Posts tagged ‘cars’


Fun for car anoraks—till you get to the factual errors

08.07.2017

I bought Steven Parissien’s The Life of the Automobile: a New History of the Motor Car, which started off as a good history. I’m 300-odd pages in now and the mistakes are really worrying. There’s also a shocking lack of editing (one part repeated, albeit in different language, and spelling and grammatical mistakes) in the parts I’ve got to now; it’s as though the editor got tired after the first 10 chapters and stopped caring. But the biggest errors are factual.
   I am astonished to learn, for instance, that Harley Earl was responsible for the concept of the Ford Thunderbird (p. 255), that Triumph TR7 production was transferred to Speke in 1982 (p. 293, though Parissien later contradicts himself with the correct fact), and that John Z. de Lorean was a protégé of Lee Iacocca (p. 309). I really have no idea how, but as far as I know, de Lorean was never at Ford, and he had a Chrysler stint long before Iacocca got there. I also never knew that ‘In 1968 the Toyota Corolla became the first Japanese car to be manufactured in the US’ (p. 314; that was the year it went on sale there, and from memory the Corolla didn’t get built there till the NUMMI deal in the 1980s) or that the Opel Ascona C was also sold as the Opel Vectra (p. 337). The Italian Job was released in 1969, not 1967 (p. 224).
   I am frustrated with this book—and now it makes me wonder if the stuff earlier on, which I know less about, was accurate.
   I can understand an editor not grasping the subject as well as the author but there is less excuse in professional publishing for the other problems. Maybe there are few professional proofreaders left, now that spellchecks have been around for a generation or more. I was prepared to recommend this book even a week ago and tolerated the spelling and grammar, but these factual mistakes are worse than what can be found in Wikipedia, and I often label parts of that site as fiction.

PS. (September 17): How much worse can it get, as I continued through? A lot.
   On p. 320, we get an admission that Parissien was wrong on p. 314: the Honda Accord was the first Japanese-branded car to be made Stateside. At least an earlier error was corrected. But they begin again on p. 321: Parissien claims the V30 Toyota Camry dominated the US mid-size car market (it was never sold outside Japan; he’s thinking of the XV10, or the Japanese-market Scepter, which was badged Camry). Correcting his error on p. 322, the Camry was not specifically targeted at the US; it was Toyota’s attempt to create an efficient car from the ground up, and it was not done in 1980, but 1982 (the 1980 Celica Camry was not sold outside Japan). The Paykan deal was cemented long before George Turnbull got to Iran (p. 324), though local content rose in the 1970s for it to be truly Iranian-made and Parissien might mean the shifting of the engine tooling there, if I’m being generous. There is only one world, not multiple ones (also p. 324), unless Parissien knows something about parallel universes that the rest of us don’t. Surely Chrysler managed to launch its T-115 minivan (Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager) before Renault launched the Espace (p. 330), and the Triumph Acclaim was never called the ‘Ronda’ (p. 334), though its successor was.
   On p. 360, in a single paragraph, Parissien makes several errors. The MG 6 launched as a five-door car, not his claimed four. There is no such thing as the Roewe 150, in China or elsewhere. The MG 3 has five doors and is not a three-door counterpart to the 6. The five-door MG 6 launched not in 2011, but in 2010, and the Magnette name was only used in the UK for the four-door. The founder of Chrysler was Walter Chrysler, not Walther (p. 364). The Lancia Delta only became a Chrysler in the UK and Éire, as far as I know (p. 365), and remained a Lancia in most countries. The Belgian designer is Dirk van Braeckel, not van Braeckl (p. 368); Mercedes-Benz never bought an 18·53 per cent stake in Volkswagen (p. 369); and Citroën’s BX was not the last car in that range to have ‘pneumatic suspension’ (p. 372). The Malibu was not a Saturn, but a Chevrolet (p. 375), and Buick was never sold off (p. 376). The Ford Mondeo did not replace the Telstar in all Asian markets (p. 377), and it shared far more than the ‘windscreen, front doors and rear’ with the Contour and Mystique (in fact, the rear was not shared, though there were common engines, platform, and plenty more). It’s not entirely certain that the US market judged the Contour to be too small (p. 378), but there was a lack of marketing (which would have made an even better story than the one Parissien writes about). Ford subsequently filled the Contour’s niche with the smaller Focus Stateside. The CD338 Fusion was never sold in Australia (also p. 378). Ford never resurrected the Taunus in Germany under Alan Mulally (p. 381)—this invention is incredible. VAZ did follow up the 2101 with something similar after it ended production in 1983 (not 1984, p. 382), viz. the 2105, which was about as similar as one could get to the 2101.
   On p. 384, Parissien claims Acura’s Legend sales were ‘disappointing’, after saying they were ‘beginning to sell rather well’ 50 pp. before. The Hindustan Ambassador was not based on the 1954 Morris Oxford (p. 389): that car was actually the Hindusthan Landmaster. The Ambassador was based on the 1957 Morris Oxford III, and was in production from 1959, not 1958. The Red Flag (or Hongqi) marque was not reborn on an Audi A6 (p. 391), but the marque had been used on a version of the Audi 100 C3 from 1988, and no Hongqi bore an Audi–Chrysler–Hongqi brand name. The Chinese company is Dongfeng, not Dongfen (p. 391), and Parissien’s claim that the Everus was sold in the west (p. 392) is news to me, as I am sure it is to its own management. I’ll stop there for now.

