Monday, July 30, 2012

Touring - People and Places

Here's an assortment of people doing ordinary things in different parts of the world. It's a great privilege to travel, and be a guest in someone else's country, if only for a short while. These photos extend the great memories.

Street artist outside the Uffizi Gallery in Firenze, Italy
Camel rides in Tunis

Catching up on today's news - Zakynthos, Greece
Unlicenced cigarette vendors - Tunis
Locals watching tourists, watching locals - Tunis
Fez for sale? Tunis
Fruit seller and wife (manager?) - Sorrento, Italy
Crowds of buyers, Grand Bazaar - Istanbul, Turkey
People-watching and ice cream-eating - Amalfi, Italy
Waiting for the Imam - Tunis
Potter, near Samos, Greece
Religious meeting and photo op - Sienna, Italy
Recital in the street (beautiful Mozart) - Padua, Italy
Smile! Photo op in Firenze, Italy
Slow day on the souvenir stall - Istanbul, Turkey
Still life - San Gimignano, Italy
Haranguing the locals on the Berlusconi problem - Padua, Italy
Traffic jam - Venezia, Italy
One of my favourites. Wet wedding day, doesn't dull the passion - Venezia, Italy

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Touring - France, a Slideshow

Sharing the pleasures of visiting France makes for great conversation with friends. Some never leave Paris, others tour the wine regions, and some the mysteries of the Auvergne, or the Cote d’Azur, but whatever the area there is plenty to see and enjoy.
Right now, the nightly reports on the Tour de France deliver fantastic views of the French countryside.
I have come to feel very protective about ‘Things French’ - and I very much want France to retain all the things which make it such a beautiful place to spend time. Language, art, countryside and culture are worth protecting, so whatever the French do to achieve this result, is okay by me. Even the aroma of Gauloises cigarettes, and I'm not a smoker!
I think the most attractive thing about France for me, is pure ‘Frenchness’ and I don’t like to witness anything which erodes the unique texture of French life.
I first visited France in 1976, and armed with both high school French and an 8 week crash course at the Alliance Francaise I launched myself into Paris with gusto. The more I was able to express myself in French the better times I had, the friendlier people were to me, and in spite of “Je parle un petit peu Francaise” (I only speak a little French), everyone went out of their way to help me. During dozens of visits since 1976, nothing has changed.
Vive La France!

Apartments in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower

Gliding along the Seine, by Bateau Mouche
Lunch in Paris at Les Deux Musee - just great!
Treasure from the Sea
Looking up at Sacre Couer is a better photo than the view from the steps
Jardin du Palais Royal, just near The Louvre
Almost as important as the Louvre, the Musee D'Orsay, which was once a train station!
The only way to get a piano, or a double bed into a Paris apartment, the stairs are too narrow!
The French bag Disney Paris, but they're not above a twee little tourist train, near Moulin Rouge
Absolutely beautiful classics, on a bitterley cold Sunday afternoon in June!
Jardin des Tuileries, near the Louvre with I.M. Pei's pyramid and Le Toit la Grande Arche

Giverny, just west of Paris, the estate of impressionist painter Claude Monet

Monet's garden, Japanese bridge, Giverny
South of Paris in the Valle de Loire, the chateau at Chambord. This was only a hunting lodge! Just a weekender?
This says it all for me. Happy to be in Paris, in France. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ford Australia - Seriously In Denial

I find it (almost) completely comic to listen not only to the disingenuous comments coming from Federal and State governments, automotive industry figures and commentators regarding Ford’s decision to shed more manufacturing jobs, but also the completely ill-informed comments by the scores of everyday Australians who post comments on media websites about the same subject.
Are all these people living in the real world? Do they not understand politics, or simple economics? Ford makes the Falcon, and nobody’s buying it! Falcon, in the eyes of most intelligent people, has been on a precipitous slide for the last eight years. Many times over the past years Falcon was significantly outsold by either the Toyota Corolla or the Mazda 3. Never mind that they are imported, it’s all about size, economy of operation, and relevance for task!
If it wasn’t tragic, it would be funny. If only, because either the management team at the Falcon Motor Company of Australia is in denial, or the people who work for them genuinely believe what the company tells them about the possibilities of manufacturing at Broadmeadows and Geelong (oh, and “market forces, outside their control.” - hooey!).
Even the Prime Minister as much as acknowledged in interviews in the past few days that manufacturing by Ford Australia will end in 2016. That’s probably the most truthful thing she’s uttered since being catapulted into her current job by the ‘Faceless Men’.

My question is: “How will Ford Australia continue to manufacture beyond the end of 2014? When the next facelifted Falcon is due?” Never mind 2016.

