Wednesday, August 26, 2020


Demeaned, denigrated and dispossessed by many American premium car buyers Cadillac is staging a spectacular comeback with its first all-electric vehicle – the LYRIQ – crossover. In addition we have seen the first appearance of possibly the ‘hottest’ Cadillac sedan for decades – the CT4 ‘Blackwing’.


The chief designer for Cadillac, Australian Andrew Smith, and his team have delivered a striking new EV, based on an all-new modular platform, and a choice of single EVM rear wheel drive, or EVM all-wheel-drive.

The LYRIQ is a striking vehicle which Cadillac hopes will help win back buyers who may have turned to alternative brands, but more importantly will help restore faith in the brand, known throughout its impressive history as a technical pacesetter.

As I have said before, a detailed study of Cadillac’s early history reveals it could easily have been named the ‘American Rolls-Royce’ such were the advanced and innovative developments, and its unique technical solutions to early motoring challenges.


The current vehicle is described as a ‘show car’, but GM’s VP of Global Design, Michael Simcoe, hinted to me that a production version would differ little from the concept.


Next comes the slightly-delayed introduction of the high-performance version of the CT4 sedan, catchily-labelled ‘The Blackwing’ – a sinister-looking sedan with stunning performance from Cadillac’s high output 3.0L V6.

The Cadillac brand may have slipped down the ‘Lust Scale’ in the past decade, but the combination of Cadillac designers and engineers are making determined efforts to restore the glory of the marque. And, while there’s life there’s hope.

John Crawford


Chinese car design skills are not well-enough honed nor sophisticated enough to carry off a major debut in the heart and soul of the European styling pantheon – the Geneva Salon.

That’s why I was keenly attracted to the concept car displayed on the Brilliance (Zonghua) display at the Salon in 2007.


Although looking more than a tad like McLaren designer Peter Stevens'-penned 1999 Hyundai Tiburon F2 (right), the BC-3 concept was a smooth piece of cohesive design, and a detailed inspection revealed tight margins, thoughtful design touches and the impression of a car immediately ready for production. In fact it was.

The BC-3 concept had been revealed at the Beijing Auto Show in 2006, but the headline performance was to be in Geneva in March 2007. I dug out my photos from the Salon after writing about Brilliance’s JV with BMW AG recently, to recount my impressions.

Needless to say the only English-speaking Chinese guys on the display all insisted that the BC-3 was wholly Chinese, and would be launched on the American market in mid-2009. After decades of experience decoding what I am being told by various Japanese, Korean and now Chinese car company suits, I decided I would wander the Palexpo displays and check out the BC-3 with my European friends.


The investigation confirmed, not unsurprisingly, the blatant lies emanating from the Brilliance executives.


The BC-3 is wholly-designed in Italy, by Pininfarina, and the concept car powered by a 1.8L Mitsubishi engine, with FWD. 

The chassis and roadholding was wholly-developed by Porsche.

The later Brilliance-designed 1.8L engine fettled by the hugely-experienced FEV GmbH engine specialists near Leipzig.

The BC-3 did eventually go on sale in China, but it’s practically impossible to obtain accurate sales numbers from Brilliance. Any plans to export the car, especially the USA, are dead – with its only overseas sales happening in Egypt – of all places! 


Further research revealed that BMW was not Brilliance’s first choice as a car-making partner. In 2002 MG Rover despatched 12 Rover 75s to Zonghua, fitted with its 2.5L K-series V6, wearing Brilliance badges.

The deal never came to fruition, but my mate Keith Adams, at, later discovered that Zonghua had rebadged the cars as Zonghua B8, registered them all, and sold them off to private owners!

To be fair, Brilliance's expertise has never been wholly-focused on passenger cars, as it is one of China's biggest busmakers.





"It was flat, and uninspiring!" That’s my friend Paul Gover’s brief assessment of his recent test drive of a FWD BMW 2-Series.


For a company whose foundations are represented by the slogan ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ I think a statement like that could be like a ‘Kiss of Death’ to a great premium European brand.


After all, Paul Gover is an automotive expert with a lot of hard-driving miles of on-road testing and motor sport exploits, to support his credentials and opinions.


Think of the massive PR budgets that have been poured into building BMW’s image as a driver’s car - not to mention the infrastructure investments and resources poured into creation, design and manufacturing. Plus the billions of dollars BMW has forced its dealers to spend to represent every aspect of the company image at the dealerships.


