Thursday, March 27, 2014

KIA - From Frumpy to Fab! All By Design!

It's not that many years ago I was sitting in the Sydney office of Kia Australia's CFO and he was asking me a couple of pretty simple questions:

"How can we charge more for our cars, and make more profit? AND "How can we change people's perception of Kia cars?" They are of course the $64 questions which are always asked by emerging car makers.
Kia Rio - Vintage 2004

However, when you took a critical look at Kia's offerings in 2006 they were pretty ordinary - and that's being kind. The market saw them for what they were - unambitious designs, pedestrian interiors, rugged mechanicals, but basically not interesting or stylish enough to pay a premium price for.

That all changed when Kia decided to draft in one of Europe's hippest designers, Peter Schreyer, who had led a design renaissance at Audi. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Schreyer, but his reputation has travelled, and he is widely respected. Even though I don't know him, I do know instinctively what he has brought to the table at Kia.

And, it's more than just a few glamorous exteriors!
Kia Optima

Tripping around the Salon International de l'Auto in Geneva this year I was struck not only by how far Kia has come in 10 years, but how much Peter Schreyer's influence has spread throughout the model range in both design and engineering areas.

Kia Concept 2014

Kia showed a concept coupe which was not only different and exciting, and watched over by one of the most beautiful women at the Salon, but also on the floor was a sharp Cee'd GT coupe and a baby Picanto with an alternative fuel powertrain.
Kia Cee'd GT

Kia Picanto LPG

I remember back in 2011 in Geneva when I witnessed the world premiere of the new Kia Rio, one of Schreyer's first designs, I thought "Here's a company going places."
Kia Rio - Vintage 2011

This year, in Florida, I rented the latest Kia Sportage SUV, and although it was just a 2WD, front-wheel-drive version, the 2-litre engine was perky, beautifully matched to its automatic transmission and a look under the bonnet (hood) revealed the extent of Schreyer's influence.
Kia Sportage 2014

The layout of components under the hood showed how designers can influence product engineers. Everything was arranged in a logical, no-nonsense order, which would be an automatic approach for the Austrian-born designer, and it is because he has to start from the aspect of designing a good looking exterior, and then making sure all the necessary gubbins fit into it and onto it.

Now Kia Motors, as far as emerging car makers go, is quite a mature company and its Korean engineers are no dopes, but it is Schreyer's European experience and design savvy which turns pedestrian products by well-educated Korean engineers into globally-attractive cars that will do - guess what? Change people's perception of Kia cars; and encourage them to pay higher prices, which boosts profits.

See, it's simple. It's easy to sell good looking, well designed and well engineered cars - you just have to make them, and they will come!
Well done Peter Schreyer, and well done Hyundai-Kia, for having the good sense to bring him on board.

NOTE: Kia's parent company, Hyundai, obviously recognises Peter Schreyer's fantastic contribution to the recent success of its Kia division, as it has appointed him to lead ALL design work for both Hyundai and Kia, alongside the talented Thomas Burkle whose team did so much for Hyundai with his 'fluidic design' theme.
Thomas Burkle and Hyundai i30

Friday, March 21, 2014

Green the Theme in Geneva!

It is rare to see a whole theme at an international motor show, because most carmakers have their own ideas about what they should emphasise, but Geneva’s International Salon de l’Auto this year was green from the floor up.

Toyota Aygo

VW Polo Blue Motion LowE
Most, but not every display, made some nod to ‘green credentials’, reflecting Europe’s current social and political stance on cleaning up the automotive environment.

Toyota Yaris and Auris (Corolla) Hybrids

Fiat 500 Cult

Australians, bludgeoned by Labor’s Carbon Tax, cock a skeptical eye at such initiatives, because they can’t see how another tax will clean up the environment Down Under.

Lexus GT3 racer

In addition we’re a nation of car hoons much more in love with performance and image, than what comes out of the exhaust pipe.

Skoda's Yeti baby SUV

Some of the world’s biggest carmakers declined to dress their displays with a full line of their products, especially their larger cars.

Instead, Toyota, Renault, Peugeot, Fiat and Lancia offered only city cars, small hatchbacks and cute two-person devices
Renault Twiz 1-seater
Renault Twiz 2-seater

which were either propelled by small, turbocharged diesel engines, or they were hybrids, or powered solely by batteries.

Tesla Model S - The only decent BEV

There is also a ‘magic number’ which the world’s car industry is now fixated on, and that is the tailpipe emissions measured as grams per kilometre. The magic number is 100; but anyone claiming to be ‘on the money’ will be telling you that their 2014 engines will deliver numbers between 85 and 95.
Peugeot 308 - Europe's Car of The Year, boasts 82 gm/km!

These figures are indeed impressive, and especially so when you realise that they are produced by the good old internal combustion engine, be it petrol or diesel. Of course hybrid cars can do even better, as part of their propulsion is by electric motors.

Battery cars are the cleanest, but it’s all a bit non-sensical if the power grid which recharges the Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) is fed from coal-fired power stations - as in Australia!

I was delighted to see a number of companies showing cars powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), because Australia has oodles of reserves of this clean-burning gas and from personal experience I know that this system will work on current, internal combustion engines with very little modification.
Fiat Panda Cross 4x4

But, back to a chilly Geneva where record numbers of journalists flew in from all over the globe this year to wander the aisles and marvel at how quickly the car industry is reacting to social and environmental challenges.

Audi's A3 G-tron

Those same journalists are also not surprised by the Jeckyl and Hyde status of the the Salon d’Auto - right up there with hundreds of eco-friendly city cars were the high performance cruisers from Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.

