Gunpowder. The compass. Paper. The gas cylinder. The kite. Tea. The fork. Fireworks. This seemingly randomly assembled list of everyday items can actually all trace their roots back to one common starting point.
A quick trawl through the archives of mankind will confirm that when it comes to cultural, social and technological developments there isn’t a civilisation that can hold a candle to the Chinese. There are few aspects of our lives today that aren’t touched by something that started as a brainwave in one of the various dynasties of The Middle Kingdom.
Yet in recent times, the Chinese have seemed rather content to take a back seat when it comes to creative genius. There’s no denying that, thanks to their unfailingly impressive national pride and ability to mobilise huge quantities of manpower, they currently lead the world when it comes to taking existing concepts and making them bigger, better and faster; but somehow the inspiration of times long gone seems to have abandoned them.
And nowhere is this more apparent than in the motor industry. Their efforts range from decent also-rans right through to the downright abysmal, but absolutely nowhere is there something that picks up the yardstick of automotive achievement and confidently plants it that few tantalising yards further down the field. But as of next week all that could change, because the Chinese are being handed a golden opportunity to take the motoring world into previously uncharted territory: making a large, French car popular with the mass market.
On 10th August 2011, Peugeot launches the new 508 onto the roads of China and with it their hopes of reversing a trend of complete Franco-failure with big cars.
There is no plainly obvious reason to anyone who doesn’t have a crippling issue with xenophobia why the large French motorcar has been such a spectacular sales lemon over the years. Sure they aren’t as ostensibly sporting as their Teutonic rivals, but that should only serve to add extra appeal to a large wedge of their target demographic. While there are some people who want their executive barge to be capable of behaving like a hot hatch which has succumbed to a little middle age spread, most will place far greater value on being wafted around in the type of supreme, cosseting comfort that only Gallic suspension engineers seem capable of providing.
Generations of very capable cars such as Peugeot’s 607, Citroen’s C6 and Renault’s 25 have provided seemingly solid platforms from which our gastropod munching cousins could launch a serious assault on the world yet despite this, cars continue to trickle out of showrooms at a pace which would make a quadriplegic tree-sloth look like Usain Bolt.
In fact there is every chance that the large French car has started to become a victim of a self fulfilling prophecy – all the existing markets know that whatever the Froggies do, their product will be a monumental flop in terms of sales and so, therefore, it will come to be.
But maybe China can show us the light. Without the history of brand prejudice, they can embrace the 508 for the car it is and give it the French their long deserved shot at being heavyweight champions of the world. While common knowledge would tell you that we are currently in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, there will be more than a few people at Peugeot’s HQ in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris hoping that it may yet turn out to be the Year of the Lion.