Thursday, June 28, 2018


There’s RED as far as the eye can see, but a lot of what makes the tS different, is stuff you can’t see – but it matters a lot!

To the casual eye, this is a badge and red trim exercise – to impress your friends. But Subaru is a car company that’s very serious about performance.

This version of the BRZ (joint coupe partner with the Toyota Eight Six), has been fettled by STi – which stands for Subaru Tecnica International – but in this context I prefer to say ‘Seriously Tickled Inside’.
The STi division has a long, glorious and impressive history of taking standard Subaru Imprezas and developing them into giant-killing rally cars, and other high performance models. The engineers in this skunk works don’t mess around. If a Subaru model bears an STi badge, you know it will deliver.
Unfortunately in the case of this tS coupe, that extra power you asked for is not forthcoming – and you know what? It doesn’t matter a damn.

What this car does best is handle – really well. A lot of the under-the-skin changes are all about suspension tweaks.

What you can see is coloured red, just so you don’t forget what it was you forked out AUD$39,894 (base model BRZ is AUD$33,990). So that’s an extra AUD$5900 for the following:
  • SACHS suspension
  • Brembo brakes with red painted callipers
  • STi (red) coil springs
  • Flexible V-shaped bar
  • Flexible draw stiffener
  • Black finish 18-inch STi alloy wheels
  • Exclusive front bumper, including grille with tS badge
  • Black rear spoiler, mirrors and shark-fin roof mounted antenna
Okay, so that’s a list of extra specification items, but it’s what the STi whizz kids do with that stuff, and it’s all about making this BRZ handle with exceptional precision. You know me – I hate SUVs, but love a good sports car, and driving this BRZ very, very fast, brings a smile to your face.

Yes, it’s stiffer, but it corners flatter, and with steering precision that’s almost uncannily connected to your brain, and how fast you want to go around the corners appearing before you.

The slick six-speed manual is great to use, but I have become so used to driving quickly using ‘paddles’, I would prefer the Aisin six-speed auto with paddles.

However, maybe that would not enhance the BRZ TS’s track day performance.

There’s no doubt that the Toyota Eight Six/BRZ exercise has been a resounding success for both companies, and has delivered to enthusiasts an affordable, high performance car with high integrity credentials.

So, with the BRZ TS, look past all the red trim and enjoy the pure performance. Once you can accept the enormous tyre roar from the Michelin Speed Pilot tyres, the driving experience of the BRZ tS will be a joy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


The link between Aston Martin and Formula One seems to be delivering a dose of super steroids, as it announced the DBS Superleggera, with a 0-100mph time of just 6.4 seconds!

‘Superleggera’ is Italian for extreme light weight, and the DBS Superleggera’s combination of carbon fibre and aluminium is doubtless the key to its incredible performance. This blend of materials was pioneered by the Milano carrozzeria, Touring, which in its latest iteration ‘Touring Superleggera of Milan’ pioneered this lightweight construction method.

Evolving innovative aerodynamic concepts first seen on the DB11 - such as the curlicue and Aeroblade - and then taking things further with an F1-inspired double-diffuser, DBS Superleggera generates 180kg of downforce at VMAX: the highest figure ever for a series production Aston Martin. This significant increase comes with no additional drag penalty.

The heart of DBS Superleggera is Aston Martin’s 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 engine.  Set low and as far back in the chassis as possible to optimise the centre-of-gravity and weight distribution, the engine develops 725PS at 6500rpm and 900Nm from 1800-5000rpm.

Detailed tuning of the V12 together with a new exhaust strategy, with active valves and quad tail pipes, ensures DBS Superleggera has a commanding and powerful sound character.

DBS Superleggera deploys its prodigious power and torque to the rear wheels via a new rear-mounted ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. Featuring a mechanical limited-slip differential and a lower final drive for explosive in-gear acceleration, DBS Superleggera combines the responses of a supercar with the refinement of a GT.

The chassis is an evolution of the latest generation lightweight bonded aluminium structure first seen on the DB11. I believe Australia's allocation (AUD$517,000) of 25 units has already been sold, and deliveries begin this coming October.

The publicity photos show a purposely-designed luggage set, guaranteed to provide more for a weekend’s grand touring, than just clean socks and knickers!

As its pinnacle model this is as close as Aston Martin gets to blasting-off at ground level.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Further to writing about British carmakers’ inability to recognise the impact of poor quality on sales to American buyers, my good friend Mike Dale sent me these anecdotes, which really highlights the problem:

“The quality issue was simply a lack of interest by Sir William Lyons and Lofty England. They simply didn't grasp its importance. Blessed still with the arrogance of Empire they really didn't believe they made poor cars, and didn't like an upstart young man from the USA (especially one born in Britain) telling them so”.

