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When Cars Were Simple

At the last count there are 8,176 original Minis rolling around on the ruined roads of Britain, whereas its unloved replacement, the Mini Metro – sold by the last vestiges of the Austin Rover disaster – has fared less well with just 3,262 left despite being produced later on.

The Mini continues to cast its spell fifty years on and the latest versions, great though they are, simply can’t match the simplicity and sheer fun of the original. Open the bonnet of the latest model and you will be none the wiser. Open the bonnet of an original Mini and you’ll find it is completely basic. Anyone can fix it.1 When Cars Were Simple

As with everything in life, we have to move forward but not necessarily when that which follows isn’t as good as that which has passed. This is why the ancient wrinkly rock bands of the Sixties and Seventies can still pull huge audiences today. The problem with the Metro was that it wasn’t introduced until 1980 and it arrived too late with too little. Also, it is generally agreed that the build quality was terrible.

This should have been obvious to the crumbling Austin Rover empire. Had they listened they would have heard – way back in 1971 – that a vessel bearing something called a Datsun was approaching our shores. Presumably they though it was one of those exotic new fruits and thought no more about it. They were wrong on so many levels.

Records show that there are thirty four different Austin Mini models remaining on our roads. Some models are the last of their kind; someone is driving around Britain in the last licensed Austin Mini ‘850 Van’ and there are just 3 Mini ‘SPL’ versions left.

Only 3,261 of the badly-built (thanks to the ruinous actions of Red Robbo and the total incompetence and lack of vision of the management) and unloved Austin and Rover Metros are left on the roads with an amazingly high 77 model versions. Some are facing total extinction; there is just one Austin Metro ‘HL’ left and two licensed Rover Metro ‘MG Turbo’ versions remaining, it seems.

BMW has been hugely successful worldwide with the modern massive Mini and there are nearly half a million registered for British roads. One stand-out fact is that there are 206 different modern Mini models registered thanks to the extremes of customisation now available. Some of these personalised cars are going to be hard to sell on the used car market. When the original Mini came out there wasn’t this problem. The choice was, in the beginning, a Mini, a Cooper and a Cooper S – that was it. Simple, effective and a hoot to drive, it remains today the iconic British car and, like the Rolling Stones and others, continues to appeal by doing exactly as it always has done.

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Panasonic Provide Spark For Tesla

As the relentless march towards alternative automotive fuels continues, it has been announced that Panasonic and Tesla Motors, have signed an agreement that lays out their cooperation on the construction of a large-scale battery manufacturing plant in the USA, to be known, rather unimaginatively, as the Gigafactory.

Inside The Gigafactory

According to the agreement, Tesla will prepare, provide and manage the land, buildings and utilities. Panasonic will manufacture and supply cylindrical lithium-ion cells and invest in the associated equipment, machinery, and other manufacturing tools based on their mutual approval. A network of supplier partners is planned to produce the required precursor materials.

t1 Panasonic Provide Spark For TeslaTesla will take the cells and other components to assemble battery modules and packs. To meet the projected demand for cells, Tesla will continue to purchase battery cells produced in Panasonic’s factories in Japan.

The Gigafactory is being created to enable a continuous reduction in the cost of long-range battery packs in parallel with manufacturing at the volumes required to enable Tesla to meet its goal of advancing mass market electric vehicles. The Gigafactory will be managed by Tesla with Panasonic joining as the principal partner responsible for lithium-ion battery cells and occupying approximately half of the planned manufacturing space; key suppliers combined with Tesla’s module and pack assembly will comprise the other half of this fully integrated industrial complex.

The Electric Future

The Gigafactory is meant to represent a fundamental change in the way large scale battery production can be realized. Not only does the Gigafactory enable capacity needed for the Model 3 Tesla but it sets the path for a dramatic reduction in the cost of energy storage across a broad range of applications. Economies of scale, in other words.

Cost reductions will be achieved through optimized manufacturing processes previously unobtainable in battery cell and pack production. Further price reductions are achieved by manufacturing cells that have been optimized for electric vehicle design, both in size and function and also by co-locating suppliers on-site to eliminate packaging, transportation and duty costs along with other ancillary expenses. Anything that brings down the cost of EV’s in the medium to long term has got to be a good thing.

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The Selfish Selfie

The mobile telephonic device has developed until it has become virtually an extension of many peoples’ bodies, like some robot appendage. The trouble is that it has the potential to lead to road deaths. Research has revealed that young Brit drivers are the most likely to take a ‘selfie’ while at the wheel.

According to the survey, a third of British drivers were the most likely to photograph themselves while on the move, ahead of their counterparts in Germany (28%), France (28%), Romania (27%), Italy (26%), Spain (18%), and our more sensible neighbours in Belgium (17%).