Then, like every other car manufacturer in the world, BMW headed for China, forming a joint venture with Brilliance Auto Group (actually HuaChen Group Auto Holding Co. Ltd) in 2003.


Its first co-produced model was the very underwhelming Zinoro 60E, followed by an improved Zinoro 60H. 

This model is part of what China is calling a ‘new’ sector of its domestic market – NEV – which stands for New Energy Vehicle. The idea is that every model which participates in this sector is either a Hybrid, or Pure EV.


The 60H is a dullard in the design department, and does not resemble any sort of design cachet which you might associate alongside a company with a European partner, which has designed some good-looking cars over the decades.


However, in Shanghai in 2017, a concept car appeared, called the NEXT, and it was a pretty sharp looking vehicle, which I suggest was probably designed ‘outside’ both companies.

It bears no resemblance to anything Brilliance/Zinoro, or BMW, has done, and is a very stylish piece of concept craftsmanship.


But, back to BMW AG and its plans for the future, which are very interesting. The 1-Series and 2-Series models share the entire platform and underpinnings of the latest MINI, codenamed UKL-2. The German cars feature either FWD or AWD, whilst Mini retains FWD only.


I believe that it is this choice, forced on BMW in order to achieve the highest possible of economies of scale through platform sharing, which has led to a good deal of criticism of the chassis dynamics of its range of smaller BMW models.


Now, for even more interesting news from Sindelfingen and Munich. The German business newspaper Handelsblatt reports that advanced talks are under way between Daimler AG and BMW AG to combine resources to make future models off common platforms – especially in the EV sector.

Some time ago, I was asked to forecast how the global motor industry may change given the JVs, takeovers and alliances being formed to protect against the crushing cost of developing each company’s own unique vehicles – specific to their brand image and values.


I suggested that an obvious direction would be for Mercedes-Benz and BMW to merge – a suggestion ridiculed by many of my automotive media mates – but that outcome is now being openly discussed in Germany.


So where does this leave the company which claims to produce ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’? Well, if you want to retain ‘the BMW magic’ your choices begin with the 3-Series, which remains BMW’s most popular car worldwide, and that’s where RWD starts - especially the potent M3.

However, the biggest barrier to BMW ownership for me relates to its exorbitant pricing of vehicles and options. The purchase experience goes something like this: “Does Sir want wheels, and window glass with this car? They will be options!”


Yes, that’s silly, but the way BMW cross-links its option packages, means you will exit the dealership with a shiny new premium car, but with a much-reduced bank balance.

John Crawford

Monday, August 24, 2020


When is ‘old’ too ‘old’ to be successful? It seems like Mitsubishi has stumbled on success and it’s all down to something that many car company executives deny - price!

The commercial sales success of the Mitsubishi ASX crossover has very little to do with the contemporary values of its platform, drivetrain or finish – it’s all down to equipment and price!


You’re now saying: “Duh, what else is new?”


Today’s ASX (the third generation) was originally born in 2010, based on the Mitsubishi GS (Lancer) platform, and designed by Norihiko Yoshihime.


Here is a list of cars derived from this platform:


·      Citroen C4 Aircross

·      Peugeot 4008

·      Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

·      Mitsubishi Lancer

·      Mitsubishi Outlander

·      Jeep Patriot

·      Jeep Compass

·      Dodge Caliber


Yes, look at the range of marques and models. This platform has been very widely adapted and not updated since introduction. It is ‘O-L-D’ – and yet it doesn’t matter. Obviously, it must have been a highly functional platform concept, in order to suit the purposes to which it has been utilised.


I first began looking at this when a friend dropped by in his Peugeot 4008, and asked me if I knew the origins of his car. It seems he has just test-driven the Peugeot 5008 and found it refreshingly modern and competent, compared to the 4008. 

Once I began investigating the 4008‘s history, I began to understand (yet again) how much of a part price plays in car selection.

The Mitsubishi ASX in Australia today is a definite commercial sales success. In its market segment (SUV Small <AUD$40,000) sales for 2019 were up 9.3% YTD, but in December 2019 sales were up 61% compared to December 2018!


This year, sales YTD July, despite falling just over 30%, the ASX still managed 7,900 sales for July, maintaining a market share of 15% of the segment. This is astounding for such an old vehicle. So what’s the answer?


