Wednesday, April 29, 2020


(via Cortina d’Ampezzo, Valparola, Bolzanno, Trento)

It’s rare for anyone to ‘begin’ a driving story in Venezia, because most people know the capital of the Veneto is most famous for canals and gondolas.

However, let’s say you arranged a car at the Venezia Aeroporto Marco Polo (VCE), and that you are ready to enjoy the countryside, the mountains, and several of Italy’s most beautiful northern cities.

Depart the airport, taking the SS13, direction Treviso.

This sets you up for a journey through several of Italy’s most important national parks, which are rarely experienced by travellers, because in this area it’s the mountains and the skiing that is the great attraction, and speed of arrival onto the slopes is foremost in most tourists’ minds.

However, Treviso is more than a pit stop along the way. It is famous as a base for several well-known Italian sportswear companies, like Benetton, Geox shoes, Diadora and Lotto Sport Italia. It’s also supposedly the birthplace of Prosecco sparkling wine (Italy’s answer to France’s champagne), and many say that Tiramisu had its origins there.

Also, one of the world’s best-known appliance makers, De Longhi, is based in Treviso.

Treviso (right) is an ancient walled city dating back to 89BC, so today only a small number of Trevisani live inside the walls (3000), with more than 80,000 living outside the city limits.

If you’re looking for your first night’s accommodation, Treviso is an excellent choice, because there’s not much, except the occasional pensione and tiny hamlets, between Treviso and Cortina d’Ampezzo. That is, if you decide to travel via the A27, which then leads to the SS51.

The road changes its status from an A road to a rotta regionale at Ponte Nelle Alpi, where it becomes the SS51. At that point the altitude is just 400m, and you are a mere 80km from Venezia – but around you are peaks in the Parco Naturale Regionale delle Dolomiti Friulane which rise to over 2100 metres.

Cortina d’Ampezzo (right) is a ski town, that’s it. More than half the town shuts down in summer, but of course there are excellent hotels and restaurants which do remain open. The permanent population is barely 6000, and it sits at 1,224m, with ski slopes towering around it.

The next section of this journey is on a road definitely closed in winter – the SR48, using the Passo Falzarego. However, one of Italy’s most spectacular passes is next – the Passo Valparola. The highest, surrounding elevation, is 2,168m, but the road stops rising at a lower altitude, opening out to a flat, but scenic roadside vista in the summer.

Travelling along the floor of beautifully scenic valleys (below), you join the SS244 at La Villa Stern.

Journey just a few kilometres south on the SS244, then take the SS243, to the SS242, heading west towards the busier SS12. It is this autostrada which will take you to Bolzano.

With a population of over 100,000 Bolzano, in 2014 was named ‘Best Quality of Life for Italian Cities’.

It sits in a deep valley, surrounded by vineyards and it is the largest city in the South Tyrol, because it is so close to Austria. 

You’ll know that if you stop for food or fuel, as many in the area speak the local Austrian dialect.

Travelling south, toward Verona the most practical road is the A22 autostrada, passing through Trento.

As you approach Verona, and fancy a really decent switch in scenery and ambience, you could turn west just past Rovereto onto the SS240.

There before you will be the beautiful Lago di Garda – but that’s a whole different story.

John Crawford

Monday, April 27, 2020

Ahh, You Know What We said Last Week? Forget It! by John Crawford

Analysts LMC Automotive has updated its predictions, saying global light vehicle production is now expected to fall more than 20 percent to around 71 million units in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing recession. That's down from its forecast last week of 90.4 million vehicles. Oops! Did the calculator batteries need replacing?
That steep decline, far greater than anticipated earlier this year, likely will cost global automakers 19 million units in lost production in 2020. LMC has now warned those projections could slip further, depending on how quickly major regions recover.
(Amazing how one week of further review can change the earlier forecasts)
The analyst said it expects vehicle sales will bottom out in April in North America and Europe, with post-pandemic recovery "unlikely to be rapid" in the coming months.

