Archive | August, 2012

Taking Their Toll

Will it never end? The relentless war against motorists continues. The present government promised not so long ago – coupled with the fact that it was in their election manifesto – that any tolling of roads would be confined to any newly built stretches of carriageway. How naïve we must have been to believe that.

Under the present Secretary of State for Transport, one Justine Greening MP, we are now told that the administration has plans to raise money for highway improvements (and you thought that was what your road tax was for!) by tolling an ‘enhanced’ twenty mile section of the A14 in Cambridgeshire.

So far so bad, but if you thought that would be it, you are entirely wrong. It has been suggested that the once glorious A303 – which used to be a wonderful road to drive on back in the day – that winds its way west past Stonehenge is, at least in part, to be subject to a toll.

Other roads where they are thinking of applying this additional iniquitous tax include stretches of the A1, A27 and the A30. All this despite – and this is key – that the M6 toll road around Birmingham was pronounced a failure as long ago as 2010!

When it was opened in 2003 it was hailed as the solution to congestion. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Two years ago the Campaign for Better Transport (and they are Greens) pointed out that the toll road was not diverting anywhere near the amount of traffic that it was supposed to do. It is losing money. Research by the Campaign showed that private toll roads didn’t help motorists or investors.

Inevitably, as so often happens, when things don’t work or sell as expected the prices are put up rather than down. Hence the toll on the M6 is now a fiver and motorists are staying away. Many drivers simply can’t afford it. If it was much cheaper, maybe it would work, but nobody seems to see that.

This is short-termism at its worst from a cash-strapped government who don’t apparently have the imagination to think of real ways of helping the economy. As the Campaign said: “Toll roads are not, and will never be, a solution to congestion on Britain’s roads, no matter how attractive they may appear to cash-strapped politicians desperate to deliver otherwise unaffordable road schemes.”

Enough said.

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Toyota Increase Model Range

There once was a time when buyers of new cars felt they could trust Toyota, but in the last three years or so they have experienced a mighty fall from grace. Problems with accelerator and brake pedals, amongst other things, seriously damaged the company’s reputation.

In July 2012, the Japanese company sold 5700 new cars in the UK. That’s an impressive twenty five per cent up on the same period last year, which appears to indicate that motorists have, by and large, forgiven them their transgressions and headed back to the showrooms. These improved figures are better than for the industry as a whole, suggesting that Toyota has re-established its reputation.

The bad news for Toyota is that, just in time for the summer release of no less than four new models, they now have a problem with nearly 800,000 RAV4 and Lexus models. It seems that lock nuts on the rear tie-rods were not tightened properly at assembly and this has allowed rust to develop, causing corrosion and possible failure of the part. It is suggested that this could cause handling problems. Toyota are sorting it out.

This is a shame as the company has started delivering the new Prius+ and Prius Plug-in models (of which more elsewhere on Motor Blogger) and the new Yaris Hybrid. This is a first for Toyota as the new Yaris is Europe’s first full hybrid supermini. The beauty of this car is that the dimensions and space of the original car have not been compromised by the new power train and batteries.

The jewel in the crown of these latest introductions has got be to be the GT86 (previously introduced on these pages) a brilliant back-to-basics sports car that subsequent reviews have deemed to be a triumph. It’s powered by a 2.0L Boxer engine, has good old fashioned rear-wheel drive and sensible wheels which all adds up to a package that’s about good old fashioned driving pleasure rather than brute power.

Customers are returning to Toyota and strong demand for a mix of the 17 model range is being seen in the showrooms. Toyota should have learned their lesson about build quality from the issues of the last few years.

The latest tie-rod problem only apparently affects RAV4 models built between 2006 and 2010 (accounting for the bulk of the recall) and some 18000 Lexus 250h vehicles from 2010 at a time when the other difficulties occurred, so hopefully things are back to where they should be and motorists can buy a Toyota with confidence.

