Thursday, September 12, 2019

WOEFUL WARRIOR FALLS ON SAMURAI SWORD

Nissan’s Chief Executive Officer, Hiroto Saikawa will step down on September 16, after the Nissan Board requested his resignation over a scandal linked to overpayment of remuneration.

Initially it appeared that Saikawa had been overpaid by USD$300,000 however more details have emerged, revealing that the overpayment was around USD$1.2 million.


Saikawa is the man who engineered a clumsy coup d’etat, resulting in former Chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Carlos Ghosn, being arrested and jailed on similar charges of misreporting remuneration.

Ghosn’s case is not scheduled to be heard until later this year, but already Japanese media are speculating that under the circumstances, prosecutors may not proceed with the court case.

At the press conference late last night the Board said Nissan’s COO Yasuhiro Yamauchi will take over operational duties until the Board nominates a successor to Saikawa. There has been no reaction from Ghosn's Tokyo bunker.

John Crawford

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

THE TRULY 'NEW' LAND ROVER DEFENDER DEBUTS


Paul Gover reporting from Frankfurt:

There was quite a fuss today, the morning before the Defender goes public at the Frankfurt Motor Show, as Jaguar Land Rover mounted a $500,000 media preview event that ticked all the boxes short of a drive.

Everyone who presented, from design guru Professor Doctor Gerry McGovern down, was bullish and smiling.


But there was also a frisson of nervousness and, yes, fear.

No-one wants to be the person who "fucks up the Defender". Apologies for the language, but I heard exactly those words from the mouths of three of my long-term senior contacts inside the JLR executive team.

One is a board member.


They know they have done everything they can, but they also know that the Defender is now out of their hands.
The biggest concern is that the crew in Britain can build the car to the required quality standards.

The whole concept of quality runs contrary to the Defender’s history. It was rough and tough, not prissy or polished, but what the world wanted and needed after World War II was something that was fit for purpose.

Top Left: Original 1947 Prototype Top Right: 1948 Amsterdam Show Car with designer Maurice Wilks
Bottom Left: Land Rover 90 demonstrating off-road prowess  Bottom Right: 1988 Land Rover 110
The original Defender was made from aluminium because post-WW2 there was a shortage of steel, and plenty of alloy from scrapped aircraft, and no-one had even heard about a car radio, let alone a modern infotainment system.

My first impression is good.

Ironically, it came a week before Frankfurt when I spotted a Defender in full camouflage on a suburban street near Oxford in the UK.


It was far bigger and chunkier than I expected, but - even in a country where the roads are flooded with everything from the old Defender to the latest Range Rover Velar - immediately made an impact.

I decided, as I wafted past in my own Velar test car, that it should be know as the British Bulldog.

That is the stance, and the impact, and it’s about to be let off the leash …

Switching to Frankfurt, where most makers were still finishing their stands and there was a real fear of being cleaned-up by a rampaging forklift, journalists were run through the Land Rover program in groups of 60. There were four Aussies in our mob and, from the outset, McGovern took a swipe at the Aussie contingent, as he knows we're among the toughest critics, and have been chasing him for Defender chat for more than a decade.

“Well, here it is,” he told us.

The first impression is good. No, very good.


Both the Defender 110 and the shorter two-door 90 have good proportions, nice design, and plenty of little touches - from design to equipment and even accessories - to keep you thinking and exploring.

When I have more time, and a chance for reflection, I’ll  discuss marketing and pricing - the first hint is $70,000 for the 110 diesel - and how the roll-out is going to work.


But McGovern sets the groundwork as he previews his babies.

Designer Gerry McGovern

“Just remember one thing. The new Defender had to be designed for a world that’s changed beyond recognition. We’ve come from the jungle and now we’re operating in the urban jungle,” he says.

Engineering Chief Nick Rogers
When he is finished, group engineering director Nick Rogers steps onto the presentation platform to run through things like the first monocoque layout for the Defender, it’s low-range gears, aluminium suspension, and all the rest.

But it’s his chat that gets my attention.

“It’s a vehicle that visited all four corners of the earth. It was the first vehicle that many people saw. It saved people’s lives,” he says of the original Defender.

Then he gets into the new one.

“What was the mission? It was to create an authentic Land Rover for a modern world”.

“There was nothing else, other than function. And fun.”

“We had  a blank sheet of paper to write down what a new Defender needed to be in 2020. Capability is what it’s about.”

His bottom line? “It defies the laws of physics,” says Rogers.

The preview package wraps with a single picture from the set of the new James Bond movie, No Time To Die, which is under an even tighter embargo than the Land Rover one.

So the Defender wave is building and I cannot wait to see how the British Bulldog is accepted.