“When I first took over Jaguar’s U.S. marketing in 1970 I had a District Service Manager, Guy Larkins, do a survey of Repair Orders in a Jaguar/Mercedes dual dealer workshop.” 

“The result was a book, which showed we had triple the service problems that Mercedes had in the same time frame.

'Lofty' England (L) and Sir William Lyons at Browns Lane

I made a presentation to Sir William and Lofty, which ended by my giving Sir William a copy of the book. He didn't open it, just passed it to Lofty, and that's the last I heard of it!”

Mike Dale added another great story from that turbulent era of British industrial relations:

“Ford appointed Bill Hayden (right), then Ford’s VP of Manufacturing for Europe, to lead Jaguar, to try and pull Jaguar Cars into shape.”

“Bill Hayden was a VERY TOUGH manager. He wrought a miracle within eighteen months of taking over Jaguar management. Without changing suppliers, or the production line, he brought tremendous discipline (unheard of in Jaguar’s history), which took the 1992 model XJ40 from the bottom of the J.D. Power long term quality index to half way up.”
Mike Dale with 1995 X300

“It's what should have been done in the 1980's but we had to deal with the very recalcitrant unions at that time without any recourse. Ford was in a different position, and Bill Hayden solved the problem by telling them that they had to drop all the accumulated union rules, and start afresh if Jaguar was to continue at Browns Lane. If the unions wanted to continue their old ways, Ford would build the cars elsewhere.” 

“The vote was close, but common sense prevailed, and we started from scratch.”

Thanks Mike.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


There are some strange souls who apparently do not like driving with the roof down. Weird!

However, if you’re driving an Audi A5 with a five-layer convertible roof, heated seats with heat right up to the base of your neck, and an outstanding interior – you’d have nothing to complain about. With the roof up, it's a cozy cocoon. Wired up to Apple CarPlay the A5 is a great touring car.

Headless or otherwise, the A5 is in my opinion the pick of the Audi range.

It’s a compact touring car (with 18mm more legroom in the rear), and in base model guise, plus the S-line appearance package, I think AUD$87,300 is good value for money.

You get premium European quality, excellent ride, handling and performance, and that makes it probably the best four-seat convertible available in Australia.

As other automotive writers have often commented, Audi's entertainment system, and its functionality is the best of all the Europeans. Easy to use for the unitiated and the standard audio system is great - no need to option up.

This time around, it’s the Quattro A5 with turbocharged engine and the DSG transmission, which unfortunately bumps the price closer to AUD$100,000. Having sampled both recently, and despite enjoying the more ‘planted’ feel of the AWD version, I still think the base model A5 is the most appealing.

I’m driving it on the beautiful Queensland Gold Coast on a sunny winter’s day with Brahms Symphony Number 2 soothing my soul. Life behind the wheel doesn’t get any better than this. Even so, I must have been driving much too enthusiastically. Audi says the economy is 6.7 L/100km, but the best I could get was 9L/100km - thanks to my lead foot.

I believe Karmann was chosen to provide the folding canvas roof, and the A5 looks just as good with the roof up. The exterior styling is slick, and the grooves, flutes and edges are sharp, but subtle. I also think it's one of the best, if not the best, treatment of a 'clamshell' hood (bonnet).

The trunk space (380 litres) is useful, but thanks to ‘styling’, when the trunk lid opens, the aperture is a strange shape which limits what you can load, with the exception of regular suitcases or rollaways.

In 2018, overall Audi sales Down Under (YTD May) are up 3.3%, but the A5 sales are up 36%, and that’s my evidence for this convertible being Audi's ace in the hole.

Saturday, June 23, 2018


I wrote recently about the difficulty for both carmakers and dealers keeping the right vehicles in stock, and how, once a car, or type of car, falls out of fashion, buyers desert in droves leading to the endless cycle of discounting, to move the ageing, unfashionable stock.

The recent cause of complete disruption in the global, developed, markets has been the rapid shift away from conventional passenger cars to SUVs and Crossovers.

However, the developing markets haven't been left out, China's jumped on the bandwagon in a big way.

The popularity of SUVs has infected the entire market spread, from baby Suzukis to behemoths like the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. No company is immune from this almost improbable shift in buyers’ desires.

