Monday, September 13, 2021

DANNY DOES IT AT MONZA by John Crawford


It's the first time we've seen 'The Shooey' since 2018, and not just a Daniel Ricciardo victory for McLaren, but a one-two with teammate Lando Norris shadowing Danny across the line.

Of course the BIG news out of Monza was 'that prang'! Martin Brundle's first reaction was that Verstappen had done nothing wrong, but when it comes to pig-headed determination I'd suggest it was probably Verstappen who caused the coming together with Hamilton.

It seems the stewards also saw Max as the man who caused the prang, handing him a three-place grid drop for the Sochi GP.

Starting from the front row, Ricciardo was ideally positioned to do well in Italy, and I think it's a tribute to his consummate skill, determination and patience that he can blend will to win, with excellent strategic decisions to pull off a welcome win.

John Crawford

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

SKODA OCTAVIA RS - A GOLF BY ANOTHER NAME by John Crawford

Volkswagen Group, under the direction of Ferdinand Piëch, became the leader in platform sharing and modular vehicle architecture. Today nobody is surprised that so many of all VWAG’s models feature common platforms, common power trains, common electronics and unashamedly have familial relationships.




It doesn’t matter which stable they’re from - VW, Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti - there are bits’n’bobs common to all of these famous brands, and from its position as the world’s second biggest carmaker, it hasn’t hurt the Group, or any members of the family.



When VWAG acquired Skoda, it was close to being an automotive basket case. It lacked vision, infrastructure, a prominent status in the automotive world ‘outside’ the Czech Republic (or, Czechoslovakia, as it was then), and more than anything it didn’t sell enough vehicles to properly fund its future.

Concurrent with taking over Skoda, VW was well into its stride with the whole platform-sharing regime, and Skoda’s future would be assured because of it. Come to think of it, Piëch’s vision ensured the same rosy futures for Seat, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti. VW breathed fresh life into some of the world’s best-known brands, and built its future as a carmaker on making all these marques successful.

 

However, let’s get to today’s story. The 2021 Octavia RS started life as do all cars - in the design studio, and the first sketches revealed a sharper, less fussy look for the brand's most popular model.




After I’ve pushed the Start/Stop button on the steering column of the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS wagon, and travelled less than 100 metres down the road I’m almost convinced that this car is powered by Subaru’s Boxer engine. The engine note emanating from under the hood is decidedly ‘burbly’, and a strange noise, compared to other Group family members.

 

When I stop and lift the hood, there’s no giveaway as to what’s under the usual ‘plastic hat’ over the engine.

However, craning my neck to see 'under the hat', I’m sure I can identify a ‘tuned’ branch exhaust manifold which is responsible for delivering a car with an interesting noise from the front, rather than from the exhaust pipe.

 

If I was driving a Golf GTi, I guess I would be hearing the same sound, because everything at the business end of the Skoda, is lifted straight out of the Golf GTi’s power train specification. A 2.0L turbo four, mated to a very smooth dual-clutch transmission is what you’ll get when you drive a Golf 8 GTi.




So, let’s celebrate Piëch’s imagination. In this instance you get a Golf GTi for (slightly) less money, loads of practicality, sharp external styling, superb materials and interior design and finish, and a car which from my perspective makes much more sense as a family mover than some high-riding, overweight, thirsty and top-heavy SUV.

 

Okay, you say, it’s got a Golf GTi heart, but is it sporty? Answer, yes, very much so. This is one of the most enjoyable station wagons I’ve ever driven. There are cheaper, more domesticated Octavias, but this RS variant is the car I would choose.


Along with the ‘boxer burble’ you get tenacious grip, predictable and controllable handling when you’re travelling faster than you should be, and on top of all that fun - you get a truly practical family car, hiding under the sporty badges.




I have only one complaint about vehicle dynamics, and it’s a Yin-Yang situation concerning the tyres. They are Bridgestone Potenzas. They’re very grippy, and contribute to the car’s excellent handling, but sadly, when you’re driving on concrete-paved freeways they set up a truly unpleasant harmonic noise at a frequency and pitch that’s destined to have you calling for earplugs. On hot-mix bitumen, the noise disappears completely.

