Friday, October 28, 2022


It’s often said: “It’s the quiet ones you’ve gotta watch.” So, would I describe world famous car designer Peter Horbury as, ‘a quiet one’?

Well among the ranks of some very egotistical senior car designers, I would say, definitely.

Peter doesn’t carry around a megaphone to trumpet his life’s work, experiences and achievements.

He could best be described as your proper self-effacing, humble, but widely-experienced and skilled artisan. His output truly speaks for itself.

He has an infectious grin, and a great sense of humour.


Mind you, I’ve witnessed another side of Peter, during the very famous ‘car design club’s’ Designers’ Dinners at the famous CafĂ© de Paris in Geneva.

The dinners, which can often number up to 40 senior designers, were traditionally held on the night of the first Media Day at the Geneva Salon.

However, COVID has put a stop to that ritual.


They were pretty loud affairs, punctuated by hilarity, joke-telling, roasts and even a few outrageous claims by designers who felt they had been wronged by senior managements – which always brought forth very vocal derision from the rest of the crew. This was all fuelled by many (many) bottles of Swiss Reds and Whites.


Peter Horbury, together with his great mate and partner in crime, Ian Callum, the former Jaguar designer, were often guilty of contributing to the increased decibel level.

However, back on the floor of a motor show, or in his office or studio, Peter is a man with great vision and skill backed by almost 50 years of automotive design, and huge experience across a wide variety of countries, markets and brands.

And, in that milieu he is quiet, also quietly confident about his opinions, but always ready to accept a contrasting opinion.


When I talk to senior designers across the industry, and people who’ve worked with Peter, there is universal agreement that perhaps Peter’s greatest skill is ‘leading’ a design team. He will tell you that his ‘collaborative leadership’ is a talent acquired over a long period, but one he agrees has delivered very encouraging results.


I recently had the pleasure of a one-on-one Zoom discussion with Peter in his Gothenburg office, and he was at pains to point out: 

“Managing creative people is quite different from many other management jobs."

"You cannot dictate, there is no good design dictator. My philosophy has always been to strike up conversation,”


“If you see something is wrong or could be improved, suggest, or ask for alternatives. If by the end of the conversation the designer is suggesting the changes, the design is still his or hers. You haven’t taken over the creativity, but you’ve managed to get the change you wanted. It’s really disappointing when directors come into a studio, and say I want you to move that line down 5mm, and I’ll come back tomorrow to check your work. Then you’ve lost their loyalty and commitment.”


The sheer number of cars, buses, bikes, trucks, and taxi cabs, which have received the ‘Horbury Hands-On’ is quite amazing, and very impressive.

Starting out at Chrysler (where he worked on that year’s COTY, the 1979 Horizon) alongside another good friend of mine, Chrysler's then Design Director, Roy Axe.

Peter has been with Ford (two tours), he’s been at Volvo three separate times, then as Head of Design for ALL Geely’s nameplates, and now he is Senior VP Design, Group Lotus, responsible for Lotus Cars and ‘lifestyle products’ from Lotus Technology.


During our conversation Peter told me that the move to Lotus will hold the same challenges as all of his previous brands, and is not some sort of ‘mock retirement’. He will be leading the Lotus design team of Leader Russell Carr (R), and Head of Design in Coventry, Ben Payne (L), developing the models included in Lotus’s Vision 80 forward plan.

A lot of this future work will be handled at Lotus Technology (a separate division) based in Wuhan.

Lotus was acquired by Geely in 2017, which is when Lotus design was brought under Peter Horbury. A new design centre was set up in Coventry, which has now been renamed Lotus Tech Creative Centre.


It was there Peter, and his newly-formed team designed the Eletre (Project 132), an E-segment SUV. The Eletre is wholly-built in Wuhan.


It will be followed in 2023 by an E-segment four-door coupe, Type 133, and in 2025 by Type 134, a new D-segment SUV. The 132/133/134 projects will be joined in 2026 by an all-new electric sports car, Type 135.


There’ll be a lot of ‘Horbury Hands-On’ to these models, which will be vital to the survival and prosperity of Group Lotus.


