Archive | December, 2012

With Age Comes Experience

Here’s a New Year  resolution for you. The next time you are out driving and come up behind an old car – usually a Rover 25 – being driven by what appears to be Gollum’s dad wearing a flat cap, spare a thought and have a bit of charity because, by the grace of your deity, one day this will be you. Only after you’ve done this is it acceptable for you to overtake whilst muttering “shouldn’t be allowed on the road” under your breath.

Only now, you can’t even do that because older drivers, it is established, are just as safe as anybody else – and that’s official. They might well be slower but that’s just because they have a better attitude to road safety and deal with hazards in a more experienced way. So there.

Historically, it has often been accepted that as a person ages so their reactions become sluggish and the opportunity for disaster is increased. To an extent this is correct but a recent survey reports that drivers over the age of seventy five reacted just as quickly as any other age group in a straightforward emergency situation – the sudden appearance of a car out of a side road, for example. The effects of old age – less physical mobility, sight problems and so on don’t make that much difference. Apparently, drivers over 70 make up some 9% of motorists but only 6% of the casualty statistics.

The reasons are probably obvious. Older people do not drive as fast and they leave larger gaps behind leading cars. These old codgers don’t have it all their own way though as they are likely to make less use of the rear view mirror and have a habit of stopping short at junctions.

It is officially recommended that ageing motorists get the once-over from their GP to check on things like arthritis or similar debilitating problems as needed for their general fitness to drive. We are all advised to take regular breaks and refreshments on long journeys but, it is suggested, the aged ones should maybe take more. With driving, good observation is vital. Older drivers can misinterpret or misjudge situations which may well be why they tend to drive more sedately.

So give these old timers a break. Old age comes to us all and, at some point, there will come a time when we’ll know in our heart of hearts that it is time to hand over the keys. But look on the bright side – when you are in your dotage and a passenger in your family’s car you can look out the window at the ageing slowcoach in front and hurl abuse as you flash by. It’s your entitlement.

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UK Motor Industry Bucks The Trend

Demonstrating its resilience in the face of our economic woes, the British automotive sector has had a good year. It is amazing to think that the UK actually has no less than seven volume car makers, eight commercial manufacturers and eight Formula 1 teams resident. We are the second biggest vehicle market in Europe and have produced ten per cent more vehicles than last year.

So whilst the British media like to concentrate on – and hype up – all our problems, they have remained fairly tight-lipped about this industrial success story that continues to provide many jobs as Nissan in Sunderland have proved.

It doesn’t stop there because UK car makers are doing their bit for the environment by continually reducing emissions which are down 3.5% in just one year. The average is now a sweet smelling 133.2g/km. In fact, in the last ten years emissions are down by 23% in total. It has become obvious that fuel efficiency, new types of vehicles and some exceptionally good deals especially in the city car and supermini sectors, have driven this growth in the industry.

There are plenty more new models in the pipeline and, in 2013, more electric cars will join the fray – despite the public’s reservations – and the number of hybrids continues to rise. Cars are offering increasingly sophisticated safety features as the lists of options available grows and grows. Cars are now seen as lifestyle choices rather than just playthings or transport.

In 2013 new car registrations are expected to top two million units. This is because the industry has invested a not insignificant £6 billion in just two years. Overseas sales account for as much as ten per cent of British exports and the net value-added to the UK economy is some £12 billion, so at least someone is paying their taxes.

The continued popularity of the automobile worldwide can be judged by the content at the North American International Motor Show in Detroit in January 2013. Manufacturers have committed to unveiling some 50 new models either for worldwide or North American distribution. That’s great for the global auto industry and great for new car byuers. The choice has never been better.

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Resolve To Be A Better Driver

As the end of the year approaches we take stock of the past twelve months and think about how we can improve as people and citizens. Yes folks, it’s time to make those New Year Resolutions. Here at Motor Blogger we have picked up a rumour that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has resolved to be a better person and will reduce the cost of petrol to 1980’s prices! What a gent! Actually, if we’re honest we might have made that up but hey, there’s nothing wrong with inspiring a bit of optimism for 2013 is there?

