I imagine the heads of multinationals don't know what cars they make anymore

Here's how it used to go. A manufacturer used to have as its range, a hatchback, a larger B-sector car for the housewife or the self- employed, a bigger car for sales reps with an estate option for him to put his samples of heated hair tongs, dangerous and wildly overprescribed tranquillisers or encyclopaedias in and a big executive car with a boot for the boss, the Flying Squad and government ministers below the rank of Home Secretary. This car would have leather upholstery and bits of wood badly screwed to the door caps. All were available in white, red, blue, brown and one other mad colour you'd only see that year called something like Millwall Skinhead Yellow, Intifada Beige or Mugabe Torquoise.

Here's how it used to go. A manufacturer used to have as its range, a hatchback, a larger B-sector car for the housewife or the self- employed, a bigger car for sales reps with an estate option for him to put his samples of heated hair tongs, dangerous and wildly overprescribed tranquillisers or encyclopaedias in and a big executive car with a boot for the boss, the Flying Squad and government ministers below the rank of Home Secretary. This car would have leather upholstery and bits of wood badly screwed to the door caps. All were available in white, red, blue, brown and one other mad colour you'd only see that year called something like Millwall Skinhead Yellow, Intifada Beige or Mugabe Torquoise.

Not any more. Car companies now feel they have to manufacture, just say in the small-car sector alone, a sub A-class hatch, an A-class hatch, a mini MPV built on the floorpan of the A-class hatch and perhaps either a convertible or a fake 4x4 on the same floor pan. The result is that you now have five cars where there used to be one. Badges haven't gone away either. When small companies have been absorbed they live on as brands. I can't think of a name that's gone away since PSA stopped making Talbots and Hillmans in the late Seventies, while Japan hasn't lost one since Prince was taken over in the Sixties. Some badges like Maybach have come back!

This isn't the cruel, stony-faced monolithic capitalistic society promised in films such as Rollerball, The Running Man and Soylent Green. I'm beginning to think Hollywood lies to us.

These days, a vast multiplicity of models will be repeated up the range and replicated in the sub brands the big companies own. So Ford and its associates, such as Volvo and Land Rover, between them market at least seven entirely different big four-wheel drives in Europe.

So, from making four types of cars they have gone to fifty or sixty. I imagine the heads of multinationals don't know what cars they make anymore. They might say to their eager young car designers, "Hey, I was thinking we might do a two-door convertible MPV on the floor pan of our half ton commercial van, what do you think?" And the designers would reply, "I'm sorry but I think we have one of those sir, I'm almost certain I saw it at the Frankfurt Show, it's the Seat Clango."

"OK, OK," The CEO says "so hows about we make a sub, sub, sub A-class 4x4 'lifestyle' pick-up with a 650cc two-stroke engine? Nobody else has got one of those."

"I'm afraid they have, Sir; there's the Fiat Gump, the Peugeot Wallapallooloo and Nissan I-look-like-a-dick-in-this 1.4 TDCi."

"Don't we own Nissan?" the boss asks.

"Do we?" his surprised employees question.

I also wonder whether this proliferation is why there are weird-looking cars around - all the good shapes have been taken. Look at Volkswagen Group, say, with generally harmonious bland designs across their many brands. When they got control of Bentley, they naturally had to make the GT look unlike any of their other vehicles.

I reckon in the end they figured the only way to do this was to make it a fat-arsed, weird-looking fright, which they duly did.

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