Taking A Toll On Drivers

The pressure of traffic on our crowded roads is increasing year on year. The present Government is talking up new road charges and drivers face tolls under audacious plans to put Britain’s roads network in the hands of private companies. David Cameron has said that he wants to kick-start the economy by allowing firms to compete to build, operate and maintain motorways and trunk roads. Motorists would not pay tolls to use existing roads – but firms could widen them and introduce pay-as-you-go lanes that drivers could use to beat congestion. Meanwhile, if there’s any room left, any brand new road will be built by private investors and charged along the lines of the French toll-road system.

Road pricing, whether we like it or not, is on its way. Effectively, it could be any system that would, at point of use, charge drivers to use any particular road or system of roads. Usually it means tolls on single routes and crossings like bridges or tunnels. More recently, it has included zone pricing of urban areas as is seen with the London congestion charge the idea of which, no doubt, will soon expand to include other cities. On 3rd May 2012 London voters will go to the polls as Boris Johnson, the present incumbent, fights Ken Livingstone (yes, he’s back) for the title of Mayor. Wouldn’t it be great if they actually fought, in the Mexican Lucha Libre style with masks? The Blonde Bombshell vs. the Newt Fancier. Now I’d pay a toll to see that! In the boring meanwhile neither of them plan any immediate increase in charges on the basis that cash-strapped London drivers won’t be voting for anyone who even thinks about it. But afterwards?

Road pricing isn’t new and the French have been at it for years, as is their way, but it is spreading and is already rife in countries as disparate as Norway and Australia. Even the Yanks, who are righteously against any form of extra taxation, are beginning to take it seriously. In 2008, the New York Mayor tried and failed to get approval for a scheme but was thwarted by the State Assembly. This year a new plan has been mooted that is, typically, a complicated mishmash that aims to try and convince drivers that tolls are good for them.

Back in the UK motoring groups have warned that drivers are getting sick and tired of struggling with high fuel prices and other car expenses and believe, despite the Prime Minister’s words to the contrary, the current plan will lead to road pricing nationally on a pay to drive basis. It is interesting that, when in opposition, the Government were defending drivers on the basis that the then administration was treating motorists as ‘cash cows’. As it turns out drivers are suffering more than ever. Funny that.

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Electric Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Motorway Driving Should Be Part of Learning to Drive

According to new guidelines from the Department for Transport, learner drivers will now be allowed on the UK’s motorways when accompanied by a qualified driving instructor.

However, with proposals for learners to now be allowed on the country’s motorway network to gain experience, are the plans a good idea or will it increase the problem of lacking confidence seen in new drivers when making their way on to a motorway for the first time as the speed differential widens?

In short, no. Leaners will be accompanied by their instructor in the normal manner, meaning their teacher is more than likely not going to throw them in at the deep end with a 70mph stretch of tarmac until they’re good and ready.

Garnering motorway experience so new drivers are au fait with how motorways work straight away is a superb idea as we all know how exploring a three-lane carriageway can be a daunting experience.

Many newly qualified drivers build the first motorway trip up unnecessarily, creating undue fear.

But motorways are well sighted, don’t have any corners to speak of and have traffic flowing in the same direction. In theory then, they should be the easiest type of roads to drive on in the UK.

Hopefully the new initiative will see learners realise that motorways aren’t something to be frightened of, simply that the trick to fruitful navigation of a motorway is getting on, changing lanes and leaving the carriageway safely – and its only experience that can teach this.

Motorways aren’t dangerous. In fact, according to the European Road Assessment Programme, they’re the nation’s safest type of roadway.

For a leaner to gain experience in a controlled (relatively) environment is an excellent idea. That a newly qualified driver could return home from a test centre by driving on a motorway at 70mph – sometimes faster – is nonsensical, but more importantly dangerous to both themselves and other drivers.

The plans for “motorway practicing” could prove the perfect way to eradicate the culture among learners that motorways are scary, highlighting to them that when broken down and learnt in chunks, driving on a three-lane highway is actually perfectly manageable.

We’re convinced by the proposal and believe it’ll help raise both awareness and driving standards amongst young motorists on the country’s motorways – it’s been a long time coming but will hopefully see accident rates also further reduced.

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How Sportscar And Endurance Racing Could Take F1’s Crown

Sportscar and endurance racing has always been a brilliant breeding ground for road car technology. The cauldron of battle that is round the clock racing breeds performance with the necessity of reliability.

