Archive | April, 2012

Mum Is A Better Driver Than Dad – Discuss

The word on the street is that all male drivers believe that women should not be driving and that the place of the lady / wife / partner (delete as appropriate) is in the kitchen, possibly baking, whilst wearing pretty dresses and smelling of a discreet, but never provocative, perfume.

Here at Motor Blogger, of course, we would never, ever subscribe to such a theory. Perish the thought. Absolutely unacceptable; and it seems that the children of Britain agree, as a survey suggests that they prefer Mum to drive. Now, all parents know that children will brown-nose the adult who can provide the necessary service / lift / cash advance (delete as appropriate) at any given point in time. They are wily creatures. However, a massive 60% of ankle-biters have stated that, when the mother is driving, they are happier and more relaxed.

Apparently Mum is more considerate to other road users and does not lane-hop. Road rage is unknown. Mums are also likely to engage in lively conversation to keep the family happy, even to the point of cheerily singing, and are the parent of choice for the school run. Unfortunately the kids have also sort of grassed Mum up about stalling the car and her bizarre inability to park in a space the size of a football pitch. Now, before you Ladies start reaching for the Molotov cocktails, please remember that we’re only reporting a survey. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Fathers, meanwhile, get a bit of a raw deal. They drive too fast and too aggressively. They are prone to road rage and are seen as a bad example to the future driver in the back seat; but let’s go for a bit of fairness here, shall we? Not all men are road hogs; some are the saints of the streets, always ready to absolutely maximise the mileage out of a gallon of petrol, even if it means driving at 30mph in the middle lane of a motorway. These tarmac heroes will always know a shortcut from Stevenage to Basingstoke, even if you don’t want to go there, and are ready with technical advice at the drop of a clutch.

So balance in all things, right? Children will say anything to keep in with Mum. It’s a well known fact. So in the meantime I’m going to give you two quotes from my old man which have stood me in good stead over the years:

“If you don’t stop moaning I’m going to turn this car around and go home just as soon as I can get past this cretin!” and “Ask your Mother!”

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Electric Evolution

The general feeling seems to be that motorists want a revolution, but not yet. As you’ve heard often enough before, the principal gripe is the issue of range. Electric cars simply can’t go far enough and even if they did there’s not, as yet, anywhere to charge them away from home. Yet things have to change. Even the most hardened petrol head is beginning to understand that there is an unstoppable driving force behind the evolution of electric vehicles.

In a recent American report it is reckoned that the cost of lithium-ion batteries will fall by about a third in the next four to five years as battery production technology improves, lithium supplies increase and battery packs are sold in greater volume. The report states that “ the market for Li-ion batteries will be driven primarily by plug-in hybrids. Battery electric vehicles require much larger packs than hybrids.”

It is the cost of the fuel cells that governs the industry’s current anomaly. Lithium-ion batteries present a classic ‘what comes first’ scenario. Battery costs need to decrease in order to yield a lower price on the forecourt to encourage the punters. Conversely, the power packs need to be produced in high volumes in order to get costs to fall.

Regardless, the demand for electric drive cars, especially amongst city dwellers, is expected to rise over the coming years; especially as the cost of conventional fuels continues to rise and car makers offer a greater range. The report estimates that the global sales of  plug-ins will rise to a figure in excess of 5 million by 2017.

Lithium is a mineral, the 31st most abundant element on Earth and is the lightest metal. Most of it is found in South America which has more than half of the world’s deposits. It can also be obtained from sea water in same quantities. Herein lies the problem. No car can be considered green. Powering a vehicle on a daily basis is always going to use some sort of resource. We stop extracting oil and start extracting lithium instead. When we’ve got all the lithium, then what? The answer is perhaps not to rush at any one power source but take time to investigate everything that is available to us. Right now the best thing to do is compromise. That is what ‘greener’ should be about. The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive and other systems seem the best way forward right now. One million Toyota Prius owners can’t be wrong.

