Archive | May, 2013

Too Many Cars?

Since the beginning of 2013 Motor Blogger has reported on all the various car shows from a round the world and we’re not finished yet because there will be plenty more before the year is out. It seems that barely a month can go by without there being a flock of new cars and concepts for our delight and delectation. This is a good thing.

Or is it? In 1909 Henry Ford was quoted as saying, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

The Ford Model-T was a people’s car and the grand old man of motors knew that what his customers wanted more than anything else was, basically, a ‘faster horse’. Buyers were content. What they didn’t ask for was a ‘floating roof’ or a choice of a zillion different colour schemes or a communication device that can hack into NASA.

Such is progress. Car manufacturers have already effectively built the ‘perfect’ car. They are generally well made and reliable. There really isn’t much further they can go with the internal combustion engine and four wheels. So they look instead for other ways to relieve us of money. New car buyers have the chance to individually customise their purchases without giving any thought to its resale value. Trendy infotainment centres make the flight deck of the Enterprise look like a crystal set. The car has ceased to be transport and become a lifestyle accessory.

As if that wasn’t enough, we are now offered a bewildering choice of different models from different manufacturers that pretty much all do the same things in the same way. A new variation is always just around the corner and a stream of ‘concept cars’ with increasingly daft names tee us up for what is to come. Enough already! We don’t want all this. It is hard enough for most people to put a vehicle on the road at all without having to consider whether or not a chequerboard roof will match their underwear or go down well at the pub.

Unquestionably, the car companies have worked wonders giving us frugal new cars and designers have managed to squeeze a lot of usable space out of some very small dimensions. This is what we want. Naturally there will always be a market for powerful or expensive cars. There will also always be a market for pointless cars for people with more money than brain cells but the majority of customers just want a car. It needs to be competitively priced, cheap to run, long-lasting, reliable, drive well and get us from A to B as required.

For economy’s sake Renault, for example, have scaled back their catalogue and are the better for it. They have something for everyone without going overboard with a million variations on the same thing. In Henry Ford’s day the car was seen as a modern automotive substitute for the horse. Different manufacturers produced a sufficiency of cars to give a buyer a simple selection to choose from. Possibly today’s manufacturers could alleviate their financial problems in a weakened market by cutting back on all the bling.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (0)

Dad – What’s That Noise?

It is one of the great truisms of life that, when transporting the mother-in-law in the family car, she can always smell petrol and becomes convinced that she is about to be consumed by fire. Thereafter she will always smell petrol when riding with you, even on a tandem bike. Similarly, no one can be an experienced driver and not have had a relative in the car who asks about a curious noise that the driver had been studiously ignoring in the forlorn hope that it would go away.

The fact is a car will always tell you when something is wrong; mostly only after it is too late admittedly, but it will speak up for itself. Funny noises or smells, irksome rattling and general auto dyspepsia means the car needs at best a service and at worst, radical surgery. As we head into another delightful motoring Summer maybe it is time to investigate any strange automotive phenomena fully before that big family holiday and that big breakdown (see gratuitously posed image).

It’s a known fact that a percentage of car accidents are caused by some failure on the car, usually tyres or brakes but other parts like suspension or steering could be at fault. Listen to the car and try to grasp what it is telling you. For example, a growling noise that changes in pitch could well be a wheel bearing and it is essential this is dealt with immediately. A competent home mechanic should be able to handle this job.

A mysterious creaking or a nagging whine could be a track rod (part of the steering) or maybe a ball joint. Either way they are signals that something is not right and needs attention. A high-pitched squealing – assuming it isn’t children – will possibly be brake related. Hissing, after the car has been shut down, could subsequently result in smoke or steam issuing from under the bonnet. That can’t be right.

It is not always easy to diagnose a car. Groaning could be suspension and a loud humming noise could be a faulty or worn tyre and so on. The trick is not to simply turn up the stereo and hope for the best but rather to stop and investigate. The fault may not be apparent but it is a fairly safe bet that it’s there. Home mechanics have an ear for this sort of thing but when in doubt consult your local friendly garage.