China, which was among the first countries hit by the novel coronavirus, already has restarted most of its auto plants and now expects to see a sales decline of just 12 percent this year, LMC said.
Expectations for a swift economic recovery have plummeted as the virus has swept across the globe, plunging all major regions into recession, according to researcher IHS Markit.
While IHS Markit expects to see the beginnings of an upturn by the end of the year, current projections "are likely to be revised down further" as the pandemic plays out.
Watch this space. Or, if you're suffering pandemic news overload, don't!
John Crawford

Saturday, April 25, 2020


Apparently Hyundai’s 49 year old Vice-Chairman, Eusin Chung, quietly mentioned to Luc Donckerwolke, Hyundai’s Chief Design Officer, “I have always admired the concept of the Scarab”.

The Scarab is a beetle, native to Egypt, and was considered a symbol of immortality, resurrection and transformation, but it was also a very innovative car design in its time.

Could it inspire the shape of a car for our time? 

It was this ‘thought-starter’ that was relayed back to the Hyundai design team in Namyang, South Korea, led by Sangyup Lee and Simon Loasby.

The newly-appointed Head of Design for Hyundai, British-born Simon Loasby had a vague recollection of the 1935 multi-purpose vehicle designed by William Bushnell Stout.

Whilst the mid-30s Stout may not have the most attractive appearance, at first glance, its streamlined shape was not only home to many innovations, but it was also design inspiration for other cars produced in the same period.

Time to get the sketchpad and charcoal out.
Sangyup Lee and Simon Loasby brought together design ideas they both honed working for Bentley

Among car designers the Scarab is known for its advanced conceptual design and innovative approach. It’s been described as the ‘first minivan’. See the Scarab story to follow.

The Hyundai design team embraced the spirit of innovation encapsulated in the Stout Scarab as it approached the design challenges of the Hyundai Prophecy concept.

This is what fascinates me about car design, and the designers. The discussions about ideas, concepts and innovation start with people. People with a combination of  imagination, technical skills and passion for the art of car design.

The truly talented ones, with the charcoal and sketch pad, translate themes and design cues into complete cars. 

The best designs inspire car enthusiasts for decades, and embed themselves in our psyche creating threads of thought-lines which inform our ongoing passion for cars.

But, the concept which Sangyup Lee and Simon Loasby brought to reality from CAD-to-car started with an absolutely ‘clean sheet’, and it was their ideas, themes and cues floating around in their imaginative brains which melded into one of the most exciting concept cars I have seen in recent years.

Not only is the Prophecy a practical concept, a distillation of advanced thinking and aerodynamics, but also a much grander concept which introduces Hyundai design themes moving forward into the next decades.

I have always referred to myself as a ‘design junkie’ – as I did back in 1998 when I first met Simon Loasby in the design studio at Rolls-Royce & Bentley Motors in Crewe, Cheshire.

We had looked over some Rolls-Royce concepts, in which I showed not the slightest interest, because I had been hired to help guide the establishment of a new image for Bentley in the USA.

As I'm sure you'll appreciate, design studios are generally off-limits to outsiders, but I seem to have a magic dust coating which tells designers, "This guy's just a design junkie."

I was much more interested in the work Simon was doing ‘on the quiet’ on what was referred to internally as ‘MSB’ or ‘Medium-Sized-Bentley’. This stuff was much more exciting, and promising, than stodgy old Rollers.

This was at the point when we knew Rolls-Royce would be owned by BMW AG, and Bentley was to become the focus of attention for the late Dr. Ferdinand Piech, Chairman of Volkswagen AG.

Dr. Piech had already decided on the future direction of the Bentley marque, and it was certainly not going to be stodgy. He had in mind an image of Power, Performance and Presence.

Not his words. I coined these three words as the catchphrase we at Bentley Motors North America would adopt to help change perceptions about Bentley in the American market. I’m delighted to boast however that I was on the same wavelength as Dr. Piech.