P.PS. (September 18): Some bedtime reading, or should I say error-finding, last night. On p. 394, Toyota and Aston Martin did not jointly develop the Cygnet: Toyota developed the IQ in 2008, and Aston Martin converted that car to become its Cygnet, and ‘hot hatch’ is a very optimistic description for a city car. Toyota did not launch the Cygnet in 2008 as Parissien claims, nor did it have a say in what customers were expected to purchase the Cygnet: it was aimed specifically at existing Aston Martin owners, not ‘Toyota and Aston expected initial demand to be limited to those who already owned an Aston Martin sports car.’ It was certainly no ‘eccentric experiment’ of Toyota, but of Aston Martin. Volvo never made a model called the A40 (p. 395), and I bet Nissan is surprised to find that the original Qashqai was designed ‘at the firm’s Milan design centre’ (p. 397) when it was designed in London. Maserati never launched a Jeep-based SUV called the Kubang (p. 397), but it did have a concept of that name, and the Levante appeared in 2016 after the book was published. There is no such car as the Porsche Cajun, and if Parissien refers to the smaller Porsche crossover, then that is called the Macan, and it has five doors, not the claimed three (p. 397). The Volkswagen New Beetle was not on a Polo platform (p. 399), but a Golf one, as was its successor (though a newer Golf); and Ford would dispute that its Mustang is a sedan (p. 401). If J Mays’s first name is J (as footnoted), then there is no need to refer to him as ‘J. Mays’ (p. 401). The Ford Ka’s name is not derived from StreetKa (p. 402): that was a model spun off from the Ka in 2002; and some would regard the Mk II model was being superior to the Fiat 500 on which it is based (especially as Fiat adopted some of the changes for its own model). I have yet to see a Smart with a Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star or marque anywhere, unlike Parissien who seems to think they are badged Mercedes (p. 403), and a Smart SUV does not exist unless Parissien is reporting again from his parallel universe (p. 403). There is also no such car as the Kia Exclusive (p. 410).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in cars, design, interests, publishing, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


Autocade hits 11,000,000 page views—a million in four months

25.06.2017


The Porsche 901 was the 3,500th model entry into Autocade earlier this month.

After lamenting in February that it had taken over six months for Autocade to get from 9,000,000 to 10,000,000 page views (prior to that it was every five months), I was happy to note that the next million took four months, which is a new record for the website.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)

   Just yesterday I spotted another fiction on Wikipedia—that the original Hyundai Sonata, which we know was not sold outside Korea, is claimed to have been sold in Canada and New Zealand. (The Stellar-based one was not; the first Sonata sold for export was the Y2.)
   As long as unreferenced fictions like this keep appearing on Wikipedia—I don’t have to repeat earlier ones I noted, such as the ongoing, and annoying, falsehood of the ‘Ford CE14 platform’ page—there’s a place for Autocade. In fact, the additional growth suggests to me that the site is being used more regularly by netizens, and I hope that the work we’ve put in has been useful and entertaining.
   Our 3,500th entry, made on June 3, 2017, was for the Porsche 901 (unlike many other times, I had purposely chosen it).
   We’re not completely error-free, but we try to reference everything with offline sources, and, where appropriate, online (non-Wikipedia) ones. Thank you for your visits and for putting your trust in us.