“There will be some dinosaurs who complain that it’s not body-on-frame, or whatever, but we know we’ve done the best Defender we can,” says one of the launch crew, and he is right.


GHOSN'S GHOST OF A CHANCE

There’s a glimmer of hope for Carlos Ghosn, that he may be spared the ignominy of court proceedings against him, for misreporting his income.

Charges which he vehemently denies and promises to vigorously defend.

No-one could blame Ghosn for enmity towards Nissan. Company officers had even convinced Japanese court officials to detain and question Ghosn's wife over their financial affairs.

This past week, his arch nemesis, former colleague, and the man who executed a clumsy coup d’etat to oust Ghosn from his job, has admitted that he himself was overpaid by almost half a million dollars.

Hiroto Saikawa has fallen out of favour with the Nissan Board, activist shareholders, the Japanese media, and Nissan employees after it was revealed that he too is involved in misreporting; that HE (Saikawa), in fact, signed off ALL Carlos Ghosn’s remuneration agreements; and it was he who requested the Nissan Board to buy a second house for Ghosn in Tokyo.


It has also been revealed that at the recent Nissan Board meeting in June, and election of Board members, Saikawa received only 78% of votes in his favour, with two large proxy shareholder groups voting against his appointment as CEO.

Since engineering the downfall of Ghosn, things at Nissan have gone from bad to worse, to very, very bad.

Under Saikawa's stewardship, Nissan’s stockpile of profits have simply shrunk - disappeared off the P&L.

Carlos Ghosn’s co-accused, Gregg Kelly, who also denies any charges of wrongdoing, said that Mr. Saikawa had increased his earnings, by improperly changing the execution date of stock-based compensation.

Nissan’s profits fell 47% in 2018; and in the period April-June 2019, Nissan’s profits plunged 94%. The reasons include falling appeal of passenger cars, which Saikawa insists Nissan will keep on producing and renewing; and a stagnant lineup of trucks and SUVs which will cost billions to replace, and he is also blamed for ignoring its American division, and desperate dealers, to revamp the Nissan lineup to focus on big trucks and SUVs.

Saikawa, for his part, blames all these problems on Ghosn.


However the fall in profits, falling sales, and the announcement that Nissan will cut almost 13,000 jobs worldwide have all occurred on Saikawa's watch, whilst Ghosn languished in a Tokyo jail.

All of this weakens Nissan’s role in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, and strengthens Renault’s position, which could finally lead to a merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (which Saikawa has forcefully opposed).

In shooting down Renault’s initial merger talks with FCA, Saikawa said that Nissan was the most profitable member of the Alliance, and also the sales leader, and demanded that the Alliance agreement be completely re-written to give Nissan a stronger and more powerful voting status. However, in just six months of 2019 its value, its sales and its profits dropped off a cliff.

In the land where loss-of-face is a major cultural failing, Nissan looks set to become a laughing stock in the Japanese and global automotive scene, especially as long as Saikawa-san holds the top job.

John Crawford

Friday, August 30, 2019

VALÉ - DR. FERDINAND PIECH

A giant of the automotive industry has left the stage. This week Dr. Ferdinand Piëch passed away at the age of 82, ending an era of outstanding achievements for the giant Volkswagen Group.



I was interviewed about my new role as Director of PR for Bentley Motors North America, by Dr. Piëch in his Wolfsburg office in March 1999, and met him several times up until 2006 for regular reviews of Bentley's progress in the USA.

We had the opportunity during one review meeting in 2001 for me to explain that I was a true car enthusiast; that I worked on and modified my Mini Cooper and Austin healey Sprite - rebuilding my Sprite gearbox and modifying the engine on my Mini Cooper, which I think was the catalyst that ensured he always greeted me by name when we met at various European motor shows.

Much will be written about his history, life, and technical achievements, but I think there's one story I posted on this Blog which highlights his determination, ingenuity and tenacity to develop sound automotive achievements, in the face of naysayers and lesser men. Here's a link to this story on Driving & Life:

http://www.drivingandlife.com/2018/06/the-ice-isnt-out-cold-yet.html

I admired his ambition and his achievements, and I am very glad to be able to say I enjoyed a very good working relationship with him.

John Crawford

INTRODUCING YOUR NEW EDITOR - PAUL GOVER


This is my forty-fourth year as an automotive journalist.

In that time I’ve researched and written countless stories, raced and rallied, presented for television and radio, written a few books, and even spent some time on the Dark Side - in automotive public relations.

I’ve met some amazing people, travelled to unbelievable places, and could easily write a book on my experiences despite the political correctness of 2019 that makes the adventures of the 1970s and 1980s seem like something from fantasyland.


