Monday, May 21, 2018

PSA PLATFORMS? STRATEGY GOOD; ASSEMBLY QUALITY?

These past few weeks I have written a lot about Groupe PSA’s new ‘family’ platforms, known as EMP1 and EMP2. PSA has done a good job of realigning its portfolio of Peugeot/Citroen models around this modular system, which allows for huge variability in dimensions, overall size, body type and model spread.

PSA is also working with its Chinese partners Dongfeng and Huawei on a Connected Vehicle Modular Platform (CVMP), which will show up first in the Citroen DS 7 Crossback.

The EMP2 platform is the group’s largest, and its current representative here in Australia is the Peugeot 5008 (right); to which Peugeot has provided a new lease of life, given how lackluster the previous generation was.


EMP2 is the platform which, if PSA and Holden were to renew the current supply deal of vehicles from the former Opel works in Russelsheim, would be the basis of a Commodore to follow the new ZB.
However, I now know this is not to be, and when the supply deal ends in six years, future Holdens will be built on some other form of GM architecture. That’s if Holden survives in six years time! The way Holden’s market share is slipping, there could be a case for shutting up shop.

So, after driving the new 5008, how good or bad is it?

The EMP2 platform, which is more than just a metal shell because it includes wiring harnesses, whole vehicle electronics, and a variety of different sub-assemblies, is excellent!


It has low levels of NVH, good isolation from road shocks, and a very good ability to resist torsional bending, which helps the handling.

The powertrain is also a pleasant surprise. It has a Groupe PSA 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder, perfectly calibrated to a strong, and reliable Aisin 6-speed transmission. The 5008 drives and handles well.


However, given the good rap for the basic vehicle, I’m afraid it all falls apart when you start looking at the assembly quality. The interior is a terrible outcome.

It’s a result of the interior design team trying to be too clever, with changing angles, surfaces, materials, and finally how it’s all put together. Quite frankly, a trained monkey may have had better luck aligning the multitude of interior parts. Nothing lines up!

To make matters worse, PSA, like a lot of manufacturers sub-contract a number of different components to external automotive suppliers, who are given color match and color quality levels to work to; and here the interior of the 5008 has parts of the dashboard which are even different colors!

During my years working in the VW Group, the head of the Group, Dr. Ferdinand Piech, was well-known for his attention, and focus, on the interior design, trim fit and finish, and consistent margins (or gaps) between parts. Thus, I have come to appreciate it when designers can come up with a good design, which the production engineers are able to translate into tight fit’n’finish. The 5008 interior is striking, different and stylish.
However, the assembly quality is truly terrible.


As Groupe PSA chief Carlos Tavares pursues expansion by acquiring GM’s European operations, and forecasts great things ahead for the new operation, perhaps even re-entering the American market (!), he should stop in occasionally at a showroom and check on what the customers are getting.

Well, maybe not, he’s currently got a lot on his plate right now, like how to create efficiencies which will deliver a  €780 profit on every PSA product which rolls off the multitude of PSA production lines.

Good luck with that then!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

WHAT A COMBO - CHAMPAGNE & COMPETITION!

I want to revisit a memorable Tour de France from a couple of years ago, which combined a trip through the Champagne region; a visit to the fast and famous Circuit de Reims; and all of this bundled up in a cute little Citroen C3 – how French can it get?

Reims was where my good friend Stirling Moss showed off the very first racing Jaguar fitted with disc brakes, when he won the 1952 Grand Prix, averaging 98.2mph!

It was one of the early races for the famous C-type, which went on to score many victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.


The roads which formed the race track are mostly still there, very close to the western outskirts of Reims, and you can still drive it today, along with mums and dads, transport camions, local buses and of course all the other tourists who want to go home and tell their friends they drove at Reims.


Another vital element of the trip was to visit the famous champagne house of Mailly, which unsurprisingly, is located in the village of the same name, about 30 minutes south east of Reims.


The region is dotted with villages, but it’s hard to find accommodation outside the city of Reims, or the larger centres like Epernay.


