Thursday, January 31, 2019


This Sunday morning at 5:45am, I will join millions of global TV viewers,  thousands of spectators, and the teams as the Bathurst 12 Hour gets underway.

This will be the first time I have attended the race, and I will be in back of the Bentley pit watching the fabulous Continental GT3 coupés participate.

Check the following link for streaming options:

Sunday, January 27, 2019


When it comes to car advertising there have been brave, inspired and also foolish attempts to grab the attention of potential buyers.

However, this latest ‘flash’ ad for the Honda Civic Hatch, on a variety of website portals really takes the cake.

First of all, like most countries, there is no adventure out on the highway - there's a plethora of highway patrol cars and sneaky speed cameras, so keep it down or your mailbox will be flooded with speeding tickets.

Every single Honda model on sale in Australia is in the doldrums, and the company’s share grew by half of one percent in 2018.

One would think it’s time to shake up the ad agency, maybe even threaten to change agencies, because the current theme just isn’t working guys.

Honda is a world-class brand, with best-in-class awards across a variety of segments, but really!

The ad for the Honda Civic Hatch is just downright stupid, and communicates nothing that would lead to a ‘call for action’ – that’s marketing-speak for getting you to at least visit a showroom.

In a market like Australia, where 62 separate nameplates are fighting for oxygen, the advertising needs to be bold, innovative and catchy. This ain’t it.


My first exposure to Hyundai’s all-electric Iconiq was in Amsterdam in September 2017. Hyundai’s new EV has established a major beachhead for the product in the Netherlands, and whilst EV taxis in Australia are most likely to be Toyota Prius – the Dutch have really taken a liking to the Iconiq.

Sure there is a major government subsidy as an incentive to buy one, and further tax breaks if they are used for taxi work, but the Netherlands does not rely solely on coal for its electricity grid, so for Amsterdammers, it really is a ‘green choice’.

Just launched in Australia, the pure BEV ( Battery Electric Vehicle) costs close to AUD$50 grand, which is a big hit to the pocket, but after a few days driving, it really is the most user-friendly and affordable EV I’ve driven.

It takes no learning curve, and whilst the performance is not in the same league as Jaguar’s i-Pace or the Tesla Model S, it’s more than acceptable.

The interior is a bit dour, in terms of style and design, but we must remember that Hyundai got this car to market very quickly, in order to establish the Iconiq as a viable EV contender.

It drives well, providing you turn off ALL the intrusive technology before you start a journey. I hate that stuff!

Using the platform and running gear of the (FD) i30/Kia Niro, Hyundai declined to spend big on the interior. Wait until the Kona EV comes along next year and I’m sure that will be a much more attractive proposition.

I must admit to feeling a bit sensitive to ‘range anxiety’ as the fully-charged potential is only 230km, and if you use the 10amp ‘Home Charging kit’ which comes with the car, it’s 12 hours for a full charge.

A trip from the Gold Coast to Brisbane is about 70km, but there are a number of charging points along the route, so I guess you could top up if you’re nervous about making your destination. That is, only if you have an account with Chargepoint.

Right now, the most popular locations for fast charging stations seem to be in selected shopping malls.

In fact the Queensland State Government has been impressively proactive by initiating the setting up a string of charging points on the Bruce Highway, reaching all the way from the Gold Coast to Townsville.

Now, we come to the part that send shivers up and down the spine of EV owners, the world over. That is 'Range Anxiety' and 'Charging' your car. There are two shopping malls close to my home, both with charging stations installed by Chargepoint.

No-one at either Mall knows how the charging process works; they are no help to first-time users, and after spending a total of 90 minutes driving from my home, wasting time attempting to 'start' a charging session, and failing, I returned home, and reconnected to the painfully slow house circuit 10AMP current flow, bumping up charges on my personal electricity account.

When you're driving an EV it is truly alarming to see your potential range dropping every kilometre you travel. Will I make it to where I'm going?

That's the question on the lips of every EV owner. Generally, we Australians tend to travel longer average distances than countries in Europe where trip distances are shorter.

Somewhere along the way EVs may make sense, but not right now.

