Motors »

  • Fleets. Not all at sea.

    June 27, 2012 @ 3:18 pm | by Neil Briscoe

    There was almost total domination by German brands at the first annual Motorcheck Fleet Car Awards, the winners of which were announced this week. The awards, held at a ceremony in The Europa Academy in Swords, Co. Dublin, have been designed to recognise the importance of business sales to the Irish car market. A significant proportions of even the current deflated motor sales charts are to fleets, a fact that the event’s M.C Mark Richardson sought to remind attendees: “Whilst the retail market faces a serious downturn, business in the fleet sector continues to be vibrant,” he said. “It is high time this important element of the Irish motor industries was recognised in its own right and the fact that almost 29,000 company vehicles will be replaced over the next two years, marks the significance.”

    So to the winners. In the C Segment (smaller cars were deemed to be not so much of an interest to fleets. A mistake, considering the downsizing potential? Perhaps…) The Volkswagen Golf triumphed over the BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus, Skoda Octavia and Audi A3. In the D Segment, The Skoda Superb lifted the cup (the only non-German brand to win, even though of course, Skoda is owned by a German brand; Volkswagen), beating out the Ford Mondeo, Opel Insignia, Toyota Avensis and VW Passat. In the D Segment Premium catgeory, Audi’s A4 beat the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, while in the Estate category, BMW reversed that defeat, pipping Audi’s A6 and A4 Avant, the Hyundai i40 Tourer and the Skoda Superb Combi to the prize with the 5 Series Touring. Finally, in the Executive segment, it was once again the BMW 5 Series that won, defeating the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

    Commenting on the awards, Cathal Doyle, Deputy Editor, Fleet Car magazine, the official media partners to the awards, said “we are delighted to be associated with the first running of the Motorcheck.ie Fleet Car Awards and we wish to thank the car brand distributors for their co-operation and support. Congratulations to the winners Volkswagen, Skoda, Audi and BMW and we wish them continued success.”

    Shane Teskey, Managing Director, Motorcheck.ie, expressed his delight with the day’s proceedings, “Yes, we are very pleased the positivity and enthusiasm shown by the car brands involved in the awards and for their attendance at the event. The judging panel must be complimented for their dedicated and focused approach to their role, all of which led to a very successful event.” (Motorcheck is one of Ireland’s leading car history check websites, investigating the history and financial record of a prospective second hand car purchase.)
    So what, if anything, have we learned from the first Motorcheck Fleet Car Awards? Well, we’ve learned that the fleet sector, so often derided for its rep-car mentality by us motoring hacks is actually a serious engine (‘scuse the pun) for car sales in a market hovering dangerously close to a perigee. We’ve learned that for all the rise and rise of the Korean brands, the traditional strengths of the Japanese car makers and the Herculean efforts of such others as Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Citroen, it remains in the German’s purview to produce cars that combine effortless desirability and peerless running cost calculations.
    Finally, we’ve learned something very important. Fleet managers are ruthlessly efficient when it comes to the purchasing, running and eventual selling on of the cars on their fleets. They care not for styling, for entertaining handling or whether a particular brand lords it over another in the arenas of Formula One or Le Mans. They care about competitive pricing, tax-efficiency, day-to-day running costs, servicing intervals and repair costs and, of course, residual value. For us private buyers, it seems logical that we should take serious heed of what the fleet boys consider to be the best.

  • Italianostalgia

    June 26, 2012 @ 11:16 am | by Neil Briscoe

    Getting caught up in nostalgia is a habitual hazard in this job, but a dangerous one. It’s a very hard thing to avoid when your mind so easily wanders to hazy, sepia-toned images and memories of cars past, and it’s easily triggered by seeing one of those self-same cars cruising by or parked at the kerbside.

