Saturday, March 2, 2013

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

How to lose a business in seven years

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 01:26 PM PST

A small table in a 1960 edition of Autocar reminds us of the huge upheaval in the European car industry and the collapse of Britain's mass makers

This little chart was spotted by eagle-eyed deputy editor Matt Burt when he was recently in the Autocar archives (which stretch back to 1895). Published at beginning of 1960 it provides a fascinating insight into the shape of the European car industry half a century ago and how it has constantly merged.

Volkswagen was - as it is now - on top of the European heap. You can also see how the European industry consolidated. Even then, VW was on the brand rampage. By 1969 it had bought Auto Union and NSU/Audi. Ford UK and Germany stopped producing different cars and merged, as did Vauxhall and Opel. Chrysler thought it could break into the European car market by buying Rootes Group and Simca. Lancia was bought by Fiat, 

BMC also hoovered up smaller brands, buying Jaguar. Profitable commercial vehicle maker Leyland stepped in and bought Triumph and Rover.  Borgward folded in 1961 and Panhard stopped building road cars in 1967. Peugeot bought Citroen totally by 1976 and then bought Chrysler's European arm in 1978.

Clearly, the biggest loss from this chart is BMC which was the second biggest European car maker and the biggest in terms of income.  Arguably BMC should have been poised to accelerate towards being Europe's most successful car-maker by volume, as well as income.

BMC had just launched the Mini. It turned out that it wasn't going to be very profitable (famously, Ford stripped a Mini down and declared it a loss-maker) but it was a huge image builder and was followed by the ADO16, the Mini's big brother, which was in production for 12 years, and the best-selling car in the UK for a decade.

But by 1966 BMH (as it was now known) was in decline. It had bought Jaguar in 1966 but sales had collapsed to around 313,000 units of which 72,000 were manufactured overseas. In 1967, the then Labour government pushed failing BMH into a merger with Leyland, leading to the industrial chaos we all know so well.

Pretty, technically advanced, models such as the ADO16 1100/1300 and the Mini and a raft of brands (including MG, Riley and Vanden Plas) should have been the basis of a successful modern manufacturer. However, these models were also sold alongside the ancient Morris Minor and A-series Austin models. And where modernity was tried, such as the Maxi hatchback, a combination of mean-spirited style and appalling production engineering put paid to the idea. 

Alex Issigonis, BMH's creative supremo, had a final pitch at a future car, the sharp-edged 9X concept of 1967, which effectively foresaw the format of the original Golf. It was, however, just too advanced: Austin engineers found it impossible to build the 9X's modular engine within the tight tolerances required, showing just how British engineering was falling behind.

For me, it was probably the UK's near non-existent engineering and technical education that killed BMC, Leyland and the UK's mass car industry. Firstly, the technical schools promised post-war never materialised under either political party and the aspiration to build separate technical schools was finally killed off in the mid 1960s. And secondly, government and Whitehall is dominated by essay writers from Oxbridge.

It is depressing that, 46 years after the panicked attempt to prop up the UK's mass carmakers, JLR is still calling for more finance for the UK's manufacturing chain and underling the need for more graduate engineers. This week, JLR's Mike Wright said "If schools can promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects….this will help to inspire and encourage them to consider a career in engineering and manufacturing." Which was just what was being said in the 1940s.

Geneva motor show: Koenigsegg Agera S Hundra teased

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 10:53 AM PST

A one-off Koenigsegg Agera S Hundra will be revealed at the Geneva motor show

A special edition Koenigsegg Agera S Hundra will be revealed at the Geneva motor show.

The Swedish firm confirmed the launch when it revealed three teaser pictures earlier today. Hundra is Swedish for one hundred.

The only confirmed detail for the special edition is that its carbonfibre exterior is inlayed with gold leaf.

Koenigsegg's standard Agera costs around £750,000 and sits on an aluminium honeycomb-reinforced carbonfibre chassis.

It is powered by a 4.7-litre V8 engine which produces 898bhp at 6850rpm and 811lb ft at 5100rpm. Weighing 1290kg, the Agera gets from 0-62mph in 3.1sec and from 0-124mph in 8.9sec. The top speed is just under 250mph.

Click here for more Geneva motor show 2013 news.

Geneva motor show: Hyundai ix35 facelift

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 10:01 AM PST

A mildly tweaked Hyundai ix35 will be unveiled at the Geneva motor show

A facelifted Hyundai ix35 will make its first public outing at the Geneva motor show. The revised range sees the introduction of new engines, technology and steering setup.