ADDED NOTE: Coincidentally, in this weekend's THE AUSTRALIAN WEEKEND MAGAZINE, Jeremy Clarkson reports on driving the new Jaguar i-Pace, and whilst the review is almost 100% favourable, he also notes the concern about 'range anxiety' during his own test. He loaded up his test car in London, with four passengers and luggage and took off to his farm, 110km up country.

The i-Pace is supposed to have a range of 480km, but when he began the trip, the range-ometer said there was 190km available before a recharge.

However as he drove along the M40, quote: "The range began to tumble like the altimeter in a crashing airplane. Then there was a car crash, two cars, six fire engines, long queues. Down came the readout, and by the time we reached our destination red lights were flashing. I made it home with 22 units remaining, thanks to running everything in Eco mode. I got home, plugged in the i-Pace to recharge and 'puff' all the lights went out!"

"I took it to a friend's vacant house to recharge overnight, and when I turned up next morning there were a mere 47 km available - pathetic. I took my Range Rover back to London!"

Friday, January 25, 2019


My friend Joe Saward ( has just posted a story on Facebook with Sir Michael Hesseltine’s views on Brexit, which are definitely worth reading.

At one time Sir Michael was Deputy Prime Minister, and in my opinion would have made an excellent leader of the Conservative Party. 

He is wise, experienced, and possesses firm resolve when it comes to decision-making.

I once had the serendipitous pleasure of lunch with Sir Michael, at one of London’s most famous restaurants – Simpsons on The Strand.

Ken Gooding, the automotive industry correspondent of The Times had agreed to meet me for lunch, and I turned up ready for a vigorous discussion about the British motor industry.

I was seated at my table, and about fifteen minutes later a waiter brought me a phone, and Ken told me he would have to rain-check lunch, as a big story was breaking.

I sat there alone dwelling on a Campari, contemplating whether to stay, or leave, when a waiter showed Sir Michael Heseltine to my table and seated him. Surprise doesn’t adequately describe my state at that time.

It turned out that Sir Michael was due to have lunch with someone he had never met, and as I was alone at my table, the Maitre d’ assumed Sir Michael was meeting me. We swapped stories about the apparent mix-up, when the waiter brought Sir Michael a telephone, and it was obvious that his lunch date was not coming either.

Knowing that he was Chairman of Haymarket Publications, which published Autocar, I told him I was very close friends with the Editor-in-Chief, Mel Nichols, and the Editor, Steve Cropley, both fellow Aussies, which established common ground for us to swap stories. Sir Michael then announced that we should take advantage of this serendipitous meeting, and enjoy lunch together, as we had friends in common, had already allotted the time, and we would split the bill.

Sir Michael Heseltine needs no endorsement from me as to his knowledge, wisdom and ability to discuss a wide-ranging number of subjects, but we enjoyed 90 minutes together discussing cars, personalities and the industry.

He gave me his business card , and we corresponded a few times, until I decided that my contributions were trite compared to his responsibilities and our contact gradually dissolved.

It was a very enjoyable and surprising event, to meet and chat with one of Britain’s finest conservative minds, and he’s a person I continue to admire, and am left to wonder where this current Brexit bunfight might be if he was in charge of direction and execution of a workable plan.

I think Sir Michael Hesseltine would be a Prime Minister that the British opposition would find quite a challenge to deal with, and his party would respect his wisdom, experience and sensitivity to the truly important matters on the minds of British voters.

Note: In 2001 he was made Lord Hesseltine.