We stayed in a delightful B&B on the outskirts of Mailly – however most of the surrounding villages only consist of a few houses, a town sign, and not much else. That means you have to search pretty hard for restaurants – or even a boulangerie!


The tiny C3 managed to swallow our large suitcases, and was a delight to drive around the region, with ample performance, and fuel economy of 5.5L/100km.


Because there are so many large camions moving along these narrow country roads this is not the scene for a high speed Grand Tour, so sticking to the speed limit is advisable, unless you want to collide with a truck load of champagne coming the other way.


The best time to visit is either late Spring, or early Autumn. In the summer it’s hot and dry, and most of the champagne houses are closed for the annual summer vacation.


Reims and the champagne district is only about a two and a half hour drive east from Paris, and it’s well worth a look. Especially if you factor in a ‘pub crawl’ from one champagne house to another.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

SAYONARA SEDANS

Here’s a useful small sedan, the Honda City, and it’s roughly the same size as the first Honda Civic, in 1972.


By the time the CVCC-equipped Civic range debuted in 1975 in the USA, the tiny Honda was starting the slow, but steady erosion of sales of big American cars as the second car in US garages.


The latest Honda City is a relatively sprightly, economical and roomy small sedan, featuring a 1.5L naturally aspirated engine, and an improved CVT which, unusually, includes a torque converter.

The powertrain is quiet and refined, but the performance and handling is dull. To make matters worse, Honda Australia appears to have delusions of grandeur of this car’s status in the consumers’ minds, because it’s way, way too expensive for what you get.

The 2018 City sedan is also only one of a handful of sedans still available in Australia.

A recent KPMG survey in the USA is throwing light on why sedans may be doomed, and also what is driving huge companies like Ford and Fiat-Chrysler to stop production of all small and mid-sized passenger sedans in America.

Down Under, only 38% of the passenger segment is sedans; however they constitute only 13.4% of the total market, which is now dominated by SUVs at 42.2%.

Just ten years ago, sedans occupied 45% of the Australian market.

As an aside, with this data steadily flowing in, you have to ask why GM-Holden and Ford Australia continued making the Commodore and Falcon; when clearly demand for large sedans was falling like a stone down a well.



In the USA, according to the KPMG report ‘Islands of Autonomy’, which is mostly concerned with how autonomous vehicles will impact private car ownership, the accounting firm says that sedan sales will fall from 5.4 million in 2017, to just 2.1 million by 2030.


New car sales in the USA, to the end of February 2018, have fallen 2.4% - but sedan sales fell by 12%.

Passenger sedans are not dead yet, but the gravediggers are preparing the ground.

Monday, May 14, 2018

TODAY'S EV THREE CARD TRICK

Electric cars are not the biggest con trick ever, but surely they are next in line.

Here is a road test of a Chevrolet Volt – much lauded by the US and Canadian governments as the way forward:

"FOR FOUR DAYS IN A ROW, THE FULLY CHARGED BATTERY LASTED ONLY 25 MILES BEFORE THE VOLT SWITCHED TO THE RESERVE GASOLINE ENGINE.” 
THE DRIVER CALCULATED THE CAR GOT 30 MPG INCLUDING THE 25 MILES IT RAN ON THE BATTERY.  
THEREFORE THE RANGE, INCLUDING THE 9 GALLON GAS TANK AND THE 16 KWH BATTERY, IS APPROXIMATELY 270 MILES.
SO, IT WILL TAKE YOU 4.5 HOURS TO DRIVE 270 MILES AT 60 MPH. THEN ADD 10 HOURS TO CHARGE THE BATTERY AND YOU HAVE A TOTAL TRIP TIME OF 14.5 HOURS.  IN A TYPICAL ROAD TRIP YOUR AVERAGE SPEED (INCLUDING CHARGING TIME) WOULD BE 20 MPH.

ACCORDING TO GENERAL MOTORS, THE VOLT BATTERY HOLDS 16 KWH OF ELECTRICITY. IT TAKES A FULL 10 HOURS TO CHARGE A DRAINED BATTERY.
 
