Thursday, June 29, 2017


Just as ‘platform’ wars broke out when Sony launched the BetaMax videotape recording system, at the same time as a consortium led by Panasonic launched VHS; and later when Sony launched SuperAudioCD versus Toshiba’s DVDAudio, we will be enduring the same thing with Smartphone platforms in our cars.

The current default standard is APPLE CARPLAY and Android Auto; that is unless a particular car company is using its own, mysterious, self-developed interface.

However, Ford and Toyota have decided to engage in a battle with the Californian tech giants, by launching SDL – Smart Device Link.
The original idea comes from Ford, which integrated it with its open source Applink software, which it launched in 2013.

So what? Says you! Well, here’s where the similarities to Beta vs VHS comes in. Ford, Toyota, Mazda, PSA Groupe and Suzuki, have decided to deny handing over ‘User Data’ to Apple and Google, which is why they have banded together to ‘grow’ SDL into a competing platform.
 The reason is that Ford and Toyota (and other consortium members) want to retain all the User Data generated by the use of the in-car software platform, for themselves. I have no idea how valuable this data is to the carmakers, but the fact that the consortium is challenging the Apple and Android domination, tells me it must be BIG.

A large part of the appeal of SDL is that it’s open-source, which means anyone joining the consortium gets the basic software platform for free! Can you imagine Apple and Android doing this? Well they do, for exactly the same reasons. They all want to capture User Data. Mind you, Apple and Android do not release ALL the data their platforms retain to the car companies, but they do pass on pretty useful stuff to the carmakers.

What this all means is that for now, you won’t see Apple CarPlay and Android Auto offered in any of the consortium members’ vehicles. Again, that means – Ford, Toyota, Mazda, PSA Groupe and Suzuki.

As far as I’m concerned this is a case of ‘stuff the customer’ – "it’s more important for us to have access to User Data, than join the industry in using platforms which are proven, in-use and reliable".

I sincerely believe that the Apple and Android platforms are a safety benefit – if they stop people being distracted by using 'voice control' rather than their phones while driving.

But, that’s not the end of the war that’s breaking out. Bosch has also developed a platform called ‘MySpin’ as an alternative to SDL, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto!

Ford’s decision to go it alone, was driven by its now-departed CEO Mark Fields, so maybe the Ford Board may be forced to rethink the choice of SDL somewhere down the line, and that would be an embarrassing backflip.

However, it wouldn’t be the first time a corporate giant has stuffed-up – just look at Sony’s battle scars after BetaMax and SuperAudioCD!

I think it’s time these guys all sat down around the same table.

Monday, June 26, 2017


Very happy to see Aussie Daniel Ricciardo take the top step of the podium in Azerbaijan this weekend. An eventful race, won by someone showing great maturity while chaos reigned around him.
This photo  really says all you need to say about this GP victory.


Saturday, June 24, 2017


Believe me, I am a big fan of Honda Motor. I admire its achievements, from the 1966 F2 Brabham-Honda collaboration; through to the early Civics, the original NSX and S2000, plus its exploits in F1.

However, from time to time you can see that the power struggle between engineers/designers/marketing suits swings back and forth – seriously affecting the products on sale in global dealerships.

Now, without being offensive, we know that many oriental buyers appreciate a bit of bling, and affectation, for its own sake. But Honda needs to remember it sells cars to the world, and not everything that appeals to oriental tastes will also appeal globally.

Such is the latest Honda Civic RS. The big rear spoiler and the 'RS' badge suggests ‘hot stuff’, but believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. The Civic RS is simply a ‘nice’ domesticated touring car for the burbs.

Any sign of Honda’s long links with F1, or its Ferrari-like NSX coupe does not translate into the Civic RS.

Also, the latest Civic is not ‘Made in Japan’. It might be designed in Japan, but it springs from Honda’s huge plant in Prachin Buro Province in Thailand.

Honda joins a number (actually 15) global carmakers, who have set up either CKD, or full manufacturing operations in Thailand, thanks to the free trade pact signed by all Asean nations and many Europeans as well.

So, the Hondas which roll off the RO-RO ships in Australia/America/Europe from Thailand represent the excellent assembly quality produced by Thai auto workers, and undoubtedly cost-effective manufacturing and assembly operations.

So, if the quality’s okay, and the performance is okay, what’s not to like? Well, actually nothing really.

