Saturday, December 26, 2020


 Yes, it's like a bomb blast, or a star burst in the collective designers' minds; and the Design Director was 'away that day'.

With muted apologies to my friends on the Hyundai design staff, I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but if you're looking for a good example of design without discipline, then the 2021 Tuscon exemplifies the absolute worst in 'excess'.

There's an 'excess' of everything here - angles, creases, curves, style lines, corners, slashes - you name it, you'll find an example somewhere on this mish-mash.

I'm sure it will be well received in the USA - probably its primary market - because (as 71 million people have proved recently), they like an 'excess' of anything - including possibly four more years of embarrassment.

I think, on the other hand, the interior designers must have worked in another building, because they did a super job.

Having known and admired a number of very senior and successful design directors throughout my automotive career, it's probably a good thing that something like the new Tuscon comes along - to remind design directors that they need to curb the enthusiasm and 'excesses' of their young charcoal-carrying confederates.

John Crawford

Friday, December 25, 2020


The average age of vehicles on US roads has been climbing since the 2008 recession. With new-vehicle sales suppressed by the pandemic, that trend is not slowing, Car and Driver reports.

The average age of a car in use now is 11.9 years, IHS Markit found, a one-month increase over last year. In 2019, 6.1% of vehicles on the road were new; that's expected to drop closer to 5% this year. The nation's fleet averaged 9.6 years old in 2002, per the Detroit Free Press.


The number of vehicles also rose in 2019, IHS Markit found, crossing 280 million, a 1% increase. The average age of vehicles, and the number of miles they're driven, is likely to keep rising.

In part, a spokesman for IHS Markit said, that's because vehicles are more reliable now, often going 200,000 miles—rarer a few of decades ago.


All the effects of the pandemic are tough to predict, analysts said. Ride sharing and public transportation, including airlines, could suffer, pushing people to drive more.

More road trips and other personal use could make up for the drop in miles driven for daily commutes, as people continue working from home, the IHS analyst said.

And it's not just the pandemic coming into play; people tend to hold onto their cars longer during a recession.


Repair shops could benefit, especially as warranties run out. New-car prices have not yet been affected by the jump in unemployment yet.

The average sale of a light vehicle was $38,530 in June 2020, 3.1% higher than June 2019,
 Kelley Blue Book reports.

Time to get that old gas guzzler back on the road to see America.




 We normally don't mark the end of year, but after this one, we'll be glad to see the back of 2020.

We're looking forward to more great advances in automotive developments, and exciting new technologies - all possible with the incoming New Year bringing a sigh of relief that we can resume some form of normality, and move on.

John Crawford

Tuesday, December 22, 2020


 I guess AUD$208,000 for an Audi RS Q8 might seem like chump change when you're comparing it to AUD$390,000 for a Lamborghini Urus; or even more for a Bentley Bentayga - but if you're floating around that elevated and ethereal sector of the high-end SUV market (and I was with you), then I would be making a beeline for my local Aston Martin dealer to put down a deposit on a DBX.

Indeed, as have a surprising number already, considering it will not hit the Australian market until early 2021. And, those early adopters only had a vague idea of the size of the cheque they'd be writing. RRP, plus on-road costs suggest it would be AUD$395,000.

However, having just scored an early opportunity to sample the one and only DBX in the country, I can understand why this premium, luxury SUV has stolen a few hearts - and minds.

It is a simply divine design externally, and the interior finish is so beautifully-crafted that I think it really is the stand-out example of how to do a high-end SUV, which reflect the aspirations of its sports car siblings.

I take my hat off, again, to Marek Reichman and his talented design team. This car is beautifully executed.

My short time in the DBX came courtesy of one of the most-committed Aston Martin sales representatives I have met. 

James Read, from Sunshine Aston Martin on the Queensland Gold Coast, is friendly, seriously well-informed about the product, respectful of the history of the marque, and in my opinion is probably, almost solely responsible for the number of advance orders taken for the state of Queensland.

He tells me the dealership is holding 17 orders for the sunshine state! The initial allocation for Queensland was 10, and the success of the customer preview program has surprised even Aston Martin management.

