Tuesday, December 31, 2019

THE ROAD AHEAD by John Crawford

Okay, no resolutions because I find them hard to keep, but here's some predictions for 2020:

1. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe PSA's planned merger will go through, but don't be surprised if a few years from now this doesn't also turn out to be just like the Mercedes-Benz & Chrysler 'Merger of Equals', and the FIAT CHRYSLER names gradually disappear from the corporate mantle. The brand names will survive.

2. Nissan is going to end up exactly where it didn't want to be - the VERY JUNIOR party in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, now that Hiroto Saikawa has been replaced by a Nissan executive who hasn't said 'boo' since he was appointed. Now what was his name again?

3. Carlos Ghosn's 'trial' in Japan will come to nothing. Already, we know he has apparently 'skipped bail' and has arrived back in his birth country, Lebanon. However, given he was wearing a security anklet and was under surveillance, something tells me the authorities have blinked, and he has been 'allowed' to leave Japan.

4. In Australia, Holden will be totally re-invented as a small to medium-sized importer, and GM will sell off the management rights for the distribution of its  SUV/truck range to Inchcape plc. Remember I reported that GM had already offered Holden to Groupe PSA; but PSA may eventually have some input into the new operation, because Inchcape plc is the Groupe PSA distributor in Australia.

5. The transition of the sale of masses of electric cars to the ICE-car-owning community will not happen any time soon. For all the hoo-haa from the industry about how quickly it is moving to electrify its ranges of cars, the re-charging infrastructure on a global scale simply cannot support such a rapid growth of cars. There isn't a single, developed country in the world today which could cope with masses of electric cars. In addition, battery technology (whilst much improved) is still not able to compete with the dense-energy component of petrol/diesel powered engines.

6. To add to that, renewable energy is still, and won't be able for a long time, to generate any more than roughly 5% of a base load. Not only that, and this is aimed squarely at the Greens, the breakup and recycling of old, out-of-use windfarms, plus the recycling of 'dead' solar panels will be an environmental cleanup nightmare.

7. Despite my early objections, I now believe the only solution to large scale energy generation for the future will be from modern nuclear plants.

Regardless of my dire outburst, I hope you have a happy, challenging but satisfying, and healthy New Year.


Saturday, December 28, 2019


I have been fortunate to know Bernie Ecclestone since 1985, the inaugural Grand Prix in Adelaide, when we were introduced by my dear friend Stirling Moss. Since then I look forward to receiving Bernie's annual Christmas card. It takes the form of a cartoon, and every year Bernie manages to have a dig at someone, or something. This year is no different.

It usually arrives between Christmas and New Year, and used to serve as a reminder  to put the past year behind us, and create anticipation for the coming Formula One season.

However this year I am reminded that I can no longer enjoy F1 on free-to-air television in Australia, ever since Liberty and Chase Carey decided to sell the TV rights only to Pay TV companies. I do have a monthly cable TV subscription of around AUD$83 a month, for basic service plus a couple of documentary and lifestyle channels.

However, if I want to watch JUST Formula One on FOX SPORTS, I have to pay an extra AUD$28 a month, which includes ALL sports - most of which I have zero interest in.

I can't even watch an hour of (delayed) highlights on free-to-air. Consequently I can only access the few minutes of highlights on the F1 website after each race.

So this means I no longer have the same sense of anticipation for the forthcoming season, the outcomes and results are just fact data.

I realise Bernie had a big reputation for making money out of everything and anything connected with F1, before he was de-commissioned, but I think he was smart enough to recognise that the more people you had watching the sport, delivered more potential for profit.

However, thanks for the card Bernie, it's good to keep in touch.


Thursday, December 12, 2019


Anyone who reads DRIVING&LIFE regularly knows I am very much anti-SUVs. In a role fit for purpose, they are practical, versatile and appropriate. However, it shouldn't escape your notice that most SUVs are not used for their intended purpose, so this piece struck a chord with me.

