Dirty business: VW’s “Dieselgate”


I have to admit, I have been off my blog for nearly a year (my last post was in October). Mainly because I have never got myself round to writing, secondly because I had too many fingers in too many pies, and finally – because there were too many things to talk about and none that I thought about writing about…until last week.

VW Diesel

For those of you who have no idea what so many car nuts are losing their heads about and why the VW Passat unveiling was not over the news (like if it ever would be. A “Passat” is like saying “A4 paper”. It’s the same kind of reaction), Volkswagen Group got into a bit of trouble over their 2.0 litre TDI engines. Volkswagen advertised their engines as being the benchmark for power and efficiency and having exhaust gasses that are cleaner than white clouds in a Summer sky over Iceland. Because of that their new customers all over the world bought loads of cars with these engines in them, around 11 million between 2009 and last Friday, in fact. But now it seems that this number won’t increase for some time. All is because Volkswagen were lying. Not about them being reliable or anything, but that they are actually not as clean as clouds over Iceland. They are actually dirtier than a Smog over London in the 1960s. But why it was unnoticed? Why nobody screamed about it before? Because they couldn’t tell.

THE PROBLEM

Oh if only everybody knew it then

Oh if only everybody knew it then.

They couldn’t tell because VW, being the “Dr. Evil Enterprise” installed a device which basically when engaged turns the cleaning systems in the engine on, making exhausts as clean as advertised in the brochure. This device was programmed to start automatically, when it detects that an emissions test is in progress. After the emissions test is over, this device turns all of the cleansing systems off and the engine burns dirty fuel mixture. And how much dirtier is it? If you’re going to say “twice”, I’d say “don’t be too humble.” Five times? Nope. It emitted BETWEEN 10 TO 40 TIMES OVER THE ALLOWABLE EMISSIONS NORM. So that means if you have a VW Golf, Audi A3, Seat Leon or any other car with a 2.0 litre 4 cylinder Diesel engine and think that you’re actually saving the planet, you’re probably making the air dirtier than a footballer in a 6.0 litre W12 Bentley Continental GT. Maybe even four footballers.

THE INITIAL RESULT

The prime suspect: VW group's 2.0 litre 4-cylinder TDI engine.

The prime suspect: VW group’s 2.0 litre 4-cylinder TDI engine.

Nobody knows exactly who blew the cover first – either United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, America’s environment agency who sets the emissions targets and do the testing. They probably don’t feel to well after realising they’ve been fooled right under their eyes) or some automotive company, who, like many others, buy competitors’ cars, disassemble them and see what makes competitors’ cars better. What we do know is that this has been the biggest PR disaster Volkswagen group have ever experienced. Because of that, and because of a very powerful and overly-sensitive nature of an average American consumer, the sales of diesel cars and loads of other VW Group models in the U.S. stopped overnight.

And it’s not like they are going to go and buy them anyway. So Volkswagen, who so far have handled it quite humanly, paid the dealers for diesel cars standing in dealer lots, as they know they will not be selling them anytime soon, if not at all. It has not been specified how much, but I believe it will be enough to keep these dealers afloat for some time, because VW really needs their dealer network now more than ever, as after this scandal it is hard to believe that anyone else will step in to help to sell their cars. VW also told them to stop selling them until the issue will be fully resolved with the EPA.

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Speaking of EPA, Volkswagen are shaking nervously while they await their verdict on what fine they will have to pay. If the worst case scenario happens (which seems like it will, as Americans will see another opportunity to protect their local car industry against foreign competition), then VW will have to pay $37,500 per car in fines, which results in a total fine of $18 BILLION. That’s a fifth of their profits gone. However, VW still have the 10.5 million diesels elsewhere with the same device and the same mistake made by them. So…it could skim Volkswagen until they have no money in them. A massive risk.

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Further, adding to their problems, VW saw $26bn of shareholders’ money just flying away in front of their eyes, as their share prices dropped from around $1.40 per share to 60 cents. That’s more than a half of company’s value gone. Adding more to that, their share prices could go further down in the future until the sales figures will be revealed for this quarter, showing actually how many cars they have actually sold less than before, especially diesels, which made 20-25% of their total U.S. sales. Shareholders would run faster than sprinters from the company, selling their worthless shares left and right. It scares me imagining what will happen next to them. All I know now is this: there is a chaos in the company.

First, their CEO, Martin Winterkorn, resigned just today (23rd September, 2015). The captain jumped ship before it sank. Everyone knows it was his fault, himself included, but you fix the problem and only then go. Second, VW aimed everything for their goal to become the biggest car company in the world by 2020, beating GM and Toyota in Sales, profits, and share prices. Looks like that goal is gone.

Shortly after the "Dieselgate" hit the fan, VW removed all of their "clean diesel" adverts, including these "Old Wives' Tales" commercials, which even I saw on TV when I was in the States.

Shortly after the “Dieselgate” hit the fan, VW removed all of their “clean diesel” adverts, including these “Old Wives’ Tales” commercials, which even I saw on TV when I was in the States.

Worse still, VW’s credibility as a reliable manufacturer is seriously damaged. Last time someone had this much damage from a bad publicity cos of a diesel engine was Oldsmobile, the very reason why Americans don’t like diesel. In 1970s Oldsmobile, after the oil crisis, thought they could earn money on customers looking for a cheap, efficient car. A diesel was a perfect bet, as it consumes less fuel and is as powerful as petrol cars. However, because of typical GMness, the design for the diesel engine was simple and rushed. All they did was replace petrol spark plugs with diesel ones, rearranged spark plug timing and hey presto. It wasn’t – the engines used to blow up or not start at all, so by the time they solved the problem, diesel sales stopped completely and the reputation of a diesel engine was forever ruined for Americans. Same as now.

