Tuesday, November 19, 2019

BIG CHANGE IN THE BIG APPLE by John Crawford

There’s a longtime saying about New York, where few people ‘own’ cars - that New Yorkers only know two types of cars – yellow ones and black ones.

The hoi polloi take yellow cabs, whilst the tycoons and socialites use black limos.


For decades that business was ‘owned’ by Ford Motor Company, which sold thousands of Ford Crown Victorias to the cab companies; and Lincoln had a stranglehold on the limo market with the Lincoln Town Car.

They were basically the same car, with a body mounted on a ladder-frame chassis, but wearing different badges. As they weren’t monocoque construction they were labour-intensive, time-consuming and by modern standards, too expensive to build. So Ford decided, overnight, to abandon its dominant New York cab and limo business.

Lincoln did make an attempt to secure its market dominance, but instead of producing an imposing, low-line black passenger car, it merely put the Town Car badge on its then-current Lincoln Mark T.



Well, New Yorkers did not like arriving at premieres and red-carpet gigs in an ‘SUV’(!!)

Gradually Lincoln lost its share of the limo market.

However, Lincoln had ‘broken the mould’ and who stepped into its sector to take ownership? None other than its Detroit crosstown rival General Motors, so now there are hordes of big, black Chevrolet Suburbans cruising around the Apple.


Initially, as the distinctive yellow Crown Victorias aged and needed to be replaced it was Nissan which stepped in to try and fill the void with perhaps the ugliest piece of design the car world has ever seen.

Sure, they were practical, but ugly as sin.

Initially Nissan sold plenty of these barges with twin sliding doors, but once again the mould had been broken and it was Toyota which jumped into the fray, first with hybrid Camrys; but as their back seat proved too cramped and uncomfortable for taller Americans, it was the ubiquitous Rav 4 which got the yellow paint job and a taxi medallion bolted to the hood.


It’s understandable why New Yorkers choose ‘hire by the trip’ transport, just look at the daily and monthly parking charges in one of the city’s hundreds of parking stations.


Also New York traffic is a nightmare, so who really wants to take on the traffic light grand prix, the dozens of ambulances, fire trucks and cop cars barging their way through the clogged streets?

Now, on the subject of inner city noise. When Rudy Giuliani was the Mayor, he instituted a ban on horn-blowing (which, in time has lapsed), but you'd have to say that now, New York is 'siren city' - 24 hours a day.



Lincoln has tried to worm its way back into the limo market for pretentious passengers with its Lincoln Continental, but even here the market has broken into shards, with the home-grown Cadillac XTS, and even Mercedes-Benz, vying for the limo company owners’ attention.
2020 Lincoln Continental (top) and Cadillac XTS

Just like most things in New York the cab and limo market is now a fruit salad of brands and badges, however, the public transport market has diversified even further with the disrupters, Uber, Lyft, Ola and Taxify.

Like everything else, the only thing permanent is change.

JOHN CRAWFORD

Friday, November 15, 2019

HIGH PERFORMANCE POSTER PINUPS by PAUL GOVER

Spoiler alert - this post is all about glitz and glamour.

Look away if you don’t want to be immersed in the sort of top-end loveliness that has covered bedroom walls, and inspired youngsters like the 12-year-old PG, from the time of the Lamborghini Countach and the Ferrari Daytona.

We’re closing fast on Peak Hypercar as major makers and many minnows look to cash-in at the top end of motoring, but these cars are instant classics.

Never mind that one of them looks a lot like an Aston Martin from Italy.


So the cars are the Ferrari Roma and the McLaren Elva.

When we will see these cars in Australia? Will we see them in Australia? What will they cost in Australia?

None of that stuff matters at all, because their existence is good enough.

And what a co-incidence - or not - that the Roma and Elva hit the internets within a couple of days and continue a simmering rivalry that helps fire McLaren, but is largely ignored by Ferrari.

Now, down to some of the details.

The Roma is a gorgeous front-engined car that is described as a ‘2+ Coupe’, fitted with a turbocharged V8 that makes 456 kiloWatts of power. I’m not sure what the + sign means, because it doesn’t look like people can actually fit in the back of the car.

Meantime, the Roma’s top speed is 320km/h and it will slingshot to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds.

