The year that wasn't: how 2020 could have gone without the Coronavirus
The year would have been so different...
It hasn’t been a great twelve months. Here's what could have unfolded in an automotive world unaffected by a global pandemic
If the Covid-19 pandemic hadn't struck, the last year could have been very different. From Lance Stroll's Aston Villa debut to Donald Trump's radical new way to protect cars from cyber attacks (by injecting them with bleach), these are our highlights from the year that never was.
* Nothing of note happens in Wuhan, China.
* Billionaire investor Lawrence Stroll’s bid to buy a major stake in Aston Martin is foiled when Geely, buoyed by a surging Chinese car market that isn’t slowed by, say, a pandemic, raises its bid and snaps up the British firm. Stroll surprisingly pivots to buy Aston Villa and announces plans to rebrand his Racing Point Formula 1 team after the Premier League football club for 2021. Coincidentally, Lance Stroll is named as Villa’s new centre forward.
* Buoyed by its success in returning the Corolla to the British market, Toyota announces plans to revive its dormant Corona name for a new large saloon. Absolutely nobody spots any potential unfortunate issues with this name whatsoever.
* Continuing the trend of Chinese firms buying defunct European car brands, a group of Chinese investors snap up the rights to the Reliant name and announce plans to launch a range of bold, three-wheeled electric vehicles. The firm appoints one Mr D Trotter as head of its UK operations.
* Following a report revealing the lifetime CO2 impact of its EV production, Polestar affirms its commitment to transparency by releasing a new report showing the school grades achieved by all of its employees. “It’s important that people think about education when they buy a new car,” says boss Thomas Ingenlath.
* The Geneva motor show takes place as planned. As is tradition, car journalists attending the press days spend lots of time grumbling about how there were more unveilings in the good old days and how the crowds at conferences are now only three deep. “For us, motor shows are still very important,” says one manufacturer’s boss. “It’s crucial that the key figures in the industry all gather once or twice per year in a confined hall with below-average air-con. Nothing would ever stop us doing that.”
* One of the main attractions of the Geneva show is the new Concept i4, which previews BMW’s upcoming Tesla Model 3-rivalling electric saloon. But instead of focusing on the tech, the talk of the show halls is its large grille. Seeing the reactions to the design on Twitter, BMW’s social media team orders in extra coffee to prepare for a long day.
* There’s confusion when Seat reveals the El-Born but decides halfway through the presentation that it should actually represent Cupra. The conference is briefly paused while the logos are switched.
* The Australian Grand Prix is won by Mercedes-AMG ace Lewis Hamilton, because nobody can conceive of a reality in which he doesn’t just beat up his rivals. The main drama comes before the event, when a contractual dispute with the Melbourne organisers nearly leads to the race being cancelled. Adelaide makes a bid to step in but is dismissed by F1 officials. “You would never see us add a race at a different circuit at such short notice,” says one.
* The Beijing motor show features a dizzying array of new Chinese EVs being revealed, with the country’s domestic manufacturers once again promising rapid expansion into global markets. Most experts scoff at such suggestions on the grounds that nothing from China could possibly spread around the world so quickly.
* Volkswagen makes a big impact in Shanghai, revealing not just the new ID 4 electric SUV but also the ID 4 X, ID 4 Crozz and ID Connect 4 for its various joint-venture partners. It also announces a further scaling up of the Volkswagen Group’s electrification plans in China, promising to launch 243 new EVs using its MEB platform by 2030.
* Fiat unveils yet another special edition of its city car, the 500 Linguine, an unlikely tie-up to promote Italy’s pasta industry. It’s an instant hit, with people rushing to dealerships and clearing out all the stock within hours.
* The inaugural Vietnamese Grand Prix is cancelled at the last minute, due to construction work on the Hanoi street circuit running late. The bosses of the Portimão circuit in Portugal offer to stage a replacement event, but F1 officials dismiss the notion of holding an unplanned race there as ludicrous. Lewis Hamilton is instead awarded maximum points for the Vietnam race, because everyone agrees he would have won it anyway.
* US president Donald Trump proposes a radical new way to protect cars from cyber attacks: by injecting them with disinfectant.
* A major Chinese car firm scales up its ambitions to break into the American market with a new range of cars featuring advanced autonomous driving tech, snapping up the rights to the defunct Pontiac brand. The first car announced revives the Trans-Am name, with development work done by a mysterious driver referred to only as Mr M Knight.
* Porsche adds an exciting new option for its cars: a key. It costs from £455, depending on the model.
* Elon Musk announces plans for a Tesla with a new Stupendous mode, which makes it accelerate so fast that it actually posts a negative 0-60mph time. In doing so, it briefly opens a portal into a parallel universe where the streets are empty save for a few masked people holding toilet roll. Weird.
