Controversy, Cybertrucks, and “debris”: the 10 biggest motoring stories of 2019
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This year just gone wasn't just bizarre in the realm of politics. The motoring world also felt like a controversy freight train in 2019, interspersed with announcements of pioneering tech, monstrous supercars, and whatever the hell a Cybertruck is.
As day 365 of 365 comes to a close, we look back at the biggest automotive tales of 2019. What a year.
10. Ford's giant-killer
2019's AA Driven New Zealand Car of the Year finalist selection was among the most competitive we've ever seen. Two of the best EVs produced to date, the return of a sports car icon of old, and a raft of exemplary sedans, hatches, and SUVs ensured a close-fought battle.
Which made it all the more impressive to see the all-new Ford Focus rise through the pack to claim the overall prize. The cheapest car of the group earned the prize through it's exceptional space, chuckle-inducing handling, and fun powertrain.
9. Return of the Supra
If you boiled down the clicks and numbers, you'd probably find that the Toyota GR Supra was the single most talked about car of 2019.
The return of Toyota's most iconic sports car nameplate was fraught with internet controversy as the news broke of its BMW-sourced platform and engine. Still, people wanted to learn more about it, and the plot only thickened as the Supra hit showrooms around the world.
It was found to be quicker than its supposedly identical BMW Z4 cousin, the measures Toyota had made to make it a star among the modified car crowd were discovered. It took over the halls of SEMA.
And in the midst of all the rumours and gossip, most reviewers said “yeah, this thing is pretty good.”
8. A new global superpower
The merging of PSA Group (Peugeot, Citroen, DS, Opel, Vauxhall) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (Fiat, Ala Romeo, Maserati, RAM, Lancia, Jeep, Dodge) wasn't just a savior for two struggling groups.
It also made the duo the fourth largest car-maker in the world overnight. Combined revenues of US$189.7b are forecast, with a recurring operating profit of over US$12.2b. The move meant no factory closures, and a more solid foundation for research and development sharing and future growth. Now to see what they can do with it ...
7. Kiwi new-car market declines
After record new-car sales in 2018, it was perhaps not surprising to see a considerable dip in 2019.
The regular suspects all continued to dominate the charts; Ford's everlasting Ranger topping the Toyota Hilux, Corolla, and Mitsubishi Triton over the course of the year. But things like shrinking business confidence and uncertainty over the future motoring tech meant markedly less New Zealanders were willing to buy a new car in 2019.
6. Feeling electric
Countless new EVs and hybrids were unveiled in 2019, as the world's motoring brands embark on a possible new era. The Volkswagen ID.3, Mini Cooper SE, Peugeot 208e, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and the adorable Honda E were among the biggest unveilings.
Locally, the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi e-tron, and (just in the last month) the Mercedes-Benz EQC all arrived to much fanfare. But it was the highly anticipated Tesla Model 3 that made the biggest local impact, setting the local sales bar high when it arrived in August.
One of the other big surprises was the MG ZS EV. It's set to land next year as New Zealand's cheapest electric vehicle, with the initial 50-strong early bird allocation (priced at $49,990) selling out in two months.
5. Porsche vs Tesla
Speaking of new EVs, the Porsche Taycan was unveiled to much fanfare in 2019. Along with bringing predictably high levels of luxury and a svelte design ethos inside and out, the Taycan also set a new benchmark at the Nürburgring as the new owner of the record for fastest four-door EV.
This wasn't something that Tesla and its eccentric CEO Elon Musk was prepared to accept. It triggered a fascinating (and ongoing) lover's tiff between the two brands that included Musk taking numerous highly modified Tesla Model S Performance models to the illustrious German circuit in an attempt to beat Porsche's lap.
There was also Top Gear's controversial comparison between the Model S and Taycan, where eagle-eyed viewers discovered that the outlet's performance numbers for the Tesla were somewhat doctored — further fanning the flames. Where's that popcorn gone ...
4. Goodbye, Commodore
It was a disastrous year for Holden, particularly over the ditch where it had its worst sales record in history. It's ironic of course, given that the Colorado, Equinox, and Acadia are all streaks ahead of the vehicles they replaced (or, in the case of the Colorado, its humble beginnings). But that didn't stop declining sales and subsequent comprehensive change from occurring.
Holden boss Dave Buttner left the roost after a short tenure, and was soon followed by the Commodore. After over four decades, one of Australasia's most beloved nameplates was confirmed as a goner in early December. Although it remains the best selling vehicle in class in New Zealand, that large-car segment is a shrinking one. Not to mention that two years on from launch Holden's most diehard fans still struggle to identify with the 'ZB'.
Nevertheless, the death of another sedan from the vehicle market is something car enthusiasts should mourn. Although, with Cadillac sedans having been spotted testing in Australia, the story may not be over just yet.
3. “Debris, debris, debris”
Yup, oh boy. The 2019 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 will go down in history as one of the most hotly debated ever. The scene had already been set before a wheel had turned in anger of course, following an extensive and choppy debate around parity following the domination of the new Ford Mustang GT.
The 43-second delay instigated by DJR Team Penske and Fabian Coulthard changed the field's order at the time, ironically ruined the hopes of a surprise Tickford Racing comeback, and ultimately resulted in the largest fine in Supercars history being handed down to the team (a fine many still believe to have been insufficient).
News the following month of a qualifying engine breach in Scott McLaughlin's sister car further stoked the fire, resulting in another fine and another wave of controversial comments. It all sadly took the shine off what should have been a year that placed McLaughlin in the realm of New Zealand's most iconic athletes.
2. Corvette drops jaws
The next-gen Chevrolet Corvette was always going to cause a stir given the much talked about shift from being front-engined to mid-engined. But, nobody predicted the jaw-dropping pricing of US$60,000.
Seemingly all doubt about whether the C8 'was a real Corvette' disappeared under a sea of disbelief and confusion following the announcement. How could a company produce a Ferrari 488 rival, and then plan to sell it for such a fine fraction of the price?
It didn't end there, though. Shortly after launch came a second wave of amazement via confirmation from Holden that a right-hand drive version would be sold in Australia and New Zealand — a surprise first for the nameplate. Just don't expect it to land here with a retail price anywhere near US$60,000 of course.
When news broke that Tesla were going to get into the ute game, people weren't too sure what to expect. The majority it seems thought something relatively quick but conventional in the vain of the Model 3 was on the menu.
Instead, what we got was a bulletproof, stainless steel behemoth styled like a dystopian movie prop from Tron with performance capabilities supposedly good enough to rival supercars. Nobody, I repeat, nobody was prepared for this thing.
You might've thought that the Model 3's spectacular success would lead to more straightforward products from Tesla, and less of the weird headline-driven insanity like the 400km/h Roadster. But no, perhaps off the back of the poor response from investors to the Model Y (remember that? It was unveiled this year too) Tesla turned every dial up to 11 with the Cybertruck.
Everyone had an opinion on this thing. ANCAP thinks its inherently unsafe, Dubai's police force loves it and has ordered a bunch, Ford are ... uhh ... probably indifferent on it at best. Tesla's weird side is alive and kicking. Now to see if this thing can make it to production.