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.

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


fol-ksvagen

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:

Exeo-comp_2017735i

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.

 

ŠKODA

 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.

Skoda_Felicia_outside_Robinson

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?

Skoda-Octavia-vs-Volkswagen-Jetta-vs-Hyundai-Elantra_1

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.

Seat_Leon_(1P)_–_Frontansicht,_17._April_2011,_Düsseldorf

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.

Bentley_Continental_Flying_Spur_Speed_–_Frontansicht_(2),_5._April_2012,_Düsseldorf

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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!

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

ZOnda aircon zs6

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.

I am rolling: why are so many people ignoring Volvo?


So after all this ridiculous heat wave we’ve been having here and a lot of adventures I’ve been having outside (unlike some of you who, judging by my stats, have been coming in here and checking out my blog almost daily. Thanks so much, guys).

And so…back to business.

 

“Jag rullar”: Why are so many people ignoring Volvo?

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For the past three weeks now I have been in business selling cars…..well…trying to, but it’s not as easy as it seems. I am working a partially voluntary job at a Volvo car dealership at home in Latvia. Before I joined the team I was well aware of the brand and what they stood for. I owe a big deal of respect to Volvo, because it has played a huge part in my life as a passionate car guy. It was the first car I could remember of being in, because my dad used to work for a Swedish company who had a fleet of Volvos. He had a 940 and a 240. Both were estates, cos they were in the league of their own when it came to taking stuff around. My dad told me he used to take HALF A TON worth bags of cement (I’m not kidding, he used to take lots of stuff around) and it would remain in one piece. I liked those cars. As you can see from the picture below with me next to my dad’s 240 (why it had Swedish plates, don’t ask. I don’t know):

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Then, in 2005 I think my dad bought his first Volvo in years – XC70 T5. That car means a lot to me because that was the first car I drove on public roads. And it has to date been the fastest car I’ve ever been driven around. 180 km/h. Still to this day I haven’t beaten it. But it’s sort of a good thing because that thing accelerated like a rocket. And it was the first time in my life I learned about traction control. My dad wanted to demonstrate. He drove on a snowy field one winter day, I was sitting next to him. He said “watch”, after which he floored it and yanked the wheel all the way to the left. But the car followed. It didn’t spin, eating its own exhausts; it followed where it was directed. But then he turned the traction control off (you have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the combination in which the switches have to be pressed to turn it COMPLETELY OFF) and all hell broke loose. The car span out every time the car started moving. I was fascinated by it.

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But I’ve noticed that I am one of a handful who gets excited about Volvos. So many guys who think they know their cars (ones I’ve talked about in one of my older blog posts) say the things EVERYBODY are saying – that they are boxy, noisy, don’t go anywhere, are driven by old people, torque steer…blah blah blah. People, where have you been all these years?! That could have been the case with Volvos in the past (those facts they are mentioning are of the Volvo 850. It did torque steer but…they seem to forget that they won a couple of races in the British Touring Car Championship. Not bad for an “old man’s” car). I have to admit, I have missed out stuff on Volvos and paid too little attention to their lineup. Until now, that is.

First thing that I noticed straight away and was startled by was the unbelievably perfect build quality and the upmarket feel of it all. I am not saying they have not been this way in the past, but there was a bit of a decline during their Ford years when the floating console appeared. But I have to say (and this is not biased) they are better put together than many of the German offerings. Believe me.

I have to say I am a sucker for that TFT gauge display. Volvo have done a fantastic job on it. Unlike Cadillac, Jaguar or Mercedes, who have just shoved a large display behind the wheel, the Swedes have made it look delicate by making it look like analog gauges would belong there, with separate screen for every virtual gauge, all of them based around a huge tunneled gauge which is for the speedo/tachometer (change to whatever you like, up to you). There’s a reason for that. It is an option for about €400 here in Latvia. As standard you get a set of analog gauges, but do tick the box for the TFT display. They are worth the price.

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Then the whole interior feel and quality. It may not be up there with Audi, but I have to say they are very close with it. What I am definitely sure about is that the quality is by miles better than that in current BMW range. It just is. It may not be as minimalistic, but it sure has the quality feel to it. And can those car journalists shut up about the centre console having too many buttons cos that’s rubbish. Even though it might look like a phone from 1980s, the buttons are laid out very logically and they are easy to use. Those many buttons in the middle are a keypad like you find on a phone which you could use for (yup, you guessed it) the Bluetooth telephone. But what people fail to realize that the only two other options they are used for is for entering Navigation details (which is way easier with a keypad than with the iDrive in BMWs. I hate entering address with an iDrive. Think of texting. You never thought texting on old phones was complicated, didn’t you?) and for preset radio stations. That’s it. Don’t let the looks and car journalists fool you. Try it for yourself.