    Fiat has been much on my mind lately, not least because of the unpleasant news that it seems as if there will be many layoffs at Fiat’s Irish operations, not to mention Sergio Marchionne’s stern pronouncement that Fiat is cutting €500-million from its European investments until such time as the current financial crisis has passed. The motor industry equivalent of being told there’s no ice cream until you’ve eaten your broccoli. And the fact that next week, I’m off to test the new 500 L kinda-MPV-kinda-SUV; a car I am rather unnaturally excited about getting a spin in.

    But Fiat has mostly been on my mind because I’ve seen some coupes. One was on the telly, and was a gorgeous 1967 Fiat Dino Coupe; the one with the bellowing 2.4-litre Ferrari V6 engine which also saw service in the Ferrari (well, not really Ferrari but everyone calls it a Ferrari) Dino 246GT and the astonishing Lancia Stratos rally car. It just looked so good, that Fiat Coupe. Very sixties in its proportions (long bonnet, long rear overhang) but utterly beautiful in its understated, razor-edged panels and curvy, Coke-bottle hips.

    Then I saw, on the street, an all too rare example of its spiritual successor, the 1990s Fiat Coupe, the one that was all hard angles, bulging lights and slashed wheelarches. It was the car that introduced the insane genius of car designer Chris Bangle to the world, before he set about redefining BMW”s design language. It’s not a conventionally beautiful car, but striking beyond all belief, aurally wonderful thanks to a tuneful five-cylinder engine and with a surprisingly spacious and practical four-seater cabin beneath all the styling affectations.

    Or what about the razor-edged little X1/9 mid-engined two-seater? Hard to believe but that car celebrates its 40th birthday this year, and even if Fiat gave it up a long time ago, Toyota subsequently proved that the concept had legs with the successful MR2.

    And this is where the dangerous nostalgia started to kick in as I began to ask myself why Fiat doesn’t make a car like this anymore? Now, this is doubly dangerous because it ignores Fiat’s current European market problems and its need to re-engage with mass-market car buyers with vehicles like the 500 L and the (eventual) new Punto and Bravo. Fiat needs a new sports car like it needs a hole in its collective head. As do I, and the worrying thing is that an all too easy illogical extension of the why-not-anymore thought is the trip to the internet to see what nice-condition Dinos, Coupes and the delightful little LHD-only Barchetta sports car are selling for. Dangerous, dangerous territory. (Not, incidentally, because Fiats are any less well built than rivals; they’re not, they’re just averagely built in the same way that BMWs and Mercedes aren’t as solidly made as you’d think. Only the Japanese and Koreans have yet mastered the true art of making more-or-less indestructible cars.) Dangerous because this way to financial penury and spousal bellicosity lie. Classic car ownership is a head wreck at the best of times…

    But still… Fiat, by which I mean Alfa Romeo, recently announced a tie-up with Mazda to jointly design and develop successors the current MX-5 and the last-generation Spider. Now, with the Mazda having the affordable sports car market sewn up, and the Alfa version of the new car (due in 2015) being likely to be significantly more expensive than the Mazda, that leaves a potential gap in Fiat’s own lineup. And surely, the temptation must be there to take that joint Mazda-Alfa platform and spin-off a sweet little solid-roofed coupe out of it; a proper successor to the Dino, but with smaller, less expensive engines (check out the restoration costs for a Dino V6 lump. Second mortgage doesn’t even cover it) and a practical, useable cabin. The likes of the Volkswagen Scirocco, Toyota GT86, Hyundai Veloster and Peugeot RCZ have shown recently that mass-market brands can still make fun, affordable cars that sell in at least reasonable numbers, and surely such a car, well executed, would be an ideal halo model for Fiat at a time when it badly needs to raise its image a bit in the public eye.