This new survey of some seven thousand smartphone users aged between 18-24 – from across Europe – also showed one in four people had used social media sites behind the wheel; and that young male drivers were the most likely to ignore the risks. So no change there then. Amazingly, nearly all the drivers surveyed agreed the activities were dangerous yet still did it. The old adage that youth believes it is immortal still holds good it seems.

It has been shown that snapping a ‘selfie’ at the wheel could distract a driver for 14sec, whilst checking social media distracts for as much as 20sec – long enough, at 60mph, to travel the length of five football pitches. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for young drivers  and training programmes have been introduced that will highlight the dangers of taking a ‘selfie’ and other smartphone and social media activities behind the wheel.

Taking a ‘selfie’ has for many young people quickly become an integral part of everyday life – but it’s the last thing you should be doing behind the wheel of a car. It is deeply worrying that so many young drivers admit to taking a photo while driving and there is an urgent need to highlight the potential dangers through driver education.

As a nation we have known for years about the dangerous situations that young, inexperienced drivers tend to get themselves into. Despite corrective action – speed limits and the like – gung-ho youth continues to find new ways of digging themselves a hole only to realise – too late – that they should maybe stop digging. There is one hole you can never get out of.

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Avoid Buying Sports Cars If You Want Your Teenager Drive It

It takes time, money and planning to buy a new vehicle for families. There are a few things to consider before making the decision. Parents may want to buy a nice car even before their children comes to driving age. Children grow really fast and before you know they have their driving license and want to drive. Having a safe family car for them to practice on would reduce the immediate pressures to buy them a car of their own.

Even though you may be comfortable with your child driving your car this may prove to be problematic for certain models. One of the problems may be adding the newly qualified teen driver onto your existing policy. If you want to avoid such problems you need to think about who will drive the car when you are looking at certain models with high insurance ratings.

Sports cars and teenagers are two high risk combinations for auto insurers. They usually charge high rates for both owning a high performance vehicle and having a teenage driver in the family. When these two combined you may face serious problems. You may have to pay extortionate premiums if you want your teenager drive a sporty looking auto. In some cases, it may actually be impossible to insure the teenage driver.

There are cars that are clearly sporty and there is no argument about it. And there are the ones that have powerful engines but they may not be considered sports car by many people. In some cases, people buy those automobiles for family use and advanced safety and security features they come with.

For example, BMW X3 and Porsche Cayenne are great cars for families. They have spacious and luxuries interior, large boots and generally considered safe cars in terms of protection they provide in accidents. However, they have powerful engines and take off really fast.

You can understand why families buy them. In the same time you can see why insurance companies would consider them to be riskier.  Most companies not only wouldn’t want a teenage driver included in the policy but also they would impose a condition that any driver allowed should be over the age of 25 years old.

Keep this in mind when you are considering a new auto for your family. CheapAutoInsurance.net says “families should look for more modest automobiles when they want their teenage daughters or sons drive it, too”. It is always a good idea to look at insurance ratings of a new car and it is even a better idea to get a few quotes before making the final decision.

Otherwise, your insurer may exclude young drivers from driving the insured automobile. This will force you to buy another auto for your children to drive and improve their skills or you may have to accept that they cannot drive for some time. Understandably, this will result in resentments and disappointments within the family. And it would cost a lot of money to sort it out with another automobile and insurance policy purchase.

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Connected Cars

Did you know that once upon a time during the 1950’s and 1960’s actual in-car record players were available as options. Older readers may remember the ‘Highway Hi-Fi’. Following on, there was eight-track, the cassette tape and the good old CD.

In car entertainment and infotainment has come a long way since those olden times and now it is going further.

Today’s car infotainment systems offer a panoply of great features. As far as audio is concerned, for example, the options are vast, including AM/FM, satellite, and internet radio, CDs and DVDs, and audio files you play via plugged-in or Bluetooth-enabled smart phones and so on.

Turns out we like all this stuff. We appreciate the ease with which we can connect our mobile devices to most of the cars on our roads. Now, with the arrival of Apple CarPlay for iPhones (available this year on some brands) and the forthcoming Android Auto (which will also be featured on many automotive brands) we are going to become even more connected.

Demand for connected cars is growing and apparently more than seventy percent of drivers are said to be interested in using, or are already using, connected car services. In a recent survey many people said that they would now consider connected features to be an important part of their next new car purchase. What modern motorists want the technology for is primarily increased safety, early warning systems, smarter navigation and diagnostics. Most want to access connected services through a single user point on their dashboard.