Bravest among Aussie motoring journalists,The Australian’s Motoring Editor Philip King has said, in effect: “Ford has distinguished itself by making a lot of bad calls.” He is not wrong. I know that anyone who reads my self-indulgent Blog is well-aware I’ve been calling the whole Falcon mess a travesty for a long time.
It is almost unbelievable in a business-sense that Ford Australia has gotten away with being in denial for the last decade over the likely future of Falcon, and the apparent lack of planning for a post-Falcon future. But, to express any surprise at this week’s announcement renders the person who made the statement either an idiot or someone who doesn’t understand simple economics - of the “Don’t spend money on a dud” type.
Now we have a revelation that the four-cylinder Falcon is not being purchased by some government departments because it fails to meet ‘Green Car’ standards (which were in force before the design was signed-off)?? Can this be any more comic?
It’s truly sad that Ford is a major employer of talented and hard-working Australians, and it leaves the families of the workers wondering what is going on? Never mind, that its management thinks it’s protecting its backside with the various governments, suppliers and general community with its disingenuous statements about the state of the market forcing the job cuts.
One former Ford Australia CEO who stands out, if only for a heightened sense of self-preservation, is a guy called Bill Osborne, who was parachuted into the Australian job, and handed the poisoned chalice a few CEOs ago. He was a smart man, who obviously figured out what needed to happen, very quickly. I'm guessing he probably said to himself: “I know what has to happen here, and I don’t want to be seen as the architect of the solution, and I don’t want the grief.” He resigned from Ford Motor Company less than a year later, and took a job back in the USA completely out of the motor industry!
Ford’s management should at least have the decency to come clean and say: “We’ve been making the wrong calls for the last decade on the future of the company’s manufacturing operations, and we’re sorry."
It’s disgusting to think that employees in such a large international company haven’t been confronted with the truth about the failure of its management to scope out a plan which gradually cut back the ‘local’ car production, much like Mitsubishi Motors Australia did.
I have nothing but admiration and respect for the last Australian to run MMAL, Rob McIniry. He was a man who, despite the uncomfortable nature of the truth was upfront, believable, transparent and honourable about what needed to happen. It was difficult and I wouldn’t wish that responsibility on anyone, but he carried it off with openess, dignity and honesty.
I wish ‘someone’ at Ford had the guts to do the same. I’m very sad to see Falcon disappear. The current car is a GREAT effort by all concerned - designers, engineers, assembly workers and dealers, but it’s misdirected, misinformed and miserable in the end result.

Make no mistake, as a group of dedicated, smart and resourceful employees Ford Australia is truly world-class!
Unfortunately, everything has its time in the sun, and its time to fade from view. Falcon has hung on much longer than it should have. If only an astute management had been at the wheel, and guided Ford Australia to a more promising post-Falcon future.
I hate writing this stuff, but these management people truly disgust me. They are ultimately responsible for the livelihoods of the employees who turn up every day to do a good job, and they deserve better than ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Who Is Driving The Car of The Future?

Lots to think about as we consider several factors.

This week a senior Ford of Europe engine specialist came out and said that ever-more draconian emissions regulations in Europe (Euro 6+) may drive up the cost of developing cleaner diesel engines in the future, and that may position cleaner petrol engines as more cost-efficient for the industry to produce, and customers to buy.

Already, Audi has a small 1.6 litre ‘clean diesel’ that emits only 99 g/km of noxious gases, but Euro 6 and beyond just may be a step too far. Remember too, that nearly ALL European governments subsidize the cost of diesel, to encourage most car owners to buy diesel cars.

As the European governments face tighter borrowing limits, they may not be able to continue subsidizing diesel!
However, while one Ford Motor Company engineer says diesels may die, the same company (in a joint-venture partnership with Mercedes-Benz) is spending many millions of research dollars developing Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs); but we know that setting up a distribution and re-fueling infrastructure for hydrogen gas from scratch may well be cost-prohibitive.

Mercedes-Benz F-Cell (FCEV)
The other consideration about FCEVs is that the process of creating sustainable quantities of hydrogen gas consumes a hell of a lot of electricity. If that electricity comes from ‘dirty’ coal-burning power grids, what’s the point?
Renault EV
Which brings us to pure electric vehicles (EVs), like Renault/Ford. They are all powered by hooking up to the electricity grid to re-charge their batteries. Again, if that electricity is supplied from a coal-fired grid, what’s the point?

Ford Focus EV

Most commonsense scientists in the energy sector tell us that we only really have two cost-effective choices of creating electricity - coal-fired generators or nuclear generators.
You can, for the moment, forget about producing electricity from renewables - wind, waves and solar. Never mind what the ratbag Greens Party says, these methods simply will NOT produce the quantity of electrical energy the world consumes. 