It’s an interesting take of the phenomenal jump in the sales of SUVs by Matt Reynolds in ‘WIRED UK’ on December 6, 2019, and their real impact on our world. This is just an extract, but you’ll get the point.

In 1973, while petrol stations filled with long queues, the powerful American automotive lobby was whispering in the ear of Congress, which was in the middle of devising new taxes to be placed on fuel-inefficient cars. In 1978 Congress voted that vehicles which fell too far below federally-mandated fuel targets would be hit with a heavy levy which is still in place today. But light trucks – the category into which domestic SUVs fell – were exempt from this tax, after rural and auto-manufacturing states pleaded that it would unfairly hit farmers, who used their vehicles for work.

But the law had another effect: encouraging car manufacturers to start producing SUVs, which they could charge more for, while avoiding the fuel levy. When oil prices started tumbling in the mid-1980s the last barrier to SUV ownership was gone, and cars started growing bigger and less fuel efficient.

By 1999 the sale of SUVs and light trucks exceeded the sale of regular passenger cars for the first time. 

By 2022, nine out of every ten Ford vehicles sold in the US will be an SUV or truck.

Britain's rolling green hills and tiny villages - probably the most inappropriate place for SUVs.
For decades, the UK resisted the rise of the SUV. “The trend for many years was for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars,” says David Bailey, Professor of Business Economics at Birmingham University’s Business School.

That all changed in 2007, with the launch of the Nissan Qashqai (left), which offered a more svelte alternative to the hulking SUVs popular in America.

In addition to being heavy and gas-guzzling – the average modern petrol SUV emits over ten per cent more CO2 per kilometre than the average petrol car – SUVs have long been marketed as a way of getting people back to nature.

SUV adverts are replete with images of cars off-roading over rugged and unexplored natural terrain.

In reality, SUV ownership tends to cluster in urban areas and only one to 13 per cent of drivers ever use their vehicles for off-road driving, according to Keith Bradsher’s 2004 book ‘High and Mighty: SUVs – The World’s Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way’.

With conventional car sales stagnating, car manufacturers are pinning their hopes on SUVs and their very seductive and lucrative profit margins. Of 2019’s ten best-selling cars in the UK, three are SUVs. And while more fuel efficient and electric cars are starting to make a dent in the passenger car market, SUVs have been relatively resistant to electrification.

While overall emissions from passenger cars fell by 75 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) between 2010 and 2018, emissions from SUVs grew by 544 metric tonnes – more than the increase from heavy industry, aviation, trucks or shipping.

With their hulking weight and high driving position, SUVs exude a feeling of safety for those behind the wheel, but it can sometimes be an illusion. In 2003, traffic data from the US government found that people driving or riding in an SUV were 11 per cent more likely to die in an accident than people in cars – thanks to their high centre of gravity and tendency to roll over in crashes.
An example of my own personal experience in 11 North American winters in both New Jersey and Michigan. SUV drivers totally underestimate the impact of a high centre of gravity and believe 4WD will 'save' them from an accident. Well, Duh!
Laura Cozzi, the chief energy modeller at the International Energy Agency (IEA) said:  “When you drive in a regular old sedan on the highway, everyone else's headlights are right in your face,” she says. “It actually is hard to drive when you are the only one left on the road in a normal car.”

They’re even worse news for pedestrians: SUVs are around twice as likely as cars to kill pedestrians they hit. With their high bumpers, SUVs tend to hit pedestrians in the chest and knock them to the ground, rather than flipping them onto the relatively soft bonnet, as is the case in passenger cars.

Despite being less fuel efficient, more polluting and sometimes more dangerous than passenger cars, the SUV isn’t going anywhere.

Lamborghini Urus launch in Capetown, South Africa

Growing sales in Africa and the rest of the developing world suggest that when car drivers become more affluent, they start thinking about upgrading to larger vehicles. But if we can’t kick our love affair with SUVs, how else can we get out of the environmental cul-de-sac we’re driving down?