However, as companies like Jaguar and Aston Martin rush to get into the act, the CUV/SUV sub-sections of the market are showing further, rapid fragmentation, which only increases complexity for all parties – carmakers, dealers and customers.

A case in point are two new entrants from Europe, which have to be among the most sophisticated, competitive SUVs which are establishing new levels of aspiration for buyers, albeit those with bigger bank balances than the average SUV buyer.

I’m talking about the new Skoda Karoq and the Volvo XC-40. These two cars have shifted the goal posts again, bringing a whole new level of finish, equipment, competence and quality. Mark my words, I’m betting both these cars will be fierce competitors in the plethora of upcoming, of ‘Car of The Year’ competitions.

Later, I want to write about each one, but just to place a flag on the buyer choice map for now, here’s a collage of the two cars (above), and one look will tell you how serious Volkswagen and Volvo are about setting the trends for this new sub-segment.

Where this volatile race for buyers will end no-one knows!

Thursday, June 21, 2018


A couple of weeks ago I praised and criticized Hyundai’s new i30 N high performance hatch. Its handling and performance credentials compare and compete equally with the segment champion, VW's Golf GTi – but it’s interior design is a big letdown.

I criticized the plain, drab design of the dash and doors, noting that a premium interior trim treatment is what makes the Golf GTi the undoubted primary competitor.

This week I have been driving the Mazda 6 diesel wagon, and if ever there was a pointer to how Hyundai could improve the i30 N, then this is just one, albeit excellent, example of the things that matter.

In this collage of elements of the dash, doors and overall premium appearance created by the combination of tiny details, like stitching, brightwork, mouldings and the subtle and sophisticated blending of surfaces, then this is the reason why Mazda excels at presenting a premium 'feel' in all its current models.

I know that my comments reflect the views of many automotive writers.

I’m also certain the criticism has been noted by Design Chief Peter Schreyer and his fellow designers at Hyundai.

However, one Hyundai insider says that at the time the total project budget was tallied, when the question was asked about where the money is spent, the overwhelming response at Nanyang was one word -   'Performance'.

The dynamic performance of the i30 N will not disappoint any of its buyers, but it’s in the ‘shopping phase’ that Hyundai will not do well in comparison with any of the premium European performance competitors.

I expect we will see an ‘interior facelift’ soon, because three of my closest friends in the American automotive media have been involved in lengthy discussions with Hyundai’s US corporate executives and the criticisms have had considerable impact.

Expect to see email traffic in the next few months from Hyundai’s biggest export market, and I suspect a rethink among the interior design teams in Korea.

Finally, I apologise for the corny positioning of the Mazda 6 in a Queensland sugar cane field - but driving this wagon was, S-W-E-E-T.


So, this guy I hardly know calls me up and says: “Would you like to drive a nine hundred thousand dollar convertible?”

I said: “Only if I look good driving it, what is it?”

He said: “It’s a Rolls-Royce Dawn 'Black Badge'.”

“Okay, I replied, “How soon can you get here?”

Thirty minutes later, the 5.3m long British behemoth glides silently to a stop, the door opens, and I enter a world I rarely inhabit these days.

When I first made my acquaintance with the Rolls-Royce brand back in 1998 the cars were expensive, hand-built, rolling fuel-guzzlers, that shared their underpinnings with the ‘cheaper’ Bentley brand.

Bentley & R-R - same platform, different grilles
Yes, the Rolls-Royce name was far better known than its Bentley counterparts, but sales were dwindling because the world had changed – overtly flashy cars, priced to frighten the masses, had fallen out of fashion.

Whilst Volkswagen Group ploughed many zillions of dollars into re-imagining Bentley, the Rolls-Royce name was handed over to BMW AG, and I figured VW got the best of the deal.

The first Rolls-Royce produced under the aegis of BMW was the Phantom, which one American customer facetiously described as 'A Hummer in a Tuxedo’. Thanks to its ‘Parthenon Grille’ dominating the front of the edifice I thought to myself, if this is the future of Rolls-Royce, then the men and women knocking them out at the Goodwood factory shouldn’t hang around waiting for a promotion.

That being the case, Rolls-Royce has churned through a plethora of designers in the last few years, but whoever's signature appears on the sketches for the Dawn 'Black Badge' has done well. It's far less in your face and much more svelte.

Fast forward 15 years, and I am looking forward to wheeling the subtly dark purple convertible around one of my shorter test circuits. That’s because a lot has happened in that 15 years, especially the maturity in design, finishes, and the many bespoke aspects of building the cars which today carry the famous Double R badge, and the Flying Lady.

