Wednesday, May 30, 2018


The open road beckons, and as a red-blooded guy who loves anything made by Italian automotive artisans, I don’t need a second invitation. Push the red button, a blip on the throttle, pull on the right hand paddle to engage gears, and we’re off.

I don’t know how to accurately define the noise – was it a chirp, a scream, a howl?

I haven’t got time to think, I had my eyes glued to the huge yellow tacho in front of my eyes as the needle raced around the dial to the redline at 8000rpm.

As the Pirelli’s clawed the bitumen for grip we achieved wheelspin in third gear and the rest is a blur. 

Accompanied by the magnificent exhaust noise, the Ferrari 488 Spider launched itself forward like an Exocet.

Bloody hell, what a fabulous experience.

It was only a short test drive, from my driveway on the Gold Coast, out west to the Hinterland, and eventually, reluctantly handing over the red key fob to Paris and Steve at Ferrari Brisbane. Their questions about the experience had the ring of a rhetorical statement, accompanied by sly grins. They knew exactly what I was going to say – they will deliver eight of these beauties this year and they know full well what’s in store for their new owners – pure unadulterated pleasure.

After that short sprint to the redline in six of the transmission's seven speeds, I pulled over for a rest, and time to contemplate the beauty, the craftsmanship and the packaging.

Designer Flavio Manzoni has excelled with the lines, the proportions and the surfacing. The Ferrari engine builders, who created the twin turbocharged 3.9L F154CB V8 have also done their best work.

It is a jewel of an engine, outperforming the larger capacity 4.5L V8 in the 458 Italia, producing 493kW (661hp) thanks to twin scroll turbochargers provided by IHI Honeywell.

The seven-speed gearbox is an automated manual, dual clutch F1 transmission made for Ferrari by Getrag.

All that go needs some stopping, so the 488 comes standard with carbon ceramic brakes, but be warned, if you are howling through the countryside at warp speed, they need to be warmed up to work 100% effectively.

The other thing about the 488 is that Manzoni has not only achieved automotive art of the finest, but downforce is increased over the 458 by 50%, while still reducing drag.

A newly-designed blown rear spoiler integrated into the rear deck and bumper negates the need for a raised wing.

The scalloped side vents recall the famous 308 GTB, but they serve a dual purpose, funneling air into the turbos, and at the same time directing air which exits around the rear tail lamps, increasing air pressure behind the car to reduce drag. I’m told that even the door handles have an aerodynamic purpose, moving the air towards the vents.

Everywhere you look, there’s a contribution to the overall excellence of the car, whether it's aerodynamics, performance or just a simply beautiful coherence of the shape and stance.

There’s even consideration for not scraping the front splitter on your driveway, with a switch on the dash, which subtly lifts the front of the car to increase clearance.

The last Ferrari I drove was the closed 488 GTB, about two years ago, but the test drive was short, and didn’t offer enough time and opportunity to exploit its performance, so I am especially delighted to have been able to sample most of the delights of the 488 Spider.

From a ride and handling perspective it's almost a perfect compromise. The low speed ride is excellent, it turns in beautifully, without any of the 'twitchy, over-sensitive' steering which is often part of more extreme race cars in street car disguise.

Of course, there’s a natural barrier to this love affair ending in consummation, and it’s the small matter of AUD$565,000 finding its way into my bank account. However, at this end of the market I think it would be money well-invested - in pleasure behind the wheel, whether you were parading it in a truly docile manner through the city; or riding an Exocet through the countryside.

The Ferrari 488 Spider would be my choice, despite the sensual and svelte styling of the GTB.

You get a roof which would stop my balding head from burning up in the sun, and then tripping along, with wind in the hair and that gorgeous howl of the V8 following you down the road.

It plays nice when forced to, but unleash it, and you have to call on your driving skills to manage the beast.

But it was great while it lasted.

It’s a magic missile, with excellent manners.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


While Danny Ricciardo cooled off after his 78 hot laps around the Monaco street circuit by jumping into the pool at the post-race celebrations, the Red Bull management revealed just how close the whole thing was to disaster.

When Ricciardo reported he was losing power, the telemetry from the car explained what was happening. The system which recovers energy from the rear brakes, and then provides extra horsepower down the straights had failed.

The MGU-K unit had not only failed, but team boss Christian Horner was told that the unit could explode into the engine itself, distributing shrapnel into the cylinders, and Danny’s car would grind to a halt. Every lap Ricciardo completed could be his last, but his pace was so hot the team was prepared to take the risk, hoping Danny could ‘manage’ the problem until the finish line was in sight.