A mildly worked-over diesel unit, with low-pressure exhaust gas recirculation, will be supplied in the UK but a new 2.0-litre petrol unit is unlikely to be offered. Hyundai says the European-spec petrol GDI unit is more powerful and offers better economy than the model it replaces.

Hyundai's Flex Steer system is fitted. The setup, which premiered in the current Hyundai i30, offers three presets to configure steering feedback.

The exterior has received a number of subtle revisions, including bi-xenon headlights. The cabin features improved trim and materials and a new TFT infortainment screen is fitted. UK models will carry 17in alloy wheels as standard, while European models will be offered with 16s.

Quick news: McLaren P1, Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai i40, Mini Countryman

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 09:53 AM PST

McLaren to release more P1 details, Chevrolet Trax pricing announced, new Hyundai i40 options, limited edition Countryman unveiled

McLaren will release further details of its new P1 hypercar at next week's Geneva motor show. McLaren Group Executive Chairmen Ron Dennis CBE, and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Sergio Perez, will be joined by F1 presenter Lee McKenzie to discuss the new car. The P1 will be the third new McLaren in as many years. 

Chevrolet has announced pricing for its Trax, a small SUV. Two trim levels will be available. The entry level Chevrolet Trax LS range will start at £15,495, the higher-specification LT model will cost £17,495. LT models will get Chevrolet's MyLink media system which features a seven-inch touchscreen display.  

Hyundai has introduced a range-topping trim for its i40 range. The new Premium SE trim sits above the Premium models. Standard kit includes a heated steering wheel, ventilated and heated front seats, heated rear seats, adaptive xenon lights, lane departure warning and tyre pressure monitoring. Prices for the Premium SE models start at £26,065.

Mini is celebrating back-to-back wins in the world's most challenging rally with a limited edition version of the John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4. Called the Dakar Winner, it features Mini's four-wheel-drive system, a turbocharged 215bhp four-cylinder engine and a matt black finish with bright green details. 

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series first drive review

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 08:15 AM PST

This 622bhp sledgehammer blends luxury and breathtaking performance, but is it worth £230,000? This is arguably the most driver-focused Mercedes-Benz road car ever: the SLS AMG Black Series.The SLS AMG Black Series looked aggressive enough covered in disguise when we rode in it late last year, but as it sits in the pitlane at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, its engine turning over with a lumpy idle, you get the feeling that all it lacks are race numbers attached to its bodywork. It's certainly a long way from the standard SLS GT we drove a couple of months back.Beyond the deep new front bumper, with integral carbonfibre splitter, and front wings that have been widened by 13mm, it is the long, contoured carbonfibre bonnet with integral air duct that really sets it apart. Further back, there are deep new sills with cooling ducts for the rear brakes, rear wings that extend out by an extra 26mm and a reprofiled rear bumper with a more substantial diffuser.AMG's latest Black Series model also comes with an optional aerodynamic package that has additional winglets on the outer corners of the front bumper for improved cooling of the front brakes, as well as a prominent carbonfibre rear wing on the bootlid in place of the standard retractable one. The SLS Black Series has benefited greatly from the existence of the SLS GT3 race car and SLS Electric Drive. Various lightweight components and construction solutions from both allow it to hit the scales 70kg below that of the SLS GT, at 1550kg.Key among the developments brought to the Black Series model is a new carbonfibre torque tube, through which the propshaft runs. As well as being much lighter than the standard aluminium arrangement, it is also claimed to be significantly more rigid for greater structural integrity. The bulkhead behind the seats is also now made of carbonfibre, again increasing the overall stiffness. The real showpiece, though, is the engine. The naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 adopts myriad detail changes, including revised valve gear with altered cam geometry and revised bucket tappets, a new intake system, reconfigured belt drive, optimised crank assembly and an entirely new water and oil cooling system.Power increases by 59bhp to 622bhp, which trumps a Porsche 911 GT2 RS. Maximum power arrives 600rpm further up the rev range, at 8000rpm. Torque has been reduced by 11lb ft in the interests of low-end tractability, going from 479lb ft at 4750rpm to 468lb ft at 5500rpm.

Eco subsidies are stupid

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 06:52 AM PST

Do we really need green subsidies, or could the money be better spent elsewhere?

I am sure that everyone will be getting all over excited by the world's first diesel plug-in hybrid, the Volvo V60 D6 AWD.

That's because it does remarkable things, in Pure mode the car is powered solely by its electric motor as much as possible.