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Also, you can chose an option that could turn your car into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot for your usage (if you’re too stingy to share it). And Volvo is one of few car makers in the premium brand market who offer a Digital TV use on their cars. Until now this option has been available on S-Class Mercs, 7-series BMWs and A7 & A8 Audis. Yes, Volvo have chosen to pursue the luxury world. Good idea, as their projects for masses have been disastrous (the S40 and other NedCar Dutch built Volvos) and they have covered the basics of a luxury car for ages – comfort, safety and performance. The latter one did not occur up until the introduction of the T5 5-cylinder Turbo engine which gave Volvo some victories in motor races too.

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Speaking of comfort, I can put my hand on my heart and say that I haven’t yet found anything as comfortable as a Volvo. Every time I got to sit in one it was like laying down in a lounge sofa. I am not exaggerating, it really is like that. No other car has been close. Maybe Lexus, Jaguar and Land Rover have, but others have not. Audi? Nope. BMW? After 2 hours of driving I need a massage because my buttocks ache so badly. But not in a Volvo. Even looking at them makes you feel cosy. All that comfort is benefited by the sound of the stunning stereo system. Any range – from standard to the upgraded Harman/Kardon sound system – their sound quality is worth a million dollars…probably.

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If you still thinking “you’re nuts. It’s not a well built car.” Well let me show you a brilliant example. First, let’s look at a BMW X3 engine bay. This one is a 2 liter Turbo.

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This shows that BMW have become so arrogant they have stopped paying attention to quality. HOW CAN A £30 000 CAR HAVE WIRES TAPED  TOGETHER? And some of them are even uncovered to water, bud and dirt that comes beneath the engine. Looks like BMW have begun cost cutting. Even in the inside it feels very plastic-fantastic. But that does not bother me, cars have had plastic interiors, but this kind of rough work I’ve only seen in either French cars or in American cars. And that’s no coincidence because all BMW X-cars are built and most of designing is done in South Carolina, USA. But this, the X3, is not the only case of such “quality”. The brand new X4 has exactly the same wiring with exactly the same tape with exactly the same uncovered wires. So slow down when you go through puddles if you drive an X3, because you might create a short circuit.

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But in a Volvo (in this case, a D4 engine (even though a Diesel, the changes are dramatic. The quality is the same in a Diesel BMW as well), well, just look at it. It is so tidy and all those open wires are where they belong – in plastic boxes!

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And long gone are the days of boxy designed Volvos. They are truly amazing to look at and, some of them, a lot of fun to drive. The brand new Drive-E engines are particularly good. I drove the S60 D4 Drive-E with 181 BHP and 8-speed auto gearbox. I have to say I had a time of my life. It made me want an S60. It corners brilliantly, has lots of grip though it has FWD, there is NO torque steer (whereas an Audi A4, which is in the same class, tries to kill you with torque steer) and is very sharp on acceleration. The seating position is absolutely spot on (it suits you both when you’re cruising, when you want to rest your elbow on the door panel’s hand rest, and when you’re going fast) and all but XC70 and S80 have a sport-grip steering wheel as standard. The grips are so comfy and deep that the wheel wouldn’t slip even if you held hard on it while your hands are covered in butter.  It might not be as sharp to drive as a 3-series (it is as good and sharp as everyone says) as it has the inevitable FWD trait – understeer – and it has a number steering feel than the bimmer, but it is definitely the best FWD saloon there is. I WANT ONE. 😀

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But don’t think for a minute I am here to write an article because I work for them, oh no. For instance, though Volvos now do look great, the design has wiped away their long term top position in practicality league. The V60 boot, though it is convenient, it is quite small. From cars I’ve driven, Subaru Outback has a bigger boot than a V60. Same applies for V40. It is fun to drive as it is based on a Ford Focus platform, but the boot is tiny. And it is just too much cash for the product. People at the dealership have said that too.

