Monday, December 18, 2017

THIS IS IT! REALLY!

I may have sneaked in one last post, because it was germain to the final post involving Alfa Romeo, but now, this is really the end for Driving and Life.

I pride myself on the fact that Driving and Life was my genuine and sincere take on cars and the car industry, and that what I posted was relevant and sensible.

There were many benefits flowing from 40 years of networking, and developing friends and contacts all over the automotive world, and especially when we got to look 'behind the curtain'.

Along the way, my longest stints were with two of the greatest marques in history - Jaguar and Bentley.


Not to forget Land Rover, Rover, Peugeot, Honda and Daewoo.

It was very enjoyable digging out some obscure facts, rare and important photos, some controversial developments and the resulting ramifications, but the fact is that for someone who retired (in 2006) from being very active in the car industry for almost 40 years, it becomes time consuming, and tiring, ensuring that you keep up to speed with the most important developments on a week-by-week basis. So, I'm hanging up my helmet.

The car industry has always been volatile, with competitive, commercial pressures and imperatives informing decisions made by competing car companies, but the pace has certainly quickened in the last five years. Who knows what the next ten years will deliver?

The developing technologies hold no appeal for me. I am not interested in riding around in an autonomous aluminium shell, with all the decisions taken for me. I am not interested in enduring 'range anxiety', hoping my electric car will have enough juice to get to work, or get home.

The so-called 'Driver Aids' software is insidious and instrusive, and I do not care for such tech either.

Sadly, when you talk with today's car company executives about various aspects of their business and/or products, many are alarmingly ill-equipped to explain strategies, business decisions, simple basics, or the latest tech. Also, it doesn't help when the PR suits are barely out of puberty, have a degree in PR, but zero mechanical knowledge, and bugger-all background to offer about how their company operates.

I fear that all of the preceding blathering appears to eventually render the personal car as we know it, irrelevant, unecessary, and of course (according to The Greens), a blight on society. That could mean there is no road ahead for people who are genuinely enthusiastic about cars and driving!


I have lived through the glory days of the modern motor industry, and motor sport. I have driven some oustanding, and innovative cars - and also cars which frightened the shit out of me.

However, on the flipside, I was at Le Mans (as a Jaguar employee) in 1988 when the company won the 24 Hours of Le Mans; and equally I was in the pits (as a Bentley employee) when Bentley won Le Mans in 2003.
I've seen the highs and lows of motorsport, lived through the frustrations of failing to finish races, quietly packing up and optimisticly looking forward to the next event.

I have worked for seven incredible chief executives from 1977 to 2006, and learned a lot from the experiences, especially how a car company should be run and managed effectively and efficiently.

My Contacts book lists a huge number of friends, who are both impressive high achievers in their fields, including CEOs, engineers, designers, professional racing drivers, world champions and innovative thinkers.

These near 40 years of intimate involvement in the car industry, as well as diversions, such as competing in the 1977 Singapore Airlines London-to-Sydney Car Rally; 

and being Editor of one of Australia's two most significant monthly car magazines, has repaid my toil with great experiences, great challenges, and in most cases, enormous satisfaction.

I am a 'Child of the Motor Car' and bloody glad I can be proud of that mantle. I hope you've enjoyed sharing the posts on Driving and Life - it's been a pleasure to record them for posterity and hope the vicarious pleasure of you seeing this life through my eyes has not diminished the passion I hope I was able to project.

I will now stop, switch off, and retire - a Winner!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

ONE LAST THING

THE FUTURE FOR ALFA ROMEO AND MASERATI


As I was publishing my final post it was announced that Alfa Romeo would re-enter Formula One in 2018, providing engines for the Sauber team. However, for a company mired in huge debt, like FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA), this announcement is not as grand a gesture as first appears.


Sauber Grand Prix is an existing Ferrari customer, and uses the ‘Customer’ F1 engines, so Alfa Romeo’s involvement will be to provide Alfa Romeo engine covers; the paintjob; and a few Alfa Romeo decals – no actual cash. The engines will continue to be provided by Maranello, but I’m assured they will be virtually identical to those used by the Scuderia.

After inking this deal, FCA Chairman Sergio Marchionne is now trying to interest another F1 team in using ‘Maserati’ engines, on the same basis. Once again, they would be Ferrari ‘Customer’ engines, with the associated Maserati branding – no cash.