The development of the brand’s new premium lifestyle vehicles will take place on the Lotus Premium architecture, one of the four new vehicle platforms announced at Geely’s 'Driving Tomorrow' global strategy conference in April 2022.

The Premium architecture supports a wheelbase range from 2,889mm-3,100mm and could be further expanded in the future. It supports the development of all types of passenger vehicles from C+ to E segments.

Using 92-120kWh batteries, it is compatible with the industry’s most advanced 800-volt high-speed EV charging system. Products developed on this platform will be capable of 0-100km/h acceleration in under three seconds.

Group Lotus’s ongoing strategic plan Vision 80, is a bold outline of the transformation of Lotus ahead of its 80th birthday in 2028. 

Just as Lotus founder Colin Chapman pioneered new technologies when Lotus produced its first race and road cars, Group Lotus aims to be a pioneer of vehicles which reflect, and anticipate, the advanced technologies coming down the pike.

Peter and I had just 60 minutes of Zoom-time to cover a lot of ground, but there is so much wisdom, experience and vision pouring from this genial Englishman, we have agreed we need to Zoom together again to discuss other Geely projects like Lynk & Co,  cover off design philosophies and ideas close to his heart, as he breaks new ground for himself, and Group Lotus.

In all my years of watching Lotus rise and fall in popularity and prosperity, I don’t think I have ever been as confident as I am now that the combination of Peter Horbury's skill and experience, and Geely’s founder Li Shifu's resolve and determination will be able to put Lotus back on the pedestal it deserves.


Tuesday, October 18, 2022


First up, I have to say this is a fabulous example of forward-thinking design, and the styling is clean and efficient. It looks fantastic. You can thank the CEO, and his design team. Thomas Ingenlath moved from the role of Volvo’s chief designer, to CEO of Polestar. Clearly his designer talents have influenced the final outcome.

There’s also something endearing about the Swedish approach to sustainability and efficiency when it comes to cars – they are so deadly serious about these issues. You only have to talk to a Swede from Volvo and you’ll get the picture pretty quickly.


The Polestar 3 SUV boasts about its use of sustainable materials, including Nappa leather produced in accordance with strict animal welfare standards, which is also chrome-free and traceable. The interior features black ash veneer, and the interior design team has focussed its thoughts on reducing scrap in production.

The Model 3 also features intense air filtration, with an onboard pollen filter.

As part of the premium Bowers & Wilkins audio system, each of the front seat headrests is fitted with two perfectly tuned 40 mm full range speakers, which Polestar says creates a fully immersive audio environment in the car.


The carefully-sourced interior materials are developed with circularity and traceability in mind.


Indeed, there’s an impressive focus on a really genuine approach to design and materials.

Not just for its own sake, but with sustainability top of mind.

Aerodynamic efficiency also gets a lot of attention with a unique and novel front aero wing which helps force air to flow along the hood and over the car, whilst the rear aero blades disturb the air to ensure a smooth release from the side of the car.

Yes, it’s an EV (which all Polestars will be), and it’s quite large (about the size of a Kia EV6), and weighs a hefty 2600kg. That hasn’t limited either performance or range. Polestar says it’s shooting for in excess of 600km, with dual motor AWD, and a DC charging rate at 250kW.


Polestar 3 uses a large 111kWh and 400V lithium-ion battery with a prismatic cell design and liquid cooling.


Needless to say, with a nod to its parent Volvo, the Polestar 3 has a complete complement of safety equipment including a unique Smart Zone Sensor Cluster up front housing radar and a camera to ‘see and hear’ what’s happening in front of the vehicle.

Polestar says the vehicle is constantly aware of its surroundings, looking out for potentially dangerous situations.

It won’t be cheap, and owning one will come with all the current frustrations with charging. However, it’s a pretty cool car and I see it attracting a lot of attention.



Monday, October 17, 2022

Ja, vi ska till Sveridge by John Crawford

Yes, we are going to Sweden! After that sneak peek at a possible new Volvo, I decided to focus on Sweden, firstly to pay tribute to two designer friends of mine, and then to look at the renaissance of Volvo.