So, if you are in this rarified air, and looking for something which will not only be a standout in a crowded field; but also a dream to drive, I would seriously consider checking out the potential delivery dates for 2021.

Mind you, with Aston Martin's new DBX production operation in St. Athans suffering like every other carmaker thanks to the dreaded COVID19, it could be a long wait.

But, let me whisper in your shell pink ear: "It will be worth it."

John Crawford

Monday, December 21, 2020


The most surprising arrival of my 2020 was not one of the usual suspects.


McLaren, Porsche and Lamborghini all delivered as expected with style and speed, and the all-new Land Rover Defender lived up to all the hype around the replacement for the world’s oldest four-wheel drive.


But then along comes the Kia Sorento.

In a world of truck-like SUVs, which are far better for seven-people school runs than any sort of motoring enjoyment, the South Korean contender broke the mould.


The all-new Sorento is good looking, classy in the cabin, drives well - no, very well - and even gets high praise, as well as a 5-star rating, from the ANCAP safety organisation.


Right now, for the money, there is nothing better in any showroom for big families.


Even ignoring pricing that starts from $45,850, there are very few seven-seaters that can match the Sorento and it even has a two-tonne towing capacity.


That will change soon when the Hyundai Santa Fe gets a similar makeover, using the same shared mechanical package from the Hyundai-Kia conglomerate, but it will be interesting to see what the blue team (Hyundai) does to match or better the red team (Kia) on things like pricing, equipment and local suspension tuning.


Kia has ticked all the boxes for the Sorento, which is available with either petrol or diesel power, front or all-wheel drive, and four levels of standard equipment from S through to GT-Line.

The pricing also jumps depending on the model, with the full-loaded GT-Line all-wheel drive diesel hitting the road for $64,990.

Kia Australia wants to make the best impression and so it’s the $65,000 headliner that arrives for assessment, backed by Kia’s claim that it is the most luxurious and tech-heavy model in its history.


The upscale position is obvious from the styling, which is smoother than the big-box looks of its rivals, and a cabin that has Audi-style finishing and three sumptuous rows of seating.


The cabin is also 'tizzied' with 64-colour mood lighting, a pair of giant display screens - 12.3 inches for infotainment, 10.25 for the instruments - and seven USB sockets and a pair of 12-volt plugs, as well as eight cupholders.

On the safety front, the Sorento gets everything from four Isofix child-seat anchors to auto safety braking with cyclist and pedestrian detection, cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, and - only on the GT-Line - a vehicle blind-spot display in the instrument cluster.

The good news is everywhere in the Sorento and, even without access to the basic petrol model at $45,850, it’s clear that Kia Australia has done a great job.

It’s a comfy family hauler with plenty of carrying capacity, has an electric 60:40 fold for the middle-row seats, with a big boot rated at 616 litres with the third-row seats folded flat.


The big surprise for me is how the Sorento drives.

It feels more like an old-school station wagon, nicely planted and enjoyable in all sorts of road conditions, than a hulking SUV. A lot of that is down to the local tuning by Graeme Gambold, who works wonders for Kia, because the car is both plush in the ride and grippy in corners.

The Sorento’s diesel engine has instant response and is not bothered by a full family load, although there was no chance to test its towing ability. It is also smooth and compliant on gravel roads, which is good news for weekend getaways in the models with all-paw grip.


Fuel economy is good with the diesel, it’s a relaxing long-distance drive, and ticks all the boxes for classy family travel.


For me, it’s a top-three contender in my personal Car of the Year award, sitting alongside and up against the Land Rover Defender and Toyota GR Yaris, and with a very solid shot at taking the crown.

Paul Gover

Sunday, December 20, 2020


Let me say up front this car is about as far removed from the traditional roadster concept like a clay brick is from a brick of ice cream. When I dream about roadsters my brain would probably dredge up an MG TC, a Lotus 7, or an Aerial Atom. Small, light, chuckable, and a fuel-sipper as opposed to a high performance gas-guzzler slurping gallons of 98RON.

