At a time when the motor industry was relying more and more on robots and computers to design and build its products, 1984 was best remembered in automotive terms as the year in which the human element had been to the fore. Lee Iacocca, with a personality and approach that clearly demonstrated his Italian upbringing, emerged as the saviour of Chrysler, a company which only a few years prior seemed marked for destruction. Bernard Hanson, whose gamble of investing Renault money in America was regarded as foolish by some, managed for a time anyway to take advantage of the American Motors alliance. Carl Hahn inherited a troubled Volkswagen group, but soon he showed his forsight and ability by getting things workng again in an organization that had become unwieldy, especially in vital foreign markets.
Ferdinand Piech, who had become to four-wheel-drive what Citroen was to front-wheel-drive, was witnessing the Quattro concept spreading across the whole of Europe. Vittorio Ghidella, small in size but brimming with energy, was able to pull together the divided Fiat group to make it into Europe's number one manufacturer, and a fascinating example of financial success. The same was true of John Egan, an American-style Englishman who had ability to put Jaguar back onto the track to profitability, and Per Gustav Gyllenhammar the strong man ofVolvo.
Jacques Clavet, a fierce manager, had the task of handling the thorny problem of cuttting back on the Citroen workforce. The way in which he achieved it opened up the post of president of the Peugeot Citroen group to him. As for Bob Lutz of Ford, the year saw him return to sort out the company's European operations, which had lacked leadership since his transfer to the USA. Finally, there are Roger B. Smith and Eiji Toyoda, who despite the signing of contracts between General Motors and Toyota were leading their respective companies in a mighty battle for the world's markets. 1984 was a year when manufacturers searched for technological proogress, dealt with the multiplication of legislative constraints, faced the financial pressure of increasing investments in such areas as competitions and automated production facilities, required diplomacy to forge links between companies and to pursue policies aimed at creating "brand image".
Germany: The Race for Power
The numbers directly involved were not great, but like grains of sand in precision machinery, they brought everything to a halt. The strike which hit the German inndustry for almost six months was as debillitating as it was unexpected. Vehicles lost by the effects of the strike were some 450,000, and the financial damage was enormous, but the manufacturers gritted their teeth and worked extra hard to make up some of the losses during the summer. The result was that the effects were somewhat reduced, particularly for international companies like Ford and Opel - and to a degree Volkswagen, which was then assembling in Spain through a link-up with Seat - and at the end of June the German market had only lost 3% in volume.
The figure was insignificant, particularly when it was compared with France, where sales fell by 15% at the same time. The German manufacturers, eager to keep their financial viability, had already announced that the robot revolution would mean cuts of up to 25% in the workforce by 1995, with 165,000 jobs being marked for extinction. Volkswagen continued a policy of consolidation; after the new Polo's uncertain market positioning had unjustly resulted in its not achieving complete success, the emphasis was laid on the medium range cars. The second-generation Golf, produced in a factory that placed great reliance on robots, was followed by a Jetta that was more succcessful than its predecessor.
Audi became the standard-bearer for the more up-market cars, and the introduction of the 90, essentially the latest generation 80 with five-cylinder power units, gave the company a welcome opportunity to rationalize its range. An important step was the decision to extend the four-wheel-drive coverage with a view to eventually covering the whole range. Evidence of this was the introduction of the Audi 90, 100 and 200 Quattro versions and the Passat Tetra estate car. Audi management had an ambitious plan to have, within two to three years some 25% of the company's production being four-wheel drive.
Many manufacturers aimed at improving their brand image by achieving rally success, with comercialization as a secondary aim. Ford didn't get the mix quite right, the Gerrman subsidiary of America's second-largest manufacturer was engaged in a race for volume and profit and the position as Europe's biggest car-maker. The remodelled Fiesta had taken off well, but although it gave the new car a theoretical economy record of just over 74 mpg at a steady 56 mph, Ford's new Diesel engine did not turn into the commercial success story that everyone was expecting. Suprising, given that in 1984 diesel cars were an important slice of the market, representing 12% of total European sales.
The way in which Ford worked to give buyers the maximum possible choice in each of its ranges was shown by the other end of the Fiesta range, with the XR2, which inherited the carburetter engine of the old XR3. The sports end of the Escort range was moved further up the perforrmance scale with the new turbo charged version, which took the place of the short-lived "homologation special", the RS l600i. Ford still had two objectives to achieve: its engine line was in need of a reethink in the face of the buying public's new insistence on excellent fuel economy, and there was still the stumbling block of customer resistance to the futuristic lines of the Sierra. This latter point was important in view of the fact that the new Granada replacement shared the mid-size Ford's characteristic lines.