It’s been a fantastic ride and it’s not over yet.

Together we are about to begin a new chapter through my very first blog, thanks to the generosity and assistance of my good friend and mentor John Crawford, and later this year I will be moving into podcasting.

The technology has changed, and is changing all the time, but the basics of good journalism are still the same. Get the story. Find a hook to get people engaged. Publish. Then move on to the next story.

In the case of cars, the stories often write themselves.

It’s really easy, like when we were driving to Ayers Rock (long before the monolith carried its Aboriginal title, Uluru), in a bog-standard, truly pedestrian Toyota Corona; covering the end of Australian car manufacturing; reporting the death of Aussie racing legend Peter Brock; competing in Rally Australia; racing a Holden Commodore at the Bathurst 1000; or romping up the road in a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe, or Bugatti Veyron.



Other jobs are tougher, including trying to find the right final words for my departed friend 'Brockie'; producing yet another Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon story in what seemed like an endless series of reviews; and reporting down-the-line on everything from union disputes to Car of the Year awards.

The best thing about the automotive industry is that there is always something happening, and it’s packed with larger-than-life characters. If you get to know the people it’s much easier to understand the cars they produce.

Just this past week I’ve spent time with Mr GT-R, Hiroshi Tamura of Nissan (right).

Soon I will be sitting down with Ian Callum (below) to talk about his recent retirement from Jaguar.

These two men epitomise what's great about the personalities who populate our industry.

With Tamura-san you can talk handling, performance, mechanics and packaging; and Callum must be the ultimate design guru, who can sketch a car concept on a table napkin.
Also, industry veteran Ian Robertson has promised to open up about his incredible career with BMW Group.

It’s been just as much fun to help people with car choices and technical problems, because my inbox is always studded with diamonds as a result of the Roadside Assist column I began at NewsCorp, plus my regular talkback chats with Neil Mitchell and Darren James on Radio 3AW. Did I tell you the one about the customer whose complaint led to a Kia dealer losing their franchise?


Road tests? They are the body-and-soul, and the bread-and-butter for any car reviewer but they are not my favourite. 

Trying to find something new and exciting after four decades can be tough, especially since so many people are now asking about the trucks and SUVs which fill my driveway, but not my dreams.

These days I often take along my son Eli, who has a very sharp eye, and between us we discuss the car's qualities (or lack thereof), and he's come up with a 'value', called 'The Tick'.

In Eli's opinion there are quite a few cars which often don't get Eli's Tick!

Tracking back to my 20th birthday reminds me that the subject of my first road test review was a Rambler Hornet.

It was not a good car, but I was extremely nervous - both about driving the car and producing a story on its strengths and weaknesses - and I was too gentle on both fronts.


The review was the idea of my first editor, Mike Greenwood, a former chief sub-editor at the Sydney Morning Herald who had pitched up through the Fairfax Media system at the Campbelltown-Ingleburn News, on the western outskirts of Sydney. I had just scored a job as a cadet journalist. Mike knew I loved cars, was dabbling in rallying, and decided to give me a break.

Later, I used Mike’s thinking and commercial nose to convince another editor - Ian Mathews - to give me my first full-time job as a Motoring Editor at The Canberra Times, as well as creating the first weekly lift-out motoring section in any major Australian daily paper.

The story goes on and on, like the roll-call of people and cars and stories, but there is always something to talk and write about.

BMW Group recently fired up with some amazing pictures to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Mini.
Sixty years of Mini, Brabham S5000, Wayne Webster
Even today, the Brabham family’s racing story moved into a new chapter through the S5000 open-wheeler series that starts soon; and my great mate and car journalist Wayne Webster - easily the sharpest writer I’ve known, during his time at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, and someone who could easily have been a stand-up comedian.

Webbie called and we got talking about Peter Brock and the infamous Energy Polarizer he was spruiking.

“Are you going to admit that you thought it worked? He had you fooled,” Webster jibed.

In many ways, like so many people I know who love what they do and never consider it a job, I’ve always thought that I was going to be exposed as a fraud.

How could a life this good be work? Why would people like GM’s Mark Reuss, Toyota’s John Conomos, and legendary racer Allan Moffat waste their time on me? What could I possibly know or explain that had not been known or explained before? Why do I deserve to visit the amazing place that is Iceland, not once but three times?

It’s never been just about the endless stream of new cars, or the free jackets, the five-star hotel rooms, maxxing frequent flier points, or even getting to drive a Formula One car in anger.


In the very early days, Mike Greenwood asked me a simple question: “Who do you work for?”

My answer was him, or Fairfax Media, but he told me I was wrong on both counts.