Sweden could not be more different from my home country, situated as it is at the polar opposite of Australia’s spot on the globe. Sweden covers just 451,000, and has a population of 11 million people.


Australia boasts 7.7 million sq. km and 26 million people, and whilst we are able to enjoy four distinct seasons in some parts of Australia, our mostly dry continent contrasts significantly with Sweden’s blanketing by snow and ice for a good part of the year.

Those weather extremes render both countries inhospitable in parts, however I believe both societies are driven by youth, energy, a quest for technological achievements and entrepreneurial-thinking.

Looking back at Volvo’s corporate history I can only be grateful that the company was literally ‘saved’ by Ford’s USD$6.5 billion acquisition of the company in 1999. Thank goodness GM didn’t buy it, after all we’ve seen how it handled its acquisition of Saab. Saab, who?


Ford sold Volvo to China’s Geely in 2010, and this has allowed Volvo to flourish, prosper, and more importantly, continue to exist.


However, like its national stablemate, Saab, Volvo has created and produced some great technology and great cars over the years. Volvo design has always been, like Saab, a little quirky and occasionally hasn’t been to the world’s taste from time to time.


I like to think that Volvo became a much more convincing global player when British designer Peter Horbury joined the company in 1991. He brought along a new design language, and had two stints with the company.


His second stint began in 2009, and a year later the company was acquired by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co, which became a Chinese automaker in 1997. Geely is privately held by business magnate Li Shifu.


It’s not just Geely’s acquisition of Volvo that has been vital to the company’s continuance as a significant global carmaker, it is also an important window into the thinking of 54-year old Li Shifu.

He started business in 1986 with loans from his family and got into manufacturing refrigerators. In 1997 Geely began manufacturing cars for the domestic market.

However, the company’s growth as an automaker really began with the Volvo Acquisition in 2010. Shortly after Mr Li acquired Volvo, in 2013 he acquired the famous London Black Cab company, and restarted production.


Since then Geely acquired a 51% stake in Lotus from DRB-HICCOM (Proton of Malaysia), in which he took a 49% stake to help rebuild Proton's participation in RHD markets. Prior to becoming just a carmaker, Volvo was part of Volvo Group which included the Volvo truck, bus and construction business, and in 2017 Geely invested 3.25 billion Euros in Volvo Group.


In 2018 Mr Li acquired a 9.7% stake in Daimler AG, and started talks to take over SMART.


All this growth is solely guided by Li Shifu, who is not affiliated with the CCP, and is a completely independent businessman and entrepreneur. He is the 63rd richest person in China, with a net worth of USD$2.6 billion.


However, what I find interesting are his opinions on managing this huge variety of businesses. At the time of announcing a JV with China Aerospace to develop a new line of supersonic bullet trains he said: "Core technology can't be bought. The more you use others' technology, the more reliant you become. We have to innovate on our own. The journey will be tough but the prospects are promising."


Li Shifu has also slammed Chinese carmakers who depend solely on imported manufacturing expertise. He believes that independence is achieved by developing innovation and technological expertise within your own company, and is one of the main contributors to Geely’s growth and growing significance on the world stage.


Currently his car brand portfolio consists of Volvo, Polestar, Lotus, Proton, Lynk & Co, London EV Company (Black cabs) and in September of this year acquired a 7.6% holding in Aston Martin Lagonda.

Where I often question 'so-called' brilliant entreprenuers for trying to juggle billions in loans and still service their debts, I have the feeling Li Shifu is cast in a different mould.


With his energy, commitment and financial skills driving this potpourri of car companies I believe Geely will become one of the most important car companies globally in less than a decade. I also think the Swedes will thank him profusely for saving a Swedish icon.

My wife and I spent a few days in Sweden in 2011 and came away impressed by the people and their positive outlook, the beauty of the country and the impressive sense of independence which proliferates among its people.



Saturday, October 15, 2022


 Some clever sod has managed to 'lift' these two images of an apparently planned new Volvo, from a patent filing. No news on which Volvo it is (maybe E-XC90?), but rumour has it this is a full EV, and may debut within the next two months.

Remember patent filings are usually sparse on anything except essential, detail items, so who knows?


