Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chrysler Pacifica - A Car Born to Die

After almost 35 years in the car business I’ve seen some really dumb decisions about designing, planning and launching new models. You’d think that history was the best teacher, wouldn’t you? Well, no. A lot of suits in the car business are so far up themselves they can’t see failure written all over their prized, planned project.
If you want a simple example of how to do EVERYTHING wrong, there’s the Chrysler Pacifica. Now this was an America-only beast, so I don’t expect the name to spring to mind, but it’s a cautionary tale some young automotive managers aspiring to wear suits and have a corner office, may take to heart.

When I first heard about the concept, I thought this could be a winner, in a country that LOVES bigness and will pay for it! The Pacifica was going to be a combination SUV and Minivan, what we now call a Crossover (or in American-speak, a CUV). What it turned out to be was a station wagon on steroids.
This was also when the god-like (in his own mind) Jurgen Schremp of Daimler-Benz corner offices in Stuttgart, Germany (now living in obscurity), was running Chrysler. That’s the ‘merger’ that wasn’t a ‘takeover’! Remember!
Let’s start with the planning. As the team at said; "The Pacifica was neither fish nor fowl, just a big-assed station wagon”.

The designers employed a number of styling tricks to try and obscure the heft of the car, with creases along the sides, and the rocker panels, to make the vehicle appear long and lean. However, its interior package-efficiency sucked.

Of its three rows of seats, the first two were fine for ‘real’ people, but the third row was reserved for legless midgets! And with all three rows erected - there was little or no luggage space!
However, in my experience the real tragedy occurred with the engine choice, and the pricing. The pricing details are too ‘local’ to mean anything outside the USA, but suffice to say, it was more expensive than the market would pay. Then the underpowered engine proved completely gutless, so the performance and fuel economy was resultingly woeful.
The project so far was a victory for: idiot product planners, fearless bean-counters, and a senior management disengaged from the reality of the market.
There are some indisputable facts in the marketplace, and planners and management should pay attention. The idea is to ‘give’ the market ‘surprises and delights’, not cheat by cutting back on value, with an eye to a bigger profit per unit. That philosophy stopped working in the 1950s and 1960s.
Back then the US car companies used identical chassis, inner panels and powertrains every year, and just changed the interiors and the external panels. That was enough to convince the mug car buyers that this year’s model was ‘new’ - and the car companies banked huge profits. The economies of scale allowed them to just ‘pretty-up’ the stuff people could see, and leave the fundamentals (the stuff that really costs money) as it was.
Then there’s pricing. It’s not rocket science really. Don’t simply divide the development cost by projected unit sales to come up with a price. First of all, the only known factor in this equation is the development cost! Price the car to ‘sell’ - lots and lots of units. Then in the next model generation and the one after, you can inch up the price by adding options which give an appearance of greater value, whilst not increasing the production costs by the same amount.
I’ve often argued this point with bean counters and managers. Wouldn’t it be a psychological, and profit, booster to have the public see ‘hundreds’ of these new cars on the road, regardless of the immediate return. Then, when the car is viewed as successful, more people will consider it! The more people who consider it and buy it, the greater the return from a meagre margin - rather than an overpriced car which doesn’t sell, and then the lack of apparent numbers 'on the road' suggests to the punters that it’s a dud!

To wit, a year or so ago there were still Brand New 2008MY Pacificas sitting on Chrysler dealers' lots, unsold!
The business of making profits and marketing cars successfully isn’t really a big challenge - except to the egos of the men in suits!

A Super Car Gathering!