THE COST FOR THE ELECTRICITY TO CHARGE THE BATTERY IS NEVER MENTIONED, SO THE DRIVER LOOKED UP WHAT HE PAYS FOR ELECTRICITY. 
HE PAYS APPROXIMATELY (IT VARIES WITH AMOUNT USED AND THE SEASONS) USD$1.16 PER KWH. 16 KWH X $1.16 PER KWH = USD$18.56 TO CHARGE THE BATTERY.
$18.56 PER CHARGE DIVIDED BY 25 MILES = USD$0.74 PER MILE TO OPERATE THE VOLT USING THE BATTERY.
 
COMPARE THIS TO A SIMILAR SIZE CAR WITH A GASOLINE ENGINE THAT GETS ONLY 32 MPG.
GASOLINE AT USD$3.19 PER GALLON DIVIDED BY 32 MPG = USD$010 ( TEN CENTS) PER MILE.

THE GASOLINE-POWERED CAR COSTS ABOUT USD$20,000, WHILE THE VOLT COSTS USD$46,000+.
SO THE CANADIAN AND AMERICAN GOVERNMENTS WANT LOYAL CITIZENS NOT TO DO THE MATH, BUT SIMPLY PAY THREE TIMES AS MUCH FOR A CAR, THAT COSTS MORE THAN SEVEN TIMES AS MUCH TO RUN, AND TAKES THREE TIMES LONGER TO DRIVE ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

THEN THERE’S THE RECYCLING COST, AND THE CARBON FOOTPRINT OF THE RECYCLING. EVEN A CONSERVATIVE ESTIMATE REVEALS THAT THE CARBON FOOTPRINT OF RECYCLING AN EV IS FOUR TIMES GREATER THAN RECYCLING THE HUMBLE PETROL-DRIVEN VEHICLE.

SO THE QUESTION TO THE GREENS PARTIES, AND OTHER IDIOTS, WHO FIND IT DIFFICULT TO DEAL WITH MATHS, AND THE TRUTH – WHAT IS THE POINT?

PETROL CARS ARE CHEAPER TO BUY, ARE BECOMING MORE AND MORE ECONOMICAL; CLEANER TO OPERATE, THUS BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT; AND CHEAPER AND EASIER TO RECYCLE.

WHAT IS THE POINT?

SPANISH GP - ALFA ROMEO'S F1 PERFORMANCE IMPROVING

(Photos - Mark Sutton - Sutton Images)

It was a positive Grand Prix for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, finishing in the points for the third time this season with Charles Leclerc in P10, and Marcus Ericsson in P13. Both drivers gave a strong performance, fighting for positions in the midfield. Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc has brought home another point for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team just a few days after scoring his first Formula 1 points in Baku. Marcus Ericsson performed well, especially in the first stint, with good attacks and defence on medium tyres. The team now holds a total of 11 points this season (P9 in the Constructors’ Championship). Charles Leclerc is currently in P13, and Marcus Ericsson in P16 in the Drivers’ Championship.
In addition to the outcome of the race, the team celebrates the anniversary of Alfa Romeo’s first victory in Formula 1 – a result achieved by Nino Farina on the 13th of May 1950 in the Alfa Romeo GP Tipo 158 “Alfetta” at Silverstone.
Charles Leclerc:
Chassis #04 Start on soft tyres, after 20 laps change to medium tyres
“It is a great feeling to finish in the points again. It was quite an interesting race, with tricky weather conditions making it challenging to drive, especially in terms of tyre management. We have made considerable progress since the beginning of the season, and the whole team is eager to continue working hard in this direction. It will be important to stay focussed – the next Grand Prix will be my home race in Monaco, and I am very excited to drive there".

Frédéric Vasseur, Team Principal:
“We leave Barcelona feeling positive. We had a very strong rhythm at a certain stage of the race and scored one point, which we did not anticipate before arriving here as it is quite a demanding track. Both drivers put in a good performance, and we scored points for the third time this season. The team is motivated to keep pushing and we have to stay focussed now to make the next step.”

Sunday, May 13, 2018

PSA BUILDS PACE

Thanks to one of my confidential sources associated with Groupe PSA I now have a complete understanding of Groupe PSA’s intentions – with regard to the Opel and Vauxhall brands. 