Disc brakes, double-clutch gearboxes, variable turbine turbo geometry, carbon-fibre brake discs and direct injection petrol engines are but a few inventions pioneered through endurance racing.

As manufacturers look to tighten their belts and the outlay for a full calendar of racing in the F1 circus carries on rising unabated, sportscar racing for many looks appealing.

With a direct link from racecar to road car there’s real benefit for the manufacturer, too. And then there’s the fans, the all important fans.

Without fans there’d be no motorsport, so with ticket prices for a Grand Prix almost prohibitively expensive and a full week’s ticket for five days worth of action, including a full 24 hours at the twice-round-the-clock French classic in Le Mans, sportscars really could steal F1’s crown.

It could rival it for on track action too. With BMW, Lamborghini, Corvette, Aston Martin, Porsche, Ferrari, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Audi, Peugeot, Ford and other bespoke racecar manufacturers like Oreca and Zytek confirmed for the new 2012 World Endurance Championship – set up after the settling of a feud between the ACO (the organisers of the Le Mans 24 hours) and the FIA – sonorous sounding automotive exotica lapping within tenths of a second of each other would surely draw crowds. And at a fraction of the cost.

It’s close racing that makes good viewing, not one team with the most money – thanks to backing by a certain Austrian energy drink – waltzing of into the distance unchallenged. With sportscar racing you get that.

After 24 hours of racing at the 2011 24 hours of Le Mans, less than 13 seconds separated the eventual winner and the second place car – now that’s close racing.

Formula 1 is definitely the pinnacle of on-track motorsport – no question. But big-cube V8 Corvettes rumbling by, shaking your chest cavity making it difficult to breathe, and wailing Aston Martin V12s screaming past blurring your vision they’re engine notes are that piercing, proves there is more than one way to skin the proverbial.

The new World Endurance Championship will hopefully bring with it more fans, meaning more money, meaning more manufacturers, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.


With all that high-powered metal on show, we can’t wait to see how the inaugural season pans out.

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Are Lotus’ Ambitious Expansion Plans Doomed?

When Lotus unveiled its five-car strong ambitious expansion plans back at the 2010 Paris Motor Show the automotive world certainly took notice.

When the firm then employed Dany Bahar, Ferrari’s ex-branding guru, as CEO, shortly followed by 458 Italia and 430 Scuderia designer Donato Coco to help pen the Norfolk firm’s latest efforts, the plans suddenly acquired a deal more gravitas.

But now it looks as though the hard work put in by Bahar and all at Lotus could be in serious jeopardy as the lightweight sportscar manufacturer’s parent company, Malaysian state-owned firm Proton, is put up for sale.

The Malaysian government has owned a majority share in the automaker since its inception in 1983, but now the government is looking to flog its chunk of the company.

The value of Proton stock rose by five per cent in December last year with speculation the centrally-owned company could be moved on to private hands.

But what does that mean for Lotus? Well, investment experts believe that the successful bidder will more than likely divest the Malaysian manufacturer’s 65 per cent stake in the British sportscar firm in order to release some capital to secure the future of Proton in Malaysia.

The automaker is under threat in its home country recording a 76 per cent drop in profits in the last quarter. The firm’s market share has also dropped considerably over the last decade – in 2002 Proton held a market share of 60 per cent in Malaysia seeing that halved to 30 per cent over a three year period to 2005.

If the company were to sell its holding in Lotus Group International it would spell the end of the credit line Lotus CEO Bahar has been relying on to develop the firm’s all-new five-car model line-up, complete with a clean-sheet in-house design for a new 4.8-litre V8 set to power the luxury Eterne and Esprit supercar.

It’s reported the Norfolk-based firm needs another half a billion pounds to bring its ambitious expansion plans to market but the company itself is only valued at an estimated £200 million – and that’s on the proviso that Bahar’s master plan succeeds.

So, what is the future for Lotus? Well rumour has it that Chinese auto giant Shanghai Automotive – which already has a partnership with premium European brand, VW – and venture capital firm Genii Capital have approached the Malaysian government about taking the helm at Lotus.

However, the Lotus-Proton situation pans out, we just hope that the automotive industry doesn’t have another Saab saga on its hands and that the company’s grand expansion goals don’t cripple it.

We want to see those five new Lotus’ sometime soon.

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