Last weekend I attended an exclusive party in Sydney for aficionados of great cars and luxury lifestyle accoutrements. It was called the Supercar Gathering, and it was organized by Sam Movisio, the Chairman of the Australian Concours d’Elegance.
Maserati Gran Turismo and Ferrari 458 Italia just two of many beautiful cars at Le Montage

The 'invitation-only' affair, with just 250 guests was on a much smaller scale than the inaugural Australian Concours, known as 10.10.10, held at Manly two years ago. That was a much grander affair with many more cars, and many thousands more people, so the party at Le Montage at Lilyfield was relatively intimate, and a very pleasant way to spend a sunny Sunday morning.
Fabulous Ford GT replica, Ferrari FF and Pagani were just some of the delights

The Gathering was well-supported by the high-end car distributors and private owners of exotic cars, and along with some fine food from Le Montage and fine wines from Mount Pleasant and Tatinger Champagne it was great to just stroll around, talk to owners and experts alike. Very low key, and the mutual enjoyment of all the participants was easy to see.
Sam Movisio and Aston Martin DB9 Volante at the home of Bentley in Crewe, UK

After the success of Sunday's event, Sam Movisio is planning another Supercar Gathering in a few months, and he's already contemplating another Australian Concours, maybe next year. He is a dedicated enthusiast, and lover of great cars, and he is also well-connected with auto industry CEOs, and the people who stage some of the world’s best concours events in Monterey, California. That means his next events will continue to retain a true international flavour.
Sam with Morgan heir and CEO, Charles, at the Morgan works in Britain

Sam’s standing in the automobile community in Sydney ensured there were good things to look at, like a new Ferrari FF, Australia’s first Ferrari 458 Italia Spyder, Tesla Electric sports cars, two McLaren MP4 12C, a brand new KTM, several Lotuses, a sensational group of Mercedes AMGs and a new Bentley Continental GT.
Two Tesla electric sports cars nestled among all the petrol-powered supercars

There was also an Aston Martin Virage, quite a few Lamborghinis and among some special cars from private owners there was a replica Ford GT, and one of the best replicas of a Ferrari Barchetta Superleggera by Touring of Milan I have ever seen. I might easily have mistaken it for the real thing, and although it is not original the beautiful workmanship was all done here in Australia and is a credit to the professionals responsible.
Swapping car tales with enthusiast and actor, Vince Sorrenti, who is a genuinely nice guy

I found myself talking with wonderful personalities like comedian and actor Vince Sorrenti, sipping Tatinger, kicking the tyres on some fabulous machines, and in general just indulging my love of cars, along with everyone else who attended.

There was a great vibe at the event, which Sam and his team seem to effortlessly generate with their enthusiasm, passion and friendliness. When’s the next one?

A member of the Luxury Network

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Good-Looking Toyota!

After relentlessly pouring scorn on the unlovely range of Toyota Avalons that have been served up to the Americans over the years, I have to say that the U.S. division of Toyota has finally produced a very smart-looking car.

As styling and design is purely subjective, I am pretty safe declaring that my personal opinion is that this is the best-looking large Toyota I have seen for years. It's aggressive, subtle and s-m-o-o-t-h. Very cohesive blend of surfacing and creases. Also remember that in many U.S. States, you don't have to have a front licence plate.

I'm sorry to say this to all my friends at Toyota Australia, but this car looks MUCH better than our latest Aurion.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Doing the Continental

BENTLEY MOTORS invited a small group of writers to the fabulous Meadowood Resort and Winery in California’s Napa Valley to sample fine food and wine; and drive its slinky convertible, the Bentley Continental GTC …
Classic Bentley convertibles at Meadowood Winery

To hear Meadowood winemaker Bill Harlen talk about Meadowood’s 1997 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon you could be forgiven for thinking it’s conceived as an offering to the gods. The subtle red wine reveals the winemakers’ skills, and the taste is sublime, leading to an unforgettable experience.
As we head northwards through the Napa Valley next morning, along Route 29 in the Continental GTC convertible, Harlan’s description of his wine could be equally applied to the Bentley. The driving experience is sublime, and especially so as we warm our faces in brilliant sunshine, touring over testing and challenging roads which dip and climb through the hills between the grapevines.

We arrived in St. Helena by helicopter from San Francisco International Airport, and the 30 minute flight clearly shows why wine is such a big business for this region. Hillside after hillside is covered in vines with ripening fruit, interrupted only by the many wineries which process the grapes into nectar for us earthly mortals.

Next day the driving route takes us from St. Helena, through Calistoga (known for its famous mineral water), and then climbs around the gorges along route 29 through small towns with names like Whispering Pines, Loch Lomond and Kelseyville.