 

And, just in case you think the guy writing this has got the comparison all wrong, let me throw some numbers at you.

 

Wheelbase: Golf 2636mm; Octavia 2636mm. Front track: Golf 1535mm; Octavia 1539mm. Rear track: Golf 1512mm; Octavia 1530mm. Overall length: Golf (wagon) 4633mm; Octavia 4689mm. Sorta close, right? The differences in the rear track and overall length accommodate some of the practicality of the Octavia versus the Golf wagon.


Yep, this is automotive conjuring at its best.

 

For me the Skoda Octavia RS wagon is a skilfully-resolved example of automotive architecture. It’s stylish, beautifully finished, smartly equipped and satisfying to drive. Best of all - it’s not an SUV.

 

I was really impressed with the design and treatment of the instrument panel. Sure there are a couple of slashes of fake carbon-fibre, but a large part of the sweep in front of you is covered in a tasteful, understated suede-like cloth, with not just red stitching, but a strip of red LED light across the passenger side of the cockpit.




Mind you, as sales have improved, prices have escalated. Not by outrageous amounts, but in the end, you’re getting what you paid for - a quality European vehicle with impeccable breeding, and you won’t have to mortgage the house to buy it.

 

The current status of Skoda in the Australian market seems to be right where the company expects, given the volatility caused worldwide by COVID. In fact predicting sales  and market share improvements, at this point is futile.


Skoda Australia’s CEO, Michael Irmer says he would like to see sales reach 10,000 units a year, but at this stage it’s a goal, and Skoda has enjoyed a relatively stable market share last year and through most of this year at just below 1% of the market.

 

The company sold 7000 vehicles in 2019, a number which fell 5.6% in 2020 – but COVID notwithstanding 10,000 vehicles does not seem, to me, to be an unreachable target when both selling conditions and supply chains improve.

 

Also, whilst a one percent share may not sound like a healthy result, Skoda is attracting a particular type of buyer, according to Irmer. They are buyers who want a European car, with European performance and finish, but, he says, they are not expecting to pay bargain basement prices. This suits the Skoda strategy - to take value from the leverage it gets from using common VW Group platforms, powertrains and parts, but still managing to hold the line on prices.

 

According to Michael Irmer one of the strongest points of appeal has been the introduction of after sales service packs. He says this is perceived as of greater value by buyers than a low purchase price, and this bodes well for maintaining the ‘European Positioning’ element in the Skoda proposition.


Like all VW Group products there's a big move away from actual switchgear and execution of pretty much all functions is via a touchscreen - and that's bloody dangerous. Every time you need to change something (anything), you must take your eyes off the road. Like I said, this move to touchscreens is life-threatening!


This Skoda Octavia RS may not be (in the opinion of some) the greatest car in the world, but it’s clever, and that’s what Skoda is about these days.


Also, it’s still a very proud export from the Czech Republic, employing thousands, and ensuring the Skoda badge remains on the list of historic automotive names which still survive fads, fashions and the ignominy of failure.


JOHN CRAWFORD 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

AN ICONIC JAGUAR CELEBRATION by John Crawford

It’s the morning of March 17, 1961, and a clearly impatient Sir Williams Lyons is restlessly roaming around the Jaguar display at the Salon d’Auto in Geneva. It’s a mere 20 minutes before the auto show will open, and there’s a clearly vacant space on the Jaguar stand awaiting the display of a rumoured new sports car.

 

Suddenly, at a side door of the palais in the Parc des Eaux-Vives, there was considerable shouting, the shifting of a huge entrance door, and the new Jaguar E-Type coupe was driven slowly through and parked next to the Jaguar stand. A rather hypertense Jaguar PR executive, Bob Berry exited the car, and Sir William Lyons rushed to his side. “Good God Berry, I thought you would never arrive!”




Despite the last-minute arrival, which of course only added to the mystique and hyperbole surrounding the appearance of the E-Type, the Geneva Salon had the honour of introducing one of the automotive world’s truly iconic cars.

 

When asked by journalists of his estimation of the post-launch popularity of the car, Lyons replied, “Well we have quite a few orders from dealers, sight unseen!”