Maserati Ghibli
Bentley Continental GT Speed
Lamborghini Huracan
Lexus IF Sport coupe
McLaren 650S

Business end of the Pagani Zonda!

Even Alfa Romeo wowed the crowd with a Spider version of its dainty, but quick little 4C coupe.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

The premium car makers will tell you things are booming, and the order books are full for 2014. The new models from the performance marques were breath-taking, desirable and expensive - as always.

Which brings us right back to the green theme. Even the luxury car companies are tipping a nod to cleaning up their exhaust notes.
BMW i8

All the Europeans have some sort of concession to lowering emissions, and the Japanese are way ahead in the technology stakes. Toyota even showed an FCV concept (Fuel Cell Vehicle) which runs on hydrogen gas, while its Lexus brand has hybrid versions of most of its current range.

Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV)

Honda FCV

I guess the biggest news at the Salon was Jaguar’s confirmation of the XE mid-sized sedan,
Jaguar XE

but Skoda also impressed with a new sedan concept called the Vision C.

Skoda Vision C Concept

A very stylish SEAT Cupra made a spectacular entrance, being unveiled by a model wearing a massive skirt, and her dangling from a roof truss!
Seat Leon Cupra
Subaru ViziV2 concept - Wow!

Subaru’s new release also won plenty of lookers, but the most disappointing display came from Opel, which trotted out its current lineup - all of which is looking a bit dated.

Porsche’s big hoopla centered on its new Hybrid LMP1 sports car racer, and the appearance of Mark Webber, who was lost in a sea of media, barely able to escape to have a very public discussion with Roger Penske!

Mark Webber meets Roger Penske

Mark fending off the media

              Yes, the cars we drive and desire ARE changing, whether we like it or not, and quite frankly it’s good for Australia.  Losing our three manufacturers ensures that instead of manufacturing cars we DON’T want to buy, we can now import the very latest technology from around the world, like the Volkswagen e-UP!
 That will help us lower our automotive emissions - without the need for a carbon tax! And as we're saving the planet, we'll be able to go racing with our new Electric Power single seater race cars!

Brabham - An Incredible Racing Dynasty

Had lunch this week with our three time F1 Champion Sir Jack Brabham, arranged by my good friend Grahame Ward, who does a fantastic job as a companion to Jack, helping him deal with his many motor sport appearances.

At 88 Jack gets a lot of requests to attend functions, and Grahame and Jack's wife Lady Margaret Brabham are a great team fitting these events in with regular dyalisis sessions, and some brief periods of relaxation.

Jack and I first met in 1966, and I am very proud to have been able to maintain a firm friendship with him.

I'm pleased to say Jack's health is stable, despite poor hearing and his kidney problems, but when you talk to him about grandson Matthew, the old glint in the eye returns, and his big smile reveals the depth of his pride in the latest member of the family to turn talent into a career.

Matthew, son of Geoff, has just moved from the Pro Mazda Series in the USA, up another rung in the ladder to Indy Lights. In addition he retains his BRDC Rising Star membership for a second year.

His talent is obvious when you look back over his 2013 season in the ProMazda series. He recorded 13 wins (seven in a row!); with 15 podiums, 10 Pole positions and 13 fastest laps. He led 349 out of 432 laps, which results in an 81% domination!

Unveiling the new Indy Lights car

Moving into Indy Lights however has meant a big change in how he approaches the new formula. Matty says: "The increased weight of the car is quite a surprise, it feels like I'm at the head of a train with a number of carriages pushing me into the corner. The downforce and grip are much greater, but I'm feeling at ease with the Andretti Autosport team, and I feel pretty confident ahead of this season."

At just 20 years of age, this mature and talented young man has a great future ahead of him. When I had lunch with him and Jack just a year ago I was so impressed with his demeanour, his self-confidence and his genuine humility. His respect and deference to grandfather Jack is a delight to see, and likewise Jack is full of praise for his grandson.

Lest anyone think Matthew has been given a legup because of his famous name, you just have to look at the stats I noted from the 2013 season. You don't get ahead this quickly without talent, and the respect of the people in the sport.

Just this month Matthew was awarded the 20th Gorsline Scholarship by John Gorsline, Founder and CEO of Gorsline Company, a leader in high risk motor sports insurance.

John Gorsline and Matthew Brabham

This introduces Matthew to Jacques Delaire of the fitness company Performance Prime where he will work on an individually-tailored health and performance program to sharpen his fitness, skills, and competitive abilities.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Jaguar's Worst-Kept Secret - the new XE sedan

Car manufacturers are getting smarter and smarter about how they leak new model news, even to the point of letting some well-chosen scoop photographers know where and when the test programs are taking place!

This spoils all the fun of the tree-sitting; fence-jumping scoopers like Hans Lehmann and Jim Dunne, when it's laid on a platter for the guys who brave the cold, snowy wastes and the burning deserts to snap prototypes.

At Geneva this year Jaguar confirmed the 2015 launch of the XE mid-sized sedan, codenamed X760. It will be built on the new iQ (Al) aluminium platform, which it will share with the SUV concept C-X17. This suggests the platform will almost certainly accommodate FWD or AWD. There was even a very decent front-end composite photo released to media.

The scoop photos from websites like The Motor Report clearly show the stubby tail, despite the fake roof spoiler and complex visuals created by the C-pillar applique.

The best indication of the overall size comes from a shot of a protoype body skeleton.

There's a lot riding on this car, which insiders say will sell for USD$64,000, because Jaguar enthusiasts well remember the disappointment of the X-type. The XE will be up against stiff competition, like the BMW 3-Series and new C250 Mercedes-Benz. However, forget about past efforts, I believe Jaguar's new XE will be a brainsnap.

Look for the launch at this year's Paris Salon in September.