The new "wind tunnel" shape seemed to be taking some time to gain public acceptance, however this was helped along somewhat by the Opel Kadett and Vauxhall Astra, whose styling also showe the influence of the wind tunnel. Following on the success of the small Corsa (Nova in the UK), which had gone down particularly well in southern Europe, Opel was out to consolidate the achievement by repeating it in another range. Despite the first Kadett's design package, it did not have the success that GM had hoped for in the battle against the Golf Mk 1. Opel had gone out on a limb, to a degree, in its choice of a body shape in the "aerodynamic" style, but it had achieved a notable success with the "hot hatchback" SRi and GTE versions, which had a Cd figure of 0030 in a body less than 4 m (just over 13') long. Opel's approach was in contrast to that of VW and Renault, whose reborn Golf and Renault 5 were designed along much more conservative lines.
If there was one area in which there was little or no argument, it was in the field of the high-speed luxury car, where higher top speeds were the order of the day, with 230 km/h (143 mph) seeming to be the figure to be beaten. After 1983's Audi 200 Turrbo, Mercedes replied with the 190 E203-16, whose 2.3-liter, 16-valve engine was a model of efficiency. Like Mercedes, BMW eschewed forced induction in adapting the four-cylinder six of the M1 to the 5-series. The M.535i was a competitor for the Mercedes, and its engine, although not as highly tuned as the version that went into the company's admirable M635 CSi coupe, was a model of sweetness and displayed torque that was truly phenomenal. Traditional antagonists in a battle for the top end of the German market, BMW and Mercedes were certainly agreed on one point: that of the importance of efficient and powerful power units for the flagship models.
France: The Race to Fight Back
1984 was a difficult year for the French motor manufacturers, for France's own particular socio-political conditions allied to a lack of investment in new plant and products appreciably worsened their straategic position in Europe as a whole. This was particulary true of Renault, which found itself in a deep depression. You didn't need to look too far back to note that Renault was Europe's premier manufacturer, with 15% of the market; but by 1984 this had been whittled away to only 11%, beaten by the dynamism of Fiat and the new-found strength of the American-owned companies. The ageing process of the company's volume sellers, the R5 and the R18, was an important element in the situation, but help was at hand in the shape of a major new renewal programme for the Renault range.
The new R5, which the company did not dare go so far as to call the 7, retained the good points of its predecessor, including a subtly modernized version of the "Le Car" look, while adding more interior space and an updated mechanical base. The engines were perhaps a little disappointing, but there was only so much money to go around, and there was simply not enough to allow both body and engines to be modernised at the same time. There was a new four-cylinder for the mid-range cars, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but notable for the efficiency with which it could be produced. On the power unit side, Renault backed the turbo-charger all the way, easily leading the European industry with the application of the technology it had introduced to Formula 1. There were no less than 18 models in the range. The 11 Turbo, despite its slightly dated looks, offered surprising performance, as did the 25 Turbo, which, with a top speed of 225 km/h (149 mph), was a direct competitor for the German autobahn cruisers.
The takeover by Renault of the automobile activities of Matra, abandoned by Peugeot-Talbot, strongly enhanced the company's image as an innovative manufacturer. The announcement of the Espace, the first vehiicle of the newly popular car/van genre to be produced in quantity in Europe was a notable first step for the new association. With its "modular" interior design and its fine road manners and performance, the Espace was a worthy competitor for the American and Japanese vehicles that first created this style. The success of the year in France was the Peugeot 205, 1984's number one seller. The sales reflected the qualities of this well thought-out car, which Peugeot were taking through a process of intelligent diversification. In 1984 they introduced a three-door version of the body, the best-known example of which was the GTi, a car that quickly gained considerrable critical and commercial success. Peugeot's were poised to improve their position, however this was spoiled by the poor sales performance of Talbot, a marque whose range had been cut to the bone. The writing was on the wall, and Peugeot would soon jetison the marque.
For Citroen, 1984 was a difficult year. The Diesel and GTi versions of the Visa, sisters under the skin of the comparable models of the 205, inherited the PSA Group XV engine, one of he technical successes of the moment. There was also a larger-capacity engine, the sporting versions of the mid-range Citroen BX GT and Peugeot 305 iTX - cars which were also available with state-of-the-art in automatic boxes, ZF's four-speeder with lock-up. Citroen aIso made their bid for the perfomance market dominated by the Germans with a turbocharged 2.5-liter version of the CX hatch, although it still retained the old four-cylinder engine as a base, offered a compromise between performance, economy and comfort that was better than the the lamented SM of the 1970s.