POSSIBLE OUTCOMES (MY PREDICTIONS)

Firstly, let’s look at this graph:

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As you can see, VW from all brands contribute the least to their profits, yet earns most for their revenues. That means either they’ve allocated a huge chunk of money into development of new models, or they’ve reallocated it elsewhere to cover some losses or development of other projects, such as Bugatti Veyron’s successor, Bugatti Chiron. Then you see some higher value brands such as Audi (which are united with Lamborghini, because Audi branch exclusively own the brand) which are mechanically almost the same as VW, but here they pay that extra for the brand. The best example is Porsche/Bentley. According to Bloomberg, Porsche makes $23,000 on every car they sell, so they earn a VW Golf on each car they sell. Stronger on the brand spectrum than them is Bentley. I already talked about it in my previous blog post about VW’s badge engineering – Bentley Continental Flying Spur is nothing more than a VW Phaeton with a Bentley badge. The difference in price between VW and Bentley for this model is $100,000. Of course, Bentley has better leather and some wood, but in other ways it’s exactly the same. So Bentley earn an Audi A8 over every car it sells on top of the earnings of a VW Phaeton.

On the other end of the spectrum you have smaller brands like Škoda and Seat. For Škoda I could argue in favour more than against. They are the more differentiated than Volkswagen, as they have the Yeti and Rooster, which sell like cupcakes (at least until recently). However, the same cannot be said about Seat. For years VW executives have complained about how difficult it is to sell Seats and no matter how hard they’ve tried, they just don’t sell. Partly because they’re only sold in Europe, but mainly because they are just too similar to Volkswagens and Audis. I already showed this in my blog before, but they once actually made a Seat that’s exactly the same as an Audi A4. If you covered their brand logos up with sellotape, you could easily mix them up. There hasn’t been badge engineering this severe this side of GM.

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So my guess is this: if Volkswagen will have a massive chunk bitten off their finances (which, at this moment in time, it looks like it most certainly will), Seat will be the first brand to leave VW. As you see in the graph above, they make a loos on every car they sell, which in every sensible business would be a case for a closure of the brand. They could do two things: either sell the brand to a different manufacturer, or sell just their factories and get rid of the brand completely. The problem with the former one is, to Volkswagens own regret, Seats are just too similar to every other VW group model out there, so every Seat will hold an answer to every mystery of VW Golf, Polo, Scirocco, Audis etc etc. It would be a goldmine for other manufacturers and a death sentence for VW, who would give away the competition a huge market share. On the other hand, the latter version could not bring in enough cash and bring in a huge outrage in Spain, as the brand is part of country’s history. It’s their own, SPANISH brand, a national pride (I know the feeling, living in a country that used to make Fords for Eastern Europe in late 1930s). Also, who would want to have an empty factory in Spain? Ford? They already have one. Jaguar Land Rover? They have factories under construction in Brazil and will be in the U.S. GM? They have Opel in Germany which nearly went under in the Financial Crisis. So there’s no demand. One thing for certain, though, is this: they will keep Porsche and Bentley. They bring in too much money to get rid of them.

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If their efforts to raise cash quickly by selling brands will fail, then they will have to tighten their belts in the R&D department. Not only it will mean a reduced superiority over other brands, it will also mean a fall in reliability. So far they have been built really well, but as the graph before shows, they do not have a lot of profit cash to use to mend those problems, so they will have to use more of that revenue to cover their problems. That will further impact their sales globally, which is a real shame.

THE BRUTAL AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY

I am a fan of VW cars. But what I found most disgusting in this story is this: VW with this fault polluted the atmosphere more than initially everybody thought and they lied about it, but they killed nobody. General Motors, on the other hand, because of their lies and neglect, killed 31 people and injured 244. VW are facing extinction, yet all GM have done so far is pay mere $1.4bn in fines to shareholders and in fines to the U.S. Federal Government. In comparison, GM got away by paying pennies, yet their clueless, manipulated customers still buy their cars. Their sales actually were not affected by much. And VW are facing extinction. RIDICULOUS! Absolutely disgusting, that human lives are worth less than company’s integrity and truthfulness. All GM did was blame it on “Old GM”. Excuse me, but that’s exactly the same company. There is no difference. You screwed it up? You are responsible for it. That means VW’s new CEO has to say “that was Winterkorn’s VW. We’re different now” and prosecutors will forgive them? That is how it looks like.

But this shows how horrible the automotive industry can be – you never know what you’re gonna get (like Forrest Gump said). Whatever happens, I wish Volkswagen all the best of luck in the coming months, because that is what they will need most. They cannot hope on anything else for now but survival.

Can you feel the love tonight?: Why a car is more than a piece of metal on four wheels


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“A way of transport that takes you from A to B”. I have heard a lot of people saying this about cars, including my dad. That is partly true, but I think there is way more to it. Jaguar co-founder, Sir William Lions, once said: “The car is the closest thing we will ever create to something that is alive.” Let me prove it to you by breaking the article down into three parts: voice, body and character.

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VOICE: I am 110% sure that you have listened to music at some point in life (if not, you need help). So you definitely have your favorite singer or band. Not just because of what is being played, but also the power of singer’s voice. And I am talking about music, not your Chris Wests or Kanye Browns, unless their favorite car noise is the one made by Toyota Prius. Everyone has their favorite that they love, and the one they don’t care about as it sounds like any other band. It’s the same with cars. Everyone loves a good noise of a car. Some might love their four-cylinder Fiesta engine noise, others – the bellow of a V8 Dodge Charger muscle car. Then there are those I understand the least – those who love Nissan Skyline engine noise. But that’s just my taste.

Car & Woman

BODY: girls go crazy over guys like Ryan Gosling, guys can’t get over how great Jennifer Lawrence looks like. And everyone has his or her favorite look of a car. Someone might love the perfect, human-like lines on a Lamborghini Miura. The opening scene in “The Italian Job” is to petrol heads what watching Gisele Bündchen on a catwalk is to the rest. It is so darn beautiful and sensual. A celebration of beauty.

