Friday, January 22, 2021

HYUNDAI KONA EV v SKODA KAROQ - CHOICES, CHOICES? by John Crawford

At first glance you may think, “What’s he on about? These crossovers aren’t even apples-to-apples. One is powered by that ‘dirty electricity'; and the other is powered by ‘nasty gasoline'.



Also, there’s a huge price gap between these two, and of course that makes a big difference in the purchase decision – but, hang in there.

 

For the sake of the comparison only, let me say that very likely, the Karoq and the Kona will be driven by Mums delivering kids to school, doing the shopping, and ferrying budding football players to training.




So, both vehicles will endure the same demands, but is there a big difference in how they perform these tasks?

The short answer is ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ – but this has nothing to do with the motive power, or the competence of each vehicle. The correct response is: “Social politics and the price of going Green.”

 

The market has already established that crossovers are the desired form of transport for families these days, just look at the sales data. Passenger cars are ‘on the nose’. As for why that’s the case, I cannot understand. Cars are comfortable, easy to manoeuvre, flexible and more economical than heavier crossovers.

 

But, as Trump would say; “It is what it is.” So let’s look at what may motivate you to buy a Skoda Karoq or a Hyundai Kona EV?

 

They are both roughly the same size, and hold as many human forms as each other, plus all the footy and picnic gear in the back, under the tailgate. They perform pretty equally, although how you treat the accelerator pedal results in big differences in operating conditions.

 

If you’re a leadfoot, then the Karoq driver is simply looking for a gas station to pour hard-earned dollars down the filler tube.


If you’re a Kona EV driver, then your major concern is that the rapidly shrinking range has you on the lookout for a public charging station – and right now, there’s fewer of those than would make you feel comfortable.



Yes, despite promises from EV producers that driving distances are constantly being increased, ‘range anxiety’ is still a big issue for EV owners.

First, to cost. The Karoq starts around AUD$34,000, whereas the Kona starts just over AUD$60,000. Yes, that’s about double the price for ‘going green’. Trouble is, in Australia, by choosing an EV, you are a long way from being someone who ‘really’ cares about the environment.

 

That’s because Australia produces ALL of its electricity by burning coal in its power stations. So, does it make sense to buy a pure BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) in Australia, because of environmental concerns? The short answer is ‘No’.


There’s also another consideration in favour of gasoline-powered cars. Carmakers are making huge strides in making the ICEs (internal combustion engines) of today much cleaner, and more economical. This fact is irrefutable evidence that ‘environmentally’ you are much more responsible choosing a current gasoline-powered car. The ICE is a long way away from going the way of the Dodo bird.

 

So, having thrashed out this particular argument, how do these two perform those daily tasks I listed earlier? On that question, you could spend a long time trying to split hairs.

 

The Karoq is a delight to drive. Yes, it’s a VW with another name, but it’s a truly enjoyable vehicle ‘on the road’. It steers easily, performs acceptably, and has all the creature comforts your chequebook can afford.



The Kona does likewise. It’s certainly one of the most enjoyable EVs I’ve driven over the past couple of years. Driving it, is simplicity itself. There’s four transmission buttons in a tight little quadrant, and there’s one engineering touch in the cockpit I really like.

I needed a little extra 'juice' and thankfully Stockland Mall on the Gold Coast has a public charging station. The instrumentation in the KONA is dead simple, and the only two icons you need to pay attention to are the 'Regen' setting; and of course the 'distance to empty'!


The steering wheel ‘paddles’ are not for changing gear – instead they increase or decrease the ‘regeneration’ of battery power – depending on the driving conditions you are dealing with.

 

If it's a freeway, then set the ‘Regen’ switch to 1 or 0; whereas, if you’re in the ‘burbs, dealing with undulations, or stop-start driving, set the ‘Regen’ control to 2 or 3. It’s a useful challenge to master the effects of regeneration when it’s on 2 or 3.

 

You can train yourself just to drive on the accelerator in the ‘burbs, and by judging when, and in what distance you will slow down, and stop. You can generate maximum ‘regen’, and slow to a halt without actually using the brakes!

 

The Hyundai Kona is a pretty clever EV, and I like it for that alone. It’s well-finished, comfortable and capacious – and most of all, really simple to operate.



Now, the Karoq is my sort of vehicle (except that it’s an SUV, which I detest). It drives beautifully. It’s quiet, rides well, steers well and is very smartly-finished, with quality materials and excellent equipment levels.



