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  • Bonfire Of The Warranties

    February 22, 2012 @ 12:13 pm | by Neil Briscoe

    A war over warranties is set to erupt in the family car segment with the introduction of the new Hyundai i30. With prices starting from an ultra-competitive €17,995 for the Band A 1.4 petrol, you would think that the Korean brand would have sufficient USP to bring its new hatchback to the market, but Hyundai Ireland is using the occasion of the i30’s launch to taunt the competition over what it perceives as their lack of customer care. Hyundai has been offering a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty with breakdown assistance on all its models since November 2010.

    Hyundai Ireland MD Stephen Gleeson told us at the i30’s launch that “With the way the economy has gone, people are holding onto their cars for longer. Our customers are holding onto their cars for longer. They’re keeping their cars now for three, four even five years where before it would have been just two.

    “Realistically so, if you’re buying a Focus or a Golf today, there’s a fair likelihood that Mr Average Car Buyer is still going to have that same car in three years’ time. And if you’ve got a problem in three years’ time, if you breakdown at the side of the road, you’re on your own, because your breakdown cover has run out. And once you’re recovered, you still have to pay to get the car fixed. With us, we’ll pick you up, give you a courtesy car and fix your car for no charge. Our warranty is a big plus for us and it’s been one of the reasons behind our market share growth. We’re getting a lot of people coming in buying Hyundais who have just spent maybe €3-4,000 fixing a car that was out of warranty.”

    While things are never quite so simple (even Hyundai’s warranty doesn’t cover wear and tear items that could easily bring your car to a shuddering halt in three years time) there is little doubt that having a lengthy warranty in a market climate where people are very reluctant to spend any money on their cars is a distinct bonus. That said, there is a cost involved to Hyundai in offering such a lengthy warranty, one that is currently being borne as the brand seeks to make a name for itself. If its sales rise to meet the Focus or Auris’ it may not be able to maintain such a system. Besides which, it would be interesting to see how much a new i30 would retail for if it came with a normal 3-year, 100,000km warranty.

    Responding to Hyundai’s comments, John Donegan, Sales and Marketing Director at Volkswagen Ireland said: “Currently we have a very comprehensive 2-year warranty in place and we focus much of our resources into offering the best value to our customers on what are premium vehicles. Given the quality of our cars and the incredibly strong residual values enjoyed by our customers this is not something that we are looking to change in the short-term. Other manufacturers use warranty as a marketing tool to influence the market, Volkswagen prefers to concentrate on building great cars.”

    Off the record, some Hyundai insiders will go further and say that other car makers simply can’t offer a longer warranty because they cannot yet build a car to a high enough standard to economically do so. Further scorn was poured on the optional extended warranties, which are dealt with by out-sourced warranty insurers, not the car maker itself. “It’s much easier to let an insurer brush customers off in three years time, and tell them that they’re not covered for something that’s broken” said one senior Hyundai executive.

    That will be seen as serious fighting talk for a brand that has only mildly troubled the top-ten sales chart in the ultra-competitive Focus-Golf-Auris segment. The outgoing i30, critically well received though it was, barely scratched surface when it came to sales figures for the likes of the Ford Focus and VW Golf. The i30 found just over 600 customers in 2011, compared to more than 4,000 buyers for the Focus.

    Hyundai’s competitors won’t be able to rest on their sales laurels though. Hyundai has consistently been on the rise, both in Ireland and Europe, over the past 18-months. Quite apart from a significant joint investment being made by Hyundai Ireland and Hyundai Europe to push the i30 out to new customers, there is the knock-on effect of the recent success Hyundai has been having with its other new models.

    One of its biggest allies in its battle to double Hyundai’s market share in the C-Segment might be its big brother, the i40. Certainly, Hyundai people will admit that the brand still has a lot of work to do in terms of public perception, but the reception given to the i40 will give the i30 a leg-up.

    “We would expect the i40 to build conquest sales for the i30” said Sarah Hayes, Hyundai Ireland’s Marketing and PR manager. “As well as that, a lot will come from some of our recent dealer appointments, who we expect will bring conquest sales from their previous brands.”