* Having been inspired by the Irish name Enya (but definitely not specifically the Orinoco Flow singer) for the Enyaq, Skoda shares its plans for EVs called the Encorrsq, Enu2q and Enpoguesq.
* The Volkswagen Group revises its EV targets, announcing it will produce 6425 MEB-based cars by 2025. They include an ID 6 saloon plus versions for various Chinese joint-venture partners badged the ID News at 6, ID 6 Shooter and ID Joy of 6.
* England mourns after the Three Lions lose in the final of the Euro 2020 football tournament on home soil at Wembley. “Our brave boys made us so proud,” reads a statement from the honours department, announcing knighthoods for the entire squad. “The sporting achievement is incredible. They were nearly world, er, Europe beaters.” Seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton is unavailable for comment.
* Seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton scores a dominant victory in front of a capacity British Grand Prix crowd at Silverstone. He enjoys the race so much he suggests F1 should stay at the venue and hold another event the following weekend. F1 bosses dismiss the notion that they would ever countenance racing at the same circuit on back-to-back weekends as preposterous.
* There’s a surprise gold medallist in the Tokyo Olympics: Lebanon’s Carlos Ghosn, who takes victory in a new boxing-based event. Officials can’t catch up with Ghosn to present him with his medal, however.
* Following advice from the Department for Education, Autocar’s bosses decide to phase out the road test team, replacing them with a special computer algorithm that determines the grade for each car. There’s controversy when the new Toyota GR Yaris is marked down from its first-drive grade of five stars to three stars because it was grouped with the average for every other Toyota ever built. “I can’t believe you would ever trust something as important as car review ratings to an algorithm,” says one outraged industry executive.
* After a flurry of appeals, Autocar reverses its decision to score road tests using an algorithm. As a result, all the cars graded under this method are simply given their first-drive-predicted grades.
* BMW unveils the new M3 at the Paris motor show, revealing that it will join the new 4 Series in featuring a large grille. This again receives a mixed reaction from car fans on social media, but the bold look immediately earns BMW’s designers an invitation to create a collection for Paris Fashion Week in 2021. “Not even I could have come up with something so outlandish,” says one haute couture designer, nodding his head in respect.
* AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly nearly scores a shock victory in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, having taken advantage of a safety car period and then a controversial penalty for Lewis Hamilton to jump into the lead. Sadly for the young French driver, Hamilton charges through the order and grabs the lead on the final lap. “I’m still happy with second,” says Gasly after the race. “There’s no universe in which I could ever hope to win a race for the team that used to be Minardi.”
* BMW holds the international launch of the new M3, enabling many of the journalists who spouted outraged opinion pieces about its front grille to drive it for the first time. They quickly forget about the grille and deliver near-universal praise for the car.
* Eager to break into the German market, a Chinese company buys the rights to the DKW brand from Audi. While the Chinese are thrilled to revive one of the four firms that merged to create Auto Union, there’s consternation in Ingolstadt when they realise they will have to remove one ring from their logo.
* The Volkswagen Group again revises its ambitions for its EV roll-out, announcing that it will now build 38,974 new models on its MEB platform by the end of 2025. Those models will include the production version of the ID Buzz camper van, now badged the ID 7, and Chinese variants called the ID 7 Up, the ID 7-11 and the ID S Club 7.
* BMW is forced to abandon plans to reveal its bold iX SUV at the New York motor show, because its grille won’t fit through the exhibition centre’s door. The German firm instead stages an innovative online unveiling event, using a little-known piece of video conferencing software called Zoom.
* “I WON, BY A LOT,” states Valtteri Bottas, who refuses to concede defeat in the F1 championship to rival Lewis Hamilton and demands the season be rerun. The world reaches for the mute button.
* The UK government announces a plan to ban the sale of new ICE cars in 2030, thankfully including substantial detail about exactly how it will provide the infrastructure to support the new electric era.
* Having found success with its bold car grilles, BMW causes a stir by unveiling a new barbecue. Modelled after the front end of the 4 Series, the design features a large kidney-shaped grille that can house 42 burgers, 38 chicken kebabs, 78 sausages and 42 T-bone steaks at the same time. Outdoor-grilling journalists are horrified, but once served some deliciously charred meat items they deliver near-universal praise for the BMBQ.
* The F1 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix results in yet another win for Lewis Hamilton. He finishes the season with so many points that he’s pre-emptively awarded the 2021 championship, giving him a record-breaking eighth crown.
* A Chinese investment group buys the rights to the defunct DeLorean Motor Company and hires one Dr E Brown as its head of engineering. Brown quickly develops a radical new sports car with a hybrid powertrain mixing a petrol engine and a flux capacitor, which he says is able to travel through time. He vows to drive back to January to see how else 2020 might have turned out…
*Zoom meeting: The Autocar road tester's Christmas lunch *
*Autocar's ultimate Christmas quiz *
*Christmas road test 2020: The Goodyear blimp*