Then there are others who like cars that have been designed with a ruler, like Lamborghini Countach. An angle has a beauty in an engineering sense. The whole car model culture (which, in my view, is pathetic. That shows you’ve made a car with such a bad design you actually need women to stand next to it and hoping it somehow is going to make it look better) started in the 1970s. The age of angles in the car industry. All those Lincolns, Italian wedge-shaped sportscars and boxy family cars. They all started in the 70s and progressed in the 80s. Then there are those who are un-traditional. Like me – I love the DeLorean DMC-12, but others just look at it and thing “ugh, ugly.”

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CHARACTER: there is always a car that has some sort of a character like a human being. You have your nerds, who are like Honda Jazz– they get a chemistry experiment perfectly right, but you will not jump up and down when it happens. You probably will be distracted by the guy next to you who in his hangover will make all things go horribly wrong – that’s a Russian car. You laugh about them and their faults amuse you.

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Then you have your temperamental lovers, which, stereotypically, are Italians and French. Same with cars: Italian and French cars have their culture of breakdowns and faults, but you don’t want to leave them. They kiss and woo you when they’re happy, but when they break down, they give you the biggest headache.

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Then there’s a car that always looks little and cute. Someone that always make you smile and waul out a little “awwww.” And every time you drive it, the car cheers you up and puts that endless smile on your face, which you cannot resist even in your dullest days. It’s a car that always smiles at you, always is happy. Like a little puppy labrador, that is waiting for you impatiently until you will take him out for a walk. That’s how a Mini is. Every time I see one and all the times I’ve been driven around in one I always cannot stop smiling. It is a happy machine. Probably that’s why the most careless, childish and most positive Englishman in the world was driving one.

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Then there is Aston Martin. Have you ever seen an Aston Martin with an aftermarket wing on the back? No. So it cannot be someone who wears gold chains, walking around, looking for attention, like a Bentley or a Ferrari. Also, it is elegant and smart. It always looks like it has to be parked near an opera. It whispers quietly, but when it speaks, you can’t forget its voice and you can hear it coming from miles away. It perfectly reflects James Bond. Thank God Ian Fleming swapped Bond’s car from Bentley to Aston Martin. It is just like him.

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Also, part of character is the bondage you get during some of your big events in life. Your first car, the fastest car you’ve driven, the car you drove to that successful interview. You will never forget those ones. See? A car is way more than a lump of metal with wheels that with some mechanics applied to it moves forwards. It is your friend, your pet, your favorite art, and your memory.

The Guy Near the Car

Come fly with me: Why gull wing doors are the best solution for car doors?


As many of you probably know by know my dream car is the DeLorean DMC-12. It is not because of its starring role in the film all of you know very well. It’s because of what it stands for, what its creator did to create it. Even though a lot of critics have annihilated them, targeting its “not-so-futuristic” features, the wheezy engine and the early-80s British reliability which needs no further explanation, all of them have overlooked one quite futuristic and useful feature that’s not been used on a lot of cars since. Nope, it’s not the stainless steel body. It’s the doors. Not just because it made Marty McFly look like an alien when he arrived in 1955, but because he could feel a little bit safer. Yes, gull wing doors are safe and more practical than ordinary doors. Let me explain why.

52141_10100885336570606_374757580578457342_o1) EASE OF ENTRY AND EXIT

It’s time to shut up all those gull wing door critics who say that gull wing doors have to have miles of room before the doors can be opened. RUBBISH! RUBBISH! RUBBISH! Clearly, these critics don’t know anything about either physics and geometry.

Let me show this video and finally put these matters about space to rest.

There! It’s been tested that the DeLorean needs 11 inches (28 cm) of room to open the doors. Try and par a car with normal doors next to it and open the doors. An average car door is 12-15 cm thick. If you’re as thin as a spaghetti, then you’d need about the same amount of room to slide yourself through the door like an origami swan through that narrow slit. In a gull wing door car you also open up a portion of the roof, which means not only you can get into the car in a narrow space, but also comfortably slide yourself into it.

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2) SAFETY

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The car above is a Mercedes 300SL. The very first production car in the world to use gull wing doors. The reason for that hides beneath the skin.

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As you can see in the picture above, there are some tubes on the door sills. That’s one of the reasons why door sills are so high in a 300SL. Those tubes are the chassis of the 300SL. In plain English, they keep the car together. They are so high because initially the 300SL was a racing car and in racing the high sills are there to improve car’s rigidity because the distance between the roof and the main chassis is reduced, making the car tighter and more stable.

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Bosses of Mercedes-Benz, after the big success of 300SL in Mille Miglia 1000 mile race across Italy in 1952-1953, they decided to use the chassis of the race car and to make it useable on the road. Nowadays it’s not a big deal but then it seemed unreal. Especially knowing that the chassis of the racing car could prove unusable for everyday driving, and fitting ordinary doors wouldn’t work. So they fitted gull wings (first used on the 300SL racing car) so its users could get in. And because the sill is so high up, in a side impact you would be better off in a gull wing 300SL than being in a normal door, lower sill coupe.

Some of you are going to ask “what if it rolls over?” As in past few decades car safety has been a priority for car makers. So it’s highly unlikely that cars of past 40 years have had safety overlooked. A DeLorean was safe when it was rolled over, because the driver could push out the windscreen. And for a very recent gull wing beast, Mercedes SLS, the doors featured explosive bolts. A lot of you who take Jeremy Clarkson seriously think that SLS doors are bombs. But have a look at this:

It’s hardly an explosion. As soon as bolts are loose, you just push the doors out and you’re free.

3) CHASSIS STIFFNESS

Mercedes-Benz-SLS_AMG_2011_1280x960_wallpaper_71I am not a physician, but I saw on British Channel 4’s “For the love of Cars” DeLorean episode they said that a gull wing car is more resistant to torsion (twisting) than an ordinary door car. It is not just in a DeLorean or Mercedes-Benz. Ford GT’s doors also cut into roof. Somehow the single bar in the roof made the car so strong it broke one of crash test machines where it attempted to slowly squash the Ford.

