Archive | October, 2012

Electric Cars Not Ready?

No doubt all drivers have an opinion but it really doesn’t matter what we think. The industry decides what they want to give us and produce vehicles accordingly. The idea of electric cars, for example, has been around for almost as long as conventional cars have; the problem is that the technology hasn’t been available. Until now. Or so we thought.

Over the last couple of decades or so, the ecology minded amongst us have issued dire warnings about the plight of the earth and the fact that we are sucking all the goodness out of it, like an irresistibly juicy orange.

Never one’s to miss jumping on a bandwagon when they see it, politicians decided that the world would run out of oil in pretty short order and that something needed to be done about the greenhouse gases for which we were all responsible. It’s not for this blog to express an opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of this. We want the facts, M’am. Just the facts.

The onus was upon car makers to produce ultra-clean cars with some form of alternative propulsion. Electricity seemed the way forward. Much R&D went into producing a viable product. Meanwhile, manufacturers presumably decided to hedge their bets and continued to work on improving conventional internal combustion motors.

Now it may well appear to have been a sensible approach. Toyota have announced that they do not now intend to build their electric version of the iQ in any significant quantity. They had planned to produce thousands to meet the perceived need. In fact, they are only going to make about one hundred for specific markets, mostly their home country.

This is thought to be because they do not now believe that both the world and the technology is ready for EV’s. This is logical because of all the negative, but not unreasonable, publicity surrounding battery technology and range anxiety. They are listening to their customers.

There’s nothing wrong with the concept of electric cars. Hybrids, whilst not perfect and not quite as green as they appear to be, are still a viable alternative and this looks like the direction that the Japanese company will take for the foreseeable future. The snag is that desire has outstripped the ability to realise the dream.

It’s not all bad news for EV fans. Nissan has sold some thirty eight thousand Leaf’s (should that be Leaves?) and remain confident in their product. Nevertheless, you can bet your last litre of petrol that other manufacturers will watch this one closely. Which way will they turn?

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Will Road Tax Be Replaced By A One-Off Fee?

Many, many years ago there was a charge made on goods. It was called Purchase Tax. You bought something and its price was augmented with an additional fee. Over the years this has morphed into Value Added Tax whilst all the time gradually increasing the amount of duty added. So what? We’re all used to governments looking at new and sneaky ways of relieving us of even more money so that they don‘t have to cut back on the chocolate Hobnob‘s on the Cabinet table.

One of the other ways they do this is to charge us Vehicle Excise Duty to drive on the roads. As you know all too well, we pay this annually. Currently it is based on CO² emissions. The less polluting your car, the less tax you pay. This is designed to get us into small, clean cars – whether we want to or not – by making costs increasingly expensive to do otherwise.

Well, now some chaps at something called a ‘think-tank’ have come up with another wheeze. Instead of paying road tax (VED) every year, new car buyers should, instead, pay a new one-off purchase tax based on a car’s emissions (in addition to VAT, before you ask). The more polluting the vehicle, the more you pay. Apparently, the present Energy Secretary is looking upon this benignly.

Hang on, you might well say, that doesn’t seem such a bad idea. Pay once and be done with it. Well, in the same way that you casino online would look suspiciously at a pie well beyond its sell-by date, pick it up and have a bit of a sniff.

An example widely quoted is that of a 1.25L petrol Fiesta. This currently costs (average) £9084. Its new price would be £10734. That’s a difference of £1650! The current model emits 124g/km and thus attracts a VED of £100pa. Assuming nothing changes that would mean that, to recover your additional outlay, you would have to keep the car for sixteen and a half years! Realistically, how long does the average car last?

For sports and super cars the purchase tax would be huge. Also, what would happen to used car values? Presumably cars would still need a paper licence to put on display for MOT and insurance purposes. How would that be funded? Feel free to pick even more holes in this ill-though through idea and let us know.

Does this then mean that electric cars would be free of such a tax? Terrific – or rather it would be if it were not for the EU ruling that says we must switch off our coal-fired power stations next year, potentially resulting in power outages as the remaining system fails to cope. Where will electric cars be then? Let us hope they think this through.

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Road Toll Update: Parts 1 & 2

Road tolling. Brings a whole new meaning to the expression ‘charging along the road’, doesn’t it? Around the time of the last election the now Prime Minister stated that there would be no toll charges on existing roads. In fact, he meant existing unimproved roads. Aha. Any existing road that receives substantial ‘enhancement’ (an official word with a variety of meanings) is fair game. When you take into account this government’s intention of ‘increasing investment in strategic roads through greater use of private capital’, you can get a clearer idea of what’s in store.