The initiative has the catchy title of PACE, and I have studied the confidential presentation presented to the Groupe PSA Board by PSA CEO Carlos Tavares (left) and Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller.
The PACE project presents very ambitious goals for PSA’s new acquisition, and starts with the statement that PSA considers that despite decades of losses, the Opel and Vauxhall marques are powerful brands, and despite Holden’s plans to end the supply contract in six years, PSA intends to breed an entire line of vehicles wearing Opel/Vauxhall badges; and to create a new range of electric vehicles – all of which will be built on PSA architectures.



It’s not that I think the PSA goals are unachievable, but following the news that the Opel facility at Russelsheim in Germany is suffering a ‘brain drain’ of topline design and engineering executives, it appears that the German facility’s ability to design and engineer new platforms could be severely diminished.

This is especially concerning after the Powerpoint presentation included a slide boasting that all new O/V vehicles would be engineered in Russelsheim!


Reuters reports that a ‘significant number’ of key executives have departed Opel, some for jobs at rival carmakers like BMW AG, and others to key automotive companies involved in component supply.

Andreas Zipser, the chief engineer for the Insignia flagship model left Opel after a 25 year career, and has joined Veritas AG, an automotive supplier.

Ms. Eggord Thomaschky, Opel’s chief vehicle engineer has joined BMW AG.

Ralf Hannappel, Opel’s former head of electrified vehicles has joined Jaguar Land Rover, as the British company increases its focus on EVs following the highly successful launch of the Jaguar i-Pace.

Florian Koch, formerly head of Opel’s Infotainment Systems, is now lead engineer for Automotive Driver Assistance Systems at Continental AG.

Departures at this senior level certainly decimate the company’s abilities, however, according to a statement from PSA, the French company says it will have no problem assigning similarly-competent and experienced Groupe PSA executives to these and other roles.

PSA had previously said, in relation to its PACE initiative, that it needed to cut 3700 Opel jobs. It’s possible though, that PSA did not expect to lose such key members from the engineering side of the company. A later news report from Germany says over 1000 Opel employees, out of 19,000 employees in Germany, have applied for voluntary redundancy packages. A significant reduction in Opel's workforce is essential to achieve higher efficiencies.


As if to underscore the speed with which PSA is moving to re-engineer new Vauxhall and Opel vehicles onto the PSA CMP, EMP1 and EMP2 platforms, the confidential presentation included a ‘teaser’ slide of a planned Opel SUV – no doubt built on the EMP2 platform, which underpins the new 5008 SUV.


While Carlos Tavares has performed an almost miraculous turnaround at PSA, it has been achieved with savage job cuts, and we can expect not only Opel facilities, but also PSA plants will have to be shut, as Tavares manages the difficult task of integrating its new German operation.

My PSA source tells me that as recently as last week, it was common knowledge at the PSA offices in Paris, that the GM-Holden deal will expire in the six years outlined in the PSA-GM Europe acquisition plan.

This time frame has also now been confirmed by Holden CEO Mark Bernhardt.

Friday, May 11, 2018

BENTLEY'S BIG UPHILL BET

On Sunday June 24 there will be a few dozen high performance cars milling about the start line for the famous Pike's Peak hillclimb, with aspirations to knock off the current outright record, established in 2013, by Sebastian Loeb, in his Peugeot prototype at 8 minutes 378 seconds.

The very first ascent, 100 years ealier, by William Wayne Brown in his car called The Bearcat, was 5 hours, 28 minutes.

In 2014, the SUV record was set by a Range Rover Sport at 12 minutes, 35 seconds, but now Bentley has thrown its hat in the ring.


The imposing Bentley Bentayga SUV will make its attempt in virtually standard condition, except for racing seats and a roll cage.

The Range Rover Sport's weight-to-power ratio is measured at 10lbs per horsepower; but the mighty 600hp W12 in the Bentayga is measured around 8 - so on June 24 all eyes will be on driver Rhys Millen as he blasts off for the 14,000ft (4300m) summit.

Photo: Autoweek