Over the years the staff will have become experts in assessing the many and varied car impersonations that customers make. They can solve all dilemmas just by kicking the tyres and writing down large numbers with pound signs in front of them. Be pro-active, make sure the car gets its regular service on time and in full. Good dealers should always check over a car for safety’s sake. The car is used to transport the family and it is the driver’s job to keep them safe. Even the mother-in-law.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (0)

Swift Justice For Motoring Offenders

The announcement has been made today that dedicated traffic courts are to be set up to mete out swift punishment for minor traffic offences. It seems that the half million or so offences that occur each year are clogging up our courts. The government thinks that by setting up these summary centres of justice it will free up the magistrates for more important issues.

Apparently this has been trialled at nine areas around England and is about to be rolled out across both England and Wales. Scotland has its own system. The pilot schemes have simplified the legal process according to the police. By April 2014 every police area will have one of these traffic courts.

They will be overseen by so-called ‘specialist prosecutors’ who will deal with up to one hundred and sixty cases a day. This is where the idea gets a bit more concerning. Magistrates are appointed from the populace. They don’t need specialist legal qualifications but that do have to meet long established standards of fairness and community spirit, amongst other things. They receive training and have a legal adviser on hand.

In what way then are these traffic courts any different? Who appoints these ‘specialist prosecutors’ and where do they come from? If they are members of the public who volunteer to serve and who receive training for the job, doesn’t that make them magistrates? Get the idea?

We sincerely hope that these court officers are not members of the police force for example. Neither should they be legal professionals. Mind you, they only have jurisdiction in the ninety percent of cases where the miscreant motorist pleads guilty to the said minor offence. Thankfully, if the driver wants to contest the case it has to be heard in a proper magistrates court. So maybe that nagging concern isn’t justified, although it is still hanging in the air like a bad smell from the boot of the car.

Perhaps it is because motorists have been a cash-cow for local and national governments for years that it smacks a bit of being a money-making exercise. We’ll see. In the meantime the law obviously has to be enforced and if it speeds things up for all concerned and saves tax payers money in the long term it may not be a bad thing. Let us just hope that the rule of fairness and impartiality still applies.

Posted in Auto Blog, Auto NewsComments (0)

A Sign Of The Times At Volvo

When it comes to buying a used car many potential customers prefer to use an approved scheme from a main dealer for greater peace of mind. They know that the cars will have undergone a thorough check and will be backed up with some sort of satisfaction guarantee. It makes a lot of sense.

Volvo understand this and are extending their Approved Used Car Programme to include vehicles up to seven years old, an increase of two years on their present scheme. Although they are presently marketing a range of excellent new cars and are bringing on stream a new super-efficient range of engines they know that some would-be buyers simply can’t stretch the finances that far. They also know that they’ll take in a variety of used Volvo cars in part-exchange in the general run of business, so it makes sense both ways.

The Company have noticed that statistics show the average age of cars on the road is increasing. In 2011 the average was nearly seven and a half years – an increase of two months on the previous year. Drivers are realising that today’s cars are considerably more reliable than in days of yore and are willing to spend their hard-earned cash on something a little older. Fifty thousand miles on the odometer would once have put buyers off but these days is nothing on a car that has been correctly serviced and maintained.

Buying a car is probably the second biggest expense after house purchase and it is clear that consumer behaviour is changing as motorists keep their cars for longer under the present dire economic conditions. The Volvo Selekt scheme will offer cars that are up to seven years old, with full service histories and less than 100,000 miles on the clock. That’s how confident they are in their product; so much so that as part of the deal the Company will upgrade the vehicles’ systems with the latest software, coupled with a 100 point check.47855 1 51 300x181 A Sign Of The Times At Volvo

If that wasn’t enough there’s a MOT warranty worth up to £750; twelve months roadside assistance and a thirty day or 1500 mile guarantee. That’s a cracking offer and once the word gets round it should induce canny drivers into the Volvo fold. This is turn will no doubt encourage the future purchase of new vehicles. All Volvo main dealers are participating. Definitely worth a look.

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

A Family Car With Style

The Volkswagen Passat has been with us, amazingly, since 1973 and has been popular throughout that time as a well built, reliable, family sized saloon car and that’s about it. Motor Blogger’s sleep has never been disturbed by dreams of driving or owning this car. Once, when supplied the model preceding the current version as a rental, the journey was completed in a comfortable, efficient and totally unmemorable manner.