 

However, once the E-type broke cover it was an instant hit, worldwide. Following the auto salon, the coupe (Registered 9600HP) was to be used by Jaguar sales executives for test drives, however the appointment lists became clearly overbooked, so Lyons called the factory, instructing test driver Norman Dewis to locate the first roadster (Registered 77 RW), and drive overnight to Geneva to stand alongside the coupe for test drives.

 

Dewis averaged 68mph for the 11-hour journey, delivering the car to the Jaguar team at the Parc des Eaux Vives an hour before the first test drives. Dewis said he would head off for some sleep, but Lofty England (Jaguar’s race and service manager) said: “No time old boy, have a coffee and get ready for the test drives.”

 

The rest is ‘great history’. At the end of the Geneva Salon, there were more than 500 orders in the book, and over the next 14 years Jaguar sold more than 72,000 E-Types.

 

Now, for the first time all three of the original E-Types have been gathered together at Wappenbury Hall, Sir William Lyons’ stately manor house, by an enterprising classic car dealer, Pendine Cars, for a memorable photo session, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the car on what would have been Lyons’ 120th birthday, September 3rd. Once the Geneva Press Day was finished, chassis 005 became the static display car.


Left to right: 9600HP; 77RW; Chassis 005 (Photo Jayson Fong)







Sadly, Norman Dewis died in June 2019, but he was reunited with 77RW before his death.


Norman Dewis with 77RW (Photo: Getty Images)


As one of the ‘Keepers of the Legend’ I am very proud to have served as a PR executive for Jaguar Cars for close to 20 years, telling the stories of this fabled company’s rise to global prominence through the vision and determination of its founder, and the many dedicated chief executives who followed in his footsteps.


JOHN CRAWFORD

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

VINFAST LOVE AFFAIR WITH AUSTRALIA OVER! by John Crawford

Merely a few weeks after I reported on Vinfast's plans to establish a large base in Australia - it's all over!

The Vietnamese carmaker had acquired the old GM-Holden proving ground at Lang Lang, Victoria, for $30 million, and had taken over Holden's old engineering offices at Port Melbourne, in order to establish a large engineering centre (supported by the proving ground) with former Australian employees of Holden, Ford and Toyota recruited to drive the car company's ambitious plans forward.

It was a grand plan, and would have meant exciting opportunities for Australian engineers working alongside their Vietnamese counterparts, producing an impressive new range of vehicles.

The plan would have seen Australia retain considerable engineering talents, and Vinfast had even suggested that its Australian operation may eventually subcontract engineering services to other carmakers, who would find it desirable to have access to an all-year proving ground, as well as skilled automotive engineers.

Alas, the COVID lockdowns have prevented Vietnamese staff flying in and out of Australia to regularly work on planned projects. Not knowing how long Australia will be in lockdown, Vinfast has announced that it is closing its Port Melbourne operations, and the Lang Lang proving ground is back on the market.

This same lockdown situation however, is likely to affect any immediate sale of the proving ground, as the same limitations Vinfast has outlined, would affect any other buyers.

Yet another set of unintended consequences of the state governments' ridiculous lockdown plans, stopping a possibly thriving business from employing Australians, and helping maintain Australia's already excellent relations with one of Asia's fastest-growing companies.

JOHN CRAWFORD


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

DRIVEN PERSONALITIES - BROC FEENEY by Paul Gover

Roland Dane (L) & Broc Feeney
Roland Dane says one thing tipped the scales in favour of 18-year-old Broc Feeney when he was finalising the talent search for a Supercars successor to Jamie Whincup.

“I think he’s naturally fast,” Dane tells Race.news.

“We’re giving a talented kid a massive opportunity. He can go out there and swing freely.”

It’s that simple for Dane, while Jamie Whincup – who steps up to Team Principal at Red Bull Ampol racing when he steps out of the #88 Commodore at the end of the season – believes Feeney is already the real deal.

“He has everything we were looking for in a driver. It’s his work ethic. The right morals. What he says. He wanted it more than anyone,” Whincup tells Race.news.