    Of course, Alfa Romeo is about to unleash its Porsche-rivaling 4C on the world, and god knows that’s likely to generate more Italian-flavoured publicity than a tornado in a gelati factory. But that will be a quite pricey car (circa €50-55k) and, of course, an Alfa. Not much help in any direct way to Fiat. There had been rumours a couple of years ago that Fiat was planning a mid-engined roadster specifically for the Abarth brand, but the trail has gone cold on that; probably a good thing too as it would have been aggressively sporty, even stripped out. What Fiat needs (and this is me speaking remember; a true expert in the ins and outs of car company product development and investment. Ahem) is a truly affordable, practical coupe that is almost incidentally sporty. A car that can be bought and run for buttons, but through its styling and some rorty engines can inspire a little bit of motoring joy, not just for the driver, but for passers-by.

    Fiat needs to be careful that in trimming its development budgets and focusing on practical family-type cars, it doesn’t make the same mistake that Jaguar did a decade ago; canning development of the sporty, halo-effect F-Type roadster in favour of investing in the dreary diesel version of the already-failing X-Type saloon.

  • The power of Power

    June 22, 2012 @ 2:04 pm | by Neil Briscoe

    So it turns out my dad was right all along. You know how it goes. You rock up at home with some shiny new set of wheels and begin to demonstrate to your old man what all the various buttons and touchscreens do. Proud of your new purchase, you turn to dear old dad for some fatherly approval and a bit of manly hugging. Instead he just glares at some supposedly innocent button controlling some supposedly benign electronic function. “Humph” he will say. “It’s just more stuff to go wrong…”

    Grouchy he may be, but right with that sentiment my dad most certainly is, and he’s now being back up by the might of JD Power, the vast US-based consumer agency which every year takes the pulse of the car market to see how satisfied owners are with their vehicles and which of those vehicles are the best bolted together.

    This year, in the Initital Quality Survey (IQS), which monitors the happiness of owners of 2009 model year cars, up to 90 days after buying. Three brands came out as clear winners. Lexus came top of the survey, with an average score of 73 problems per 100 cars (PP100) while Porsche and Jaguar came joint second, with a score of 75PP100. Porsche’s 997-series 911 was the best single model, with a reported 44PP100.

    That Porsche and Lexus came out well would hardly come as a surprise, but Jaguar is certainly confounding some old stereotypes. Not only did it improve on its previous score, wiping out a whopping 39PP100 from its rating, but this is from a firm that, just over two decades ago, was reckoned to lag behind even Lada in terms of build quality and reliability.

    Now, before you get all excited, please remember that these results are from the US, and based on models sold there, so they don’t necessarily translate across to our market. Nonetheless, Mark Teevan from Lexus Ireland pronounced himself well and truly happy with the outcome: “We are obviously delighted with the results from the JD power survey, and while it does relate to the US market, the core values of our brand such as exceptional build quality & reliability, and delivering an outstanding customer experience apply to markets outside America, including Ireland. Therefore, I believe the overall position of Lexus in these results is reflective of the where the brand sits in our market.”

    It’s certainly added kudos for a marque already garlanded with many awards for its quality of build and construction. But what about the other end of the table? Fiat, which has only just returned to the US market, with a single model (the 500 Abarth) did badly, coming joint bottom of the survey with Smart with a ranking of 151PP100. Would such a ruling be damaging to the brand here in Ireland?

    “I honestly have no idea what proportion of Irish car buyers are aware of the work JD Power does” said Conor Twomey, communications manager for Fiat in Ireland. “Those that do would probably be more interested in its U.K. surveys than those conducted in America. Surveys conducted in other countries need to be approached cautiously, however, because so much more than just the vehicle is taken into consideration and buyers in other markets have different needs and expectations. In any case, the American market is very different to that of Ireland and the Fiat 500 sold in the U.S., while visually similar, is actually a very different machine to the version sold here  – it’s built in a different factory on a different continent!

    “Quality and reliability are hugely important factors in people’s purchase decisions. That’s why we introduced a five-year warranty on all Fiat and Alfa Romeo vehicles: Not only does that assure people of the quality of our vehicles and set their minds at ease, it allows them to focus on the aspects of the cars that matter to them, be that practicalities such as the purchase price, fuel economy, as CO2 emissions or the subjective areas of appearance, cabin ambience or driving dynamics.”