I see a strategy here – Sergio wants to achieve three things from these agreements:

    1. He wants Alfa Romeo and Maserati to appeal to younger buyers, and sees F1 as the path to this result.
    2. He wants a ‘cheap’ branding deal, which provides a presence, achieved by using Ferrari ‘Customer engines’, but also the afterglow that comes with an F1 team being associated with two great Italian brands, which enjoyed  historic F1 successes.
    3. He wants to ‘fatten up’ the two divisions, which along with (hopefully) improved sales numbers, and the gloss and glitz of being in F1 - will ease the way for both divisions to be sold, and reduce FCA’s massive borrowings.
F1 glory came in 1951 with Fangio winning in the Alfetta Tipo 159. Thirty years later Bruno Giacomelli competed in Alfa Romeo's last F1 car.

As I have written before, FCA faces massive debt obligations, and with stagnant Group sales, and the need for ongoing investment, he needs to do ‘something’ to reduce debt. He tried to find another western car manufacturer to ‘buy’ (ahem: ‘make a joint venture with’) FCA – that ended nowhere.

The investment analysts have convinced Sergio that Jeep and Ram are saleable, and having sold off Ferrari, maybe selling Alfa Romeo and Maserati would work too.

Currently Ferrari’s market cap is around USD$21 billion; FCA’s market cap is just USD$18 billion. The current valuations of the divisions (according to analysts) are: Jeep USD$22 billion; Ram USD$11.2 billion; Maserati USD$3.5 billion.

You might ask, if you sell all these nameplates, what’s left? Well, just severely wounded Chrysler and FIAT divisions; but with all the debt paid off, that leaves funds available to develop all-new cars for the remaining, debilitated, divisions. That way the Italians get to keep FIAT; and the Americans get to keep Chrysler.

The man with a lust for Alfa Romeo (and maybe Maserati) is Dr. Ferdinand Piech, but VWAG is so wounded by the mounting cost of ‘Dieselgate’, it no longer has the money.

Guess who’s left in the bidding ring? The Chinese, of course. My guess is that a couple of years from now we will see a similar deal to Volvo being acquired by Geely.


That may sound disappointing, but for fans of Alfa Romeo and Maserati, it may be the only hope for survival of the marques.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

END OF THE ROAD

December 7, 2010 was the first post for Driving and Life, and I wrote about ‘My Piece of Italy’ – my beloved Alfa Romeo 159. Since then the 159 has clocked up 90,000km, with absolute reliability and huge driving enjoyment  - especially on interstate trips.

This year on December 7, I posted my final story, featuring my review of the replacement for the Alfa Romeo 159, the new Giulia – indeed a worthy replacement, and because it’s the recipient of so much new technology, design and development, it is a true Alfa Romeo – in spirit as well as experience.

So, Driving and Life has reached the end of the road, and as of this post I will be retiring my Blog. I think it’s time I retired from the scene too.

I would like to take you back to where it all began, in 2005 when I was working in the USA. I was approached by a senior executive of American Express, who was also a good friend. He said that Amex wanted to produce a newsletter which would be mailed to its Black Card holders every quarter.

The Amex executives envisaged an automotive publication featuring high end automobiles, and all of the aspects of life which revolved around the automotive scene.

They wanted to include stories about major automotive events such as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and the new releases at the major international auto shows. In addition they wanted details of ‘Great Drives’, and a focus on Formula One, representing the pinnacle of global motor sport.

I developed the concept of Driving and Life, and the proposals were well received. However, as often happens in business, American Express had a change of CEO and the new guy thought the whole project was an extravagance. It may have delivered enjoyment to the 92% of Amex Black Card holders who were male, but he had other plans for the budget.

In 2006 I retired from my role as Director of Public Relations for The Americas, for Bentley Motors North America, and returned to live in Australia. A couple of years later, still with the fire of passion and interest in the automotive business I decided to drag the Driving and Life concept out of the ‘Discard’ file and create my Blog.

It’s been a fun time, reproducing stories from my history in the car business; dragging out memorable photos; celebrating my good friends in the industry and writing about some exceptional cars. In fact I owe sincere thanks to my good friend, Paul Gover, Australia's most experienced auto writer, for helping me include driving impressions of new and interesting cars.

However, the time has come to turn off the ignition and park the Blog. I have said all I have to say about current and developing technologies; voiced opinions on a range of subjects, and it’s now time for me to fully retire. Actually, I do find it tiring keeping up with new developments, so that what I publish is sensible and relevant.