Thursday, October 13, 2022


References to my Luxe Life always manage to include plenty of five-star hotels, sun-baked resorts, exotic locations and of course great driving routes – which generated my ‘Great Drives’ features on DRIVING & LIFE.


When the European carmakers stage press launches in Europe we usually managed to find ourselves in various locations in Germany, France, Spain and Italy, and later in my career there were a few sorties to eastern Europe, and even above the Arctic Circle.


British car companies, and I’m really talking Aston Martin, Bentley and Jaguar liked to keep the events on home soil, so I’ve hosted my various Australian and American media groups all over Britain - from the bottom to the top - from Land’s End to Wick, close to John O’Groats; the picturesque Cotswolds, and of course some of the great driving roads in Wales.


However, and I’m thinking of one Jaguar event in particular, it was the opportunity to spend the launch program with 16 of my very best friends. Keep in mind I spent just over ten years as a freelance auto journalist and five years as Editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine – so these were all fellow scribes, compatriots and best of all, good friends.

The Aussie media group 1986 (L-R) Mike Kable(D), Phil Scott, Wayne Webster, JC, David 'Haggis' Robertson(D), Alan Kennedy, Paul Gover,Chris de Fraga(D), Tim Britten, Pedr Davis, Peter Robinson, John Shingleton(JRA), David Berthon, Owen Peake(JRA), John Wright, Bill Tuckey(D), Peter McKay, Phil Hovell (JRA MD)

The event was the launch of the vitally-important Jaguar XJ-40 in September 1986, based at the luxurious Dunkeld House hotel, a few miles north of Perth, Scotland. This cosy and very upmarket hotel was probably best known among locals as a ‘fishing lodge’ given that Dunkeld House boasted quite a long stretch of the River Tay, where guests who were keen fishermen might snag a salmon.


That news had filtered through to one of the Aussies who brought along his own fishing rod as hand luggage, and after check-in wasted no time wading into the fast-flowing Tay to try his luck. I was relaxing in a lounge enjoying a cup of tea with my MD Phil Hovell, who joined us on the event, when the Dunkeld Ghillie rushed in, all of a lather, shouting at me: “If he’s one o’yourn you’ll have tay get him oot of ta river. Thar’s deep holes out there, and if he steps in one he’ll droon in seconds!”


Minutes later the journalist and I trudged back into the lobby, sans salmon, and trailing River Tay puddles across the floor and up the stairs, leaving us just enough time to change for the product presentation.


Of course, the magnificent dinner included Haggis, which during an after-dinner straw poll in the bar, elicited a 50-50 rating for the dish, comprised of a sheep’s stomach stuffed with all manner of offal. I quite like it, but to most people it’s an acquired taste.


After dinner drinks in the bar saw most of the guests supping on a wide range of single malt whiskies as Jaguar Chairman, Sir John Egan, held the floor with anecdotes about the trials and tribulations of bringing the XJ-40 program to completion.

The drive program the following day saw us glide past the Royal Family’s summer lodgings at Balmoral (L), then a brief photo stop at Braemar Castle (R).

Passing through Ballater, we paused at the coffee stop at the 13
th century Kildrummy Castle.

The old castle, which was the scene of many highland battles over its ownership is now a derelict ruin.

But the new hotel laid on (of all things) a distinctly non-Scottish Devonshire Tea for the lads.

 After refuelling with scones with jam and cream, we set off back to Dunkeld via the A95 through Grantown-on-Spey, past the Aviemore ski resort, and Pitlochry.


It was a great drive route, and really tested the new Jaguars, with a varied drive route combining undulating stretches, plus sharp dips and brows, tight and sweeping corners, and long straights.

I firmly believe Jaguar may have sent flyers to the locals advising them that a bunch of loonies would be let loose with expensive cars, so best to stay inside!


After the Scottish sojourn, the whole Australian media group flew to Munich to test the latest BMW 7-Series, but on return to Australia the majority told us the Highland launch was one of their most unforgettable.

Yep. Another wonderful memory of time spent with beautiful cars, great mates, a luxurious hotel, living the Luxe Life – if only for a few days.



