A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits.
As England waves goodbye-ee to Europe wiping a crocodile tear from its eye-ee, the Chinese are moving in. All those Midland car workers busily making Japanese cars who voted to lose their jobs after Brexit should be doubly worried.
Older readers will remember the appearance of the first Japanese car in Britain and the hilarity it caused among cloth capped car dealers. The car was the Daihatsu Compagno. Spivs and manufacturers didn’t notice the little car was cheaper than British built cars and yet had everything in it Brit cars did not, such as a heater, a radio, reversing lights, and carpets, but above all, reliability! In cold, wet, foggy Blight we made and sold cars without heaters. Such luxuries were an expensive extra. Men bought the cheeky Diahatsu in droves as a second car ‘for the wife’, as they might a necklace or a handbag. The Daihatsu was swiftly followed by the Datsun Cherry, now Nissan.
Years later we had bought thousands of Japanese cars, rewarded by the world’s best selling sportscar, the Mazda MX5. “It has no provenance!” said a horrified car executive at its London car show preview, blind to what 22 years of non-MG production constituted. The colonial Brit never learns. And he won’t notice the latest ominous development appearing from the orient now that he can ignore Europe.
Chinese brand Chery Auto has opened its first facility in Europe, a design and development centre near Frankfurt. The company is hiring staff ahead of its intended market launch after 2020 – two years away. That’s how fast the Chinese work. Between 30 and 50 people will be hired at the centre by the end of next year, as the brand gears up to sell its products in Europe.
Tongyue Yin, Chery chairman, said: “At last year’s Frankfurt motor show, we presented ourselves as a brand. Now we’re going to execute our plans. We will launch models from our high-end brand Exeed, competitive with the leading European manufacturers in terms of quality, design and technology.” BMW and Mercedes, be warned.
Chinese work as fast as the Japanese. Older readers who recall how swiftly Japanese produced superior motorbikes to the Brit’s aging Triumph and Norton will testify there’s trooble oop at Dagenham. One weekend a few executives with cameras appeared at the Isle of Man TT races. Two years later Honda and Yamaha produced motorbikes that you started with the turn of an ignition key. We insisted on motorbikes you kick started because it was the ‘manly’ way to do it.
Chery’s TX SUV is expected to be its first offering in Europe, although it’ll likely be a newer iteration than the brand showcased at Frankfurt last year. That car was suggested for launch in petrol-electric hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure-electric forms, with the plug-in hybrids being the quickest, capable of hitting 62mph from a standstill in 6.0sec.
Rather than relocating a team from China to staff the European facility, Chery plans to hire a team of European automotive experts at its Raunheim facility and no doubt do some poaching from European brands. The centre will concentrate on design and development, as well as sales and marketing. If only Scotland had the political clout to attract some car and motorbike manufacturing. We could offer work to graduates of automotive design from our art colleges.
The Exeed sub-brand has tipped its first European model to be a pure-electric vehicle, rather than a hybrid or internal combustion-engine model. So long as their cars are European in aesthetics, I am certain they will sell.
Now, if Scotland could only regain its independence we could attract carmakers, and be choosy about it too.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Fast charging gets faster
Electric Audi models will be capable of fast charging to 80% in less than 12 minutes from 2020, the company has claimed. Audi revealed its first electric-only model, the E-tron SUV, which is capable of charging to 80% in 30 minutes using the 150kW fast chargers currently being rolled out across Europe. With development moving apace, fast chargers are expected to boost you car’s battery almost as quick as you can fill an SUV’s tank with petrol. The average time to refuel and pay for petrol and diesel is seven minutes. If only gas stations get their act together and install charging bays. The UK government has dragged its feet on that issue for a decade, leaving countries like Norway laughing at our Fred Flintstone transportation system. For a £1,500 installation fee UK charger experts Charge Master can install the top of the range in your garage that’ll boost your Leccy in an hour and a half or less.
Paris Motor Show
A bit of a let down; very few genuinely new cars to see, not much innovation either, and a good few companies not appearing, VW and VW-owned Audio, probably still smarting after the diesel scandal. That left the track to luxury brands plus Skoda with French brands take centre stage for patriot pride. Once again, the west will have to look to the east to see real progress in materials, shapes and propulsion. The biggest razzle dazzle for existing cars in their latest party dresses: there are still a number of significant new launches, including the new BMW 3 Series, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, and the Skoda Kodiaq vRS. each looking a bit like the last on the outside, neon lit inside. It’s digital all the way. In style, designers are softening the last decades Origami creases and ugly angles to achieve a more cohesive façade. The new BMW sportscar finally has a presence that isn’t all pretentious streaks and creases with an attenuated boot. Peugeot showed three neat plug-in hybrids and one truly ‘orrible throwback to its past. Vietnamese firm VinFast wheeled out David Beckham to launch its new A2.0 saloon and SA2.0 SUV, maybe a trick missed, given Kia got Robert de Niro to endorse the Kia e-Niro, surely VinFast should have signed up Vin Diesel, or maybe not. The Diesel word is toxic. Renault’s well thought out Zoe offering 160 miles on a single boost remains the best electric city car at £20,000, or under £15,000 if you rent the batteries. It’s just that it looks soooo boring.
No seat belt – no chance
I’ve known only two people killed while driving their car. Both were not wearing a seat belt. One, a lecturer, refused to wear a belt on principle, feeling it was an intrusion on personal choice by the state. Over a quarter of people who died in a road accident during the last year were not wearing a seatbelt, so says the Department for Transport (DfT). Official figures show 1,793 people died on UK roads in 2017, the same number killed in 2016. Of these, 27 per cent were not wearing a seatbelt, up from 20 per cent the previous year. (I can’t find seat belt figures for Scotland.) The fine for not wearing a seatbelt stands at £100, rising to £500 if the case goes to court … assuming you’re still alive to make an appearance.