Monday, July 31, 2017


In 2007 tiny Suzuki wowed the auto world with a daring concept car unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show, called the ‘Kizashi’.

It was a concept way out of left field for the small, conservative, but very successful Japanese company.

Equally surprising, it was driven by a passionate, experienced, and insightful member of the Suzuki family.

Far from nepotism, Hirotaka Ono was married to Osamu Suzuki’s daughter, and joined Suzuki in 2001 after a distinguished international career with the Japanese Ministry for Trade and Industry.

Osamu wanted Ono-san to bring new vision, new energy and new goals to the very conservative company.

Within a year he had done just that, urging chief engineer Eiji Mochizuki to tear up the existing product plans and start again.

Clearly, it was Ono's membership of the inner Suzuki family which gave him the clout, sense of purpose and resolve to push through new ideas.

He also wanted a laser-type focus on quality and engineering standards, and he introduced European test programs for all new models. In fact probably his most notable achievement was to broaden and improve the global perspective of Suzuki's staff - from designers and engineers to clerks in the head office.

Hirotaka admitted it was a bold idea, but in an interview with Andrew English in Britain’s Daily Telegraph in July 2005, he said they achieved their goal of completely reshaping the product line, in addition to introducing and adapting new manufacturing technologies.

The vehicles which flowed from this injection of imagination and energy began a long string of successes for Suzuki. In 2004 along came the company’s undoubted long term star – the Suzuki Swift. Then in 2005 the Grand Vitara was launched; and in 2006 the compact SX4 crossover - which was designed by Ital Design in Italy.

Along with Osamu, Hirotaka engineered a profitable model-sharing deal, in 2007, to build the SX4 for FIAT, fitted with a FIAT diesel engine and naming the car, the Sedici (16).

Also in 2007, Hirotaka was the driving force behind Suzuki's decision to enter the World Rally Championship in 2008, with a contender based on the SX4.

Then in 2008 Ono pushed the company’s designers and engineers to produce a different take on the original Kizashi, and Kizashi 3 debuted in 2008 at New York's auto show. Less radical than its predecessor, the latest concept pointed the way to Ono‘s next masterstroke – turning the Kizashi concept into a production model.

It was a bold gamble for such a small company, which had not played in the compact sector. Kizashi launched in 2009 to rave reviews from around the globe for its daring design, great powertrain, fanatical attention to detail and because it was so different to any other Japanese compact sedan.

The auto world marveled at Suzuki’s audacious and bold decision, but Ono-san was thrilled that the pathway he had moulded for Suzuki, with constant encouragement by his father-in-law, was paying off. He was even being touted as successor to the then 80 year old company president.

Suzuki dealers around the world were also impressed with Suzuki’s new direction, its broadening model lineup, its slick production systems and constantly improving quality and reliability.

And, while the margins were not huge, Suzuki dealers were enjoying strong profits from robust sales numbers.

By this time Suzuki had also made a name for itself as the supplier of complete cars to more than 20 other car manufacturers, in many cases badging the cars with the other company’s brand name – à la Fiat Sedici.

Then, sadly, in 2010 that impetus and progress driven by passion, energy and resolve come to a sudden end. At just 52 years of age, Hirotaka Ono’s life was claimed by pancreatic cancer. The bright flame, and guiding light behind Suzuki’s international success, had died.

He was missed at every level of the company for his foresight and drive. One time Managing Director of Suzuki Australia, Tak Hayasaki, said in an interview: “We have a lot to thank Mr. Ono for. Not only did he bring new inspiration, but he also forecast the global financial crisis and put ideas and processes in place at Suzuki, which helped us ride out the crisis and be able to build a stronger company right through the global problems.”

The Suzuki Kizashi lasted just four years. The death of Hirotaka Ono virtually stopped further development of Kizashi, and in 2012 Suzuki withdrew from the American market, which was crashing as a result of the GFC. The last Kizashi’s rolled off the line at Sagara, Japan, in late 2014 and so ended the short life of a car which was inspired, and driven, by the vision of one man. Well done Hirotaka.