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Porsche Appreciation

One of the joys of buying a new car is when the time comes to pick up your prize purchase. A good dealer will make you feel just a bit special when the time comes to hand over the keys and this agreeable experience doesn’t often get much better than at a Porsche Centre.

In a recent survey with comments from nearly forty thousand respondents, Porsche was rated number one for their peerless customer service.  Anyone who has bought either a new or used Porsche will know this to be true. Your car is not just there, it is presented. The sales person remains attentive and describes your car in great and careful detail which is great, but slightly frustrating as all you really want to do is get in and drive! Nevertheless, those surveyed rated the Porsche dealer network to be the best in the UK.

There is no doubt that the German company make special cars. In the survey the mid-engined Cayman was voted a best buy. This comes as no surprise. Although it has to be said that Porsche’s are expensive to buy there can be no question that the Cayman is value for money. If ever a car could be described as scintillating, it is this one. Owners will talk of its legendary handling and poise at almost any speed. Couple that with great looks and a bomb-proof build quality and the discerning buyer can’t really go wrong. The old saying that ‘ people only buy a Cayman because they can’t afford a Carrera’ is arrogant nonsense.

The survey goes on to rather pointlessly suggest that anyone intending to buy a sports car should ‘choose one with good reliability’. You don’t say. Meanwhile, in the good old US of A, the mighty J.D.Power organisation rated Porsche to be the most popular brand.

In the used car market the Cayman’s sibling, the convertible Boxster, was judged to be the tops for driving enjoyment and warranted an almost perfect score from satisfied owners. The satisfaction quotient for the Porsche Centres wasn’t much less, coming in at 85%. Not entirely perfect then, but still streets ahead of most of the competition.

Given all the above, it will come as no surprise to find out that in the American survey customers voted the 911 to be the best of the premium sports cars. Similarly, the Cayenne – the new shape being a great improvement on the original vehicle – was also lauded in its sector.

Despite their prestige image and indeed their prestige prices it is good to know that one day a Porsche may come within reach and when that day comes it is going to be special.

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Alfa Plan A Better Future

It has been said many times that to be a true petrolhead you must have owned an Alfa Romeo. This is true. Possessing an Alfa is like being married to your dream partner but in the certain knowledge that it will all end in tears.

Take the original Alfasud. No, please, take it. This was the company’s first front wheel drive car and it was touched with genius. It made the equivalent cars in the UK – like the Allegro – look shabby and nasty, which they were. It drove as if on rails. Sure, the seating position was a bit awkward, as it was clearly designed for Italian men with short legs and long arms, but overall it was fabulous: except for one thing. Rust. These cars rusted in real time; you could actually see it happen. Not many of them about now, alas.

Moving on to more recent times, the company gave us the exquisite 159. This car has got to be one of the greatest automotive design masterpieces, ever. Just to stand next to it was enough. Yet there was always a niggle in the back of the mind about Alfa’s reliability record. The company has moved on in leaps and bounds and yet … it’s a worry. Also this car was heavy and ate front tyres for breakfast. Meanwhile, Alfa’s present offerings, the Mito and Giulietta, look great but don’t exactly set the world on fire.

Now Sergio Marchionne, boss at FIAT, the brand’s parent company, has had enough of this dubious reputation. Changes are afoot. Within the next two years the 159 replacement will arrive resurrecting the iconic name of Giulia. There’s a suggestion of what it will look like in the snap, above. Fab, isn’t it? Mr Marchionne wants to finally put the past away in a big box and sees this car as a genuine rival to the BMW 3-Series and the Audi A4.

Not content with this, Alfa plan an assault over the next few years across the various sectors of cars on offer. Already hyped to the max is the wholly desirable 4C, a Cayman rivalling sports car due out in 2013. Initially it will be a coupé with a convertible version to follow. If the expected price tag of £40k is a bit strong for you then look forward to the new small sports car, nominally called the Spider, which is based on the tried and tested chassis and running gear of the Mazda MX5 but with an Alfa designed body and motor. Sadly, we’ve got to wait until 2015 for that one.