And of course, if you choose the 4x4 version, you can take it off-road - where, I'm pleased to say, it's very competent. Maybe not Range Rover-competent, but pretty useful anyways.


Let’s face it, I’m pretty much okay with anything that has Apple CarPlay and a Cruise Control.

So, it’s down to you. Petrol or Coal Power. It’s all up to your own convictions when it comes to polluting the environment, whilst you use your car for – whatever!

 

JOHN CRAWFORD






Monday, January 18, 2021

THE GENESIS OF CULTURE CLASH by John Crawford

And just when things were going so well!




Late last year, Hyundai’s Genesis division lost the full-time work activities of its design chief, Luc Donckerwolke, due to the onset of a severe illness; then shortly after, its innovative and experienced brand manager, Manfred Fitzgerald, left the company.


Luc Donckerwolke (L) and Manfred Fitzgerald with Essentia Concept

These developments suggest that the first initiatives to separate Genesis from Hyundai’s brand umbrella, have hit the rocks.

 

Think of Genesis as similar to Toyota’s Lexus project. However, where Toyota pursued its goals with an energized, no-limits approach, Genesis appears to have fallen victim to Korea’s embedded feudal management hierarchy. 

This is despite serious efforts by Fitzgerald - and even intervention by the driven and ambitious Hyundai Chairman, Euisun Chung (right), to broaden the outlook and understanding of brand management of the ‘home team’.

 

I experienced a similar brick wall, when I joined Daewoo Motor in 1994, as it prepared to launch a new car company, and then four brand new cars. My good friend Ing. Dr. Ulrich Bez (arrowed), had been lured away from Europe by Daewoo Chairman, Kim Woo Choong (centre), with not only a big paycheck, but also the irresistible challenge of launching four cars, which were all-new, from the ground up.



Despite being appointed by the ‘Feudal Chief’ (the Chairman), Dr. Bez was continually frustrated by petty jealousies, and undermined by opposing opinions on engineering initiatives and product engineering, by the Korean project managers – who, strongly disagreed with his appointment as Director of Product Development.

 

They saw his involvement as ‘intervention’, and were too stubborn to recognise that Bez could bring European savvy, experience and know-how to the new products which, in order to be market-competitive, demanded a new approach in vehicle dynamics, build quality and reliability. These were skills and talents sadly lacking in the Daewoo ‘home teams’.

 

In the case of Genesis, Donckerwolke delivered outstanding new cars, and Fitzgerald proposed a highly innovative approach to creating brand differences, thereby setting Genesis free of the shackles of appearing to be just an ‘upmarket Hyundai’.


Manfred Fitzgerald teamed Genesis with high-powered global branding agency Centigrade and its innovative U.S. CEO Julie Barnard


Hyundai’s aspiration was that Genesis would be able to challenge not only the key Asian competitors, but eventually go on to challenge the German Trio, with confidence and product integrity not previously seen in a Korean luxury car.

 

Despite Hyundai’s global success with high volume, lower-cost cars and SUVs, Genesis’ product management and engineering teams are locked in a cultural time-warp, and it appears that internally there remains a lack of understanding of the differences in brand aspirations, and the demand for brand separation, in positioning its Genesis line.

 

Manfred Fitzgerald and I go way back, when we worked for the Lamborghini and Bentley brands within the VWAG catalogue of both volume and premium marques. We were both working to create a profile, a personality, and a special appeal for the British and Italian marques, which telegraphed to potential customers that these brands deserved a place in the premium luxury pantheon, and serious consideration.

 

The results speak for themselves. Today both Lamborghini and Bentley are very successful brands for VWAG, and easily maintain their distinct appeal to big spenders in these exclusive market segments.



Understanding the mindset of customers for these cars, was an integral element of the Fitzgerald proposals, if the goals for Genesis were to be reached.

It appears now that the current Genesis team has pulled back from Fitzgerald’s innovative and out-of-left-field marketing concepts, simply because it has no experience whatsoever of operating in this market space, and I also suggest the team is struggling to grasp a detailed understanding of this specialised segment, which is essential - to effectively separate Genesis from Hyundai’s mainstream products.

 

I had another personal experience, in Korea, of the difficulties which hampered Korean carmakers’ attempts to penetrate the premium luxury market. On a visit to Seoul in 1997, Dr. Ulrich Bez asked me to accompany him to an informal meeting with members of the board of Ssang Yong Motor.