The young and extremely talented Simon Loasby moved on from the ‘skunk works MSB concept' to much more exciting design work at Volkswagen, first in Wolfsburg, then in China, and then, having joined the Hyundai Design Studio in China, he has been literally booted upstairs to the very prestigious position as Head of Design for Hyundai in Korea.

Rather than fill in the gaps in his extensive design-life-experience, we’ll move straight on to the Prophecy concept car – which was to have debuted at the cancelled 2020 Geneva Salon.

But, first the people who are responsible for lifting Hyundai-Kia’s design efforts to new highs.

If you look at Hyundai’s new line-up of designers there’s a definite lineage linking them all. Firstly, there’s the absolute top man at Hyundai-Kia Design, Peter Schreyer (poached from Audi); then there’s Belgian Luc Donckerwolke (poached from Bentley); followed by Sangyup Lee (also from Bentley); and finally, my good friend, Simon Loasby (poached from Volkswagen Design in China). Yes, they have all, at one time, been integral in the design of a variety of models for the Volkswagen Group.

It’s my opinion that the ideas and projects they have collaborated on at Hyundai brings an exceptionally cohesive level of thinking that could ensure we all sit up and take much more notice of Hyundai-Kia design in the years to come.

Even now, as Kia rockets up sales ladders all around the world, thanks to Schreyer-inspired design DNA, and Hyundai is conquering new ground bolstered by its impressive TCR and rally campaigns, initiated at the Nurburgring-based Hyundai facility, it's clear the Korean car company is thinking BIG.

All this plus the dynamic new designs emanating from Donckerwolke’s Genesis studio. The output from Hyundai-Kia design has been impressive to say the least – and in many recent instances, ground-breaking.

In addition to the Namyang studio in South Korea, Hyundai operates six other design centres - in Russelsheim, Germany; California, India, Japan and China, involving around 600 designers. Each studio has individual project skills, and all contribute to Hyundai’s growing share of global markets.

Basically, the Prophecy is a project jointly cared for by Sangyup Lee and Simon, and there are some striking new ideas encapsulated in its sleek shape. 

Taking a cue from the Concept “45”(left), which debuted in Frankfurt in 2019, the design team has ‘borrowed’ the innovative pixel lighting scheme for Prophecy.

However, skin deep there’s much more intense thought being devoted to Prophecy.

Prophecy emulates one of the key elements of the 1935 Scarab, which could rightly be described now as a vintage design structure that was/is very contemporary - Scarab was probably the first ‘skateboard’ concept.

The basic appeal of this concept allows every square inch (or centimetre) of the available interior space to be liberated for occupant comfort.

This also contributes to the immaculate side view of the Prophecy, reminiscent of the qualities of a weathered stone.

The clean and simple One Curve streamline that stretches from the front to the rear of the vehicle suggests a sense of timeless design.
The use of transparent acrylic material gives a clear view into the functional components inside. This intentional design feature is integrated in the spoiler, the headlamp, and in the CMS (Camera Monitoring System). While eliminating design garnish, the clear acrylic does authentic justice to the functional beauty of the components.

I’ll allow the press kit’s embellishment of the design aspiration, that the design team was aiming for ‘Sensuous Sportiness’ – and there’s no doubt that Prophecy is indeed ‘sporty’.

The voluptuous side section extends its maximum volume to the rear fender. More importantly, the design provides excellent aerodynamics, a feature indispensable to an electric car.

Another facet which enhances aerodynamics is the design of the wheels. 

Like the propeller of an airplane, they suck in air that flows down the side of the car.  

As a result, the air is compelled to adhere close to the body of the car. 

Internally is where the designers have delivered a cockpit with a huge difference. There’s no steering wheel! Just right and left ‘joysticks’, and an edge to edge display.

According to the design team, the development of autonomous driving technology offers remarkable new opportunities. Instead of a steering wheel, joysticks can provide a completely new driving experience. Mind you, I can't see this idea taking off anytime soon. My mind wanders, to think of a senior driver guiding a joystick-enabled car!