Friday, July 28, 2017


From Facebook comes a very well-written forecast on our future as motorists, once we’re saddled with nothing but electric vehicles.
Peter Levett, who lives in Darlington, England, clearly understands the confusion and chaos ahead of us.
But, this is not so much a Doomsday treatise, but rather a common sense look at the challenges.
Over to you Peter:
"I do so hope that I'm still alive in 2040 when all new cars will be electric.
"I want to see the chaos and Health & Safety issues when people who don't have a garage or off road parking have cables strewn across the pavements (and maybe half a mile down the road to where the nearest parking space was when they came home last night).

"Also where is all of the extra electricity going to come from as, from what we're told, the power stations and the national grid are already running to full capacity?
"Will the yobs of the time be cutting and knicking all of these copper cables, and where is all of the copper needed to make them going to come from? And come to that, where is the lithium needed for the batteries going to come from? And what about the environmental damage that is caused by copper and lithium mining?
"What will happen when hundreds of people get stuck on the motorway in winter when the batteries (which are less efficient in cold weather), are unexpectedly flattened by heaters and lights? Will the AA/RAC have electric vehicles too? If so how will they cope with towing 3 ton cars to the nearest (available) chargers?
"What happens if the chargers are all in use when you get to where you're going and don't have enough power to get back home? Will there be queues of people pushing their 3 ton battery cars looking for an unoccupied charging space? Will there be 'charging rage' with people fighting in the streets over who's turn it is next?

"I do so hope that I'm still alive in 2040 when all new cars will be electric.
Well, maybe not!"

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


I have previously written with reverence about the strong friendships I developed over 40 years with a variety of top class automotive journalists and magazine editors.

This time I want to mention people who managed some of the most famous  mastheads in the world of auto publications in the United States. These men were not only outstanding writers, but have cars and automotive knowledge deeply ingrained in the personas.

They are, in alphabetical order:

WARREN BROWN, Automotive writer for the WASHINGTON POST is a writer with a very political view of the industry, because his readers are among Capitol Hill’s most influential people. We met in 1991, and have been good friends through all the ups and downs PR people have when dealing with no-nonsense auto writers.

The last time we met, over lunch in Monterey in 2010, he told me he felt like his capacity for translating spin and mistruths was nearing its limit. Wonder how he feels now that D. Trump is in the White House?

TOM BRYANT, took over from my dear friend, the late TONY HOGG, as Editor of ROAD & TRACK magazine in 1988. In total, he worked at the magazine for 36 years, establishing himself as a knowledgeable, and experienced critic of high performance cars. 

We found we shared a love of classic jazz, and golf – although he’s a much more avid, and accomplished golfer than me. I used to invite him along on press events just for his company, as well as hoping the car got a good review.

However, his presence was usually enough to guarantee all the other attendees took the event, and the car, very seriously.

KEITH CRAIN, publisher of the industry’s most well-known weekly newspaper, AUTOMOTIVE NEWS. Keith and I met during his first ever visit to Australia in 1974, and have maintained a strong personal friendship ever since. 

He even wrote to the US Immigration Service on my behalf to support my application for a Green Card!

He has steered the family-owned publishing company through all the good times and turmoil the motor has enjoyed and endured since he took over in 1971.

Keith is an avid car collector, great fun to dine with and revered by many in the industry for his common sense and integrity.

JIM COBB, was Editor of the automotive section of the NEW YORK TIMES for over 28 years, and was known and feared for his honesty and integrity.

Jim and I became friends back in the early 90s when I was PR Director for Jaguar Cars North America. At that time Jaguar sold unreliable, badly-made cars, and I was fearful of a bad review in the NYT. Jim and I tacitly agreed we would not go through all the angst a bad review would engender, so I would decline to loan him a press car. It worked.

Jaguar Cars got its act together, made better cars, and a year or so later I rented a car to the New York Times (the NYT paid to drive test cars!). We got an honest review. He didn't omit comment about the poor quality of previous cars, but he acknowledged the efforts to improve. Can't ask fairer than that. We've been good friends ever since. Jim retired from the NYT in 2014.

CSABA CSERE, was Editor of CAR AND DRIVER magazine during my second tour of duty in America, and he’s not only a fine writer, but a very good driver. 

The last time we were together on a press event, I accompanied him on a very spirited drive of a Bentley Continental Flying Spur sedan, down the twisting San Jacinto Mountain road from Borrego Springs, to Salton Sea and on into San Diego. 

It was a marvellous demonstration of confidence and control; and great conversation too!

PAUL DEAN, as Automotive Editor for the LOS ANGELES TIMES, was (according to just about every automotive PR person in the USA) a complete tyrant, with a fearsome personality.