There is no news yet on the production plan, or deliveries to Australia but one thing is certain - it will be a sellout.

The score is likely to be the same for the McLaren Elva, the first open-topped car in McLaren’s Ultimate series of road cars.

The name is taken from Bruce McLaren’s venture into CanAm racing in the 1960s. He designed the M1 (below left), based on an Elva chassis. However the newborn Elva is radically 21st century.


There is a little more detail on the Elva, with production limited to 399 cars at a price - preliminary - of $2.4 million.
The car has 599 kiloWatts an a 0-100km/h time below 3.0 seconds.

“The new McLaren Elva is a ferociously fast open-cockpit car; an extreme two-seater with a bespoke carbon fibre chassis and body but no roof, no windscreen and no side windows.

With every sensory input heightened, this is a car that exists to provide unparalleled driving pleasure on road or track,” says Mike Flewitt, CEO of McLaren Automotive.


It follows the Senna at the top end of McLaren land and proves that a car doesn’t have to be sensible - or electric or autonomous - to fire synapses around the globe.

If I was 12 again I’d be getting pictures of the Elva and Roma, two genuine pin-ups, up on my bedroom wall.




PAUL GOVER



Friday, November 8, 2019

WOMEN IN POWER

When my friend and colleague Paul Gover asked Linda Jackson (right) how she came to be running Citroen he got a rather blunt reply.

“Because I’m a woman?” she asked in return.

“No, because you’re British and Citroen is a very French company,” he replied.

And that raises an interesting question about women in senior posts at car companies.

Linda Jackson, the global head of Citroen, and Anouk Poelmann (left) who runs Renault's operations in Australia are a very welcome sign, seeing car company boards entrusting the operation and management to someone other than members of a huge ‘Boy's Club'.

I have worked with, and for, some very smart men during my time with some of the best known car brands in the world, but I don't believe in quotas or forced gender appointments, so it's heartening to see these two women rise in the ranks thanks to their own abilities, and how they've employed their past experiences to create a different approach to managing their brands outside France.

I very much admire some of the women who have broken the mould in the car industry, simply because they take almost a polar opposite view about the industry than their male counterparts.
Of course, there are other top female CEO's in the global car industry. Ford Motor Company handed its operations in Australia and New Zealand to Kay Hart (right).
Then there's the biggest fish in this swirling, volatile whirlpool that is the car business today, General Motors' Chair Mary Barra.

Boy, hasn't she been forced to make some tough calls over the past few years.
Through it all she has retained her dignity, calmness under pressure and, her femininity, which has not deflected her decision-making from pragmatic and commonse outcomes.
Just look at the scope of what she's dealt with – selling off GM Europe, cutting out brands, closing factories, restructuring GM's workforce and resources.
In varying degrees all the women I have mentioned have had their ‘big moments’ which tested their skill and resolve. But, for now they all have the green light to get on with the job, and do it their way.
That is - until!
Just like their male counterparts, when they can't continue to deliver substantial and sustainable growth, improved market penetration, and much more importantly shareholder value, is when it happens - they're out on their ear.
And, it's got nothing to do with whether they are men or women. Those are the tasks. It’s the same for every CEO, and if you don't deliver on those benchmarks, that's the biggest risk when you roll out your own unique form of management and decision-making.
Renault is sticking with passenger cars in Australia, but in the wings are important models like the Alaskan truck (built in Barcelona on the same production line as Nissan Navara and Mercedes-Benz X-Class); the Koleos large SUV, and the Kadjar small SUV. So, although Anouk Poelmann is covering all the bases, it remains to be seen if Clio and Megane can survive.
I was interested in some of the big calls mentioned by Jackson and Poelmann, because I've had considerable experience with both of those French brands. I am not sure I am calm and relaxed about the direction, and the decisions both women are proposing. Today, they may be speaking with every confidence that their Boards will back their judgment through thick and thin.
But, there still remains a rocky road in front of them to achieve their aims. Unfortunately, they are both trying to execute a fast, tight turn in an ocean liner, and in the car business, history tells us it’s damn near impossible.
Car companies grow like Topsy, basically out of control on a detailed, day to day basis. Down in the bowels, and even in the top executive suites, bad practices become ingrained, hubris replaces forward-thinking, brands are allowed to wither, and often there's a determined and stubborn dedication to retaining a car line which has come to an end, and should be put down.
In Australia that was the Holden Commodore and the Ford Falcon.
Of course, over decades and generations Jane and John Doe in customer-land form their own opinions and perceptions about cars, SUVs, sports cars etc., and many times those opinions are completely at variance with the views of car company executives. Staggeringly many (most?) of those executives exist in a bubble.
I can't recall the exact number of times CEOs, Marketing brainierds and various ‘experts' who told me they know exactly who their customers are, what they want, and that their company can provide the planned model on time and on budget.
However, this precise scenario usually manages to get screwed up along the way, either because of a change in consumers' preferences, new models from a competitor more in tune with buyers, or it’s over budget, and late, so it misses the ‘sweet spot' that existed when the original model was dreamed up.
And remember, you may dream up a concept today, but by the time you fight Boardroom, Engineering and Production battles, it could be 48 months before Job One rolls off the line.
And no, I haven't strayed too far from my original theme, and that's about smart, new female CEOs coming up with new directions, and plans to turn the ocean liner around faster.
There are myriad battles for these ladies to fight, to initiate their new ideas, and whether they succeed or not depends on (obviously) results, but really it all comes down to how much line the Board will let run, and whether their patience will hold out.
Traditionally we thought of cycle production plans as 36 months to conceive and design, to 48 months build and launch, then a facelift 24 months out from the launch date.
  