By offering two joysticks that can pivot left and right - one in the centre console and another on the door trim, the driver is set-up in their most comfortable position. It actually reminds me of a computer gamer set-up.

Also, the driver has the ability to use a wide variety of functions simply by making selections on the integrated buttons available on the joystick. Ultimately, according to the designers, this Intuitive Human Interface enhances passenger safety. Well, maybe.

Occupants have virtually zero visual obstruction. Both front seat occupants see the horizontal pillar-to-pillar display, and the wing-shaped dashboard.

You will have already seen similar design solutions, most certainly when Audi debuted the ‘virtual dashboard’, so it’s no surprise to see a similar approach coming from designers who were probably developers for the original Audi concept.

From a powertrain perspective, all Hyundai is saying is that the Prophecy is an EV – that’s it.

Another innovation is the air conditioning system.

This car is all-about-design, and maximisation of interior space, whilst elevating the low-slung, bullet-shaped exterior to make its own style statement.

Well done Sangyup and Simon, and the rest of the team.

The project may have been inspired by a beetle, but in its twenty-first century form, it’s as modern as tomorrow.

That's what I'd call a 'perfect translation' of vintage form and function, to suit contemporary demands.

The Hyundai design team accepted the Vice-Chairman's challenge and succeeded admirably.

John Crawford

Friday, April 24, 2020


I've written about Pikes Peak many times, mostly focussing on Bentley's efforts to conquer the course, and although these two You Tube videos have been around for a while, I thought you'd enjoy watching Sebastian Loeb's effort in a Peugeot 208R in 2013.

However, I'm sure you'll be absolutely blown away by the performance of the Volkswagen ID-R.

But first some details on the VW racer.

The VW ID-R built to ascend Pikes Peak weighs less than 1100kg, says Volkswagen, but its 500kW and 650Nm output places it literally near the very summit of automotive performance.

The Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak is driven by two electric motors, which draw power from a lithium-ion battery pack. Volkswagen claims the race car will recover 20 per cent of the energy it needs for the run from braking.

“Volkswagen’s goal is to reach the pinnacle of electromobility with the I.D. family. As such, Volkswagen’s involvement on Pikes Peak not only sets the trend for our future in motorsport, but is also of great symbolic significance in the truest sense,” said Volkswagen Member of the Board of Management with responsibility for Development, Dr Frank Welsch.
“Customers have always benefited from results achieved in motorsport, and we expect to take our new findings and use them as a valuable impetus for the development of future I.D. models. The hill climb on Pikes Peak is definitely a real acid test for the electric drive.”
The ‘pilote’ of the Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak was Romain Dumas, who has won Pikes Peak three times, and is the defending champion. Driving the competition course the 39-year-old Frenchman negotiates 156 corners. The course begins 2862 metres above sea level, and tops out at 4302 metres.
The new record is 7’:47.148”!
Congratulations Romain!

John Crawford

Monday, April 20, 2020


What is it about Aston Martin? From its founders to the dozens of ‘car guys’ who’ve parked themselves under the CEO desk over its 107-year history, the company has produced some of the finest sporting and performance cars ever made in Britain, but in lieu of the stylish Aston Martin wings, to me it now projects the image of an albatross living its life constantly flying, but failing to find a safe landing spot.

It’s been ‘rescued’ many times, risen to new heights, crashed within inches of destruction, only to be raised up again by a big brother (Ford); a visionary (Ulrich Bez); a big talker (Andy Palmer), and now car enthusiast and big-money-man Lawrence Stroll has stepped in with yet another rescue package.

You'd have to say most of the forenamed were 'dreamers' - but their hearts were in the right place.

It's this last one you really have to worry about, because Lawrence Stroll (left) is also keeping alive the old Force India F1 team, now known as Racing Point F1 – and soon to be renamed Aston Martin F1. How big is this gamble going to be?