In short, drivers want to be able to access all the same features that they can get at home. They want to send and receive messages and they want SIRI to do it for them. They want up-to-the-minute traffic reports and idiot-proof navigation that doesn’t put them in a remote field somewhere. They want to play their choice of music at the touch of a button or a spoken word and they want apps for everything else. The infotainment future is here.

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Use That Air-Con!

When proper air-conditioning arrived in cars it was like a sort of heaven. No more having to open windows only to find that the air outside was as hot as the air inside; no more getting blown to bits by the wind and no more encounters with massive, dangerous insects, like wasps.

Air-conditioning is great, but there’s a problem. Because of the expense of fuel and the fact that we are told – and it’s true – that cars use more juice when the air-con’s on, we have taken to minimising the use of that chilly blaster, especially in the winter when we don’t use it at all.

This is a bad thing for air-conditioner units. The system uses a refrigerant fluid that is compressed and decompressed within a sealed system, changing it from a liquid to a gas and back again. This process absorbs heat from the air, thus cooling the cabin. Loss of fluid means the system won’t work.

If the air-con remains unused for long periods the pipes and seals can begin to dry out and start to leak. Because many people never read their car handbooks they miss the manufacturers advice to run the air-conditioning system at least once or twice a week  for between ten and fifteen minutes – regardless of the weather.

If the system stops working because it has lost fluid for the above reason – and this happens a lot to bemused drivers, especially of older cars – the car manufacturer will probably deem this to be a consumable and therefore not covered by any warranty. It will be your fault and there’s nothing you can do about it except reach for the credit card and have the system re-gassed.

On a new or nearly new car this fault shouldn’t happen. If something does go wrong then it’s probably a real fault and will be covered at the manufacturers effect.

Solution? Always run your air-con regularly, all year round. You don’t have to suffer an icy blast because you’ll have the heater on. If fact, running the air-con will help freshen the air inside a heated muggy car. Also, always ensure the system is checked – and re-gassed if necessary – at every service. That way the air-conditioner will always be tip-top and ready for work.

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How CVT Gearboxes Work

Although by no means commonplace, Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT) are beginning to appear on more and more cars. The thinking presumably is that, given the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles, they are more efficient and thus more economic.

Most CVT systems replace traditional gears with a pair of pulleys – one for the engine and one for the wheels. They are linked together by a metal belt. Because the diameter of the pulleys changes the effect is of having an infinite number of gears.

In regular gearboxes the ratios are predetermined to whatever the manufacturer requires the in-gear performance to be – longer or shorter for acceleration or economy with the engine speed rising or falling accordingly; this is what we’ve all grown up with. With CVT the ratios change which allows the engine to maintain it’s most efficient speed thus making the car more economical.

Switching a CVT ‘box from auto to manual has the effect of fixing the ratios and allowing the driver to select a gear just like a regular transmission but to the detriment of the efficiency of the car. The only real advantage of doing such a thing is to maximise engine braking when descending a steep hill but, after a couple of seconds, the on-board computer should recognise what’s happening with the descent and switch to a lower ratio anyway. With CVT it is probably best to leave it to the car.

At this point it is worth mentioning some caveats to this. On the face of it CVT gearboxes are the way to go but Motor Blogger isn’t so sure. Certainly, the way the car proceeds is at first slightly odd. Under acceleration the engine note rises and kind of stays there and, because, economy is at the helm, progress doesn’t seem a brisk as with conventional gears.

This gearbox will suit drivers who have no interest in cars. They see them as just being transport and they will require the best of economic choices. Keen drivers might not be so easily pleased and I would suggest it will be harder to prise them away from their regular choices.

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What They Didn’t Tell Us About Automotive Aerodynamics

Once upon a time cars had all the aerodynamic properties of your average house brick. They cut through the air like a knife through concrete. Manufacturers considered this and realised that they could make their cars more attractive and more economic by looking at the design.

At first it was all about the dart shape; obvious but uninspiring. Now, of course, aerodynamics has come of age and most cars now have slippery, complex designs. What the car designers didn’t say though, in some cases at least, was how dirty the back of the car would get. This is especially true of hatchbacks.

air2 What They Didn’t Tell Us About Automotive AerodynamicsThe aero properties of the hatchback are different from a conventional saloon because the more abrupt cut-off at the rear-end causes the air passing over the car to swirl around at the back. This in turn creates a vortex which sucks airborne dirt and contaminants back towards to tailgate and rear window. The result is instant oily dirt.

Some hatchbacks are worse than others by dint of their shape. With saloon cars the air passing over the vehicle tends to flow away in a sort of teardrop pattern. This is why you rarely see a saloon with a rear window wiper and why the glass seems to remain clear even in heavy rain.