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PROBLEMS WITH GULL WING DOORS

There are a couple of problems of having gull wing doors. First one, of course, is that you cannot have a four door gull wing car. Even though a gull wing coupe is a very tough car there is a physical limitation on how much you can cut out of the roof. Even Tesla’s new Model X SUV has just one pair of gull wing doors. But you can’t complain because they do look nice anyway.

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Secondly you can’t have a sunroof. But you can have a transparent glass roof. As you can see above for the Model X. Finally, even though gull wings do not need a lot of room near them, they do need a room above them. It’s ok in an ordinary multi-storey car park, but in your own garage it could be tricky.

But don’t let these small impracticalities fool you. Demand your favorite car maker to make gull wing cars. Please!

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18 Wheels Of Steel: Hybrid lorries? Anyone?


WARNING: THIS MIGHT SOUND LIKE A GEEKY, “1970s TOP GEAR STYLE” AND SHORT ARTICLE, BUT THIS WILL HELP MANY OF YOU TO RAISE SOME QUESTIONS THAT HAVE PUT CARS INTO AN UNFAIR POSITION!

All these environmentalists, Greenpeacers and other people who don’t wash their hair just because they want to save nature for that 0.0001% economy are so angrily attacking the automobile and oil. They want them off the roads, they want them gone so daffodils could suddenly appear on car factory roofs. Of course, there is proof that car exhausts cause summers to be nicer and weather – warmer so you can economy on heating, but it’s not the cars that are the problem. LORRIES! (Trucks, if you’re from America) Why there is no big propulsion revolution for them?

060909-N-6380D-199First of all, let me tell you what is my problem here. You see, according to nrich.maths.org, an average car nowadays has become so economical it produces about 120 grams per kilometer of CO2 gas. Ok, you might not see the problem. But an empty truck (a FedEx or UPS truck that, to car nuts, is associated with delivery of new car parts) emits 220 grams per kilometer of CO2. That’s twice the amount of a normal car. And that’s not a big rig you see rolling down those motorways around the world delivering you everything from milk to furniture. Let’s do some approximation maths here. I know that European law dictates that a truck driver cannot drive for more than 9 hours without taking a rest as it could become dangerous as they could doze off and roll into the oncoming traffic and kill people. Let’s assume that the average speed of such a truck is 70 km/h (44 mph). So  9 X 70 = 630 km. And, assuming that the truck in question is that delivery truck mentioned earlier, we have 138 kg of CO2 in the air! LOTS! That’s almost the same as the weight of a filled up Vespa scooter. And that goes into air. If that would be just one delivery truck there wouldn’t be a big deal. But there are THOUSANDS of these trucks and lorries all around the world who are emitting even more. A car is not so problematic. An average car driver only uses his car to go to and from work, maybe to drive around town doing some stuff, driving the car for about 3 hours per day.

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What’s worse, even though car companies have been under pressure by these “friends of the nature” to develop cleaner, greener cars. But you haven’t heard anyone moaning about trucks. As a result, as I enter “hybrid trucks” or “electric trucks” the only thing that comes up online are some prototype small hybrid trucks, two delivery truck hybrids (one from DAF, one from Volvo Trucks) and American pick-ups (I am glad that Americans have started dealing with this problem with their inefficient, gas-guzzling symbols of American motoring). NOTHING about big, 18-wheel hybrids. Shameful and ridiculous. Because if someone started to attack trucks, I am more than convinced that will make a change for the good in the environment.

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It’s not like there is no possibility to implement it. The best way would be to use Tesla’s patent that was unveiled to the world for free – the floorpan of the car that doubles as a battery as it has hundreds of battery cells built in it. Also you could use the system that Chevrolet Volt and some London Busses use – have a diesel that is not connected to the wheels, but rather works as a generator that generates electricity that turns the wheels. Trains use this technology. Then you could have pure electric lorries for use around town. FedEx and UPS have all-electric delivery vans for the use in cities and it doesn’t sound like they are thinking of getting rid of them anytime soon.

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Reliability is also not an issue. Some reports say that Volvo and DAF trucks have proven that they are as reliable (if not more) than their fully-diesel powered counterparts. Servicing? Have you seen a truck driver recently on the road trying to fix his lorry? As they have already gone complex enough that drivers won’t be able to fix themselves unless they have a degree in mechanical engineering and for that they book a repair crew that come and meet them on the road, I don’t see the concern of them being too complex either.

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You could save so much fuel by having a hybrid and would have way less emissions from those vehicles who do nothing but pollute all day every day all year round. Volvo Trucks have claimed that their truck has a 30% reduction in fuel consumption using the hybrid set up. I am still surprised why no truck manufacturers make them. It’s about time!

 

 

Autobahn: what would I do if I was Volkswagen Group’s boss


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I follow car journal websites every day. Not because just to see car reviews and read some bribed car magazine “unbiased” opinions on some brands’ futures, but also because they give me some inspiration and idea on what to write about on my blog next. This time it is about two articles I found on Volkswagen group brands (Škoda and Seat) because they made me think and to come up with some radical, cost saving moves for the brand. The article about Seat said that they have been struggling to find their place in the market and they hope that their latest models which look very pretty will gain some attention. The other one was Škoda stating that their top priority for brand’s development is….design. Sounds barely like strong plans of a large automotive corporation, doesn’t it?

Just a little background info. Volkswagen Group consists not just of Volkswagen, but of Audi, Seat, Škoda, Lamborghini, Porsche, Bentley and even that God damned Bugatti. And many of you don’t know that VW group have a target set for 2015 which states that the group will be THE BIGGEST CAR MAKER IN THE WORLD. Not just in global market share (where it now is about 1% shy from GM), but also revenue, profits, customer satisfaction and so on. Typical German target. However, what is not typical just recently is VW gradually makes the bad signs of being a large car company apparent even to those who are not car enthusiasts. These signs are very typical for GM, which is a bit of an insult for this great group. The thing I am talking about is “heavy badge engineering”.

