Saturday, October 21, 2017

TOURING - HALF MOON BAY

I find rugged coastlines a magnetic attraction, despite the vicious currents, which often swirl at the base of their cliffs. None more so than a picture-perfect location about an hour south of San Francisco - the romantically-named Half Moon Bay.

Leafing through a lifestyle magazine recently I came across this aerial view of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Half Moon Bay.

It immediately evoked memories of the many events I was privileged to host in this unique location.

In August 2003 a small, select group of influential American journalists attended a preview of the Bentley Continental GT coupe, complete with swirling mist and chilly temperatures – yes, even in the Californian summer.

Eventually, the small fire pit became very popular during the pre-dinner drinks.


Then in 2004 we previewed the Bentley Azure convertible to a group of specialist automotive writers.







A year later the clapboarded hotel at Half Moon Bay was also the scene of a party to show off the Bentley Continental Flying Spur sedan.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel (top) and the view of the coastline to the north (centre), and the southern view (bottom) - a very evocative location, even in a storm.
It is of course, a luxurious five-star hotel situated on a magnificent promontory on a very rugged section of America’s west coast blasted by gales and, equally, wafted by breezes from the Gulf Stream.


The Ritz-Carlton boasts a magnificent, although windswept, golf course, but is also a place where you can park yourself in the lounge with a magazine, book or newspaper and pass the time time soaking up a pleasant ambience.


With my dear friend, the late Patrick Paternie,
at the Ritz-Carlton
Such is the appeal and status of the Bentley brand, it’s important to identify complimentary locations to showcase the cars, and the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay is a very pleasant place to create just the right atmosphere to introduce a new Bentley.

Friday, October 20, 2017

MONEYED-UP IN MARBELLA

Well, more precisely, in Puerto Banús.


Although Marbella is the centre of the action on Spain’s Costa del Sol, it’s the port city of Puerto Banús (left) where you find a harbor littered with luxury yachts, and the dockside is home for the luxury cars driven by the yacht owners.


During my visit I had an enlightening conversation with the owner of a luxury tub, who also drives a Bentley CGT convertible.



His crew sail the hedge fund manager’s yacht from London to Marbella, and the caretaker of his Canary Wharf penthouse drives the Bentley down, so it’s at his disposal when he flies in on his time-shared private jet.


His motor yacht gets parked up alongside all the other marine toys on display in the harbor, and it appears they don't move offshore very often - the owners preferring to treat them like an alternative to renting an apartment.

As we were talking, his wife joined us to say she was taking the Mercedes-Benz GT, which she had rented for a month, to go shopping along The Golden Mile!


That’s the way life goes in Peurto Banús. The static population of the Marbella municipality is around 150,000, but swells considerably during the northern summer, to around 280,000 sun-seeking souls. Most of whom are either Brits or Germans.

Those pre-Christian sailers and traders, the Phoenicians, lobbed there in the 7th century BC, and they were followed by Roman occupation, and later the Moors settled there in the Middle Ages. One can only assume these various civilisations were attracted to the sun, sand and blue sky.

Today the area is defined by attractive public spaces, and huge apartment buildings which will set you back up to €8,000 a square metre if you want a view of the Med, with three ensuite bedrooms!

The main harbor at Peurto Banús is bursting at the seams due to a shortage of berths for super yachts. If you have a more modest craft you may find a mooring, but the big boys are fighting for space.


Tourism started in a small way after the First World War, and by the mid-1920s a couple of luxury hotels graced the seashore, but following the Second World War the population numbered barely 1000 people. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s when tourism really exploded, and residential development took off, boosted by wealthy Brits seeking sunshine, and an escape from punitive British income taxes.

The temporary residents of Marbella and Puerto Banús include the famous, and the nefarious, because where there’s money, there’s notoriety and nasty types looking for innovative ways to separate wealth from the filthy rich, to just plain filthy conmen.



However, if you can scrounge up the cash, it’s a cheaper alternative to Monaco for a Mediterranean getaway pad, and the Spanish make very decent red wines too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

HOLDEN'S FUTURE? DETROIT CLOSES IN, TO CLOSE UP?

This week GM-Holden's last remaining manufacturing plant in Elizabeth, South Australia, will shut the doors, bringing to fruition GM's announcement in 2013 that it will exit full manufacturing in Australia, and become an import-only operation.

It is a subject I have covered a number of times on DRIVING & LIFE, but today comes another announcement which foreshadows an eventuality I also predicted some time ago.

As Holden slips from its dominant position as a complete car manufacturer to just an 'administrative centre' for clearing and transporting imported cars from the wharves, I suggested some time ago that Holden would no longer need a very, very 'senior chap' to hold the grand titles of Chairman and CEO.


That post is currently filled by one of GM's most experienced executives - Mark Bernhard. GM hardly needs such a highly-experienced man to run an import operation, so expect news to filter out  soon that either Mr. Bernhard is to be re-assigned to a senior post within GM's domestic US or global operations, or, as may be more likely, he will announce his retirement.


Today's announcement, which I suggest now reveals GM's plans for managing the hollow shell of the company which remains, is news that effective January 1, 2018, Holden will become part of an as yet unnamed international division, headed by former Ford executive, Barry Engle, who joined General Motors in 2015.