His Voicemail message was: "If you're an automotive PR person, put it in the mail, don't bother calling me." (!)

I first called him in mid-1991 with an offer to fly the President of Jaguar Cars NA to Los Angeles to meet him over a private lunch in the boardroom of the Jaguar dealer in Beverly Hills. I told him, I need not be present, and he could have the President all to himself.

From that day to this we have been bosom buddies and after retiring from the LA Times, he went on to become automotive editor for the highly-regarded lifestyle magazine, THE ROBB REPORT.

The Brit expat's acerbic writing, candid critiscm, scathing put downs of crappy cars fully supported his fearsome personality - but treat him with commonsense and respect for his insights, and you had a generous and loyal friend for life.

DAVID E. DAVIS, JNR, was one of my dearest friends in America, and his passing in March 2011 was a sad day for me, and the literally hundreds of friends he had made throughout America, and the world at large.

He supported me in both my PR roles, giving advice, introducing me to new friends and making contacts for me in the US auto industry. He was funny, generous, insightful, a brilliant writer and raconteur. Everyone enjoyed his company.

David was at one time Editor of CAR AND DRIVER, but his most memorable achievement was to be the founder and first editor of AUTOMOBILE magazine, truly the American equivalent of the UK’s CAR magazine. 

It stands as a testament to his writing skills, his insight into a visually-creative presentation of automotive subjects, and his stewardship of one of the most important collections of great automotive journalism.

The last great drive we shared, was at the launch of the Bentley Continental GT coupe in 2003, when we drove across the top of Scotland from Wick, to Ullapool, via Tongue. Many stories, and many laughs.

JAMES HEALEY, or to most people, Jim. He is the longest-serving automotive editor of the newspaper USA TODAY, and broke some great stories, followed by canny insights, courtesy of his wonderful address book full of the most important contacts in both Washington and Detroit.

I once drove a Bentley Continental GT down to Washington for him to test drive, and after less than a few minute’s at the wheel he said to me: “You know, I’m a terrible driver, and I don’t really have a ‘feel’ for what makes a good car – but I sure as hell love this Bentley.”

WILLIAM JEANES comes as a boxed set with his lovely wife, Susan, and both served on the team at CAR AND DRIVER magazine, from 1987-1993. William was Editor-in-Chief, and Susan was the Art Director.

They are such a wonderful, friendly and educated couple, and their perfect Southern manners make them excellent company. William became another of my press event favourites who always came along for the ride, together with his laconic, and whimsical personality.

The Jeanes’ were fortunate to ride out Hurricane Katrina in their house on the Gulf Coast at Pass Christian. However, they wisely relocated to Ridgeland, Mississippi after surviving the storm.

DUTCH MANDEL was the Editor of AUTOWEEK magazine in Detroit, one of the publications from the CRAIN PUBLISHING lineup.

His father, Leon, preceded him by some years, but Dutch carried on the family tradition for good humour, encyclopaedic knowledge, tough reviews and a non-nonsense approach to the BS contained in a lot of new car Press Kits.

Dutch and I travelled around the USA, and to Europe from time to time and I always made sure I was seated next to him on the plane, so we could enjoy a few laughs – because the serious stuff awaited us at the end of the plane trip, and that was the time we became all about business.

ANGUS MacKENZIE is the only Australian to edit an American car magazine, MOTOR TREND. He arrived in California in 2004 with a great track record, serving with distinction at Australia’s WHEELS, and the UK’s CAR magazines. He also developed a great TV persona as automotive editor for Sydney’s top-rating breakfast TV show, TODAY.

We’ve been friends since he first arrived in Sydney to work for a number of motoring publications owned by the tyrannical Kerry Packer. Angus has a very edgy writing style, which completely disarmed American readers of MOTOR TREND, and a good reputation for plain-speaking about the cars he reviews.

Once, we spent a day filming a story about Daewoo Auto’s first car powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). The shoot was supposed to take an hour, but Angus was having such a great time trying to pick holes in the car, he just kept filming. I’m pleased the TV segment was a great success for Daewoo, enhancing the company’s reputation for reliability and innovation.

It has been a privilege and a pleasure not only to have known these men as journalists, but in every case being able to develop a close personal friendship with each of them.
They and the friendships we shared have certainly enriched my life.