I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing my stories and experiences, it’s been a pleasure to research, write and publish some pretty interesting posts, especially those where I had a view ‘behind the curtain’.

But, the truth is, I’m a dinosaur, whose time has come. I am an old-fashioned enthusiast for cars and driving, and I don’t have a lot of interest in what’s coming down the ‘pike. Be it autonomous cars, electric vehicles or intrusive technology.

I grew up modifying and tuning my own cars, including a Mini Cooper and an Austin Healey Sprite.

One of the highlights was almost five years as Editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine - then one of the two best-selling monthly car magazines in Australia. I was fortunate to compete in the 1977 Singapore Airlines London-to-Sydney Car Rally, driving 30,000km, through 30 countries in 30 days. It’s an event which simply couldn’t happen today.

During my 40 years in the car industry I have driven some pretty amazing cars, met some incredible personalities and made strong friendships. And, I have travelled around the globe to every continent. I’ve had a fortunate life around cars, which I have enjoyed sharing.


Thank you for following the Blog, it’s been a pleasure to produce it for your enjoyment.

ALFA ROMEO GIULIA - THE END RESULT? BRILLIANT! BELLISSIMO!

I will start with this: “Driving the new Giulia is an experience of symphonic dimension.”
This post will be as much a pictorial tribute to Centro Stile’s masterpiece - as it will be opinions on the dynamics, and the style of the car.
The reason that I photographed the car in a variety of locations and light levels was to amplify the subtlety of the surfaces and the overall, cohesive blend of stylish design with an aggressive stance.

It’s a surprise how many of the bold flourishes, apparent in the studio sketches, have transferred to the final design.

Everything about the Giulia seems to have been absolutely ‘designed for purpose’.
If you follow Driving and Life regularly you will not be surprised at me ‘gushing’ about this new Alfa Romeo, because I have invested a lot of my own emotional capital in the fact that this car needed to be ‘right’ in every way.

Sorry to disappoint the knockers and spoilers, but I think this car is absolutely what it needed to be. The spec, performance, handling, styling and overall result is spot-on!

Whilst I am thrilled with Alessandro Maccolini’s exterior design, I am just as delighted with the interior design, directed by the very talented Inna Kondakova, and her team.

It is the essence of simple elegance, and an excellent choice of materials. It is also a practical interior, because everything is where it should be, but I think I must reserve special praise for the central console and its integration to the centre stack of controls.

By now, you realize this post is a love-fest, but really, the end result of the challenge facing the team; the design and technical attributes; and the finish, is a triumph for Alfa Romeo.

The trim fit’n’finish margins are outstanding, and the overall effect of the interior visage is subtle and calming.


Weight-saving was a big item on the agenda when the technical team, led by Ferrari’s Technical Director Philippe Krief, settled on a unique aluminium front and rear suspension layout, and in the Quadrifoglio, carbon fibre for a number of body panels.


The Giulia is marginally smaller than the 159, and lighter, so that the base 2.0L turbo four cylinder has a head-start in its performance delivery. The torque curve also delivers impressive flexibility, and the ZF 8-speed auto is very well-calibrated for the job.

In fact, despite the ‘noise’ around the ‘optional packages’ you can order, the base car delivers everything at a very competitive price – both in Australia and the USA.

However, there are some things you miss, like the excellent aluminium paddles, which are column-mounted.

Like its big brothers from the Maserati and Ferrrari families they are a joy to use in high performance driving. So, maybe the 'Sport' package is a worthwhile investment.

During my test drive south of Sydney, I stopped for Minestrone for lunch at the excellent Austi Beach Café at Austinmeer Beach.

Put it on your list when you’re touring along the south coast – excellent fare and a great view of the ocean.


Do I think FCA’s €5 billion investment will pay off? Well, in terms of delivering an Alfa Romeo true to the spirit of the marque, it has certainly achieved all the primary targets.




However, unless FCA can drive up Alfa Romeo sales eventually to 250,000 units a year, the real value of the investment will not be realised.

I fear that in retrospect the investment will be seen as folly.

Having made this observation, none of these serious considerations deters me from feeling enormous joy and satisfaction after my 300km behind the wheel.



This Giulia is what Alfa Romeo needed, to reinforce its credentials. The company has got it right – in every area. 
Thank God for that. The entire Alfisti movement can now celebrate in high spirits at the company’s achievement.