columnist | August 24, 2018 | Madam Wheels
ABOUT this time each year I find my thoughts turning to Germany, and the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA) – the International Motor Show, to get all Anglo about it. Last year the show was in Frankfurt, where it featured passenger vehicles (this year it’s in Hannover, and features commercial vehicles).
Frankfurt is one of my favourite cities in the world, certainly in the top five. Wandering around the Romerberg in September is simple bliss. The city’s airport is inevitably frightful, of course, as all major ports are. More than 60 million people traipse through it every year and in my experience most of them seem to be in an airport for the first time in their lives.
But once the strangely alluring German customs officials have been negotiated, and assuming The Companion restrains from making the kind of comment that results in him being hauled off to a small room again, it’s less than 20 minutes’ drive to the city centre and to the Grandhotel Hessischer Hof.
It’s perhaps not the most luxurious accommodation available, but it’s the place The Companion and I always like to call unser Zuhause for the brief time we’re there. To be honest it’s one of the increasingly few places anywhere in the world that still lets The Companion stay in its bar until midnight. They have discreet but excellent security.
After the gruelling travel required to get to Frankfurt, it is absolutely vital to get some quality time in a hot bath with Boërl & Kroff, and the bar is as good a place as any to leave him while I attend to myself. At least I can be confident I’ll know where to find him when I’ve finished.
More importantly, Hessischer Hof is just a short mosey in the Maybach to what The Companion infuriatingly insists on calling Hamburger Alley, and to the show itself.
It’s always good to drop into the IAA, and a year ago I had hoped in Frankfurt to experience the first flush of genuine excitement at the idea of what an electric vehicle could be. I was disappointed, and so this year I’m adopting less lofty expectations.
I have become increasingly perturbed by reports that another country is moving to abolish petrol-driven vehicles by such-and-such a date; the thought of being condemned to driving an electric vehicle leaves me as cold as The Companion’s bar stool at 12.01am. I also cannot see the use for a vehicle that has a range limited to a few hundred kilometres and which one then has to wait for overnight while it recharges. It would make a trip to even our closest rural property a two-day drive, at the very least.
I understand that the world moves at a breakneck pace and technology will improve to meet my expectations, eventually. But what I cannot fathom is why designers continue to believe electric vehicles need to look like something out of a 1950s Flash Gordon feature film of my youth, or Will Smith’s conveyance in I, Robot?
Why not just drop an electric motor and batteries into something that’s already undeniably gorgeous – you know, like they did with Prince Harry’s 1968 E-type Jaguar? That unutterably beautiful powder blue number he drove Meghan to their wedding reception in.
It turns out that Jag had previously been owned by Toby Grafftey-Smith, the co-founder and outrageously gifted keyboard player in Jamiroquai. Grafftey-Smith funded the conversion before he passed away in 2017 at the tragically young age of 46.
Harry’s Jag is valued at more than $470,000, apparently, though it’s not clear how much of that is the cost of the conversion. I’ve seen a story about a 1971 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow being converted to electric; it only cost a reported $25,000.
But in general, the closer we get to fully electric in power, the closer we get to fully awful in design. Some of the prototypes are simply comical. If we’re lucky, by the time electric cars get into production in any meaningful numbers, most of the stupid bits will have been knocked off and left on the design-room floor (from where I presume they will be swept into a bin, to be picked out at random and used to construct the next Mini).
It is not enough that a car just be well built, or that it only perform well (and sound good doing it – another strike against electric vehicles). Both of those things are fundamental, and it must also please the eye. Build, performance and looks are the automotive equivalent of the holy trinity. Removing any one of the three, thereby minimising a car’s full assault on all of our senses, reduces the pleasure of engagement. And pleasure is the point of life.
Still, we remain some years away from being forced to drive electric cars. There’s hope yet that manufacturers will come to their design senses and start considering all of ours.