I did not realise it at the time, but Daewoo Chairman Kim Woo Choong was contemplating a takeover of Ssang Yong in order that Daewoo could sell both the (Mercedes-Benz based) Musso SUV, and the Chairman luxury sedan (which was wholly-based on the Mercedes-Benz W210 E-Class).

 

The discussions with the Board members revealed they had virtually no idea, or plans to develop any ideas, about how to market a car in the premium luxury segment. It was clear the Ssang Yong executives did not understand the segment, nor how to work within it to promote their flagship car. They revealed absolutely no knowledge of brand imaging, brand positioning, nor who the customers might be.

 

In 1997 if a wealthy Korean tycoon wanted a premium luxury car, they simply ordered one from Germany’s trio (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz). And, why is that? Because the brands’ values and their attributes are firmly established in those customers’ minds.

 

There was rarely any purchase consideration given to the Ssang Yong 'Chairman' (right) – the car just didn’t appear on their radar, or resonate with Korean premium luxury buyers, despite its Mercedes-Benz product core.

Also, Ssang Yong’s amateur attempts at marketing the 'Chairman' merely confirmed that executives from most Korean carmakers had no clue about the ‘value’ of a premium brand. Speaking of the amateur approach, just reading the 'Chairman’s' initial press release clearly revealed their lack of experience and knowledge.

 

Coming back to Genesis, one area where the ‘brand experience’, was intended be completely independent, were the showrooms. 

They were to be located in city centres, alongside high fashion brands and luxury goods retailers.


The showrooms, were essentially upmarket stores.


In the lower photo is the Sydney showroom, in a prominent position in one of the city's most famous shopping arcades.


 

Lexus maintains a solus dealership profile, totally unrelated to the Toyota brand. It retains this prime position in the luxury and premium luxury segments thanks to Toyota’s persistence and single-minded determination to lift Lexus above the status of Toyota’s more prosaic offerings.


However, it appears Genesis could sink without a trace, thereby wasting the considerable resources which have already been deployed to achieve the modest success it has enjoyed so far.


None of this concerns the dynamics and raw driver appeal of the Genesis cars and SUV. They have been expertly ‘fettled’ by Albert Biermann and his team at Hyundai’s N-works at Nurburgring, and represent outstanding ride, handling, and straight-line performance, already the equal of anything from the Lexus stable – or indeed established members of this club, like Jaguar.

 

Biermann, of course, came to Hyundai from BMW’s M Division, to do precisely what Hyundai demanded for its sports variants, the impressive i20N , i30N, and its rallycars.



Based at the motor sport shrine in the Eiffel Mountains just north of Frankfurt, Hyundai’s N-works at Nurburgring operates in concert with a similar facility in Korea at Namyang – which is the reason for the N model code.

 

So, if the current Genesis models are world class, indeed benchmark competitors, there is every reason to place them on their own, unique pedestal, to draw in premium luxury buyers.


However, I see indications that the Korean management will fall short of Euisun Chung’s aspiration, to offer a Lexus competitor, and a brand which could someday been seen as equal to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.


Believe me, they have the right credentials, now!



From my own sources within Hyundai, it appears to me that, sadly, the inexperienced managers will prevail, and the Genesis dream may be short-lived due to risk aversion, and the lack of global experience, among the middle management tier, to truly challenge the world’s best with unique positioning and marketing plans.


John Crawford

Thursday, January 7, 2021

TOURING - WICK TO INVERNESS, SCOTLAND by John Crawford

Way beyond the Scottish Highlands, near the end of British roads reaching towards the Arctic Circle is one of the best Great Drives I can recommend.

If you were driving from Land’s End, the southernmost part of England, to where the road stops, that will bring you to John O’Groats, the northernmost location.

Here on the blustery northern coast, the next stop is Norway – or maybe one of the outlying Shetland or Orkney Islands.

 

But, this time we fly into John O’Groates Airport at Wick. The town was originally a Viking port, where Viking longboats were once made.


The town was named Vik, but was Anglicized to Wick in the 12th century. It’s only claim to fame was that it was the biggest fishing port for herring in the British Isles, but as the waters were overfished, the town’s prominence declined.

 

The town itself wins praise from city planners, as it was laid out by Britain’s leading civil engineer at the time, Thomas Telford.

