Monday, January 21, 2013

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EU law opens up the road for 16-year old drivers

Posted: 21 Jan 2013 06:53 AM PST

Quadricycles now fall into moped driving license category

European Union legislation that came into force this weekend means that 16-year olds can now drive four-wheeled quadricycles in the UK.

Changes to driving license category P, which covers 50cc mopeds, have added vehicles with four wheels that weigh less than 350kg and a have a top speed of no more than 28mph.

That includes vehicles such as the Aixam Coupé and the Qpod, while Renault may bring its lower-powered Twizy, with a lower top speed, to the UK.

16-year olds will have to pass Compulsory Basic Training to drive a quadricycle, although no other qualifications are required.  

Bentley boss confirms SUV for production

Posted: 21 Jan 2013 05:22 AM PST

Super luxury 4x4 due within three years

The controversial Bentley SUV looks set to enter production within three years, according to reports that the firm is close to signing off the final design of the car.

In the first official confirmation that Bentley is going ahead with the SUV, CEO Wolfgang Schreiber confirmed that it will look more like the rest of Bentley's vehicles than the EXP 9F concept car from the 2012 Geneva motor show.

Schreiber, talking to Automotive News, said that car was not built as a styling exercise but to see how the market reacted to the idea of a Bentley SUV.

"If you saw the styling, you would say, 'That is a real Bentley,'" said Schreiber. He also said the SUV will use a V8, with the possibility of a W12 engine as an option.

The car will share a platform with the next Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. The car's shell will be built in Europe, with final assembly taking place in Crewe.

Peterhansel takes Dakar win for the 11th time

Posted: 21 Jan 2013 03:11 AM PST

Veteran Dakar ace chalks up another win with Mini

This year's Dakar Rally has been won by 11 times champion Stéphane Peterhansel in a privately-entered Mini ALL4 Racing Countryman.

Peterhansel completed the race in 38 hours 32 minutes and 39 seconds, 42 minutes ahead of second placed Giniel De Villiers in a Toyota Hilux.

Peterhansel, who won his first Dakar in 1991 on a bike and took last year's victory in a Mini, didn't suffer any mechanical breakdowns during the race's 5300 miles. He took the lead after the second stage and maintained it to the finish.

The ALL4 Racing Mini uses a straight six BMW 3.0-litre diesel with 310bhp driving the wheels through a six-speed sequential gearbox.

It uses locking front, centre and rear differentials, and the body is around five per cent larger all round than a production Countryman; it's made from carbon fibre over a steel frame. 

Alpine creates advisory board

Posted: 21 Jan 2013 02:57 AM PST

Alpine experts to assist Renault and Caterham on Alpine brand positioning and model development

Alpine, the sports car brand resurrected by a joint partnership between Caterham and Renault, has created a new advisory board.

Headed by Renault's chief operating officer Carlos Tavares, the board will advise and assist the senior management of the newly founded Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham, on the brand's positioning and development of its forthcoming model.

Members of the advisory board include Jean-Charles Rédelé, son of Renault brand founder Jean Rédelé, former sales manager and sporting director of Alpine Jacques Cheinisse and former Alpine test driver Alain Serpaggi.

The board is scheduled to meet twice a year, with the first meeting to be held in a few weeks' time.

Daljinder Nagra

Winter motorsport action in the snow... and the desert

Posted: 21 Jan 2013 02:56 AM PST

The annual Wrooom event at a ski resort in the Italian Alps offers an out-of-season insight into the worlds of F1 and MotoGP

The focus of the F1 world last week was on the activities of Ferrari at the Wrooom F1 and MotoGP Press Ski Meeting in Madonna di Campiglio, in the Italian Alps. This is where the Ferrari and Ducati teams (both sponsored by Philip Morris) come together for an annual week of fun and press conferences.

Things were very entertaining one evening when a dinner in a mountain-top chalet featured jugglers and acrobats performing outside in -13deg C. Fernando Alonso and Nicky Hayden decided that they would join in the fun and, having donned feathered wings, proceeded to do their own dance for the amusement of the gathered guests.

Alonso was on fine form and at one point during the evening launched a paper plane across a very large room and hit one of my colleagues squarely on the head, with amazing accuracy.

"You see," he said. "We have great aerodynamics at Ferrari."

Hair-raising stuff

MotoGP riders tend to be rather keen on fashion and adopt the same facial hair creations as one another. This year's fashion tweak in Italy is to shave the sides of your head and leave the top au naturel.

A pal of mine asked me if I could get an autograph from rising Italian MotoGP star Andrea Iannone, who will be racing this year for the satellite Ducati team called Pramac. I don't follow MotoGP closely, so I had to look him up on the Internet to know whom to approach. It seemed simple enough: a young Italian with a Roman nose and one of these odd hairdos.

I don't like to ask F1 driver for autographs. I'm not sure why, but it just doesn't feel right. But I spotted Iannone when we arrived for dinner and my lovely wife volunteered to go and ask him. I pointed him out and off she went to return, slightly bemused, explaining that the gentleman in question had been very nice but had been surprised to be asked for an autograph.