Wednesday, October 12, 2022


Ongoing surveys of potential EV buyers make it clear that EVs have not, so far, achieved the breakthrough in the community's consciousness envisaged by their proponents.

Recent market research in the UK and USA by market forecaster Juniper Research revealed that 62% of UK respondents, and 66% of US respondents to a survey about EV ownership said that the barriers to purchase were that the vehicles were too expensive, battery life was not long enough, and operating costs during ownership were too vague.

Current data shows that EV penetration worldwide has still not risen above 4%, and confirms the belief of many transportation forecasters that broad community acceptance and ownership of EVs will not be achieved by 2050.


However, rather than continue to repeat an old story, I must include the final take-away from the survey with this quote by one of the research partners, which takes the prize for stating the bleeding obvious:

“Vehicle manufacturers must invest in battery technology; focusing on performance improvement and range extension, while decreasing cost. This will facilitate lower production costs, enabling electric vehicles to offer a more competitive value proposition versus internal combustion engine vehicles.” 

Well, Duh! Right there, is the summation of all the problems preventing EV domination.

This graph and insight from Resources For The Future (RFF) supports Juniper's USA survey findings:


Tuesday, October 11, 2022


The pioneer of autonomous vehicles, Anthony Levandowski, readily admits that roads and cities populated with thousands of self-driving cars, buses, whatever, are decades away – if at all.

Levandowski built his first prototype, a Prius, in 2004 and its first test run showed potential, however filling in the gaps in the technology has not only been achingly difficult, but it has swallowed billions and billions of dollars of investors’ funds, with little to show for it. Certainly not profits.


Levandowski, who worked for Google and Uber’s autonomous divisions says, “Really, it’s a hoax. I doubt we will ever see truly workable autonomous personal mobility solutions.”

He should have added: "In our lifetime."


Levandowski went on to start a company called ProntoAI.Inc which basically designs autonomous programming for dump trucks operating in a massive quarry in Santa Rosa, California.


It’s very successful, because there’s nothing at all that challenges the shortcomings of autonomous vehicle technology.

Anthony Levandowski

The trucks follow the same route every time, they don’t turn around after dumping their load, they just reverse back up to their starting point, and do it all over again. It’s a completely repetitive program.


There’s no traffic lights, pigeons flying in front of the cameras, schoolkids stepping off the sidewalk or, for that matter, confusing roadside objects.


Writer Max Chafkin has written a superb piece for Bloomberg about this subject, which basically damns the whole concept, resorting to the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of the current state of autonomous driving projects.


Click here



Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Of all the world’s carmakers I believe the only one which has read the tea leaves of reducing vehicle carbon emissions correctly is Toyota.


Akio Toyoda put his wisdom on display at the US Toyota Dealers Annual Meeting in Las Vegas when he told his audience that the targets for banning ICE cars and going all-electric are ‘media driven’ and will be very difficult to reach – at least as easily as environmentalists, governments, activists and the community would like.


He repeated a phrase which I have used many times on DRIVING & LIFE, and that is that at present, Hybrids are the best step forward. Now that may seem self-serving, but he’s right.

A report in Automotive News, quoting Mr. Toyoda said: “Because Toyota is a global car-maker serving 200 countries, the company must take into account the wide variety of conditions in those various markets, including the needs of the one-billion-plus people who don’t have reliable access to electricity.”

He also said: “In the short term, hybrids may provide the greatest good,” noting that Toyota can produce eight plug-in hybrids with 65km of electric range for every 515km battery-electric vehicle and save up to eight times the carbon emitted into the atmosphere.

His remarks also included the observation that realistically-speaking, it would seem very difficult for the USA to really achieve a national goal of 50% zero-emission vehicles by 2030.

Akio Toyoda has outstanding credentials to be taken very seriously. He’s a young, energetic, credible and smart CEO at the top of the world’s most successful, and biggest, carmaker. 

However, he tempers his wisdom with all-out enthusiasm for rally and race cars, so he can enjoy the fruits of his company’s skills.


Monday, October 3, 2022


ROVER’S SD1 was such a significant departure from past Rovers, that the ‘play-it-safe’ pedestrian mechanical specification polarised opinions for years.

