Thursday, August 13, 2020

FORMULA ONE MEMORIES, THICK AND FAST by Paul Gover

My first grand prix in 1982 was also the last one for Gilles Villeneuve.


It was the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, I was a guest of Alfa Romeo on a new-car preview in Italy, and the race was epic in so many ways.

I can still recall a busload of hyped-up Aussie journalists arriving on race morning, asking for pitlane passes, and getting them with just the presentation of a passport!

 

The twin Ferrari turbos of Villeneuve and Didier Pironi put on a demonstration at the front and all seemed well, and entertaining.




That was until Pironi ignored orders to hand top spot to the mercurial Canadian, who was so incensed he effectively boycotted the podium. Sadly, Gilles died in an unnecessary qualifying crash for the next race at Zolder in Belgium.


My memories of Imola come flooding back as Formula One celebrates its 70th anniversary at Silverstone.

I’ve been at the British track twice for F1, in 1990 when a frustrated Nigel Mansell announced he was quitting Ferrari and threw his gloves into the crowd.

The next Silverstone visit was when Lewis Hamilton flew to a last-gasp pole position with McLaren in 2007.


Both were, and still are, massively memorable days.

 

That second trip to Silverstone introduced me to the most mercurial qualifier I had seen since Ayrton Senna.

 


I was also at the Portuguese Grand Prix in 1984 when canny old Niki Lauda beat his young McLaren team mate Alain Prost to the world title - by half a point. Talk about old dog teaching new tricks, as Lauda let Prost win, knowing the scoring system would give him the crown.



That was also the first day I got to interview Ecclestone, who speaks very softly but carries a big stick - and a giant intellect.

 

The only other person I’ve met who talks so softly is Jean Todt (right), who famously led Ferrari through Michael Schumacher’s halcyon days and now heads the FIA

 

Away from the track, Schumacher is one of my most memorable F1 interview subjects.


Once I got through all the hoops and minders, and started my three minutes of chat time - monitored on a stopwatch - he is warm, welcoming, highly intelligent and provides great insights.

 



Schumacher was ruthless on the track but I never saw anything to match Ayrton Senna during his turbocharged qualifying laps in Adelaide.



I watched, spellbound, from the grandstand on the corner that now carries his name, as he did other-worldly things with Lotus and McLaren.

 

Adelaide was also where I saw Alan Jones celebrate the arrival of a World Championship grand prix in Australia, by leading the cars onto the track in his Beatrice-Ford.



The same day, a BMW media lunch was interrupted by a hand-delivered letter from Ecclestone to our BMW hosts demanding that flags were taken down - or a giant fee was paid - because they were in the view of the television cameras. And Ecclestone was sponsored by BMW at the time! Bernie always had his eyes on the money!

 

And so to Monza, where I once cut some laps at the wheel of a Volvo 7-Series turbo, plus another memorable BMW moment.

 


If you’ve ever seen a jet fighter on take-off, you might have witnessed the giant plume of black smoke from the tail. It was the same as we waited at the first chicane for Nelson Piquet to fire from the base of a similar cloud in a turbocharged Brabham-BMW that had 1300 horsepower and hit 202 miles-an-hour.


 

In those days a journalist could jump the fence and walk down to the first corner, so we - most of the same crew from Imola - made the trip, and were rewarded by a once-in-a-lifetime view, as well as water bombs arriving over the fence from irate Italian tifosi spectators because we were blocking their view!

 

On the walk back to the pits I passed Kenny Acheson’s abandoned RAM-Hart and, as I wondered why it was parked, I looked into the engine bay. The only sign of the engine was the rocker cover, as all the rest had clearly left the scene of a massive blow-up.

 

My days in Adelaide were great, because there was time to watch and think and even meet the drivers at informal events, but things changed massively as the AGP moved to Melbourne, and with Ron Walker guiding the show it was all business.

 

But my best memory is an unbeatable experience, taking part twice in the Ultimate Speed Comparison driving a BMW M road car against a V8 Supercar and a BMW F1 car, driven each year by Christian Klein.



It’s a handicap contest, obviously, and I famously scored one victory in 2009, but my clearest memory - by far - is the first time I entered pit straight, and the F1 car went past. It was like driving alongside an explosion.

 

Later that weekend, as I braked at the end of the straight from 240km/h, struggling to stop the baby BMW 1-Series for turn one, Klein rocketed past - and changed up a gear!

 

There are so, so, so many more memories from Formula One. So the 70th at Silverstone is memorable for everyone, but I have my own memories from nearly 40 years with a coveted media pit pass on a lanyard around my neck.

 

And did I tell you about the invitation-only visit to Silverstone last year, for the 125th anniversary of Mercedes-Benz’s involvement in motorsport, when a cavalcade of awesome drivers drove a variety of the company’s most memorable cars, and Valtieri Bottas sprinted around the deserted circuit in the latest grand prix car, just for us . . .