Biofuels have been around for at least a century, powering everything from cars, to aircraft and ships. 
In 1925 Henry Ford showed a Model T running on hemp-derived biofuel.
In Brazil Ford also experimented with a Model T using ethanol.So it’s not really a newsbreaker these days.
However, on Wednesday, an Etihad Airways Boeing 787 in Abu Dhabi embarked on a roughly seven-hour flight to Amsterdam with its tank full of a mixture of jet fuel and biofuel. The biofuel was derived from oil pressed out of Salicornia plants, which require saltwater to grow.
An Etihad Airways spokesperson said: "This was a proof of concept flight so the amount of biofuel being used was small," Laura Dunn, Etihad Airways' Communications Manager said. "It’s important to note, however, that the steps to produce this fuel are the same regardless of the amount. This flight was intended to validate the process of creating the fuel and establishing the full value chain."
Previous notable flights using biofuel have included a Qantas flight that used a 10-percent blend of mustard seed oil, a Virgin Atlantic flight that used a 5-percent blend of fuel made from industrial waste gas, and an Alaska Airlines flight that used a 20-percent blend of fuel made from waste wood from Pacific Northwest timber harvests
The Etihad flight yesterday was supported by research from the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) at the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi.
Fish do their part
SBRC developed the biofuel that was used on the Etihad Airways flight by combining the Salicornia crop with a fish and shrimp farm in Masdar City, right next door to the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Salicornia is a genus of a succulent that grows in saltwater, meaning it doesn't consume valuable potable water in the desert. The plants are also fertilised by the fish, and any unused fertilizer water is diverted to a mangrove forest adjacent to the two-hectare Salicornia plot.
"This further provides valuable carbon storage before the naturally filtered and treated effluent is discharged back into the sea," Etihad Airways said.
Etihad Airways says that "the biofuel is blended directly with jet fuel and does not require any modifications to aircraft, engines, or airport fuelling delivery systems."
The airline said that it expects the SBRC to expand its operations to 200 hectares' worth of Salicornia over the next few years until it's ready for full commercialization.

ExxonMobil has announced the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae-derived fuel a day by 2025. That's from just one Californian algae farm. 

Algal biofuels provide both a practical and renewable liquidised fuel, which in time can be scaled-up to reach commercial viability, and dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of transportation.

The majority of this story was sourced from the FLIGHT AWARE website (

Thursday, January 24, 2019


I said I would not write more about this saga until the court cases against Carlos Ghosn in Japan were settled and announced.

However, that decision is aborted after it was announced tonight that Carlos Ghosn, under intense pressure from the French Government, has announced from his Tokyo jail cell that he will formally resign as Renault Chairman & CEO.

It’s likely that Michelin boss Jean-Dominique Senard will be appointed Chairman, and interim CEO Thierry Bollore will be confirmed in his current role.

I have reported that this whole mess is a very clumsy coup d’etat by Nissan to oust Ghosn before he could finalise a direct merger of Renault and Nissan. This is the one single truth of this whole affair.

Never mind the mis-reporting of salaries; and Ghosn’s supposed personal financial losses being transferred to a Nissan subsidiary, that's all a smoke screen.

Renault owns 43.4% of Nissan, and Nissan has a non-voting share of 15% in Renault. Nissan also owns a 34% share of the ailing Mitsubishi Motors.

By sales volume, Nissan is now the strongest of the three partners in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, and it does not want its position to be diluted by a merger with Renault, which under Ghosn’s leadership would have been managed to Renault’s advantage.

Like I said this is the only truth in this whole matter – everything else is bullshit, and a clumsy way to get rid of Ghosn, Nissan’s mortal enemy.

Ghosn's multiple requests for bail, and even offering to surrender his passports, and wear an ankle tag, have been continuously denied by Japanese judges.

Twenty years ago Renault boss Louis Schweitzer sent Carlos Ghosn to Japan to rescue newly-acquired Nissan from near bankruptcy. He achieved that feat in less than two years.

He initiated the Renault-Nissan Alliance, but under pressure from the Japanese government Renault and Nissan agreed to include Mitsubishi in the arrangement.

One thing you must understand about Mitsubishi Motors. It is a tiny division of the giant Mitsubishi Group, which basically does not want anything to do with the automotive division.

It soaks up funds, hasn’t made a profit in decades, and its rescue would have cost Mitsubishi Group zillions. When Ghosn suggested adding Mitsubishi to the automotive alliance, both Mitsubishi Group and the Japanese government breathed a huge sigh of relief.

So, does that mean the Japanese court actions against Ghosn will continue, now he is out of the way?

Well, there are two scenarios – the first is that the court cases will go ahead, for months, possibly a year or more until all parties are exhausted - as Ghosn has no intention of pleading guilty to any of the charges.

