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That time Audi's annual report called the Google car 'an ugly potato'

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For many years, Nilay has likened the venerable Toyota Prius to "a shoe." (He says it with a hint of anger, too, which is what really sells it.) I liked the Prius quite a bit before he made that comment — I liked it a lot, actually! — but ever since, I've been unable to stop myself from imagining a worn, frumpy loafer on wheels rambling down the highway with an electric whir. I guess what I'm trying to say, really, is that Nilay ruined the Prius for me.

I fear that Audi may have done the same to the Google car. Google, for its part, has always portrayed the shape of its sprightly, two-passenger pod as cute and non-threatening. But this line from the transcription of a conversation in Audi's 2014 annual report is... something else:

WEINBERG: For me, Google and Tesla are above all about displaying courage. Courage to venture into areas in which they are definitely not experts. I see the Google Car as nothing more than a prototype. No German automotive manufacturer would ever have dared to show such an ugly potato in public.

STADLER: Well, you said that (laughs).

"Weinberg" is Ulrich Weinberg, a professor who Audi identifies as "an innovation expert," talking to Audi board member Rupert Stadler. So Audi gets a bit of a pass here: Weinberg is external to Audi, though the luxury automaker still saw fit to include the sick burn in its annual report.

potatoes-shutterstock-01
Potatoes. (Shutterstock)

Personally, if I had to equate the Google car to a foodstuff, I'd probably have called it an egg — it's closer to the right color, and the car is inarguably smoother than a potato. But either way, it's a clean sucker punch.