Christian Horner (right) told the media, in the post-race interviews: "Our reliability engineers were looking at saving the engine's components to avoid penalties at future races, so it was like, 'OK, we are likely to ingest a whole bunch of shrapnel from the MGU-K, so we should stop the engine?' But I said no, let's keep running and if it stops, it stops. We are leading the Monaco Grand Prix. I discussed it with Adrian Newey, Red Bull's chief technical officer, and he was in total agreement that we go until it smokes."

The loss of power meant that Ricciardo was restricted to six of the eight gears in the transmission, but as Monaco doesn’t feature long straights, the top two gears weren’t really missed, and Horner paid tribute to his driver after the race, saying:  "He could have been in Apollo 13, I tell you, with the way he was dealing with the issues today," Horner said. "It was an incredible performance from him and just extremely mature."

Because of the MGU-K failure, this altered the Red Bull’s braking performance, and Ricciardo had to rebalance the braking effort, winding off 7% from the rear brakes to the front, to stop the rears from overheating and exploding.

Under normal race conditions, as the fuel load lightens, drivers may wind back brake balance in steps of 1%, so winding off the rear brakes by 7%, and still coping with heavy braking situations required Ricciardo to make dozens of split second decisions every lap. It was a mighty effort, especially with Vettel’s Ferrari right on his tail, ready to pounce if he stopped, or even slowed.

Adrian Newey & Danny Ricciardo
Following these disclosures everyone agrees, Danny Ricciardo really won the race against all odds.


Australia’s Will Power won the 2018 Indianapolis 500 on the same day fellow countryman Daniel Ricciardo won the Monaco Grand Prix, putting Australia in the centre spotlight of the global motor racing world.
(Photo: David Heithaus)

Will Power is virtually unknown in Australia, but very much respected in American motor racing, not only for his historic victory, but also the fact that he and his three closest competitors were all running on badly-worn tyres.

He's also famous for having suffered a broken back in a previous Indy car race in 2009. 

But last Sunday Power’s tyres just happened to be less well-worn than the other three, and he grabbed the lead with only four laps remaining, and greeted the chequered flag just three seconds ahead of Ed Carpenter who started from Pole position.

This win is a fabulous career highlight for Will Power who has competed at Indy many times, and many times faced disappointment.

However, last weekend Will's incredible grit and determination paid off – big time!

Well done Will Power!

Monday, May 28, 2018


In PR terms it doesn’t get any better than seeing photos of the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex driving away to the snap of digital cameras, and valuable minutes of video splashed across the global media, as Harry’s Jaguar-built, electrically-powered E-type took them whispering off to the wedding’s after-party.

So for someone who dedicated 18 years of my automotive industry career to helping Jaguar survive, revive, and enter a new renaissance, I find this story particularly hard to write.

Much of what carried Jaguar through its darkest days was the harnessing of the marque’s ‘Myths & Legends’ – various PR campaigns, which my PR colleagues and I created to celebrate the company's proud history.

Jaguar racing really began in 1951, when a young Stirling Moss, in his first race in a Jaguar (top left), won the Tourist Trophy in Ireland in appalling conditions. Then Sir William Lyons invited him to drive for the factory at Le Mans (top right)

America's first F1 World Champion Phil Hill enjoyed success in an XK120, racing for Beverly Hills dealer Charles Hornburg (middle left); whilst in the 80s, Bob Tullius's Group 44 team won countless victories in the U.S. IMSA series (middle right).
Australia's John Goss won the Bathurst 1000 in 1985 in a Jaguar XJ-S.

Liz Hurley; Bill Lyons with Clark Gable; Duchess of Cambridge's XJ; Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's XK120; Miranda Kerr on the red carpet at the F-type launch.
The PR programs recalled great racing victories; cars with advanced design and engineering features; and capitalised on Jaguar’s association with glamorous personalities in racing, high society, and the arts.

The single-minded commitment by Jaguar’s founder Sir William Lyons inspired all who worked for the company - devoting their energies, skills and passion to ensure they contributed to the many milestones which marked Jaguar’s success and survival – at times, against all odds.

When I was appointed as PR Vice President for Jaguar Cars North America in Winter 1990, sales were already falling; and in 1991 U.S. sales dropped to an almost all-time low of 9376 cars for the year. 

Through assiduous efforts in PR, marketing, and the total commitment of all of Jaguar’s US dealers, we managed to rebuild annual sales to 15,195 by the end of 1994.

Then, when I look at the results for 2016, I am astonished at what the company has been able to achieve since it was acquired from Ford, by India’s Tata Group.