Having said that, when asked to pen a few words of impressions, I was really looking forward to a short run down the Pacific Coast Highway, from Monterey through Big Sur to a pitstop at San Simeon for a hot dog and a Coke. Then a quick turnaround and back to Monterey - for a double dose of fun.

I’ve seen John’s words of delight about his recent spin in a Vantage coupe Down Under; and as far as I’m concerned the only point of difference between hardtop and rag top, would be the usually anticipated scuttle shake that seems to be part of chopping the roof off.

So let’s dispense with that item right now. I was very, very impressed by the rigidity and stiffness of the Vantage ‘roadster’. Aston’s chief engineer, Matt Becker has said that the reason is that the Roadster was designed at the same time as the coupe, and as it was always intended to be an open car, it was much easier to engineer-in all the tricks the team has learned along the way to produce a stiff vehicle.

It also made easier the task of stopping the Roadster ‘putting on weight’. Compared to the coupe, there’s a mere 60kg more weight. However, I’m afraid that despite the valiant efforts to minimise weight increase, the Vantage is not ‘chuckable’. What it is is direct and precise in a way you associate with track cars.

The actual differences between coupe and roadster are revealed with changes to spring and damper rates (to offset some of the extra weight), and there’s also a larger diameter anti-roll bar at the rear. However despite quick, and direct steering response, and sharp chassis dynamics, this is a GT car, not a sports car.

Having said all that, I was very lucky to be on the PCH mid-week, with nary another car in sight, and the sweeping, swooping curves were a delight, because I think the base weight (around 1630kg) made the ‘roadster’ feel more planted and very confidence-boosting.

It was a beautiful southern Californian day, and with the top down, this was not a hard task - it was just plain good fun, in a way that I really do associate with European touring cars.

In all the years I’ve traversed the Pacific Coast Highway, I think, rarely (if ever) have I seen a CHP patrol car on the PCH between Carmel and Morro Bay, but despite the open invitation of the road, I don’t want to rush into a ticket at high speed, however I was able to really exploit some of the fun sections to the fullest extent.

As I was entertaining, and enjoying myself on this solo drive, the photos used here were supplied, but just looking at them recaptures the pure joy and pleasure of the Vantage Roadster.

I remember talking with the then CEO, Ulrich Bez, at the launch of the first Vantage V8, with him expounding on the type of car he envisioned, and was trying to create.

I'm sure the keen driver in him is thrilled with this latest iteration of what has become one of Aston Martin’s most popular models.

Paul Andrews


Okay, there are three ways to start this story:


1.     Land Rover Replaces an Icon

2.     New Defender Nothing Like the Original

3.     Design meets Defender, Result?


I’ve created that list because frankly, I didn't know where to start. All three are valid headlines, I just couldn’t make a coherent choice to start the train of thought, which is supposed to run through every story. So, come along for the ride.

86 year-old Spencer Wilks 'fording' in an original
For the purists, let’s get one thing straight. The new Defender was NEVER going to be anything like the iconic 1949 version dreamed up by the Wilks Brothers. 

Bare bones, simple construction, basic driving controls, and slab-sided styling.

A car which you could stand in the middle of the lawn and hose out the mud – and because most of the construction was aluminium, it wouldn’t rust!


Sorry, but there isn’t a single carmaker which could offer such a vehicle today – simply because design rules, crash performance, obstacle avoidance, pedestrian protection, plus electronics (to make up for deficiencies in driving skill), simply wouldn’t allow it. There’s maybe just ONE which you could liken to a ‘bare-bones’ Defender, and that’s the outstanding Suzuki Jimny.


So, Land Rover didn’t really face a challenge when it was forced to replace its iconic 4WD. It just had to come up with something different, but equally competent, and able to comply with every legal and humanitarian demand made on today’s vehicles.


However, we should have seen this coming after designer Gerry McGovern released both sketches and real vehicles as part of the DC100 concept program in 2011.

Okay, so we maybe don’t have a vehicle where you would want to hose out the interior, but what the company has come up with would make the Wilks brothers, and my dear friend, the late Spen King, enormously proud.


