“I don't know how Richard Nixon could have won. I don't know anybody who voted for him.”
That's what legendary New York film critic Pauline Kael reportedly said when Richard Nixon won the 1972 presidential election in one of the biggest landslides in history.
Journalist and media critic Bernard Goldberg likes to use the quote to illustrate just how insular the media can be.
It rang in my ears when I looked at the sales numbers for the new7-Series while researching my review of the Audi A8 (see p. 44).
By almost any measure, the bigis a success: It started out with a price tag 6% higher than its predecessor, yet it outsold the benchmark Mercedes-Benz S-Class by almost 1,000 units in 2002. Sales are down the first four months of 2003, but it's still running neck-and-neck with S-Class and the segment's bargain-priced volume leader, the Lexus LS 430, which is $13,000 cheaper.
It's the best showing the 7-Series has enjoyed in at least four or five years.
This information has most of the designers, engineers and automotive journalists I know feeling like Pauline Kael. Almost all of us trashed the new 7-Series and its creator, BMW Chief Designer Chris Bangle, if not publicly or in print, certainly privately.
I started covering the car at its introduction on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Since then, I have not heard one journalist or industry insider (outside of BMW) say: “Bangle is on to something. That car looks like a winner.”
Instead, I hear: “I've got to get a 3-Series soon, before that guy (Bangle) gets his hands on it.”
In lock-step we attack the 7-Series' doughy proportions, turn signals that sit over the headlights like eyebrows and its high, flat hood. The stubby rear end, with its confusing cuts and creases, is especially singled out for scorn.
Then we nod knowingly as we tell each other stories about how BMW has initiated crash programs to “fix” the disaster. After that we complain about the miserably complex iDrive, which we assume is chasing away potential buyers in droves.
Meanwhile, under our noses, the 7 is eating the competition's lunch and winning over new converts to the BMW brand.
What happened here? Like the new Porsche Cayenne SUV, the 7-Series challenged our quaint notions about what hallowed brands should be, and we got offended.
We also forgot to check in with the real world, where people are willing to spend lots of money on cars and trucks that make them feel good, but who don't care at all about heritage, brands or nostalgia. This also is the world where auto makers have to grow and make consistent profits to survive.
There are diehards who say the jury still is out on the 7-Series.
That's nonsense. “Everyone” simply got this one wrong.
It's time to eat crow, learn more about the real world and stop talking to ourselves so much.