  • Ignorant of BMW? Hardly surprising…

    February 9, 2012 @ 7:24 am | by Neil Briscoe

    How has it happened that a luxurious, overtly sporting, premium-badged German saloon has become the most relevant car in 2012 Ireland? Surely that title should go to a more affordable, less aspirational car. One with less baggage on its badge and fewer reservations about the nature of those that drive them.

    Of course, the thing about the BMW 3 Series is that it has long since become the car that is driven by us. By you, me and everyone we know. Long gone are the dim days of the eighties, when my acne-ridden friends and I lusted after the famed E30 325i model, all while driving our knackered 1.1 Fiestas. Back then, BMWs were the height of aspirational motoring, a rare sight on the roads (in childhood West Cork at any rate) and generally driven by the type of thrusting, arrogant road-hog that your mother hoped you didn’t grow up to be.

    Since then, things have changed out of all proportion. BMWs are now commonplace sights, with more than 5,000 a year now being sold and both the 3 Series and 5 Series regular botherers of the top ten sales chart. They are no longer exclusively driven by arrogant, tail-gating pains in the neck, but by a broader range of personalities than ever before. They’re not even that expensive any more. In fact, stump up (or trade in) a 40% deposit, and your new 3 Series repayments can be as low as €200-odd, and that’s with the service inclusive package that covers all your maintenance needs for the first three years.

    But the most relevant car in Ireland? Oh yes. Having finally gotten around to trying out the EfficientDynamics version of the new BMW 320d, there is no doubt in my mind that it is so. With the ED model, you get a slightly less powerful engine (163bhp though, still sufficient for an 8.1-sec 0-100kmh run) and various aerodynamic, electronic and tyre adjustments to make the car as frugal as possible.

    The upshot of all this is a car that looks like a 3 Series (slightly too much like the old one from side-on actually), feels like a 3 Series and, most certainly, drives like a 3 Series. In fact, it drives like no 3 ever before it; gliding with firm calmness over the worst road surfaces I could find. Yet it still has the alacrity of steering and suspension that makes for, on slippery roads at any rate, an up-on-its-toes adjustability and sense of reactivity that is increasingly rare. In other words, it’s still fun to drive, just as the E30 was all those years ago.

    And yet it emits an average of 109g/km of Co2, a figure that less than half-a-decade ago was the sole preserve of the Toyota Prius. On a briskly taken test drive across give-and-take twisting back roads, all done in third, fourth or fifth gear, it returned and indicated 52mpg.

    So, relevance. To the Ireland of 2012, I reckon this new 3 Series is the car most closely in tune with modern times. It is lighter than before, thus proving that obesity can be reversed. Its frugality and its lack of emissions show us all that any belt can always be drawn a little tighter. Its aspirational nature reminds us that Wilde always implored us to look at the stars, even when in the gutter. And its premium presence and high levels of quality remind us all that when it comes to cold, hard cash, Germany’s the place to go.

    There is one thing I wonder though. How many of its owners truly appreciate this meisterwerk of motoring for what it truly is. A survey of BMW 1 Series owners a couple of years ago indicated that a significant majority of its owners had no clue which of its wheels were powered. And when I say significant, I mean a staggering 80%. BMW’s clinging to rear-wheel-drive in a front-drive world is part of its massive appeal, you would think. Rear-drive’s purist nature, its direct relationship to the highest echelon of racing cars and its ability to grant a car perfect weight distribution and balance are all part of what proves that BMW’s advertising tagline is not, quite, just marketing puff.

    But if that many 1 Series owners don’t realise the significance of which wheels get the grunt, then surely a proportional same must hold true for 3 Series buyers? OK; some, possibly many, will know of 50:50 weight distribution, of Wilhelm Hoffmeister’s classic styling work, of Winklehock, Ravaglia, Soper and Priaulx, of E30 and M3 Evos. Most, however, will simply see the badge on the bonnet, the brand’s desirability and, when the rewards for work accrue to a sufficient level, will simply sign on the line and head home, ignorant of what it really means to be a 3 Series driver. They may not be gits any more, but I bet many of them are ignorant, in a technical sense at least.