Those time periods underscore the fact that the car business conceives, builds and sells cars in long time cycles. Which is why it's hard to turn those ocean liners around quickly.
A lot can happen when you're making plans – the world doesn't wait for you.
I wish these ladies all the luck in the world, lots of patience and confidence from their Boards, and of course serendipitous market conditions.
They all need a sound strategy, sold-in convincingly, and ensure their full attention every day to all the minutia which is required to make every part of their plan to ‘gel' and work. They cannot take their eyes off any of the balls, to keep them in the air ALL THE TIME!

I talked about my own experiences with French car companies charging off into new and different markets far distant from their cozy offices in Paris. In the early 80s Renault launched a new coupe, called Fuego (Spanish for ‘fire’), based on the R17. The French management told the boss of the Down Under division they would only be allocated 250 cars for Australia, because demand in France and the rest of Europe was high.

I recall the Australian buyers may have also had to suffer a slight price premium due to currency rates, but surprisingly, those 250 cars raced out of dealers' doors.
“Fantastic”. Said the transplanted French CEO, and ordered an additional 250 cars. It took four years and a lot of damaging discounting to move the extra Fuegos.
The lesson? Pretty simple in hindsight. Renault was (is) a niche brand, with its own small band of stalwart, non-conformist enthusiasts. There were only 250 diehards prepared to buy the quirky French coupe – Renault had saturated the Aussie market with the first shipment!
Now we come to the stubborn suits which populated Peugeot's Paris HQ at 75 Avenue de la Grand ArmeƩ.




The company I worked for, Jaguar Rover Australia, acquired a licence to assemble the Peugeot 505 range, as we had under-utilised assembly capacity.
We had many arguments over pricing and positioning during the time we held the franchise, but for me, the crowning glory (or more precisely pompous stupidity) arrived with the Australian launch of the Pininfarina-styled 405.




The car came in two models. A basic sedan with a 1.4L SOHC engine, which was a shade more expensive than the equivalent 1.6L Toyota Corona.



Then we had the sporty 405 Mi16, with a 2.0L, DOHC engine with four valves per cylinder. However, the retail price dictated by Paris was way above market expectations.

We vigorously campaigned for a lower price, roughly line-ball with the similarly-specced DOHC Toyota.
Non, no, don't be stupid said our French friends (?). THIS IS A PREMIUM CAR, AND MUST CARRY A PREMIUM PRICE. 

Okay, we finally agreed, after much furious international faxing to and from France.
Result, the Mi16 got off to a very slow start, and only achieved decent volumes when we added more equipment, and didn't raise the price!
The French perspective on the Australian market was that it was tiny, unimportant, and if the fools out there wanted to try and make decent business case, and a profit, assembling a few thousand extra cars, then okay.