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Cars of the Year

Pardon me for yawning, but apparently the VW Passat has been voted the best new company car of 2011 at a ceremony for the annual Fleet News Awards at the Grosvenor Hotel in London in March. As far as fleet owners are concerned the cars judged in the awards are considered against a slightly different set of criteria than the private buyer might use. Operating costs come first with depreciation, fuel, servicing, maintenance and repair, lease rates and tax liability. After that comes the vehicles suitability for use as a business car and, finally, the level of support they get from the manufacturers.  Private buyers mostly don’t think in these terms. Well done then to the truly excellent but not very exciting Passat, a solid, reliable car which offers fleets and their drivers an upmarket image, is very efficient on CO2 emissions, has strong residual values and low running costs. Combined with excellent dealer support, it’s no surprise this car is in huge demand by fleets.

Other category winners include the evergreen Ford Fiesta. This was described as “an ever popular car with excellent running costs, driver appeal, good manufacturer support, strong residual values, is great to drive and an excellent design that has stood the test of time”. Most private buyers would probably agree with that and similar comments were made about the Focus which won it’s class as the best ‘lower medium car’. Not terribly flattering these fleet guys, are they?

The SEAT Alhambra justifiably won the best people carrier award. There hasn’t been a bad review of this car as the fleet boys suggest: “This is a full size people carrier that offers a good size boot even with all seven seats in use. The seats are easy to fold flat, adding to the car’s versatility, while good road performance, competitive costs and low CO2 emissions combine to make the perfect package.” Can’t say fairer than that.

To be honest, there wasn’t a great many surprises on offer. The Skoda Superb is the best estate, the Mercedes Benz C Class, the best premium model and, for the toffs in the boardroom, there’s, somewhat inevitably, the  BMW 5 Series: “New engines that have reduced CO2 emissions and improved fuel efficiency keep the 5 Series ahead of its rivals. With a significant number of variants below 130g/km, including auto options, the 5 Series is a fleet car that is much better value from a whole life cost point of view. And it remains the best driver’s car in the segment”.

Kudos also to the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Nissan Qashqai, and to Skoda and Toyota for being the most improved and the greenest respectively. So, as mentioned, there are no surprises but it is comforting to know that if fleet owners rate a car then it is probably worth having.

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80mph Trials in the Pipeline

Well, it has been talked about for long enough and, at last, we get the chance to weigh up the evidence for and against a speed limit increase on motorways. All sensible drivers know that their cars are more than capable of accommodating this extra speed in safety. Equally, they know that there will be a penalty to pay in fuel economy but understand you can’t have it both ways. Allegedly, 49% of drivers admit to flouting the speed limit now anyway and the true figure is probably a bit higher!

Trials of the new speed limit will take place on up to seven sections of the motorway network that are deemed suitable, so only three and four lane sections will be considered. It is unlikely that dual carriageways will ever be included, should this new limit be introduced. Details of the scheme will be published in the early Summer. Over a total distance of around seventy miles, large signs will be erected on overhead gantries to control the flow of vehicles. When the traffic flow is light, the limit will be increased to 80mph, but adjusted downward at busier periods.

Motorists should not be complacent, however. At present, so we are told, police ‘guidelines’ allow drivers a bit of leeway under the “10% plus 2mph” formula. If this was applied to an 80mph limit, drivers would be doing 90mph and the boys in blue aren’t having that, are they? So, 80 will mean 80 and speed cameras will enforce this as Mike Penning, the roads minister, has made clear:

“I hope the public are listening to me, because average speed cameras, especially on managed motorways, are ridiculously accurate. The argument, which will be in the public consultation, is what we enforce over 80mph. The answer will be that 80mph will be the speed limit, and not, as we interpret it today, 90mph.”

The AA have welcomed the move on the wider motorways. Edmund King, the President of the AA said:

“If you have got a five star motorway in terms of safety then 80mph is fine.”

Rather predictably however, the road safety campaigners Brake have accused the government of ‘gambling with people’s lives’. Ellen Booth said:

We know from basic physics that the faster people travel, the longer the stopping distances, the less time you have to react to emergencies and the harder you hit.”

The truth is likely to be somewhere in the middle. There will always be accidents and there will always be stupid people. Most drivers act responsibly and that is unlikely to change.

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A Suitable Car For A Lady

It is a well known fact that there is nothing a lady likes more than some Belgian chocolates washed down with a selection of fine wines, right?Wrong! What they desire now, more than ever, is a nice set of wheels. Equality eh? Where will it all end? It is claimed that when selecting a car, today’s female drivers search out vehicles that are fun and exciting yet have a good track record when it comes to reliability and safety. They will usually choose from three broad groups – small cars, SUV’s and convertibles.