    A decade ago, that finest of motoring writers, the late Russell Bulgin, wrote that the increasing popularity of the 3 Series meant that it was fast becoming the new millennium’s answer to the original Ford Cortina; “A front engine/rear drive saloon increasingly commonplace down at the shabbier end of Acacia Avenue.”

    BMW has so far massaged and managed its brand and its values cleverly and carefully, so that a many-fold increase in sales has not yet truly harmed its cachet, its desirability. In the face of such everyday relevance and popularity, can that long continue?

  • Geneva preview

    February 3, 2012 @ 2:46 pm | by Neil Briscoe

    UPDATE 2: We are  now less than 24hrs away from the first dust sheets being pulled away from the latest production and concept cars at the all-important Geneva Motor Show. If you scroll down, you’ll be able to find all of the cars we’ve been talking about already, but here is a last-gasp update on what the show’s big stars are going to be:

    Aston Martin will be unveiling its V12 Vantage Zagato at the show, continuing a tradition of Italian-bodied Astons dating back to the DB4 GT Zagato of 1963. Only 150 will be built, all with the same 510bhp V12 6.0-litre engine, but its dramatic style has, for once for an Aston Zagato, not met with universal approval.

    Of rather more relevance to Irish buyers will be an updated version of Lexus’ saintly RX450h hybrid SUV. It gets a new, and much more aggressive grille with the ‘fangs’ from the new GS saloon, and now there’s the option of a hot F-Sport pack. With LED lights outside and a revised, and more sporty cabin inside, the RX is set to be much more distinctive  than before, and it will keep its unique in class Band B motor tax rating.

    Volkswagen will also be on the hybrid SUV trail, but only in concept form with an updated version of the CrossCoupe show car that was unveiled at last year’s Tokyo motor show. It gets a new hybrid drivetrain that uses VW’s trusty 2.0-litre TDI diesel combined with two electro motors, one attached to the front axle and one to the rear. Expect both the styling and the mechanical package to appear on the next-generation Tiguan.

    Hot hatch fans are probably the demographic that’s going to be best served by Geneva this year, with no less than three significant new fast-but-practical cars making their debuts. The most anticipated one is the Peugeot 208 GTI which will use a similar 200bhp engine and suspension package to the much-liked Citroen DS3 Racing. Of course, the pressure will once again be upon Peugeot to come up with a car that matches the legendary reflexes of the old 205 GTI, however unlikely that may be.

    Under somewhat less pressure is sister firm Citroen, which is looking to capitalise on the warm reception for the DS3 R by creating a bigger brother for it in the shape of the DS4 R, which will use a 230bhp version of the same 1.6 turbo petrol that you’ll find in the DS3 and 208. Looking mean and moody in a matte grey paint job and floor-hugging body kit, the DS4 R should see the light of production early next year, if the reaction at the show is good enough.

    Meanwhile, BMW, not content with giving us all palpitations with the glorious 1M Coupe last year, is using Geneva to introduce us to the hot version of the all-new 1 Series. Not a coupe this time (at least not yet) but a hatch, the M135i uses a 320bhp twin-turbo straight-six engine and is the vanguard of BMW’s new M Performance line up. M Performance is designed to sit just below the full-blown M Sport cars, offering high performance without the extremes of speed or price that a pukka M car provides. Jalfrezi to the M Sport’s Phall, then. The sadly-not-appearing-in-this-country triple-turbo M550Xd diesel is also part of this range.

    Of course, if it’s ultimate power you’re looking for, then can we direct you to the Italian section of the show, where Ferrari and Lamborghini are choosing to ignore any talk of recession or carbon emissions and are instead embarking on the biggest, loudest exercise in automotive genital measurement we’ve seen for a while.