Because I had not had an opportunity to drive the new Defender, on October 6, I ran a story from my good friend, Damien Reid, about his participation in the Middle East launch event in and around Dubai. I think his wrap-up pretty much covered the vehicle and its capabilities. However, I was still keen to drive Defender, if only to answer the questions in my own mind, which resulted in the list at the top of the page.


If the new Defender is NOTHING like the original, then what is it? The simplest, and most generalised description, I could concoct was that it’s a workmanlike, but quirky Range Rover. I say that because it has a very stylish exterior; very comfortable and plush interior and of course it has the off-road competency you expect with every product from Land Rover.

All of those qualities can be associated with Range Rover, which is often ridiculed these days as transport for Sloane Rangers and global poseurs.  However, for the less than 10% that ever take a Range Rover off-road, it is also the most competent and comfortable high-end 4WD ever produced.


So here we go. The first part of the acclimatisation is the freeway run from Brisbane to the Gold Coast. Thoughts? It’s just like driving a Range Rover – quiet, a comfortable ride and well-calibrated responses from the powertrain. Easy-peasy – passed with flying colours , especially if all you’ll do is use it for the school run – and maybe weekend picnics.


Not far from my Gold Coast HQ is a very rough and challenging plot of land being prepared by a developer (who basically thinks I’m crazy when I turn up with a 4WD). We have just endured extremely heavy rain (La Nina, I’m told), and consequently the patch of land is simply mud up to your eyeballs.

I was really keen to utilise the ‘Ruts and Mud’ setting on the suspension, so I bravely sallied forth. The mud was DEEP, but Defender just got on with the job. Progress through a sea of mud was amazing, although it did leave a big clean-up for my mate Dennis Huxtable at the dealership, when I returned the originally-pristine Defender.

Here's a range of extreme tests I didn't do!

Okay, it’s very competent in the rough stuff, just like its iconic predecessor, so let’s move on to ‘Design’ – not a term I would have attributed to the previous Defender. Despite ‘tart-ups’, Land Rover never really departed from the basic shape of the 90 and 110.


Internal sources have said that after the reveal of the DC100 concept program, the JLR Board told Gerry McGovern: “This is a challenge which will have huge impact on Land Rover, don’t fuck it up!”


In the end McGovern and his team, have created something which inspires confidence; satisfies the demands of common sense; and is informed by quite elegant reminders of Defender’s utilitarian role in owners' lives.

At times it’s a touch clichéd, and a bit too cute in some areas, but both exterior and interior designers have obviously been given their head, and they’ve delivered a vehicle which provides a rich mix of comfort, practicality, useful storage, and clever ‘quirky’ cosmetic touches.

In short – I like what they’ve done. As opposed to Range Rover which has evolved from a stiff and serious upright design, to a smoother, sleeker intention. Defender is what I would call, chunky practicality, and it's 'original'!


Now, to performance. First, look under the hood at the new in-line six-cylinder engine created from the Ingenium modular four-cylinder engines offered in both Jaguars and Land Rovers.

JLR has adopted the same technique as BMW, that is, each cylinder measures 500cc - so, you just keep adding 'modules'.

However, there’s nothing to see under the hood representing an engine. Tucked away at the rear of the engine bay, wearing the now-usual plastic ‘hat’, it's surrounded by a huge variety of components hanging off it!

But, this time around we have a brand-new, and brilliant, in-line six-cylinder engine that is as sweet as any engine I’ve experienced from the Masters (of in-line sixes) Mercedes-Benz and BMW. In fact, ‘sweet’ doesn’t do this engine enough justice. It uses an electrically-powered supercharger, plus twin-scroll turbochargers to deliver power whenever you want it – smooth, linear and quiet.


It’s the same process employed by VW with the original Golf 1.4L TSi. It had a supercharger, to give it ‘off-the-line’ push, then it switched over to a twin-scroll turbocharger to continue the ‘shove’.

It was brilliant (devised by Ferdinand Piech himself), but eventually abandoned as too expensive for a car in the Golf price-bracket.


In this example, the new six-cylinder Ingenium engine delivers – smooth, linear performance - and it's quiet!

I can’t imagine why you would choose anything else on the order form.