But the clock is ticking. Transport is Europe’s biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions and oil consumption in the EU, and rising at its fastest pace since 2001. The European Commission has set the EU the target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, while the UK has set itself a legally-binding goal to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Any monumental confusion among today’s SUV owners, and how their choice of vehicle relates to the protection of the environment, or gas-guzzling does not appear apparent right now.

Just look at Toyota's ad campaigns aimed at millenials who might originally think of buying a passenger car - only to be seduced by deals on SUVs, because .... the profit margin is higher!

Perhaps, after a couple of year’s ownership, the full impact of the poor fuel economy, the increased servicing costs and the dreadful residual values will hit home. SUVs may accommodate a growing family and all their stuff, but they are probably the most inappropriate choice for family motoring – when I believe a stylish station wagon, like the Skoda Superb, would be a much smarter choice.

However, the truth is, I’m out of touch. SUVs will be with us for a while longer, although current sales stats show demand for mid-size and large SUVs is tapering off in favour of small and compact models.

Mind you, a decent compact petrol hatchback is still probably a better choice for more economical motoring that won’t destroy the planet.

Kia Cerato (top) and Audi A5 Sportback

Saturday, December 7, 2019


I'm afraid the Australian motoring media are no different to their counterparts around the world. The PR departments of the car companies feed them 'biscuits' and they grab 'em, and munch away.

This week GM-Holden said the Commodore would get a facelift and denied any decision that the Insignia-based sedan and wagon were going to disappear.

Sorry guys. The facelift was pencilled in back in 2017, and will go ahead, simply because both Opel and Vauxhall will get the facelift, prior to Groupe PSA dropping the Opel-developed platform, before transitioning both nameplates over to the successor of the 2020 Peugeot 508.

Honestly, these journalists need a good talking to. It's worth pointing out that despite their many years of free Business Class trips around the world to breathlessly report on new cars, most of them do not have a scintilla of knowledge about the industry works.

They have no idea about model funding, facelifts, tooling updates or production engineering. They turn up at a press event, drive the car, collect the press kit and write the story based on the information released by the carmaker.

My good friend Paul Gover, who has many years of experience on the current crop of 'motoring writers' has the inside line of what carmakers are planning, but our youthful 'aspirants' have a lot to learn about reporting, and more importantly, digging for the 'back story'.

However, reporting the truth could see them dropped off the list for forthcoming new car launches. That would make a dent in their frequent flier balance.


Thursday, December 5, 2019


David Dicker and Robert Logan are very different men, one a tech billionaire, and the other a retired Navy engineer, but in one way they are almost identical.

Both dreamed of creating a car and both have done it. In the case of Logan, he’s done it twice.

Now they are each looking to commercialise their creations in a world where there seems to be plenty of interest in cars that go fast, provide rewarding feedback, and can be taken to racetracks on weekends for maximum play time.

Dicker’s car is called the Rodin FZED, taking its name from the famous statue called ’The Thinker’, and Logan’s is the Gurney Eagle Tribute.

David Dicker and FZED

Dicker’s is an up-to-the-minute high-tech single-seater that will be spun-off into a two-seater model and eventually a road car, and he is based at a state-of-the-art technology campus that sits alongside his personal, and private, racetrack about an hour north of Christchurch in New Zealand's South Island.

Logan now operates from his garage, after closing down the Roaring Forties company that built some of the world’s best GT40 re-creations, although he is plugged into a vast network of suppliers and experts in Melbourne and is ready to go with a factory plan if his car is a hit.

Robert Logan (left)

And what about those cars . . .
The FZED has its roots at Lotus (see the T15 Project) and is as high-tech as it gets, while the Gurney is a tube-frame re-imagining with a Ford V8 engine and old-school bodywork with zero aerodynamic aids and even old-fashioned treaded tyres.

Supercars' Greg Murphy in an FZED
The FZED is already tested and developed and Dicker is looking to sell cars for around $1 million, while the Gurney is about to go into testing with John Bowe at the wheel and a plan for customer cars at around $650,000.