    Ferrari will be debuting the F12berlinetta, the oddly punctuated successor to the 599 Fiorano. Quite apart from look rather devastatingly beautiful, it’s packing a whopping 730bhp from its 6.3-litre V12 which features, almost laughably, stop-start…

    Meanwhile Lamborghini, in its usual subtle way, will be previewing a convertible version of its mid-engined V12 Aventador super car with the wildly styled J Concept. Power? A mere 691bhp…

    Amongst the more ‘normal’ offerings will be a busy week for Hyundai, as it unveils a face lifted i20 hatchback, a 183bhp turbo version of the oddball Veloster coupe, an estate version of the new i30 hatchback and the i-oniq concept car; a rear-drive petrol-electric range extender with gulling doors and a claimed 45g/km Co2 rating.

    Volkswagen will be pushing out the boat to launch the production version of its enticing Up! city car with no less than four concept-y versions, one of which is painted and decked out to look like a Swiss army knife while the other three mix and match abilities from off-roading to ski carrying to pizza delivery. Honest.

    Volvo will be having a big Geneva too, showing off its new V40 hatchback for the first time. Seen as a competitor for the likes of the Audi A3 and posher version of the VW Golf, the V40 will have an engine range that stretches from a 94g/km 1.6 diesel to a 250bhp five-cylinder turbo petrol T5. Looks nice too.

    Jaguar will be showing its rather pretty XF estate, dubbed the Sportbrake, which will take on the likes of the BMW 5 Series Touring and Audi A6 Avant (although it can’t hope to match the cavernous cargo space offered by the Mercedes E-Class estate) and Mini will debut its hottest version yet of the (not very mini at all) Countryman; the John Cooper Works which gets 215bhp and can crack 7.0secs in the 0-100kmh sprint.

    Nissan, as well as the new Invitation mini MPV mentioned below will be bringing along a new concept, the Hi-Cross, which is a strong hint at an all-new, seven-seat X-Trail replacement while Seat will be showing off the new Toledo saloon, a car that’s almost perfectly calibrated to appeal to the four-door obsessed Irish car buyer.

    Finally, for those of you that think that the Swiss can’t do wacky, may we present the latest concept from mad-as-a-bucket-of-frogs Swiss car modifiers Rinspeed; the Dock+Go. It’s an electric Smart ForTwo that can have a ‘backpack’ (as Rinspeed calls it) plugged into the rear that can accommodate either extra batteries or a range-extender petrol engine for longer journeys. Leave the backpack at home for short town hops and hook it up for lengthy motorway runs. It’s so mad it might almost make sense…

    UPDATE: We’re drawing ever closer to the covers-off day at Geneva, and there’s a few more tidbits of information trickling out about what’s going to be starring in Switzerland.

    First up, BMW has shown the first pictures of its new M6 super coupe. It gets the same 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine as the new M5 saloon, with 560bhp and a 01-00kmh time of 4.2secs. Hardly the most relevant car around, but still pretty exciting.

    Nissan has shown off its Invitation concept, which proves that Ford’s B-Max won’t have the mini MPV world all to itself at the show. The sharp-looking Invitation is set to become the replacement for the existing Note and will feature, amongst other things, all-round parking cameras that give a ‘Helicopter View’ of the car and a collision detecting and warning system, both firsts for the class.

    Mitsubishi will debut its rather conservative looking Outlander replacement at the show. Like the current car, it will be  a seven-seater but a new combination of diesel engine, six-speed gearbox and stop-start should see its emissions pushed down to under 130g/km. Not low enough? Don’t fret, Mitsubishi is working on an all-electric version too.

    Also plying some electric trade will be Morgan. Now, I know, we still tend to think of Morgans as ultra-trad, ash-bodied sports cars, and that’s still partially true, but the firm has been expanding its lightweight aluminium tech in recent years, and has partnered with race car constructor Zytek to produce a prototype Plus E. This electric Morgan, which will be built if there’s enough interest, boasts a light, bonded aluminium chassis, 160km battery range and, wait for it, a manual gearbox. Morgan admits that a manual box on an electric car don’t make much sense, but that it’s been developed because it’s more fun. Heartening stuff, that.

    Rather more likely to garner mass desire is Ferrari’s V12-engined replacement for the 599 supercar, which will be seen for the first time in Geneva. Details are still scarce, but expect a massive engine, some form of F1-style KERS hybrid transmission and an ultra-light aluminum space frame body.