PAUL GOVER

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

GREAT NEW PETROLHEAD WEBSITE TO BOOKMARK by John Crawford

 If you're into cars and motor sport, be sure to bookmark the following website, edited by Paul Gover.


It's called <www.race.news> and it's entertaining, informative and right up to the minute. Rumour has it that Gover gets about two hours sleep a night, ensuring the website has all the latest news.

You won't be disappointed.

JOHN CRAWFORD

JAGUAR LAND ROVER DUE FOR A SHAKEUP by John Crawford

The JLR gang in Gaydon better prepare themselves for, first, a whirlwind, and second, the fallout.

 

TATA SONS has appointed former head of Renault, Thierry Bollore, as JLR’s new CEO to replace Ralph Speth, who is stepping down. Speth, who will retain a seat on the Tata Sons Board, is a British-German who was appointed to run JLR by Tata in 2010.

 

Under Speth’s leadership, workforce numbers increased by 17,000 over the last five years, but it was his strong emphasis on R&D which has been his most impressive contribution, and his legacy. Speth took over JLR, following three years running the quality division of Ford Motor’s Premier Automotive Group – and was a logical choice as CEO when Ford divested itself of the two companies to Tata.

 

I always thought Speth was brilliant, but too low-key, having only met him once, in Geneva. However, he was just the steady hands which Ratan Tata wanted (and needed) to run JLR.



On the other hand, Thierry Bollore, who was personally chosen by Carlos Ghosn as his deputy at Renault, is likely to be a big shock for the Brits.


He is just as ruthless as Ghosn about cost-cutting, and efficiency. I believe he will go through JLR like a laxative, cleaning out dead wood and redundant spending. I think he's an excellent choice.

 

JLR is in huge financial trouble right now, thanks not only to the pandemic, but spending which has, quite frankly, gone completely over the top.


Remember, by global standards, JLR is a very small company – albeit with huge aspirations. I think Bollore is just the man for the challenge of pulling it back into line.

 

There was considerable buzz that once the Groupe PSA-Fiat Chrysler Automobiles takeover was completed that Mike Manley may score the JLR gig, but wisely, Tata chose a man who has a significant track record in corporate discipline and results-based credentials.

 

NOTE: In the 2015 Special Honours list, Ralph Speth was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, following him becoming a British citizen.


JOHN CRAWFORD

Friday, August 7, 2020

TRIPPING THROUGH FALL - MEMORABLE VISIT TO AMERICA by John Crawford

Trawling through old photo albums is an ideal diversion from low temperatures and torrential driving rain on this winter’s day, and I’m reminded that among all the car stuff in my life, there have been many other memorable moments.


American Jaguar racer, and owner of the Group 44 race team in the USA, Bob Tullius, had accepted an invitation in 1982, to co-drive at Bathurst in John Goss’s Jaguar XJ-S.

Despite both impressive performance from the car, and impressive driving from John and Bob, sadly the car was a non-finisher.

However, I formed a very close bond with Bob Tullius which exists to this day.

After the event, he said I should try and get across to the USA to check out the Group 44 team, and we agreed to meet in Bob's home town, Winchester, Virginia in the Fall of the following October.

There were memorable moments, even as the trip began.

Thanks to a contact at PanAm I was upgraded to First Class, and found myself sitting next to one of Australia’s greatest stage and film actresses, Wendy Hughes, between Sydney and Los Angeles.

Not only did I have beautiful and talented company, but also a wonderful lobster lunch.

This was also my one and only ride on the fabulous Boeing 747SP, the ‘sports car’ of the Boeing 747 series


Being shorter and lighter, with the same size engines as the 747-200, this baby could go fast, and I recall it was a great flight.

 

On arrival in Winchester, I duly visited the Group 44 headquarters, which revealed the Tullius dictum of organisation, meticulous preparation, cleanliness and a constant search for greater performance.


I dined out with Bob and the race team, and Bob offered me the use of his XJ-S to tour Civil War battlefields, and prominent Civil War locations, like Harper’s Ferry and Leesburg. It was sobering to visit the Civil War sites, guidebook in hand, listing the record of deaths suffered by both Union and Confederate forces. 

Walking around the Gettysburg National Park I even managed to find a couple of Civil War-era bullets to bring home as mementos.

It was gentle, relaxed touring among beautiful Fall colours, returning Bob’s daily driver to him before heading off to visit Washington, DC.



Passes were arranged for me, by the Australian legation, to visit both the Congress and the Senate, where I again ran into Wendy Hughes, who was on her own voyage of discovery.


It turned out we were visiting the Senate on a momentous day for America, as the laws establishing the Martin Luther King, Jr Day, as a national public holiday, were passed.

