Being from Silicon Valley, I've grasped the importance of flawless product demonstrations after living through Steve Jobs's numerous product unveilings. You know, make a bunch of tech journalists sit three hours worth of presentations about new developer initiatives, two hours about new Apple software programs, and right when you think it's the end, say "One more thing," and then spend another two hours talking about the new iSomething.
Having spent middle and high school living through this, I was always amazed that nothing ever went wrong during an Apple event. After all, even Bill Gates couldn't stop XP Media Center Edition from failing during a CES demo.
But these are nothing compared to automotive product demonstrations that went wrong. At least if a bug renders an iPhone inoperable, we can use smoke signals to communicate, but if a system on a car doesn't work, there may be an immense accident, resulting in smoke signals of a different sort.
As a result, I've come up with a list highlighting product demonstrations gone bad on cars, showcasing that once in a while, with their tightly controlled and choreographed events, even manufacturers can get things very, very wrong.
Author's Note: Automakers, despite the moments listed, please continue with the public product demonstrations. There's no other way to remind gearheads that even automaker employees can be human.
A Bugatti Veyron Spins at Laguna Seca
The VW Group had prove that the Bugatti Veyron was not vaporware. So before the Veyron was delivered to customers, many of whom go to Pebble Beach along with two or three garage queens, Bugatti decided to have a prototype do some laps at Laguna Seca. You would think just having a development car do a few laps would make for a good show. But no, the car spun at the Andretti Hairpin.
Unfortunately this happened back in 2004, when YouTube didn't exist, so no video exists to show what actually happened. One can only imagine the reprimands the driver received from VW management which would have been on pit lane video. And the incident didn't show the automotive press that the Veyron project was going especially well.
Elon Musk Introduces the Frunk
People would be forgiving the Stuttgart or Detroit automakers if that happened, but in Silicon Valley, where Steve Jobs set the standard for a product demo, the "frunk" incident is borderline unacceptable. I admit it's not a tech feature like an accident-avoidance or night-vision system, but it is a demo gone wrong nonetheless.
Hopefully something similar of the sort doesn't happen when he shows off his Lotus submarine, like the propeller cover that fails to turn. Or when he finally decides to take that cross-country trip with his five kids and runs out of battery due to powering all their laptops, smartphones, iPads, and drink coolers.
Mercedes-Benz Enlists A Journalist As Its Partner-In-Crime
Above was Mercedes-Benz's attempt to show off the Brake Assist Plus system in the then-new W221 S-Class. Since at least three S-Classes were damaged in that video, things went spectacularly wrong. It turned out the steel walls of the facility caused the system to malfunction, so Mercedes informed the journalist of that, but decided to go on with the demo anyway.
The best part happened when the engineers decided to use a block of wood that the car would run over to mark the braking point for the journalist. Unfortunately, the suspension soaked it up like an S-Class suspension should, and the journalist ended up applying the brakes way too late, resulting in the "accident." For this "conspiracy," the journalist ended up fired and Mercedes lost quite a bit of credibility.
Kamui Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado End Up Being Themselves
This year, Kamui Kobayashi managed to put a Ferrari F1 car into a wall in Moscow. I can actually understand that incident, in that it was inevitable considering how many crashes we see on Russian dash cams. But at least it was in the rain, so Kobayashi's incident is excusable.
What's inexcusable is Pastor Maldonado crashing a Williams demonstration car in Caracas on dry roads. At least he somehow has managed to win a race, something Kobayashi, Romain Grosjean, Nick Heidfeld, and Nico Hulkenberg have failed to do. However, when he is showing off an F1 car to a country that financed his drive, he should have never crashed. The moment reflected badly on him more than on Williams.
The Epic Volvo City Safety Demonstrations
Volvo would like to be known as the safe automaker, thank you very much. In 2010, a wrench was thrown into that reputation not once but twice, when the City Safety system got things very wrong. We all know the now-famous and hilarious moment when an S60 rammed the back of a truck (with a broken radiator a second later).
The kicker was that just a few months later during a demonstration in Italy, Volvos started hitting dummies left and right, perhaps because the computers decided to teach us humans a lesson. In the end, maybe having cars drive at stationary objects to prove a point probably isn't the best policy...
Are there any other product demonstrations gone horribly wrong? Props to you if there's video of the incident!
Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Eagle Vision for LeMons fund. In between contemplating cross-country runs, he spends much of his time attempting to convince others that his MkV Jetta 2.0T Wolfsburg is indeed a sports sedan.
Videos and first photo courtesy YouTube. Sole photo courtesy BugattiPage.