IAIN ROBERTSON 

GM EV by RightBrainPhotography

GM EV by RightBrainPhotography

It has been an unusual symptom, recognised by neither the WHO, nor the very Chinese State that has been funding Peugeot’s efforts for the past few years, but, states Iain Robertson, it now feels it important to self-isolate its i-Cockpit.

The automotive scene is awash with delusions of self-affirming but ultimately confused and misguided states of product development. It has launched itself headlong into the electric vehicle market, supported by a raft of well-meaning ‘nutters’ that I describe as ‘EVangelists’, mostly because they behave like American ‘TVangelists’, encouraging their disciples to ‘touch the screen’ and ‘bullieve!’, just prior to parting with inordinate and disproportionate sums of money.

Ford Motor Company clearly flipped its lid, when it announced a couple of years ago that it would be concentrating on SUVs and pickup trucks in its future product planning, releasing most recently the ultimate display of destructive iconic lunacy, an electric hiked-up version of the Mustang. Henry’s long-standing and bitter US rival, General Motors, introduced a modestly sized and (for an American model) fairly attractive EV-1 coupe in 1996. Involving its customers in a lease-only participation in an innovative ‘real world evaluation’ programme, its electric commuter was an industry ‘first’. Yet, despite building 1,117 examples, each was retrieved from disgruntled ‘customers’ and all but 40 of them were crushed in 2002, the car giant stating that the EV market was unprofitable, despite the protests from the Clean Air brigade.

Peugeot i cockpit

Peugeot i cockpit

Relocating to Japan, whether it be the idiosyncrasies of Oriental-English translation, or the simple fact that the Japs are stark-raving mad, its apparent model-naming policies have ranged from the Nissan Gloria (saloon), to the Mazda Deli-boy (van), with Isuzu Light Dump (truck), Mazda Bongo Friendee (MPV) and Mitsubishi Dangan ZZ20-4 Turbo (a teensy but rapid, 660cc city car) in the mix for good measure, although we now understand that Nissan’s Pantry Boy Supreme is little more than a mythical fabrication from the furtive brain of an automotive mischief-maker.

Grand gestures, some possessing significantly greater intent than others, such as Honda’s phenomenal, if slightly fragile Insight hybrid coupe of 2000, are worthy of mention. Although it is reputed that each example cost around £35,000 to manufacture, the UK allocation of the total 17,020 production run was listed at £17,500. Testing the market at a closed auction, held at BCA Stoke only one year after the launch, Honda staff were even paying its invited dealers an extra £1,000 bonus/incentive to bid for used models being blocked at £5,000! Lunacy!

Peugeot i cockpit

Peugeot i cockpit

Over the decades, it is design deficiency that might also be termed as a psychosis. A number of critics directed their ire at Chris Bangle’s 2003 redesign (E60) of the previously tedious 5-Series BMW, in the process polarising opinion between total loathing and complete admiration. Yet, it was no worse than the run-out versions of the Ford Granada/Scorpio, a great car to drive, but a cow’s arse on a frosty morning to pore over. If you want truly grotesque, the Ukrainian ZAZ Zaporozhets 965 takes the biscuit for deranged designs. You can find pictures on Google Search.

In my book, the ultimate interior design lunacy occurred in 2010, when Peugeot unveiled its SR1 concept car. Within two years, the i-Cockpit had been installed in the compact Peugeot 208. Wasting copious amounts of marketing energy to fabricate an entirely new range of fractal references, a low-level steering column intended to provide a ‘better/safer’ view of the road ahead that was compromised by a higher-set instrument binnacle, established a new but essentially misdirected era of dashboard and primary control design that Peugeot has attempted to promote with as much vigour as ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’.

Peugeot PHEV

Peugeot PHEV

Short of carousing the chorus line (‘The King is in the altogether, the altogether…’), i-Cockpit is a display of Gallic arrogance like so many others. Any driver taller than five feet six inches will discover that the view ahead is muddied, while kneeroom is reduced. Any driver taller than six feet struggles with legroom and cannot see the instrument panel clearly. As the average height of a French person is around five feet eight inches, naturally, the French are catered for, although adjusting the steering column and driver’s seat will still corrupt the views of the dials, or the main road.

Although described as a defining moment in the history of the modern motorcar, i-Cockpit has been altered and brought more up-to-date, ever so slightly, by incorporating HUD (Head-Up Display) technology and introducing a large-scale touchscreen at the top of the centre stack, beneath which is a row of ‘piano-key’ switches with graphics so tiny that they make the ergonomic nightmare of a mid-1960s’ Jaguar dashboard look classically elegant…which it happens to be. On every occasion that I have criticised i-Cockpit, someone from Peugeot’s PR department has reacted vociferously in a blind defence of something that I am not alone in finding mildly feckless. I might understand the reaction, were I a sole voice, but I am not.

Peugeot Rifter

Peugeot Rifter

Peugeot, which is alone in the world’s carmakers for its (haha!) innovative design disrupter, genuinely believes that i-Cockpit presents, I quote, “flawless ergonomics and driving comfort”. That is a grand statement that is also a lie, because, I repeat, I am not alone in finding its presence restrictive and uncomfortable. Thus, ‘flawless’ is a clear and non-inclusive misrepresentation. No amount of anthropometric data can support such a flawed status, despite Peugeot’s contrary assertion. However, making people fit its ludicrously proportioned cockpits, rather than approaching the subject from the opposite direction, is a flaming nonsense.

Today, all 208s, 2008s, 308s, 3008s, 508s, 5008s and even its LCV Rifter (I refer you to the earlier daft Japanese model names) employ the i-Cockpit in a largely vain attempt to enforce its acceptance. Sorry, Peugeot. It may have been a ‘world-first’, which would satisfy completely, were other carmakers to indulge their dashboard fantasies in similar ways. Instead, it is a prime example of the aforementioned Gallic arrogance, by which everybody else is judged by the company to be comprehensively wrong in their views. You have to laugh, or else you would cry.

Conclusion:     Peugeot is not alone in the car arena for getting a little befuddled over its creations. It will certainly not be the last carmaker, on reflection, to have a chuckle over a brandy and cigar, when they realise their error. However, do not get me started on the reverse sweep of the rev-counter.