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, cars, internet, media, publishing | No Comments »


Go well, Dave Moore

02.06.2017

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of my colleague and friend Dave Moore on May 31, which I learned about a few hours after.
   You don’t expect your mates to drop dead at breakfast while on a press trip, especially not at the age of 67, and it’s particularly painful to know he leaves behind a wife and two children.
   The only solace is that he was doing something he loved, in a beautiful part of New Zealand, Wanaka.
   One of my good memories is driving with Dave along south Auckland roads, each of us in a new BMW 650i Cabriolet, during the press launch in 2011. Good manners prevent me from saying what speeds we were doing, but as this is a public blog, let’s say it was 101 km/h on a 100 km/h road. Remember Dave was 61 at this point but he still had the reflexes of a guy half his age.
   Having travelled up this road earlier (this was our return journey), we knew the likelihood of anyone coming the other way was remote. We decided to wind things back down to 50 km/h when we hit the main road and about 200 m down was a police checkpoint!
   We beamed innocently, as though we were doing the legal limit all the time.
   Back at BMW, Dave said to me, ‘That was good, but you could feel a bit of flex in the chassis. Let’s hope they fix that for the M6.’
   Dave was a good bloke. We didn’t always agree but we were always civil about it. On that I have no regrets. He hated mispronunciations (d’Or being pronounced as Dior was his pet peeve) and his politics tended to be further right than mine, but we never let that get in the way of a healthy respect for each other. He was in a good place in his life after quitting the top motoring post at Fairfax New Zealand, and doing his own thing. His daughter was moving up in the foreign service and doing exceptionally well, and he was deeply proud of her. The only photo I have of him is a silly one (he’s on the left and no, I don’t remember why three of us put the napkins on our heads) but usually when you’re on a press junket, you’re not taking photos of your colleagues!
   Dave was still posting on social media right up till his death, remarking how he was enjoying his view at his accommodation in Wanaka.
   There’s something fitting about his Facebook cover photo being his beloved dog, Ruby, walking alone into the distance.
   Our last conversation online was discussing the death of Sir Roger Moore a week before. Dave remembered Ivanhoe and we talked about Robert Brown playing the serf to Roger Moore’s Sir Winifred. Sadly, it wasn’t a car conversation, but it’s not a bad one to end on.
   My condolences to Dave’s family on the passing of a much loved and respected man.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in cars, media, New Zealand | No Comments »


Autocade passes 10,000,000 page views

13.02.2017

Some time in the last couple of weeks, Autocade managed its 10,000,000th page view.
   I was too busy to notice when it hit 9,000,000, but a quick calculation when views hovered around the 9,500,000 mark suggested it made the milestone some time around August 2016, keeping the growth rate at around 1,000,000 every five months.
   February 2017 does mean the last million came about over six months since August 2016, so it’s not heartening that the growth has slowed a little. When I last blogged about Autocade’s stats, in March 2016, I had hoped it’d see in 10,000,000 before the Gregorian year’s end.
   Nevertheless, I’m proud this little automotive encyclopædia managed this feat, with a few banner ads scattered about the place, a very lately opened and seldom updated Facebook page, and some mentions on Drivetribe. But it’s had none of the support I would normally devote to a venture, such as doing newsworthy things that would involve the press. It’s an under-the-radar site to some degree, known by car aficionados. It is what it is, and I never felt there was any need to go beyond its original mission.
   Last time I took a screen shot from the stats’ page for this blog, the top cars being searched for were the Ford Fiesta Mk VII, the Nissan Bluebird (910), Nissan Sunny (B14), Toyota Corolla (E100) and Ford Focus (C307). Right now, the Ford Taunus TC has made it on to the leaderboard, pushing the Corolla down. These pages have been grandfathered though: they were some of the earliest on the site so of course they have been read more.
   In the time I’ve taken to write these paragraphs, Autocade has logged another 102 page views. Here’s hoping the rate remains healthy and the site becomes a more decent earner. Not bad for a hobby.

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in cars, publishing | 1 Comment »


Building a car anorak’s encyclopædia

28.12.2016


Above: The first-generation Mitsubishi Minica, though this isn’t the 1962 model. Now on Autocade—though hardly an iconic model.