If the battery pack has been recharged with electricity from renewable sources, its range is up to 31 miles with no carbon dioxide emissions from the tailpipe. When dieseling along its CO2 emissions (NEDC, mixed driving cycle for certification) are just 48g/km, and it has a total range of up to 560 miles.

When working together the diesel engine and electric motor have a total power output of 285bhp and maximum torque of 640Nm. The electric motor's lightning-quick torque delivery contributes to the car's acceleration from 0 to 62mph in 6.1 seconds.

All this comes at a price of course. Except that the price is being subsidised by you and me. The government's Plug-In Car Grant (PICG) donates £5000, so the bottom line price is £43,775 on the road. Why? A car that is successful doesn't need this help. Volvo admits that it has sold its initial allocation of 1000 worldwide. 

So we give £5000 to a foreign car company rather than, say, spending it on home soil. I could glibly suggest mending the roads near me with it, but surely we could loan it to some clever engineers.They could develop and invent the next big British transportation thing. That's what needs subsidising. 

Unless you have any better idea about how to spend those daft eco subs…

The difference between a plan and a project

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 06:36 AM PST

Does hosting Formula 1 kill the profitability and potential of a race circuit?

Before the recent Daytona 500, the folk in Florida announced plans to upgrade the spectator facilities at Daytona International Speedway.  It is the biggest of the NASCAR tracks and has a seating capacity of nearly 170,000. The problem is that it has not been upgraded for a long time.

The primary goal of the work will be to improve the fan experience. Already almost the entire circuit can be seen from any of the seats, but these are rather old and not very comfortable. The plan is also to add an additional tier of seating on top of the existing grandstands, which are a mile long. There will be new VIP suites.

In addition the speedway asked Rossetti Architects of Southfield, Michigan, to develop public spaces into destinations and by doing so encourage visitors to come earlier and stay longer (and thus spend more money). The result is an interesting series of what are called "neighbourhoods" inside the grandstands.

There will be 11 of them, including a central one which will be a historical exhibition. The other 10 will provide space for fans to meet, eat, shop and visit "the rest rooms". Each of these areas will have large video screens so that the spectators do not miss any of the action. The plan also includes the installation of 40 escalators in five "injector" zones, which will make it much easier for the fans to get to their seats and to the various concourses.

Contrast this with the recent announcement at Silverstone that the track is not going to use the expensive new pit and paddock complex, called "The Wing" for this year's  British GP MotoGP event because the fans prefer the older facilities.  

"Until we have the funds to build a bridge or tunnel connecting the outside of the circuit with The Wing, the old paddock is a more accessible facility for fans," explained Richard Phillips, the managing director of Silverstone." 

The two announcements highlight the differences between the racing circuits in the United States and in Europe. The US facilities have money; the Europeans do not.  The primary problem is that while tracks can be "nice little earners"  that stops if they want to run Formula 1 races. The problem is the annual fee demanded by the Formula One group for the right to hold an event, coupled with the rights than must be signed away.

This means that in a lot of cases the only source of revenue left to the promoter is the sale of tickets, and if they cost too much or access is difficult and facilities poor, people will not pay. So unless a government will help out, there is no money to make the experience better for the fans. Nor is there cash to build such multi-use facilities,§ such as exhibition and convention centres, concert halls, shopping malls, museums and so on.

So Silverstone has a plan, Daytona has a project.

The Formula One group says it is just doing business, but almost half the money that the sport generates is disappearing back to the financial institutions and private equity people, who do not care if they damage the sport in the long-term or not. They are there to make a quick buck.

Over in America the sport has a better structure. There are still investors involved, but they are not killing the cash cow. They are feeding it, to make sure it continues to produce for many years to come…

New Ferrari Enzo to be revealed at Geneva - updated

Posted: 28 Feb 2013 06:55 AM PST

Italian manufacturer confirms it will unveil new Enzo at Geneva motor show 2013

Ferrari has confirmed that its new Ferrari Enzo will be unveiled at the Geneva motor show.

The announcement was accompanied by a new detail picture of the car.

The new flagship hypercar, which will rival the McLaren P1, will have more than 800bhp and weigh as little as 1100kg according to unconfirmed reports.

Codenamed F150, the Enzo makes sophisticated use of carbonfibre in its construction.

With roots in the 2005 Enzo-based FXX track car, the new Enzo will use a development of the F12's 6.3-litre V12.

This will output 750bhp, with an additional 100bhp and 200lb ft expected to come from an electric motor.

Ferrari has not indicated a price for the new Enzo yet, but it's likely to be around £1,000,000.

Click here for more Geneva motor show 2013 news.

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