However, once assembly ceased and the cars were fully imported, everything changed - as had the AUD-Franc currency rate, and then our calls for price parity to make Peugeots competitive, were ignored completely.
Peugeot has had a very uneven sales performance in Australia ever since.

JOHN CRAWFORD

Saturday, October 26, 2019

LA VOITURE DES FEMMES DE FRANCE by Paul Gover

Okay, I couldn't resist the beautiful French translation of "The Car Women of France."
Linda Jackson and Anouk Poelmann are same-same, but different. 

Both, clearly, are women. And they are both also the CEOs of car companies.
But Jackson is global boss of Citroen, whilst Poelmann is the new Australian head of Renault.

Linda Jackson and Anouk Poelmann
Each has a message about their company’s future, both are bullish about the future, but they diverge on the implementation of their survival plans.


And, ironically, Poelmann has only just arrived at Renault Australia, from a previous post as local boss of Peugeot Citroen.


For her, it’s time for Renault to have a product-led rival in Australia and to champion a move away from the price-driven approach that has clearly done nothing for the French carmaker, either in sales, reputation or ROI, Down Under.

Ironically, in historic terms it's amazing to look back to the 50s and 60s and remember that Renault and Peugeot brands, at one time, were all marketed in Australia under one importation agreement and single distributor.

Citroen has always stood alone, supported for decades by keen brand enthusiasts like Brisbane's Jim Reddiex.


“We will not try to be the cheapest out there. It doesn’t fit the brand,” Poelmann says, quietly but bluntly, over lunch in a Renault showroom in Sydney. “Start-stop marketing doesn’t work. People need to see the product and the brand a few times.”

And her message is even stronger about the situation in Australia.

“The race to the bottom in Australia has to stop. It’s just crazy. It’s not sustainable.”

Renault is lucky because every model in the range, from the compact little Clio to the muscular Master van, will be renewed over the next 18 months. 

That’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and not just in Australia.

“It comes from France.

It's revitalisation.

It’s not about words, it’s about actions,” she says.


“With so much fantastic Renault product coming we have to do a good job.

We need to talk about value, and the brand, and what the product brings, and not just talk about prices.

It just doesn’t work."

"Also, Renault, like our French competition has been in Australia a long time."


Her words could just as easily apply to Citroen, as Linda Jackson talks through her plans during a flying visit from Paris to Melbourne for the Motorclassica car show, plus dealer visits, and meetings with local management.

“I was given this job to rejuvenate Citroen. 

I think it went through a stage where it had lost its go, its mojo. 

My challenge from 2014 was to create a completely new position,” she tells me.

“We had to rebuild a completely new product plan. We had to rebuild completely in terms of brand position.

We had to build the marketing, the tone of voice. Whatever touch-point you talk about, we have rebuilt.

Even though my background is finance, I find I can talk easily to designers, engineers and brand managers about what we need."



Citroen is on the comeback path in Europe, and is aiming to avoid its past mistakes to drive forward with a fresh model line-up under a new importer, Inchcape Motors, in Australia.

Jackson rejects any hint of a withdrawal from Australia and says a bundle of small markets can quickly have a significant effect.


“To be honest, I didn’t think about shutting down Australia. But we need to modernise ourselves.

“When you’ve been here for 97 years you have to say we must have a legacy here and we must be able to rebuild something. We need to have something that’s relevant.”

Although Australian sales are unlikely to even reach 500 cars in 2019 she says it is still a worthwhile market.

“It’s an opportunity. I don't turn down any opportunity. You only need 10 markets like that and it starts to add up.

“Each country is important. Some are smaller volumes, some are bigger. Our aspirations in Australia are obviously conservative, because they need to build gradually. It takes patience, and persistence. However, IF you’re serious, then you MUST stay the course.


“First you have to have the product. Now we have to make the Citroen position relevant for Australians. That’s the piece of work we need to do.”

So both women are bullish, but also brutal.

And it’s up to Jackson to deliver a punchline that applies equally to both of the French contenders as they hit the re-start button in Australia.

“Anyone who says it will change overnight, to be honest, is spinning a yarn,” Jackson says.


PAUL GOVER

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

HYUNDAI VELOSTER - WHAT'S IN A NAME?

When Hyundai rolled the original Veloster onto the road in 2011 there were plenty of questions from automobile journalists and enthusiasts alike:

What?