The division is currently known as GMI (GM International) and from next year will group all operations in South-east Asia, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and from 2018, South America, under control of Mr. Engle who will report directly to General Motors Chairman, Don Ammann.

It makes sense to group all these smaller operations under one corporate umbrella, especially as GM disposed of all its European operations to PSA Groupe, maker of Peugeots and Citroens.

Uncannily there is a link between Peugeot and Holden which has come to light this week as Holden manufacturing shuts down. Holden can trace its roots as a mobility company back to 1856, being second only to Peugeot which started in 1810.


General Motors acquired the Holden Motor Body company in 1930 in the depths of the Great Depression, and work began on its art deco headquarters in late 1935, and was completed in 1936.

Two World Wars interupted Holden's assembly operations, when its facilities were devoted to supporting the war effort; but with Australian Government encouragement, General Motors, agreed to begin full manufacturing operations as World War II ended, and plans were drawn up in 1945.

The first car produced by General Motors-Holden, the Holden FX, debuted in 1948.



Almost 70 years later the last car rolls off the assembly line, with the proud epithet that the final cars produced by Holden achieved 'Right First Time' scores of 98% - meaning little or no post-assembly rectifications.

This score is the highest of any GM plant, anywhere in the world.

That deserves a hearty 'well done' to the people producing the last ever locally-manufactured Australian cars.



POSTSCRIPT: Back to Barry Engle, and GMI control of Holden (the importer). The last cars may be departing with grand ceremony, but I don't think it will be long before GM-Holden quietly fades into history.

That development may well see the realisation of another of my predictions, that within 10 years GM will have completely withdrawn from significant overseas operations, back to its bunker in Detroit.

After that, who knows what shape the Holden company will be in? In reality, by then it may just be the importer of cars, badged as Holden, but designed and built in Europe by PSA Groupe.

Or, another possibility? Holden may still be 'owned' by GM, but now rebranded Chevrolet; with US-built Chevys being shipped Down Under! Who knows?

Whatever, it's long way from:
"Meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars."



Sunday, October 15, 2017

KIA'S STING IN THE TALE


Thanks to impeccable timing, Kia Australia slots its rear-wheel-drive high performance sedan into the Aussie marketplace, just as the previous star of the segment, the Holden Commodore SS-V Redline departs – thanks to GM’s withdrawal from local manufacturing.

 So Kia is off in pursuit of buyers pining for Holden’s Big Gun as it disappears into oblivion. Most of my contemporaries who write about cars for a living are obviously comparing the performance of the two sedans, most of them concluding that Kia’s Stinger is every bit a match for GM’s Commodore.

Up front the Stinger has a twin-turbo 3.0L V6, mated to a slick 7-speed (torque convertor) auto and outputs 272kW; plus an amazing 510Nm of torque available from 1300rpm!

Acceleration delivers a 0-100km/h time of 5.0 seconds according to WHEELS magazine.

But my couple of hundred kilometres behind the wheel was all the convincing I needed to rank this Korean car alongside the Commodore as a perfect match.

As most writers have pointed out, the Stinger is a surprising addition to the Kia range.


In fact, without being at all derogatory, it could be considered a modern day dinosaur – with the personal car paradigm shifting to green credentials, alternative powertrains, autonomous driving, and shared ownership – it sort of leaves the Stinger out on a limb. But it's as modern as tomorrow.


However, the people who may have lined up for a Commodore or Falcon V8 performance sedan, will love this car. It’s performance credentials are top notch; handling is super stable; it turns in like a racer and the finish is exemplary. This is a car at the top of the curve – well designed, well specified and well built, and it deserves to succeed.

Apart from a lumpy ride, even on the comfort setting, I can’t fault the Stinger. If this is what turns you on, you won’t be left wanting. The Stinger stimulates and satisfies in equal measure.

However, in my opinion there is a sting in this tale. I think this could be the best package to come out of Korea, it is a world-class benchmark car. So much so that my own comparison scenario is not against GM’s Commodore, but a more surprising competitor.

I rank this car alongside the hugely successful Mercedes-Benz C200 sedan – it’s that good!





Inside, the materials finish, the trim fit, the quality of equipment and the interior layout is truly world-class.


And why not? The influence of Peter Schreyer, the ex-Audi designer who is now joint head of Kia and Hyundai design should not be underestimated. 

His touch is everywhere – in the choice of materials, the scope of the interior design approach and the quality of the overall vision of how things should look, and just as important, feel.

Also, why shouldn’t Kia (and Hyundai) challenge the automotive world, to produce high quality finishes, as well as competitive powertrains and performance statistics?


With the Stinger, Kia is demonstrating the depth of its vision in matching appearance, design, trim quality, performance and equipment, with world’s best benchmark cars, at very competitive prices.

Since I spent just over three years working with Korean company Daewoo, I have always felt Korean engineers were more than capable of meeting their competition on the big playing field; they just needed a guiding light possessing a mature industry background.

In Daewoo’s case it was Ing. Dr. Ulrich Bez; and in the case of Hyundai-Kia, it is Peter Schreyer.

It’s not too late to say, watch these companies – they’re headed for the top of the hill – with affordable quality cars you’ll be proud to own. That is, unless you have a badge bias.