It’s impossible not to get caught up in the enthusiasm as I’m talking to Dicker and Logan.

They are a passionate pair.

“There is nothing to say you cannot earn a living from something you enjoy doing,” Dicker tells me. “It's fun. I enjoy doing it. If I’d realised how long it would take and what it would cost, I probably would have hesitated.

“But what’s the point? Die with a million bucks in the bank? When I’m dead I’m not going to be bothered.”

He does a lot of FZED test driving himself, reasoning that he is more like a potential buyer than a full-on race-car driver, and is hands-on with every process right through to the steering wheels that are 3D printed in titanium.

“I’ve been driving cars for nearly 50 years and had a huge interest in them right from the start. I’ve got tons of Ferraris and tons of this and that. I’ve got a lot of experience of the market and how things should be done.

“I’ve got a clear picture of what I want done and how I want to get it done. To be competitive in the market you’ve got to do things the other guys don’t do. “I designed the F-Zero (below).

I do the concept stuff and hand it over to the other guys.”

Logan is also completely responsible for the concept of the Gurney Eagle, which has been designed with interchangeable bodywork so it can also be morphed into a Ferrari, a BRM, a Lotus or a Honda. He even hand-formed the car’s gorgeous exhaust pipes.

Logan's Roaring Forties produced more than two-dozen 21st century GT40s and Logan says the story of the Eagle has similar roots.

“A bit like the GT40, when I saw a replica which encouraged me to build one for myself, because I realised we could do much better. The F1 project has a similar genesis. I saw a car in the UK called an F1-67 … so decided to do it myself,” he says.

“The first car has taken me more than 4000 hours to date, and about $200,000, but this is the prototype and costs much more.

“I made a mock-up of a chassis with wood and plumber's pipes to get some idea.

Obviously all the Roaring Forties running gear had a very well proven history after clocking 282km/h.

“I plan to do absolutely everything in-house. It is just about control, quality control, just as I did with Roaring Forties.”

Logan has just shown his car at the historic race meeting at Sandown Park in Melbourne, where John Bowe and Kevin Bartlett both jumped into the cockpit.

Trying it for size - Kevin Bartlett (L), John Bowe (R)

“I love the cars from that era. In the sixties the cars looked so good. It will be a fun car,” Bowe says. “The car is very well built. It’s very robust.”

“I did sit my arse in it for a little while. It’s fairly clever and all of that sort of stuff,” says Bartlett. “The concept is clever. There is no doubt in the world about that. He will find a market for it.”

But, regardless of the sales results for the Eagle and the FZED, both of their creators are happy, and their cars are creating smiles with everyone who sees them.

Paul Gover

Wednesday, December 4, 2019


If you read DRIVING&LIFE regularly you will remember that over the last several years I have made serious and dire prognostications about GM-HOLDEN’s chances, in a world where it was no longer the dominant local manufacturer and sales leader in Australia.

This week’s announcement that former Toyota boss Dave Buttner (right) will depart after barely 16 months as Holden’s Chairman and CEO, is no surprise to me. He was lured out of retirement to lead Holden’s revival, after a highly successful 22 years at Toyota Australia. So, none of the following comes as a shock.

First, I revealed that in the talks between GM’s Chair Mary Barra and Groupe PSA’s head, Carlos Tavares, when GM sold GM Europe (Opel-Vauxhall) to Groupe PSA, Ms. Barra also threw Holden into the mix, which Tavares politely declined.

When Holden announced the end of manufacturing in 2017 a journalist at the press conference asked if GM-Holden would be able to maintain its market share, and although not confirmed by GM-Holden executives, the feeling among Holden management was that it could see a 10%-15% share remaining – given the ‘exciting’ vehicles in the pipeline.

Then came mistake number one, deciding to name the incoming Holden version of the Opel Insignia, as the ‘new Commodore’. If the death of the much-loved RWD VF Commodore wasn’t enough bad news, the idea of a four-cylinder FWD car replacing it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Despite being an excellent car, developed by a first-rate group of Holden engineers, the ZB ‘Commodore’ has never fired up the buyers.