Why?

Who wants one?

Well, the answers are in, and there is now a second-generation Veloster as proof that the original concept worked as planned.

That plan was to create a car that was both a hatchback and a coupe, appealing to people who want their pastries and a meal, with a most unusual idea.

The idea was one door for the driver and two for the passengers. On opposite sides of the car.

The three-door concept has survived, and thrived, and is the basis for what now amounts to an i30 hatchback for people who have around $30,000 to splash on something a bit different, or more like $40,000 with some turbo urgency.


Me? I’m still not convinced.

Redlined at 6500; slick six-speed manual; stylish coupe profile, and Speed Pilot high performance tyres, but this ain’t no sportscar.
The new Veloster doesn’t go particularly well, it is woolly in the steering and a bit bumpy in the suspension, and it’s definitely not as good as the i30 N performance car.

But I’m not the target buyer? Who is?

Apparently it’s yummy mummies, and inner-city escapees who want something that can do double duty as a practical hatch while also flashing its coupe side.

With that in mind, and my 10-year-old Eli along for the ride, I took another look.

The addition of a youngster or two is all it takes to transform the Veloster, as the passenger-side access to the rear seat is brilliant - ending the horrible contortions and seat folding needed with almost every coupe - and there is still plenty of boot space.

The cabin also looks like it suggests 'sportiness', but like the exterior styling, it's all just for looks.

It’s never going to be a car for the masses, nor the true sports car aficionado, and I hope that one day there will be a Veloster N to give the car some proper sports car credentials, but it looks good and it’s priced well and it makes more sense for families with youngsters than a Toyota 86, or my selfish favourite, the two-seat-only Mazda MX-5.

Of course the REALLY VITAL information you are seeking is “Where does the name come from?”

As there is no official explanation coming from Hyundai we turned to, wait for it, the Australian Veloster Owners’ Forum for some thoughts on the subject. I think they have pretty much arrived at the same conclusion I did:

(1) I think it's Korean for “all show not much go”

(2) Hyundai designers used a motocycle for styling cues. A motorcycle is a "bike". A VELOcipede is a 3-wheeled bike. A VELOdrome is a venue for bike racing. They also wanted the essence of a roadSTER...

(3)The truth is that while they were secretly trying out the prototype on a German autobahn, the car was going sooooo fast that the German Polizei decided to give chase. When they finally lost sight, one Polizist apparently said to the other... “Franz,... I think....ve lost 'er”.

(4) I have read and heard the same thing numerous times.
Not that it makes any sense... It's short on velocity, and is not a roadster.

(5) I still haven't figured out what a Camry is, let alone a Veloster

(6) Camry...car name or secret Japanese plot for world domination?

(7) velo= latin for "swift, speedy, rapid"
ster= Korean for "not, no way, in your dreams".


PAUL GOVER

Monday, October 21, 2019

DRIVEN PERSONALITIES - ALLAN MOFFAT



My good friend Arthur is in trouble.

Alzheimer’s disease has him and, like a python with a mouse, is slowly squeezing the life out of him.

It’s a sad story because my Arthur is your Allan. Allan Moffat.

If you want to know the accomplishments of Allan George Moffat OBE you only have to turn to Google, which will tell you he is 79 years old and counts four Australian Touring Car Championships, four victories at Bathurst and six in the Sandown 500 as his career highlights.

But let me tell you another story, which tells you far more about the man inside the helmet.

First, a bit of background.

Moffat was the first truly professional race-car driver in Australia and he was a ferocious competitor. Never the most naturally-talented driver, he was ruthless about getting the best from himself, his team and his cars.

Moffat's Mustang 1969
He would turn lap after lap after lap to fine-tune his cars, from the famous Coca-Cola Mustang that landed in Australia just on 50 years ago, through to his mighty little Mazda RX-7, and even in the HDT Commodore he shared with Peter Brock at the very end of his career.

Moffat's most famous Bathurst victory - finishing 1 & 2 with Colin Bond in 1977

Now, to be honest, Allan could be a cantankerous cuss of a man. He never suffered fools, he was tough on his crews and even tougher on the media, and there are plenty of stories about him firing up during press meetings.