 

During the period I was employed by Jaguar and Bentley in North America, I got the chance to visit Washington, DC a number of times, and after many meetings with politicians and media, it very much reminded me of the Australian political bubble in our national capital, Canberra.


Pollies should get out more, and see how the real people live (or in some cases, just survive).

 

JOHN CRAWFORD

Thursday, July 30, 2020

AUTOMOTIVE CASH REGISTERS CASHED OUT by John Crawford

This is not intended to be an “I Told You So” post, but as I pointed out yesterday, there are big storms ahead for the auto industry. The financial bad news is just beginning to roll in, and it’s really B-A-D.

 

General Motors has announced a second quarter loss for this year, of USD$800 million, down 132% year-on-year. Slow sales, shortage of stock of profitable pickups and SUVs, and 8 week factory closures all contributed to the result.

GM also ‘burned through’ USD$8 billion in automotive operating cash, trying to keep the candle burning. GM, very optimistically, stated that it expected to be cash positive in the second half, earning up to USD$9 billion, to help pay back a USD$16 billion revolving line of credit set up to survive the worst of the pandemic.

Sure, these are big numbers, but then GM is a big corporation. Wisely, it has not reinstated its dividend, and still holds USD$30.6 billion in operating cash.

 

However, the really big news is Aston Martin Lagonda’s staggering losses for the first half of 2020. It lost USD$295 million, and was also forced to restate its earnings down for 2017-2018 by USD$20 million, after it identified an ‘accounting error’ in its U.S. division.

 

The dramatic loss of sales, and the cost of the new factory to build the DBX SUV is pushing it closer and closer to bankruptcy, according to analysts. Adding to its woes, revenues plunged 64% year-on-year, and it has sold only one of its special (USD$3.5 million) DB5 ‘James Bond’ Continuation models from a planned production run of 25.



New Chairman Lawrence Stroll (also the owner of the Racing Point F1 team) said: “It has been a very challenging six months” and highlighted the struggle to reduce dealer inventories.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that former Aston Martin Chairman, Dr. Andy Palmer, did not spend long in the ‘no paycheck’ wilderness. He has been appointed as non-executive Chairman of UK bus company Optare. Palmer is quoted as saying: “I am excited to take on this role, as Optare is at a pivotal moment in its development.” 


If I was the head of Optare’s parent company, India's Ashock Leyland, I’d keep a close eye on Palmer’s future initiatives, to ensure Optare doesn’t end up in the same condition as Aston Martin.

 

Aston Martin Lagonda’s statement to the LSE ended on a rather obvious note: “Trading remains challenging in many markets and the pace of emergence from lockdown and consumer recovery varies significantly.” Well, duh! 


John Crawford

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

PANDEMIC PAINTS FUTURE PICTURE FOR THE CAR MARKET by John Crawford

The global pandemic caused by COVID19 has dramatically re-shaped the worldwide car market, and Australia has not been immune to the rapid shift in market forces, and re-setting the balance between new and used car sales.

 

Leading Australian motor industry news source, GoAuto News, this week reports three separate changes in the Australian market, which individually may not seem significant, until the ramifications are wrapped together to reveal the extent of how the selling of cars is rapidly changing.

 

As sales of new cars have dived to record lows, and car companies begin thinning out their model ranges, to focus just on the models which are selling, sales of used cars, and used vehicle support services are showing a dramatic rise in importance.


 

You can also forget about weekly motoring news, because most automotive writers are still looking at the automotive scene with rose-coloured glasses, dazzled, and focussing on driving and writing about irrelevant supercars, hypercars and glamourous European imports (which are competing for dwindling new car sales), and are ignoring the more practical aspects of the changing market.

In no particular order, here are the key changes driven by renewed interest in sales of used cars. They fall into three categories – sourcing, salvage and transport.

 

First – sourcing. Due to the pandemic job losses continue, income levels are falling, distances travelled are dropping, and affordability, become paramount drivers of the shift to used cars. This is driving demand to new highs, and many dealers are having difficulty just getting stock of quality used cars.

 

GoAuto News reports that innovative schemes developed by some dealers are seeing dealers staging ‘drive-in appraisals’ in order to secure essential, potential new stock.



Where once, your trade-in vehicle would rapidly be despatched to the dealer’s favourite wholesaler, the demand for quality used cars, now sees dealers inviting car owners to bring their cars to dealerships, so they can re-evaluate the re-sale value of trade-ins. Cars are being bought by dealers from owners who no longer have need for their car, or simply cannot afford to keep it.

 

Second – Salvage. This is a hitherto unknown shift in the value of cars which are not considered good enough quality to be resold, and are sold off for salvage value. But even this activity is now under macro-focus. Whilst most of us imagine vehicle salvage as a mountain of discarded cars, being picked up by a crane and dropped into a ‘crusher’, a series of new steps has changed the whole image of salvage.