It’s the end of the Gregorian year, which means I get a bit of time to update Autocade. Since 2008, it’s mostly been a labour of love, and typically, the period after Christmas is when I get a bit of down time to put on models that should have been done during the year.
   But because it’s a hobby site—albeit one that has turned into a oft-referenced online guide—it’s not done with any real discipline. That I leave to others—and you’re all more captured by the flashy photography of magazine sites anyway. Autocade was started as a quick reference, and unless we really decide to branch out into a magazine format, it’ll remain that.
   To give you an idea of the anorak nature of the website, over the break, all of Mitsubishi’s kei cars were added to the site. Some had already been there, such as the eK and certain Minicas, but I decided the rest should go up.
   Why these? You may ask, yet I don’t really have an answer. Often it’s over to one’s mood. Sometimes it’s to offer something online that others don’t, or at least not comprehensively. And when you realize you have 80 or 90 per cent of the models added, you think: I only need a few more, why not succumb to OCD and do the lot?
   Therefore, now, Autocade has all the Minicas, Pajero Minis, Ios and Jrs, Toppos and eKs that the once-mighty manufacturer made before it fell out of favour with its repeated scandals. I’m not a fan of any of them, but that’s not relevant: it’s about objectively providing the public with information, and my own like or dislike of a model has nothing to do with it.
   It’s not even a commercial decision. If it was, Autocade would have filled up the gaps in the US automotive industry a lot sooner. And there are still plenty of them. Americans make up a huge chunk of the browsing public, although for me it takes a while to make sure the engine capacities [for post-1980 US models] are recorded in metric—not something you can readily come by in US books (yes, Autocade is still dependent in some part to the printed word, not the transmitted electron).
   The other area where we’re missing cars is in the flash stuff: Mercedes-Benzes, Maseratis, Ferraris. Now these I actually like. But they can also prove difficult: the convention of the site is that the names of the cars are entered first, and Mercs can be time-consuming by the time you figure out what numbers go after A, C, E and S all around the world. The exotica are fun but there’s often no logic to the product cycles or market niches—which does, of course, make them more interesting, but from an encyclopædic point-of-view, more difficult to compartmentalize and recall. For those who have visited the site, there are links to each model’s predecessor and successor (where applicable), and that makes for particularly entertaining surfing.
   One model takes, on average, 15 to 20 minutes to do, and that’s when I already know about it. There’s some time involved in getting a press photo, writing it up, checking the specs (again using printed matter). When you research in certain languages, it takes even longer (South African online resources are scarce, for instance, and anything Chinese before 2008 or so is also hard to track down). The Mitsubishi kei cars, beginning with the 1962 Minica, represent hours of work, and when you multiply 15–20 minutes by 3,440, that’s a lot of hours since the site started. Occasionally I’m helped along by readers who suggest models, and two UK friends, Keith Adams and Pete Jobes, have made changes and additions along the way that have really benefited the site.
   I’m glad that Autocade is heading toward 10 million views, a milestone which it will reach in the next couple of months, and the increase in viewership is thanks to all of you finding it a useful enough resource. If you want something less exotic and more mundane (after all, some of us can only have so much of supercars and luxury cars), it’s the place to pop over to at autocade.net, hit ‘Random page’ at the top, and see what comes up.

Originally published at Drivetribe.

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Posted in cars, internet, media, publishing | No Comments »


Drivetribe will be a mecca for motorheads—Autocade readers welcome

22.11.2016

Now that the first episode of The Grand Tour has aired, and we’re nearing the official launch of Drivetribe (November 28), we’re beginning to see just how good an investment £160 million was for Amazon when it picked up the cast of The Goodies, I mean, Top Gear (sorry, I get those BBC shows mixed up, and they do have the same initials), along with producer Andy Wilman (who himself presented Top Gear segments many years ago, but we are now spared his nude scenes).
   Essentially, you can’t do a show these days without an internet community, so what did the four men do? Create their own. They’ve put their money into Drivetribe, which has attracted an eight-figure investment from additional parties, chief among which is 21st Century Fox—that’s right, Rupert Murdoch. Amazon’s reportedly quite happy with the arrangement—and it certainly helps boost their show.
   There are already signs that Drivetribe is going to succeed as a motoring portal–social network, for those of us who have been playing with it. Maybe the Murdoch Press has learned from Myspace? Or, it’s put their money in, but it’s letting experts do their job–among whom is none other than Cate Sevilla, formerly of Buzzfeed UK, and whose blog I followed even before she arrived in the UK the good part of a decade ago. It isn’t a surprise that Cate would do well in social media—she had a knack for it, even back then.
   Car enthusiasts were invited to pitch their ideas for tribes some months back, recognizing that we’re not all the same. Additionally, there’s a bunch of us who work in some aspect of the industry, and looking through the tribes, we’re the ones whose ideas have been adopted. For those of you who use Autocade, there’s one linked to that very venture.
   As many of you who follow this blog know, I founded Autocade in 2008, a car encyclopædia that wouldn’t have the fictions of Wikipedia (or ‘Wikiality’, as Stephen Colbert calls it). Eventually, I succumbed to modern marketing trends and very lately started a Facebook page on it, at least to post some behind-the-scenes thinking and publicity photos. While it proved all right, my blog posts were here and things were all over the place.
   When I first proposed doing a Drivetribe tribe many months ago, I centred it around the marketing of cars, and the result, the Global Motorshow, can be found here. And now that it’s started, it’s become clear that I can put all the content in one place and have it appreciated by other motorheads. In a week and a half it’s grown to about a third of the following of the Facebook page, and Drivetribe hasn’t even officially launched yet. Those members are either other tribe leaders or those who signed up early on. The question must be asked: why on earth would I bother continuing with Facebook?
   In addition to Cate, Drivetribe is not faceless. The support crew respond, and there are humans working here. I’m impressed with how quickly they get back to us, and how the site is reasonably robust. On all these points, Drivetribe is the opposite of Facebook.
   Granted, I don’t know the other members there, and some I only know through reputation. But then I didn’t know a lot of the people I now find familiar on Facebook car groups. Nor did I know the people on Vox back in 2006, or some of the folks at Blogcozy in 2016. Communities build up, often thanks to common interests, and here’s one that already has a massive online community ready to flock to it. Having three celebrities helps, too, and all three Grand Tour presenters post to the site.
   If you’re interested, the scope of the Global Motorshow (originally without the definite article, but when I saw the GM initials in the icon, I rethought it) is a bit wider than Autocade. I thought it might be fun to post some of the marketing materials we come across, the odd industry analyses that have appeared at this blog (updated in some cases), and even commercial vehicles, which aren’t part of Autocade. I’ve chosen to keep the tribe public, so anyone can post if they find something interesting. Let’s hope Drivetribe can keep the spammers at bay: something that the old Vox.com failed to do, and Facebook is desperately failing to do now as well.
   Come November 28, we’ll know just how good things are looking, but I’m erring on the side of the positive—something I was not prepared to do for sites such as Ello or Google Plus.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, cars, internet, marketing, media, TV, UK, USA | No Comments »