In trying to ‘save’ both Aston Martin, and a Formula One team, stock exchange analysts in London and New York are not holding their breath for Aston Martin’s certain survival this time. I just hope Lawrence can keep his balls in the air.

Given Aston Martin’s ballooning debt, plateauing sales around the world, plus dealers with unsold stock up the wazoo, Aston Martin is a ‘money pit’.

So, what happens now? Guess what, the ‘dreamers’ are at it again as this photo shows. Lawrence Stroll and Chief Designer Marek Reichman unveiling probably the least practical sports car to ever wear the winged AM badge – the V12 Speedster.

Sure, according to Stroll, the limited production run of the 700hp cars with a pricetag close to AUD$1.5 million are all spoken for, but despite it being inspired by fighter jets (?), the margins from selling 88 of them is hardly likely to dent the company’s debt burden.

Okay, so it’s good for the company’s image, and stamps its intentions on Aston Martin’s future product plans, but sadly, it may never get to realising them.

From designers Henrik Fisker to Marek Reichman, Aston Martin has produced breathtakingly beautiful cars, achingly sumptuous, and dripping style, sophistication and all the qualities necessary to seduce buyers to open their wallets in dazed sublimation.

The quality of the finish has had a few ‘bumps’ along the way, but whatever model you nominate they all delivered on their promise of performance, panache, power and the ability to pull admirers.

It’s one thing to produce cars of this stature, that the company’s successive managements have looked at with pride and satisfaction in the fact that they ‘delivered on the dream’ – but low volume, high-priced exotic car companies always face difficulties with the road ahead – it’s just the nature of business, and of course it’s not unique to the automotive industry.

There are a couple of business fundamentals which seem to have blighted Aston Martin's aspirations and dreams. Firstly, it’s about funding. Shortly after Ford disposed of the company, it staged an IPO and it has benefitted from strong support by Italy’s Investindustrial and the Kuwatii Investment Fund.

But what outstrips funding faster than a V12 Speedster are costs – both in terms of manufacturing and marketing. There’s another ‘M’ word which is vital to success, and that’s Margins – profit margins.

It seems to me that Aston Martin has been walking a high wire tightrope for far too long, trying to balance its funding, R&D, manufacturing costs, and poor margins, and ultimately screwing up the balance of those forces is what has brought Aston Martin to the sad position it’s in now.

There’s also another business fundamental we can’t pass over; the investors and shareholders would like to see a return on the money they put in, and not just a free Aston Martin from unsold stock to drive around in.

Yes, Lawrence Stroll (and a consortium of partners) invested £182 million; and then launched a rights issue valued at £318 million; but the company is quite literally staggering under a debt load of £900 million. To make matters worse, one of the major investors has failed to take up the full value of its rights issue, which does not send a signal of confidence to the markets.

Let’s look at some elements which have landed AM in the poo in 2020. First, it realised that its Jaguar-based V8 engine could not continue to meet emission regs; so Aston Martin did a deal with AMG to replace it with the V8 engine used by Mercedes-Benz AMG.

Then, the fabulous 6L V12 was in the same position, and the company bet its shirt developing a brand-new, from-the-ground-up 5.2L V12; and let me tell you, from someone who’s been in the car business for 40 years – that ain’t cheap.

In addition, its whole portfolio of cars had to be replaced, which has brought us a fabulous new V8 Vantage; the DB11; the DBS; the Superleggera, and now the DBX SUV.

With all planned 2020 DBX production apparently spoken for, which will bring in much-needed cash – but the downside are DBX R&D costs, and manufacturing costs, PLUS, the cost of creating a brand new factory in St Athans, in Wales (just for DBX). That must have really hit the piggy bank very hard.

Then there's the development of the Valhalla Hypercar with its own dedicated V6 engine - imagine the sunk cost in that.

What I am simply saying is that Aston Martin has been burning cash for too long, at the wrong time (believe me, there’s mostly never a good time to spend money you don’t have), taking on massive debt, which has sadly aligned with a falling market for specialty cars (in any decent volume), plus the onset of COVID19 – so it remains to be seen if it will ever recover. As my mum used to say; 'Never spend beyond your means'.