The official confirmation of Feeney’s promotion to the Main Game with T8, alongside the sands of Main Beach at Surfers Paradise, feels more like a family reunion than a typical media call.

Feeney’s whole family is present, including his excited grandmother, and the T8 contingent includes major shareholder Tony Quinn, Whincup as team principal, and Dane as the godfather.

Broc’s father, Paul, is a successful businessman who admits he has spent big to create the breaks for his son, but he also has the heart of a racer and the smarts of a motorcycle salesman. He was a factory Kawasaki superbike rider in the 1980s, when his friend Mick Doohan was one of his rivals, and Feeney Snr was known for his wild style, bravery and absolute commitment to winning.

 

“I was more than happy to have him racing motorbikes. He was exceptional on bikes. But when he was about 10 we went to Pukhet, and there are no rules, so he went into a fast kart and straight away he was on it,” Feeney tells Race.news.

“We came back and then next year we got him a kart and he started racing.”

“It’s a dream come true,” Broc tells me. “I’ve finished school."

"No Uni for me, I’m going to be racing cars “.


Paul Gover (see more on this story at www.race.news)

Friday, August 27, 2021

GIULIA VELOCE - TWO GOOD 2 BE TRUE? by John Crawford


Believe it or not, it truly is. My latest short drive in an Alfa Romeo Giulia Q2, merely confirmed that it is a mesmerizingly good car – and as my friend Michael Taylor wrote from Cernobbio, Italy, it 
IS THE BEST car Alfa Romeo has ever made – consistent with prevailing values and expectations.

 

Probably when the Alfa Romeo GT Sprint was launched back in 1963, the ‘Alfisti’ and enthusiasts thought the very same thing about that car.

 

However, after a USD$5 billion investment in creating and developing new Alfa Romeos, by FCA Chairman the late Sergio Marchione, his dreams have become reality.



Yesterday’s drive was just a 75km run on main roads from Brisbane to the Gold Coast, but it definitely confirmed that (even regardless of a big lottery win, where I could afford any car), my choice would be the mid-range Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce Q2, with the turbocharged 2.0L four cylinder.


I simply don’t need the enormous power and performance of a Quadrifoglio.

 

The Giulia Q2, is chuckable, comfortable, quiet, performs well and its handling dynamics are exceptional – especially after the recent ‘tweaking’ by the ride and handling engineers.



Reading the data sheet, you could assume the changes are so minor as to be almost unnoticeable, but my drive confirmed the engineers conquered their challenges and have produced an even better car.


Interior changes reveal a much improved infotainment system, and big upgrade in trim materials and finishes.


I guess the car in these photos would cost about AUD$75,000 (including on-road costs) and that makes for a supremely sensible choice of a four-door, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan of almost unmatchable comparisons – without dipping into a lottery win.



If this is the sort of car you imagine suits your purposes, for goodness’ sake go and test drive the Giulia Q2. You’ll be smiling all the way from the dealer to your garage.

 

JOHN CRAWFORD

 

Monday, August 23, 2021

BUTT UGLY SELLS! BIG TIME! by John Crawford



Not being a lover of SUVs I rarely look at SUV sales data, but having recently driven, and been impressed with the Audi Q8, which shares underpinnings with a wide range of VW Group models (see Q7, Lamborghini Urus, VW Touareg and Bentley Bentayga), I decided to check if Audi’s halo model was selling to expectations in the ‘Large SUV Segment’.

 


The base Q8 comes with lots of equipment, but just steel springs and a turbo V6 petrol.

 

I think the base model is fine, because once an Audi salesperson gets you in the showroom, there’s the inevitable ‘packages’ dangled in front of you.

 

The Q8 drives beautifully, performs well and its design appears to morph from an aggressive frontal appearance to the sloping, coupe-style rear roofline.

 

 A close analysis of the segment (in Vfacts) revealed a huge shock in sales data. In July 2021 Q8 sales almost tripled over July 2020.

 

Not bad for a large, but only 5-seater SUV, that costs AUD$130,000. Its growth in YTD sales grew 83%, and its market share nearly doubled 9.3% over 5%. On this basis, Audi Australia will be delighted.