“You work for the reader. The person relying on you. You are writing for them,” he said.

I've always tried to deliver the cars, the characters and the experiences to the reader as entertaining stories populated with facts.

I've floated down the River Nile, raced from Aswan to Abu Simbel at over 200km/h on a closed Egyptian highway. I've visited the top of Pike's Peak, become a regular visitor to the famous Festival of Speed, and driven more hypercars than fit on ten fingers.

It’s been 44 years and that has never changed, regardless of the story or the way it has been delivered. My personal mantra today is the same as it’s been for as long as I can remember.

The answer is Yes. Now, what’s the question?

Friday, July 26, 2019

FAREWELL TO THE FRONTLINE

Paul & me - Aswan, Egypt, 1990
At the end of July I will bid goodbye to the day-to-day researching, writing and editing DRIVING & LIFE, and will hand that responsibility to my good friend of close to 40 years, Paul Gover.

Until recently Paul was the most senior automotive writer for News Limited in Australia, but he decided to release himself from the confines of a newspaper office and bring his skill, experience, knowledge, and his impressive Contacts List to a wider audience via the internet, podcasts and a select number of printed and online publications.

Paul has the coveted talent of being able to bring truly in-depth stories from the automotive world to DRIVING & LIFE, whether it be interviews with the auto industry’s leading CEOs; talking design with the world’s most skillful car designers; relating experiences behind the wheel of race and rally cars, or just explaining the fundamental stuff.

He can answer questions that anyone might ask about mechanicals, design, powertrains and business strategies.

July is my birthday month, and as of this year I have decided to truly retire from the frontline of writing about cars and the industry.

As I have related in a previous post, I have been a car enthusiast all of my life, and joined the automotive industry in 1977, and I think that after 42 years I will leave the focus and scrutiny of future developments to Paul Gover, who is more than capable of keeping up a high standard of connection and engagement with the automotive world, and bringing it to followers of DRIVING & LIFE.

I have always maintained that this Blog is a very personal project for me and I have only written about the things which interest me, or that I feel will have significant impact.

It has been self-indulgent, but I hope it has been enlightening and informative and I hope helped to put you in touch with the deepest levels of the industry.

Also, I have consistently said I led a charmed life among cars and the industry. As someone who received only a high school education, to have worked my way up to Board positions in three significant automotive companies, I feel I have achieved a great deal during my career, albeit it through sustained hard work.



I sincerely hope my achievements encourage other people to strive to succeed in this fascinating and volatile industry, regardless of their background.

Not only is Paul Gover a hard-working and well-connected individual, but he is an outstanding writer and a great journalist. He has a keen eye for a good story. He also has a well-tuned radar for BS, and spin, which many times over the last 40 years has landed him in trouble for telling the truth. So what?

Many times his reporting has been proven not only to be prophetic, but also deadly accurate, so I have no qualms about handing over DRIVING & LIFE to a great automotive journalist, but also a dear friend.

We meet regularly, so I will always be around to challenge him from time to time, but at 76 I think it’s a better outcome for DRIVING & LIFE to be driven by a skilled and younger professional with a lot of runs on the board, and a great deal more potential to inform and entertain in the years ahead.

Thank you for indulging me. It’s been a great ride.
John Crawford

NOTE: The Google Blogger platform is very difficult to modify, and its 'Help & Support' is virtually non-existent, so it may be some time before Driving & Life with Paul Gover makes an appearance.







Thursday, July 25, 2019

LONDON-TO-SYDNEY RALLY - THE END OF THE STORY

This really is the last thing I will post about the epic 1977 Singapore Airlines London To Sydney Car Rally.

Hans Tholstrup and I, and our three mechanics who were our service crew in the Leyland Terrier truck, finished the 30,000km rally in one piece thanks to Hans' detailed and meticulous planning, and strong team discipline. For Hans and I, and our mechanics - Doug Francis, Barry Allen and Allen Hausler, we were all very glad to see the Sydney Opera House.


My dear friend and work colleague at JRA Limited, Owen Peake, found this ad, which was placed in the Sydney Morning Herald in October 1977, to boost sales of the ubiquitous Mini Moke.

Thanks Owen. We had a close, and a terrific working relationship, and he looked after JRA's relations with the Melbourne automotive journalists very well, on my behalf. 

However, I think he achieved that result via quite a number of lunches at the Melbourne Oyster Bar! I know this, because I counter-signed his expense reports!

NOTE: For the record, the Moke finished in 35th place; and the Terrier truck in 33rd place. The Moke had a few small issues which cost us time, but the truck performed faultlessly powered by the V8 engine originally developed for the Leyland P76 sedan!