    That said, Fiat (and its partners at Chrysler) clearly take the likes of JD Power and direct customer feedback seriously, even to the point of tweaking vehicle design off the back of such reports. Doug Betts, senior vice president in charge of quality for Chrysler told us that “we value customer feedback, including IQS, and use it continuously to improve our products. For example, Fiat vehicles are getting updated instrument panel and steering wheel graphics to make the controls more intuitive for North American customers.”

    Mark Teevan reckons that it would be useful for Irish car buyers if JD Power were to extend its reach over here: “We would love to see a JD Power or similar survey taking place in the Irish market. I think it would be very beneficial for prospective customers to see how manufacturers and their products perform at a local level, and I believe Lexus’ position in international surveys would be mirrored in Ireland”

    Certainly, the Irish market would present a unique model mix and some pretty unique driving conditions, not necessarily mirrored in the UK. And given Irish buyers’ traditional reluctance to (and enragement at if they have to) spend money maintaining their cars, a marque with a high JD Power rating could well be in the pound seats. No little part of Toyota’s massive success in Ireland (compare its dominant Irish position to its lowly market share in the UK) is down to its legendary reliability and strength, recalls be damned.

    But back to my dad. You see, it turns out that a lot of the complaints JD Power has been hearing from car buyers and owners is not to do with major mechanical items like engines and transmissions, but smaller, fiddly items like in-car entertainment, sat-navs and the like. And much of the rise in complaints is down to the fact that more and more affordable cars are now being fitted with such items. “Until recently, this type of sophisticated technology was found primarily on high-end models” said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. “However, over the past few years it has rapidly found its way into the automotive mainstream. For example, in 2012, more than 80 percent of owners indicate that their new vehicle has some form of hands-free technology.”

    So dad, you really were right. It is just something else to go wrong.

  • 24hrs into the future

    June 17, 2012 @ 3:52 pm | by Neil Briscoe

     

    As I write this, there is still just under two hours of the 2012 Le Mans 24hrs race to run. It’s the 80th running of the legendary Grand Prix D’Endurance and without doubt, it’s been a historic running of the self-styled greatest race in the world.

    To steal a catchphrase from the footballing world (apparently there’s some football tournament or other also running this weekend. I hadn’t noticed) it’s been a race of two halves, and for that we have to be thankful to Toyota.

    Audi has utterly dominated Le Mans for the past 13 years, picking up ten victories (this will be its 11th if it hangs on in there) with only Bentley, BMW and Peugeot able to spoil an otherwise flawless run. With a financially-addled Peugeot having abruptly pulled the plug on its endurance racing team earlier this year, we had expected the 2012 Le Mans to essentially be an Audi benefit, an internecine war between the four silver cars; diesel-hybrids versus vanilla diesels. But thankfully, and against all odds considering that both team and car are brand new, Toyota’s TSO30 petrol-hybrid gave a Audi a proper race. Well, for a while anyway. A spectacularly horrifying accident for the No.8 Toyota with Sky Sports F1 pundit Anthony Davidson behind the wheel resulted in a Toyota on its roof and a broken back for its driver. That reduced Toyota’s challenge to one car, which came within an ace of taking the overall lead from Audi but another clash of panels (this time with the astonishing needle-nosed Nissan Deltawing car) caused enough damage to the No.7 Toyota for it to be retired just past midnight. Le Mans was Audi’s again.

    The win is historic though, as it’s the first win for a hybrid, technology that the Automobile Club L’Ouest (ACO – the governing body of Le Mans and the World Endurance Chanpionship) is very keen to promote. This is where Le Mans shines so much brighter than tightly controlled Formula One; in its technical innovation. Audi’s R18 e-Tron quattro racer uses a 3.7-litre V6 diesel with a Williams Hybrid Power flywheel hybrid (flybrid) powering the front wheels at certain points around the circuit. Toyota uses a petrol V8, combined cutting-edge super-capacitors to harvest electrical power from braking and release it back into the drivetrain under acceleration. Besides those, was the amazing Nissan Deltawing which looked like a cross between a jet fighter and a spaceship, uses a road-car based engine with half the power of its rivals to perform at (almost) the same level and which promises a new world of race car dynamics and development.