Or, second – miraculously all charges will be suddenly withdrawn, and Ghosn will be kicked out of his freezing jail cell into a freezing Japanese winter landscape.

Remember, the most important element of Japanese culture is avoiding ‘loss-of-face’, so hopefully the architects of the conclusion to this sad and despicable attempt to sully the reputation of one of the automotive world’s most successful executives, will be slicker than the poorly-resolved, and very public attempt to get rid of him.

Hopefully, before he dies in prison - now that would be major loss-of-face!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


Ten years ago, if you asked a New Yorker what color cars they recognized, the answer was simple – black, or yellow. If you’re a snob, and limo transport is written into your contract then you got picked up by a black Lincoln Town Car – the ubiquitous NYC limo.

If you were less well off, and needed a ride through the Big Apple in a hurry, you hailed a Yellow Cab, which was usually a Ford Crown Victoria.

Both cars were produced on the RWD Panther platform, which was a full frame body-on-chassis construction, and came standard with a V8 engine, first appearing in 1992.

Neither of these models sold to the public in huge numbers, but Ford Motor Company was guaranteed plenty of business from the limo and cab companies, because of their capacity and a big trunk for luggage.

But, like I said both these cars were synonymous with New York City.

Then in 2009 the bean counters in Dearborn decided they were too old to fully replace; too expensive to produce; and making ever-slimming profit margins, so Ford took careful aim, shooting itself in the foot, by announcing to the limo and cab companies that the cars were going out of production in 2010!

Sacré Bleu! The world as New Yorkers knew it was ending right there and then. Ford offered a solution to the limo companies, the Lincoln MKT Town Car (right), which was not acceptable to their class-conscious clients at the big end of town.

Who wants to be seen arriving in a VAN? When, previously, they used to glide to a halt at charity galas in a sleek sedan.

The taxi companies didn’t wait for a solution from Ford – they migrated to Nissans, Toyotas and sundry other models, most of which were based on run-of-the-mill MPVs.

I’m afraid I never understood the whole economic picture, but when I raised the matter with Ford’s style guru, J Mays, he said it was simply too expensive to make full size cars for a small market segment – end of story.

So, fast forward to the 2019 Detroit Auto Show and Ford reveals a full size Lincoln, which would be entirely suitable as a classic limo, albeit with ‘suicide doors’.

However, there's some history here, the very first Lincoln with ‘suicide doors’ debuted in 1961 (1963 model below).

Now this is a car the limo companies could embrace. It looks classy, it looks sleek, and in hulking sort of way, it’s stylish too. Trouble is, Ford only planned to build 80+ cars; and guess what? They sold out in two hours!

According to Lincoln’s design chief, David Woodhouse (left), the unusual door concept was always part of the design configuration. The Lincoln people don’t like you to refer to them as ‘suicide doors’, so the car will be called the Lincoln Continental 80thAnniversary ‘Coach Door’ edition! So there!

The cars begin life at the Flat Rock plant in Michigan, then go to bodybuilding firm Cabot, in Boston, which has been chopping up Continentals to make Town Cars for years.

Personally, I think it looks a bit weird, and that’s because in this age of saving money, the new Lincoln is actually based on the underpinnings of the ‘very basic’ Ford Fusion, which had its birth via the Mazda 6.

The ‘Coach Edition’ appears to have a hood that’s too short, rear overhangs that are too long, and the bit in the middle is all Cole Porter champagne and caviar luxury.

Power will come from a twin-turbo 3.0L V6, and front-wheel-drive! Egads!

Despite this, I’m sure there are more than 80 people or companies out there who are willing to shell out big bucks for a new Top-of-the-Line Ford.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


This may sound like a weird title for a story, but it combines several memorable experiences, both in terms of personality and product.

I first met the late Donald Panoz, inventor of the transdermal nicotine patch and insatiable motor racing nut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999. I had just joined Bentley Motors, but that year Bentley was not competing, and we were introduced by our mutual friend, the PR consultant for the ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest), Benoit Froger.

Donald Panoz, an Italian-American, born 1935, died from pancreatic cancer, September 2018
Don invited me to the Panoz pit lounge to watch the Panoz team in action, with special emphasis on Car 12, driven by two good friends of mine, David Brabham and Butch Leitzinger. Their car was the highest-placed Panoz in the LMP-1 class, and came home in 7thposition.