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To those who don’t know what “badge engineering” means, let me draw your attention to the picture below:

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What VW group says about these cars is this: these are two different models. However, to me and you it is clearly obvious that this is not the case. Clearly they look exactly the same. The reason for that is to save costs and to gain massive advances in increasing market share all over the world large car companies tend to not do much to the car apart from changing the badge, alter the design only slightly and changing the design of the interior, including “distinctive features that characterize the brand” (the kind of thing SAAB got obsessed with in their final years and something that scared potential customers away, as they were nothing more but rebadged Vauxhall/Opel Vectras (or Saturn Auras, if you’re from America) with some odd designs and ridiculous sticker prices). Everything else in the car (engines, drivetrain, chassis, electronics, software etc) is exactly the same. Then they price them differently which is when it gets weird.

Why does VW make two cars that are essentially the same when only Audi A4 (one on the left) is the one that sells more  and makes money for the VW group. Seat Exeo is just there with tiny production numbers and no reason to explain why it was created at all.

Why doesn’t VW do something Chrysler did recently – set out main purposes of brands – what are they going to do, who they are for and what will be their strength – for example they stated loud and clear that Dodge from now on will be the performance brand of the Chrysler Corporation. But for VW like for GM there are way too many badge-engineered cars that don’t sell as well as their originals, wasting money and resources for the group. To understand what I’m talking about, let us look at VW group’s consumer brands – Audi, VW, Seat and Škoda.

 

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 In my view the biggest victim to Volkswagen empire’s sinister badge engineering are Czech car makers Škoda. For those who don’t know them, Škoda are a Czech car company that until 90s were an independent manufacturer, but because of the “successful” Communist experiment in Eastern Europe, because when the Eastern Bloc broke free from Communism and the #1 Capitalist business idea for Eastern bloc in the 90s was selling off everything they could get a hand on (including manufacturing equipment) and because all Communists cared about was having everyone employed (even those who have no idea how to build a car whatsoever) the quality of Škodas in those days wasn’t good. So when Capitalism came into Czech Republic in 1990s suddenly an ordinary Czech citizen could buy a more reliable car. Luckily for them in 1994 Volkswagen saw an opportunity and decided to try their luck by developing a car together with them. Their first car was a Škoda Felicia. Instantly it was a big surprise in the west, because in 1998 Škoda in Britain became the best manufacturer. Quite a change for a car company from an ex-Communist bloc country.

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Seemed like a good start for the brand that got its rebirth under German control. But as soon as old Škoda platforms were replaced by VW ones. The design and parts became even more and more Volkswagenish. No issues with that but why would they waste money on creating cars that look, drive and sound the same?

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SEAT

Seat is the second biggest victim to Volkswagen’s badge engineering malarkey. Unlike Škoda, Seat was not doomed because of changing political winds. After long disputes with Fiat which deteriorated their quality Seat went into talks with Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi (who in 80s seemed to collaborate with every single manufacturer in the world, especially Chrysler Corporation). During these talks Volkswagen came to Seat and asked: “would you be very kind and build our Passat and Polo?” By September 30th of 1982 Volkswagen were in and Seat started assembling their cars.

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The only time Seat tried to do something different and not obey Volkswagen’s design language was in mid-2000s when they started designing fishbowl-shaped cars like the Leon (above). But soon after they went back to designing cars that resemble Golfs and Passats. They even had a car called Seat Exeo which looked EXACTLY like an Audi A4. Inside and out. I once took a cab ride in one and I was surprised on how precisely Seat have copied the Audi. In 4 years of its production Seat produced just over 75 000 Exeos. It is weird that actually so few people bought it because it essentially was a discounted Audi A4. In all fairness I am surprised it was made at all because of it being a perfect copy of another, more successful car.

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BENTLEY

Oh, are you surprised? Well you should be. Because Bentley is yet another victim of Volkswagen’s badge engineering. Example – Volkswagen Phaeton which had its VW badges removed, some interior pieces changed and rebranded as Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Yes, a Bentley that has underpinnings of a Volkswagen. Even BMW don’t do that with Rolls-Royce don’t do that.

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Whenever I see one Bentley parked just outside our University’s international school I think “the owner is such a moron.” He is, because he’s spent tens of thousands more for exactly the same car just because it has a fancier badge on the nose. Besides he could’ve saved even more if he bought one second-hand. Seriously, VW Phaetons are laughably cheap. You can pick up a good one with a 5 litre diesel engine for just about €7000!!!! Not kidding. There’s one being advertised on Latvia’s top car advertising pages:

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Don’t get me wrong. VW Phaeton is a fantastic automobile. In fact this is the best bargain you can possibly get because a) it’s made by Volkswagen which means it is reliable; b) Ferdinand Piech, then chairman of VW, set out targets for the Phaeton that many engineers thought were impossible to meet, yet they were met, which means this car is massively over-engineered; c) it is super comfortable for everyone. But when a car that wears exactly the same badge that the Beetle wore in 1940s, this questions why would the maker of “People’s cars” (translating from German, volk – “the nation”, “people” and wagen – “car”, “carriage”) would introduce their production methods and the car to an old, rich-herritage British automaker? When even engines have been “masked” to fool these crazy buyers? Clearly they are THE SAME ENGINE. A VW W12 engine!!

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They might have done something what one owner of a Phaeton did and nobody would notice – put some Bentley ornaments on it and disguise it as a Flying Spur. Trust me, these rich buyers would not notice that they are wasting thousands on a Volkswagen.

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WHAT WOULD I DO?

Now at last, after I’ve got everything off my chest I can finally let you know what I would do if I would lead this big empire.

1) GET BENTLEY TO MAKE INDEPENDENTLY ENGINEERED CARS: no more Volkswagen nonsense, no more badge swapping. It’s not like Volkswagen group can’t afford to design a whole new car. If they could afford to waste millions on every Bugatti they made they can afford to engineer brand new platforms for new Bentleys.