So what will your resolutions be? For a start you could probably afford to lose a few kilos. Now don’t be like that, you know it’s true and if you want to get into those Speedos next Summer without looking like a walrus in a thong then the 1st January is the time to start. You might also want to consider what it means to be a motorist on Britain’s roads today.

With roads becoming increasingly crowded and with the looming prospect of toll roads and a new generation of speed cameras, there is simply no point in going fast. Certainly, owning a powerful car is great but pretty soon there’ll be nowhere left to use it. Instead, especially if you’re in the market for a new car, why not consider one of the new breed of technically advanced cars that are pleasing to the eye – but not fast – and just chill out? Accept the fact that whatever the 0-60 time of your chosen vehicle is, when you’re eventually doing seventy then you’re doing seventy so you are going just as fast as everybody else can anyway.

Instead of speeding on the roads why not consider dishing out your assertiveness  at one of the popular motor racing circuits around the country. They all offer driving packages and, especially the way things are now, they are offering some very good deals indeed. It’s safe – there are instructors – and you get to use their high performance cars. It’s fun and it could be funded by the lower insurance premiums and road tax that a much less powerful and more efficient car will attract.

As we’ve mentioned before a little bit of courtesy wouldn’t go amiss. It is unquestionably true that drivers are becoming more aggressive; no doubt because of the many frustrations of modern life. Still, we could all resolve to be a better driver. Enjoy your car by all means but by accepting the inevitable and increasing restrictions on our roads, no matter how irritating, we might all be a bit happier.

This coming year there is a huge amount of auto excellence to look forward to. You’ll begin to see what’s new from January’s Chicago Show onwards and there’s plenty of new innovations and models in the pipeline. So this year let’s all make a really determined effort to change our ways, lose some weight, give up smoking (again) and be nice to the Chancellor if you happen to come across him in the supermarket (throwing buns at politicians may be fun but is quite wasteful).

In any case, whatever you decide to do it’ll all probably go to hell in a hand basket within a short space of time anyway; but you will feel better for a few days at least and that’s the important thing. Happy New Year.

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Mazda Harvest Auto Energy

All cars produce energy which is wasted when the car is under braking or running on a trailing throttle. Once a bit of a Holy Grail, auto engineers are gradually cracking the problem and the results will benefit all of us. For example, it is now routine for Formula 1 racing cars to collect kinetic energy from the waste heat of braking (KERS) which is stored and converted into power when extra performance is needed. Similar technology is beginning to filter down to the sort of cars we buy. This is a good thing and most manufacturers are working towards it – including Mazda.

The successful Japanese company have come up with their own unique take on a solution to harvesting energy that would otherwise be wasted. Brake energy (as above) is the most common solution for capturing this extra power. It is commonly used to recharge the batteries on hybrids and EV’s or to power electrical systems like air-conditioning without the adverse effect on fuel consumption.

Mazda, in keeping with their ‘SKYACTIV’ technology, have taken route by using a capacitor to store the electricity. It will feature on the new Mazda 6 (pictured) when it appears and it is called I-ELOOP (Intelligent Energy Loop). It is unique in the way it harvests the precious juice and allows the company to gradually introduce auxiliary electrical systems to power future in-car technology.

Even just a few seconds of braking makes a difference. To explain the process we quote the Mazda blurb verbatim – “…an electric double-layer capacitor (EDLC), which recharges fully in only a few seconds. An efficient 12V-25V variable voltage alternator generates the electricity and charges the EDLC; a DC/DC converter then steps down the voltage to power electrical components such as the climate control air-conditioning and audio systems, with any surplus going to the starter battery.”

The I-ELOOP system will enhance Mazda’s I-STOP technology, their take on ‘stop-start’ which is featuring on many cars today. The beauty of systems such as this means that cars are becoming cleaner and ever more efficient and that will save us money in the long run. With the cost of fuel as it is both we and the environment should all be very grateful.