In 2011 VW produced the current version which on the Geiger counter of automotive desirability barely registered. The styling is a bit bland but it does as required and is in many ways a classy vehicle. Certainly, for a large car, the BlueMotion version seems to be extraordinarily efficient.

The CC (it stands for comfort coupé ) version is a bit more like it. The styling is sleeker but the sloping roof does compromise the rear seats. So that’s it – the Passat, an excellent if unexciting car that appeals to fleet owners and company car users; until now.

Introducing the Volkswagen Passat R-Line, as pictured. The R-Line trim level is new with a bespoke body kit to give a more sporty image and we’re pleased to say that it works. The front spoiler has swivelling fog lights, the suspension has been lowered by 15mm, whilst the body kit gives the car a ground-hugging profile. Special wheels, chrome trim, tinted windows and a neat boot-lid spoiler complete the make-over.

The usual suspects are available under the bonnet but now augmented by a new more efficient 1.4L TSI petrol engine. There are paddle shifters on the DSG version and up to 65mpg can be expected depending on engine choice. The equipment level is based on the Passat S and includes the now ubiquitous Bluetooth coupled with DAB, USB and iPod connectivity as is expected on a car in this class.

So and finally, it is time for a revised opinion. The Passat has always been a trusted Volkswagen product that performed very well indeed but was never a car to set the pulses racing. Now at least new car buyers can get their hands on a version that delivers all that is expected of the Passat but now with added pizazz. Expect to pay from a maximum of £26k downwards depending on the model and orders are being taken now for June delivery.

Posted in Auto News, Car ReviewsComments (1)

The Auto Name Game

Americans are christened with really cool names. Amongst the car guys past and present, there’s Boyd Coddington, Wayne Carini, Chip Foose, Ryan Friedlinghaus and the legendary Carroll Shelby to name but a few. Why aren’t our names like that? Even the great John Wayne changed his name from Morrison so as not to reveal his early life as a British grocer.

The same goes for their cars. The Ford Mustang is one of America’s most iconic motors. Say it out loud – Muss-stang! It conjures up images of the great sweeping plains of the West where rugged men in lumberjack shirts – with the sleeves rolled up over their biceps – neck Bud from the bottles. (Top tip: If they are drinking Piña Coladas then you are probably in the wrong bar). Would it have been the same if Ford had just called it The Pony?

Then of course there’s the Dodge Charger, the Challenger, the Plymouth Barracuda, the Corvette Stingray and the Pontiac GTO and loads more, often with really butch names that belie their automotive incompetence. And what do we get here? The Fusion. The Picanto. It is names like this that make the British and European car market so devoid of any real auto expectations.

Even when manufacturers decide to get trendy there is no real flair. The Juke. The Roomster. These names don’t really give a sense of the open road or driving as it should be. They are just names. Even the soft Yank tanks have good names like Eldorado or Lacrosse. To be fair, there are also mistakes. Ford made a car called the Probe. It wasn’t very good and if nothing else brought to mind a variety of medical procedures. Plans to use the names ‘Thrust’ and ‘Lunge’ were subsequently withdrawn.

Manufacturers seem to go out of their way to find safe names like the made up ‘Mondeo’, which one assumes is meant to suggest a world car vision but very little else. Unfortunately, the new Mondeo (pictured) will, in America, be known as the Fusion which just goes to show that you can take a car out of Britain but you can’t take the Britain out of the car.

It all begs the question as to whether or not names sell cars. These days new car buyers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and they will look at factors such as economy, luxury and accessories before they worry too much about what it is called. They may be concerned with the maker’s badge – which explains the otherwise terminally dull number sequence on BMWs – before they are concerned about the name, but there is a limit.

Chrysler/Dodge once offered a version of their ongoing Dart model which they called The Swinger. It would be a brave man who would consider driving this car today. That is unless he wanted to make some new friends.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (0)

Autonomy In Oxford

Over the last couple of years there has been much talk and some demonstration of the so-called autonomous car – cars that drive themselves. The thinking is that we don’t really like driving at all and is a function best left to the vehicle itself. Once considered a sort of Jetson’s science fiction, the reality is now coming closer.