For Jaguar, 2016 U.S. sales reached 31,243 units, an increase of 116% over 2015, placing Jaguar among the industry's growth leaders and dramatically changing the scale of the brand in the U.S. market. The new Jaguar F-PACE high performance SUV became the brand's top seller in its first year.

Top to bottom: Jaguar F-Pace; E-Pace; i-Pace
The scale of that success was very hard to imagine back in 1994, flushed as we were by achieving a significant increase in sales since the nadir in 1991. 

However, the last sentence of the 2016 sales release reveals a dramatic change in dynamics for Jaguar and I am not sure the company is ready for what’s ahead.

If you dig below the top line stats, you find that the F-Pace SUV; and now E-Pace SUV have received such a rapturous welcome, they are totally overshadowing Jaguar’s passenger cars.

Extrapolating the individual segment data it is obvious Jaguar’s ‘car’ sales are dropping in all of its key markets – the UK, Europe, USA, and in Australia.

Whilst the design and engineering success driven by Ian Callum’s great efforts at creating a new identity and design DNA for Jaguar, the success of the SUVs is likely to skyrocket even more with the addition of the i-Pace SUV.

Jaguar Design Director Ian Callum with i-Pace

There are also a couple of disparate developments which guide me to a sense of foreboding for Jaguar’s future as a leader in the development of exciting, sporting sedans.

First, it is my observation that along with the incredible sales success Jaguar currently enjoys, the levels of production issuing forth from Jaguar Land Rover’s various facilities is shifting the marque from a maker of relatively low volume specialist sporting sedans, to that of a commoditised manufacturer. In other words, it’s now making so many cars that they risk becoming commodities instead of niche British sporting cars.

Thus, there’s a strong push from Head Office to all the global sales regions to push up ‘car’ sales, to justify the huge investments in creating higher, and higher, volumes of cars it is producing. All of a sudden, Jaguar may be becoming too successful for the good of the image of the company.

I interpret two recent developments here in Australia as substance for my opinions.

First, the CEO of Jaguar Land Rover Australia, Matthew Wiesner (right), suddenly announced his resignation a week or so ago – with no indication that he was headed for another role.

Sources close to the company have said that Mr. Wiesner was pushing back on demands from the UK to boost sales of those models which were lagging behind the targets Head Office had set.

Those sources also say that it was falling sales of passenger cars, compared to rapidly growing sales of SUVs, which were of immediate concern.
Recently, in Australia, the UK and the USA, sales of XE and XF sedans have fallen off a cliff. Jaguar Land Rover HQ said: “Just move them.”
An instruction such as this, is code for: “Whatever amount of money you have to throw at the problem, just get it done.” 

Those of us who have spent time in the Premium sectors of the car industry know that is anathema to the image of a specialist brand. ‘Buying’ customers decimates the brand image, and ultimately has the effect of slashing residual value. 

I have known Matthew Wiesner almost 25 years, and give him enough credit to know that, and it’s probably one of the reasons he quit.

Then a longtime Australian Jaguar dealer, Bruce Lynton (right), announced he had sold his Jaguar Land Rover dealership on the Queensland Gold Coast.

Lynton told friends he had invested AUD$10 million in the new site, and he said that the way Jaguar’s sales dynamic had changed so quickly, he was unable to see a profitable return on his investment.

What is obvious from the picture I see forming is that, globally, strong Land Rover brand sales, and strong Jaguar SUV sales are disguising the sharp falloff in sales of Jaguar ‘cars’, and my view is that within 10 years the only ‘cars’ wearing the Jaguar ‘Leaper’ will be sports cars like the F-type; and the rumoured new XK.

Apparently the next, all-new Jaguar XJ sedan will be all-electric, just like the Tesla Model S. So, expect low volumes and a big pricetag.

Just as telling, Jaguar Land Rover’s 2017 sales rose a mere 1.7% (for the full fiscal year to March 31); but that was only because of a 19% rise in sales in China.

Both UK and European sales fell, whilst sales in the USA rose 4.7%, almost entirely driven by SUV sales.

It’s also interesting that Jaguar’s margins have fallen from 5.8% to 3.9%, thanks to a big boost in spending on research and development to keep up with the growth of EVs.

In 2017 JLR spent £4.2 billion, compared with £3.4 billion in 2016.

When it comes to profits, JLR says 2017 pre-tax profits fell to £1.5 billion, compared to £1.6 billion in 2016. More seriously, its 4thquarter profits (January-March 2018) almost halved from £676 billion to £364 billion.