It had none of the brave design and engineering of the original Rover 2000, and you could be forgiven for thinking that Austin-Rover raided a parts bin to cobble up a flagship for the 74 year old Rover company.

Launched in 1978, it nonetheless sold 330,000 cars over ten years, an average of 30,000 per year, which would classify it as a commercial success. But, when it was time to replace it, the winds of change had swept through Austin-Rover.


Creating a new, mid-size luxury car was an expensive project, especially when Austin-Rover was haemorrhaging cash, and its only source of funding was its owner – the British government.


The SD1 had wittered away its market share to its competitors, and the best idea the Austin-Rover planners could come up, given the paucity of funds, was a choice of an SD1 sedan, or a stretched version of the Montego!


A few early studies were done to see if the Montego could be stretched in length and width to arrive at an ‘economical’ SD1 successor, and the final attempt to be seen by management was a model called the AR17.

In 1981, designer Gordon Sked, with encouragement from Austin-Rover’s senior management proposed that (following the successful Honda Ballade-Triumph Acclaim JV) the company talk with Honda about another JV. The rest is history. Honda wanted such a car, and it realised the excellent economics of producing a joint design with its British partner. Discussions began in September 1981.


The Rover XX and Honda Legend were to be identical ‘under-the skin’, so Austin-Rover design boss Roy Axe, and Gordon Sked, created the first concepts.

Rather than a five-door, the Rover XX would be a regular four-door saloon, but the economies ensured that the British car was replete with wood and leather, premium appointments, and excellent performance thanks to Honda’s 2.5L transverse V6.


In June 1986 I hosted a large contingent of Australian motoring writers on a trip to the UK. It was absolutely imperative at the time, because sales of the Rover 3500 were going south, very quickly.


However, the trip was an absolute success, and in terms of our expectation ticked all the boxes. Even the flight to London in BA’s excellent 747 Business Class was incident free, and everyone agreed the menus and meal presentation were first class.


On arrival we were immediately airlifted to Newcastle followed by a quick road trip to one of the most beautiful country house hotels I had experienced. Linden Hall was a gem, and set just the right mood for the launch of a thoroughly-British (well, maybe not thoroughly) medium-sized luxury saloon.

The house, on a 3000 acre estate, was built in 1812 for the local High Sheriff, designed by an amateur architect, supervised by a recently-graduated young architect in the Greco-style. Linden Hall is notable as one of the best Georgian Houses of the period in Northumberland.

We appeared to strike it lucky when the test drive began just after 10am. Although it was a weekday, the roads were sparsely-populated by local traffic at 'The Off'.

Linden Hall, on the A697 is just north of the junction at the main road to Berwick-Upon-Tweed (the A1), and we had the road to ourselves, which is pretty handy when you have journalists, two-up, and eager to drive with understandable brio.

The coffee stop was in the border village of Coldstream (where the Coldstream Guards regiment was formed in 1650), situated on the Tweed River.

We took the A698 through Kelso, joining the A68 north of Jedburgh. Then the teams were broken up into four different groups and directed to the high spot of the test drive – four different areas of the famous Hadrian’s Wall.

After the obligatory photo stop and a short history briefing, we were back on the road for the return journey to Linden Hall via a fantastic B-road (B6423). After a sumptuous lunch at Linden Hall, various teams took off again to visit more local highlights like Banburgh Castle, Alnwick Castle, the ruined Dunstanbergh Castle and Berwick-upon-Tweed.

A few brave (foolhardy) souls decided on a visit to the famous 16
th century Lindisfarne Castle, on Holy Island. Trouble is the castle  is only accessible at low tide via a causeway, which floods with every tide change.

Fortunately, when the Aussies arrived, it was already high tide.

As far as British car launches go, the Rover 800 press trip was an outstanding success, due to careful planning by the Austin-Rover PR team, meticulous attention to detail, the places we were able to visit, and last but not least the Rover 800.

The resulting press stories that published after our return from Britain were outstandingly positive, and paved the way for a very successful Australian launch of the Rover 825i.