The Honda Civic RS is a quality car, with excellent fit and finish, and no doubt the longevity which has been a Honda trademark for decades.

What this car doesn’t deliver is any possible form of excitement, dynamic thrill or buzz for enthusiasts.

It’s just a ‘nice’ car. With a good sound system (but, no Apple CarPlay).

The trunk is incredibly capacious, a function of being much bigger than the original Civic.

The ‘side view camera' is a neat inclusion, which becomes easy to rely on, and actually, it is really useful technology.

On the road, the handling is predictable, competent and responsive.

The performance from the 1.5L turbo four is fine, but the JATCO CVT transmission is a bit ponderous, and certainly not ‘snappy’.

The Civic RS is trading on the promise of the badge, and it just doesn’t deliver.

If you read Driving & Life regularly, you know I do not like intrusive technology, but the fact that Honda hasn’t included even the basics, suggests the marketing suits are out of step with Honda’s competitors.

I remember back in the late 90s, when a neighbor asked my opinion of the current Civic Hatch.

He was an enthusiast, and I told him the car was a good choice – and he loved it.

Apart from the high quality interior, and the big touchscreen, the 2017 Honda Civic seems to have forgotten all the elements of its original appeal. It’s not sporty, it’s not a performance car, and it’s styling is awkward.
It’s just a ‘nice’ car.

What a terrible epithet to endow on a car! Especially a Honda!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


With hips like Brigitte Bardot, and a minimalist interior design, the new Clio Zen not only comes with a big dash of French chic, but also very sharp pricing.

After 300km, and a lot of envious looks, and enquiries, the Clio Zen says au revoir, leaving me pining for more than temporary ownership.

I have just one gripe – more on that later

Powered by Renault’s 1.2L turbocharged 88kW four cylinder, the Clio delivers impressive performance, and the Getrag 6-speed DCT gearbox is a perfect match.

There’s no shunting, hunting and jerky low-speed confusion – it’s perfectly smooth, across the range, and up and down changes are almost imperceptible.

Yes, it’s small, but is it just a shopping trolley?

No, out on the highway the Clio can mix it with the big boys and still deliver around 5.2 L/100km.

There’s a lot to like in the mid-level Zen, especially at AUD$19,990 (plus on road costs). I think it's a good value proposition coming with 16” alloy wheels, LED headlights, GPS Navigation, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, Voice recognition and keyless start.

The audio system features Bose premium speakers, and delivers excellent tonal response.

However, here’s my single complaint about this car – there’s no ignition-accessory position, so you can switch the engine off and still listen to music.

Back in the early 70s I was a Renault owner, with a mustard Renault 10 carrying me and my family, delivering impressive performance, excellent fuel economy and an exceptionally-comfortable ride. 

The handling? Well, let’s say that for a 1000kg RWD car the front wandered in a crosswind, and whilst the Michelin X tyres gave phenomenal wear, their grip in the wet was a bit iffy.

A carton of red wine in the front luggage space solved the handling issues, and swapping to Dunlop SP sport tyres on one inch wider rims improved the grip in the rain.

I mention this because I see the Clio replicating all the features which appealed to me about the Renault 10.

The Clio is light, performs well, returns good fuel economy, has a capacious trunk and it’s competitively priced.

The standard Continental tyres give superb adhesion, but as it didn’t rain whilst I had the car, I can’t refer to their wet weather behavior.

In my mind the Clio is a ‘Classic’ Renault, capitalizing on all the qualities which became obvious in the immediate post-Second World War period when it provided cheap, economical and practical transport for millions of French families with cars like the Renault 4CV, which morphed into the popular Renault Dauphine.

This year Clio sales have wobbled due to all the stock of the superseded model selling out, and the delay in the new models coming to showrooms, but still Renault’s overall share is holding strong, and in the Clio segment it has been holding a steady 3%+ over the last year.

This is a Renault true to the company's roots. With the pricing sharpened, I forecast steady improvement for this car, which delivers on all its promises.

The Clio handles well, the new electrically-assisted steering is sharp and the ride is incredibly comfortable for a short wheelbase car.

So you say, what do you choose? Brigitte Bardot, or the Clio? It’s a no brainer, the Clio will cost me a one-time payout of around $23 Grand – keeping Brigitte and her makeup, plus her pet food costs would certainly fully drain my bank account in the long run. And, she lives in France.