For the family man – and yes, it has come to this – Alfa Romeo are building a Crossover for the SUV market. Purists will no doubt throw themselves under its wheels in protest when it comes out in 2014 unless the looks can change their minds. Additionally the company will introduce a revised Mito around the same time.

There can be no argument that Alfa Romeo always seem to be able to design great looking cars. It’s the oily bits underneath that cause the concerns. All that is going to change though. By collaborating with FIAT, Chrysler and Mazda we can only hope that the dubious reputation of the past will be replaced with buyers speaking of Alfa Romeo in the same breath as BMW or Mercedes. Real petrolheads can’t wait.

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Top 5 Driving Experiences

We’ve selected some of the most exciting driving experiences from around the globe that any motorhead must at least try once! Book flights and hotels to the destinations listed with for unbelievable prices.

Amalfi coast
The Costiera Amalfitana, or Amalfi Coast, is Italy’s finest coastal route offering breathtaking panoramas of classic Mediterranean landscape. The roads are winding, narrow, and challenging to drive, however the amazingly stunning views make this road trip one of the most exciting driving experiences in Europe.

Alps in Switzerland
The San Bernardino Pass offers a great amount of variety, travelling through several small villages, and climbing through the tree line to pass a landscape crafted from glaciers and the glorious Lake Moesola. The alpine section drives like a dream, fast, but with some hairpin bends thrown in for thrills.

Four wheel drive in the desert
The desert offers dare devils the thrilling experience of sand boarding the dunes. Drive through never ending desert landscapes, chasing mirages without the annoyance of other vehicles slowing you down.

N152 Spanish Pyrenees
The N152 is a stunning road journey across the Pyrenees, and undoubtedly one of the best anywhere in Europe. This road trip has even been declared by Jeremy Clarkson as one of his favourite roads. With only light traffic to obstruct your journey, and with excellent visibility throughout, the classic mountain twists and turns make it a delight to drive and the views are spectacular.

South of France
Explore the wonder and glamour of Cannes, Marseilles and St Tropez with a classic road trip across the south of France. Go the whole hog and rent a classic car to top the experience, or venture into the playboy world of Monte Carlo and see for yourself the world’s most impressive Formula One Monaco Grand Prix race course.

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American Beauty

Ah, America! Land of the free and home of some the most iconic cars ever made. Anyone who has ever seen the exciting car chase in Bullit will never forget the noise and fury of the Dodge Charger and the Ford Mustang GT used in the 1968 film. From that day on small boys (and big boys) around the world wanted to be Steve McQueen.

What is also revealed in the film is that both cars, although set up for the purpose of filming a car chase, had all the handling characteristics of dodgems on a trampoline. This has always been the drawback of owning a Yank Tank – they are only designed to go in straight lines; which is fine if you live in the USA where corners are just an occasional annoyance.

Nevertheless, in a world of automotive Euro-boxes, appreciation of these leviathans of the road is on the increase as collectors discover – thanks to movies like Bullit and Gone in 60 Seconds and the prevalence of American Muscle in popular culture – that some of these cars are affordable, collectible and fun. Because they rely on brute force they are relatively unsophisticated and therefore easy to fix as well. Suddenly, classics from the USA are taking centre stage.

A new auction of three American Beauties – as well as a mouth-watering selection of British and European vintage and classic motors – will take place on the 1st September at the Historics at Brooklands sale near Weybridge in Surrey. After decades of being derided for the very reasons collectors now want them, prices of Mustangs and Corvettes amongst others, are starting to rise and in some cases double as drivers begin to realise that these cars come from the heyday of motoring. We will never see their like again.

