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  • New cars sales top total for last year – but reg system still a problem

    May 28, 2010 @ 12:18 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Great news today for an industry that has taken a battering in the recession: new car sales so far this year now exceed the total for last year, with 57,898 10-registered cars on our roads, up 438 more than the total sold last year.
    According to Alan Nolan, director general of the SIMI, this milestone in the recovery of the industry is down to the Government’s scrappage scheme. According to Nolan: “We didn’t expect to be hitting the 57,000 mark in May. At the beginning of the year we predicted 70,000 new car sales for 2010. Now, we are looking at considerably more. Our proposals last year estimated that around 10,000 scrappage scheme cars would be sold, but we also predicted that one of the real benefits of scrappage would be to kick-start the demand for new cars.”
    It has certainly done that. It now seems likely the end-of-year figure may well reach 80,000.
    Yet scrappage, for all the credit given to it for the market’s recovery, still only accounts for just over 5,000 of this year’s sales.
    Arguably more important to the recovery of the car market is the dramatic drop in prices in the last 12 months. After more than a decade of creeping price rises, there is now incredible value in the market, with several entry model cars falling below €10,000 and premium saloons down by up to 15 per cent in some cases.
    Closer inspection of the sales figures show that the most significant shift in buyer habits has been the focus on emissions. The Government’s move in July 2008 to base the tax system for new cars on emissions levels has been an unqualified success when it comes to changing consumer tastes.
    It has had a far less beneficial effect for the Government’s income. The trend towards downsizing continues apace and tax income from VRT and motor tax is down significantly. The same is likely to be happening within the car industry itself, where smaller cars don’t carry the same profit levels as their bigger counterparts.
    If scrappage can claim credit of one major shift in consumer perceptions, it’s that owning a 10-registered car is now socially acceptable. Last year it was difficult to own an 09-registered car while so many families were suffering from cutbacks and rising unemployment.
    The scorn that some drivers received on the roads last year simply because of the number plates on their cars raises an issue that now needs further consideration.
    If we are to help the long-term survival of the motor industry and the thousand it employs we need to reassess our number plate system. There remains far too much focus on start of year sales, driven largely by a registration system that gives such prominence to the year of registration. It creates an unnecessary social status issue, that means dealerships are over-run at the start of the year and virtually idle from the autumn period.
    Removing the year from the registration plate seems a sensible approach. The industry can do their bit as well: ensuring that trade-in prices take account of the months of ownership rather than simply valuing all cars for a single year under the same price bracket. There are many suggestions for an alternative to the current year system. It’s time to open the debate.

  • Scam artists do their homework to trick even the shrewdest buyer

    May 26, 2010 @ 3:14 am | by Michael McAleer

    Gerry Heery from Kingscourt, Co. Cavan thought he had done everything right when it came to helping his daughter choose her next car. He knew there were some risks to buying privately, but he accompanied her to the place to meet the buyer, in Bettystown, Co. Meath and the well-spoken buyer showed them around the car, a 2003 Volkswagen Passat TDi and Gerry was happy to see the tax disc matched the registration, that the NCT was in date and that the vehicle licence certificate was in order. They took a test drive, they haggled and then they did a deal and handed over €4,000 cash to the buyer and were on their way.

    But it was only later that evening when Gerry went to look for the receipt, that he had believed that he had been given by the buyer that the alarm bells started to ring in Gerry’s mind. “With all the talk and the dealings with money I forgot to get a receipt and when I called the number that was in the advert later on, there was no answer. I tried it several times and then from my daughter’s phone and then from other telephones and the phone never answered again.”

    Gerry then ran the registration through car history website and everything was fine until he tried the chassis number and there was no match. They called the Garda station and the local Gardai ran the vehicle through the system and it showed up as stolen.

    The car itself had been stolen from Blanchardstown a few days earlier and was a 2004 model, but was carrying the tax disc, NCT certificate and registration plates of a 2003 Passat.

    Car cloning is on the increase as buyers become savvier; the would-be scam artists need to be one step ahead. Operation Swallow, run by the Garda stolen vehicle unit is combating a trend where Irish cars are being stolen, given UK identities and then sold back to unsuspecting Irish buyers looking for a bargain UK import. These cars have V5 forms (the UK equivalent of a Vehicle Registration Certificate) that look right, because in most cases they are right. A batch of stolen V5 forms is still causing havoc and heartache on both sides of the Irish Sea.

