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Ford gloom hides people carrier revolution? March 17, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in Clues in the news.
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Ford says it’s cutting Focus production at its Valencia plant, centralising producing at the Saarlouis plant. That’s in reaction to an overall sales fall of 22 per cent in the first months of 2009.

But, hold on. Dealers report they can’t get enough Fiestas – the new car’s in incredibly short supply. And where’s it built? Valencia, amongst others.

ford-gloom-hides-people-carrier-revolutionFord can thus use some of the Focus capacity to bolster Fiesta numbers.

That’s good news.

There are more revelations, too. Ford says it’s going to phase out production of the C-Max at Saarlouis, and shift production of 2010’s new model (drawn from Geneva’s Iosis Max concept) at Valencia. This one is a bit harder to read.

The current C-Max is based on the Focus platform – of which, says Ford, production of all derivatives of the next generation one will be based at Saarlouis.

So, what does this mean for the C-Max?

–    It will use a variation of the Fiesta platform? – Unlikely: It’s simply not big enough.
–    It will continue to use a revised version of the current platform? – Fair: Volkswagen’s done this with the Golf Mk6.
–    It is to be built on an all-new platform, underpinning further as-yet unnamed Fords? – Possible: By separating C-Max construction from the constraints of the Focus, it can grow, incorporate seven seats and greater flexibility for expansion into other sectors.

Time will reveal all. But while Ford’s move may seem a direct reaction to an under-pressure market at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bit more to it than that.

Here’s one to throw out there right away. The Iosis Max concept had sliding rear doors, and no central B-pillar, for easier access. Not to mention a fiendishly clever boot. Both something the Focus platform would be unlikely to accommodate. Does this move signify they will be carried through to production..?

The Alpina that’s greener/faster/rarer than a 325d… March 16, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I learned today.
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BMW usually covers all bases, but a hole in its range was highlighted today. OK, it’s a small hole, but nevertheless…

What’s the 3 Series diesel buyer to do, who finds a 320d too slow, but a 325d too, well, you know, ‘not quite a 330d’?

Well, you’d think, the 1 Series comes in twin-turbo four-cylinder 123d guise. With 214bhp, it’s got bags of go. It’s obvious, then. Chuck this into the 3 Series, revive a classic nametag from the past, and bingo. Yet another niche filled.

rarer-than-a-325dNot so fast. Earlier today, BMW told me there are no plans for a 323d. Pity. The engine is a gem, and the lighter 2.0-litre engine would help create a wonderfully balanced high-performance diesel.

Help, however, is at hand! See, Alpina GB clearly shares my thinking. And has just started importing the Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo. Yes, it’s a 3 Series saloon, with a 123d engine transplant, and the usual hardcore Alpina makeover.

It looks great. But if, like BMW, you think ‘hey – why not just buy the peachier six-pot 325d’, here’s some stats:

Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo/BMW 325d M Sport

Price: £29,950/£30,825

Power: 214bhp/197bhp

0-62mph: 6.9secs/7.4secs

MPG: 52.3mpg/49.6mpg

CO2: 143g/km/153g/km

Compelling, aye? Furthermore, with the Alpina, you get a stackload of ‘in the know’ kudos to boot. Those stripes, those badges, those wheels, that ALPINA sticker on the front splitter…

But is it any good? Are pace and economy fair substitute for the loss of six-cylinder smoothness?

A test drive request has duly been sent. Watch this space.

Mini search over already? If I’m lucky… March 16, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I've mused upon today.
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I’ve been immersing myself in the classic Mini community over the past few days. It’s all come from last week’s conclusion that I need a classic Mini in 2009. But how to go about getting one?

Well, research is all – so I’ve signed up for all the big forums, such as The Mini Forum, Mini World and the British Mini Club.

It was the latter’s David Hollis who e-mailed me today, with quite a tempting deal. Attend the club’s British Mini Day at Dudley’s Himley Hall on 10 May – and potentially drive home in a peach of a Mayfair! All for the price of a raffle ticket. Heavens, Footman James will even throw in £250 for insurance. He even popped an image in the post, for my delectation.

himley-mayfair-2Now, clearly the 10,500-mile, one-owner-from-new car will be mine. Not will be, IS mine. It’s just a small matter of buying a ticket on the day to confirm this. Problem, therefore, solved!

It’s got the velour I’m after, looks a peach in the pic and, I’m sure, will absolutely rock. Particularly when I’ve completed my custom iPod install, using all accumulated knowledge from The Mini Forum.

Yes, Richard. Of course.

However, just in case, by some quirk of fate, I don’t happen to be given it on the day, I’ve decided to ensure a backup plan is in place. I like the look of this car, so will be dropping Dave a line to see if I can’t get a closer look beforehand. If I do, I’ll report back here.