Following a report about alleged tolling of parts of the A14, the A303 and a few others where ‘enhancement to increase capacity’ was suggested, subsequent investigation has highlighted considerably more information. It should be mentioned that the government has said that tolling can only take place ‘where an alternative route would be available for local traffic’. Eagled eyed readers will have noted that nothing is mentioned of through traffic.

It looks very much as if we should all make sure our sat-nav’s are up to date and set to avoid toll roads. That should make for a few interesting diversions; and especially so because, as it now turns out, there are around two hundred new road schemes in the planning system countrywide, so expect some Swampy-like protests to be up and running in the not too distant future. (History fans: Swampy was a mud-encrusted protester and tunnel builder from 1996 in the battle to stop the Newbury By-Pass. Ultimately the protesters failed but have been proved right as the road has not been anything like the success it was supposed to be and accidents rates have risen since it opened).

With a sort of wearying inevitability the Department for Transport said that ‘new roads were vital to prosperity’; but then they would say that, wouldn’t they? In the meantime a millionaire businessman has pledged to support the fighting funds of any viable community groups that are set up to oppose these forthcoming schemes.

Of the many proposals, arguably the most significant are for a new motorway across the Peak District National Park and ‘enhancements’ to the A30 and A303 in the West Country. Stonehenge will never be the same again. To this you can add a Hastings – Bexhill link road which passes within a few metres of an important nature reserve.

No doubt the pro’s and con’s will be debated at length as these things proceed but there is unquestionably the acrid whiff of politics behind it all. Do we need more roads or just better ones? Should they spend money building more roads when they can’t maintain the ones we’ve got? Like the man who drank too much syrup of figs – this one will run and run.


And, in fact, it has. The latest news report is that any new road building or major ‘enhancement’ may well be franchised out to foreign capital. The Department for Transport is apparently looking at ‘new funding models’. Most commentator’s are sceptical, and rightly so. It has been reported that the M6 toll road – operated by Midland Expressway – has suffered a £41 million loss. How many foreign investors are going to be impressed by that? Yet they shouldn’t worry as the government has come up with a suggested solution that is so bizarre as to merit their immediate sectioning.

Are you sitting down? It seems that the way to encourage investment is to ensure potential investors that if tolls fell below an agreed level then the treasury would pay them the difference, probably out of road tax funds. Effectively this means that drivers could be paying twice to use the same piece of road at any one time. Does this, or does this not, beggar belief? What’s worse is that they get away with a similar arrangement on the railways already; but it’s not quite the same as rail users don’t have a route choice; drivers do.

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A New Era of Engines

Motorists are beginning to despair for their future motoring. The rising cost of fuel, for which the government must take a large portion of the blame, has really started to bite. Many people rely on their cars, whether it is for work or because they live in rural areas, for example. Public transport is often cited as an alternative but bus companies won’t service unprofitable routes and the cost of train tickets for regular travel is for many people greater than that of running a small vehicle. Fortunately, car manufacturers are not sitting idly by and, now that the government in its wisdom has decided to tax electric cars from 2015, are working hard on ever more fuel efficient engines.

In addition to hybrid technology and the fuel-sipping motors already on offer, there are other systems undergoing viability testing. Mazda, for example, are confidently trumpeting their ‘SkyActiv’ diesel technology. Briefly, the idea is that instead of raising a diesel engine’s compression, they lower it which allows the fuel to ignite earlier in the combustion cycle. Although this produces a smaller ‘bang’ the effect lasts longer promoting torque and refinement. Because the compression ratio is lower the engine does not have to be so hefty, resulting in a lighter unit which has better torque and achieves a 20% fuel saving.

Another interesting new concept is flywheel technology which has already appeared on some experimental vehicles. Flywheels can store the energy on hybrid vehicles that would be otherwise lost under braking, for use again under acceleration. They are much cleaner and cheaper to make and, now that the science has moved forward, smaller and lighter as well. The downside is that they can’t store power for long and are dependant on brake use.

As has been seen on the new Bentley V8, cylinder deactivation is already a viable fuel saving solution. This is of course terrific if you have the necessary £140k but thankfully, Volkswagen is preparing small four cylinder units, using pretty much the same method as the Bentley, that will have what is described as ‘variable displacement’ technology allowing the car to run on just two cylinders at appropriate times. Meanwhile over at Mercedes Benz their engineers are working on the Diesotto engine which aims to give petrol engine performance with the fuel efficiency of the very best diesel.

