The Drive 100: The Greatest Train Wrecks of 2015

If you didn’t know, now you know.

byThe Drive Staff|
Culture photo

Every day through Dec. 23, the writers and editors of The Drive are bringing you the essential guide to the year in car culture. Divided across 10 core categories, The Drive 100 is a celebration and send-up of the year that was. Check back tomorrow for: Celebrity Car Moments.

Jeremy Clarkson/Top Gear ‘Fracas’

Erstwhile Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson is a twit. This information is not controversial, it is not new. Clarkson himself might even agree with the assertion. After all, he is our twit, having used his prodigious talents, his bigger-than-Big Ben personality and, it is reported, his tyrannical prickery to shape BBC’s modest car show into the most watched T.V. show in the world. (I repeat: in the world.) Clarkson was known for saying obnoxious things—about Mexicans, Asians, Indians, George Michael and black Muslim lesbians—and patience at the BBC was already wearing thin this March when Clarkson subjected producer Oison Tymon to a 30-second, “unprovoked physical and verbal attack.” It crossed the threshold of what the tea-sippers at the Beeb could tolerate, and so they finally set him and his not-quite-innocent cohorts, Richard Hammond and James May, adrift in the broadcasting universe. Then in August, Amazon signed Clarkson and Co. to a reported $250-million, 36-episode deal for an entirely new car show hosted by twits. What’s that they say about where nice guys finish?—Mike Guy, editor

Acura NSX Debut at 2015 Detroit Auto Show

It should’ve been Acura’s show. After a decade of false starts and concepts and soul-searching, plus three years spent languishing in development hell, the new NSX had finally landed. Jerry Seinfeld was there. So were Honda execs, and all the industry’s heavy-hitters. Also: Ford, which delivered the surprise debut of the century in its new GT supercar, just a stone’s throw from the Acura display. And, just like that, a mass exodus. The GT, joined onstage by the new Mustang GT350R and twin-turbo F-150 Raptor pickup, was mobbed for the remainder of the Detroit Show. The NSX, late to its own party and properly upstaged after arriving, tasted like flat champagne.—Max Prince, senior editor

GM Ignition-Switch Hearings

General Motors and Mary Barra, its chief executive, received the modern equivalent of a stoning in July: a Senate hearing over GM’s ignition switch scandal that’s been linked to more than 100 deaths. As GM and Barra dug in their heels after apologizing earlier to victims—refusing to waive post-bankruptcy immunity against lawsuits, or to expand its compensation fund for victims—senators took grandstanding to excruciating heights, accusing the company of incompetency and cover-up, criminal behavior and “legal Whac-a-mole.” GM later agreed to pay a $900 million fine to settle a Justice Department investigation, in addition to setting aside billions of dollars to address recalls and civil suits. But GM might want to send a bouquet to Volkswagen: The subsequent VW scandal over cheatin’ diesels immediately put GM’s woes on the back pages and back burner.—Lawrence Ulrich, chief auto critic

Porsche Mission E Unveiling/Re-veiling

We were smitten with the Mission E Concept when it was unveiled in Frankfurt this fall, and we couldn’t wait to get a second glance at other auto shows during the season. But then the Volkswagen Group’s diesel scandal hit, and everything in the Group—especially the alternative fuels part—went into crazy panicked free-fall, and the Mission E had its plugged pulled: It didn’t show up in Tokyo or LA. Now, apparently, it’s getting a re-up. We hope it stays charged this time.—Brett Berk, writer-at-large

Tesla Gigafactory Fisticuffs

For all their boosterism—and pointed critiques—we tend to know Tesla people as retiring types. They won’t call you bad names before blowing your doors off, and whatever superiority complexes they have, they leave to their vanity plates to express. All of which made the sordid tale of a break-in at Tesla’s “Gigafactory” battery-manufacture site in Nevada seem very off-brand. A photographer from the Reno Gazette-Journal was arrested for allegedly trespassing at the build site and nearly hitting a security guard with his car while making his getaway. The paper alleged that the photographer’s driver-side window had been knocked out and seatbelt slashed in the fracas. The whole affair, very un-Elon.—Jonathan Schultz, deputy editor

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat Reveal in New York

It wasn't long after Volkswagen got caught with its finger in the urea jar—a few days, in fact—that VW threw a launch party for the new Passat in New York. The room was abuzz, but not for the car, which looked a lot like the last one. The white elephant in the room appeared not to bother Lenny Kravitz and his group of textbook-lovely musicians. They did not succeed in getting the crowd hyped, perhaps owing to their on-stage masks of paid-for cool. Ganted, one man did rock out with an impromptu breakdancing act in the middle of the stage. Lenny seemed to like it, shedding for a moment his rockstar aloofness and encouraging the guy. But a pair of stout, worried-looking men with those coiley little Secret Service earplugs stalked over and chased him away before he could cause much more fun.—Benjamin Preston, writer-at-large

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat Reveal in New York

I don’t remember much from Volkswagen’s Passat launch party in NYC [Alex, see Preston above - ed]. VW sent a boat to pick up the journalists and shuttle us from Battery Park to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Manhattan skyline is gorgeous at night, especially from the East River. I know it was a few days after the scandal broke. The food was good, I think. The models were dressed in white, I think. Many journalists attended. You know who didn’t? Most of VW’s top brass. Everyone sighed when the Passat was unveiled. A speech was given. Many smoked outside. Many questions. Few answers. Except one: When was Lenny Kravitz going on? “Not a moment too soon,” said a friend who works for VW. Lenny went on. I’m a passive Kravitz fan. But if he’s on, it’s fine. Like my feelings about the new Passat. And the old one. Lenny opened his act with “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.” Or maybe he closed with it. I can’t remember. I know I won’t be recommending VWs for a while. Except the GTI. The GTI is VW.—Alex Roy, editor-at-large

Red Bull/Renault F1 drama

Bad blood came to a boil between Red Bull’s Formula 1 team and engine supplier Renault after a less than successful 2015 season. Having experienced numerous engine issues, Red Bull decided to seek another engine supplier for the 2016 season. That was easier said than done, and Red Bull found itself casting about for a supplier at the 11th hour. After failing to strike a deal with Ferrari, Red Bull was put in the embarrassing position of crawling back to Renault.—Max Goldberg, associate editor

Volkswagen #Dieselgate Hearing in Washington

Admitting that the company had used “defeat devices” (hidden software) to cheat on emissions tests, Michael Horn, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, had this to say: “These events—and I fully agree on this—are deeply troubling. I did not think that something like this was possible at the Volkswagen Group. We have broken the trust of our customers, dealerships, employees as well as the regulators.” If you’re a student of the auto biz, this footage is dumbfounding.—A.J. Baime, editor-at-large

Nissan GT-R LM Nismo Le Mans Fail

In early 2015 Nissan announced a radical new direction for its Le Mans prototype program. Nissan’s new racecar renounced the traditional LMP formula of mid-mounted engine and rear-powered wheels for a front-engine, front-wheel-drive setup. A whole host of trick technology was packaged up in the sleek puller, but limited development time left the team unable to capitalize on said technologies—most specifically, the ability to channel power to the rear wheels for an all-wheel-drive advantage. All said and done, the Nissans qualified a solid 20 seconds behind the winning Porsche cars, and only one of three examples soldiered through all 24 hours to the finish line, albeit after extensive repairs following a midnight incident with an errant tire. But it wasn’t all negativity; Nissan says it’s collected enough data to go back to the shop, do some tinkering and return to Le Mans with hopes of success in 2016.—Jonathan Harper social media editor