In March 2011 all 56 classic cars used in filming the Captain America movie – at Shepperton Studios, incidentally – were successfully auctioned and this new sale capitalises on that. One example is a mint 1967 Pontiac Catalina ‘Wide-Track’ convertible with a 6.5L 400 engine and something called a Turbo Hydramatic auto ‘box. This model hailed from the dry zones of Texas so should be rust free. Be aware that it is also about the same size as Texas so, although it will swallow all your shopping, you may have a problem in the supermarket car park. Additionally there will be a 19 feet long Buick Limited Riviera Sedan and a restored Chevy Bel-Air to feast your eyes on.

Yes, classic American cars drink fuel and are not noted for immense stopping power, but they are either straightforward no-nonsense power plants or soft-as-air luxury cruisers. Best of all, they come from the days when driving was a pleasure. Re-capture that feeling. Buy a piece of American automotive history.

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Cameras to Cut Littering

Here we go again. Another use for CCTV cameras on Britain’s roads. This time, the idea is to catch the sort of people who throw litter from their car instead of finding a bin or taking it home. On the face of it, this is a good thing. Any right-thinking citizen, driving along our highways, will bemoan the rubbish fluttering gaily in our hedgerows, irresponsibly thrown out by cretins who couldn’t care less. It’s nasty and costs councils countrywide millions of pounds to clean it up. The Highways Agency says 700,000 bin bags full are thrown onto our roads annually.

Littering has always been an offence and rightly so. In London, a little noticed change in the law now allows all of the 33 councils in the Capital to prosecute car owners if junk is thrown from a car. The Local Government Association wants this rolled out nationwide. Councils monitoring the thousands of CCTV cameras will prosecute the owner of the car regardless of who the driver or passengers are. Makes you think twice about lending out your precious wheels. Previously, authorities had to prove who threw the litter. This is where the problem lies.

In a fair society you are innocent until proven guilty, which is as it should be. The worry is that this would be exploited by councils whose motivation is really the collection of fines. A parent who lends their car to their offspring will now be liable, despite being innocent. Similarly, in another change to the law, car owners will be liable for any parking tickets issued. Again, there is no onus on police or councils to prove who was responsible. Car owners are to be penalised for doing nothing wrong.

Drivers are already routinely spied upon by the use of automatic number plate recognition devices, countrywide. Essentially, details of the movement of your car is held on computer for two years, tracking your every move. It is estimated that there are 14.5 million, yes million, readings every day! Despite the authorities repeated statements to the effect that all this surveillance is for our own good and helps them to catch criminals and terrorists, it is interesting to note some stats.

The Metropolitan Police admit that fewer than one crime is solved by every 1000 CCTV units. Further, they confirm that it costs them £4 million every year just to watch TV. Critics reckon that this raises serious concerns about how these cameras are used to allegedly fight crime. For information – there are thought to be 4 million CCTV cameras in Britain. They are looking at you.

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Unlucky for Some – New Car Registration

Some of you will remember the furore when the turn of the last century was approaching. At the stroke of midnight on the first day of the new millennium, it was alleged, planes would fall from the sky and financial institutions would crash as the world’s computers shut down unable to cope with the massive change of date digits. Nothing happened and the world continued in a manner that it considered was normal.

Well, next March, nothing is going to happen again. Superstitious drivers are deeply concerned about the forthcoming ‘13’ registration plates on their new cars. The short answer is, of course, not to buy a car with a thirteen plate; but that isn’t how these things work. Everyone of course knew that this was always going to happen but hey, this is the DVLA we are dealing with here.

There had been rumours that, instead of moving to the fatal number, new car owners would be allowed to retain a ‘62’ plate. No fear of that. The cold, dead voice of the DVLA has pronounced that all will proceed as normal and no concession will be made. Unless, that is, motorists would like to buy a nice private plate, the costs for which start at £250 and rise to stupendous amounts for ‘personalised’ items. So not trying to cash in at all then.