    And it’s going to get even better. With Porsche already long since confirmed for a new works team to compete in the top-level LMP1 category from 2014 and Mazda just this week confirming that it will return to the scene of its 1991 win as a supplier of diesel SkyActiv racing engines to privateer teams, the competition is really hotting up. Honda, Jaguar and others are rumoured to be considering returns to La Sarthe while the road-car-based GT category already includes Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette and Aston Martin, which produced some astonishingly close racing this year.

    From 2014 though, the ACO has announced a remarkable change in the rules. Essentially, it’s tearing up the rule book and moving Le Mans to an energy-usage formula. Teams and classes will be given a set level of energy they can consume to run the race and then it’s up to them to figure out how best to use that. Diesel, petrol, hybrid, turbine, rotary, fuel cell – you name it. Run what ya brung.

    For road car technology, this will be a major boon. As Formula One stagnates and switches at the same time to pointless 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines, assisted by hybrid KERS electric motors that are already behind the technology curve of some road car hybrids, Le Mans’ uncorking of the rule book will provide a platform for development and innovation the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the sixties in motor racing. And one which will likely have a direct benefit to future road-going models. After all, if an engine design, electronic system or hybrid setup can survive 24hrs of non-stop pounding in the cauldron of the Greatest Race, it should work pretty well in a family road car too. Le Mans has been partly responsible for the development of, amongst other items, disc brakes and dual-clutch gearboxes. Hybrid and part-electric motoring could just become a lot more fun if the development programme includes a weekend spin in the Loire Valley…

    Addendum: It’s now three hours past the end of the race and, yup, Audi won with the No.1 R18 e-Tron hybrid of Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer taking the flag, with the three other Audis in line astern. A dominating 11th win for the four rings, then, but with the intriguing clouds of increased competition on the horizon. It’s going to be a long 365 days to the next Le Mans and, as my father-in-law would say, “it’s as far away now as it’ll ever be.”

  • Fruity

    June 15, 2012 @ 9:41 am | by Neil Briscoe

     

    In amongst all the techno hoopla of the World Wide Developers’ Conference (WWDC), Apple (quite apart from announcing a raft of new soft and hardware, guaranteed to have the Californian brand’s fanboys drooling at the wallet) revealed that its is in talks with several car makers to provide dedicated in-car connectivity.

    The rumour mill is already positing that brands such as Jaguar-Land Rover, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Toyota, Chrysler and GM are talking to Apple’s techies in Cupertino about having Apple’s Siri voice-recognition system integrated in to their cars at the factory. Already available on the iPhone, and shortly on the iPad, Siri uses voice recognition to allow you to issue simple, intuitive commands that don’t rely on needing to speak in a specific way – it recognises plain English, something that most in-car voice recognition systems struggle with. Crucially for in-car use, it allows for at least partially hands-free operation of your phone or music player.

    Such a move would, obviously, allow for quick and easy integration of Apple’s iPhone and iPod devices into the car’s infotainment systems, but there are some more wide-ranging implications. Apple also revealed at the WWDC that it’s ending it mobile devices’ reliance on Google’s map software, and instead pursuing its own maps, complete with turn-by-turn navigation and traffic alerts. Such a move would, at a stroke, impact on the market for both after-market sat-nav systems (such as TomTom and Garmin) and the car makers’ own built-in systems, many of which are looking dramatically over-priced when you can already buy a €99 after-market system on any high street. Indeed, in some ways, it’s a tacit admission that the car company’s own in-house electronics lag in development terms behind Apple.