Finding the heart on Top Gear again

09.06.2016


Above: Chris Evans and Rory Reid talk about the McLaren F1 in Extra Gear.

Now that the new new Top Gear has aired in New Zealand, I have to say that it isn’t really there yet. But unlike much of the UK, I’m not going to dis Chris Evans, who is a consummate gearhead. The reason: I have a memory that goes back beyond February 2016.
   When Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman brought Top Gear back in its current form in 2002, it was actually disappointing. People seem to forget James May, who originally replaced Clarkson in the original Top Gear, wasn’t even on the show. My memory of the studio audience was that there were about four people hanging around Clarkson as he introduced … wait for it … the Citroën Berlingo. Which he took to France (insert Clarkson pause) to buy cheese.
   The idea of a show with a perfect complement of three hosts who got on well with each other, each playing a caricature of himself, did not exist for the first year, and even after May replaced Jason Dawe, it took a while for those personalities to emerge. It’s rare to get three hosts to play those roles as well from the get-go—Top Gear France (which is actually made by the BBC) is an exception, and every other foreign edition of Top Gear that I’ve seen doesn’t quite have it.
   But Clarkson was a ratings’ winner. When he first quit Top Gear (or ‘old Top Gear’), the series which started with Angela Rippon as its host in the 1970s, ratings fell from six million to three million. The TV environment was different a decade and a half ago. And the BBC persevered because at that time he hadn’t offended Mexicans or Argentinians, or assaulted an Irishman, or Piers Morgan.
   However, importantly, the public was quite happy letting things develop. They could have gone and watched Fifth Gear with its familiar line-up of ex-Top Gear presenters, but they stuck with Clarkson, Hammond, and whomever the third man was.
   Twenty sixteen. Enter Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc (somewhere between the ending of Friends and today, the space seems to have disappeared in his surname), both personalities who love cars. They are disadvantaged by not having been motoring journalists, but they are entertaining. The show doesn’t flow well with the studio segments, the stars introducing each other doesn’t work, and I’m nostalgic for the reasonably priced car—although at least the French have continued la tradition. However, because everyone expects the show to remain on a high, the internet jury has been nasty. No one demanded an overnight success before, but they’re out for blood now. It’s an unfair position to put Evans in.
   The absence of motoring journalism experience could have been filled quite easily. We were originally told of a huge line-up of Top Gear presenters, to which I thought: great, the BBC is going to give a big roster a go again, something that we hadn’t seen since the 1990s. In there we saw names such as Chris Harris. Yet Chris Harris and Rory Reid have been relegated to an internet-only show called Extra Gear, which is meant to serve Top Gear in the way Doctor Who Confidential served Doctor Who, with a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, deleted footage, and some sensible road testing around the test track of models not covered in the main show.
   Here’s the thing, and this has been said in the British press: these two guys have great rapport, and come across better than Evans and Le Blanc. I vote for them to be on the main Top Gear. They are more personable, humorous, and relatable. I wouldn’t be surprised if they found a way to work them both in next season, and why not four hosts?
   One thing Harris and Reid have is that they know their stuff after serving in motoring journalism. They aren’t rich guys who happen to love cars, but guys who have worked that passion into careers. Harris, in particular, put integrity ahead of kissing up to Ferrari and Lamborghini. I have tremendous respect for these two guys, and there’s simply more heart in Extra Gear than Top Gear, which at present feels a bit empty and by-the-numbers.
   I don’t blame Evans at all—the man had a herculean task. The producers probably tried to reduce Top Gear into formulaic chunks and believed that by cooking with those ingredients, they’d have a winner. This is a reminder that you cannot create heart from a formula: you can’t predict where it surfaces. Now that we know it’s there with Reid and Harris, the BBC would be wise to capture it. Let Top Gear evolve—after all, it did between 2002 and 2015—but also let these personalities do their thing.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in cars, culture, interests, media, TV, UK | 1 Comment »