In the meantime, the search will continue…

Speaking live on City Radio FM March 15, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I learned today.
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Today, I was a guest speaker on City Talk Liverpool radio. The presenter, Rob McLoughlin, had Eddie O’Hara MP in the studio, and brought me in for some journalistic insight.

They’d got my name from reading the news pieces I’ve been writing for Car Dealer Magazine. All this fuss kicked off on Wednesday, you see, after the BERR assembled car industry chiefs, Ministers, bank folk and other senior people. For a heads-up on how to get the industry into gear.

Like the industry, the meeting stalled. The RMIF emerged and screamed that it had ‘failed’. Mandelson came out and said the Treasury and, in particular, the Bank of England were dragging their feet. The Bank of England responded by biting its tongue, kicking the cat, then saying it was ‘puzzled’ by Mandelson’s comments.

Even the BoE press release seemed fit to explode… I can only imagine what the language flowing through the meeting was.

speaking-live-on-city-radio-fmHence, McLoughlin’s interest. First, he grilled O’Hara, on what the Government was going to do. ‘It’s going to cost you votes!’, he said. This is going to cost me nerve endings, I thought.

After a short while, it was over to me. ‘Which plants are at risk in the UK?’ Heavens above. No time to respond though, as McLoughlin quickly added the Liverpool-specific line. ‘What about Ellesmere Port and Halewood?’ In all honesty, I ventured, things are more positive for them than most. Both have secured a green future model, in the Ampera and LRX. This alone opens up a big chunk of green Government cash. Back to O’Hara. Phew.

The debate continued, and we discussed the future model, the sheer oddness of Mandelson’s comments, what can be done to revive the market and, broadly, my insight on the industry’s view of things.

Pleasingly, it went well. Haven’t done much radio chat, but I quite got into it by the end.

But, for a bit of insight, what happens to guys like me on the line? Well, they call you up a few minutes before, then you hear a live feed to the broadcast station. There’s no warning that you’re ‘live’, so you simply start chatting when you’re name’s called. Listen to talk shows from now on – all those mentions of the guests’ names is vital, to elicit both concentration, and a response!

At the end, the feed cut, it was a quick thank you from the producer, a swap of mobile numbers, and back to reality. My summary? As I reviewed in the news at the end of the week – Land Rover’s green future is positive, and the key to it getting a shot right now is confidence.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ve played a small part in boosting that. If not, the call from Land Rover will be first in tomorrow…

£3 billion classic car industry goes green March 15, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What randomly caught my eye today.
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A classic car mag has launched something I’ve been wondering was possible for years. Making old cars green.

Classics Monthly has just launched the ‘Engenius Awards 2009’. This is a hunt for classics that have been made as green as a modern car.

Such as? Well, a fully-catalysed Mini, using a 60mpg Toyota Aygo 1.0-litre engine would be quite cool. If not, indeed, a version using the 85mpg smart diesel engine?

Or, how about a Golf GTI MkI with VW’s 50mpg 1.4 TSI engine? A Jaguar E-Type with a BMW 3.0-litre diesel? Let’s hang it way out – what about an NSU Ro80 with a full Toyota Prius hybrid drivetrain transplant?

3-billion-classic-car-industry-goes-green-and-ecoThis is proper inventor territory. Classic car nuts do amazing things, when they turn their minds to it. Creativity in the business is rife. By giving them a green agenda, Classics Monthly is focusing this spark of invention on sustainability.

And I, for one, can’t wait to see what readers come up with.

There are two awards on offer, one for the industry and one for enthusiasts. It’s going to run throughout the year, with shortlisted cars appearing at the NEC Classic Motor Show in November.

My challenge is to drive some of them beforehand… Maybe even adding a twist to my fledgling Mini project?

Oh, and how about this for a killer stat. Gary Stretton, Editor of Classics Monthly, revealed that the classic car industry’ contributed £3 billion to the economy in 2006.’

£3 billion!

That’s even more than the Government pledged to bail out the car industry back in January. Classic car owners to the rescue, then. sounds like just one more justification for me to buy a Mini.

Land Rover MINI has big future March 15, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I learned today.
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Land Rover is going to do a MINI with the new baby Range Rover. Due in 2011, it won’t just offer fuel economy comparable with a Ford Focus.

It will also, once again, see the brand changing with the times.

They started out as farmer’s hacks, Land Rovers. Posh farmers led to the Range Rover, but as farmers farmed out their fields for posh houses, so the models themselves became more Sloane Ranger. Growing in size, stature, and price.