 

The big sellers in this segment have been BMW X7 and Land Rover Discovery, but their market shares are either static or falling.

 

However, you could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw which vehicle had the biggest growth in sales.


It’s the butt-ugly, but very competent off-roader, the Mercedes-Benz G class.



For the month of July 2021, sales were up 125% on July 2020, and year-to-Date July sales were up 266% on YTD July 2020!

 

Compared to its much more attractive competitors, including the sleek Q8, this squared-off, slab-sided SUV is a certified three-pointed sales star.



Go figure!

 

JOHN CRAWFORD

 

Friday, August 20, 2021

BENTLEY BOYS & GIRLS BIG BASH by John Crawford

 Delighted to see Bentley Motors return in triumph to Monterey this past weekend, with an unprecedented lineup of style and confidence.

I'm also delighted to celebrate one of the brightest Bentley PR talents I've ever worked with - the lovely Erin Bronner - whose enthusiasm for the brand has ensured its continued success in the USA.


John Crawford

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

PORSCHE TAYCAN - THE REAL THING? by John Crawford


The short answer? It’s a bloody magnificent machine from pure Porsche genus. It’s everything you want a Porsche to be – blistering performance, impressive engineering, subtlety of line and surface, understated interior design and driving it leaves you wanting more.

If that’s what you expect from a Porsche, you won’t be disappointed.

 

“Yes, you say, but it’s an EV? Where’s the noise, the fusion of mechanical forces and feral feedback when you’re pushing to the limit?”


Believe me, this is a Porsche – true blue – that delivers its goodies in a way which elevates the Taycan to the top of the performance EV hierarchy. 


Does it resemble any other model in the Porsche line-up? No, not really, it may seem linked to the Panamera four-door platform, but the platform is all-new, designed purely for EV use, but I think there are hints at how a four-door Cayman would look.



After sampling the Tesla Model S, I was prepared to give it ticks in all the boxes. But, after just a short drive in the Taycan, you can understand how Porsche has separated Taycan from other current high performance EVs. It is sheer sophistication in both art and mechanicals.

 

Not far from me is a road which winds up through hills on the eastern side of the scenic rim, which throws up a natural western border to the famous Gold Coast in Queensland. 


Imagine, for a moment, the hills, valleys and cliffs forced up from below by the constant eruptions from the pre-historic Tweed Volcano.


Queensland's Scenie Rim country


Yugembah and Yugarabul are the major languages of the original inhabitants and, because of the difficult terrain, the Scenic Rim was not properly charted by white explorers until the early 1920s.

 

So, after noting the history and the current environment, I’m sure it’s not too difficult to imagine that the roads in the region are definitely ‘Taycan Territory’.


Driving the Taycan, I found it delightfully easy to lose myself in the pure, tactile joy of pushing this Porsche as hard as I dared – because its limits are way beyond my driving skills.

“Hold on", I hear you say. “I'sn’t this the guy who defames and vilifies electric vehicles? How can he justify his hypocrisy?”

 

Well, if you’re going to understand the apparent EV appeal then you have to drive them and appreciate the qualities which may or may not make them popular. I can see why the Taycan would appeal to those who can afford the buy-in price and are chasing performance, but also because it does have some positive elements, which I criticise as negatives in many other EVs.

 

It boasts a long range up to around 400 kilometres from a full charge, thereby almost negating ‘range anxiety’, and you can use its potential knowing that the Taycan delivers all of the Porsche performance values. 




The straight-line impact and response is almost (almost) ludicrous - although I didn’t go there, and anyway it was Tesla that first introduced the ludicrous tag to the EV lexicon.




The Taycan’s handling is superb, and the brakes are awesome.

 

So, yes, this is a Porsche with every facet of the breed.


Stunning dashboard design; plenty of clear luggage space; ingress and egress can be difficult

 

Now, the fun part. The price of the Porsche Taycan turbo S is AUD$385,500 (plus on-road costs), so this photo may be the only way some Porsche enthusiasts get to sample its awesome ability.



But, let me promise you, even a short test drive will have you lusting for more.