    This scam is so elaborate, that the cars being sold here in Ireland on UK plates are pretty much identical to cars on forecourts in the UK. Gangs are using HPI checks to legitimately get the chassis numbers of forecourt cars and these are then placed on both the metal and the paperwork of the stolen Irish cars. The Irish buyer won’t realise he has bought a stolen vehicle until he pays the VRT on the car and the UK DVLA receive a V5 form for a car that isn’t sold, never mind in Ireland.

    Closer to home and Gerry’s daughter is now without a Passat, which is in Garda custody and no longer hers and they are €4,000 worse off. “I was always weary of something like this happening all my life, and I walked into the trap,” he says, eyes fixed to the ground.

    The usual rules still apply to avoid this happening to you. If buying privately, don’t do a cash deal there and then. Pay a deposit, get the car checked out using every means possible and if you can, meet the buyer at their home rather than in a random car park. Plus, why not ask them if you can take a photograph of them with your phone with their vehicle? Most genuine buyers shouldn’t object to either the deposit or the photo.

    If they suddenly become very camera shy, then perhaps they have something more to hide than their modesty.

    13,000 - 14,000 cars are stolen in Ireland every year

  • Subaru teams up with Cosworth for 400bhp Impreza

    May 25, 2010 @ 3:43 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Hot on the heels of Ford’s announcement of a 350bhp Focus, Subaru has joined forces with the blue oval’s previous favourite partner Cosworth to come up with a limited edition 395bhp Cosworth Impreza STI CS400.
    Subaru claims the car has a 0-100km/h time of 3.7 seconds, which is more than a second quicker than the standard WRX STI. To anchor all the power, Subaru has teamed up with Formula One brake supplier AP Racing, which also supplies supercar brands like Bugatti.
    Only 75 cars are planned for production and sales are targeted solely at the UK market. According to Neville Matthews of Subaru Ireland, there are no plans to import any to Ireland as yet. Prices and delivery dates in the UK have yet to be announced.

  • Toyota plugs into Tesla’s electric dream

    May 21, 2010 @ 3:38 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Today’s announcement that Toyota is set to join forces with electric supercar maker Tesla has come as a surprise to many, but probably not to those who have had a close eye on the industry of late.

    Toyota is acquiring a $50 million stake in Tesla and the two firms will cooperate on developing electric vehicles, parts and production systems and engineering support.

    This arrangement seems to be something that very much suits both parties. On one side, Tesla, the Californian-based electric car manufacturer has been in the press for making what are without doubt the most impressive electric vehicles to date, offering supercar performance and state-of-the-art battery technology in a supercar body style, with the promise of a stunning Model S sedan to come.

    However, they are struggling financially. The firm has sold 1,000 Roadsters but lost $230 million dollars in the process and desperately needs to generate funds. This €50 million, along with a government loan of €465 million should help, but they will also no doubt be able to tap into Toyota’s undoubted expertise when it comes to manufacturing. With the Model S due to begin volume production in 2012, with no experience of large volume sales and 2,000 orders in the book, Toyota will no doubt make the process easier, faster and probably cheaper too.

    Tesla is buying one of Toyota’s recently closed manufacturing plants in San Francisco, which has a capacity to build 400,000 vehicles a year and this should make the target of producing 20,000 Tesla S sedan’s all the easier.

    But it isn’t just one-way traffic. Toyota stands to benefit greatly from the deal. Because while rivals Nissan and Renault prepare to enter the market with full electric vehicles within a year, Toyota is still pedalling hybrid. And worthy as it is, their new plug-in hybrid Prius, which has a range of 20km on EV mode only, won’t go on sale until 2012. Nissan-Renault took a gamble on full electric vehicles, which looks like it might pay off and as a result, Toyota is lagging behind in the electric vehicle race.

    Toyota could, we presume tap into Tesla’s undoubted skill in battery technology to get back into the running and perhaps introduce full electric vehicles faster than anticipated. Perhaps this was an attack of nerves by the Japanese giant? Either way, it seems that they are ensuring that they don’t get left behind after what has been an annus horribilis for Toyota.

    What is also does for Toyota is to tap into a brand which are seen as sexy, exciting and marketable and that is something that nobody would accuse Toyota of these days. As they patch up their reputation after a litany of reliability and safety concerns, which continued this week with a recall of their flagship saloon, the Lexus LS model, having access to this emerging brand with have the marketers and browbeaten PR department salivating.