A hole at the cheap end of the range developed, so the Discovery came in. then, a whole new sector was created, with the Freelander. The Land Rover for those to whom farming meant Saturday market.

Now, big is bad. Pricey is bad. The market has shuddered, and Land Rover’s core has with it. If Land Rover is to not only survive, but have relevance, it needs to change.

land-rover-mini-has-big-futureWith the LRX Range Rover, it’s doing just that. Big? Thirsty? Brash? Less popular than a foxhunt on Playgroup day? Not a bit of it.

It’s the anti-SUV, a Range Rover for those with an eye on the future.

But who want iPod, not just generic MP3 player.

I reckon it’s likely to be a winner (Land Rover has a knack of this: see, well, every new model it’s ever launched). Not only does the production-intent concept look great, it’s crucially about the size of a Focus. Perfect. Even the very first diesel on sale in late 2010 will do 50mpg.

In time, there’ll be a 60mpg hybrid version, with sub-120g/km CO2 emissions. Comparable with a VW Golf Bluemotion, then.

It won’t be cheap, of course (not least because £400 million is being in vested in it – on top of Land Rover’s £800 million green investment. It’s too clever to not be: don’t expect many variants for under £30k. But, as it’s going to be the must-have car of 18 month’s time, that’s not going to be an issue.

Land Rover started off small, and only became big with time. To ensure it stays big, it needs to go small again. Come 2011, this model will have a big part to play in achieving that.

Can you help me buy a Mini in 2009? March 14, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I've mused upon today.
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We motoring journos are a lucky lot. We drive a heck of a lot of cars – this week alone, I’ve had an Audi A5, a Merc A 150, plus the current steed, a Toyota Avensis estate.

The trick, Chris ‘Drivers Republic’ Harris told me, during work experience at Autocar back in the day, is to approach it thus.

Whenever you’re driving, you’re working.

Good motoring journos don’t drive and switch off, he said. They’re thinking, comparing, contrasting, questioning. And this, curiously, makes even the dullest cars interesting. WHY are the brakes on a Citroen C3 so tiresome? WHAT is it about the ride quality of an Avensis on 18”s that’s so contradictory? And so on.

This creates problems for the cars we drive in our spare time. Here, we’re looking for drug cars – a quick-hit fix of insanity, that we can get into and be wired straight into. Ones with immediacy. Long-distance seat lumbar support and high-speed wind noise suppression is less vital.

It’s why most motoring journos’ stables are so nutty. Lord knows, when some of us do meet up for a tea in deepest Wales on Saturday mornings, the sort of stuff you see is crazy: stripped 205 GTIs, Clio Cups, Caterhams, scratch-built 1950s MGs, Minis with Honda engines, really dodgy old bikes, even dodgier old BMW 6 Series with no interior trim, etc and so forth.

Me? Golf GTI MkII. It was. Until this week.

can-you-help-me-buy-a-mini-in-20091Now I need an original Mini.

I drove a single-seater at Silverstone, you see. Bit random, but there is a connection: I Loved it. Had forgotten just how special they are. Remembered what a buzz ‘pure’ motoring is. And the logical way of recreating this is with a noisy, uncomfortable, hard-riding old Mini.

With, of course, impeccable FWD handling, plus feel, intensity and spirit by the bucketload. I can tinker with it, get involved in the scene, maybe even bang a VTEC in it at some point. All for well under a grand for my favoured route of 1980s Mayfair (for the uber discreet look – and velour – no?).

How wrong could I be.

Minis. Not cheap, are they? As in, thousands. Grands. Many of. Oh, my.

So now, I’m a journo on a mission. To find a good 1980s Mayfair, for decent money. Does such a thing exist? For obvious reasons, I think I need one by this August, which gives us plenty of time. Are they out there?

And in the meantime, if anyone can offer me a quick-fire education course on buying and running all things Issigonis masterpiece (that’s not dissin’ the 9X and ADO17, of course), do please take the opp. I think I’ll be needing it…

China’s green example to the world March 13, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I've mused upon today.
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Earlier in the year, I had dinner in London with visitors from China’s motoring media. They were here on a fact-finding mission, and were keen to touch base with like-minded sorts from the UK.

It was a superb evening, full of lively debate and contrasting viewpoints. I tried to give them lots of insight, but reckon I took just as much from the evening, if not more. I promised in particular to follow one tip-off closely: mark my words, said several of our Chinese guests – new car sales back home are going to skyrocket.

