Big Man on the Continent
Georg Kacher is a big guy. And he's been a big part of this magazine from the very beginning. Volume one, number one included a column by Kacher, Foreign Exchange, and a feature story, "Five Countries in One Day," in which he wound his way across central Europe in a four-wheel-drive Ford Scorpio sedan.
Kacher has been in every issue of Automobile Magazine since. On the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, we thought we'd tell you a little more about the man behind the byline.
Although we're in frequent contact with Georg via phone and e-mail, we most often encounter him in person at the world's major auto shows. There, you won't find him following the scrum of journalists from press conference to press conference. Instead, he's more likely to be cornering some executive near a slowly rotating turntable or conducting an informal interview over an espresso in one of the inner-sanctum retreats.
Recently, however, we traveled to Kacher's own sanctum, the stucco-and-tile-roofed, chalet-style house west of Munich that he shares with his wife, Raphaela, and their golden retriever, Frida. It's where the Kachers have lived for nearly twenty years and where they raised their now-grown sons, Sebastian and Max. Georg himself is a less frequent inhabitant of the home than he might be, as he's on the road roughly two days out of five, doing stories for Automobile Magazine as well as Car magazine (U.K.) and Germany's Auto Bild.
This home base is centrally located in the heart of Bavaria's performance-car belt. BMW is forty-seven minutes away. Porsche is an hour and forty-nine minutes. Mercedes-Benz can be reached in one hour, fifty-seven minutes. The closest autobahn is the A96, which "on a good day" is seven and a half minutes away. The A96 is a speed-unlimited autobahn where Kacher can open up his test cars -- he's done 200 mph or better in twenty-six different vehicles. The Austrian border, 122 miles away, can be reached "in under an hour." An Austrian by birth ("and by passport and by mind-set," he adds), Kacher has lived in Germany since age five.
This day, the gated Kacher driveway houses his Volkswagen Touareg V8 TDI, his wife's Audi A6 Allroad, and their Maserati GranCabrio, whose lease is up tomorrow. What's coming next? "I'm thinking of getting a BMW 640d xDrive convertible -- which you don't get in the States -- to replace both the Maserati and the Touareg," he says. And what about something vintage? "If I could find a nice one, I'd like a Mercedes W111 280SE cabrio."
The current stable is a long way from his first car, a Citroen Ami 6 station wagon. Two more Citroens followed, and fifty-eight more cars after that. Asked to name some standouts, he mentions a Bentley Azure, a Porsche 911 Turbo, and a Citroen SM, but then adds, "I liked them all, really, at the time."
He also likes opera -- you'll often catch references to famous opera singers in his stories. And Kacher is a bit of a Britophile. He did a semester at university in Scotland and has been back to the country twenty-three times on vacation. Mostly, though, this is a man who likes cars. How did that all start?
"When I was a little boy, maybe three years old, my father taught me how to tell birds apart by their song -- my father was an ornithologist. And I liked that, but it was a bit boring for a three-year-old," Kacher recalls. "I could tell birds apart by their silhouettes against the sky and by their tone of voice, by the way they sing. And then I started telling cars apart by the way they sounded. I couldn't see the cars because I wasn't tall enough to look over the windowsill of my aunt's apartment in Vienna" -- this must have been the last time Kacher wasn't tall enough for something -- "but I could hear the cars. And eventually, I found a little pedestal I could stand on and I could synchronize sound and vision."
By the time he was eleven, he was directing the family's automotive purchases. "I almost drove my father to bankruptcy because we were driving Alfa Romeos and other stuff we couldn't afford," he says, "but they were what I wanted."
It was inevitable that he would find himself in the car business. So, what does he like best about it? "All facets of it: the product, the people, and what the two do for you. I love driving, and I love talking petrol. It's just the perfect fusion."
Kacher's inside scoops on future products and early drives of upcoming models have provided dozens of cover stories, and they keep Automobile Magazine readers uniquely plugged in to the twists and turns of the automotive development process. One wonders, though, why do insiders tell him so much? "That's a very good question. I think it's because they sense that I am a genuine aficionado, that I really love cars. They take me seriously, because I take this business and what it produces seriously. They probably see me as one of them -- rather than a journalist on the far bank of the river. And then confidentiality is not such an issue anymore. The other guy is more interested in my opinion, and he will probably trade. He will ask, 'Well, how do the others do it? Why do you think this is better? They're going down that road, I see. Well we think that -- .' Then you're in the middle of it.
"And something else, I think, helps: I very rarely use my notebook, and I never use a tape recorder. I rarely use my notebook when it's semiofficial because it just loosens people up more. When they see reporters with pen poised, that's never good, I find. And I've got a pretty good memory."
As someone so deeply wired in to future product plans, Kacher also can't help being a long-range thinker. "I think the most exciting development will be when this industry realizes that the extrapolation of an existing trend is no longer viable," he says. "By that I mean, more horsepower, more displacement, bigger cars, more electronics, more of everything. It's never enough. I think that needs to stop. We need to refocus on cars that serve the customer and not that serve the industry. When you look at the glut of assistance systems, for instance, when you look at the glut of increasingly unmanageable electronics in the car -- it's good that these things exist, but they need to be masterminded from a higher vantage point. The next thing that we need is cars that talk to each other, an infrastructure that is properly networked. The biggest gain this industry could achieve would be a vehicle that cannot crash. Such a vehicle could be one-third of the weight of a current car because it would need no crumple zones, and then it would need one-third of the energy to propel itself. I think those are the ideas, those are the infrastructures, those are the mind-sets that are required to bring this industry forward. I'm so looking forward to the first luxury car that deserves to cost a lot because it consumes little, not only in terms of energy but as a sustainable whole. We must rethink the way we build cars... Maybe the next Apple product will be a very clever plastic car. Who knows?"
Whatever the cars of the future bring, it's likely that Georg Kacher will know about it before any other automotive journalist, and you'll hear it here first.