In Patrick Süskinds succesroman The perfume the murderous eighteenth-century perfumer Jean-Baptiste Grenouille has a fatal flaw: no body odor of his own. The lack of smell condemns him to invisibility. So from an extract of human scents, extracted from the corpses of his victims, he makes himself the scent that makes him irresistible. So irresistible that his fellow humans eventually devour him, literally.
How does a Kia Ceed, a neat Korean Gulf, provoke association with that monstrous character? Well, there are similarities. With his obsession for his own scent, he exposes something of the meaning that people, including car manufacturers, attach to their unique signature. The problem is, you can’t design that bouquet. It often rests with mere mortals on something seemingly trivial—a smell, a look, a voice, a gait—which becomes the symbol of affection, a banal point of identification. For example, partners smell each other and parents smell their children, who of course smell like no one else. Or they say: how wonderful to hear your voice. That is how it works and binds, that immeasurable essence.
What if you don’t have all that, while you notice how everyone is looking for it? Then you must become Grenouille. Or you become like the women who lift themselves up to Kim Kardashian or Dolly Parton on the cutting table. Then you buy the identifiability that people without qualities confuse with identity. Like Grenouille, Kia, a Korean ready-to-wear brand, is looking for the odor and taste profile that it never had in the first place. And like Grenouille, it chose the parasitic path of robbery and imitation. Of course you will never become yourself that way. You become like the others who seemed to be. That is the deadly paradox of mimicry.
Moving car train
You become yourself by inventing something yourself. The major car brands are founders, forefathers, pioneers. When Karl Benz developed one of the first cars, the Patentwagen of 1886, he had to invent everything from the wheels and the seats to the engine. And Mercedes-Benz would always remain the brand of pioneering new technologies. Not Kia. Kia is a large Korean company that decided to jump on the moving car train after the Second World War. They had to buy the technology, because there was no tradition. The first Kia we got to know was a converted Mazda. With the borrowed pride in the borrowed estate, he was christened Pride, a brat that made those arrogant Westerners laugh heartily. They misjudged their target’s fighting spirit. The Koreans did not let themselves be disturbed. With murderous ambition and precision they hit the road. One fine day they could copy as well as others invent. Their plagiarism culture became a trend follower culture. Kia’s turbocharged engines are now as good as European ones and their engineering is just as reliable, if not more reliable – backed by a seven-year warranty. Then they set their teeth in a style, their own face.
The paradox: that in itself has succeeded admirably. The Ceed is a perfectly proportioned mid-sized car. The so-called tigernose grille with the characteristic notches at the top and bottom is just right. I have nothing to say about him except that. His individuality is the constructed of a lookalike. Its grammar is a weighted average of all others. The Ceed could have been an Opel, a Peugeot or a Ford Focus, but even then you would have missed something essential without getting your finger on it: the nest smell of a style history. I can’t remember the Ceed. The Grenouille cocktail has obliterated him, while in Korea they think he is finally recognizable out of thousands.
And I tell you, count your blessings. In a world full of branding and profiling, the Kia Ceed offers another refuge from total anonymity. I slide through the traffic unnoticed and it’s blissful. He drives superbly and bathes in luxury where you get Kia cynics under the table. A Kia with electrically adjustable driver’s seat, leather upholstery, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated seats, haha! And everything works! De Ceed is a McDonalds that serves you an excellent Sole meunière and Blini with caviar for less than 32 grand. Kim Kardashian can join. Dolly would say: “Yeah, I’m fake too, but we’re nice, aren’t we?”