This was in complete contrast to the dreadful 2008 gloom we in the UK had been suffering. What made them so confident? Over to Kevin Chen, CEO of Gasgoo: ‘From January 20, the Government will cut the sales tax on cars 1.6-litres and under, from 10 percent to 5 percent…’

In other words, smaller, more eco-friendly models were to be given an incentive: they’d carry half the tax of thirstier ones.

chinas-green-example-to-the-worldAnd how it’s worked. From being in the doldrums, China’s new car market was up a startling 25 percent in February. A quarter! To get a measure on how many cars this is, consider that in February alone, over 600,000 new cars were sold…

The net effect is huge. Massive. Even though 1.6-litres and under doesn’t sound that green compared to UK green schemes, it’s a big difference for China. Over there, the European ‘downsizing’ trend has yet to catch on. This is thus an admirably green and eco move – and, with the promise of more cash in its back pocket, has seen a generally save-not-spend society hit car dealers in droves.

Why do I mention this? Well, I’ve just been called by City Talk Liverpool, to speak on their Sunday morning show with Edward O’Hara MP. Rob McLoughlin is the presenter, and we’ll be debating this week’s potential good news for Land Rover Halewood, plus the implications of what Mandelson’s been saying.

The relevance of China, then? Well, the car tax reduction is a useful case study of  how the world’s biggest car market responded to green new car sales incentives…

Far from colour me bad for the AA March 11, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I learned today.
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COLOUR sells cars. I know that. What I didn’t know was how important it is for branding.

Nearly two-thirds of people, apparently, reckon that colour is more important to a brand than slogan, typeface or logo. I thought about that for a while.

I then started to muse. Colours and car makers… now then. Ford – well, it’s blue, isn’t it? Mercedes? Silver. Alfa Romeo, red. Renault, yellow. Honda, white. Jaguar, green. Lamborghini, orange. Land Rover, metallic maroon.

far-from-colour-me-bad-for-the-aaIt isn’t just car makers, either. Shell? Yellow. BP? Green. Texaco? Black. Sainsbury’s? Orange. Silk Cut, purple. Egg, green. Coca-Cola, red. And, etc, and so on and thus forth. Try it – it’s a lot of fun. UPS, brown: see? (For proof, Google it.)

This takes us on to the AA, which commissioned trademark lawyers Withers & Rogers to come up with the report. They’re yellow. Not like Green Flag, who are Green. Nor the RAC, who are blue – erk, sorry, orange.

It’s pretty impressive stats they quote – the AA is the ‘most recognised by colour alone’. Respondents were presented with a list of brands, and asked to name the main colours used in their identities. Results are thus:

•    AA yellow and black – recognised by 98 per cent
•    Easyjet orange – 93 percent
•    Cadbury purple and BP green – 88 percent
•    Royal Mail red – 85 per cent.

I’ve always been a sucker for thinking in colour. At least now I’ve learnt there’s method behind it.

Of course, the problem comes when there are conflicts. I also think of SEAT as red, for example. Audi as silver. BMW is blue. Volvo is a funny metallic yellow. Citroen, a particular shade of light metallic blue. Can you give a brand a particular colour, and if so, how bespoke is it to that brand? Is a red Ferrari sullied by a red Alfa, and is this cheapened by a red SEAT?

Indeed, how do you give a brand colour? By history (Jaguar), by high-profile motorshow cars Volvo), by adopting a simple consistent colour that you stick to over the years (Renault)? There’s a debate. But, whatever it is, makers such as Daihatsu, Kia, Hyundai, Mazda and Skoda need to find out, if it’s as key to the brand image as Withers & Rogers says…

How to lose readers in your first 3 words March 11, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What randomly caught my eye today.
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I haven’t learnt (still with me?) any new reasons why speed limits should be cut. Or, indeed, why the should not.

It’s the usual argument that teachers in school playgrounds struggle to solve every term time day there is. And, true to form, the ABD has waded in with petulant melodrama.

‘Anti Car Extremists,’ screamed the press release, ‘Drive 50 Limit Proposals – Driving Skills to be Destroyed to Suit Eco Agenda.’ Well, I’ll be. Fancy that.

how-to-lose-readers-in-your-first-3-words1

Notwithstanding the ABD’s ironic assertion that this is a ‘speed bully’ policy, the assumptions bandied about really are awe-inspiring. How about ‘the end of driving excellence’. Policies making ‘life more difficult and unpleasant for drivers’.

There’s the ‘implementation of a ‘surveillance society’ where your every move is monitored and no individual discretion is allowed.’ And chat of a ‘dictatorial regime’, just for good measure.

Scan past the hyperbole, and the ABD’s argument is sound. For, it is actually an argument. Speed doesn’t kill, inappropriate speed does. Also, speed doesn’t kill, but bad driving does.

However, instead of good old common sense and plain English stating this, the organisation lets its press room descended into mouth-foaming lunacy, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Daily Mailxpress.

Hence, the reason why the ABD is ignored.