 

You can fly into Wick from Edinburgh or Aberdeen, but if you’re planning to rent a car, apply at least six weeks in advance. That’s so the car rental company can first identify a car, and then get it to Wick in time for your arrival.



I arrived in Wick in high winds, which saw the Dornier turboprop swinging wildly side-to-side as it landed in a stiff crosswind. At the airport, our group was greeted by a piper, and then we we went directly to one of Scotland’s finest, and most unusual hotels – Ackergill Castle.



 

There’s only a small number of rooms within the tower structure, but outlying buildings have been turned into luxurious cottages for longer stays. As they say in the area, “There’s nowt to do but long walks.” However, the bracing sea air and the hearty meals will provide a very restful and relaxing stay.

 

This Great Drive is just over 220 miles long, but you’ll experience open, flowing roads, quaint towns and villages, fantastic views of the northern coast and find yourself in the seat of the Sutherland clan.



The area’s topography is generally flat land, with slightly undulating hills and it supported the early residents with fishing and herding of sheep.

 

Leave Ackergill early and join the A882/A9 to Thurso, which remains one of the largest settlements in the north of Scotland. Neolithic burial cairns found nearby date back more than 5000 years, and Thurso was originally an important Norse port, trading with a number of northern European cities.



From Thurso (above) the road sweeps through deserted farmland, with Highland Sheep dotted about the fields, either side of the A836.

 

There is little traffic, most of it local, as tourists rarely venture into this pretty countryside, because of the reputation for bleak weather. There are four or five sheltered coves along the rugged coastline, with pretty beaches. But don’t be fooled, these are not ideal for a dip, because remember you’re looking at the wild North Atlantic Ocean. The coast is rocky, rugged and unforgiving.



The road heads inland, where the River Naver empties into the sea, and the next largest town is Tongue – a great place to stop for morning tea, or lunch if you’ve been dawdling along taking in the sights.

 

Located a mile or two south of the bay known as the Kyle of Tongue, the town of Tongue sits in the shadow of two mountains, Ben Hope and Ben Loyal. The area around the town was famous as a crossroad for the Gaels, Picts and Vikings.



There are two hotels in the town, so a stopover is certainly possible, however in the summer months you would need to book early to ensure a reservation.

Tongue House, to the north of the main township, on the eastern shore of the Kyle of Tongue is the historic seat of the Clan Mackay. There are many pleasant walking trails around Tongue, but anytime other than summer the weather is usually distinctly uninviting.

 

Leaving Tongue, take the A838. The road tracks around Loch Eriboll, before winding back to the northern coast at Durness.

 


This is windswept, isolated country, and at the hamlet of Luxford Bridge take a right onto the A894, which is signposted to Ullapool. Don’t be confused however, as there are two towns with similar names – Unapool and Ullapool.


When you reach the north shore of Loch Assynt, take a left and join the A837. Just after Ledbeg take a right on the A835. If you reach a place called Ledmore you’ve missed the turn. There are no more turns until you reach Ullapool, on the northern side of Loch Broom.


Ullapool is a large fishing and ferry port, taking passengers and cars to the Isle of Lewis and its main town, Stornaway (below).



Ullapool was founded in 1788 as a herring port, and once again the town was laid out by Thomas Telford. There are many pubs, restaurants and hotels, so it’s a logical place to pause for a day or so.

 

There are also many walking trails in the nearby mountains, the most spectacular of which may be found at An Teallach – but, be warned, the climbing trail begins after a long walk from the nearest parking area. . However, after you’ve climbed, you are promised spectacular views.

 

The road to Inverness travels through genuine Highland terrain, with impressive mountains in sight near the roadway and in the far distance. It’s a wide highway, with great views to either side, which becomes more populated as you near Inverness.

 

Inverness, from an aerial view is a large city, but if you spend time there it takes on the personality of a big village. The people are outwardly taciturn, but friendly when you get to know them.



I always associate this stern behaviour as representative of people who don’t want to waste time jawing on the street, so they can just get inside their warm houses.

Scotland, for such a small country, has many interesting side roads and locations full of history, but I’m reminded of an earlier visit to Inverness and a visit to the local tourist office.

 

We had determined that there was a direct road link between Inverness and Tongue, so we asked the young agent in the tourist centre how long it would take to drive to Tongue and return?