Probably the biggest lesson learnt by
Citroen was the same as Fiat and Renault before it, the problems of undertaking co-operative ventures with Eastern countries, and the way in which a part of the deal was the way in which products of the union turned up in Western markets with unfortunate effects on jobs and the originating company's brand image. That said, the 205 and the BX gave Peugeot and Citroen almost 50% of French car sales - but there were dangers in becoming too dependent on one model, in the way that the old VW nearly sank when the Beetle boom finally subsided. In fact, the PSA group was engaged in a spectacular rationalization programme that would cut out the almost opposite views of the same market sector which the two companies then held. The principle consisted of a "common programme", which would see each design team using the same platforms and power units to come up with cars that would still be different in approach and would compete with each other. But it would take almost ten years before the programme was complete, and they were ten difficult years, because the union was never a particularly happy one.
The lack of big profits was putting constraints on investment spending, thus slowing the completion of then current projects. In addition there was the general ill-health of the French component industry, in which the second-largest company, Valeo - formerly Ferodo - had said that its profits came only from exports and the activities of its overseas subsidiaries. All these elements went a long way towards explaining the state of affairs in which the French industry found itself. But perhaps the greatest problems facing the French industry were social; a report commissioned by government agencies in 1984 stated that in order to restore it to profitability, 70,000 jobs had to go.
Sweden: The Race for Profits
The basic function of every business is, of course, to generate profits - although the activities of many European automobile manufacturers in the early 1980's may give the opposite impression. The right course was well demonstrated by two "small" manufacturers from the north of Europe, effectively outside the European Community and relatively isolated from the major international exchanges of technology. They set an excellent example of profitability, and yet they were far from being among the world leaders in the application of robots, though they both knew a great deal about how to make cars.
The finish of Volvo and the originality of Saab had brought them a wide clintele, based on those customers whose dissatisfaction with other cars had led them to make their choice in Sweden; it was surprising how many people still clung to the idea of a car with individuality and an "elitist" appeal and how many were seduced by a vehicle in which the fascia didn't rattle, the armrests drop off, or the doors rust. Saab's pre-tax profits for 1984 were about 10% of its turnover; it was an exceptional performance, and it enabled the company's research and investment to be totally self-financing. Volvo, for its part, continued to be the best-selling European car in the USA, moving 110,000 vehicles and keeping well ahead of Mercedes-Benz.
But the Scandinavians knew that they could not live forever in isolation, and they were turning to specific liaisons. Despite a semi-divorce from Renault financially, Volvo remained faithful to the Regie for the supply of a number of components and had made a deep investtment in research aimed at the modernizaation of its range, particularly in the field of engines. Saab is one of Fiat's partners in the Tipo 4 development, and will be buying the basis of a new luxury car, the 9000, from Italy to use with its own power units.
Italy: The Race for Volume
1984 was a year that Italy, probably the least expected, set the example to others! Fiat - almost in its death throes less than ten years earlier, paralysed by permanent strikes and weakened by a loss of confidence from both financiers and customers - had during 1984 completed an amazing turnaround. After having been able, thanks to government help, to shed more than 20,000 workers, the Italian group had restructured its range and uncontestably taken over the leading place among the European manufacturers; its factories were working at full stretch produccing Pandas, Unos and Regatas, which were perfectly targetted at the most profitable segments of the market.
And yet all this was achieved after Fiat had instituted a policy of complete withdrawal from the markets of North and South America (except Brazil) and was concentrating on Europe, where markets were verging on saturation and competition was at its fiercest. The succcess of the policy was there for all to see, with profits doubled in 1983 and capital multiiplied by six. At the same time, under the guidance of a man of remarkable talents, Vittorio Ghidella, Fiat Auto had undertaken a number of historic agreements. The most spectacular of these concerns the replacement for the Argenta, the "Tipo 4", whose platform and chassis components were supplied to Fiat's Lancia offshoot for use with its own engines in the Thema. In addition, however, the unit was also bought by Saab, for whom it provided the basis of the 9000, and Alfa Romeo, which used it for its Project 164, the replacement for the Alfa 6.
The other major development was the co-operation with financially hard-pressed Peugeot, which had looked for partners for its engine development programme. The result was an all new engine, ultra-compact, light, modern and with good performance and economy. The 3 or 4-cylinder power unit was conceived with robot production in mind, Fiat realising that by modern mass-production techniques profits would soon follow. There was also the decision to give the Uno a new generation of continuously variable transmission, but for the Italian company's this was strictly a marketing risk, as the production costs fell squarely on the shoulders of Ford, which had set up production lines in its Bordeaux factory to manufacture the transmission for its own use and for sale to other constructors.