 

JOHN CRAWFORD

 

PEBBLE BEACH CONCOURS - BACK WITH A BANG IN 2021 by John Crawford


For 15 years from 1991, Monterey Week was a highlight of my year, when the Concours d'Elegance was staged at the famous Pebble Beach golf course on the Sunday, at the end of a week's festivities focussed on beautiful cars.

Sadly, Covid lockdowns forced not only a temporary halt in staging the classic event, but a combination of my own lack of resources, and Australian border closures, meant that I was unable to attend the Pebble Beach event, which is without a doubt the greatest gathering place for car enthusiasts from all over the world.

This year, Chair Sandra Button and her talented team brought the Concours back to life, and a look at the judging field shows the crowds were eager to attend.

It's not just the judging field, but another major highlight outside The Lodge at Pebble Beach is the 'Concept Lawn' where car designers and car makers vie for a place to show their ideas.

This year I think it was fitting that one of the Concours' greatest supporters, car collector Arturo Keller, took out the 'Best In Show' prize with his beautifully-restored 1938 Mercedes-Benz Autobahn Kurier.



I have had the honour many times of spending time at Pebble Beach with Arturo, who has collected and owns some great Bentleys, like the famous Embiricos coupe (below), but this year, I was there in my dreams.

It's great to see this fabulous 70th anniversary event triumph over the pandemic.

John Crawford

(Photos: Rolex, Pebble Beach Concours)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

MERCEDES-BENZ EQA 250 EV - CLASSY, COMFORTABLE, COSTLY - by John Crawford

What is it with electric vehicles? As soon as I get behind the wheel of an EV I go to jelly. The first thing I look at is how much charge is left, because depending on that number, and how far I need to go tells me about my plans for the day. I hate it when a machine controls my life.

 

Sitting in my driveway is a Mercedes-Benz EQA 250, with 36% of charge left, so a 150km/h round trip into the Gold Coast Hinterland, for a picnic, is a NO!



Also, the last time I tried to sign up for a CHARGEPOINT account, at one of my local shopping malls, the machine promptly decided my credit card wasn’t valid. I complained to a ‘bot’ on the CHARGEPOINT website, which was unable to provide a digitised reply.


However, for re-charging, there's no shortage of cables, plugs and adapters - but they do occupy a lot of space in the back!



I checked the manual, and found that using a 10amp home circuit, I could get a full charge, after just 14 hours! For a bit of a laugh, I checked the price of the EQA – a tad under AUD$78,000! Okay, it's the baby of the Benz EV lineup, so it's obvious Benz is pricing for this car to compete.



This EQA 250 is Mercedes-Benz’s price leader intro to Sindelfingen’s range of electric vehicles. The price, compared to the Hyundai Kona EV, and the KIA Niro EV, is not a million miles away, and there’s no doubt the EQA is a classy piece of kit, with beautiful interior materials, high quality fit and finishes, and well-engineered mechanicals. But, I could say the same about the petrol-powered GLC on which it is based.



However, I am really beginning to intensely dislike being told by carmakers, governments, green groups and ill-informed idiots, that EVs are the way to go, and by 2050 even I’ll be driving one! 

First of all that would make me a centenarian driver, and I’m not sure the transport department will deem me fit enough to hold a licence, even if I did survive to that age. So, at least I’ll be spared being forced to drive an EV. Thank goodness!

 

Because the EQA 250 is the cheapest Benz EV, it gets by with one electric motor driving the front wheels, but the range will bulk up, and there’ll be AWD versions with ridiculous power outputs – because when you’re paying big bucks for a Benz EV, that’s what buyers expect.



After driving around the Gold Coast using up the sparse 36% of charge, I could not justify for a minute paying that much for the pleasure of driving Silent Sam. Come to think of it, the ICE equivalents are just as quiet, sometimes more powerful, and take no longer than 10 minutes for a splash and dash at the servo.

This car, like most early EVs will be bought by those same ill-informed idiots who believe they’re ‘saving the planet’ by not using the dreaded gasoline – whilst they charge their EV overnight with electricity derived from coal-fired generator!

 

Are we really sure EVs are right for Australia?


JOHN CRAWFORD