Don Panoz was the most indefatigable optimist I have ever met. Nothing held him back.

He was an inventor, entrepreneur, and as I have said not just a motor racing ‘nut’, but a man completely seduced by sports car racing, and especially the Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans. 

The organizing club, the ACO, held him in very high esteem, because of not only what he did for sports car racing, but also his promotional efforts to publicize Le Mans.

Fast forward to 2002 and I am visiting the Road Atlanta race circuit at Don Panoz’s invitation. He acquired the circuit in 1996, in order to save and boost sports car racing in America.

He even managed to get the ACO to agree to launch the 'American Le Mans' series in the USA, as a 'feeder' to the famous 24 Hour race.

This was also the year that Porsche introduced its first SUV, the Cayenne, and Porsche Cars America had provided a prototype Cayenne to Road Atlanta, to be used by the Clerk of Course – who would be none other than Donald Panoz.

During a break between races, Don asked me if I had ever driven around the circuit, and when I told him I had not, he grabbed me by the arm and said: “Come on, I’ll take you for a spin in our new Course Car.”

What followed was my first exposure to the Cayenne, and  six laps at frightening speed around the four kilometer circuit. What a fantastic race track! After we stopped outside the Control Tower he hopped out and said: “There’s just time for you to do a couple of laps before the next race!”

At the time, there probably wasn’t a Porsche owner on planet earth who spoke highly of the new SUV from Stuttgart, but I have to say that wheeling it around Road Atlanta at high speed made me a believer that Porsche could infuse an SUV with ‘sportiness’.

So, here we are in 2019 with a Cayenne S ‘on my drive’ and the car has, in my humble opinion, gone backwards from the Cayenne I drove in 2002.

In 2002 the Cayenne was a completely new take on SUVs. It was an SUV with a revered badge, and performance to match Porsche’s pedigree.

However, this year’s Cayenne shares its underpinnings with the VW Toureg, the Lamborghini Urus, the Audi Q7 and the Bentley Bentayga. Of course, there’s a lot of subtle and sophisticated design elements inside the car, courtesy of Porsche Design, which really is its only unique factor.

I’ve only had a short drive of a Bentley Bentayga (which was pretty impressive), but comparing the Audi Q7, the VW Toureg and the Porsche Cayenne I am hard pressed to find anything unique, or special about the Cayenne.

Having recently spent a deal of time behind the wheel of the Maserati Levante, I’d have to say it’s a more engaging drive. It’s not necessarily a ‘better’ car than the Cayenne, but it certainly feels exactly like what a car wearing a Maserati badge should feel like. Like I said, it’s more engaging, and the feedback is fantastic.

Sad to say, the new Cayenne S is just another version from the same mould as the Wolfsburg group of upmarket SUVs. If you’re a badge snob, it will deliver, but really, it’s just a lot of money for a car with extreme terrain-handling capabilities, which you may probably never use.

Leave that off-road stuff for the extraordinary Range Rover, and limit the Cayenne to city driving.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


We normally expect big surprises in new tech at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, but over the past few years, high-end car companies have been using CES as a launchpad for new concepts.

This year Mercedes-Benz sprang the biggest surprise by revealing the production sedan version of its new A-class range.

First glance may suggest it’s been mildly facelifted, but you need to dig deeper to find that it offers all the new features announced recently on the hatch, and the styling revisions are both tasteful and extremely refined.

My first drive of a CL A sedan was five years ago (DRIVING & LIFE, November 28, 2014), and I reckoned it would be a winner, but the one thing I couldn’t get happy about was the rear end design, which looked like it had been backed into a pair of vice grips, which were then squeezed.

Design of the original car was by young Englishman, Mark Fetherstone (above), and the rear end on the new car shows what happens when you take an existing design style and tweak it ever-so-gently. You end up with a much more sleek, and cohesive result.

Inside, the CL A shows off Mercedes-Benz's new MBUX dash and visual display system, and the ‘Edition’ decal signifies that the first production run will feature a bagful of additional equipment included in the price.