    The Tesla S saloon, for example could be re-badged as a Lexus, and how about a Toyota MR2 EV, a re-packaged Tesla Roadster? Once again, Toyota could give us future-proof, exciting sports and luxury cars.

    This deal should be a winner for all involved. So perhaps we shouldn’t be all that surprised after all.

    Will we see the Tesla Roadster with a Toyota badge?

  • When is a “new” car actually new?

    May 20, 2010 @ 11:38 am | by Michael McAleer

    A recent reader inquiry highlighted an important issue for new car buyers in the current climate: when is “new” actually “new”? There are depots full of unsold “new” cars across Europe, and even across Ireland. Anyone arriving in Rosslare harbour gets a glimpse of some of the new cars in storage. That’s only the start of it, for off the Naas Road there are several fields full of newly arrived cars.

    After the financial crash of September 2008, the production lines continued to spit out thousands of cars, oblivious to the sharp decline in forecourt sales. By the time the full affect of the sales decline was being felt, vast storage car parks at plants and ports were bumper-to-bumper with cars. Stories abound of car firms renting multi-storey car parks in some European port cities to store the new arrivals.

    The fact is that thousands of unsold cars produced towards the end of 2008 and in 2009 were left idle while the market bottomed out.

    Sensibly, like so many other industries, the aim will be to shift these cars first before new ones arrive. However, with seven-year model lifecycles continuing apace, car firms need to keep the production lines moving and the new cars keep coming, while the fields fill up with the unsold vehicles.

    The situation in Sweden last March illustrates the point. Only 14,603 cars were sold in Sweden in February 2009, but the port of Malmo had over 30,000 newly imported cars of all brands piling up in its port. With a maximum storage capacity of about 27,500 it had to hire a large transport ship, the Morning Glory, to store the excess. Thankfully the European markets have recovered, in part due to the introduction of scrappage schemes.

    New cars stockpiled at the National Vehicle Delivery (NVD) compound in Co Dublin some years ago. Photograph: David Sleator


    However, what happens if you buy one of these “new” cars that may actually have left the factory two or even three years ago. Just like with any white goods – TVs etc – the key issue is not when it was produced but that it is of the standard and equipment listed on the latest models. If, for example, it doesn’t meet the specification in the brochure then you really should seek a discount. Of utmost importance is that the engine meets the latest standards. Car firms are focusing on carbon emissions these days and often make annual improvements in lowering the emissions levels. You need to be sure you are getting the latest – and lowest CO2 – engine on offer.

    One way to guarantee piece of mind – and ensure you can get a full refund if you later find out the car is not as new as advertised – is to ask the salesperson straight out when this car was produced and if it is the latest technology on sale from the company. Ideally get it in writing. If it’s not as you requested, then you will have a clear-cut case under Consumer Protection legislation and the National Consumer Agency will be happy to hear from you.

  • Lexus recalls some LS models over steering issues

    May 19, 2010 @ 5:26 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Lexus is recalling 11,500 of its flagship LS460 and LS600h saloons due to a possible steering problem. However, only three cars are affected in Ireland.

    In a statement today, Toyota’s premium brand said the recall relates to a computer hardware issue controlling the Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) system. “The system may, in rare instances, exhibit a temporary steering wheel off-centre condition after driving away from a very tight turn where the steering was at the full lock position.” This may result in the car not steering properly for a few seconds.

    Parent company Toyota has gone through a difficult six months with several recalls totalling nearly eight million vehicles globally.

    The low number of Irish LS cars affected may be down to the fact that this particular model has found it difficult to compete in the luxury end of an Irish market dominated by diesel derivatives in recent years. Both the LS460 and LS600h feature V8 petrol engines, although the latter combines this with a hybrid electric system.

  • Revenue set to track down VRT evaders through their insurance policy

    @ 2:35 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Revenue intends to clamp down on drivers who are avoiding paying VRT on foreign-registered vehicles by identifying those insured by Irish insurance companies.

    A number of Irish insurance companies will readily insure UK-registered vehicles and this has enabled many drivers evade paying their VRT, yet remain road legal. This is something that won’t happen in other countries such as the UK, where you cannot insure a foreign registered car with a UK policy.

    Revenue received additional powers to tackle the evasion of vehicle registration tax (VRT) in the Finance Act 2010. Insurance companies now must provide details to Revenue, on a monthly basis, of all foreign registered vehicles for which they issue a policy of insurance in excess of 42 days. Using this information, Revenue will initiate more targeted enforcement procedures against the owners of vehicles, which should have been registered and VRT paid on entry into the State.