On the new and highly regarded EV, the Vauxhall Ampera, when the juice runs out a small 1.4L petrol engine steps in to act as a generator. Manufacturers are looking at ways to improve on this basic idea. Jaguar demonstrated gas turbines on its concept supercar the C-X75 – although it is thought that these won’t make production. Audi meanwhile are currently working on a small Wankel rotary engine of only 250cc for its A1 e-tron range extender concept. Add to all these experimentation ideas the cyclone external combustion engines – too complicated to detail here – and fuel saving electrically operated engine valves and you can get an idea of how car makers are pushing the envelope to keep motoring alive.

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Volkswagen Tiguan Gets Sporty for Car Leasing and Contract Hire


There’s no getting away from the fact that small cars are beginning to dominate the market for all the economic and ecological reasons you might expect. The problem is that, for the most part, they are not especially family or business orientated. This is where the VW Tiguan steps up to the mark.

First introduced to us in 2008 this small 4×4 immediately became a firm favourite with drivers who needed something a bit more substantial. It fits neatly into the compact SUV category and regularly features in top 5 listings.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a touch of the VW Golf in the way it looks and as you would expect from the brand, it is well made, roomy and comfortable. On the move, it looks somewhat more prestigious than the more glitzy offerings in this sector. At its best on the road where it offers a safe drive, it can still hold its own when the going gets a bit rougher, which is pretty much all that most owners will need. For that ‘wind in your hair’ effect without actually getting wind in your hair, VW offer a really terrific panoramic sunroof as an option. This, you will want. This makes a lot of sense for the business user or the driver who needs something that can handle everything British roads throw at it.

One area that has burgeoned in recent years is that of car leasing. This is a great alternative way of running a new car and is increasingly popular. Once, the number of vehicles available was limited but these days customers who choose the leasing option can have their pick, including the Tiguan which is now available from Volkswagen Tiguan Car Leasing. This makes a lot of sense for the business user or the driver who needs something that can handle everything British roads throw at it.

The Tiguan is available with either two or four wheel drive and for the more rugged user there’s the ‘Escape’ model which features shorter overhangs and under body protection. For the most economical choice given the price of fuel, VW have kindly included their BlueMotion engine option; otherwise there is a selection of  engines to suit all requirements.

This car is already a handsome fellow but, not content to rest on their laurels, the company have announced the new R-Line. This is based on the already well featured SE trim level but adds glamorous wheels, bi-xenon lamps, various body and grill embellishments on the outside. Inside the cabin the R-Line enthusiast can expect sports seats and two-tone upholstery. The overall effect is rather splendid in a Volkswagen sort of way. No flash here.

So whichever way you choose to get your next vehicle, the Volkswagen Tiguan makes a lot of sense. Reliable, efficient and family proof, it’s the ideal choice for mixed motoring.



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The Road To The Future

When it comes to cars, everybody has a story to tell. Some people will tell you that they remember a time when petrol cost under one pound per gallon and how, during the ‘three day week’ of historical fame, they had to queue for four weeks to get a cup-full of fuel. Or something like that.

They will speak of early road-side café’s where you could get a decent full English breakfast or sumptuous lunch for less than five old pence and nobody had heard of speed cameras.

Sadly, times move on. Now, when a customer orders a full English at motorway services they not only know precisely what they will get but where each ingredient will be on the plate. When they stop for fuel they will have to help themselves and then stand in line whilst someone at the till buys groceries, batteries and a bargain copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’; and that’s just the blokes.

We all hope for a better future; that one day an enlightened politician, like a solicitous nanny, will tell us that everything is going to be all right. This is what makes it all a bit sad – ain’t never going to happen. Instead, like road transport, we will be over regulated across the entire gamut of our lives.

It is not a bad idea to use a motoring analogy. On the roads we are spied on relentlessly. Somewhere in the UK there is a computer with your face on it, possibly as an amusing screensaver. Your car can be tracked wherever it goes. Just like life the road ahead is littered with potholes. At every turn in the process of buying and running a car there is tax to pay. This is modern life.

So what to do? There is little a motorist can do regarding the surveillance society but it is possible to fight back in a small way. Governments take a short-term view of taxation to meet their needs at any given time over say, a five year period. They tax fuel but over time, as a consequence of this, we buy less of it. We look at alternatives like smaller and much more economical cars, bicycles, even walking in an effort to save money. There has to come a breaking point and unless there is some radical new thinking as to how we balance the books the long term effect will be the end of both the car industry and car ownership as we know it; and that will have a major knock-on effect to how we lead our lives.