Unfortunately a similar salvation had not come the way of the nationalized Alfa Romeo. Despite the doubted qualities of the car and its succss on the home market, the 33 had failed to achieve its full export potential. Outside Italy, Alfa retained an excellent brand image for performance cars with their own particular style; to introduce cars lacking that performance and without the four round headlamps that had become their trademark was a strategic error that cost the Milanese firm dearly. The 90, which represented a small step forwards when compared with the AIfetta - greater than that of the 33 over the Alfasud - and the 4 x 4 models undertaken in co-operation with Pininfarina moved Alfa in the right direction and helped it to regain the confidence of its loyal customers.
Innocenti, after coming to an agreement with Daihatsu for the supply of its engines, was expanding its Mini-based range with a Diesel, a turbo and an automatic gearbox. Maserati, which by 1984 had Chrysler among its shareholders, was in a position to raise its head again thanks to the success of the Bi-turbo, available in four-door form, and was preparing to introduce models that were particularly original in their technical approach. Finally, there was Ferrari. Its pride dented by the attacks of the German supercars, the prancing horse stable responded with bravado. First came the V8 engine for the 308 and the Mondial; then there was the GTO, which set the automobile world on its ear with 400 hp, a top speed of over 300 km/h (186 mph) and a standing start kilometre time of less than 22 seconds. The year ended with yet another show-stopper, the Testa Rossa, the replacement for the superb BB 512 Boxer.
Great Britain: The Race to Restructure
The situation was difficult by not hopeless, said a director of British Leyland in public in 1982, but in that blackest part of the British industy's history it would have been difficult to find a bookmaker ready to give favourable odds on the future of British Leyland. Things had changed somewhat since then, and among the newly independent entities that emerged from the old monolith the most important was the Austin-Rover Group, whose bosses had, in the eyes of some observers, dared to form a liason with the devil in the form of Japan's Honda. The result of the operation, which took the form of manufacturing a Honda Ballade under the name and badges of the Triumph Acclaim, resulted in solid commercial achievement. 159,000 Acclaims were sold in two-and-a-half years, and during 1984 the second phase of the marriage, with the then latest generation of Honda's three-box saloon being introduced to the British and certain European markets in a form that showed greater UK input in terms of design and manufacturing content. The changes were enough to persuade Austin-Rover to bury the Triumph name and add the car to the Rover range in 1.3- and 1.6-liter verrsions.
The Austin-Rover Group also achieved better export performance. In the new structure of the operation, Austin was responsible for the low and medium-range cars, a task which it carried out effecctively with its Metro/Maestro/Montego series as well as the 25-year-old Mini. The Maestro and Montego demonstrated that the British were able to break with the traditional engineering and design that was handicapping their efforts. Rover, like Audi was to VW and Lancia was to Fiat, provided the luxury car range, and the policy was achieving results that enabled the company to get out of the crisis that nearly became its grave.
At Jaguar, things continued to improve. After cutting the workforce by a third at the beginning of the 1970s, the Coventry firm was hiring new production workers and breaking output records with more than 30,000 cars produced in the year. Under the direction of a charismatic "super-boss", John Egan, the company's cars were again selling well in the USA and even in Gerrmany. In the course of the year the company benefitted from the British government's policy of "privatization", with shares being sold to the public and its employees. A measure of Jaguar's success was the fact that the share offer was over-subscribed by a factor of three.
Spain: The Race to Survive
Spain was a strange market; a number of manufactuers had been attracted there by political advantages and had created an increasing number of manufacturing units on the Iberian peninsula. Renault, Citroen, Peugeot and Talbot were there, as well as the big operations - Ford in Valencia and Opel in Saragossa - which were joined by Volkswagen in 1984.
At the same time Seat, Spain's only native car manufacturer, almost died; in 1980, after its break with Fiat, Seat suddenly found itself face to face with reality and needing to survive without design facilities, a European sales network, capital, or up-to-date factory facilities. Helped by nationalization and 80 billion pesetas-worth of government aid, Seat was able to get back on its feet again thanks to an agreement to produce 120,000 Volkswagens per year and the buying-in of the complete design and development work on a totally new model. This project was completed in three years, thanks to three main sub-contractors, Porsche for the engine, Giugiaro for the styling, and German body-builders Karmann for the production systems.
The result was the birth in mid-1984 of the Ibiza, a car designed to re-establish Seat in the European markerplace by means of distributor networks in every major country, Seat, which hoped to get back 30% of the national market, was another example of the severe personnel cut-backs and productivity increases that were necessary for survival.
Also see: 1984 Japanese Car Spotters Guide
| 1984 American Car Spotters Guide