NOTE: BTW, if you were to see the ZB Commodore as more equivalent to, say, a Mazda 6, then it makes a strong case as an outstanding contender. Do yourself a favour if you're in the market for such a car. Drive the Commodore - it's impressive.

Then I revealed that the ZB Commodore and current Astra range would be the final Holden passenger cars to come here from Germany, because GM-Holden declined to commit to a future with the PSA-built models which would replace the current Opel-sourced range.

The next bungle came with the release-by-trickle of the SUV and truck range that was supposed to ‘save’ Holden. The launches were staggered, some late, and the hubris of the Holden management saw it adopt an arrogance in pricing and positioning, which doomed the prospect of saving the brand with desirable new utility vehicles.

I predicted that within two years of ending local manufacturing Holden’s share of the market would drop to 5% or even less. Today we see, from official data, Holden’s share is now 4.2%.

Mary Barra has already revealed she’s not shy about dumping poor market performers.
So despite GM-Holden’s range including the Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro, plus the popular Holden Acadia 7-seat SUV, I would not be shocked to hear that Holden is out on a limb and the weight of its hubris may just break the branch, with the once-proud all-Australian market leader falling to its death.

John Crawford

Tuesday, December 3, 2019


Father of new car scoop photo spreads, staffer at WHEELS and co-founder of MODERN MOTOR magazine and, with Evan Green, the man who drove an Austin Freeway around Australia in just nine days.

Jules Feldman was one of my heroes, and I had tremendous respect, admiration and affection for the quietly-spoken White Russian who was the Publisher of MODERN MOTOR when I joined the magazine in 1972. Within a short time I had been promoted to Editor by Jules, who said I was the first non-journalist who had ever produced the magazine on time, on budget and slowed its precipitous slide in circulation.

Such a serious young editor

Jules Feldman was born in Siberia in 1919, and he escaped to Australia in 1938, just before WW2 changed life for everyone.

He was just 35 when he and a brash Sydney yachtie named Colin Ryrie started MODERN MOTOR in 1954. They had both worked on the first 11 issues of WHEELS magazine (Jules was Managing Editor, Colin Ryrie Advertising Manager), but decided to branch out on their own. They conceived MODERN MOTOR primarily as a news magazine, because it enjoyed shorter deadlines than WHEELS, and the pair had hit on the popularity of ‘scooping’ new models before they were launched.

Scoop photos boosted the magazine’s circulation to over 90,000 copies on one occasion, after Jules had sneaked into the GM-Holden plant at Pagewood in Sydney and photographed the new models before they were ready to roll out of the factory.

The magazine developed a reputation as a pacesetter in automotive news, and boasted a strong band of correspondents in Australia and in Europe.

With his highly-tuned news sense, Jules was always ready for new adventures.

In 1962, as BMC Australia was about to launch the Austin Freeway, with the ‘Blue Streak Six’ engine, Jules and fellow journalist Evan Green approached BMC with a plan to basically ‘race’ around Australia in nine days, and beat the existing record.

The Freeway was pretty much a standard car straight off the production line, with stronger shock absorbers.

Jules challenged the staid BMC executives, telling them it could be done, for very little budget, and both he and Evan Green reckoned the car was strong and durable enough to take the hammering that the 8,100 mile (13,000km) run would inflict on the Australian-developed challenger to the popular Holden, Ford and Chrysler six-cylinder family cars.

They did in fact beat the record, by 5½ days, finishing the run with no major breakdowns.

At the end the tough old British bulldog had succumbed to no major injuries, and proved an outstanding launching pad for BMC’s tilt at the traditional Australian-built six-cylinder family cars at the time, which of course were all American-designed. The advertising catch-phrase was 'Make way for the Austin Freeway'.