    John Madden, a Dublin-based contributor to Wired magazine’s GeekDad blog, told us that “I think car makers have been admitting it for a long time! Car makers offering branded electronics – Alpine and Bose stereos, TomTom sat navs etc. – isn’t really anything new. If I remember right, I think the iPod integration in BMWs is even Apple’s own tech. The interesting thing to me is that Apple’s relationship with other companies is usually contingent on Apple being the dominant partner. I wonder who approached whom, and whether or not this is a first step by Apple towards a wider, exclusively Apple in car system.”

    However, with Apple now openly launching specific in-car tech, the stage is set for yet another face-off between Apple and the globe’s other software and computing giant; Microsoft. Microsoft already supplies in-car telematics systems to the likes of Ford, Hyundai-Kia and Fiat (which, intriguingly, owns one of the firms on the Apple list; Chrysler) and indeed has been doing so for a long time now, which at least gives it a temporary advantage of experience over its rival. But does this mean that car buyers are going to have to, in future, tailor their purchases according to the software they’re most used to? Graham Barlow, Editor in Chief of Mac Format magazine told us that “I think the answer is ‘yes’. Although I doubt many people would change their car choice based on whether it worked ‘out of the box’ with their mobile phone. Plus, there will always be third parties who make kits that fill in the missing gaps in connectivity.”

    While that’s undoubtedly true, it does seem like a worry for future tech-savvy drivers that they have to make a choice at all. We’ve become used, over the past decade, to software and hardware types that are universal, that operate across all systems. CD, DVD, Mp3, PDF; it doesn’t matter who makes your machine, these will work in it. So surely it would be better for motorists, and simpler (and therefore less expensive) for car makers, if the makers of media players, phones and sat-navs could just agree on a common standard, ensuring that any one of the above will work in any car, preferably with a minimum of fiddling and consulting the owners’ manual?

    “Yes it would definitely be better,” says Graham Barlow, “but that’s rarely the way things work in the real world. Competing standards are a way of life for product evolution – there’s a long history of it, from VHS vs Betamax to all the various versions of recordable DVD standards. BluRay vs HD-DVD was another competing standards battle, and as we all know BluRay won that one.”

    “I don’t think it’ll be quite as extreme as I have an iPhone, so I have to buy a Land Rover,” says John Madden, “but it might be the other way around, e.g. You have a Land Rover, so if you want to plug in an Android phone be prepared for compatibility issues. Obviously it would be better for consumers in terms of choice if you can plug anything into anything, but to be perfectly honest I’m sort of an Apple sympathiser on this one – if you control both aspects of something, usually hardware and software, but in this case it’s two pieces of hardware, you can be sure every user is getting the intended experience.”

    Just after Apple mogul Steve Jobs’ untimely death earlier this year, Apple board member Steve Drexler revealed that it had been Jobs’ passion to eventually build an iCar – a vehicle that would embody Apple’s unique style and user interface. Jobs, a car enthusiast who owned a string of AMG Mercedes models, didn’t live long enough to fulfill that ambition, but what is this new Apple venture? A first step on the road to realising that dream? Or a consolation prize?

  • Crunching the numbers

    June 8, 2012 @ 12:16 pm | by Neil Briscoe

    It’s not often that, in this job, you get to drive two different versions of the same car, back to back. Generally, schedules are just too hectic to spend such an amount of time on one model of car. You drive maybe one version, and then don’t see it again until the facelift in a couple of years time. It wasn’t like this in the old days, I can tell you. Why, back then there was time to drive every version of any new car, have a leisurely lunch and still have change for the bus fare home… Ahem.

    But recently, and quite by chance, I found myself behind the wheel of two versions of the Skoda Superb at more or less the same time. One was the expected diesel version, a 1.6 TDI 105bhp Greenline, and the other was an unusual choice, a 1.4 TSI petrol. Deciding between the two, I assumed, would be the work of a moment. Ireland is a diesel-hungry car market right now, my daily drive involves about 200km of motorway and I’m a cheapskate. The diesel had it in the bag.