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New Cars To Expect In 2013

Every year at about this time it can be guaranteed that certain things will happen. Television companies will interview Noddy Holder and show diabolical ‘Christmas Specials’ recorded last August or even last century. Look carefully and you can see the sweat on Santa’s brow. The other thing that is sure to happen is that you will start considering which new car to buy in 2013.

Once upon a time the motorists of Britain would troop off annually to a strange and windblown area of London called Earls Court – where their ears would be assailed by the mysterious twang of Australian accents – to look at new offerings from motor manufacturers and that would be it for the year. Now, car shows proliferate world-wide and the choice available to us has never been greater. This is a good thing.

In the year forthcoming we can expect to see, the economy notwithstanding, a range of exciting new vehicles. Some are concepts that may make it into production but others will be in the showrooms soon.

Let’s start with the good old Renault Clio, with us for over twenty years. This is a car that the French company re-invent from time to time. This fourth generation model is a real looker – it’s got a wider stance, a lower ride height and a face that comes straight from the glorious DeZir concept It will only be available as a five door, including the subsequent Renaultsport model.

As you might expect it’s packed with tech thanks to the integrated system known as R-Link, a big touchy-feely screen that’s internet-able, with satellite navigator, Bluetooth, voice commands and so on. It will even give eco-driving advice, presumably in a pious and holier-than-thou tone of voice. As ever there’s a selection of engines including a new three cylinder and a diesel capable of 88mpg, so they say.

In the battle of the superminis, Mitsubishi are wading in with the Mirage. It’s got everything you’d expect at the price point and is designed to compete against the likes of the Skoda Fabia and Hyundai i20. The only snag is that it’s looks are a little bland – some competitors may be more appealing for this cosmetic reason alone.

VW will feature the GTI version of their 7th generation Golf and Ford their much anticipated ST version of the popular Fiesta. There’s the attractive and sporty looking Kia Pro Cee’d, new Leon’s and Toledo’s from SEAT and, later in the year, a new Mondeo (pictured). This is a really nice looking car that’s bigger than the present model yet – surprise, surprise – it will be offered with Ford’s  acclaimed 1.0L three cylinder EcoBoost engine offering a punchy 125bhp. It will be interesting to see if that little postage sized unit can lug this huge car around without gasping for breath at every incline.

At a very rough count there will be some 44 new or revamped cars to choose from in 2013 (as well as all the existing models) but this includes some previous concept cars that may make it into production, but aren‘t confirmed. For some of them, the Skoda Mission L is an example; this should be a reality though. So reach for the plastic. 2013 is going to be another bumper year for car buyers. If a new car is out of the question, the used car market is looking like good value just now. You’re spoiled for choice.

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People’s Choice

There was a time, not so long ago, when motorists aspired to bigger, better and faster cars. The automobile as status symbol. Ownership of a prestige brand was a demonstration that the driver was successful and people aspired to this. Well, now it has all changed and the car is seen as just part of what we are pleased to call lifestyle.

This means that performance figures and sheer physical size are being ignored in favour of real world choices like running costs, fuel consumption and safety. We like our cars to be part of what we do and, increasingly, they are being electronically connected to our social activities, like a home away from home.

Car makers have responded to this very astutely. Cars are, by and large, pretty good value. They are very reliable. Most importantly they are becoming smaller and much more efficient. Out and out performance has given way to comfort and mod-cons.

Traditionally, new developments have slowly trickled down from the R&D departments, through the luxury end of the market until such time as the economies of scale could see them fitted to our everyday motors. It took ten years for the airbag to filter down from its introduction in an expensive Mercedes to be fitted as standard to a family hatchback – the Honda Civic.

Today, the pace of change is much faster. Cars that are within everyday budgets can do some remarkable things for themselves and this year – seen recently at the Paris motor show – many popular models will be available with real cutting edge technology.

Seatbelt airbags, intelligent lighting that gets brighter the faster the car is going, parallel parking assistance and auto-braking are all in evidence as standard. Lane departure warnings and adaptive radar based cruise control are becoming the norm.

