A weekly look at all that’s rotten in the car industry, and some good bits
Luxembourg is one of the smallest landlocked countries in Europe. It has no navy or airforce. Born out of the French empire it’s a Grand Duchy. The capital is unimaginatively named Luxembourg City and like Edinburgh has a castle on a rocky outcrop at its centre. In fact, there are lots of castles. Restaurant Chiggeri in the City holds the Guinness World Record for longest wine list: 1,746 different labels at the last count. (I just threw that in to sound more knowledgeable than I am about Luxembourg.)
Like it or not, Luxembourg has been the tax haven of choice of many corporations and mega-rich individuals around the world since the 1970s. Its tagline could be ‘Global Capitalism R Us’. It thrives as piggy bank for the wealthy because of economic stability and huge tax incentives, a magnet for companies. In fact, its half-a-million residents, about the same number as Edinburgh, owes its population size to foreigners who account for nearly half of Luxembourg’s population.
It has a parliamentary democracy that helps produce lots of Nobel Prize winners, yet is most famous for being very small but not as small as Liechtenstein. Well …..
Luxembourg is independent. And sovereign.
Scotland take note: For a small nation it wields a lot of influence. Luxembourg is a founding member of the European Union, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), United Nations, NATO, and Benelux. It is also the site of the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Auditors, the Statistical Office of the European Communities (“Eurostat”) and other vital EU organs. The Secretariat of the European Parliament is located in Luxembourg, but the Parliament meets in Brussels, sometimes in Strasbourg. Senior readers will remember Radio Luxembourg was the first to broadcast pop music to the UK shunned by the BBC. At the last count there were 30 registered film production companies, some are English companies.
A secular state, by all accounts the population of Luxembourg is very happy. So, what do Luxembourgers have to complain about? Traffic. Lots of it.
With most inhabitants owning two vehicles of some sort you’d expect roads to be busy and you’d be correct. They’re gridlocked a lot of the day.
Traffic congestion is a major problem. Luxembourg receives approximately 170,000 cross-border commuters from neighboring France, Belgium and Germany on a daily basis. A study published in 2016 found drivers in Luxembourg City, frittered away their lives thirty-three hours a years stuck in traffic. The last census saw 647 cars for every 1,000 inhabitants. (International Road Federation.)
In an effort to reduce traffic congestion and the environmental impact of cars, Luxembourg announced plans to become the first country in the world to abolish transportation charges. Young people under 20 years of age already travel free on buses, trams and trains but this is a bold move.
The country’s coalition government led by Prime Minister Xavier Bettel promises to remove fares on trains, trams and buses nationwide by next summer. A clever clogs in a government office calculated that it cost almost as much to collect fares – staff, ticket machines, turnstyles, and process them than profits garnered from passengers.
Will it reduce the number of cyclists? (Cue first homicidal cyclist to post the comment cycling is healthier!) Luxembourg City has well laid out cycling grids, so I don’t see cyclists switching permanently, only in the worst weather.
Driving a car is often a selfish task. Avoiding the envious stares of cold, wet and late for work stragglers waiting at bus stops is a manifestation of the selfish gene. Your car is your private compartment, heater and radio on, often carrying empty seats. (My Smart has one empty seat. It helps reduce my feelings of guilt.) Not having to endure the hustle and bustle of old, young, and the looney on peak-time city buses is a blessing for some.
However one issue Luxembourg authorities will need to face head-on – how to handle First or Business class. Will passengers be charged for privileged seats and meals? Might it mean deletion of posh classes? That leaves the problem of drivers ‘just passing through’ Luxembourg. Why make room for more of them? I can foresee battles ahead.
The move to free transports marks a victory for the left-wing Socialist Workers’ Party and the Greens. They campaigned on a promise of increased environmental protection and improved public services.
Scotland has free bus travel for pensioners. Could free transport for all be a contingent of an independent Scotland? Bettel’s coalition government is also considering legalizing cannabis in addition to the introduction of two new public holidays, including “Europe Day” on May 9. That’s what an independent country can do.
Next election, which party will be the first to put those items in its manifesto?
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
VW hikes prices and reduces models
Regular readers will know one of my hobby horses is too many cars flooding the market place. Overproduction causes communities to expand and rely on the local manufacturer for livelihoods. A sales slump, and everybody is a casualty. Volkswagen will slim down its model portfolio, streamline the number of variants offered and increase vehicle costs in a bid to improve profitability. The price hike is surely one result of Dieselgate fines and VW’s loss of customers. VW sold almost 84,000 Golfs in Germany in 2018 with more than 58,000 models in different configurations. VW intends to remove poor-selling engine and trim variants. VW will axe 25 percent of its engine and gearbox variants in Europe, concentrating on the high-demand variants, to simplify production. This is part of VW’s “pact for the future,” to reduce costs by 3 billion Euros by 2020. I guarantee other major manufacturers will follow suit, indeed are planning cuts now.
Scotland’s favourite cars.
A bored moment found me looking at which cars sell the most in Scottish cities. We like to think ourselves endowed with individual taste yet we tend to buy what others buy. Taking the capital first for the top selling models, Edinburgers bought all sorts of VW Golfs, the VW Tiguan SUV, Land Rover Discovery, Nissan Qashqai and Ford Fiesta. Glaswegians bought similarly but the Mercedes A class was in their top five – probably there by Uber taxi drivers – and it preferred the VW Golf R. Dundee doesn’t much like Mercs and instead does as Edinburgh does by putting the Kia Sportage and Audi 3 in its top five. Inverness likes the SEAT Ateos, and Dumfries the Skoda Kodiaq.
Expect the unexpected
In time good drivers develop a sixth sense about the driving habits of other knights of the road, those in front and those behind. I am usually right in thinking the one in front will run backwards on the road’s slope at the traffic lights soon as he or she releases the handbrake. I keep at least a car’s length behind them, enough to swing left or right out of harm’s way. This annoys the hell out of the driver in the queue behind me who has the weird idea that if he can push me to close the gap it will shorten his travelling time. What I can’t predict is the behaviour of the drunk driver. It’s festive time, folks. Be wary. This is the time of year when our feelings of affection for our fellow mankind are tested to the limit – and some of them are pedestrians! The Brexit fiasco and a laggard Scotland dragging its feet over a second referendum will drive anybody to excessive drink.