According to GoAuto News, the sales values of vehicles discarded for salvage are peaking dramatically, in some cases close to 50%. Salvage companies are now finding that recovering still-working parts from cars has become a valuable new income stream – so instead of going direct to the ‘crusher’, vehicles are stripped of still-useful, and readily-saleable items like engines, transmissions, suspensions, steering, electrical components, and in some case undamaged body panels, in far greater numbers than previously. To be fair, this has long been the case, except now, the scale has increased dramatically.

These components are being sold into the ‘used’ spare parts market, or are sold to private buyers who may need to replace a component, but demand a less-costly price than brand-new original equipment (OE) parts; or to assist in building up a restored special vehicle, such as a classic car.

 


Third – Transport. Australia’s leading vehicle transport company, whose business to date has been simply moving new imports from the docks to the dealers, or interstate from one dealer to another, have discovered that once the new cars are unloaded, their empty trucks have the ability to ‘back-load’ used cars to move them intra or interstate.



The huge increase in demand for quality used cars is driving a burgeoning used car market, and dealers around the country are trading in a rapidly-expanded wholesale market. These vehicles have to be ‘moved’, thereby creating a new income stream for the vehicle trucking companies.

 

So, if all this additional revenue growth is assisting disparate sections of the overall car market, especially the used car segment, and life is all about ‘Yin & Yang’, where is the loss being felt?

 

At this stage, even though falling new car sales have somewhat plateaued, the numbers are still down dramatically, and we are seeing new decisions by car companies on an almost daily basis on how they structure and price their model ranges.

In particular, passenger cars are disappearing to be replaced by crossovers and SUVs.

Restructuring in dealerships around the country is marked by staff layoffs for some, and unspecified furloughs for others.

Also, as new schemes such as jobseeker and jobkeeper have come into effect, the cost of those programmes are passed directly on to taxpayers (as these job-retaining subsidies come directly from the federal treasury).


This pandemic is going to cost us all - big time!


And, at the moment - there's no end in sight!


John Crawford

Saturday, July 25, 2020

QUALITY TESTS THE LIMITS OF SATISFACTION by John Crawford

The latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS) and the ‘APEAL’ study (which measures emotional reaction to Brands) have just published and highlight for me, a number of interesting observations.

First, whilst Tesla is emotionally appealing, it ranks as the absolute worst when it comes to ‘faults’. The J.D. Power IQS study looks at the number of faults per 100 cars sold, and in a country with a population of 300 million, that’s a lot of sales, and thus a lot of faults in the ‘duds’.

 

However, in some rare good news for (my favourite US brand) Cadillac, it sits above the average number of PP100 (which is good news); and scores THIRD in the APEAL report.



Given that many (most?) people buy with their heart and not their head, that result is a very important way point for Cadillac, to remain relevant in the U.S. Market.

 

Sadly, one of my other favourite brands, Volvo, slumps down near the bottom of the IQS chart, but sits alongside Lexus in the APEAL rankings.

 

However, Volvo says its business model is not about volume, but profitably, and expects to definitely be profitable by the end of 2020.

 

But, for all the emotional adulation scored by Tesla, it’s no Volvo (even). In 2019 Tesla delivered half as many cars as Volvo globally, but it also lost USD$862 million, versus Volvo, which made USD$1.62 billion. I’d rather have the money in the bank thanks.


Surprisingly, FCA (which I am constantly bad-mouthing) managed to come top in the IQS with its Dodge nameplate, so it must be doing something right in its quest to fix the squillions of faults it has reported in recent years – with record recalls.




To bolster FCA’s confidence its RAM trucks came in fourth in the IQS.

 

When I was headhunted to join Jaguar Cars North America in 1990, Jaguar ranked last on the IQS, but by the time I returned to Australia in 1994, the efforts of the Ford-appointed Director of Engineering (Jim Padilla), and a willing Jaguar workforce, had pushed Jaguar up to third place.


That’s quite an achievement in less than four years.


 

Very sadly for JLR, Jaguar is back down to fourth from the bottom, beating its Land Rover companion brand, which suffers the ignominy of being last!

 

So, do these surveys count with buyers? Back in the early 90s we at Jaguar were counting on a statistical improvement to change the perception of the Jaguar brand, and for this hallowed British carmaker, it did make a difference.


However, with the introduction of the APEAL survey, the water gets muddy again. Back in the 90s J.D. Power did not run a study on emotional appeal, and we found (anecdotally) that despite Jaguar’s many reported faults, the owners loved their cars, regardless.

 

Note: Being a KIA owner, I was delighted to see the Brand come equal FIRST in the IQS.




JOHN CRAWFORD