First up there’s the Fiat 500. Launched in 1957 the tiny Nuova Cinquecento was an instant design classic and that charm has endured with the latest version, which is rightly popular even if some of its competitors, like Ford’s excellent re-vamped Ka or one of the versions of the Mini, are possibly better alternates, although without the funky appeal.  Now, of course, all these great cars have been challenged by the Citroen DS3, arguably the best looking small car on the market. Nothing retro here, except perhaps the reference to the revered and historic Citroen DS saloon.

SUVs are a favourite choice, if you’ll pardon the cliché, for busy Mums for whom the need to lug kids around and such precludes choosing one of the small cars. There are many options available here from most manufacturers but, for example, the Volvo XC90, Land Rover Discovery or its slightly smaller sibling the Freelander and the BMW X5 are all tried and tested, highly regarded go-anywhere, do-anything vehicles. The snag, as ever, is the price. These are expensive choices but where an all purpose vehicle is essential they are hard to beat. Not so much fun as a convertible though!

Ah, this is what headscarves were made for – driving along the Amalfi Coast in a Ferrari 458 Spider under a warm Mediterranean sun, heading for that secret liaison with Luigi…I’m sorry, I came over all Mills & Boon there for a minute. Maybe you should settle for a Mazda MX5, a truly affordable sports car that is all about the pleasure of driving without the expense. Or you could choose Peugeot’s 207CC, a stylish and well equipped small convertible that won’t leave you cold in the winter. It uses a fully automatic metal folding roof with no levers or catches to release, so at the push of a button it’s a convertible 25 seconds later. It has been around for a few years now so a used car bargain is possible. Either of these motors will be fine but if you are flush with a bit of cash then a Mercedes Benz SLK will be just up your street. The latest model has had some styling upgrades which finally do away with the unfair ‘hairdresser’s car’ tag that blighted the previous model.

So there we are – suitable cars for ladies. I just wish that when we’re down the pub they’d talk about something else for once.

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BMW Will Woo Drivers With The “i” Brand

First images of BMW’s new plug-in hybrid concept roadster have been released. Nice, isn’t it? BMW hope to woo us with the “i” brand in the coming years, appealing to our love of technology and our sense of responsibility. It will all start with the i3 city car in 2013, so not so far off. It is hoped that the final version of the i8 coupe will be launched late in 2014 with the Spyder version (pictured) to follow soon after. The idea is for a convincing sports car with the running costs of a city car. Outstanding!

The i8 Concept Spyder is a plug-in hybrid, powered by an eDrive drive- train which combines a high performance electric motor with a turbocharged, three-cylinder petrol engine. The lithium-ion batteries are stowed centrally for the benefit of weight distribution, and can be charged quickly from a domestic power socket.

This remarkable car benefits from using a 131bhp electric motor to drive the front wheels and a 223bhp turbo three-cylinder petrol engine to deliver power to the rear; both motors have been developed in house by the company. The car’s light weight coupled with the combined power of 354 horses will ensure startling acceleration and a high but limited top speed whilst delivering, so BMW claim, 94mpg. It’s remarkable, isn’t it, what the motor industry has achieved in a couple of decades. Cars we desired so much just a few short years ago now seem to belong to the stone age.

Lucky owners will be able to plug it into a domestic socket and recharge it in less than two hours. In electric only mode the car will be capable of only about 19 miles but that isn’t really the point of a hybrid, is it? By all accounts the interior is just as compelling as the exterior. Understandably, BMW are bigging this range up and, with the current crop of contributions from other manufacturers, the race for alternative power is really heating up.

Looking at the wonderful design aesthetics I doubt many of you would say no to one of these. The chance to continue with your sports driving whilst achieving nearly 100mpg is a compelling reason to want this car. Snags? Well, yes, and you’ve probably already thought of it. A figure being bandied about is £80,000. Still want one though. Probably best to start saving now, wouldn‘t you say?

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New Car Bonanza

The next eighteen months or so will see the release of a bumper crop of new cars from around the world. Space is far too limited to list them all here but there are some standout choices. This spring Pagani will begin sales of it’s Zonda replacement, the Huayra, which is a lot easier to type than say. It’ll cost you a cool million, give or take, and sports a 700bhp V12, so if the petrol price crisis is getting you down then it’s probably best not to order one just now. Back on Planet Earth, Vauxhall are rather belatedly introducing a small SUV called the Mokka that is meant to take on the likes of Nissan’s popular Juke. It’s an attractive car with the usual suspects on offer for the engine bay.