At some point in the future, people will reminisce, not about pleasant road side eateries or leisurely drives through verdant countryside, but about the fact that they once saw a thing called a motorcar. Apparently, it’s called progress.

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VW At The Forefront – Again

Everybody know the Volkswagen Golf. It is rightly considered to be a reliable and classy choice for the discerning motorist. It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that the seventh generation of this popular evergreen has been shown at the Paris Motor Show.

Over the last few years this established car has spawned a sort of frugal sibling which goes under the guise of the Golf BlueMotion. Same car but with the emphasis strongly on economy. Volkswagen clearly understand the needs of the modern motorist and are catering for it. The price of petrol dictates nothing else.

So it is then that the third generation of the BlueMotion Golf has been simultaneously announced at the Paris show – and it’s an astonishing revelation. Who would have considered just a few years ago that a car with a 1.6L diesel engine developing 110bhp could achieve 88.3 miles per gallon whilst only belching out a modest 85g/km of the smoky stuff. This is the claim made by the company.

It seems clear that because of the public’s concern about the real-world suitability of electric vehicles, at least for now, those clever engineers at VW have decided to hedge their bets with some serious conventional engine technology. The result is the success story that is BlueMotion.

This frugal Golf has been around now for five years and this is the car’s third version. At its introduction the combined figures of 62.8mpg and 119g/km seemed awesome but they pale into insignificance compared to the latest version. With a fifty litre fuel tank this car can achieve a theoretical distance of 970 miles. Even for the driver with the worst mother-in-law in the world this is probably far enough in one sitting.

Consumption figures like this can’t be achieved without some serious engine evolution. This small four cylinder motor is loaded with the latest tech – thermal management systems, reductions in internal friction (always a good thing), water-cooled intercoolers, catalytic converters, particulate filters; the list is endless and probably includes the dark arts. Whatever; this is a seriously efficient car.

But efficient doesn’t have to mean dull. This is still a Golf, so buyers can expect the legendary build quality, the usual high standard of fixtures and fittings and excellent aerodynamic properties. Needless to say there will be no point in trying a grand prix standing start against a GTi but that isn’t the reason people will buy this car. What it may lack in performance it makes up for in every other department. Although the Golf is at the more expensive end of this sector it has still got to be a great long-term buy.

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In Praise of Small Cars

As you probably know, it all started back in 1959 when the original Mini first burst onto the motoring scene. What a revelation it apparently was. Here was a car that could carry four, park on a sixpence (old coin – don’t worry about it) and be repaired using only Meccano and the interior parts of an old sofa.

It set the tone for the future of motoring and the more time has progressed the more compact cars have become. It’s interesting that, despite the many improvements in automotive technology, nobody has really bettered that old original car for sheer smallness. Some have tried and generally failed. The present iteration of the Mini is vast compared to that tiny predecessor, but in the main, manufacturers fit a great deal into small packages.

The Ford Fiesta is a case in point. It’s bigger than it used to be but contains vastly more technology than the original version. It is also more frugal and actually looks far more expensive than it actually is.

Meanwhile, over at Citroen, the DS3 is gaining popularity faster than Nicole Scherzinger when all the boys thought she’d left that Hamilton chap. This diminutive car has somehow developed a personality that appeals across the board. It can be configured in many ways and thus becomes all things to all buyers.

There are city cars that rival the Mini of old but because of the bewildering array on offer don’t somehow seem to have that same appeal. They are economic tools for town driving and public interest doesn’t really extend beyond that. Yet these little marvels are capable of much more. Most of them can hold their own on the motorway and are perfectly able to manage distance work. In short, they are underestimated because the manufacturers don’t really push all their virtues.

Polo’s, IQ’s, Swift’s, 500’s, i10’s, Fabia’s and even Granddad’s favourite, the Jazz, are all cracking cars in their own right. All manufacturers have a small car to call their own and now Vauxhall are getting in on the act with the funky new Adam. Ideally, they’d have a chosen a different name but that’s a matter of personal choice.

The Adam is likely to take the market by storm, given its modern chic looks. Build quality looks to be superb. The variation options are called Jam (trendy), Glam (luxury) and Slam (sporty); so presumably the names were chosen whilst under the influence of an hallucinogen. This small car is designed to rival the Mini and aims to really push the boat out as Vauxhall are claiming that it would be possible to order over one million trim and colour combinations, which seems excessive and is likely to inspire some weird and wonderful choices. Still, Vauxhall won’t concern themselves with resale values but they have promised to ensure that customers don’t go too mad. Illuminated starlight interior roof panel anyone?

So, overall, the small car is king. Long may it reign.

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