    That car may well upstage rival Lamborghini’s plans to show off its new 4×4 SUV model at the show, as will Lambo’s partner Bentley’s plans to debut its version of the same car. Both were confirmed as stand-hoggers within the past two weeks.

    Somewhat more back down to Earth, Mazda has confirmed that it will bring its Tokyo motor show star, the Takeri concept, to Geneva. The Takeri is the new 6 saloon (on sale early next year) in all but name, wing mirrors and minor details.

    Also on the down-to-Earth list is Chevrolet’s Cruze estate, which at last brings the Cruze into line with European Co2 regulations as it now has a Band A 1.7-litre diesel.

    Now, not sure if this is down-to-Earth or not, but Kia wants to take on the luxury German brands with a pukka rear-drive V8-engined saloon, previewed by the KH concept. Sister company Hyundai has had big success in the US with just such a car, and now Kia fancies some of that pie for itself. Will it come to Europe, let alone Ireland? Doubtful, but stranger things have happened.

    Subaru will debut the hatchback version of its new Impreza at the show, and will also be marking the 40th birthday of its all-wheel-drive system while Opel will be shunning four wheel drive for its 276bhp Astra OPC hot-hatch.

    Finally, there’s the faint, faint possibility that the all-important new Volkswagen Golf will put in an appearance. A much-anticpated GTI version of the popular Golf convertible is certain to be at Geneva, but the Mk VII Golf, still almost a year away from going on sale? Less likely, but technical information about the car has been trickling out over the past few days, so don’t count it out altogether.

    Switzerland is, if you think about it, rather an odd place to have the world’s most significant car show. It has no motor industry of its own, has tough emissions legislation that many a supercar maker has fallen foul of over the years and it’s surrounded by high mountains that make getting there an exercise in climbing or tunneling. There’s not even all that much space in the Palexpo hall, and much of that is given over to makers of accessories and aftermarket add-ons.

    Still, if you think about it, a country with no motor industry of its own (save for oddballs like Sbarro, Rinspeed and Monterverdi) is the ideal place for the world’s car makers to meet on classically neutral ground and the tiny size of the Palexpo hall compared to the monster that is the Frankfurt motor show at least means that you can get around without a Segway. Or blisters.

    Perhaps that’s why it’s Geneva that’s been home to the biggest new car and concept car reveals over the decades. From the Jaguar E-Type to the Chyrsler Airflow, from the Renault 16 to the Lamborghini Countach; when the covers come off at Geneva, the world sits up and takes notice.
    This years’ show takes place from the 8th to the 18th of March and this, for the moment, is what we know, think and suspect will be gracing the show stands.

    Lamborghini is promising a surprise for the show, which could mean that it’s getting a bit over-excited about the launch of the totally-predictable Aventador roadster. Or, it could mean that the rumours that surfaced this week about a Lambo SUV (sharing a chassis and possibly engines with the already-confirmed Bentley SUV) are closer to the mark than thought. Lamborghini boss Stephan Winkleman poured cold water on the 4×4 claims, but the rumours refuse to go away.

    Definitely appearing at the show, and definitely gorgeous will be the estate version of Jaguar’s XF saloon, the Sportbrake. Already partially revealed in a cheeky Jaguar Christmas card, the load-lugging estate will give Jaguar access to the lucrative European sports tourer market that the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 Avant so successfully exploit.

    Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti, which is still in the throes of a will-they-won’t-they dalliance with the Irish market, will show off the Emerg-e electric range-extender sports car concept. Infiniti is keen to build on Nissan’s electric vehicle expertise, but equally keen to give things a sporty twist to try and differentiate itself from Lexus and the Germans. Expect a low-slung, mid-engined car with about 80km battery range and a 1.2-litre petrol on board to keep things topped up on a long journey.
    Infiniti's first mid-engined car is an electric range extender

    BMW has a habit of showing off major new models at Geneva, and we know that the new M-badged high performance diesels (which sadly, aren’t coming to Ireland) and the muscular new 560bhp M6 coupe will make their debuts at the show. But will the new 3 Series-based 4 Series coupe take a bow too? Or will BMW keep that particular powder dry for a big splash at the Paris show in September? (Actually, can powder make a splash?)