All hatchbacks have one of the aforementioned wipers and also the means to squirt some windscreen fluid onto the glass. This is fine as it goes but it doesn’t really shift the more oily contaminants and the as a consequence the glass smears. Meanwhile the rest of the back of the car gets filthy and invites the odd rascally finger to write disparaging remarks about automotive cleanliness. They don’t tell you this at the dealerships do they?

The answer of course – and it’s the only answer because designers are not going to change their mind – is to wash your car more often. The downside of this is that the rest of the car is unlikely to be as dirty as the back hatch. This means the unfortunate owner is doing more car cleaning than is strictly necessary and that’s a pain. The alternative therefore is to buy a saloon. You might be considered a square who is not prepared to keep up with the modern vibe but at least you won’t have to wash the car so often.

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Automotive Facts You Probably Don’t Know

If you love cars then you probably know a fair bit about them, one way or another. Even so, the car had been with us for well over a century now and there are many facts associated with it that have disappeared into the mists of time. A mystery history, you might say.

Did you know, for example, that the first car accident occurred in 1769. Now, I know what you’re thinking and you would be right, because it was not a car as we know it but it very much was an auto-mobile.

A Frenchman, one Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot by name, was an inventor and he is known (although it is disputed) to have built the first working self-propelled mechanical vehicle – the world’s first automobile in fact. He took a big cart called a fardier and successfully built and fitted a device that converted the reciprocating motion of a steam piston into rotary motion by means of a ratchet arrangement. A small version of his three-wheeled ‘steam dray’ ran in 1769. The second one crashed into the wall of the Paris Arsenal. It is not known if he got a ticket. Amazingly, that cart still exists in a Paris museum.

The facts keep on coming: There’s nothing new about hybrid cars; Porsche built one in 1902. It was called, cunningly, the ‘Mixte’. Do you see what they did there? Also, and unbelievably when you consider how long CDs have been with us, the last car to come with a cassette player was the Ford Crown Victoria in the USA, which offered the option up until 2011. You can buy this as a used car now. Still time to dig out those old Carpenters’ tapes!

And – to paraphrase a famous actor – not a lot of people know that the world’s first speeding ticket was issued in 1902. Presumably the issuer wrote it out whilst walking alongside the offending motor. Additionally, there is no point in blaming foreigners when you get stuck on a red light because the first traffic lights were launched in 1927 in Wolverhampton, so we‘ve only got ourselves to blame.

The Chinese have invented a solution to traffic jams. If you contact the right people they will send along a motorbike to take you to your destination whilst the arriving pillion passenger gets in your car and waits it out until he can ferry the motor to your destination. Now that’s enterprise.

There is reckon to be around a billion cars on the planet now so it’s just as well that the car is the most recycled product on earth.

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Experience The SEAT X-Perience

The new SEAT Leon X-PERIENCE is the latest offering from the popular Spanish manufacturer. It has permanent four-wheel drive and all-road equipment for general all round ability. The Leon X-PERIENCE is offered with a 2.0L Turbo-diesel with two power options of 150PS and 184PS outputs.

Alongside the latest-generation TDI engines and permanent all-wheel drive with intelligent electronic control (there‘s a differential on each axle), this new car boasts all-road suspension with extra ground clearance. A distinctive off-road look and individual interior offering an added dimension for family motoring fun.  As you would expect these days there is also an electronic stability programme and a multi-collision brake system for maximum safety.

seat2 Experience The SEAT X PerienceFurther options include full LED headlights, ACC Adaptive Cruise Control with City Emergency Brake function, a drowsiness detection and lane-keeping assistant for sleepy-heads.

It’s a car for all reasons. The luggage compartment offers a carrying capacity of 587 litres, which extends to as much as 1,470 litres with the rear-seats folded down which would appear to make it very practical. The Leon X-PERIENCE has robust protection moulding on the door sills and wheel arches. The sleek front end is adorned with substantial air intakes and integrated fog lamps with cornering light function, plus the front spoiler with its aluminium-look – as can be seen in the images.

The rear end, too, is distinguished by its new bumper with an aluminium-look insert and by the chrome tailpipes, which are standard on the 2.0 TDI 184 PS. The large wheel arches can accommodate 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels in a dedicated five-twin-spoke design. The roof rails are finished in black.

Inside, new materials, attention to detail and a combination of strong colours give this car more personality. It offers the black and grey sporty elegance of high-quality fabric upholstery, as well as the option of brown Alcantara or all-black leather seats.

We’ve driven the regular Leon with the diesel engine and found it to be an excellent car although we feel the design is a tad conservative. Whether there is a need for a car like this when there are many, many crossover or SUV vehicles available with 4WD and a similar spec remains to be seen. We let you know the final verdict when we drive it for real.

seat3 Experience The SEAT X Perience

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