack view, ironically, “the digital age would be better labelled the human age.” Because “we are entering a golden age for cognitive capital (and by definition), its management.” But as Drew points out above, those people that are going to drive a company’s future success need to be resilient, and when companies push that responsibility on to the individual, things can go quickly awry.
Pragmatically then, how do we as individuals, build resilience? Liane Davey implores us to “reframe how you think about self-car” in HBR. Her piece articulates how the majority of company leadership and creative people don’t do this. They don’t get enough sleep, don’t eat right, don’t get enough exercise and are de-hydrated - because “it’s so busy, I can’t afford to.. (spend seven hours sleeping, or stop to get lunch, or keep up with hobbies)”.
The problem with this attitude or framing, is that is casts the individual worker (cognitive capital, per McCormack) in direct contrast with the best needs of both the individual, and the organisations.
So what should we do, as individuals? All the sensible stuff:
Consider what you really need to do, and don’t be tempted to squeeze more into your day, or week. Creativity needs space and time.
Don’t be temped by fast food – instead eat protein, and fuel that will fuel your prefrontal cortex. Never skip lunch!
Make time for exercise - aim for two or three times a week.
Stay hydrated, carry a waterbootle and aim to refill it at least twice each day.
And practice micro-techniques to boost yourself:
Try a walking meeting, especially for one-on-ones
Build coaching or mentoring sessions into your week – it’ll help develop empathy and make you feel good
Grab a sweet or lipsalve - and let it transport you – taste and smell have the greatest power to take us out of the now, and back to a memory of a place or time, often childhood. Doing this on a microlevel, is extremely good for us.
In summary, Davey says the approach we need to take is “it’s so busy at work right now, I can’t afford not to take care of myself”. It’s simple stuff, but one that - in a busy world - many of us often need a reminder of.
Thanks to Brian Black and Gary Sage, for inspiring us this past fortnight.
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