    The information will also be used to identify vehicles that are presented for registration outside the permissible period (currently seven days within entry into the State). Where instances of delayed registration are detected, Revenue will raise an additional assessment of the tax due (including an interest surcharge of 36% per annum) for the period for which the vehicle was in the country unregistered.

    Last year, Revenue investigated over 22,000 vehicles. Less than 5,000 of these were found to be non-compliant and 1,952 were seized. Prosecution for non-compliance is being prepared in 50 cases.  The remainder have been registered and VRT paid.

  • Ash cloud clogs the engines of the European car launch

    May 17, 2010 @ 1:29 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Right now, I should be in Vienna, blogging to you about how Mini are about to launch an SUV and I might have discussed just how Mini were potentially putting the heritage of the brand at risk by producing something that isn’t really all that ‘Mini’. I might still think that, but I sure am not going to find out how it looks or how it drives. Because I am stuck in Dublin.

    The Volcanic ash, which has been making European travel a nightmare over the past few weeks, has struck again and it is causing havoc with car manufacturers, as this is one of their busiest periods for launching new models.

    Car firms tend to choose sunny climates, with twisty roads that display the car’s handling prowess, glorious backdrops that make photography a doddle and hotels with big enough beds and generous enough kitchens to facilitate even the most portly of motoring hack.

    They all have it down to a fine art now. Sure, the Italians can go on a bit at their press conferences and allocate 10 cars for 1,000 journalists, but this is usually the extent of your worry. But now it is different. Now they can’t get the journalists in, but perhaps more worryingly, can’t get rid of them again.

    This was perhaps best illustrated by our drive of the Peugeot RCZ recently. The event had been planned to be short and efficient. We would leave on a Thursday morning; drive the car for the entire day and return, in time for lunch the next day. However, as we left Dublin airport that morning, news was just breaking about this Volcano in Iceland that was suffering from a bit of a cough. By the time we landed, the whole northern European air transport system had ground to a halt.

    That meant that Peugeot had 20 guests who were staying longer than anticipated and they were charged with getting rid of them again. There were bosses (of both the industrial and matrimonial sort) who were getting irate back in Ireland and accountants scratching their heads at the escalating costs to all involved. We eventually took a bus from northern Spain up the west coast of France, hopped on a ferry in Cherbourg and took the 18-hour trip to Rosslare. We arrived back in Ireland on Wednesday night, six days after we left.

    In the last few weeks alone, we have had a flight to drive the new Mazda6 cancelled (although I have one in my driveway today, funnily enough) as well as this week’s cancellation of our involvement in the Mini Countryman event and the Seat Ibiza ST launch.

    It isn’t so bad for our European neighbours, who can drive or take trains to the likes of Seville, Marbella, Barcelona, Paris or Munich, where these events usually take place. But for Irish and UK journalists, set adrift from the rest of Europe, it proves more difficult.

    Yes, there are Ferries and tunnels, but this all makes the process of reviewing European models within short deadlines nigh impossible. So, look forward to a lot of domestic reviews in Motors for a little while. How about a look at the ride and comfort of the Luas Red line? Or perhaps the 0-100km/h time of the Dublin to Cork train?

    Scientists with multiple letters after their names tell us that this could get even worse. That if there are more eruptions then our problems now, are just the tip of the, eh, volcano. Maybe it is time to start talking about a tunnel from Ireland to the UK or France after all.

    Volcanic ash: Causing havoc with car launches

  • Mercedes should consider engine recall

    May 10, 2010 @ 3:30 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Reports in the UK media claims that Mercedes is considering a recall of some of its new diesel BlueEfficiency engines due to a sudden loss of power reported by some owners.

    Regular readers of Motors will recall that we raised this issue in relation to a reader’s query in the Helpdesk in February.

    The problem arises with some of its 220CDI and 250CDI diesel engines and causes the sudden loss of power. I can speak from first-hand experience on the matter, for I recently tested a Mercedes E250 CDI that suffered just such a fate. As I pushed down on the accelerator, nothing happened and the engine seemed to be simply idling away. Lifting off and kicking down on the accelerator pedal made no difference. Thankfully there was enough momentum to get the car into the side of the road. By turning the car off and on again the engine seemed to recover its composure and it didn’t happen again while I had the car.