Where did all the manual transmissions go?

08.05.2016


Above: The gear selector in the BMW i3, as tested in Lucire. See here for the full road test.

When I was searching for a car to buy after my previous one was written off in an accident, one no-brainer was that it had to be a manual. It can’t be that hard, right? After all, when I bought my earlier Renault Mégane in 2004, about 70 per cent of the market was manual.
   It turns out that in 11 years, things changed a lot in New Zealand. Somewhere along the line we became the United States or Japan, places where you get the impression people are afraid of manual gearboxes. We also changed our laws so that someone who is licensed to drive an automatic is permitted to drive a manual, so unlike the UK, manuals no longer became the default option for someone who wanted the freedom to drive both.
   I had the sense that New Zealand had become 80 per cent automatic, based on scanning car sales’ periodicals and websites. A quick scan of Auto Trader NZ last week, where there were 27,925 cars for sale, gave this break-down:

Automatic: 21,380 (76·6%)
CVT: 546 (2·0%)
Manual: 3,036 (10·9%)
Tiptronic: 2,963 (10·6%)

In fact, a traditional manual, one with gears you change with a clutch, comprises considerably less than 20 per cent.
   One friend, like me, specifically sought a manual in 2015, and asked me to scan through websites. In the greater Wellington region, cars matching his other criteria on engine size and price numbered a grand total of two, one in Eastbourne and the other in Upper Hutt. He eventually had to go outside his criteria to buy a manual.
   I visited one dealership in Lower Hutt where one of the senior salespeople told me that was what the market demanded, so they followed suit, as he tried to sell me an automatic, Turkish-made car. This claim was, based on my own research, bollocks.
   Granted, this research was of a sample of my 2,300 Facebook friends, but of those who responded, it appeared to be evenly divided. Some of the comments were along the lines of, ‘I wanted a manual, but I had no choice, so I bought an automatic.’
   If I didn’t have a second car (since sold to a friend who also preferred manuals), I could have found myself looking at doing the same—just because I needed wheels in a hurry. Or I could have bought a car that did not meet all my needs, one that was “near enough”. But if you are spending a five-figure sum, and you intend to hold on to the car for the next decade, is this such a wise thing to do? A car is an investment for me, not a fashion item.
   That earlier Renault took me four months to find in a market that wasn’t so heavily biased against manuals in the mid-2000s, and this time out, I wound up searching for eight. Most people don’t have that luxury.
   The most evident explanation for the overwhelming numbers of automatics is that so many used cars are sourced from Japan, but it’s really not what all people want.
   I’ve nothing against the half of the population who prefer automatics, but they are just not my sort of thing. These days, the most advanced automatics are more economical than manuals, but generally, you still get a few more mpg from a car you shift yourself. I enjoy driving, and automatics blunt that enjoyment for me, but I’m sure others don’t mind them as much.
   In future blog posts I’ll touch on this subject again, and I’ll be penning a story for Classic Car Weekly in the UK on the whole saga of buying a new car. Who knew that, despite being armed with money, it would be such an uphill task to find someone to give it to?
   It also suggests that if someone wishes to specialize in manuals, they would be tapping in to a large, unserved chunk of the New Zealand market.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, cars, culture, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


How will things play out at Fiat?

02.04.2016


Above: The current Fiat 500. A year shy of its 10th anniversary, is it still cool in 2016?