No news on the launch, but my best buddy in Germany Georg Kacher reckons we’ll see it in the third quarter.

Just as the new hatch version has taken off like a rocket, I think the paltry few sedan buyers left in the SUV-dominated market will jump on this four-door hardtop pretty quickly.

It’s a snappy dresser!

Sunday, January 6, 2019


So, for the Australian auto market the numbers are in for 2018, and surprise, surprise, sales of regular passenger cars dropped by 26% compared to 2017.

However, the final numbers invite interesting comment on the status of the big players in the market Down Under.

                             1. Toyota                               217,061
2. Mazda                               111,280
3. Hyundai                             94,187
4. Mitsubishi                          84,944
5. Ford                                   69,081
6. GM-Holden                        60,751
7. Kia                                     58,815
8. Nissan                               57,699
9. Volkswagen                       56,620
10.Honda                               51,525

It’s no surprise that the biggest seller, by a margin wider than the Grand Canyon, was the Toyota HiLux twin-cab, 4x4 truck, followed hotly by the impressive Ford Ranger, then the Mitsubishi Triton.

Although SUVs account for 43% of the Australian market overall, mirroring the identical status to SUVs in a number of markets including the USA, Britain and many markets in Europe, their sales dropped 7% in 2017.

Keen observers of the Australian scene will note that GM-Holden did not make the Top Five, and in fact the company’s total sales dropped by 30,000 vehicles in 2017.

So, what are the interesting sidelights to the Top Ten chart?

There’s no surprise Toyota tops the list, because Truck and SUV sales dominate the market, but Hyundai and Mazda are right up there because of very successful hatches – the Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30.

These compact and practical cars provide the reasons to the slow death of large passenger sedans.

Looking at Ford, which suffered the most drastic reversal of the appeal of passenger cars with the rapid demise of the Falcon – it has bested GM-Holden, for a number of reasons – the quality, design, engineering and robust performance of the Ford Ranger truck - supported by good marketing has ensured GM-Holden has been pushed out of the Top Five. 

This is despite its excellent Colorado, Equinox and Acadia – models which I’m sure will find stronger sales in 2019.

I recall discussions I had with Kia Australia back in 2010, when the then management was bemoaning the fact that the company wanted to be considered ‘premium’ rather than ‘adequate’ and price its cars for higher margins.

Kia’s day has arrived. It has taken 8 years, but across its entire model spread from the Picanto to Sorento, Kia is recording strong sales thanks to improvements in quality, local Australian tuning, and design.

I think Nissan is lucky to find itself a place in the Top Ten, achieved by its trucks and SUVs (certainly not its passenger cars), but the products are ageing quickly, and by the end of this year will not be as competitive as required, to maintain this position. Nissan will probably have to resort to panic pricing to maintain its position.

Then there’s VW and Honda, holding on to the last two spots for two reasons – quality and brand loyalty. VW is learning how to price and equip its cars to stay in the race in Australia, and it has had the added benefit of Tiguan and Toureg which have repeated their global sales success.

Honda, I’m afraid, is a product basket case. Its cars are a design disaster, and its small and compact SUVs are barely competitive, meaning they are on the brink of being tipped out of the Top Ten by a strident performer like Skoda – which will launch some incredible new product in 2019.

This year is going to be far more competitive than 2018, simply because of the arrival of a some really great new models, keen pricing moves boosted by switched-on marketing campaigns, and leveraging brand loyalty.

The Australian market sold 1.15 million vehicles in 2018, down some 3% on 2017, and I think the sales impetus, for the moment, is exhausted. Expect to see a slow start to this year, and until the May Federal election result is known, also expect lack of high-tag discretionary purchases until mid-year.

Keep in mind, the parent companies of all our local players are all based overseas, and care much more about volatility in the US dollar; the Trump effect on international trade, and vagaries about when, and if, consumers will embrace new automotive concepts like electric vehicles, and/or autonomous driving.

Car companies and dealers should breathe deep and hold their nerve, because it doesn’t matter how many marketing dollars you were to throw at this market, it’s all going to happen in the last six months – if at all, if Socialist Labor wins the Australian election.