Magazine article Management Today

The People's Carrier

Magazine article Management Today

The People's Carrier

Article excerpt

There's a very long road in south London. I don't know whether market researchers have discovered it, but they should as it is an accurate, though cruel, linear representation of New Britain. At one end there are council estates and J-registered, paint-worn Nissans swarming aimlessly in that automotive imitation of the po' boy's shuffle. At the other, shiny, late-registered German cars leave their shingle drives with neatly uniformed children on school-runs, in environments that are a Stuttgart executive's low-church concept of luxury. Halfway between, socially and topographically, you find the MPVs - Multi Purpose Vehicles.

The MPV is New Britain on wheels, the one that wears Gap rather than Austin Reed, drinks Cloudy Bay in favour of cloudy bitter, mountain bikes instead of playing golf. So accurate is the symbolic-functional fit between man and machine that Tony Blair's advisers had him in a Ford Galaxy, the category-leading MPV, for his first official photo after the coronation. They must have decided a Jaguar was too ancien regime a Mondeo too proletarian and a Range Rover too horse 'n' hounds. But the multi-purpose vehicle was ideal for the multi-purpose leader of New Britain. Not only is it a people mover it is, class-wise, indefinable. And, best of all, its flexible seating arrangement allows travellers to face in the direction opposite to progress. Or, more appropriately, change their minds mid-journey.

The MPV has two evolutionary sources, one in Old Britain, the other in the New World. In Old Britain we had the Dormobile whose very name suggests a narcoleptic drug for ambulant patients. Dormobiles were Bedford, Commer or Thames vans, converted to residential use with marine ply to allow provincial university professors to visit Continental camp sites. There was something vaguely pleasing about the concept of these automobile homes, but the caravan-standard technology and commercial-vehicle dynamics compromised their real-world usefulness.

In the New World, Americans had a superior form of conversion for rednecks who found the Volkswagen Microbus too hippy-dippy: the camper van and its diurnal twin, the day van. Again, these were commercial vehicles, but fitted-out to US standards of comfort with revolving captain's chairs, huge dimensions and interesting fenestration. …

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