 

He asked, in a broad Scottish brogue: “And, where are yer stayin’ this night?”

 

We replied: ‘Fort William’ – about 90 minutes south of Inverness.

 

“Then you’ll no be goin’ to Tongue today. Yer see, it’s a single lane road, with ‘passing places’ – so sometimes you have to back up half a mile, to let a motor coach come through. The trip up and back could take you six hours.”

 

Such are the quirks of touring in Scotland, and the lesson is, wherever you’re planning to go – allow a lot of time to complete even the shortest journey – especially if it’s a single lane road, with ‘passing places’.




John Crawford

INFINITI FADES OUT OF FORMULA ONE by John Crawford


"After 10 successful years and prosperous partnerships with Red Bull Racing and Renault DP World F1 Team, INFINITI will exit Formula 1 at the end of the 2020."


The announcement continued:

“This move will allow the brand to focus on its most active markets, and on its initiative to electrify its product portfolio.

The brand’s active role in the pinnacle of motorsport has also strengthened its position to become a top challenger brand in the premium segment.”


This news is not just about involvement in Formula One racing, it’s a coded message to those auto industry observers who ‘know’, confirming that Infiniti’s parent, Nissan, is in deep financial shit.

 

Nissan has forecast a loss of USD$4.1bn for the year to March 2021; following a massive loss of USD$6.2bn the previous year.

 

This is the company which Carlos Ghosn hauled back from the brink of bankruptcy and set it on a path to success. Without his passion and energy, and then, under Hiroto Saikawa's management, Nissan has not just slipped backwards, it is accelerating in reverse.



Although Nissan remains part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, it continues to distance itself, in both financial and product terms – instead, announcing that it plans to forge ahead with its own initiatives(?).

 

As far as Infiniti is concerned, this ‘luxury’ brand is now virtually irrelevant, and as for announcing that its ‘F1 exposure has strengthened its position to become a top challenger brand in the premium market’ – forget it.



There has been only project stemming from Infiniti’s involvement in F1 – the Infiniti Project Black S prototype coupe (above), of which the headline feature was a stripped down version of the F1-inspired Energy Recovery System (ERS) – not exactly a pinnacle of automotive development.

 

Other indicators of Infiniti’s strikingly bad decisions are the announcements to end the Q30/QX30 project, based on the Mercedes-Benz GLA; and the end of planning and co-operation with Mercedes-Benz to launch a replacement for the Q50 sedan, based on the latest Mercedes-Benz CLA sedan.



 

Both these deals, plus the deal for Mercedes-Benz to utilise the Nissan Navara as its entry into the pickup market, were created by Ghosn and his good friend Dieter Zetsche.


Both these deals also probably represented the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Japanese management team, led by Saikawa.

It is now widely known that under Saikawa, a huge dislike, distrust and in fact, hatred for Ghosn, was fomented among Nissan’s Board and top managers. With Ghosn out of the way all these (Ghosn-inspired) joint ventures could be terminated. 


Ghosn and his highly experienced deputy, Thierry Bollore, recognised that without JVs it was too difficult to sustain the resources to keep Infiniti competitive.

 

So what does this mean for the future of Infiniti?


Basically, the division will continue to use 'borrowed' Nissan platforms and powertrains, with ‘glitzy paraphernalia inside and out', and a big pricetag to telegraph to potential luxury car buyers that Infiniti deserves to be considered – as a competitor to the Europeans, Lexus and even Genesis!


Take it from me, that will never win acceptance in the luxury car buying segment.

 

I foresee Nissan conjuring up a range of truly ugly electrified SUVs which will attempt to ape the stunning Cadillac Lyriq (below), but wearing an Infiniti badge.




No, I don’t think Inifinti will be elevating itself to a 'top challenger in the premium segment' anytime soon. First of all, it has to face massive (and established) competition from Lexus (in both domestic and global markets); and then the other global luxury brands. Also, will they be unique Infiniti products? I don’t think so.


Also, as if to underscore the depth of Nissan's nadir, its US sales fell more than 33% in 2020 - more than any other US car company.


At least with the Ghosn-created Alliance, Nissan had something to fall back on. In my opinion, this is an Alliance in name only.


Or, Nissan could wait until it’s so broke that Renault could snap it up for a song. Then again, who would really want to take on the massive debt, and the cultural issues? In good old Aussie vernacular, Nissan is fucked.


John Crawford