And though S60 is a fantastic car to drive, that can’t be said about the XC70. First of all, that car has been quite old. It still has a lot of Ford in it. Then there’s the ride. It is very comfortable but because it is about 4 centimetres higher above the ground than the V70 on which it’s based, it does feel like a duck around the corners. It tilts to one side quite a lot, so it’s more of a cruiser, not a bruiser.

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And finally,  I have to be a bit of a perfectionist. Though almost all of the buttons feel very high class, there are a couple who don’t and those are reading lamp buttons above the driver. They feel like they belong in a Toyota, but not in a premium brand car.

But that’s it. I have started to love Volvo. It is a great car brand. It’s not like with SAAB, where I loved the illusion that the brand is the same as it was in 1980s (with airplanes and good quality). No. The older you grow the wiser you get. And that is why I have started appreciating the truly great things.

 

So don’t hesitate and have a look at modern Volvos. You will be surprised.

 

Motorexpo 2014


It’s showtime: London Motorexpo 2014

 

I have been away for a while, but now I’m back. And on Monday I visited a car show that I have actually something to talk about. It was Motorexpo 2014 in Canary Warf, in London. And these were my favorites from the show. Photos provided by me with a great helping hand of my sister.

 

Porsche Boxster

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This is the very recent version of Porsche’s “hairdresser’s car” which now has become more muscular and more likeable to many. The first thing that I noticed as soon as I got into the car was most certainly QUALITY. It was everywhere – from the feel and smell of the brand new leather (I love smell of new leather in new cars) to those thousands of buttons on the center console. Even paddle shifters felt like they’ve been screwed together so tough that even a tractor couldn’t pull them off. A very low car too, though. However, as I said, this is “hairdresser’s car”, i.e. you wouldn’t like to see two men in it with the roof down. It would be a bit awkward. In an Aston Martin or an Audi A4 sure, fine, it’s cool, but in this it sort of doesn’t look right. But if you forget about the guy sitting next to you, focus yourself on the absolutely sublime driving position (feet in level with the ground and pointing dead straight) and you’ll be the happiest man in the world. For a woman, you will feel happy no matter who sits next to you.

 

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

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Speaking of Astons, finally saw one today. Because I am so “poor” (i.e. I didn’t wear a Rolex and my eye pupils didn’t form into dollar signs) the dealer standing next to it started to shout as soon as I was crouching to get in. Oh well, maybe some other time. But one thing I can point out to Aston – your interiors have to updated fast. They’re a bit dated. Don’t believe me? Read some car journals. However, as I read, they are in works of a brand new chassis. #happytimes

McLaren 650S

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If you remember (if, of course, you bother reading my blog every time I post something) I said that I see no point of the 650S. That it is a slightly higher priced, P1-nosed 12C. Then I had a chat with the chap who represented McLaren there. He too said “look, touch, close the door, but don’t sit there”, but then I asked him “isn’t this just a fancier 650S?” He explained that it is in the looks (from the back, of course), but in detail it’s a different car. Sure, it has a 3.8 litre twin-turbo V8 (same as every other McLaren (apart from F1) there was, is and, for now, ever will be), but it’s been tuned up to 612 bhp (650 PS, hence the 650 in the model name). Also, the P1 nose gives it way more downforce. He said that the 12C had too little downforce on the nose that at some speeds there could be a possible understeer. Not like Lamborghini Miura, of course, but still not good enough in McLaren’s perfectionist eyes. Also they added larger side skirts, a bigger side scoops for more engine cooling and almost all of 12C extras now come as standard. And if you calculate all differences, he said, the 650S is actually cheaper by about £2000 than the 12C. And now I’m guessing you’re bored to levels of boredom as big as listening to a lecture about evolution. But don’t be put off by this. It just shows that even a chap at a car show is as geeky and passionate for the brand as Ron Dennis. Ronnie himself was a perfectionist and, after he came back, seems like things have shaken up a bit. And that’s a good thing.

 

Lotus Evora S

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Apart from this eye-watering color, I love the Evora. This is the S-model, i.e. a supercharged 3.5 litre  Supercharged (hence the S designation) Toyota engine in the middle and some bits and bobs added to it as standard. As Lotus has been known for decades as the ultimate handling machine, this one felt like it is just that – low, perfect seating position, arms completely horizontal when extended to the wheel, perfect adjustment on the seat to get in the position and a crisp gearbox. I have no idea where Clarkson came up with rubbish shifts when he reviewed the Evora S. There were two drawbacks. The first wan was there is literally no space in the rear for the passengers. Despite having two seats you would have to be: a) a midget if you’re driving or b) a baby if you’re sitting at the back. And the quality of the door opening handle was a bit wobbly.