The Detroit News reports that Fiat has been having trouble Stateside, with dealers now permitted to sell the cars alongside Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram instead of at stand-alone showrooms.
   It’s been worrying seeing Fiat’s plans unfold since it decided to take control of Chrysler, a firm that was once the darling of the US car industry, with its industry-leading R&D times, to one that was starved of investment in the 2000s.
   Those initial plans, sold as a long-term strategy, turned out to be a short-term Band-Aid. With hindsight, maybe it wasn’t too much of a surprise, since Fiat was still grappling with understanding just what it was taking on.
   Fiat needed to do something given that things at home weren’t looking too good, with a model range that wasn’t very cohesive, and with its entries into the Chinese market having faltered a few times. To the casual observer, Fiat saved Chrysler, but there’s some truth in saying that having the company that controls the Jeep brand was a lifeline to Fiat itself.
   What we’ve seen since those days was the failure of the strategy of twinning Chrysler and Lancia. While this was a marriage of convenience, I could see this having some long-term gains with Lancia focusing on smaller cars and Chrysler on larger ones, but the result in 2016 is that Lancia has been reduced to an Italy-only marque, the equivalent of what Autobianchi was a few decades ago. Once the Ypsilon is deleted, then Lancia is consigned to the history books.
   The winner has been Alfa Romeo. It has only just returned to the junior executive segment with the new Giulia, after an absence of several years, and its 4C is a cracking sports car. Things are looking up, and rumours that Alfa and Dodge would be paired up in the same way Lancia and Chrysler were mercifully haven’t come true. The Giulia platform could be used for future models. Jeep has benefited from Fiat platforms, and Ram has gained some Fiat vans.
   But the parent brand, Fiat, has looked very uncertain for a while.
   For a start, there’s little uniformity globally. Fiat has the opportunity to offer the Viaggio and Ottimo in more places than China, slotting above the Ægea, for example. While having unique models for South America makes some sense, because of Fiat’s strength there, there’s an opportunity to globalize, with the Toro pick-up truck looking very appealing.
   Without having more of its self-developed products, the Fiat range in Europe doesn’t inspire too much confidence. While most manufacturers have one or two joint-venture models, Fiat’s range is almost exclusively made up of vehicles that have shared tech. The famous 500 and Panda are on a Fiat platform which has Chrysler input (before the takeover), and is shared with Ford for its B420 Ka. The Punto, 500X and 500L are on another platform shared with GM. The Doblò is also offered to GM. The Qubo is the product of a joint venture with Peugeot. The Freemont is a rebadged Dodge Journey from México, which Fiat gained after the takeover. The 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5, and built in Japan by that firm. The Fullback pick-up is a Mitsubishi Triton twin and made in Thailand by that Japanese firm.
   Fiat, in other words, is holding down more relationships than Casanova.
   As a casual observer, there’s an opportunity for a massive streamlining of platforms, and offer more in-house models. That may well be happening, and let’s hope its current strategy is more long-term than its last.
   Secondly, as mentioned earlier, Fiat hasn’t had a great reputation of being able to carry out long-term sales’ strategies in many of its markets. Take New Zealand, for example, where Fiat was offering its (Grande) Punto and Bravo models, before it decided to pull everything and offer only the 500.
   The Punto has returned after a hiatus, this time as a budget model, along with the Tipo 139 Panda, but those who bought Puntos in the 2000s might think twice about returning to a company that abandoned them and offered no direct replacement for their car when it came to trading up.
   That lack of continuity could have some buyers worried, and Fiat needs to regain their trust in a big way.
   Being the Five Hundred Car Company, which Fiat certainly was in the US, cannot help, if buyers expect Fiat to offer more. We’ve seen it fail here, and Fiat’s had to back-track. Even in Hong Kong, where Fiat had also been reduced to flogging only the 500, it has had to add the Freemont.
   Fiat will argue that as it had been absent from North America for so long, it could re-enter the market-place with a single, fashionable model: after all, Mini and Smart have done.
   The trouble is that Fiat isn’t known as a niche brand: there was enough in the US media to indicate that this was an Italian giant, and the perception of such a large company didn’t gel with it offering a niche range anywhere. It lacked the cachet of a brand that was created to be fashionable and funky from the outset. You just can’t do it when that’s the name of the owner (think: can you sell “cool” cars with GM as the brand—that had been tried in New Zealand and failed dismally; or, going back a generation, Leyland? Volkswagen surely is the sole exception with its Beetle), and FCA, which the parent company is called, isn’t a consumer-facing brand. It’s just a company name with no brand equity.
   In the same vein, average punters might not know of BMW’s connection with Mini, or Daimler AG’s connection with Smart. They stand alone with plenty of brand equity, helped by identifiable products, and, in Mini’s case, even helped by its image outside North America.
   I also question whether the 500X and 500L are cute cars in the same vein as the original 500. Getting Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander character to advertise the 500X seemed good in theory—till it dawned on the public that the new Zoolander film was a bit naff, cashing in on last-decade nostalgia. I’m not a fan of retro design, either, and I would have hoped that Fiat would have renewed its 500 by now, since we’re on to newer versions of the Beetle, Mini, and Smart. It’s no surprise that Fiat sales are down 14·6 per cent so far this year.
   If Toyota could not sustain Scion with all its muscle, then Fiat retail really should be integrated into dealerships selling Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram Stateside. And I’d argue that Scion couldn’t remain because the brand had lost its coolness among the college kids who bought the XB in the first place. Buyers in this consumerist game, and at the fashion end it is more a game than in any other, are notoriously fickle.
   I don’t know how it’s going to play out. Fiat’s a brand I’ve grown up with, and I’ve been visiting their dealerships since I was two years old. Back in the 1970s the showroom in Homantin, Kowloon had everything from 127s to 130s. Fiat was doing a brisk trade on 124s. I came close to buying various Fiat Group cars over the years, including a Tipo and a Lancia Delta, and more recently I had considered Alfa Romeo Mitos and Giuliettas. I briefly toyed with importing a Tipo 844 Lancia Delta from the UK badged as a Chrysler, but decided having a $75 1:43-scale one was enough.
   To see Lancia decimated and now on life support as Fiat concentrated on making Chrysler and Dodge work, to see the home brand filled with other people’s products in the interim, and to receive news that US buyers weren’t flocking to its showrooms in the same numbers any more, all make me concerned. Go to Italy and the taxi ranks no longer are dominated by Fiat Group cars: the cabbies have gone French and German. It’s all very well Maserati and Ferrari doing well but the former’s volumes won’t have a huge impact, while the latter has been separated and now has a different parent. The only continent where I think Fiat is making a decent bash of things is South America. I don’t want to paint a doom-and-gloom picture, not least because I have fondness for all the brands that now fall under the Fiat umbrella. But the weaknesses, at least to an outsider looking in, outnumber the strengths. My gut says Fiat will work through it all, but will it do it in a fast enough fashion, or is there more pain to come?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