Despite its success, and impressive sales gowth, JLR’s volumes, by comparison with other Premium and Luxury carmakers, are still small - meaning it can ill-afford any reduction in sales of any of its range. There’s that ever-present issue of ROI remember. Thank goodness parent Tata Group can weather the financial storms.

Porsche finds itself with a similar dilemma. True Blue Porsche enthusiasts hate the Cayenne, but that’s the model trawling in huge revenues, making it feasible for VWAG to continue profitably building Porsche sports cars.

Recently I wrote about the ‘Death of Sedans’ as markets around the world turn to SUVs in all shapes and sizes. The same may very well turn out to be true for Jaguar, if it continues to churn out huge volumes of ‘cars’ the markets don’t want.

One of Jaguar’s strengths in the Premium sporting sedan market was always that for much less than a Bentley, you could acquire a British sporting sedan, with a famous badge, exciting performance, and relatively limited availability. 

Jaguar becoming a mass marketer of a plethora of sedans will never survive. Part of Jaguar’s mystique is in the fact that there ISN’T a Jaguar in every penthouse parking garage.

They may be cheaper than Bentleys, but they should definitely NOT be high volume products.


It was Danny’s weekend, no doubt about it. Fastest in EVERY practice and Qualifying, and after 78 breathtaking laps, his Red Bull led from Pole to the chequered flag. And what a race it was. Like all of Daniel Ricciardo’s victories for Red Bull, it wasn’t an easy cruise to the finish.

With just under half the race to run Ricciardo reported loss of power, and with a brilliantly mature drive finished the race with only six of his eight gears available.
(Photo: XPB Images)
Danny was forced to fend off a hard-charging Sebastien Vettel, and he crossed the line just over seven seconds in front of the Ferrari.

(Photo: Reuters/B.Tessier)
After the race Vettel paid tribute to Danny’s drive, saying: “Despite his problems, which I heard about over my radio, I just couldn’t get close. He kept opening the gap at critical moments, and he is very good at managing tyre wear.”

Next it’s off to Canada, where the relatively open circuit (compared to Monaco) may leave the way open for Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari to get back on top. However, with such a smashing win under his belt, I suspect Danny Ricciardo will be chomping at the bit to get there.

37 years ago I stood at the same spot to capture Alan Jones at the Loews Hotel corner

Friday, May 25, 2018


The scene: The Daimler-AG Boardroom, Chairman Dieter Zetscher presiding:

“So, next item on the agenda. We have to get into the 4x4 crew cab truck market, and quickly. We’re missing sales.”

Addressing the Product Planning leader: “How quickly can we get a truck into the market?”

“Ahh, with our usual processes, I’d say about five years.”

Zetscher: “Too long, find a faster way.”

A short time later, the Mercedes-Benz product suits get together with members of Nissan’s product planning team, courtesy of the Daimler AG and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance Joint Venture, which results in the Infiniti Q30 range, created from the Mercedes-Benz GLA.

M-B team: “Can you deliver us a basic truck design, until we can design and engineer our own?”

Nissan: “Sure we can do you a deal. What about the latest Navara, based on the NP300 platform?”

So that’s how come we now have the Mercedes-Benx X-class series truck, produced from the humble Nissan Navara. You are asking, “Is the Navarra good enough to spawn a Mercedes-Benz class vehicle?”

Answer: Yes. Since Nissan launched the new Navarra in 2015 it has copped a lot of criticism about the load-carrying and towing ability of its new truck, and it has responded quickly by switching to new dual-coil springs, and it’s this third generation which was offered to Mercedes-Benz.

The three-pointed star sits atop a Nissan turbodiesel
Both trucks share the Nissan 4cyl. 2.3L turbo-diesel and seven-speed auto transmission.

The only physical difference is the M-B has a wider track, four-wheel disc brakes (Navarra has disc-drum setup), and a completely different interior consistent with current M-B interior layouts.

Both will carry 650kg, and tow 3500kg, but I have to say the performance is fairly unimpressive on-road. Hopefully both trucks produce enough grunt down low to operate effectively off-road, and when fully-laden.

As I am not really interested in testing or writing about trucks I will limit comments to my casual observations:

The Nissan rides better unladen, and is impressively quiet for a diesel, and also costs a lot less (price comparison at the end of the story).

The secondary ride on the X-Class (on-road) is terrible, because M-B specified heavier coil spring settings, and re-valved the dampers. Presumably done to beef up its workhorse abilities. It is constantly sending vibrations through the body at highway speeds, and it will be obvious to anyone who compares the two trucks.