2) VOLKSWAGEN IS A PEOPLE’S CAR AND IT SHOULD STAY THAT WAY: let them keep the Polo and let them keep the Golf hatch. Those should be biggest cars they should be making to live up to their name. Make the UP!, make anything you can, but quit making the Phaeton, stop selling Passat (nobody would care, it is boring enough to leave the scene unnoticed) and invest in smaller cars. Because of such quick depreciations such big cars should be made by other brands because depreciation for an average customer matters.

3) ŠKODA – MAKER OF YOUR AVERAGE JOE’S GETABOUTS: now Škoda does a fantastic job with the Superb and Octavia (which are badge engineered VW Passat and VW Golf saloon/estate) that they are more reliable than their VW and Audi counterparts. Also Škoda’s “worker’s cars” such as Roomster and Yeti (which Jeremy Clarkson loved a lot) must stay, which means VW could stop making the more expensive Caddie, saving even more money and increasing more revenue when those indecisive buyers who couldn’t decide between Caddie and Roomster would start buying Roomsters which could use the money surplus from unproduced Caddies to improve it.

4) SEAT – THE HOT BRAND: I love the principle that Fiat Chrysler realized when they announced their “Five Year Plan”. One of them was to make Dodge to be strictly a performance brand. VW should do the same with Seat. They have already left their mark in motorsport and their recent designs are very sharp and sporty. Why not? VW could keep the Golf GTI, but all other performance versions of other VW lineup cars could be made in Spain. Why not? Maybe even develop new performance cars for middle classes? A rival to a Mazda MX-5 perhaps? The closest offering from VW group is a Porsche Boxster but that’s a luxury brand.

This might be just a small step for a larger reorganization, but I believe that these four steps could give a big kick that VW needs to become the biggest car group in the world. I understand that you use badge-engineering to save time and costs on developing new models, but what’s the point of creating 5 cars under different brands that are in many ways exactly the same.

There’s not much time left until the end of 2015, so if anyone from VW sees this, discuss this in your boardroom meetings. It can work out well!

Back in Time: The day I finally got to meet my hero car


Before I begin I would like to say an enormous thank you to all 1018 viewers that have viewed my articles. Nothing in my life has got such an attention, not even me listening to music loudly in the traffic. This number gives me an encouragement to just keep going and bringing you some more interesting content.

And today I have really something special.

 

Yesterday (13th September, 2014) I went to see a “youngtimer” hill climb race. For those of you who don’t know what a “youngtimer” is, it is a car that is at least 30 years old (so 1985 was the upper limit for entrants) but not too old to be afraid to thrash it up a hill to set up the best time. As for the hill climb, you have definitely seen it on Top Gear India Special. Let me remind you:

This all happened near Sigulda – a city about 30 km east from Riga – on a road called “Lorupes Grava”. It used to be the main road into the city until 1968 when a new higher and straighter road just next to it was opened up right across the alley next to it. No idea why they did it but my guess is that Soviet cars and mopeds weren’t powerful enough to get up the hill on this beautiful road. Luckily for petrolheads, this road unlike other “works by Capitalist pigs” wasn’t abandoned or destroyed. It has now a wonderful smooth tarmac on it. And this place is a petrolhead’s dream. It is 1 km of driving heaven with a couple of S-type curves and a rapid descent and a sudden climb straight afterwards.

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As I was told by one of the entrants (you will see him and hear his name quite soon, but let me get there) told me that the reason for this is because in Soviet days there used to be an actual rally stage through there. This event was started just 2 years ago and it did attract quite a crowd even though it wasn’t advertised much. However, by judging how friendly and open they were with each other, my guess is that those guys already knew each other long before this rally. Not sure how many but you will be the judge by looking at these photos.

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Brands that were represented? Well the Nº1 brand for sure was SAAB. There were a couple of brave guys in SAAB 96 (the blue car in the picture above), there was a SAAB 900 turbo, a SAAB 99 and even a SAAB 900 cabriolet. One of the marshals even drove a SAAB. Seems like all of them are in love with SAAB’s rally heritage.



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The next big group was a group of Porsches. There were quite a few 944, one 924 from Lithuania (who seemed to laugh in everyone’s faces with his performance) and a handful of 911 Porsches. I have seen 911 races on TV and in pictures but to see and hear it in reality was quite an occasion. The noise vibrations from that Flat-6 went through my body. That is a feeling that is hard to describe how good it feels until you experience it yourself.

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In fact this has been my very first ever such event I’ve attended and, after this, definitely not my last one. The experience of being at a car event itself is magical. First you have the feel of the event. The smell of burned tire rubber and exhaust fumes, the wonderful track, all these great cars around and nobody’s cocky. Everyone’s open and friendly. And FINALLY a place where there are guys who genuinely know things about cars. They don’t pretend and don’t talk trash. They know what they’re talking about. Then they allow you to properly scrutinize the car and even tell their side of the story on why they bought this car, what’s its history and what have they done to it.

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Then there were some hard core fans of their cars. There was one guy with the only one running Alfa Romeo Spider in the Baltics…and he wasn’t one of those losers who buy their cars and then lock them up in garages, being afraid that a small stone could put a little dent in car’s rims. This bloke had his Alfa restored to the best condition possible. He re-chromed it, repainted it, cleaned the interior, did an engine overhaul and voilá. I suggested him to take part in one of those car perfection competitions where cars are ranked on how mint they are. I am more than sure this guy would get the first prize.

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There were also a handful of some quite interesting LADAs. In one LADA (in the 3rd picture below) there’s something one of the track marshals told me about and something I am quite proud of that we have in our country – more and more young girls nowadays are becoming passionate about cars and some who don’t have licenses yet are desperate to get them so they can get some of that driving action. Not just as a very beautiful, smiling passenger like in that 3rd picture, but also as a driver. AT LONG LAST! THANK YOU, JESUS!