Make no mistake, I do not ever see myself choosing a Rolls-Royce, or similar premium luxury car, they are just not my thing. I delight in smaller, lightweight, high performance cars  – like my own Alfa Romeo 159.

However, having been the purveyor of PR messaging for a number of premium brands for almost 40 years, I do understand exactly what the buyers of such cars are looking for, and what they appreciate.

To that end, I was very impressed with the quality of the writing in the press kit, because it scored a direct hit on the impressions Rolls-Royce is trying to create.

When journalists and non-journalists read a press kit, they expect to see all the hyperbole the writer can employ, which will enhance the readers’ view of the car being written about. It will be thick with many solid-gold adjectives, and plenty of BS to obfuscate some of the un-lovely parts of the car.

If you were a potential customer reading the Rolls-Royce Dawn 'Black Badge' verbage, and the car suited your personal aspirations, I think it would go a long way towards the reader placing an order.

It’s sensible, intelligent writing by someone who really understands today’s Rolls-Royce customer.

And, in 15 years that profile has changed a lot. The customers from two decades ago are dying off, and R-R has to appeal to a new buyer profile. Surprisingly, they ARE younger, just as affluent, and precociously-choosy, but they are also smart, and less likely to be seduced by hyperbolic writings.

But, back to the beast. Yes, it’s big, long, wide and guaranteed not to fit in either your garage or mine. However, behind the wheel the V12 delivers the expected silkily linear performance, the steering is very responsive to moving all this car around, and whilst the interior décor is not my thing, it will certainly impress many of Rolls-Royce’s picky buyers.

I wrote a feature story recently for the Australian edition of The Robb Report about the trend towards bespoke cars for the super rich, and it’s the premium British brands Bentley and Rolls-Royce who are the clear winners in this race for the millionaires’ dollars.

We are gliding along a freeway at a comfortable 100km/h, and with a completely clear road ahead I floored it.

The nose of the Dawn lifts visibly, the 48 valve V12 pushes power to the rear wheels and we take off like a scalded cat, reaching 160km/h in under five seconds, and then I immediately lift off. No point in trying for the governed top speed of 250km/h in this environment, but the Dawn proved its point.

Part of my test course, is a steep uphill climb with a multitude of tight, closing radius corners, dips, crests and sweepers. The Dawn did not struggle to handle whatever I threw it at. It was surprisingly agile and while I know R-R owners are not going to drive in anger, the Dawn proved remarkably capable, stable and responsive.

So it’s back to boulevard cruising, or if your kid’s lucky enough, being dropped off at school to the envy and surprise of fellow students.

Having watched Rolls-Royce metamorphise over the past decade and a half from ‘an old rich guys’ pleasure palace, to a more contemporary image, I think BMW has treated the brand with the same respect, attention and investment, as Volkswagen has done with Bentley.

Both marques may face a shortened life span, as the world turns to electric and autonomous cars, but I am convinced for as long as I am going to be around, there will always be those few wealthy individuals who desire, and can pay for such genuine luxury on wheels.

*BTW - The 'guy I hardly know' is Rolls-Royce's dedicated, and thoroughly professional 'corporate commissions manager' for SE Asia, Hal Serudin, who is based in Singapore, so I only see him on the rare occasions he is dealing with an Australian customer - which he is pleased to tell me is a growing list.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Slick pitstops, faultless reliability, disciplined driving and great spirit among the Toyota team resulted in a victory for the TS050 Hybrid racers, and the winning team included F1 champion Fernando Alonso, who’s aiming to win the Triple Crown – F1 world championship; 24 Hours of Le Mans; and the Indy 500 – two down, one to go!

The Toyotas were one and two on the grid, and finished a perfect one-two after 388 laps – a well-deserved win over their Porsche rivals.

Jenson Button fared less well in the Russian-backed SMP team’s BR-1 (below) which was taken out by engine failure after completing 315 laps.

Apparently Jenson was completely wide-eyed after his first 3+ hours stint in the classic endurance race. He said: “Fifty minutes after climbing out of the car, my eyes were still wide open, and the adrenalin still rushing through my body. What a thrilling experience.”

Porsche still managed a classy first and second, finishing ahead of one of the Ford GTs in the LMGTE PRO class.

The much-fancied factory and private Aston Martins did not have a good year, and the major culprit appears to be a poorly-designed aero package, which provided great downforce and traction in the corners, but too much drag to deliver enough top speed on the straights.