Again, it’s just one factor – price. It may be old, it may not be as dynamically-competent as some of its competitors, but it delivers on every level – performance, handling, trim, equipment and comfort – but more importantly on price!

This car has paid back its initial investment many times over, so keeping the price competitive is not a challenge for Mitsubishi.


I have been having this argument with car company CFOs for decades. Price it right and you sell a lot; premium price it (for some obscure reason) and you sell less. When the public sees ‘lots’ of these cars on the road, they form the view this ‘must’ be a very good car, because it’s so popular.


To me it just reinforces the fact that in the long haul, higher 'numbers on the road', beats profit considerations every time. 

Very few car company CFOs and CEOs, will accept this. Usually, they’re taking orders from a head office which places an emphasis on profit margins – whereas I think they should be brave enough to take a dive on the margin, get more cars on the road, and the profit margins (albeit slightly less) follow the increase in volume.


That’s how it is with the Mitsubishi ASX, make no mistake. This is a classic example of common-sense beats dreamtime margins. If you don’t sell the volume, you don’t achieve the inflated margins anyway.


Public perceptions of a model’s success differ widely from those of car company executives. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the 'suits' exist in a bubble – untouched by reality.


I last drove an ASX five years ago, and found it quite acceptable – given price and specification.

I have NOTHING against the Mitsubishi ASX, I just think it’s a good honest vehicle that despite its age delivers on the qualities and values that crossover buyers are looking for.


And what’s that? A competitive price! Nothing more, nothing less.

PS: The Peugeot 4008 sales in Australia were abysmal, compared with the ASX at the time.



Thursday, August 20, 2020


How’s this for hypocrisy? General Motors was reported in The Australian newspaper today formally revealing its plans to introduce the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, and the Chevrolet Corvette C8 sports car, using the services of its ‘Australian Partner’ (Walkinshaw Special Vehicles).


Both these vehicles will be hugely popular from the get-go, and represent very handsome profit opportunities for General Motors. There will be strong demand, because both vehicles represent a pinnacle in their respective segments.


The success of the Dodge RAM project undertaken by Ateco reveals how successful the importation and conversion of these huge American pickups is.

Meanwhile, we can only reflect on discussions in the GM Boardroom high atop the Renaissance Centre in Detroit.


“Well, we can’t make enough money from manufacturing in Australia, so let’s cut our losses and shut Holden down. Oh, but, by the way, there’s huge demand for American pickups in Australia, and the market for Corvette’s new C8 is potentially very profitable – so let’s just concentrate on those two, and pocket the profits.” 

Holden employees have every right to be incensed by GM’s latest decisions, and so too the Morrison government (which has huffed and puffed within the limits of its ability to call GM to account). The decision to shut Holden not only put thousands of direct employees out of work, but also those involved in the secondary industries, as suppliers.


Not to put to finer point on this development, I did forecast it months ago on this Blog.


Yes, I know, it’s just business. These things happen, as markets and circumstances evolve, but think about it. Holden has been an integral part of Australian society since 1948, and its success has delivered handsome profits to General Motors for decades.


After the recent rift between Holden dealers and GM over the separation payments and the piss-poor financial offers to dealers who have invested lives and livelihoods in their business relationship with GM over that time, this latest news is another arrow to the heart.


What are the lessons? No matter how successful a business relationship is, you have to have a Plan B. However, with the size of the investment in a dealership, the Plan B simply may not be workable, so you have to invest a lot of trust in your business partner.


Well in the case of GM and the Holden dealers, we all know how that worked out!

John Crawford

Wednesday, August 19, 2020


Please ensure you are sitting down before you read any further. This is going to be a shock.

It comes as Toyota unveils its new and vastly-improved Yaris baby car, with the promise of everything from class-leading safety equipment to a new generation of hybrid drive.

The new Yaris looks nicer, should be smoother in the driving responses, and has had a major lift in cabin quality.

There is also a hybrid model, with which Toyota Australia is certain to increase its following among ‘green-power’ buyers, who have been fawning over, and flocking to, the Corolla and HR-V hybrids in 2020.

But, back to the Yaris. And now we come to the price.

Are you sure you’re sitting down?

To provide some showroom context, the recommended retail price of the outgoing Yaris is AUD$15,390. And the new one?

Still sitting?  How does AUD$22,130 sound?