    Hmmm. Perhaps not. The 1.4 TSI engine, long familiar from a whole generation of VW products, should have struggled with the Superb’s weight (1,477kg for the 1.4, 1,524 for the 1.6 TDI) given that it’s giving away 50Nm of torque to the diesel. It’s the old story; a large car with low torque means that you spend ages in the higher reaches of the rev range, getting the damned thing up to speed and that knackers your fuel consumption.

    Not so though. The 1.4 TSI revved cleanly, crisply and it hauled the bulky Superb around with barely a sweat broken, something that my observed fuel economy (Skoda claims 5.9-litres per 100km, I was getting mid-sixes) confirmed was not just a subjective feeling.

    This just didn’t compute though. How on Earth was a supposedly unwanted petrol making damned near as good a fist of powering a large family car as an equally-supposedly superior diesel?

    Perhaps hopping into the diesel would clear everything up for me. Nope, it didn’t. Yes the extra hit of torque at lower speeds was welcome, but in all other respects, both engines felt absolutely neck-and-neck, with the petrol edging it for aural refinement, the diesel in terms of low-down-lug (but not, surprisingly, opening out a big lead in terms of fuel consumption).

    All of which got me thinking. We’re all rushing to buy diesels right now because that’s what the taxman, in not so many words, says we should be doing and we all assume that filling up from the black pump is saving us money. But is it, really? It was time to break out the calculator and crunch some serious numbers. Pardon me if my arithmetic is off in any way; I flunked Leaving Cert accounting…

    Right, the two cars are very similar in terms of purchase price with the 1.4 TSI Ambition clocking in at €26,195 and the 1.6 TDI Greenline costing €27,670. Advantage petrol, but only just.

    Tax, of course, gives the advantage back to the diesel but again, only just. with €65 between taxing one or the other for a year; €160 for the Band A diesel, €225 for the Band B petrol.

    Next came insurance, and assuming you’re a 36-year old accountant living in County Dublin with the car parked on the driveway, you can expect to pay essentially the same for both cars; €466 fully comp for the petrol €468 for the diesel.

    I notionally financed both cars through Skoda Finance, with a 10% deposit and a three-year term. Now, obviously, that’s not necessarily representative of reality and real customers will have trade ins and be rolling over other finance deals, but I’m assuming that you’re coming in cold, off the street and paying cash. Unrealistic, but at least it assures a level playing field for both cars. That done, the monthly repayments are €735 for the 1.4 TSI and €738 for the diesel.

    Now then, fuel consumption and this is where the diesel pulls out a significant advantage. Taking the prices currently on the board at my local Texaco (€1.54 for a litre of diesel, €1.64 for petrol) and assuming you’re doing 16,000km a year at the officially quoted fuel consumption figure (again, unrealistic but fair to both cars) the petrol’s 5.9-litres per 100km figure will cost you €1,458 a year in fuel-ups, while the diesel’s 4.4l/100km will save you the guts of €500.

    Depreciation is a tricky thing to measure, especially given the uncertainty in the Irish car market at the moment, but we can make a couple of assumptions. A quick trawl through the classifieds shows that year-old Superb Greenline diesels shed about €4,000 from list price to list price. There simply aren’t enough 1.4 TSI petrols on the ground yet, so I’ve taken a leap-in-the-dark guess and assumed that it will lose €5,000, on the basis that diesel is king and the lower tax band will better prop up the value of the diesel model.

    So, taking all those figures together, you come up with a total first year cost of €18,678 for the 1.4 TSI petrol and €17,289 for the diesel. A €1,400 saving over the course of a year looks like a convincing win for the diesel, but remember, if my casual depreciation assumption is wrong, then that advantage is all but wiped out.

    Have we learned anything from this? Probably not, except that petrol is not quite the busted flush we all assumed it was, and that 20-minutes doing some 6th class maths could really make a difference to your car buying decisions.