Hot hatch fans will be delighted to learn, if they haven’t already placed their orders, that Ford’s 248bhp Focus ST will soon start rolling off the production line. This is a consistently popular model – rightly so – and now it is more efficient too. Renaultsport are craftily releasing their Megane 265 in April to try and steal some of the ST’s thunder. Peugeot are a bit behind in the hot hatch game as the new and highly regarded 208GTi won’t be available until much later this year.

In July, Toyota will add to their hybrid fleet with what looks like the cheapest petrol / electric car on the market – the £15000 Yaris, featuring the technology that’s been tried and tested in the Prius. These cars are beginning to demonstrate some appeal and for true city dwellers who don’t want to be doing with garage forecourts, the Mia Electric microbus is on sale now. It’s only got 24bhp on offer but makes up for it with a five hour charging time, 96 mile range and practical sliding doors. Pricy though.

Later this year Fiat will replace their weird but rather good Multipla with the 500L. The L stands for Large, so it’s the size of its predecessor but takes its styling cues from the dinky 500 and is built on an enlarged Panda platform. The usual options, including 4WD, are offered on this interesting motor. The lower roofline of the Range Rover Evoque has set a bit of a trend with, amongst others, Hyundai Velostar Turbo with which they hope to compete with the Golf.

Looking even further ahead, watch out for an Evoque Convertible (2013) look-alike from Ssangyong – the cunningly named XIV-2 – which features a fabric roof that folds back like the Fiat 500C. 2013 will also see a new old vehicle, as it were, the Plus E! That’s right; if you have a fondness for handlebar moustaches and string-backed driving gloves then prepare to be horrified by an electric sports car from that last bastion of Englishness – Morgan! Whatever next in the rush for new technology?

This is just a taster. Whatever happens to fuel prices or battery technology in the future then rest assured the motor manufacturers are working hard to keep motoring interesting. Keep an eye on Motor Blogger for more.

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Coming Soon – Toyota Prius+ Seven Seat Hybrid

There’s no doubt that the Toyota Prius came in for some stick when it was first announced. True petrolheads were aghast at this electric monstrosity when it first went on sale in Japan in 1997 and was finally unleashed on the world in 2001. It heralded, the fuel-sniffers said, the end of motoring as we know it. Well, it hasn’t quite worked out like that and most drivers today accept and, for the most part welcome, the new technology.

Toyota, whilst continuing to satisfy the demands of hairy chested sporting drivers with the brilliant GT86, have continued to expand their hybrid technology with the impending summer launch of the Prius+, a fully hybrid seven-seat MPV. The ground-breaking new model, which combines traditional people carrier practicality with ultra-efficient performance, is also the first mainstream Toyota hybrid to use a lighter and more compact lithium-ion battery pack.

It retains the exceptional efficiency of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive power train. Despite the battery pack, the car is light and has exceptional aero-dynamic qualities. In T4 trim the car breaks the 100g/km barrier thus being eligible, currently, for zero rated road tax and congestion charge exemption. Official consumption figure is 68.9 for the T4 and only slightly less for the T Spirit version which itself only just tips over the 100g/km target.

In a clever move, the company have installed the slim battery pack within the centre consul thus avoiding any intrusion on rear passenger and boot space. Genius. All five rear seats fold, allowing for various load-carrying combinations. The two equipment grades offer all the usual options; auto aircon, panoramic roof, rear view cameras, Bluetooth, leather and the like and there’ll be a choice of seven exterior colours.

The family friendly MPV, based on it’s smaller sibling, was very well received at the Geneva Motor Show. The headline feature inside the Prius is Toyota’s new Touch & Go Plus and Touch Pro navigation systems. Featuring real-time traffic updates and the ability to use Google’s Local Search feature, it will be interesting to see how they manage to bring what has been a successful Smartphone technology to work in a car.

For the greener among you, there are new planet-saving features including a monthly fuel consumption record storing the previous five months of economy data. The ability to calculate how much is being saved on fuel costs might help justify why you bought a hybrid in the first place. You can order now and deliveries will start around July 9th from a very creditable £26,195.