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But the main reason why I went to this event was not just to see some sexy cars and smell burning rubber. I came there because a guy called Ints Indriksons told me he is going to be there. I am quite sure none of you know who he is but I found this guy on the internet and later – on Facebook. I first met him (briefly) at a classic car show during Riga city celebrations back in August but that was just too brief. Then I contacted him again and he told me about this event and said that I could see him and his car at last, with no rush and we could chat away as long as we wanted. Got my camera and my mum’s permission to get there with her car. Away I went, having “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News blasting on car’s stereo. I was nervous because at long last I would get a chance to meet my dream car. I finally arrived at this event and asked guys at the start where is it. They said that it should be back from the run any second. So I went back through the grid desperately trying to catch a glimpse of the beauty.

And there she came. All in her silver stainless steel glory. She stopped and Ints opened her doors which rose up like a greeting. I finally got to see one in action. After all these years looking for her, reading about her, watching documentaries about her and a Hollywood blockbuster with her in the starring role finally she was right in front of me. I am talking of course about DeLorean DMC-12.

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Do you remember how you felt when at Christmas you removed the wraps and saw there the toy you’ve been wishing to have? That is exactly how I felt seeing the DMC. I have seen it only once before and that was in a museum. But seeing it in public is a completely different experience. It is like I’ve never seen it before. It blew me away. It is a very low car to start with. As you can see in the picture above it is as low as a Porsche. And it being in stainless steel it is mysterious. Like nothing else you’ve seen. It is like nothing you’ve seen. There hasn’t been a single production car that’s covered in stainless steel. Even more, there are no more than 17 000 cars made with gullwing doors (Mercedes 300SL and SLS, Bricklin SV-1 and the DMC). And those DeLorean and gullwing door critics can just shut up because they are talking nonsense.

IMG_2883First of all, as you can see above (that’s Ints, by the way. The owner of this DeLorean which happens to be the only DeLorean in the Baltics), there is no problem getting in or out of the car. I got in and out without any trouble. It is easy. Secondly it is absolute nonsense that the space needed for doors open up has to be large. All you need is mere 10 cm of space. That’s it. So the gullwing doors are the most practical door solution on the car there is. Thirdly and this is liked to the main idea why John DeLorean introduced the gullwings in the first place, is safety. Not because you have a high door sill, but because the roof  cut-out in some physical way makes the car more rigid (see Channel 4 “For the love of Cars” for more info).

_MG_7126_MG_6876It is a very comfortable place to be too. The seats are soft and the driving position is the best! The door panel and the centre console are high enough so you can control the steering wheel with your index fingers. Well, maybe on a highway, because this car has no power steering. Also, as Ints was so incredibly kind to allow me to roll the car a bit forwards along the queue for the rally, the clutch is stiff too as you could expect from such an old car. It was hard to judge the brakes because the car wasn’t running. The rev counter you see in the picture above is always in that position when the engine is off. It’s only when you turn the power on the rev counter needle drops to zero. Why? I don’t know. Forgot to ask. Another thing worth talking about is the gearbox. The shifts are incredibly precise, almost like on a German car._MG_7123

So far the car failed to follow the “never meet your heroes” principle. Quite often you hear people getting into cars that they’ve dreamed about of having since young age and find out that they don’t quite fit or it is breaking down every 500 metres or it is just rubbish in whole. But my final bit for this all came when it was time to shut the doors, because I have heard stories that some people over 6ft3 (about 190cm) could not fit. So I pulled the door down. It was surprisingly easy to do it. Towards the end you’d have to pull it a bit harder. When the door shut there was a sign of relief. I CAN FIT IN A DELOREAN! And not like I’d have to bend in some weird way, I sat like I normally sit in a car and I had space for my head, my feet and my hands to turn the steering wheel. That was lucky. But also it should not be a surprise, because John DeLorean himself was 195 cm tall.

 

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As you can see, the boot is in the front. The 2.8 litre PRV V6 130 hp (enough) engine is in the back. Ints told me that the boot is big enough for two airplane sized luggage cases. That and you have some space behind the seats. So this car could be practical enough to be usead as a daily driver. There is only one problem as shown by the picture below: as I shut the bonnet and removed my hands, even though I had clean hands I left some finger prints. But Ints said it is easy to get used to. And it is easy to get rid of them. Just clean it with a wet sponge or wait for the rain to come._MG_6884

 

Now a bit more about the history of this particular DMC. It was built in August 1982. It is interesting because this was one of unfinished cars that was shipped over to America and it was completed there. The factory in Belfast closed in May of 1982. Then it was registered in 1991 and then that owner left it in a barn in Texas in 1995 and forgot about it. It was not until 2005 when it was discovered by some Dutch DeLorean enthusiasts and brought over to Europe. They put up an advert on the internet, asking anyone to come forward and buy the car, therefore financing its restoration. It was Ints who did it. It was finished and brought over to Latvia.

 

_MG_7120_MG_7128It’s not like Ints has put this car away in the garage like these purists do. No. When there are DeLorean events in Northern Europe he drives to them. He said he’s driven it to Sweden and to Germany. He even got a congestion charge disk bought so he can get into any German city center without being penalized. It started a discussion between the guys at the meet because they were not sure if this applies to foreign cars. But Ints rightly said “it’s better to invest €15 than to check and in the end pay a fine of €40”.

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This was a fantastic day with some fantastic people. I am extremely grateful to Ints Indriksons for allowing me to take such a close look of my dream car. Thank God this car is not a case of “never meet your heroes”. It had an opposite effect – it made me want it even more. Now I see my goal after getting a job after university – buy a DeLorean. I will do just that.

And as the last picture I could not resist to have one similar to those Mr. John DeLorean himself had. How cool is that?

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Sharing is caring: most surprising car part sharing occasions


On Tuesday I was doing something that only 10% of Twitter users do: scroll through and read the messages posted on the main feed. Since I’m following 216 accounts it is quite a messy feed, ranging from posts from people I actually care about to some stupid, unreasonable reposts, like “you will not believe what Justin Bieber posted on Facebook. To see it, click this link here”. Uh-huh, yeah, I’m not that stupid. There are two things I don’t care about in these situations: Justin Bieber and getting my laptop infected with every single computer virus there ever has been.