Not only that, we know there’s a lot of resistance to wind turbines for one, on the grounds that they may cause illness from low frequency noise, and they cost a bomb to erect and maintain.
So, for the moment that leaves us with a simple choice for the car of the immediate future - Petrol-Hybrids, such as Toyota’s Prius/Camry/Lexus.

Lexus, Prius-based Petrol Hybrid

Or, a Diesel-Hybrid like Peugeot’s 3008  - or  maybe an ‘extended-range’ re-chargeable hybrid like the Holden Volt.

Peugeot 3008 Diesel-Hybrid
Holden Volt - Extended-Range Hybrid

This way we consume slightly less petroleum, and take advantage of technologies that allow regenerative power to come from braking etc.
Why are we in this predicament? There’s only one reason, social pressure by us voters to reduce emissions. It’s as simple as that. We want cleaner air, but are we prepared to pay the price?
The car industry is simply reacting to ever-increasing limits on carbon emissions by governments worldwide, which are driven by the wishes of the voters.
At some point however, we have to stop and ask ourselves about the cost-benefit equation.
Just like listening to the opinions from five lawyers in the same room, there are very mixed views on exactly HOW MUCH automobiles contribute to the carbon cloud. I’m of a mind to believe those experts who say, “Not as much as we think.”
I am not espousing the idea we should ignore carbon emissions from cars, and just keep driving until we run out of petrol, but at some point we should question whether the cost (to go ‘electric’) is worth the benefit?
It must be incontrovertible fact that the ancient world never had to deal with the amount of carbon we humans now pump into the atmosphere at the moment, or in the centuries to come, so I think it is a good idea to look at ways of reducing carbon emissions. But, let’s look at sensible theories like carbon sequestration by trees!
The developed world is sitting idly by whilst developing countries chop down their forests, in many cases to produce palm oil, used in processed foods, cosmetics and plastics! Less trees means the world can’t cope with ever-increasing carbon as effectively as it did in the past.
We could try using less plastics, cutting back on processed foods and whilst we’re at it, start educating our young babies that ‘consuming’ should not be our main goal in life. Thinking about our whole world community might be a good start, not just thinking about ‘me’.
So, who’s driving the car of the future? Simply? We are!

I do hope some commonsense enters this important discussion, soon. Very soon!
In the meantime, I may take to the road in a Porsche Panamera Hybrid. At least it handles like a sports car.
Bye Bye!

Porsche Panamera Petrol Hybrid

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Exotic Fast Fours!

I don't know whether the world is really rising from the ashes of the GFC, or if we're still stumbling along the road to recovery, but a few of the world's exotic carmakers seem to think the rich are ready for a new 'toy' - an expensive four-seater luxury car.

Just look at what's around, and what may be coming.

First up, a real production car, one you can buy right now - the sexy, subtle and super-smooth Aston Martin Rapide, designed by my good friend Marek Reichman. 

This has got to be one of the best looking four-seat sports cars ever to drift off the motor show concept stand and onto our roads.

What can you say? Marek has captured the essence of Aston Martin's sporting style, married it to a little  more practicality and when one glides down the road toward you, you have to look twice to pick it's a four door. Fabulous!

These photos were taken by the company photographer in Italy, probably the grounds of the Villa d'Este.

Next comes a car I've been expecting for some time - the Bugatti Galibier. Now that the final Veyron two-seat coupes have been produced, and almost all the open Gran Sports are spoken for, Bugatti has to top that with a luxurious four-seater, and this is a great design.

The pricetag will be something you can't jump over, but in true Bugatti fashion I'm sure the performance will be appropriate.

Then there's another one you can order now, Bentley's graceful Mulsanne. This is the car which has ensured Bentley maintains its credentials as the premier maker of big, fast and beautiful saloons. You can order bespoke finish, and the company will deliver your choice, with a custom pricetag to match.

Lamborghini teased us with the Estoque four-door concept car a couple of years ago, but it's now wavering on a decision to produce it. Automobili Lamborghini is run by Audi, and the Germans are keeping a tight rein on the development budgets and making sure they don't make any more cars than they can sell - but this is a great design, and I'm sure it would find buyers, easily.

Whilst it's not a four-door, the new Ferrari FF is a full four-seater, and having sampled it a couple of weeks ago in Sydney, it's a breathtaking piece of design from Maranello. 

The first thing you have to say is, it's huge, but it has a very unique four-wheel-drive system, superb weight balance between front and rear, and just the thing to take to the snowfields for some schussing!

If you had to take friends out to dinner, I guarantee that if you turned up in any one of these cars the valet parking dude would let you park it right out front of the restaurant, all night, for nothing!