    One big German launch at the show will definitely be the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which has been seen already in thinly disguised concept car form, but which will make its production debut in Switzerland. Low slung and sporty where the old A was tall and geeky, Mercedes bosses will want the car to take a substantial chunk of the premium hatch market.

    Mercedes’ A-Class will have its hands full with the new Audi A3 though, which will also debut at the show. The familiar three and five-door hatch versions will be present, as will a tightly-styled A3 saloon, which will almost certainly lead to a coupe to rival the BMW 1 Series 2-door.
    This is the concept version of the new A3. We'll see the real thing at Geneva

    Fiat will be showing off is long-anticipated five-door version of the 500, the 500 L. Based on the same chassis that sits under the Chrysler Ypsilon and new Fiat Panda, the 500 L is a proper mini MPV, and effectively replaces the little-seen and unloved Idea in Fiat’s lineup. Engines include the inevitable 875cc TwinAir two cylinder, 1.3 MultiJet diesel and a conventional 1.4 petrol. Fiat claims it mixes the space of an MPV with the attitude of an SUV. Not sure about that, but it might just keep 500 buyers with growing families in the Fiat fold.

    Fiat's 500 for families gets space for 5 and unique styling

    Volvo will be having a big week at Geneva. Not only will it be launching its crucial new Golf-rivaling V40 five-door hatchback to the world for the first time, but it may also be showing off the XC40, a compact crossover, based on the new V40, that will be a rival to the Audi Q3 and Mini Countryman. Volvo has had smash hits with the bigger XC60 and XC90 in recent years, so expect big things from this small crossover too.
    Volvo is keeping its crucial new V40 under tight wraps until the show starts

    Speaking of small crossovers, will we see the new tiny Jeep at the show? We know that Jeep is currently working on an ultra-compact rival to the likes of the Skoda Yet and Nissan Juke, based around a Fiat Punto chassis, but it may not be ready in time for Geneva, although there is the possibility of a concept version.

    One small 4×4 that will be at the show will be the Opel Mokka, which was already launched in the US as the Buick Encore at the Detroit Motor Show in January. We’ve already seen the photos; this will be the first chance to see it in the flesh, so to speak.
    Opel's Mokka wants to take a slice of the Qashqai's pie

    Also being transplanted from the Detroit show will be the new Ford Mondeo (which was shown in Detroit as the Ford Fusion) and, very likely, the cute little Fiesta-based EcoSport mini SUV. Ford’s big new reveal will be the B-Max mini MPV (also Fiesta-based) which will take on the Opel Meriva in the clever doors department by having sliding side doors and no b-pillar. The Fiesta itself will also be getting a mid-life facelift which will be shown for the first time at Geneva.

    Ford's new B-Max gets sliding rear doors and no b-pillar

    The Koreans will, of course, be out in force, with the new Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d making their public debuts at the show. Hyundai will also be showing a facelifted version of the i20 supermini and a concept car, said to point the way to future Hyundai styling, called ix-Oniq.

    There’s much more than that too. Other debuts may/may not (delete as applicable) include a new Maserati Quattroporte, Ferrari’s replacement for either the Enzo, the 599 or both, the Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon (or maybe even the long-awaited new Spider), Opel’s Allegra posh small car rival to the Mini and Fiat 500, the new Porsche Boxster (and Cayman, perhaps?), Bentley’s SUV (whether or not it does share with a mystery new Lambo), the Chevrolet Cruze estate, Citroen’s mystery DS1, Honda’s new CR-V, the all-new Mazda 6 saloon, Peugeot’s 308-replacing 301 (in concept form or otherwise) even if the new 208 will certainly be there, Renault’s apparently dead sexy new Clio, Skoda’s Focus-rivalling new hatchback (called Lauretta, possibly), Seat’s new Leon and maybe, just maybe, a sneak peak at a concept that will eventually become the all-new Volkswagen Golf.

    We’ll bring you more on all, some or none of the above as we get closer to the show.

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