The X-class has additional soundproofing, and increased attention to reducing NVH, but that doesn't fully disguise the choppy secondary ride.

Since Daimler AG announced its intentions, it has taken an impressive three years to get to market with a very useful, and versatile truck based on the Navarra D-23 series – saving both time, and investment costs. Mercedes-Benz customers will be completely satisfied with X-Class, which allows them to remain loyal to the M-B family.

This exercise is nothing like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s a comprehensive re-design on the part of Mercedes-Benz, to suit its own demands, where it makes commonsense, and low-cost, and there are still noticeable differences between each truck.

Don't get too excited by the tub cover, and the chrome roll bar. On the X-Class, they're extra cost options.

The fit and finish on both the Navarra and X-Class is very good, but as you'd expect M-B has classier interior trim, with better manufacturing quality.

My interest is in how yet another new vehicle has come to market thanks to pragmatic, business-like and thoroughly-intelligent exploitation of a joint venture, plus a commonsense approach to product features, cost-sharing and a large degree of the consumption of humble pies between the various product teams.

And, it works! Perfectly.

We’re going to be seeing a LOT of this in the immediate future.

PRICE COMPARISON(Australia only)

Nissan Navarra ST-X model : AUD$54,490
Mercedes-Benz X-250D Progressive : AUD$62,449

I have only one serious complaint. Why didn't Mercedes-Benz provide a counter-balanced hood support. It comes with just a support rod, and the hood is SO HEAVY, I had to take deep breaths and summon all my strength just to lift it high enough to put the support rod in place. Yes, it probably added cost, but I'll be surprised if M-B doesn't get complaints.

Monday, May 21, 2018


These past few weeks I have written a lot about Groupe PSA’s new ‘family’ platforms, known as EMP1 and EMP2. PSA has done a good job of realigning its portfolio of Peugeot/Citroen models around this modular system, which allows for huge variability in dimensions, overall size, body type and model spread.

PSA is also working with its Chinese partners Dongfeng and Huawei on a Connected Vehicle Modular Platform (CVMP), which will show up first in the Citroen DS 7 Crossback.

The EMP2 platform is the group’s largest, and its current representative here in Australia is the Peugeot 5008 (right); to which Peugeot has provided a new lease of life, given how lackluster the previous generation was.

EMP2 is the platform which, if PSA and Holden were to renew the current supply deal of vehicles from the former Opel works in Russelsheim, would be the basis of a Commodore to follow the new ZB.
However, I now know this is not to be, and when the supply deal ends in six years, future Holdens will be built on some other form of GM architecture. That’s if Holden survives in six years time! The way Holden’s market share is slipping, there could be a case for shutting up shop.

So, after driving the new 5008, how good or bad is it?

The EMP2 platform, which is more than just a metal shell because it includes wiring harnesses, whole vehicle electronics, and a variety of different sub-assemblies, is excellent!

It has low levels of NVH, good isolation from road shocks, and a very good ability to resist torsional bending, which helps the handling.

The powertrain is also a pleasant surprise. It has a Groupe PSA 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder, perfectly calibrated to a strong, and reliable Aisin 6-speed transmission. The 5008 drives and handles well.

However, given the good rap for the basic vehicle, I’m afraid it all falls apart when you start looking at the assembly quality. The interior is a terrible outcome.

It’s a result of the interior design team trying to be too clever, with changing angles, surfaces, materials, and finally how it’s all put together. Quite frankly, a trained monkey may have had better luck aligning the multitude of interior parts. Nothing lines up!

To make matters worse, PSA, like a lot of manufacturers sub-contract a number of different components to external automotive suppliers, who are given color match and color quality levels to work to; and here the interior of the 5008 has parts of the dashboard which are even different colors!

During my years working in the VW Group, the head of the Group, Dr. Ferdinand Piech, was well-known for his attention, and focus, on the interior design, trim fit and finish, and consistent margins (or gaps) between parts. Thus, I have come to appreciate it when designers can come up with a good design, which the production engineers are able to translate into tight fit’n’finish. The 5008 interior is striking, different and stylish.
However, the assembly quality is truly terrible.

As Groupe PSA chief Carlos Tavares pursues expansion by acquiring GM’s European operations, and forecasts great things ahead for the new operation, perhaps even re-entering the American market (!), he should stop in occasionally at a showroom and check on what the customers are getting.

Well, maybe not, he’s currently got a lot on his plate right now, like how to create efficiencies which will deliver a  €780 profit on every PSA product which rolls off the multitude of PSA production lines.

Good luck with that then!