Boffins at Oxford University, amongst others around the world, have been working on this for some time. Up to now they have only been able to test their experiment on private roads at the Begbroke Science Park but David Willetts MP, the minister for science, has been on at the Department for Transport to relax the rules and allow testing on public roads.

This all stems from the fact that in California the operation of autonomous cars on public highways was legalised last year. The demand for this was lead by mighty Google who have been working on a fleet of computer controlled vehicles for some time and are saying they could have a viable model on the roads in just five years. Mr Willetts, who has tested the Google motor, believes that this has allowed the American company to steal a march on British efforts to develop similar transport.

As a result he has persuaded the DfT to relax the rules – although they say no final decision has been reached – and allow the Oxford RobotCar team to do the same thing. The long term strategy seems to suggest that we could see driverless cars on our streets in twenty years time. Right now the experimentation is based on a Nissan Leaf which has been suitably modified with cameras and laser sensors. An on-board computer controls all the usual functions. As with America, for now, a real human being has to be in the car as well to take control if necessary.

Although the driverless car is sure to become a reality, there is still a long way to go. We already have camera and sensor technology in the cars we buy today. What needs to be achieved with absolute certainty is the ability of the car to understand and react to all the many and various different circumstances that drivers presently encounter on a daily basis.

Once that has been achieved the next stage has to be for an autonomous vehicle to navigate its way around a route that it has never travelled before. Pre-programming is all very well but it is the unknown which brings forth the challenges faced by the scientists. The feeling is that by taking away the human element, the use of cars on the road will reduce or even potentially eliminate death and injury on the road as well as aiding fuel economy.

This can only be a good thing but whether motorists will go for it is another matter. It is clearly of no interest to politicians but a great many people enjoy the experience of piloting a car and will no doubt take great exception to being told they can’t do it. It remains to be seen if our Dear Leaders will listen. Then of course there’s the insurance…

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

Ferrari Build For Exclusivity

Luca di Montezemolo, the chairman of the Ferrari organisation, has announced that the company is selling too many vehicles. He is clearly concerned that his beautiful sports cars are becoming far too ubiquitous on the roads of the world and he is determined to put a stop to it.

This, of course, appears to fly in the face of any sort of business sense. In a world economy where many manufacturers are struggling to shift their products we have a car company deciding to cut production. It seems that they want to preserve that air of exclusivity that surrounds the name of Italy’s greatest car maker.

Ferrari’s are becoming highly prized in the burgeoning Chinese car market where there is a ready demand for supercars. Couple this with the more usual demand from Europe and the USA and the result is that the company have felt a pressure to meet demand. As a result, they built well over seven thousand cars in 2012 and the number is rising. The Ferrari board have decided that this won’t do at all and are determined not to make any more than 7000 cars this year.

Anyone with petrol in their veins yearns at some point in their life to own a Ferrari. Most will never succeed but they can at least take the opportunity to drive one of these cars at motor racing circuits around the country where the cars are available for driving experiences. In fact, for most people this would probably be enough. Having enough money to buy a Ferrari is one thing; having sufficient ongoing funds to run and maintain it is quite another.

Ferrari believe that they sell a dream. They see their cars as almost unobtainable objects of desire that are available only to a favoured few. And they want to keep it that way. There will be no bargain basement car dealing at Modena. In the paraphrased words of Signor di Montezemolo they don’t believe that they are selling luxury; they are, like all great artists, selling beauty and taste and looking at the cars this is an attitude that is hard to argue against.

Talking of expensive cars, have you noticed that Lord Sugar no longer uses a Rolls Royce Phantom on his TV show? This series it has changed to a RR Ghost which is about £100k cheaper than the former car. A sign of the times.

Posted in Auto Blog, Auto NewsComments (0)

Save Money At A Used Car Auction

Twice a year the number plates change on new cars as the registration series moves forward. This means that plenty of good recent used cars come onto the market as buyers flock to the dealers for their new wheels. Private, business and company vehicles are all changed and the car rental companies bring in new automotive stock for their customers.