Ford have taken another important step. At some point in the life of an adult a day will come when, as parents, they become afraid; very afraid. One of the kids has just passed their driving test and want to borrow the car. This of course is a cunning ruse by the former ankle-biter to get the parent to buy a separate car for them; but for those grown-ups of a sterner disposition who hold their ground, be thankful for Ford’s MyKey system.

This allows for certain parameters to be enforced on the car. Set speeds can be programmed and warnings emitted. Volume controls can be set to stun rather than loud enough to make ears bleed and so on. It’s a great step forward that teenagers will hate, but, hey, that’s part of the fun of being a parent. We may no longer aspire to expensive vehicles but at least we are now able to avail ourselves of the best and latest safety features. We might not ride in luxury but we ride well and you can’t say fairer than that.

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Aston Martin Centenary 2013

Aston Martin is a name that is dear to the hearts of British car enthusiasts. Even those whose interest in cars stops at them being mere transport will concede that over the years they have made some truly beautiful vehicles and they just go on getting even more desirable.

It was on the 15th January that Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford founded this iconic brand. The company was originally called Bamford & Martin. Bamford had successes at the Aston Clinton Hill Climb (you can see where this is going) in their first cars. Although Gaydon in Warwickshire is now the base the company was first based in Henniker Mews in Chelsea. The two founders first sold Singer cars but soon decided to build their own at which point the company became Aston Martin.

To celebrate this there will be a photo-shoot at Henniker Mews on the founding date featuring the oldest surviving Aston, an A3 (pictured) and the latest ultimate dream machine, the 2013 Vanquish. There will be a plaque to commemorate the occasion.

It’s a surprise to learn that in the first 90 years of production, even during the famous David Brown years, the company built less than 15000 cars! Introducing a note of horror, David Brown – who put his initials on some of the most famous cars – actually used a Jaguar XJ Series 1 as his personal motor! It says something about the more recent transformation of the company that, since 2003, they have built 45000 units.

In the same period the company has supplemented the modern range of the DB9 and the Vantage with other models and variations including the superb Rapide. Now that’s what we call a family car! The expansion has continued worldwide as Aston Martin have become truly international boasting 146 dealerships around the globe.

From the 15th to the 21st July there will be a week-long festival. It’s open house at Gaydon that week and will include factory based events and driving tours. Form an orderly queue. The highpoint is a concours event in central London. It will be a year to remember for Aston Fans.

In the century since the company’s inception, Aston Martin has represented the peak of sporting excellence, stunning design and old-school craftsmanship. Times change and other owners will come along but the name Aston Martin arches over such trivialities to remain resolutely British at heart. Just ask James Bond.

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No Longer Impressed By Impreza

With a sense of loss to real car enthusiasts, Subaru have confirmed that they are dropping the Impreza model and the high performance WRX-STI version (pictured – now identified separately from the other derivation) in the UK. Although the Japanese and the Americans love these cars and buy them in droves we don’t have the same affection for them. This is undoubtedly not so much because of a lack of ardour for them but rather – being old school – they are becoming simply too expensive to insure and run. Our American cousins may complain about the cost of petrol in the USA but frankly they have no idea, do they? We should be so lucky.

In their earlier incarnations they excelled on the rally circuit, especially in the hands of the late, great Colin McRae. At one time they dominated the scene but as rules changed and cars became more technical and fuel efficient so the Subaru’s dropped out of favour. Nevertheless, they are still out there in the hands of privateers on the world rally circus.

The company have been evaluating the new Impreza in Britain but they have failed to realise any demand so it won’t be coming here. Fans of these cars should buy now whilst stocks last, as they say. The sad truth is that these performance cars can no longer compete with modern opposition like the VW Golf R and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, especially in terms of design and emissions. Obviously the dealers will still maintain all servicing schedules and parts supply as you would expect well into the future.

Subaru are looking to the future and are pinning their UK hopes on the brilliant new sports car, the BRZ and the recently released and rather good crossover called the XV (featured a while ago on Motor Blogger). There are also new versions of the sturdy Forester and Outback SUV’s. There is no confirmation of the fate of the ageing Legacy which continues for the moment but seems to be under threat.