A real 'Defender Day'

In summary, the new Defender delivers on all fronts. Performance, terrain management, overall competence, comfort, and quality-of-driving experience. In addition I have to the say the quality of the interior finishes; the trim margins; choice of materials and outstanding fit and finish are all benchmark world class.


As far as I’m concerned all its competitors are ‘pretenders’ – forget about your Jeeps, RAMS, G-wagons and BMW X3/X5s – the Defender has them beaten on all fronts.


Keep this in mind when you want Range Rover comfort, plus old-time Defender performance.


However, there’s a ‘but’. All this comes at a price. The vehicle in this Post comes at an almost eye-watering pricetag of $118,000!


But, you get what you pay for. A brilliantly competent and highly competitive 4WD off-road vehicle, comfort, quality, and practicality. You decide.


But, it’s worth pointing out that among its Aussie competitors, it’s less expensive than the current 200 series Toyota Sahara Landcruiser – and probably twice the vehicle – in every sense.


Relating all of this back to the 1949 original, Land Rover has delivered – again, in spades.


John Crawford

Thursday, December 17, 2020

RAM - KING OF THE HILL by John Crawford

I’ve been very keen to end this terrible year with a good news story, and here’s one that fills the bill on several fronts. First, it’s a Down Under business success, also represents continued job security for many former employees of Ford/Holden/Toyota, and a solid revenue earner for dealers too.


If you’re a regular consumer of DRIVING & LIFE you’ll know I am not a fan of trucks and SUVs, but this good news story is one which primarily focuses on one of the most successful executives in the Australian and New Zealand automotive landscape, who I’m proud to say is also a good friend.


So, as the sun finally sets on the Australian passenger car manufacturing era, a whole new enterprise rises, phoenix-like, to become an innovative Aussie response to keeping a small cadre of highly-trained car manufacturing employees in work, utilising skills learned during the previous manufacturing era. And, in addition answering incredibly strong demand for large, highly-specced  pickups from the USA.


However, the RAM truck project is not a wholly-Australian operation, because it starts with a very experienced and widely-respected New Zealander, Neville Crichton, who heads the highly-successful Ateco Group, based in Sydney.


Neville Crichton is the inspiration behind the entire RAM project. However, along the way, Neville has also enjoyed a successful motor racing career in Australia and New Zealand, and his Ateco Automotive Group (formed in 1985) has also been responsible for representing a number of marques in Australia – including Suzuki; Audi; Volkswagen; Citroen; Alfa Romeo; Kia; Fiat; Ferrari; Maserati; Chery; Great Wall; Ssangyong; Foton and Lotus.


Under his leadership each of the brands which have passed through Ateco’s hands has been able to leverage the success Neville brought to the brands’ presence in Australia and go on to greater accomplishments.


In addition to his automotive accomplishments, Neville is also a very successful deep water sailor, having built, and commandered a number of world-class yachts and was also able to claim a win in Australia’s blue water classic, the Rolex Sydney-to-Hobart race.


But, back to RAM. It was back in 2012 that Neville had the foresight to approach Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to import, and convert, the RAM truck range. However, ‘convert’ is not the right way to explain what happens after Ateco imports the LHD trucks. The correct term is ‘re-manufacturing’, because there are more than 400 specific new parts required to create a RHD version.

One of the major spin-off benefits is that all of these parts are made by Australian companies which formerly supplied Ford/Holden/Toyota - meaning those companies are already familiar with the high-quality standards which the RAM project demands. In fact, the dashboard is manufactured by the company which produced the Camry dashboard for the locally-built Toyota Camry.

Among the components there is a new firewall and instrument panel sub-assembly (both designed and made here in Australia), plus a new RHD steering pump, and many other smaller, but nonetheless important components to ensure that Down Under buyers see exactly the same appearance and quality as the original LHD model.


To provide an indication of how serious the re-manufacturing process has become, RTA uses a dedicated CAD-CAM operation to create and design many of the new parts and modules. The investment (AUD$1.3 million) in that element alone is considerable, and strong evidence of the integrity of the process to convert RAM trucks to RHD.


Ram Trucks Australia, sub-contracts the entire ‘re-manufacturing’ task to Walkinshaw Automotive Group (WAG), at its Clayton manufacturing facility in Victoria, which operates a separate production line to WAG’s other customers.