    Pencils down, everyone, and don’t forget to show your work…

  • The power of corruption

    June 1, 2012 @ 2:07 pm | by Neil Briscoe

    Richard Nixon. J. Edgar Hoover. Charles Haughey. Don’t try to tell me that power doesn’t corrupt. And what goes for the human soul so often also goes for the mechanical devices it desires.

    BMW has just launched a new M5 model with 550bhp. The equivalent of 550 horses, all pulling at once. This in a large, comfy, family-friendly saloon car that more normally comes with a (hardly sluggardly) 188bhp 2.0 diesel. Impressive and exhilarating the M5 most certainly is. Relevant? Hardly. Necessary? Not really.

    Ferrari is currently working on a successor to the legendary Enzo supercar. The new machine, of which just a handful will be built, will have an all-carbon-fibre chassis, an athletic kerbweight and power. Lots of power. Its V12 engine will use a Formula-One-style hybrid KERS setup that will deliver somewhere between 800 and 900bhp. Just for reference, the old Enzo had 650bbhp. And weighed more. For further reference, the snake-hipped old nineties McLaren F1 road car, which could see the sunny side of 380kmh don’t forget, had 620bhp.

    Now, I could complain about the environmental impact of such cars but I won’t. The fact is that even such broad-based production models as the M5 are built in such tiny numbers, relative to normal cars, that their Co2 emissions barely register, in global terms. For cars like Ferrari’s new monster, not only will its production barely break the three figure mark, most will probably never, or only rarely be driven. A space in some faceless collector’s garage, languishing under a dust sheet, will be the common fate.

    And the primary reason why is just where the hell are you going to drive something like that anyway? It’s a common question I am asked when discussing high performance road cars. Where in Ireland would you use something like that? Well, nowhere really is the answer. The country’s one and only Bugatti Veyron barely gets an outing, and as far as million dollar hypercars go, thats a relatively practical one, what with its four wheel drive and Volkswagen-backed warranty. The combination of crowded roads, suspect surfaces and trigger happy speed traps means that even those of us who own sensible family cars will rarely if ever see the outer edges of their performance envelopes.

    In previous years, I have answered the inevitable question of “what’s the point in have a car that exceeds the legal speed limit?” with the following: Imagine its a dark, wet night. You’re on your way home, rounding a long, sweeping bend at an entirely legal 100kmh when something, just in the corner of your vision, something without lights or reflective markings, suddenly moves out from the verge and into your path. When that happens, what car do you want to be in? A basic small car, operating at perhaps 80% of its capabilities? Or, for instance, a Porsche 911, with a chassis designed to cope with much higher speeds, with the reactions of a mongoose and brakes, tyres and steering systems to match.

    But now, you don’t need the 911. I’ve always reckoned that driving a sporting car with more than 200bhp was just a waste of horsepower. Perhaps it’s because of the era I grew up in. When I were a lad, the ultimate wheels around were the Ford Escort Cosworth and Lancia Delta Integrale, both with around 220bhp. Those are still today fast, capable cars. Even a standard 911 of the time had ’just’ 272bhbp. Now, a 911 Carrera S has 400bhp and is closer to guided missile than car.

    There is hope, though. Cars like the Toyota GT86, the updated Porsche Boxster, the evergreen Lotus Elise and even the humble Fiat 500 prove that you don’t need big power outputs and 20″ wheels to have fun. In fact, it’s easier without, you’ll stay longer on the right side of the law and your pocket will feel less scorched.

    More than a decade ago, at the Birmingham Motor Show, I saw the first Ariel Atom, the mobile pile of scaffolding that bridged the gap between fast bikes and sports cars. Steve Sutcliffe, then road test editor of Autocar, pointed at it and said, succinctly, “that’s the future.” Light, efficient, focused on fun, not brake horsepower. It may be taking a long time for that particular penny to drop with the major car makers, but I don’t reckon that sentiment is any more wrong today.

    M5. Ferrari. 911. Don’t tell me power doesn’t corrupt.


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