At one point the road snakes around a sheer hillside which drops dramatically down to Clearlake, before we wind down a twisting two lane blacktop into the quaint highway town of Hopland to take a morning tea of English ‘Rock’ cakes and a delicate Ceylon Blend.

In this driving environment it’s clear that Bentley’s engineers have worked similar magic on the GTC which they performed on the Bentley Azure convertible. It’s well known that when you turn hardtop cars into convertibles, the body loses some strength, and rigidity. This leads to a flexing of the body as it twists and moves in concert with changes in the road surface.
To combat such flexing, designers and engineers seek to strengthen the body, and previously this meant additions of massive steel beams and supports, which added weight and made some convertibles feel heavy and unresponsive. These are not good qualities for a car aimed at Grand Touring.
Specially-designed strengthening beams made from light, but strong, carbon fibre have been integrated into the Bentley GTC in such a way that the body boasts impressive structural strength, but the weight increase over the sexy Continental GT coupe is barely 200 lbs.

Winding up through the sharp curves and bends to Clearlake and then down into Hopland, these roads test the engineers’ work. The Continental GTC is firm, precise and absolutely exhilarating to drive. There is no trace of body flexing, and the 552hp, twin-turbocharged 12 cylinder engine speeds us along swiftly and smoothly.
There’s no urgency to arrive in time for tea, but the roads and the car invite spirited driving. Cruising along with the top stowed under a sleek metal cover, the GTC displays perfect aplomb and always manages to attract the attention of country folk, who are used to sharing the road with wine tankers and pickup trucks.
Stylish Soft Top

The Continental GTC’s roof takes less than 30 seconds to be raised or lowered, and the car looks good in either condition. The fabric roof has been specially designed by Bentley to hold its shape, thanks to seven hood bows (rather than the standard four); and a sophisticated and luxurious interior lining which not only gives the impression from inside that you’re sitting in a conventional coupe; but it also impressively reduces external noise and wind roar.
GTC among Redwoods

After morning tea, we join Highway 101 and drive to Willits, where we turn west on Route 20 and head for the coast. Driving through beautiful, tall and stately redwoods, we arrive in Fort Bragg, then turn south on Highway 1 to the classic Californian coastal town of Mendocino.

Sure, it’s become a tourist trap, but it’s still a fascinating village. Perched above the Pacific Ocean the fog and cloud rolls in to create an air of mystery, and we head for the warmth and coziness of the Mendocino Hotel for lunch.

A local crab and shrimp sandwich on a Hogie, washed down by Calistoga mineral water, and then a luscious dessert sets us up for the return drive to Meadowood. This is made up of an enjoyable cruise down Highway 1, before we turn inland to zoom through sweeping countryside to Cloverdale, and a  late afternoon pitstop at the world famous Hamburger Ranch.

Back at Meadowood we are joined on the lawn for dinner by a beautifully sculptured Continental GTC and from our tables we are able to take in the subtle and sophisticated surfacing, which the designer, Brazilian-born Raul Pires effected to ensure that the convertible retains the stance and presence of its coupe cousin.

When Bentley produces a new car, it’s noteworthy, but when it’s a slinky beauty like the Continental GTC, it’s my opinion a classic car has been created.

(All photos by Dominick Fraser © Bentley Motors)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ford Australia's New Falcon?

I believe you are looking at the NEXT FALCON. These are press release photos of the 2013 Ford Fusion, revealed at this years North American International Motor Show in January.

Given Ford Australia’s rapidy dwindling Falcon sales (even with a 4-cylinder model!), this is the car that sits inline with Ford CEO Alan Mulally’s “One Ford” policy. The new Fusion is built on a modified current Mondeo platform (eschewing the Mazda 6 platform currently underpinning the current Fusion in the USA), and both Fusion and the next Mondeo have been styled by a European team led by Englishman Chris Hamilton.

Hamilton says the two cars will look different, with Mondeo having: “an even racier look, whilst Fusion is bred for global markets.” In Ford-speak, I reckon that means Australia.