 

Lotus Exige LF1

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Back in 2011 I got in a Lotus Elise for the first time. But then getting out of it was truly embarrassing for me and quite entertaining for my mate who stood there while I was on my knees, trying to get out of that thing. The same story here – I have mastered the method of getting in (first you sit in it, then slide your feet under the steering wheel). As for getting out, well, as you can see in the picture above, I have still a long way to go. Anyhow, it is a stripped-down version of Elise, so in the interior there is no drama. Just mechanical windows, no carpets, just an aluminium floor, a steering wheel, a gear knob and some pedals. That’s it. And do you actually need anything else for a track-ready sportscar? To beat all those “sluggish” Mercs and Audis, I don’t think you do.

Why is it particularly an LF1? Because this edition is made to celebrate Lotus’s involvement in F1 throughout the years. It features 2 in 1 color scheme tributes – the bright red is to commemorate those “Gold Leaf” F1 cars of late 60s and that famous, unforgettable “John Player Special” black-and-gold scheme. Only 81 of them will be built. So I have had a bit of a luck. 

Jaguar XJR

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I remember the year I fell in love with Jaguar. That was 1998, when I got my first computer game ever – Need for Speed III. It had two Jags – XJR-15 sportscar and an XK8. Despite XJR-15 being faster, sleeker and in a higher class than the XK8, I loved the GT coupe because it had this Jaguarishness about it. It just felt right. It looked good, it has the best brand name in the business (imagine saying to your girlfriend/wife: “Shall we take the Jag tonight, my dear?” Makes you as cool as Roger Moore. Actually cooler, because that guy had a thing with opening eyes wide when he said things like this) and…it just was my favorite car. Fast-forward to 2011, I saw the last special edition Jaguar XK- XKR-S – and an XJ. I was so surprised by how cooler Jags are than I though.

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XJ has one of best interiors in business. It is at the top alongside Audi which for decades has made its drivers feel more at home than your local pudding. Jag’s swooping trim line going all across the dash; if it is chosen to be wood, it would make you feel like a king. I love it. Then the position in which you sit; it makes you feel cool even if you are a nerd. The TFT-display, pillow-soft seats, supercharged V8 engine…the list goes on and on and on.

 

Jaguar F-type

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Oh yes, I always save the best for last. I couldn’t contain my excitement while writing this article until I got to write about my most favorite car of today – the F-type. I have seen it millions of times in pictures, but when I saw it up close I was blown away. It is just too beautiful to remain unnoticed. They had them in various shapes and sizes – both convertible and coupe – but, as some might know, my favorite F-type has to be the V6 S coupe. First of all it has the more powerful supercharged V6 of the lot. Secondly it makes the same roar as the E-type Straight-6 XK engine. I love it way more than the roar to the V8. Don’t get me wrong, I love the V8, but if I had an F-type, it would be just a V6. Thirdly, in my mind the coupe F-type is the most beautiful car in the whole world today. I’m not a fan of roadsters myself. I love solid roof driving. I wouldn’t mind to drive with a roof down, but only on a GT coupe. But as you saw some weeks ago, Jaguar killed the XK and the replacement, the XR (as rumors suggest it’s going to be called) is coming no earlier than 2017 (according to CAR magazine, at least. I hope they’re right). Also the coupe has more luggage space than the roadster. In the car show one of convertibles had a golf bag in the boot. Now that looked like a mini golf bag. In the coupe, though, if I would have a girlfriend, we could have some space to take some luggage with us for the week. Not huge, but this is a sports car, not a grand tourer.

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I did get a chance to sit inside as well. Seats, despite being as thin as Lewis Hamilton’s patience, were surprisingly comfortable. And the quality of it all was as good (or maybe better) than that in Porsche. That is quite a high praise. But then again Jag has come a long way. From Ford-days when they still had some quality and reliability issues and that hideous-looking S-type, to the lineup of today. It is just getting better and better. And I cannot wait what the XE will bring this autumn.

 

Today I lived in a dream. A dream I didn’t want to leave. Thank you, Motorexpo, for giving this wonderful opportunity to see these beauties. It’s been 3 years but the passion is still there. 

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