Once, when Wayne Webster of Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper arrived at a Moffat interview session at Bathurst wearing a Marlboro Holden Dealer Team tee-shirt he was greeted this way.
“Webster, I’m going to burn that shirt,” Moffat barked.
“Can I take it off first?” was the whip-crack reply from Webster.


Which brings me to the story of Allan and Arthur.

It was on December 1, 1984, the weekend that the World Endurance Championship first came to Sandown Park in Melbourne.

Moffat was not racing and had invited his three favourite journalists, his great mate David Roberston (from the Sydney Morning Herald), Webster and me, to a gathering at his home in Monaro Crescent in Toorak with a bunch of people including his British friend John Fitzpatrick, one of the world’s most successful long-distance racers. And, yes, he was well aware of the irony of the street name for a Ford hero.

Moffat was still married to Pauline at the time, and neither of his sons - race driver James and teacher Andrew - were close to joining him.

The evening began slowly, and I recall seeing his Ford Cologne Capri racer - soon to be sold to Fitzpatrick to fund more Moffat racing - in the garage.

Things accelerated rapidly from there and, at one point, Allan collided heavily with the glass sliding door to the back yard and his glasses exploded.

By around 2am, Robertson tried to nap on a couch, but was constantly interrupted by Moffat singing “I’ll be calling you, you-you-you”, Webster got down on his knees and started tapping on the floor.
“What are you doing?,” Moffat asked.
“I’m looking for the secret trapdoor,” Webster replied.
“What trap door?” Moffat asked.
“The one leading to the secret room.”
“What secret room?”
“The one where you have Allan Moffat tied up. You’re not Allan, you’re his evil twin brother, Arthur.”


Later that day, Allan arrived at Sandown as a VIP guest and he was not well. Pauline told us he had slumped in the shower for nearly an hour, cascading hot water over himself, to prepare for his official duties at the track.

Much later, I remember Arthur and Wayne and Wee Davie (who sadly passed away following a jet-ski accident), sitting in bed watching television as Pauline made them Vegemite toast.

Allan Moffat Ford Falcon GTHO, 1972
Over the years, the Allan-and-Arthur story continued and it got better when the late Gregg Hansford, his young protege and team mate in Moffat's Mazda RX-7 team, would join in the joke at racetracks across the country.
“Don’t go in there. It’s Allan,” Hansford would say.
“It’s OK, it’s Arthur,” was the alternative.

I’ve only written about Arthur once before, when I was working at the Herald Sun newspaper and the occasion was Allan’s 60th birthday. The morning that my column was published, the telephone rang.

“Is that Paul Gover?” said the man with the faint Canadian twang to his voice.
“Yes, it is Allan,” I replied. “It’s ok. It’s Arthur,” he laughed.

And he has been Arthur to me ever since.

L-R: Fred Gibson, Jack Perkins, Allan Moffat
In more recent times I’ve seen a fair bit of Arthur, who often travels with his long-term friend and former Ford team mate Fred Gibson, his ‘minder’ Phil Grant and his son Andrew. They are taking him out as much as they can, allowing him to say goodbye and for his countless fans to spend some time with their hero.

There are many twists to the recent tale of Allan Moffat, but this is not the time or the place. It is an opportunity for a thank-you to a great man who gave me, and so many others, great memories and inspiration.

It was Allan Moffat who taught me the value of perseverance and the need for total commitment, but Arthur who showed me it’s just as important to be genuine and honest - even soft and gentle - when the helmet comes off.

As Alzheimer’s takes Allan away, there are new memories. Like seeing Arthur racing to an ice cream van at Sandown, then morphing back to Allan for a couple of fans, then Arthur again as he led Freddie towards the pit lane with the enthusiasm of a child.

Allan and I have already said our farewells, about five years ago at the Muscle Car Masters historic race meeting in Sydney, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

As we laughed about our shared passion for the Omega Railmaster watch, which we were both wearing on the day, he leaned in close. I think he was aware, even then, that Alzheimer’s was coming.

“I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me,” he said, with an intensity that surprised me.

Now I want to say thank you back. To Allan and Arthur. He was my hero from the first day I saw him in action with the Coca-Cola Mustang and nothing has changed.

Allan (Arthur) Moffat and Paul Gover
PAUL GOVER