Autocade reaches 8,000,000 page views; viewing rate up slightly since last million

05.03.2016

I had expected our car encyclopædia Autocade would reach 8,000,000 page views this month, just before its eighth anniversary. The difference was that this time, I was there last Monday GMT (the small hours of Tuesday in New Zealand) to witness the numbers tick over—almost.
   Usually, I find out about the milestones ex post facto, but happened to pop by the website’s stats’ page when it was within the last hundred before hitting 8,000,000—and took the below screen shot where the viewing numbers had reached 8,000,001 (I also saw 7,999,999; and no, these special admin pages are not counted, so my refreshing didn’t contribute to the rise).

   The site is on 3,344 individual entries (there’s one image for each entry, if you’re going by the image excerpt), which is only 86 more than Autocade had when it reached 7,000,000 last October. The rate of viewing is a little greater than it was for the last million: while I’m recording it as five months below, it had only been March for just under two hours in New Zealand. Had Autocade been a venture from anywhere west of Aotearoa, we actually made the milestone on leap day, February 29.
   Not bad for a website that has had very little promotion and relies largely on search-engine results. I only set up a Facebook page for it in 2014. It’s been a labour of love more than anything else.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 page views (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 page views (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 page views (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 page views (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 page views (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 page views (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 page views (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 page views (five months for eighth million)

   I started the site because I was fed up with Wikipedia and its endless errors on its car pages—I’ve written elsewhere about the sheer fictions there. Autocade would not have Wikiality, and everything is checked, where possible, with period sources, and not exclusively online ones. The concept itself came from a car guide written by the late Michael Sedgwick, though our content is all original, and subject to copyright; and there’s a separate story to tell there, too.
   I acknowledge there are still gaps on the site, but as we grow it, we’ll plug them. At the same time, some very obscure models are there, and Autocade sometimes proves to be the only online source about them. A good part of the South African motor industry is covered with material not found elsewhere, and Autocade is sometimes one of the better-ranked English-language resources on Chinese cars.
   I’d love to see the viewing rate increase even further: it’d be great to reach 10,000,000 before the end of 2016. It might just happen if the viewing rate increases at present levels, and we get more pages up. Fellow motorheads, please keep popping by.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, cars, China, interests, marketing, New Zealand, publishing | 2 Comments »