But it’s not all that bad. I find out some surprising facts and I found something quite shocking car-wise that I decided to do some research and find out more of this trait in car world. CAR PART SHARING.

The post that caused this interest was about McLaren F1. An engineering marvel. It still is the fastest naturally aspirated car in the world with 390 km/h (240 mph) in the record books and it is sort of a hypercar that you wouldn’t be expecting to see a cocky rapper or a pretending genius, teeth-whitened producer behind the wheel. No. These cars are owned by true professionals like Jay Leno, Eric Clapton, Michael Schumacher, Elon Musk and Rowan Atkinson (who occasionally kept crashing and restoring his F1). The car had a price tag of $1m and, because only 106 were produced, this price won’t be decreasing for sure. So you expect this car to be made out of exotic materials and genuine parts created for the car. But you’d be wrong, because there was a set of parts on the car that you would be least expecting to be shared with some other car. I am talking about the rear lights.

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Now an ordinary human being would just say “no big deal”. But then you have to see what other car (or I’d rather say “motor vehicle”) shares them. Surprise, surprise, it’s a DAF bus.

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If the car DAF would’ve shared its parts with would’ve been a Ford or a Hyundai, I wouldn’t be surprised, but cost cutting on a million dollar supercar seems unjustified. It’s not like the company was short of cash. With McLaren having four consecutive F1 championship titles before the car was released in 1992 it’s not like they were short of cash. Or maybe they rushed it. That’s the only explenation I could think of – them rushing to finish the car in time before potential buyers turn away. Luckily McLaren aren’t the same anymore, having all their cars and technology designed “in the house” as they say in the car world.

But McLaren ain’t the only ones who fell into the misery of car part sharing. Here are a couple of other cars with some cheap parts and the cars these parts originated from.

ASTON MARTIN DB7 REAR LIGHT MODULES – 1989 MAZDA 323F

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I now understand why in 1990s James Bond didn’t drive the Aston. Because as you can see, cost cutting in the company was pretty horrible. The rear lights out of a economy car? It’s the only design element of that car I didn’t really like. Aston wasn’t all that great on the inside either, having a gearstick so close to the stereo that you couldn’t really change your cassette (or CD if you were tech-savy in those days) unless you had your car in a low gear if it was an auto box or if it was in 2nd, 4th or 6th. The switchgear and the console itself was very Fordish (which is no coincidence, as Aston was owned by Ford from 1987 to 2007. Ford also had a small share of Mazda as well, which explains the light sharing). It’s a shame, because it’s an Aston Martin.

ASTON MARTIN VIRAGE FRONT AND REAR LIGHTS – AUDI 200 and VW SCIROCCO

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It’s Aston again. But this car basically shows how bad things were before Ford took Aston Martin over. It’s no surprise that you haven’t heard of the Virage, because it was Aston’s call for desperation to stay alive. Just over 1000 cars were produced and they haven’t really found their place in classic car hall of fame. Partly it was because of its gopping looks. This car really looks like it was designed in a hurry by an accountant and a salesman. Then there was the parts sharing. The front lights were from Audi 200 and rear lights – from a VW Scirocco. They could’ve used parts from other manufacturers because these don’t fit at all. It makes the Aston look like a kit car built by some car enthusiasts during weekends. Some really could mistake this with a VW Scirocco coupe which for an Aston would be such a resentment.

MG SV-R – FIAT PUNTO

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The last years of MG were a pain to many car enthusiasts. Here is a brand with racing pedigree and charm dying a suffering death. This suffering also was reflected into cars they built. The MG SV-R was a weird project. Firstly because it was a super car from a brand that already earned a reputation for building cars for British pensioners (thanks to Rover). Secondly because though it was supposed to be a super car it was still built like a pensioner’s car. The front lights were inherited from Fiat’s Punto. It’s not a bad decision as it suited the design, making it look like it squints at you with a mean stare.

PAGANI ZONDA AIR CONDITIONING CONTROLS – MG ZS

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Now this one I found by pure chance and I started doubting Pagani. Up until the moment I found out about this I believed (sort of) what Horacio Pagani was saying, that he sprays a fresh grass air freshener around his office so he can concentrate better, that he was spending hours walking around the finished car and watching every single detail of it before redesigning it, that all the parts for his cars were made by Pagani. RUBBISH! So did MG just steal a batch of air conditioning units from you and dropped them into their cars? What’s more, they just kept washing petrolhead’s brains that all cars are “crafted to the absolute perfection” and hey used this claim to justify their £500k price tag. Why couldn’t you just rise the price for another £50k and insert proper electronic switch gear, not one that costs £60 (I did research. The MG air conditioning control unit costs £60). If your cars were an automotive perfection, why did you cut costs so early?

LAMBORGHINI DIABLO FACELIFTED MODEL’S HEADLIGHTS – NISSAN 300ZX

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It’s nothing huge, but I really preferred the pop-up headlights on the Diablo. That’s all because of the legislation that is supposed to “keep people alive by removing this fatal headlight design”. Thanks.

NOBLE M600 ENGINE – VOLVO S80 V8

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This last one though might not be a visual part, but it sure is quite an interesting one. The hard-core supercar maker Noble used the conservative Volvo’s mad V8 engine, added a couple of turbos and created a monster. It’s really a shame we will never see a V8 engine in a Volvo again because they’re now staying with 4-cylinder engines, but it’s weird that a Volvo engine powers a 200+mph supercar. What’s more, remove all the silencers on Volvo’s exhaust and you will have the best car to confuse people with, because when they’ll hear this roar and then see an S80 coming from that way they will think that they’ve lost their minds. These cars are called “sleeper’s cars”, because until you beat the guy next to you at the take off from traffic lights, he will never know that you have something sinister at your disposal.