Fear not petrolheads; motoring hasn’t died, it’s just grown up.

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Pothole App

It had to happen, didn’t it? Our American cousins in Boston have been trying out some smartphone software that automatically detects potholes, the bane of British drivers. According to a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance – whose work is considered to be the most accurate assessment of the state of our roads – reckons that local authorities face a shortfall of £895m in road maintenance budgets. At the same time motoring groups say that, with the rise in VAT and the inflated fuel prices, it appears that the Treasury has trousered some £4 billion since the Coalition took office. As they insist on saying in the USA – do the math.

The App is being tested by New Urban Mechanics, a division of the Boston mayor’s office and it’s going to be launched in the city this Spring. It is called ‘Street Bump’. It detects the location and size of offending craters as you drive over them using a motion sensor and GPS. When a car drives over a pothole or sunken manhole it pinpoints where it is. The driver then has the option to press a button and send the data to the local highways department. Apparently it works really well.

UK councils don’t, unsurprisingly, seem terribly keen on the idea. As many of you have experienced, one of the defences of local government to pothole damage claims is that they were unaware of it, so couldn’t possibly be responsible. Just think. All responsible drivers communicating, in their local area, whenever they encounter a defect. Council’s wouldn’t have a leg to stand on and the cost to them of compensation claims would go through the roof! That might encourage a bit more action on road surface repair from local and national government alike.

The Local Government Association put it differently, as you might expect. They are said to be ‘uneasy’ about the amount of information overload as this full quote states:

“Councils will always try to make the best use of technology to improve services, but an automatic alert system which reports every little undulation risks being more of a hindrance than a help. Highways departments could end up being inundated with thousands of new reports each day about potholes they are already aware of, taking hours for officers to sift through.”

The Street Bump developer points out, however, that local authorities could save time and money spent on surveying roads. By collating the data they could recognise specific problems as drivers on the same road create a ‘map’ of the problem. This would also get around any false or malicious one-offs. It’s not as if the Government don’t have the money! Surely that is what ‘Road Tax’ is for?

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2012 Company Car Tax

This isn’t the most exciting motoring topic in the world but it is important if you happen to drive a car supplied by your employer. Yes, From April 6th the rates of company car tax are changing. Governments talk about simplifying tax but it doesn’t seem to apply here. The tax you pay on a company car is based on a ‘benefit in kind’ (BiK) calculation. Basically this means that your employer giveth and the HMRC taketh away. If, as most people do, you earn more than £8500 per annum, then a supplied vehicle will be taxed. It is worked out thus, and I quote:

“You take the price of the vehicle for tax purposes – known as the P11D value (why?) and multiply it by the ‘appropriate percentage’. That figure is based on the car’s CO² emissions which can be found in the tables published by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs”.

Here’s a current example. “For a petrol car with a P11D value of £20,000 and a CO² output of 120g/km, it is 10%”. Doing the maths, ten percent of twenty thousand is two grand. That’s £167 per calendar month to you. There’s different figures for different types of car, petrol or diesel, for example and they range from 0 CO² to 225 and over CO² through no less than 34 tiny increments.

So now that the facts have sunk in, it is time to change them, as Fran Warburton of ALD Automotive points out:

“The threshold for using 10% … is shifting down from 120g/km to 99g/km”.

This means that, in the above example, the amount of tax levied will rise to £250pcm. That’s 87 quid! Warburton added:

“What’s interesting is that drivers of cars which are currently considered tax efficient – those emitting 100-120g/km – are the ones who will feel the most financial pain from 6th April. Their rate is rising by 5% yet drivers of higher CO² vehicles aren’t really being penalised by the changes because their rates are only going up by 1%”.

Many companies and drivers have overlooked the impact of the change which will increase the amount of BiK tax the user must pay, along with the effect on employer’s national insurance contributions. If you think that’s enough bad news, well, here’s some more: even if, as a driver, you are not planning to change your car this year the new rate still applies! It gets worse – there are more increases in the pipeline. Maybe it is time to look at alternative arrangements?

BIG P.S to this: Sneakily, the government – so supportive of motorists when in opposition – have hidden in the recent budget a decision that, from 2015, zero and ultra-low emission vehicles will be subject to BiK company car tax! So much for supporting business and individuals who try to go green!

 

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