Nonetheless, she had insisted and returned with the signature. A Mr Naldini. Oops! The real Iannone was spotted, further down the Ducati table, and after independent verification an autograph was finally obtained. Still, we are the only folk who have the autograph of Yuri Naldini, the Ducati MotoGP trainer…

No off-piste action for Ducati riders

Car companies can be rather pig-headed from time to time. One of the highlights of the Madonna week is a race between the drivers and riders on the frozen lake in the middle of the village. In previous years they have used karts and Fiat Unos and much fun has been had, as no one seems to be mind if the cars are crashed into one another. This year, however, things were a little different. Ducati is now owned by Audi, and the Germans didn't want its riders being seen driving Fiats, while Ferrari didn't want to see its drivers racing in Audis. So… no car race.

Clash of the rally titans

Ask the average man in the street to name two rallies and the chances are that they would say "Monte Carlo" without so much as a blink and then, after a few ums and ahs, would probably add "the Paris Dakar".

They are two of the two biggies of the rallying world in the 21st century. So why are they are taking place simultaneously? I suppose racing is just as illogical, with the Indianapolis 500 being run on the same day as the Monaco Grand Prix, but the difference in that the time zones and the relatively short nature of the events mean that fans around the world can watch one and then the other.

With the long-distance Dakar and four-day Monte Carlo, it all gets mixed up. The Dakar is confusing enough for fans, given that it hasn't had anything to do with Dakar in Senegal since the event was switched away from Africa to South America.

That was a very prescient decision, given that this year the towns once known as staging posts on the Dakar are now figuring in the reports of French military intervention to stop the Islamist rebels toppling the government. The Dakar is safer in South America, even if flash floods caused some chaos this year.

British team of disabled servicemen conquers Dakar Rally

Posted: 21 Jan 2013 02:34 AM PST

Race2Recovery finish the tough desert race and set a new record

British Dakar Rally competitors Race2Recovery have completed the notorious race, with one of the four original Land Rover based Wildcats crossing the line.

Race2Recovery, comprised of British and American servicemen and including several amputees, has become the first team with disabled members to complete the Dakar.

Four Wildcats began the race on January 5; one was disqualified, one was forced to retire with mechanical issues and a third rolled, damaging the car too badly to continue.

The fourth, driven by Major Matt O'Hare and Corporal Phillip Gillespie, finished, despite over heating forcing them to drive at night. 

The team received congratulations from the Duke and Duchess of York. In a statement, the Duke said: "We know it was not easy, but you have today become true record holders as the first ever disability team to complete what is one of the world's toughest challenges. 

"What you have achieved was a triumph of perseverance and teamwork, and you have shown the world what true valour looks like."

More Pain To Come

Posted: 20 Jan 2013 05:39 PM PST

With sales still falling and cars being stockpiled, European carmakers will have to slash production again this year say analysts

Hindsight is very illuminating. Especially when you have the hard figures to make things clear. Those bright chaps in Credit Suisse's Autos team have just released a research note with some of their 2013 predictions about the European car industry. Their conclusions are not pretty, but I'll get to that in a second.

The opening graph shows the average amount of 'Inventory' (unsold cars) held by European carmakers over the last nine years. Expressed as the number of days of supply, the graph shows that around 70 days stock of new cars is the norm. 

What caught my eye was that the line took off (which means new car sales started to slow) in the fourth quarter of 2007, rapidly peaking 12 months later in the fourth quarter of 2008 at over 90 day's stock. You might remember that Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, the first big victim of the bursting of America's $9 trillion property bubble. 

The graph clearly shows that the synchronised trouble in the global economy started a year earlier, as car sales in Europe started to slow dramatically, while production ploughed onwards. You have to wonder why car makers seemingly ignored the escalating stocks after the first six months and didn't start to slow production more quickly.

Anyway, the bad news is the the line on that graph crept above an estimated 90 days stock last year and has stayed there. The upshot is that Credit Suisse is predicting, unlike some other forecasters, that Europe's car makers will have to make another round of painful production cuts in 2013.

CS is suggesting big cuts in production in every quarter of 2013, adding up to a massive seven percent of today's, already depressed, output. This is partly because CS predicts that new car sales in 2013, across Western Europe, will fall another 3.5 percent compared to 2012, but it's also because car makers need to reduce the amount of unsold stock. All of which, of course, means more misery for workers right across the industry, from the suppliers to the guys delivering cars to dealers.

The CS experts also look in detail at the position of Peugeot-Citroen (PSA), Renault and Fiat. Suffice to say, all three will be having a very difficult time in 2013, but Peugeot-Citroen's situation is absolutely dire. Credit Suisse says that PSA lost £1.4bn in 2012 and this might only 'ease' back to a £1.1bn loss in 2013. With the European economy still firmly anchored to the bottom by the Euro zone crisis, you have to wonder how long PSA can stagger on without more major industrial surgery, surgery likely to be opposed by the French government.

First drive review: BMW 320i xDrive M Sport

Posted: 17 Jan 2013 10:02 AM PST

Confidence-inspiring all-wheel-drive version of the 3-series finally comes to the UK It's a 3-series with all-wheel drive. It's 18 years since BMW last offered an all-wheel-drive saloon (the E34-series 525iX) in the UK. Now xDrive is finally available on the 3-series saloon, hooked up to BMW's 181bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine. The main engineering modifications are a transmission shaft running forwards, sending drive to the front wheels, and heavily modified double wishbone front suspension.In normal conditions, 60 per cent of drive goes to the rear wheels. But information from the ABS and the stability control system can be used to shift 100 per cent of the torque to either end in just one tenth of a second. Individual wheels can also be braked to prevent the car from losing control.

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