The other problem, as far as the motor trade is concerned, is that superstitious buyers will put off buying their new motor until the ‘63’ plate. There is genuine concern about the prospect of a dip in sales, so much so, that an opt-out choice was fervently hoped for. It has be rightly pointed out that, although it is easy to poke fun at the superstitious amongst us, many people still avoid walking under ladders presumably as a ‘just in case’ precaution. Maybe there is something in it.

This paranoia has a name. Triskaidekaphobia. A fear of the number thirteen. Even if the buyer is not worried, family and friends might be and will refuse to ride with a person who is obviously insane. There is a possible knock-on effect to this too. New car sales could be down and, at a later stage, sales of used cars might be affected as customers decline vehicles on the basis of their plate. If fact, will this evil number actually affect the depreciation on a car? The immediate loss of value as a new car leaves a forecourt could be magnified by this magic folklore.

The choice is yours. Do you put life, limb and financial security at risk? Or is it a load of old tosh? Maybe dealers will be so badly affected that they will offer fairytale discounts. Go on – take a chance. Dealers are counting on it. Just remember to touch wood as you enter the showroom.

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Happiness is an abstract concept. Curiously, you can feel it but you can’t touch it. Our cars make us happy but this euphoria evaporates almost from the minute you pull out and enter traffic. This is when even the most benign suburban streets can turn into a war zone.
As if life wasn’t tough enough, the average motorist has a lot to additionally deal with. Poor road surfaces, rotten weather and the rules of the road all seem to conspire against drivers; and yet these inconveniences pale into insignificance when compared with the bane of our lives – other drivers. The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, once said that “Hell is other people”. Clearly, at some point, he has driven in the UK.
People: stop and think for a minute. What sort of driving personality are you? Some of you will be careful, others volatile. Perhaps there are some who should be locked up for their own good. Is that a devil or an angel on your shoulder? Watch the video and seek your inner self. Maybe it’s time to be a little more charitable to each other and just maybe that might help to reduce the dings and scrapes of modern motoring. Feel the love on the streets and be happy.

This post has been sponsored by but the thoughts are our own.

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E-Calling New Cars

When an authority – in this case the mighty EU – decide to enact another rule, it is sometimes hard to decide whether it is a good thing or not. Mostly, citizen’s hate being dictated to but in this latest instance it might just be a good idea.

From 2015 the European Parliament wants all new cars to be fitted with eCall – an automatic device with a direct line to the emergency services. In the event of a crash the system will automatically signal the 112 alarm (that’s Europe’s version of 999) and start the emergency response. The idea for this was first mooted in 2003 and a voluntary deal was done to have this kit fitted into all European cars by 2009. Although some 0.4% cars were duly equipped, most were not. Accordingly, this generated the present intention to make them mandatory.

Sensors will know when an impact occurs, triggered by the deployment of airbags for example. Satellite tracking will determine the exact location of the accident and contact the nearest emergency service thus minimising delays in response times. It is estimated that this could save 2500 lives each year and, by virtue of the earlier attendance, help reduce the severity of injuries.

The system will also provide some evidence of the circumstances leading up to the incident. This will include vehicle ID, direction of travel, speed and so on. Knowing how the device was triggered, either automatically or by a passenger may also suggest an idea of the state of the occupants. At some point, motorcycles, commercials and PSV’s will be included.

The idea is that car makers will have to build the device into the car. This is expected to add some eighty pounds to the cost of a new car, although economies of scale may bring that down. Full deployment will require the combines efforts of manufacturers, emergency services and mobile operators. The UK is still considering this as some are concerned about cost issues, but it is probable that we’ll go along with it at some point.

Registering for the scheme is expected to be free. The system could well be subsumed over time into insurance schemes, road tolls and tracking of stolen vehicles. The EU are insisting that eCall will not be used to track people and will essentially be in hibernation mode until such time as an incident occurs. That’s the worry. Can they be trusted to honour that commitment? Nevertheless, this seems to be a sensible step to improved road safety. Maybe it will help bring down insurance premiums!

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