With the appearance of Lawrence Stroll as the new Chairman, several senior directors have resigned, but CEO Andy Palmer remains in place.

He must now take over the title of the ‘Head Dreamer’ – because he forecast Aston Martin sales would exceed 7000 units pa and could reach 10,000 units a year! What!

It would have been more prudent for Andy to shut himself in his stylish office at Gaydon, and keep those aspirations in a locked drawer, with the stand-by bottle of Scotch.

But, as you know, with the big jobs and the big pay checks comes big ego. It’s brought down a lot of great car companies than probably any other disaster.

I LOVE Aston Martin – I love the brand, the cars, the design, the performance, the image, and the fact you can still buy such a beautiful sports car, and enjoy the sheer exhilaration of driving one, which I have been very lucky to do, on many occasions.

Please survive! That plea comes from the heart of a diehard - and yes, another dreamer!

John Crawford

Sunday, April 19, 2020


(Source: CNN)

The number of vehicles sold across major global markets dipped to 90.3 million in 2019, according to analysts at LMC Automotive. That's down from 94.4 million in 2018, and well below the record 95.2 million cars sold in 2017.

With the advent of COVID19, where does that leave new car sales; used car sales; and the car industry in general?

Bloated inventories; lack of cash flow to generate bonuses and discounts; staff that cannot afford to be employed; and consumers who figure they'll hang on to the car they already own - or, rather the finance company owns.

The slump has upended an industry that is grappling with the huge challenge of ditching the internal combustion engine to tackle the climate crisis. Some experts have even begun to speculate that the world may have reached "peak car," or the point at which global demand for vehicles begins an inexorable decline. 
This is not a data-driven graph, but rather a suggestion of what's to come!
Recession comes with big ramifications for the global economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, the car industry accounts for 5.7% of economic output and 8% of goods exports. It is the second largest consumer of steel and aluminum.

The biggest blow to carmakers last year came in China, the world's largest market for vehicles, where a sharp slowdown in economic growth and the elimination of tax incentives for electric car purchases caused demand to plummet. The number of vehicles sold dropped 2.3 million, from 2018, said LMC. 

In India, another huge market where carmakers had invested heavily, consumers held off on big purchases because of a credit crunch and a weakening economy.

Conditions were also tough in Europe, where Brexit, and Volkswagen's diesel emissions crisis, continued to scare off potential buyers and force executives to review investments.

The pressure has sparked a wave of partnerships across the industry.

Fiat Chrysler is merging with Peugeot owner Groupe PSA, and Volkswagen has teamed up with Ford to develop electric cars. German rivals Daimler and BMW have joined forces to develop ride sharing, and driverless technology.

LMC expects global sales to fall below 90 million, down 0.3% on the previous year. 
"There is unlikely to be any real support to the global total from the mature markets like western Europe and the United States," said Jonathon Poskitt, director of global sales forecasts at LMC.

The big question is when — or even whether — the auto industry will return to growth.

One unrelated issue is the actual ownership of FCA. News has recently surfaced that China owns controlling interest in Fiat-Chrysler!

So let me provide another enlightening insight into just where China has positioned itself.

You will be surprised to know that when you put a set of Pirelli tires on your car, the profits are going to China. Yep…the Chinese colossus of ChemChina, a chemical industry titan, bought that company too!

I guess the big question in my mind is "Can the world survive the tenacious onslaught by China to conquer the world commercially and still preserve our own personal healthiness?"

After all COVID19 was launched into the world by China - accidentally or otherwise.

Look back into ancient history - even at the height of their powers of dominance over the known world, even Attilla the Hun, and Ghengis Khan were eventually defeated. The Romans? Well, that was all their own doing.

Will Xi and China get their comeuppance - one day?

What I'm saying is that I am the eternal optimist. There's always hope.

John Crawford