Some of these used cars will be sold privately and others will appear on dealer forecourts. Some however will go to auction and the canny buyer might decide that this is a money saving way to purchase their next car.

Car auctions usually have a good mix of low mileage, nearly new cars from budget to prestige mixed in with good older stock that will have a higher mileage on the clock and will as a consequence be cheaper. Fortunately modern cars remain reliable for longer and a big number on the odometer is not the red flag it used to be as long as the rest of the car is in good condition.

Most car auctions are open to all-comers and not just the trade. For newbies it may be a good idea to attend a couple of sales just to learn the ropes before attempting a buy. When the time comes find an auction where the auctioneers offer an assurance scheme that states the car has been checked over independently prior to sale.

Buyers whose mechanical knowledge is scant should take along someone who knows their motors. Homework is crucial as the purpose of buying a car in this way is to save money. Know the worth of potential purchases and be sure to keep to budget – it’s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment. When the hammer falls there’s no going back!

Get to the venue early and have a good look at the stock. Likely choices in the catalogue should be thoroughly examined inside and out. Look for signs of wear and tear, especially things like kerbed wheels that may suggest a careless driver. Paint should be intact and all trim present and correct. Engines should run smoothly and the interior should uniformly clean and tidy. Of course, even a car that is just six months old isn’t going to be ‘new’ so make the appropriate allowances with condition.

The basic rule of thumb is – if in doubt, don’t. A short list of possible cars helps; stick to one only and it could go to a higher bidder. It doesn’t matter if another visit is necessary because the idea is to save cash. The car that is eventually purchased may not be the perfect colour or have the all the ideal options but it will be a good car for the money and that’s the important thing.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (0)

WRC Argentina – It’s That Man Again!

World Rally Championship drivers are at the top of their sporting craft. These guys can do more things with a car than we mere mortals can do with a knife and fork. When the legendary Sebastien Loeb announced his semi-retirement the other drivers must have thought it was Christmas – now at last they had a chance of winning a rally!

This came to pass when Seb Ogier won in Portugal a few weeks ago in the exciting new VW Polo. Last weekend it was the turn of Rally Argentina – considered by many to be the toughest of the ‘gravel’ events. Guess who shows up with a Citroen DS3? That’s right; the wheelmeister returns, yawns, jumps into his car and proceeds to win Rally Argentina for the eighth time. Ogier came second and Jari-Matti Latvala came a creditable third in the other works Polo. Citroen’s official number one driver Miko Hirvonen was unplaced; he seems strangely out-of-sorts these days.

Rally Argentina has everything. The special stages feature water-splashes, tight hairpins and high-speed straights throughout the rocky back roads. It is well organised and the stages are absolutely packed with hardcore fans. Many drivers were caught out and clearly demonstrated the strength of their roll-cages. The amount of punishment these cars can take is incredible. Next stop Greece at the end of May.

This is an exciting sport. The mixture of aerial and roadside shots coupled with live in-car coverage makes for great viewing, but there’s a problem. We learn that the FIA’s chosen promoter, the Sportsman Media Group (jointly with Red Bull), believes that the WRC is ‘boring’. Apart from what follows you’ve got to wonder why they took it on. They must have known what it entailed surely? Basically, it’s a time trial. One competitor at a time, but it is most certainly not boring.

SMG seem reluctant to sell this ‘boring’ product to TV companies. In a bizarre turn they seem to think that the answer is to sell ‘live’ coverage – but only of the final power stages. Often, by this time, the overall result is decided. The situation is confused and the comments above only really hint at the colossal muck-up they are potentially making of this Championship.

What do you suppose the car manufacturers will think of all this? Citroen, Ford, new boys Volkswagen and next year’s entry from a works Hyundai team are all in it to boost car sales, simple as that. The FIA are not noted for making sensible decisions and SMG seem to be on a suicide mission. It‘s not looking good.

We’ll see if there’s any resolution when we get to the Greek event. Mr S Loeb won’t be there to show the others how it’s done so let us hope for an open and exciting rally that will demonstrate that the sport can transcend the stupidity of the organisers.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (2)