A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership plus some good bits
850 redundancies plus supply companies going to the wall is what happens when a tyre company fails to take note of the trend to SUV’s and 4×4 all-terrain vehicles, cars with tyres over 16 inches. Instead they maintain production exclusively of small tyres for city cars. I say apparently because only a few years ago the plant was rejigged so that it could produce a range of bigger tyres. What’s gone wrong?
For some reason company executives fail to note electric cars will need tyres of a high quality to take the strain of fast driving on bends and cambers. They need a low rolling resistance of the kind Michelin was renowned in making in Dundee.
Something doesn’t add up.
The company complains they can’t compete with the flow of cheap tyres from Asia. Well, if Michelin bows out Asia has the market all to itself, a monopoly.
Poor Dundee, a city that did Scotland proud voting for independence by a large majority, one day celebrating England’s new V&A’s weirdly designed outpost visited by thousands, next awaiting the departure of its long established tyre factory.
Mr Dunlop, where are you now?
Michelin Tyres said it was no longer financially viable to keep its Dundee factory open because of a fall in demand for premium tyres of 16-inches and smaller made at the site. As already mentioned, they blame the Asians, the place where rubber is collected. What a surprise somebody thought of making tyres there rather than shipping rubber.
The Scottish Government has moved in swiftly to look for a solution, as it should, but what can it do other than find a buyer who is smarter than Michelin in working the market? The powers we have are extremely limited, not least by EU regulations on supporting loss-making industries. As I understand it, public money – call it state welfare – has sustained the plant up and until now. I think it must be close to £12 million.
John Reid, factory manager at Michelin Dundee, said: “I understand these proposals will come as a huge blow to our employees and to the city of Dundee as a whole. It’s also a very personal blow for me.
“This factory has faced incredibly tough challenges before and we have come through thanks to the hard work and flexibility of our people and the union, and the backing of the Michelin group. However, the market for the smaller tyres we make has changed dramatically and permanently, and the company has to address these structural changes.”
‘Addressing structural changes’ appears to be shutting up shop. Dundee can’t prosper on a strange looking museum alone, nor on its digital and video game industry. It has to have some industry.
The fact that Europeans buy more small cars than other nations to help negotiate their narrow streets hasn’t occurred to Michelin in Dundee but will to their bosses in Europe
Scotland isn’t the only nation to get hit with predicable closures in the car industry. More than 1,400 British jobs are at risk after two European suppliers of car parts, Schaeffler announced plans to close UK factories in a blow to the wider automotive industry ahead of Brexit.
Schaeffler, the German car parts supplier, said uncertainty surrounding Brexit had contributed to its decision to close two UK factories, in Llanelli, Wales, and Plymouth, where 570 people are employed. The company said the closures would take place over the next two years. For the moment its Sheffield plant remains open.
At Schaeffler’s plant in Plymouth, a workforce of 350 people make bearings and machine parts for the firm’s industrial division as well as the aerospace and defence industries. At Llanelli, about 220 people are employed to make mechanical parts and bearings for the major car manufacturers and other industrial suppliers. The company said it would relocate production from the two UK factories to existing plants in the US, China, South Korea and Germany.
All these closures were predicted the minute Nigel Farage made sure he’d not have to work for his EU pension.
The union Unite said it would “fight for every job” as it tries to avert the closures. The wider UK car industry has repeatedly urged the government to make friction-less trade a priority in Brexit negotiations or risk the loss of thousands of UK jobs.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Charge by lamppost
Spotted a good idea for charging electric city cars. Over three hundred lampposts in London have been converted as charging points. If you’re lucky enough to be close to one in a parking bay, you open a small door at the base, plug in your cable, and if parked a couple of hours, boost your batteries. One of the oft-questioned aspects of the great changeover to electric cars is how those of us who don’t have a driveway, or any other form of access to an off-street space, will be able to charge at night. Are our paths and pavements about to become a viper’s nest of coils of cables and the odd reflective warning sign, telling us of trip hazards? And what of those living in apartments? Streamers of plugged-in wires tumbling down stairwells and gable walls? A lamppost plug in is one answer. Ubitricity along with Siemens, has just been named an official Electric Vehicle (EV) charging systems provider for London as a whole. The company has already begun a plan to convert as many lampposts as possible, an easy fix, plus some bollards that lie close to parking bays.
If you get booked while parked in a shopping car park be warned the charge is £100. Scotland’s shopping marts are quietly handing over supervision of the parking bays to cowboy firms registered in England. Our government should stamp out this practice. It will come as a surprise to readers but these cutthroat pirates can stick £100 charge on you for have two wheels over a bay line, absolute brazen robbery, legally. Store bosses seem not to understand its driving customers elsewhere. Send a tough letter to the rip-off company and you get pushed a level higher. You’ve made yourself known to them, and ‘them’ are hoodlums. Contact activates warning letters, and written intimidation follows, the charge increasing. There’s various advice about how to handle these profiteers, but the best is to ignore the letters, after first taking legal advice. Remember it’s a ‘charge’ not a fine. It carries no legal authority. I’d like to hear from any reader who has been confronted by this outrageous theft.
Following on from my article describing my delight on discovering the interior of BMW’s modern Mini is a great place to be – unless very tall, some readers with kids have asked which model they should buy. If you have family, two small children and a dog, and if you live in a city with speed humps, there is only one to choose but its the best of the bunch, the Mini Countryman. Five doors, higher off the ground than its siblings, most luggage room in the range, decent miles per gallon, and its fun to drive. Maintenance bills can be high. I only recommend the two litre version if you do long commutes. The 1.6 is for city-only trips. And electric one is due next year…