Jules Feldman was a man of outstanding honesty, integrity, determination and humility. He was a gem to work for. His only demand was that you do your job well. Once you achieved that in his eyes, you were provided with as much encouragement as you needed. His strong support launched me into mainstream journalism with incredible confidence and optimism.

He was thrilled when he realised I had a ‘nose for news’ and that I would hunt down the smallest detail, to give a scoop story the credibility it needed to sell magazines.

Jules died at 94, on September 18, 2013, survived by his wonderful wife Sandra, and two children.

John Crawford

Monday, December 2, 2019


It was veddy Britush, looked a bit stodgy in the design department, despite the lines being massaged by Carrozzeria Pininfarina, and it’s 1.6L four-cylinder engine ensured the Austin A60 saloon hit 0-60mph in 24.3 seconds!

Here in Australia, the product team decided the car could nonetheless take on the established American-based six-cylinder sedans from GM-Holden, Ford and Chrysler, that is, if it actually had a six-cylinder engine!

Six-cylinder engines were not a concept with much market appeal in the UK, where frugality of consumption was much more important than outright performance.

The A60 British donor car was known as the Austin Cambridge, launched in 1959 as the ‘Farina’ to bask in the reflected glow inferred by BMC’s long connection with Pininfarina. In fact, the basic model was used by ALL the BMC nameplates – Morris, Riley, MG, Wolseley and Shamrock(!). Believe it or not, it briefly sold in the USA, badged as the Austin Cambrian.

However, Down Under plans were afoot to produce a genuine competitor to the American trio of family cars.

Here’s a photo of the very first prototype, taken at Sydney’s Maroubra Beach in October 1960. The internal codename was ADO40, and it had been built at BMC’s Longbridge works in mid-1960. It was called Car 54.

Car 54 - Where are you? Down Under of course!

Pressure on BMC from Australia resulted in grudging agreement that a six-cylinder version could be developed, provided it could be engineered to be produced on the same transfer lines and boring facilities as the four-cylinder version. Car 54 featured a bore of 2-7/8 inches, but eventually the Australians got their way, and the bore was increased to 3 inches for the production models.

However, to cut a long story short, despite the comparable performance of the ‘Blue Streak Six’ to the American models, the Freeway was not perceived by Australian buyers as a real competitor to Holdens, Falcons and Valiants.

The Wolseley-badged version (the 24/80), left, fared much better because of its upmarket interior, leather seats and a perception of greater comfort and value-for-money, and despite the Freeway running out of road, the Wolseley 24/80 survived for longer because of its appeal to conservative consumers.

However, this prototype (Car 54) has a really fascinating history. It was used for all the usual prototype testing programs - Braking, Ride and Handling, Cooling, Performance, Fuel Consumption, Tyre Evaluation and NVH, plus comparison testes against its competitors.

Roger Foy circa 1975
Then in December 1962, at the end of its test career, my good friend Roger Foy, who was attached to the Experimental Department, bought the car with 38,000 miles on the clock, but he also took the opportunity to replace the column-mounted manual gearbox with the new Borg-Warner 35 automatic transmission. As engineering prototypes were considered expendable the value was written down, and Roger tells me he acquired the car for £350!

Here’s a photo of Car 54 taken at the same location 33 years later. It has been used every day of its life, and has been taken on on several long road trips, as far away as the Flinders Ranges.

The odometer currently sits on 291,600 miles, and Roger believes his wife’s ‘daily driver’ is probably the only original prototype, of any make, still in current daily use. The only problem occurred when he suggested they replace it with something more modern. "You're not taking my Freeway" was the response.

Most knowledgeable Australian automotive historians recall that the Freeway really was more than a match for the American family cars. It had a bigger engine, comparable performance, lots of trunk space, good fuel economy and in fact was a very durable design. Witness the longevity and condition of Car 54 today.

Despite the sad outcome in the marketplace, BMC Australia threw as much marketing dosh at the Freeway, with the ‘Blue Streak Six’, as it could muster, and that leads to another great story in the next Post.

John Crawford