    Mercedes says the problem is due to some faults with the fuel injectors and it has now been rectified, with the new parts fitted to all cars in production. A spokesman said earlier versions will be replaced as problems arise and costs will covered on a goodwill basis should they fail later in the car’s life, even when the car runs out of warranty.

    However, it does seem time now to initiate a full recall on these engines and get them fixed. It’s not as if they will be dealing with large numbers: the problem doesn’t affect 200CDI engines, which are by far the most popular in Ireland. Mercedes says the numbers affected in Ireland will be single figures. In which case it begs the question: why wait for problems to occur?

  • Supercharging your V8 Audi R8

    @ 2:46 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Audi R8 V8 fitted with a supercharger

    Recently here in Motors we tested the Audi R8 V10 and we said that it was worth the extra €50,000-odd on top of the standard V8.

    Well we were contacted by a reader who pointed out that you could just add a supercharger to the standard V8 for less money and get even better performance. This would appear to be true. APS of Brackley in the UK have been appointed official suppliers of the Californian company VF Engineering’s supercharger conversion. The upgrade adds a Roots-type Eaton TVS 1900 Supercharger which is mounted on the motor using an aluminium housing which contains an air/water heat exchanger driven using an upgraded belt system and heavy duty tensioner. Peak power is boosted from 429bhp to 548bhp at 7,500rpm, which is 30bhp more than the V10 can manage and torque is up from 430Nm to 592Nm compared to 530Nm in the V10.

    Peter Knivett, APS Sportec Press and Public Affairs Manager told Motors that the kit takes 2-3 days to fit in Brackley and will cost £21,995 (€26,000) fitted VAT inclusive. “We would welcome any customers from Ireland and we will provide a courtesy car to customers while their work is being carried out.”

    APS told us that there is a 12 month warranty with the work, but a note of caution. This work will invalidate the Audi warranty.

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  • We’re live – and Lada returns

    @ 2:24 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Given that it took 4,000 years to get from the wheeled chariots of the Sumerians to the rickety petrol-powered three-wheeler of Karl Benz, we can be forgiven for our tardiness in making our motoring mark on the blogsphere. But we’re here at last. The aim is to offer updated news, views and the occasional rant on all things motoring. Alongside our weekly coverage in the paper, readers will be kept updated with the latest goings-on courtesy of this blog.
    We’ll have sneak previews of the cars we’re testing, immediate first impressions as we get behind the wheel and a chance to air our views on the latest news and respond to reader queries. So let’s get started.
    After a week in Audi’s new A8 – complete with massaging seats and enough ubercool gadgetry to make Steve Jobs swoon – Lada isn’t in my motoring lexicon. Yet reports suggest the icon of Russian motoring achievement is set for a return to the UK market. With a little help from Renault, Lada is planning to offer budget motoring to recession-ridden western Europe.
    Thanks to some regressive therapy I can just about recall a time when these Soviet-era skips spluttered along our back roads. Growing up in the west of Ireland, they were a common sight in the late 1980s, offering new car luxury to families trading up from a Honda 50 scooter or a pushbike.
    If ever there was a car that summed up the national mood of the unemployed and impoverished nation that was Ireland in the 1980s, it was the Lada Reva. Arriving onto the market in 1986, a four-door Reva 1200L set you back the princely sum of £4,995.
    The idea was good: if they could survive the worst excesses of a Siberian winter, they’d easily cope with wet and windy Sligo. Sadly, in most cases they didn’t.

    At the Moscow motor show last year I called over for a chat with the folks at Lada to see if they were thinking of revisiting our little island. A bit of tyre kicking on the stand showed the cars haven’t improved that much since the Reva days. And the “marketing” people looked more like bouncers squeezed into suits they last wore when Brezhnev was a boy. In a smoke-filled backroom that looked like a set from The Third Man, they didn’t think much of their potential to conquer western Europe. They were too busy defending their home patch from the invasion of brands like Ford and Opel.
    Clearly the Renault link has rekindled some Russian ambitions. However, before you dust off that Lada cap from 1988, a spokesman for Renault Ireland was quick to quell any excitement. Whatever about the UK, there are no plans to bring Lada to these shores. Instead our bargain buys are due to come from Romania, in the form of the Dacia range that’s due to launch here in 2012. A subsidiary of Renault, the first model we’ll get is the Dacia Duster compact SUV, similar in size to the Nissan Qashqai but expected to be priced significantly lower.
    As for Irish Lada fans, they’ll have to make do with the memories for now.

    The epitome of 1980s Ireland

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