Yes, the baby Yaris, starter car for youngsters buying their first car, is now priced a significant way beyond the AUD$19,990 bottom line that was the Corolla benchmark for a generation. And that’s without considering the on-road costs or the optional CVT automatic gearbox.

That’s an increase of 43.79%!

Now, I’m not sure about you, but I cannot remember the last time any new car - regardless of the amount of new technology, and safety, and higher quality, etc, etc, etc - came to showrooms with a 44% price increase.


Actually, In a world where most consumer products get cheaper with generation changes - think televisions, fridges and even some Apple products - I cannot think of anything with a 44% price increase.

The bottom-line number must also include some degree of exchange rate movement, and I must not forget that Toyota Australia is trumpeting the brand-new, highly-efficient three-cylinder engine in the new Yaris.

The press preview of the fourth-generation Yaris is done through a Zoom conference that includes the car’s chief engineer from Japan, a local technical chief, and Toyota Australia’s marketing boss Sean Hanley - a straight shooter and all-round good bloke.

He talks confidently about the styling and technology and a range line-up that escalates all the way to the ZR Hybrid CVT model at … big swallow hereAUD$32,100, even though none of the Brand experts are able to give us the electric-only range of the hybrid car.

But as the Zoom meeting rolls on we’re hearing more and more about secondhand Toyota prices and support packages.

And then it hits me. Toyota now believes the starter car in their Australian line-up is a secondhand car.

I can still recall the last time a car brand admitted that people could not afford a new car, and that a secondhand car was the best way into their brand.  It was the 1990s. And it was Porsche.

The all-new Yaris is certain to be a very nice car, I want to drive it, I want to hear more detail about the safety features, and I’m already thinking it could be worth some sort of support when I sit down to cast my votes for the World Car of the Year award.

But 44%? Now I need to lay down.

Paul Gover


Tuesday, August 18, 2020


No, it’s a big grown-up, with big balls, and bitumen-blasting performance.

Way out in the back blocks, a million miles from care, and watching the road ahead and over my shoulder for Mr. Plod, I have my right foot pushing against the firewall, and quickly deciding, this may be the youngest of the breed from Benz, but as the scenery flashed by in a blur, I’m thinking about comparisons with mature models, the Subaru WRX and the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO.


Both those cars were spawned in the spotlight of international rallying and built entirely for purpose. The A45 AMG S offers the same urgent, enthusiastic acceleration of the rally cars from the rising sun, and when my road speed and pulse rate slows, I realise this may be the most fun Benz I’ve burned rubber off.


I thought the AMG C63 was a pretty nifty piece of kit, but the A45 AMG S is actually more enjoyable, easier the throw around, and its all-wheel-drive set up, and well-tuned suspension delivers confidence-boosting potential for real fun in a dedicated performance car.


This model’s predecessor was wild, untamed, uncomfortable around town, and very immature. Everything has changed. It’s like it was sent off to a new school to learn a bit about compliance, smoother power delivery and real comfort. This one is way better than the old farty-burpy-barky teenager. Let's face it everyone's a teenager at some point.


That's why as I contemplated this review, I find myself asking: “Why wasn’t it this way, the first time around?” Fact of the matter is cars like this have to evolve from something, and it’s not as if Benz burned its bridges with version one. This one is just better in every respect.


Its all very nicely crafted and well equipped, right down to the Hey Mercedes voice-recognition system that can control a bundle of adjustments that would normally need a switch or knob.


There is a brilliant Burmeister sound system, four USB charging ports and a wireless charging pad, a giant panorama of instrument and infotainment displays, four cupholders, reasonable boot space and enough room in the back for kids.

Mechanically, the car has an eight-speed DSG gearbox and all-wheel drive with the ability to move the grip around to the axle that needs the most help, and there is a big rear wing, oversized 18-inch alloys and a four-barrel exhaust.

But the crew at AMG has turned the dial around to 13 for the engine of the A45, which is said to be the most powerful four-cylinder in the world.


It makes a truly wicked 310 kiloWatts, with 500 Newton-metres of torque, although it takes premium unleaded, and can get as thirsty as a V8 if you spend a lot of time with the right foot on the floor.


However, I think this A45 S sets a new standard for exceptionally ‘hot’ hatches - even if it does cost an eye-watering AUD$93,600! For the people who want what it offers the A45 S graduated with honours, and they’ll be very happy with how this graduate turned out.

Paul Gover

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