I asked Neville when the RAM project was born, and when it began to be more than just an idea.


“I identified early on that there was a demand, and an opportunity for the RAM range and we got started in 2012. I did a back of an envelope study of the potential volumes, but the early numbers around investment and ROI made the project look a bit marginal. I imagined first full year sales could be anything from 500-1000”


“However, you don’t get anywhere in life without a dose of risk, and looking at initial annual volume of around 2000 units, we decided to go ahead with an approach to FCA in Australia.”


It must have been persuasive, because shortly after Neville was off to Auburn Hills, Michigan to seal the deal. Backed up by a thorough, and highly-detailed re-manufacturing plan the project got the green light, and has proven to be a very viable and satisfying outcome.

Owners love the product, and according to Neville he expects 2021 volumes to come in around 6000 units. Not bad for a huge pickup, with a driveaway pricetag of just under AUD$80K.


The RAM 1500/2500 is essentially a niche product in the overall Australian market, but demand remains strong for all types and sizes of pickup trucks, however, I asked Neville if he considered there may be a saturation point for the RAM 1500, and any other models ASV decides to bring in.

Neville replied: “Not really, because already we are limited by the number of vehicles we can assemble, and obviously we wouldn’t continue to invest in boosting re-manufacturing capacity beyond what I see as viable numbers.”


Even the re-manufacturing process is good-news story in itself. The production line now works three shifts a day over five days, along a 130m line, allowing 21 vehicles to be worked on simultaneously. The workforce has swelled from 110 to 160.

Ateco calls the RAM division, American Special Vehicles, and whilst it started out in 2015 as a joint venture with WAG, which provided the facility and the manpower, ASV took over the entire operation in 2018, with WAG merely providing services as a sub-contractor.


ASV, is responsible for importing LHD RAM trucks, and ensuring their certification with Australian Design Rules (ADRs). Including the whole suite of crash tests. 


It’s important to again note that the main emphasis on the ASV/RTA arrangement is that the vehicles are ‘re-manufactured’, not just a simple switch from LHD to RHD using a few new parts. Although it may not be on the same scale as multinational passenger car companies, which used to churn out over 100,000 cars a year from their plants, Ram Trucks Australia has added another important dimension to the growth of the ‘new’ automotive industry in Australia.


Ateco has become one of the strongest players in the Australian and New Zealand automotive environment. In Australia, as well as RAM trucks, Ateco distributes Maserati sports cars; and commercial vehicles from China’s LDV.


In New Zealand, Ateco distributes the full Fiat Chrysler Range, including RAM trucks; and Ateco is also the importer and distributor of Maserati in South Africa. Its dealer network includes 130 active operations in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. 


Clearly, this is the result of ‘big thinking’ from a truly entrepreneurial automotive executive, as witnessed by the fact that since its inception in 1985 the Ateco Group has delivered in total 302,525 vehicles to end of 2019; outselling Audi, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus and Volvo, plus other smaller marques.

As Neville says proudly: “Ram Trucks Australia is the only Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) authorised importer and distributor of Ram Trucks, for both the Australian and New Zealand markets.”


“As at today, we are the only FCA authorised full-volume manufacturer of right-hand-drive Ram Trucks in the world. This means we are the only company that imports and distributes official, export-spec, left-hand-drive new vehicles, directly from the Ram factory in the US, and remanufactures them to RHD. Our detailed remanufacturing process to RHD is second to none, carried out in a purpose-built, multi-million dollar, OEM-grade production facility in Melbourne, with stringent quality and control checks throughout the process.”


I asked Neville what the level of investment the project represents, to which he simply replied: “Millions. The cost to prepare a truck to comply with ADRs is around $10million; and in addition there are many millions invested in the creation of the production line, the CAD/CAM hardware and software, additional Australian-designed and sourced components, and the manpower costs.”


The current RAM 1500 is powered by Chrysler’s massive 5.7L Hemi V8; but RTA has plans for a V6 diesel in the mix.

This is a good news story that looks like it will keep on giving.

John Crawford