It will mean the end of an indigenous Falcon, but I predicted that a long time ago. Ford simply cannot make local manufacturing pay off in any form.
I have also found it confusing that Ford Australia introduced Mondeo alongside Falcon when the two cars are essentially the same size, but the strategy will become clear soon. Mondeo will disappear from Australia, and we’ll get the Fusion, with Falcon badges. The design team are still completing work on a sedan version of the Fusion, which could debut in Australia first, as a Falcon!
Engine choices for the US Fusion are:
  1. 170hp, 2.5 litre four cylinder with 6-speed auto.
  2. 179hp, 1.6 litre Eco-Boost turbo four cylinder, with 6-speed auto or manual
  3. 237hp, 2.0 litre EcoBoost four cylinder with 6-speed auto.
  4. 185hp, 2.0 litre Atkinson-cycle four cylinder with Hybrid electric and CVT drive.
  5. Later, a plug-in Fusion Energi, with plug-in recharging.
Ford says the plug-in model will give more than 100 MPGe (MPGe stands for Miles Per Gallon Equivalent), a metric allowing comparison between petrol and electric cars.

Remember Ford Australia’s very competent in-line 6 will disappear soon anyway, and the engine in the EcoBoost Falcon will slide straight into a Fusion/Falcon.

I'm sure that Australia's Ford dealers are hoping it will happen sooner rather than later, they need this car asap! Their current business model is not paying the bills.

Interesting times at Broadmeadows!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Matiz - Two Bites of a Korean Cherry

In 1996, at the height of Daewoo Group’s success in automotive production and sales, the car division commissioned an ambitious series of concept cars from design studios around the world, including Australia.

Ing. Dr. Ulrich Bez
Ing. Dr. Ulrich Bez (formerly of BMW and Porsche) was Daewoo Motor’s Director of Development at the time, and he commissioned projects from Ital Design, iDEA, Bertone and Millard Design in Australia. Dr. Bez had previously worked with Garry Millard during Millard’s overseas sojourn at a variety of European car manufacturers' design centres, before Millard returned to Australia in 1989 to set up Millard Design in Melbourne.

From the get-go the Australian design company immediately attracted a core group of talented designers, and went on to design and produce a number of cars for both local manufacturers and international companies.
Looking back to Millard’s European adventures, it’s clear he established himself as a designer at the top level. In the mid-1980s Millard had taken over a failed design studio in Munich, known as KBS, and renamed it Automobil Technik und Design (ADT). In 1986, Dr. Bez, who was developing the BMW Z1 roadster selected ADT to work on the project. By 1987 ADT had become so successful it was running three facilities in Munich dedicated to BMW projects, and an operation in Githorn, near Wolfsburg, handling project engineering tasks for Volkswagen and Audi.
ADT also provided 35 product engineers to Ford Australia to work on the EA26 Falcon.
Daewoo Tico

By 1995, Daewoo Motor had decided to replace its minicar, the Daewoo Tico - a three cylinder, 800cc, four door sedan based on Suzuki technology, which was not only popular in Korea, but was also spearheading Daewoo’s fast-growing sales in eastern European countries like Poland and Romania.
Ulrich Bez issued Millard Design a concept brief using the original Suzuki platform and powertrain, but carte blanche from the doorsills upwards.

Project Manager at Millard Design was one of Australia’s most talented and experienced designers, Paul Beranger, who was previously with General Motors, and these days heads up Toyota Australia’s local design team. Beranger decided the Millard project would be a ‘runner’, not just a static, fibreglass concept car. Millard’s team basically took a current Daewoo Tico, and cut it off at the floorpan to use as the design mule.
Naturally this firmly established all the design parameters such as dashboard height, A, B and C post positions, wheelbase, front/rear track, length and width.

The design team led by Australian Chris Emmerson sketched up the body concept, which I was fortunate to see in September 1996, and through my close friendship with Ulrich Bez, I was able to monitor all the project  developments right up to the concept car’s departure from Melbourne to Seoul.

The quality of the Millard team's work is obvious in the finished concept car. Beranger’s team finished the project right on budget and ahead of schedule.
Sadly, although Daewoo Motor included the Millard-designed Matiz on its stand at the 1996 Seoul Motor Show, the Australian concept never progressed any further. It was ‘mothballed‘ at  the Daewoo Design Forum.