Subaru have a small if firm following in Great Britain. Their vehicles are seen to be reliable with a tried and tested four-wheel drive system. They are especially beloved of people who like to ferry Labrador dogs across fields. Unfortunately time moves on and nostalgia not being what it used to be, the public has moved on with it. Hopefully this refreshed look to the range will bring them fully back into focus.

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Infiniti Comes To Sunderland

If anyone fancies a job in the car industry it looks like it would be a good idea to move to Sunderland. Car giant Nissan, already well established in the city and providing some 6000 jobs, have announced they are to build yet another car there – this time it’s a global luxury model under the Infiniti brand. To accommodate this a further 280 jobs are to be created at this successful plant. As a result an additional 700 or so are expected to be added to ancillary sites around the UK.

The problem is that this £250 million expansion has highlighted the lack of capacity in Sunderland which means that, as things stand right now, a planned ‘C-Sector’ hatchback that was due to be made at the plant will now be built elsewhere. The Infiniti model is expected in 2015.

In a country sadly losing its manufacturing heritage this good-news story shows that we can still do it if we try when given the opportunity. Nissan has only be active in the Britain – in manufacturing terms -  since 1986. Now Sunderland is not only the largest car plant in the country, it is also the most productive in Europe. That’s a great achievement. Obviously the Japanese work ethic has rubbed off.

This involves three philosophies. Kaisen means ‘continuous improvement’ in Japanese. Kaisen teams are used throughout the factory and address any aspect of any job to ensure it is in the best interest of the worker in terms of efficiency. It works and also helps to eliminate H&S issues and injuries.

‘Just in Time’ encourages the minimum use of resources required to achieve maximum value and a job rotation scheme ensures that all workers can do three different jobs within the factory. This helps to eradicate boredom amongst the staff and ensures cover for sickness and the like. The Coalition’s Business Secretary is taking a strong interest  as well he might. Maybe he could carry over some of these philosophies into government!

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Kerb Your Enthusiasm

With the advent of a new year comes new possibilities. At least, this is how Gwynedd Council in North Wales are looking at it. Apparently they have decided that it isn’t sufficient to just penalise drivers for parking in the wrong place or going over time in car parks, they now believe that how a car is parked is also ripe for exploitation.

This forward-looking council have started penalising any driver who parks more than fifty centimetres (that’s twenty inches in English) from the kerb. Do so and you’ll cop a £70 fine. Now, it’s fair to say that 50cm is quite a long way in gap terms and anyone parking in such a way could best be described as ‘sloppy’. Kerbing an alloy usually means an expensive repair, but most experienced drivers could probably manage to get within the limit as a matter of routine unless they stop in an enthusiastic manner to greet an old friend or to escape the attentions of an angry wasp in the cabin.

Anyone, even disabled drivers, will be punished even if there are no parking restrictions whatever. Traffic wardens are required to actually measure the gap, they can’t just estimate it by eye. Presumably they will take a snap as well. More pertinently and reasonably, they are also targeting motorists who park over dropped kerbs designed to accommodate pedestrians, wheel chair users and the like. That’s fair enough because blocking such access is a thoughtless action.

The council intends this as a warning to those who park, in their words, ‘recklessly’, which is a bit over-the-top, frankly; although some people are capable of such bad parking that they could impede emergency vehicles. They have done this, they say, in response to complaints about bad parking in popular holiday areas. They don’t actually say how many complaints but hey, why look a gift horse in the mouth?

Inevitably locals are outraged as they see it as yet another ruse to extract cash from the public. The sight of a kneeling traffic warden bending over the kerb, buttocks aloft, may prove to be just too tempting for some drivers to resist. It is things like this that give councils a bad name. It seems such a petty thing to do. By all means penalise people who park irresponsibly but to punish a pensioner for a simple error of judgement seems like a tax too far.

It is of course only a matter of time before other councils pick up on this and begin measuring kerb to tyre distances. Just one more thing for hard-pressed drivers to worry about. In the meantime, if you’re taking a holiday in North Wales this year make sure there’s a tape measure and a camera in the glove box! You didn’t hear it from us though.

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