Third place went to the Rebellion Racing R3, aptly carrying race number 3.

Actor Patrick Dempsey, who funds the Dempsey-Proton, team scored a win for his LM GTAM class, with young Australian Matt Campbell making his debut, in a Porsche 911 RSR (right).

Having attended this classic event eight times, I have been through all the triumphs and failures by the teams competing, and when you get to about 11am on Sunday, it’s usually a heart-in-mouth grind to get to the finish at 3pm. The final 30 minutes is the worst.

Congratulations Toyota!

Friday, June 15, 2018


The most overused word in business today is ‘disruption’ and it’s not only coming from all directions, but being applied to all forms of business, whether it’s the competition between bricks and mortar retailers, and online merchants; or in the case of the automotive industry, how the traditional dealership model is destined to die – probably a slow and agonizing death, with the loss of many jobs.

Just recently some of Australia’s most prominent owners of new car franchises have sold out, offering the rationale that sales of traditional passenger cars are declining, and as such the profit potential which they can realize through their dealership investments are suffering comparable decline.

This has been highlighted in Australia by GM Holden’s troubles, as it tries to reframe the Holden model structure and remain competitive. Some prominent Holden dealers have recently either shut down, or sold out.

Now that Groupe PSA has acquired Opel-Vauxhall from GM, comes news that the French company is looking to re-enter the American market after an absence of three decades, but it will employ ‘disruptive techniques’ to sell and support new cars.
Infiniti 'store front' in a shopping mall
A longtime, highly experienced American auto entrepreneur, working with PSA, has proposed quite revolutionary ideas, such as pushing the sale process to purely online.

Then, just having ‘store fronts’ so that customers can be hands-on with the cars; also, promoting the idea of ‘super service centres’ owned and operated not by the marque, but by independent operators who would service all makes of vehicles.

Then, the entrepreneur suggests a company like Amazon could warehouse, and deliver spare parts to the service centres.

All this completely bypasses the traditional car dealership model.

Quite frankly, if I was an ageing owner of multi franchises in America, I think now’s the time to ‘get out’. Sell to someone who thinks they can make money, then move to Florida and retire.

I recently became aware of a covert Ford Motor Company project which is studying eventually not having any traditional Ford dealers, but rather ‘viewing centres’ where you can experience the car; after which you would complete the purchase contract online direct with Ford, and the car would be delivered by either an independently-run ‘all makes’ service centre, or maybe through the viewing centres.

Another twist is that all prices would be fixed, no negotiation. The staff at the viewing centre are just there to facilitate you viewing the car; deciding on make/model/options, then assisting with completing the deal online.

Americans will say goodbye to Fiesta, C-Max, Fusion and Taurus
Coming from Ford, this concept should not surprise anyone today. 

This is the company which just announced it is killing off ALL its passenger car lines in America, except for Focus and Mustang, and will redirect its investment into new model SUVs and trucks.

Sole survivors - Focus and Mustang in the USA

NOTE: If I was an Australian Ford dealer I wouldn’t be surprised if Ford Australia makes the same move.

However, this proposal means that car dealers could operate multiple, small store fronts as ‘viewing centres’; and maybe use their existing service workshops as ‘all makes’ service operations.

Choice of vehicle types is changing so rapidly, that the dealers with big investments in bricks and mortar dealerships are struggling to have the right vehicles in stock, and then they face losing money stocking cars that buyers don’t want.

In the traditional dealership model, sales has never been a profit centre. Profits come from finance, used cars, service, and investing in customer retention.

Interestingly, I have discussed these future concepts with a number of traditional automotive writers, consumers and car dealers. The auto writers do not seem to be very aware of how quickly things are going to change.

The consumers I’ve talked to show mild interest, and in Australia, that’s because online buying of big-ticket items like cars, has not yet penetrated the community quite like it has in the USA.

The dealers I’ve talked to stare at me with open mouths, creased brows and frowns, as they realize they are in a business going the way of dinosaurs and the dodo.

No, it may not happen overnight, but then I look at the shock Ford created throughout the US auto industry, literally overnight, when it made its announcement about killing off most of its passenger cars.

In timing terms, it’s as simple as making the decision, announcing it, and then executing the strategy. You could think that’s disloyal to dealers who have supported your brand through thick and thin, but hey, it’s business!

Car manufacturers have much more invested in selling cars than dealers, and they’re not that worried about small businesses, which now need to prove their agility to deal with ‘disruption’– it’s coming down the pike – FAST!