Daewoo Motor chose another design to carry the Matiz name, inspired by a Giugiaro concept called Lucciola, which had been originally presented to Fiat.

Ital Design Lucciola

When Fiat declined to use the design, it was recycled into a presentation to Daewoo Motor, and used as the basis for the Matiz small car. This model sold hundreds of thousands around the world and was made in eastern Europe, Changwon (Korea) and India.

Daewoo Matiz

In September 1997 I was able to drive a Matiz production prototype on the Grossglockner Pass in Austria, during the pre-production test programme. You could certainly notice the 800cc three-pot's lack of power in those conditions, but once we began driving through flat Austrian farm land, the car was quite competent, without being buzzy!

The replacement for the baby Tico had a lot to live up to. The original Tico was a very tough little car. In 1992 A team of Daewoo engineers took a standard production car over a 20,000km, 5-day transcontinental trip from London, via Europe, Russia and Siberia to Beijing, completing the journey without any malfunctions.


The photos on this Blog have been taken by a wide variety of cameras over the years, and whilst I consider myself a keen photographer I am certainly not a purist, nor the owner of what true photographers would call, ‘proper cameras’ - except for my first, a Nikon F.
Having said that, I am very fortunate to have been able to capture some great shots with the cameras I have owned. The film cameras were the Nikon, Yashica and a Minolta. The digital cameras came from Olympus, Pentax, Kodak, Nikon and Canon.
My current camera is a Canon S90, and is by far the one which has produced consistently good results, even compensating for poor light and difficult situations.
I have a good friend who has used Leica cameras for most of his photographic career, and he consistently produces photos not only of high technical standard, but also impressive creativity. The downside is that he has spent a fortune on his hobby, but at least he has the photos to treasure. See John’s results on
Here’s a small selection of some of my favorite photos and the cameras which took them.

Nikon F
This camera was purely manual, and did not have any inbuilt light metering, but produced beautiful shots.

Smiggin Holes, Kosciusko National Park, Australia

Yashica FX-1

One of the first 'electronic' cameras to have an 'Auto' setting, and the light metering was extremely accurate. This photo of dawn breaking was taken on board an Alitalia DC-10 arriving into Sydney, from Rome.

Minolta Dynax 7000i

This was my first 'Program' camera and produced beautiful shots. I had a complete set of OEM Minolta lenses, which were impressively high quality.

Minolta eventually sold the entire camera and lens division to Sony, and this system became the basis for the current Sony A1 range.

Thredbo, Kosciusko National Park, Australia
Sponar's Lakeside Inn, Jindabyne, NSW, Australia

Olympus C-50

The Olympus C50 was with me for five years, and took some great shots including this one in Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy. The sliding lens cover was the 'On-Off' switch and failed after three years, but Olympus USA fixed it (out of warranty) for free! Great support!

Pentax Optio S40
This little camera (4MP) was a favorite until it 'died' during a trip to Europe and as soon as I got home I bought my next camera, the Kodak.

Berlin, Germany

Kodak Z650

The Kodak has a fantastic Schneider-Kruznatch lens, with 6 megapixel quality and was one of the first digital camera designed to 'look like' an SLR.

It was retired after the LCD screen failed, and was replaced by the Nikon L19.

Vehicle prep at "The Quail - A Motorsports Gathering" Quail Lodge, Monterey, California

Nikon L-19 Coolpix

A fantastic 'Happy Snapper' pocket camera with an 8 Megapixel lens. You get a couple of shots with this one. It was thoroughly reliable, and I still use it.

Aston Martin DB9 Volante at Crewe Hall, England

Preparation of wood formers at Morgan Cars factory, England
Canon S90
This has brought me fantastic results, and is the best camera I have used. Thanks John.

All of the preceding cameras used replacement AA batteries, as I hated being caught without a wall socket to recharge Lithium batteries, but I was convinced to buy this camera because of its superior results. Then I simply bought two extra batteries, so I always have two fully-charged replacements.

Moored boat in Cavtat, Croatia

Port Isaac, North Cornwall, England

Monet's House, Giverny, France (converted to monochrome using Snapseed)
Fading paint, Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy