Posts tagged ‘Keith Adams’


Consumer’s choice: how I bought a car from the UK over the ’net and shipped it home

01.10.2017

Originally published at Drivetribe, but as I own the copyright it only made sense to share it here for readers, too, especially those who might wish to buy a car from abroad and want to do the job themselves. It was originally written for a British audience.


Above: The lengths I went to, to make sure I didn’t wind up buying a car with an automatic transmission: source it from the UK and spend ten months on the process.

One consequence of Brexit was the pound falling, which makes buying out of Blighty very tempting for foreigners. When it comes to buying a car, the savings can be substantial enough for a buyer in the antipodes.
   My situation in New Zealand was neither driven by politics nor currency: it was the lack of manual-transmission cars. When I last bought a car for myself in 2004, the market was roughly 50–50 between manuals and automatics. Today that figure is 90 per cent in favour of automatics, meaning those of us who prefer shifting gears ourselves face a major difficulty. We either limit ourselves to the few cars that come on to the market that are manuals, or we switch. Considering it was my own money, and a five-figure sum at that, I wasn’t about to contemplate getting something that I didn’t like. Britain, it seemed, would have to be the source of my next car.
   There were certain circumstances that made this a lot easier.
   First, you need friends in the UK.
   Secondly, you should browse Auto Trader, Parkers and other sites regularly for months on end to get a feel of the market.
   Third, you should be looking for something that’s relatively new, to ensure compliance with the laws of both the UK and your own.
   When my old Renault Mégane I Coupé was written off in an accident, the logical thing would be to buy the Mégane III Coupé. However, if you live in a right-hand-drive country and you’re not in the UK, Ireland or South Africa, you’re out of luck, unless you fancy going to an RS. And I simply didn’t need 250-plus horsepower to go to the post office or up the coast.
   There were two powerplants common to Renaults in New Zealand: the 110 bhp 1·6, and the 2·0 automatic. That left me with one choice, and 110 bhp was sufficient for what I needed. I also looked forward to the better fuel economy, even if New Zealanders pay less at the pump than Brits.
   I was fortunate that I didn’t need a replacement car in a hurry. For years I had a “spare car”, one that my father had bought and I could use now that he had developed Alzheimer’s. The other stroke of luck was that I had contemplated getting a newer Mégane III Coupé anyway, and had been browsing UK sites for about six months at that point. I knew roughly what a good deal looked like. Finally, the esteemed motoring editor, Mr Keith Adams, and one other school friend, Philip, had offered to check out cars should I spot anything in their area.

I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. That’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in

   While my circumstances were unique, there are plenty of other reasons to look to the UK for cars.
   A friend looking for a Volkswagen Eos reckoned he would save NZ$10,000 (£5,850) by sourcing one from the UK. This is largely fuelled by the greater depreciation on UK second-hand cars, and the savings potentially mount on flasher motors, such as Audi Q7s or Bentleys.
   While Japan is closer, and the source of many used cars in New Zealand, some buyers have had to buy new radios to match New Zealand frequencies. There’s also the disadvantage of dealing in a foreign language with a very different legal system should you choose to do it yourself.
   The disadvantage of a UK import is that speedometers will be in mph, whereas New Zealand adopted the newfangled metric system decades ago. However, on a more modern car with a digital dashboard, the switch shouldn’t be an issue, and that was the case with the Mégane.
   For a Kiwi buyer, the first step is to check the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) website, which has useful worksheets on private car importation.
   In summary, the car must comply with New Zealand standards, and it helps—for now—that cars that have EU type approval will. The car must have a vehicle approval plate or sticker, or a statement of compliance. The NZTA worksheets and website are detailed and go through further specifics.
   You should, for peace of mind, order an AA or Dekra inspection. AA members in New Zealand can expect a discount from AA in the UK, and this shouldn’t exceed £200. Any faults need to be remedied before you purchase the car, or you should walk away.
   Of course, you need to be able to prove the ownership of the vehicle: that means an invoice showing that you’ve purchased it (this should have the VIN on it), plus the V5 registration document. Since it’s being exported outside the UK, the relevant part of the V5 noting thje car will be leaving the country will have been sent to the Department for Transport by the seller. The seller needs to put this in the courier to you.
   I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. You can do a lot yourself, but it pays to have an extra pair of eyes to ensure you’ve dotted the is and crossed the ts, and in New Zealand, that’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in.
   Online Logistics isn’t interested in profiting based on the price of your car, unlike some services. They set standard fees for shipping, and arrange insurance, which it’ll need on the way to New Zealand. They do ask that the car departs from Felixstowe, and they will ship it to Auckland.
   They will require the VIN, so they can double-check that the car meets the required standards, the invoice, and the original copy of the V5.
   Once it’s on New Zealand shores, it has to go through several inspections.
   The first is an inspection by the Ministry of Primary Industries, which makes sure that there aren’t any bugs. It could order that the car be fumigated, and this can set you back around NZ$400. Once done, you’ll get an MPI sticker saying the car’s passed the biosecurity inspection.
   Customs will then sting you GST (the equivalent of VAT) on cost, insurance and freight.
   An NZTA-approved organization will then inspect the car to check for structural faults. Online Logistics took care of this part, so you don’t need to hunt for an approved one yourself. Once that’s done, you’ll get a pink sticker from NZTA.
   The fourth step is getting the car certified. Again, Online Logistics has a company it contracts to do this, and this is where you’re likely to see your car for the first time. Certification will confirm that the car meets safety and emission standards, gets the VIN recorded into the database, gives you a registration form so you can get the car registered in New Zealand, and issues a warrant of fitness (MOT). Certification can be strict: cars that have had a poor repair job done in the UK will not pass until it is redone in line with New Zealand standards, and this is where the importation process can fall to pieces. That’s why it’s important to have that check done in the UK before purchase. Stay well away from category D cars, and aim for low miles.

Having identified the model I wanted, I had to trawl through the websites. The UK is well served, and some sites allow you to feed in a postcode and the distance you’re willing (or your friend’s willing) to travel.
   However, if you rely on friends, you’ll need to catch them at the right time, and both gentlemen had busy weekends that meant waiting.
   VAT was the other issue that’s unfamiliar to New Zealanders. GST is applied on all domestic transactions in New Zealand, but not on export ones. This isn’t always the case in the UK, and some sellers won’t know how any of this works.
   One of the first cars I spotted was from a seller who had VAT on the purchase price, which logically I should get refunded when the car left the country. I would have to pay the full amount but once I could prove that the car had left the UK, the transaction would be zero-rated and I would get the VAT back. I was told by the manager that in 11 years of business, he had never come across it, and over the weeks of chatting, the vehicle was sold.
   Car Giant, in London, was one company that was very clued up and told me that it had sold to New Zealanders before. They’re willing to refund VAT on cars that were VAT-qualifying, but charged a small service fee to do so. The accounts’ department was particularly well set up, and its staff very easy to deal with long-distance.
   Evans Halshaw, however, proved to be farcical. After having a vehicle moved to the Kettering branch close to Keith’s then-residence after paying the deposit, and having then paid for an AA inspection, the company then refused to sell it to me, and would only deal with Keith.
   Although the company was happy to take my deposit, Keith was soon told, ‘we will need payment to come from yourself either by debit card or bank transfer as the deal is with yourself not Mr Yan,’ by one of its sales’ staff.
   I wasn’t about to ask Keith to part with any money, If I were to transfer funds to his account, but not have the car belong to me, and if Keith were to then transfer ownership to me without money changing hands, then the New Zealand Customs would smell a rat. It would look like money laundering: NZTA requires there to be a clear chain of ownership, and this wasn’t clear. Evans Halshaw were unwilling to put the invoice in my name.
   I’m a British national with a UK address—again something a lot of buyers Down Under won’t have—but Evans Halshaw began claiming that it was ‘policy’ not to sell to me.
   The company was never able to provide a copy of such a policy despite numerous phone calls and emails.
   Essentially, for this to work and satisfy Customs on my end, Keith would have to fork out money, and I would have to pay him: a situation that didn’t work for either of us.
   Phil, a qualified lawyer, offered to head into another branch of Evans Halshaw and do the transaction exactly as they wanted: head there with ‘chip and PIN’, only for the company to change its tune again: it would not sell to me, or any representative of mine.

The refund from Evans Halshaw never materialized, and I found myself £182 out of pocket

   This farce went on for a month and involved a great deal of calls from me into the small hours of the morning.
   The matter eventually went to the group’s lawyer, David Bell, and between him and me, it was sorted in 10 minutes.
   Evans Halshaw did indeed have a policy not to sell to a foreigner, never mind that he was also a Briton. What their first staffer should never have done was take my deposit in the first place.
   Despite knowing it was me who paid the deposit, the Kettering dealer began believing it was Keith who was the buyer.
   When Mr Bell knew all the facts, there was a moment when the penny dropped for us both: he had been told that Keith was the buyer all along, and advised accordingly. Once I knew where the mix-up was, everything made sense.
   It wasn’t helped by belligerent staff who refused to answer questions directly.
   However, on knowing of their error, Evans Halshaw refunded my deposit (albeit minus the credit card fees I had paid) and offered to refund the AA check, in exchange for the report. I willingly gave them the report, but the second refund never materialized. Neither the dealer principal at Kettering nor Mr Bell responded, despite reminders, and I found myself £182 out of pocket, along with goodness knows how much in long-distance phone charges. I still wonder how this is one of the country’s largest dealer groups, with this blatant disregard for the customer.
   Two weeks later, the perfect Mégane popped up. It was all a blessing in disguise. It was the colour (Cayenne orange) of the car I had on my computer wallpaper years before. The mileage was very low. And another friend, Andrew, was willing to pop by and look at it, sold by a very easy-going seller, Andy Mudge of Thames Fleet Purchasing. In fact, he proved so amenable I referred others to him, and he was more than happy, as with many other dealers I had spoke to in the UK since the Evans Halshaw affair, to sell to a British national based abroad.
   The car passed the Dekra check with next to no issues, and Andy was willing to cap the freight charges of the car from his Maidenhead property to the port for £100. (It’s advisable to have the car transported, rather than driven, to the port, as I won’t have paid for the tax as the new keeper.)
   The car was non-VAT qualifying, making life easier for both parties. I paid Andy the amount by wire transfer, added a pony on top to cover the courier of documents (V5 and handbooks) and the spare key.
   The one feeling I hadn’t expected was to see thousands of pounds leave my account and have nothing to show for it. The car took just under two months before I witnessed it for the first time, having flown up to Auckland to collect it (another NZ$100), with a 600 km journey south back to its new home in Wellington.
   Many months later, I’m thrilled with my purchase. There are, to my knowledge, only two non-RS Mégane III Coupés in New Zealand, both in the same colour. It has an engine for which I can get parts, and there are sufficient commonalities with the Méganes sold here when it comes to brake pads and other items. It had taken a considerable amount of time but it was eventually worth it. After all, if it’s your money, you should get what you want. If you don’t want to drive the standard New Zealand car—and looking around that appears to be a Toyota Auris Automatic—then the UK is a very ready source of cars.

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Posted in business, cars, globalization, internet, New Zealand, UK | No Comments »


A year of random thoughts: 2014 in review

29.12.2014

For the last few years, I’ve looked back at the events of the year in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. (In fact, in 2009, I looked back at the decade.) Tumblr’s the place I look at these days for these summaries, since it tends to have my random thoughts, ones complemented by very little critical thinking. They tell me what piqued my interest over the year.
   These days, I’ve been posting more about the TV show I watch the most regularly, the German Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei. A good part of my Tumblr, at least, and of Danielle Carey’s, whom I first connected with via this blog, features screen shots and other photographs from it. But Cobra 11 aside—and for those “cultured” Germans who tell me it’s the worst show on their telly, may I remind you that you still make Das Traumschiff?—I still will be influenced by everyday events.
   So what do I spy?
   Sadly, despite my intent in wanting to blog humorously, it turns out that 2014 doesn’t necessarily give us a lot to laugh about. And we’ve had over a year after that Mayan calendar gag, and 13 years after Y2K. It’s still not time to laugh yet.

January
I made a spoof English Hustle poster given all the hype about American Hustle, which seems to have, prima facie, the same idea. It meets with Adrian Lester’s approval (well, he said, ‘Ha,’ which I gather is positive).

   I post about Idris Elba giving a response about the James Bond character. (Slightly ahead of my time, as it turns out.)
   Robert Catto wrote of Justin Bieber’s arrest: ‘So, J. Biebs is arrested for racing a rented Lamborghini in a residential neighbourhood while under the influence (of drugs and alcohol) while on an expired license, resisting arrest, and a bunch of previous stuff including egging a neighbour’s house. With that many accusations being thrown at him, this can only mean one thing.
   ‘The race for Mayor of Toronto just got interesting.’
   I wrote to a friend, ‘If there was a Facebook New Zealand Ltd. registered here then it might make more sense ensuring that there were fewer loopholes for that company to minimize its tax obligations, but the fact is there isn’t. Either major party would be better off encouraging New Zealand to be the head office for global corporations, or encourage good New Zealand businesses to become global players, if this was an issue (and I believe that it is). There is this thing called the internet that they may have heard of, but both parties have seen it as the enemy (e.g. the whole furore over s. 92A, first proposed by Labour, enacted by National).
   ‘Right now, we have some policy and procedural problems preventing us from becoming more effective exporters.
   ‘It’s no coincidence that I took an innovation tack in my two mayoral campaigns. If central government was too slow in acting to capture or create these players, then I was going to do it at a local level.’
   And there are $700 trillion (I imagine that means $700 billion, if you used the old definitions—12 zeroes after the 700) worth of derivatives yet to implode, according to I Acknowledge. Global GDP is $69·4 (American) trillion a year. ‘This means that (primarily) Wall Street and the City of London have run up phantom paper debts of more than ten times of the annual earnings of the entire planet.’

February
The Sochi Olympics: in Soviet Russia, Olympics watch you! Dmitry Kozak, the deputy PM, says that westerners are deliberately sabotaging things there. How does he know? ‘We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day.’
   Sports Illustrated does an Air New Zealand safety video.
   This was the month I first saw the graphic containing a version of these words: ‘Jesus was a guy who was a peaceful, radical, nonviolent revolutionary, who hung around with lepers, hookers, and criminals, who never spoke English, was not an American citizen, a man who was anti-capitalism, anti-wealth, anti-public prayer (yes he was Matthew 6:5), anti-death penalty but never once remotely anti-gay, didn’t mention abortion, didn’t mention premarital sex, a man who never justified torture, who never called the poor “lazy”, who never asked a leper for a co-pay, who never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, who was a long haired, brown skinned (that’s in revelations), homeless, middle eastern Jew? Of course, that’s only if you believe what’s actually in the Bible’ (sic). For those who want a response, this blog post answers the points from a Catholic point of view, but the original quote’s not completely off-base.

March
My friend Dmitry protests in Moskva against Russia’s actions in the Crimea. This was posted on this blog at the time. He reports things aren’t all rosy in Russia when it comes to free speech.
   Another friend, Carolyn Enting, gets her mug in the Upper Hutt Leader after writing her first fictional book, The Medallion of Auratus.
   MH370 goes missing.
   And this great cartoon, called ‘If Breaking Bad Had Been Set in the UK’:

April
I call Lupita Nyong’o ‘Woman of the Year 2014’.
   A post featuring Robin Williams (before that horrible moment in August), where he talks about the influence of Peter Sellers and Dr Strangelove on him. I seem to have posted a lot of Robin that month, from his CBS TV show, The Crazy Ones.
   A Lancastrian reader, Gerald Vinestock, writes to The Times: ‘Sir, Wednesday’s paper did not have a photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge. I do hope she is all right.’
   A first post on those CBS TV attempts to create a show about Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day in the US, partnered with a woman: on 1987’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

   The fiftieth anniversary of the on-sale date of the Ford Mustang (April 17).
   The death of Bob Hoskins. Of course I had to post his last speech in The Long Good Friday, as well as the clip from Top Gear where Richard Hammond mistook Ray Winstone for Hoskins. They all look the same to me.

May
Judith Collins’ story about what she was doing in China with Oravida collapses.
   Someone points out there is a resemblance between Benedict Cumberbatch and Butthead from Beavis and Butthead.

   Jean Pisani Ferry’s view on the origins of the euro crisis in The Economist: ‘Suppose that the crisis had begun, as it might easily have done, in Ireland? It would then have been obvious that fiscal irresponsibility was not the culprit: Ireland had a budget surplus and very low debt. More to blame were economic imbalances, inflated property prices and dodgy bank loans. The priority should not have been tax rises and spending cuts, but reforms to improve competitiveness and a swift resolution of troubled banks, including German and French ones, that lent so irresponsibly.’

June
British-born Tony Abbott says he doesn’t like immigration, or some such.
   This humorous graphic, made before the launch of the five-door Mini, on how the company could extend its range:

   Sir Ian McKellen says, ‘Did I want to go and live in New Zealand for a year? As it turns out, I was very happy that I did. I can’t recommend New Zealand strongly enough. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place, quite unlike [the] western world. It’s in the southern hemisphere and it’s far, far away and although they speak English, don’t be fooled. They’re not like us. They’re something better than us.’
   Lots of Alarm für Cobra 11 posts.

July
Sopheak Seng’s first Lucire cover, photographed by Dave Richards, and with a fantastic crew: hair by Michael Beel, make-up by Hil Cook, modelled by Chloé Graham, and with some layout and graphic design by Tanya Sooksombatisatian and typography by me.

   Liam Fitzpatrick writes of Hong Kong, before the Occupy protests, ‘Hong Kongers—sober, decent, pragmatic and hardworking—are mostly not the sort of people who gravitate to the barricades and the streets. Neither do they need to be made aware of the political realities of having China as a sovereign power, for the simple fact that postwar Hong Kong has only ever existed with China’s permission. In the 1960s, the local joke was that Mao Zedong could send the British packing with a mere phone call.
   ‘With that vast, brooding power lying just over the Kowloon hills, tiny Hong Kong’s style has always been to play China cleverly—to push where it can (in matters such as education and national-security legislation, where it has won important battles) and to back off where it cannot.’
   It didn’t seem completely prescient.

August
The General Election campaign: National billboards are edited.
   Doctor Who goes on tour prior to Peter Capaldi’s first season in the lead role.
   The suicide of Robin Williams.
   Michael Brown is killed. Greg Howard writes, ‘There was Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif., and so many more. Michael Brown’s death wasn’t shocking at all. All over the country, unarmed black men are being killed by the very people who have sworn to protect them, as has been going on for a very long time now …
   ‘There are reasons why white gun’s rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys.’
   Like so many things, such a statement of fact became politicized in months to come.
   Darren Watson releases ‘Up Here on Planet Key’, only to have it banned by the Electoral Commission. With his permission, I did a spoken-word version.
   Journalist Nicky Hager, who those of us old enough will remember was a right-wing conspiracy theorist, is branded a left-wing conspiracy theorist by the PM because this time, he wrote about National and not Labour. The Deputy PM, Bill English, who commended Hager’s work 12 years ago over Seeds of Distrust, and even quoted from it, remained fairly quiet.
   It wasn’t atypical. I wrote in one post, ‘In 2011, Warren Tucker said three times in one letter that he told PM John Key about the SIS release. Now he says he only told his office but not the PM personally—after an investigation was announced (when the correct protocol would be to let the investigation proceed) …
   ‘Key did not know about GCSB director Ian Fletcher’s appointment (week one of that saga) before he knew about it (week two).
   ‘Key cannot remember how many TranzRail shares he owned.
   ‘Key cannot remember if and when he was briefed by the GCSB over Kim Dotcom.
   ‘Key did not know about Kim Dotcom’s name before he did not know about Kim Dotcom at all.
   ‘Key cannot remember if he was for or against the 1981 Springbok tour.’
   Some folks on YouTube did a wonderful series of satirical videos lampooning the PM. Kiwi satire was back. This was the first:

   Matt Crawford recalled, ‘At this point in the last election campaign, the police were threatening to order search warrants for TV3, The Herald on Sunday, RadioNZ et al—over a complaint by the Prime Minister. Over a digital recording inadvertently made in a public space literally during a media stunt put on for the press—a figurative media circus.’
   Quoting Robert Muldoon in 1977’s Muldoon by Muldoon: ‘New Zealand does not have a colour bar, it has a behaviour bar, and throughout the length and breadth of this country we have always been prepared to accept each other on the basis of behaviour and regardless of colour, creed, origin or wealth. That is the most valuable feature of New Zealand society and the reason why I have time and again stuck my neck out to challenge those who would try to destroy this harmony and set people against people inside our country.’
   And my reaction to the Conservative Party’s latest publicity, which was recorded on this blog, and repeated for good measure on Tumblr: ‘Essentially what they are saying is: our policy is that race doesn’t matter. Except when it comes to vilifying a group, it does. Let’s ignore the real culprits, because: “The Chinese”.’

September
The passing of Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel.
   John Barnett of South Pacific Pictures sums up Nicky Hager: ‘Hager is a gadfly who often causes us to examine our society. He has attacked both the right and the left before. It’s too easy to dismiss it as a left wing loony conspiracy. We tend to shoot the messengers rather than examine the messages.’
   New Zealanders begin vilifying Kim Dotcom: I respond.
   I blog about Occupy Central in Hong Kong—which led to a television appearance on Breakfast in early October.

October
I’m not sure where this quotation comes from, but I reposted it: ‘A white man is promoted: He does good work, he deserved it.
   ‘A white woman is promoted: Whose dick did she suck?
   ‘A man of color is promoted: Oh, great, I guess we have to “fill quotas” now.
   ‘A woman of color is promoted: j/k. That never happens.’
   Facebook gets overrun by bots: I manage to encounter 277 in a single day. (I eventually reach someone at Facebook New Zealand, who is trying to solicit business for one of the fan pages we have, and point this out. I never hear back from him.) The trouble is Facebook limits you to reporting 40 a day, effectively tolerating the bots. It definitely tolerates the click farms: I know of dozens of accounts that the company has left untouched, despite reports.
   Kim Dotcom’s lawyers file a motion to dismiss in Virginia in United States v. Dotcom and others, and summarize the case so far: ‘Nearly three years ago, the United States Government effectively wiped out Megaupload Limited, a cloud storage provider, along with related businesses, based on novel theories of criminal copyright infringement that were offered by the Government ex parte and have yet to be subjected to adversarial testing. Thus, the Government has already seized the criminal defendants’ websites, destroyed their business, and frozen their assets around the world—all without benefit of an evidentiary hearing or any semblance of due process.
   ‘Without even attempting to serve the corporate defendants per the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Government has exercised all its might in a concerted, calculated effort to foreclose any opportunity for the defendants to challenge the allegations against them and also to deprive them of the funds and other tools (including exculpatory evidence residing on servers, counsel of choice, and ability to appear) that would equip robust defense in the criminal proceedings.
   ‘But all that, for the Government, was not enough. Now it seeks to pile on against ostensibly defenseless targets with a parallel civil action, seeking civil forfeiture, based on the same alleged copyright crimes that, when scrutinized, turn out to be figments of the Government’s boundless imagination. In fact, the crimes for which the Government seeks to punish the Megaupload defendants (now within the civil as well as the criminal realm) do not exist. Although there is no such crime as secondary criminal copyright infringement, that is the crime on which the Government’s Superseding Indictment and instant Complaint are predicated. That is the nonexistent crime for which Megaupload was destroyed and all of its innocent users were denied their rightful property. That is the nonexistent crime for which individual defendants were arrested, in their homes and at gunpoint, back in January 2012. And that is the nonexistent crime for which the Government would now strip the criminal defendants, and their families, of all their assets.’
   Stuart Heritage thinks The Apprentice UK has run its course, and writes in The Guardian: ‘The Apprentice has had its day. It’s running on fumes. It’s time to replace it with something more exciting, such as a 40-part retrospective on the history of the milk carton, or a static shot of someone trying to dislodge some food from between their teeth with the corner of an envelope.’

November
Doctor Who takes a selfie and photobombs himself.

   Andrew Little becomes Labour leader, and is quoted in the Fairfax Press (who, according to one caption, says his mother’s name is Cecil): ‘I’m not going to resile from being passionate about working men and women being looked after, having a voice, and being able to go to work safe and earn well. That’s what I stand for.
   ‘The National party have continued to run what I think is a very 1970s prejudice about unions … We have [in New Zealand] accepted a culture that if you are big, bold and brassy you will stand up for yourself. But [this] Government is even stripping away protections [from] those who are bold enough to do so.
   ‘I think New Zealanders are ready for someone who will talk bluntly about those who are being left behind. That’s what I’ll be doing.’
   I’m not a Labour voter but I was impressed.
   I advise my friend Keith Adams in Britain, who laments the driving standards there, that in order to have the road toll we have, they’d need to kill another 2,000 per annum. ‘The British driver is a well honed, precision pilot compared to one’s Kiwi counterpart.’

December
Julian Assange on Google, and confirmation that the company has handed over personal data to the US Government. He calls Eric Schmidt ‘Google’s secretary of state, a Henry Kissinger-like figure whose job it is to go out and meet with foreign leaders and their opponents and position Google in the world.’
   The Sydney siege and the tragic deaths of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson.
   The killing of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. The NYPD doesn’t look very white to me, but a murderer used the death of Eric Garner as an excuse to murder a Dad and a newlywed.
   My second post on those CBS TV attempts to create a show about Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day in the US, partnered with a woman: on 1993’s 1994 Baker Street.

   Craig Ferguson hosts his last Late Late Show. And more’s the pity: he’s one of the old school, never bitter, and never jumped on the bandwagon attacking celebrities.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, humour, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, TV, typography, UK, USA | 2 Comments »


Four million page views on Autocade

09.01.2014

I came across an old blog post that showed that Autocade took four years to get 2,000,000 page views: not bad for an encyclopædia that receives very little promotion. That was in March 2012. It has since crossed 4,000,000, which meant the second 2,000,000 took 21 months to achieve (in December 2013). If the growth rate continues, then we’ll get to 5,000,000 some time in 2014.
   I estimate that the first 2,000,000 were achieved on 1,800 model entries. There are just over 2,400 today, which means each page is attracting more visits. The 2,400th entry was the Renault Scénic III.
   There are still a lot of holes, but not as many as when we were on 1,000 and got the first bit of press attention. I thank all the spammers and spambots: without you, I would never have locked down the wiki and restricted it to a select few specialists (not that that many people popped by wanting to add to Autocade in the early days). Peter Jobes’, Keith Adams’ and Nigel Dunn’s contributions both to the technology and the content have helped make it a very usable site.
   I’m really happy people are finding Autocade such a useful resource. It was always intended to be global and geographically neutral. I’m running into more and more people who visit it but had no idea I founded the website, and more recently, some even suggested that a printed authoritative car guide could be built around it (especially as most car buffs can poke holes in Auto Katalog and similar annuals). It takes an enthusiast to build a site for other enthusiasts, which is, once again, why Wikipedia fails so badly on the motoring stuff. Generalists will never have the same passion, or, for that matter, the same commitment to accuracy.

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Another milestone: Autocade reaches 2,000 models

30.12.2012

The last few times Autocade reached a milestone, I blogged about it, and since this one is a bit of a Duesy, it deserves to be recorded.
   The car cyclopædia has reached 2,000 models, with the Opel Kadett D getting us there.
   It also passed 2½ million page views during December—I noticed it was about to cross 2 million back in March 2012. Not huge numbers if you break it down per day, but for something that was meant to be a hobby site, it’s not too bad. I also notice that it gets cited in Wikipedia from time to time.
   The history has been noted here before, especially when I first started it in 2008. It was meant to be an editable wiki, but, sadly, in 2011, the bots became too uncontrollable, and I made the decision to lock down the registration process. A small handful of people—I count four, including myself—have contributed to the site with content and programming, among them Keith Adams of AROnline and Peter Jobes. A fourth contributor, whose name I have forgotten, provided some early info on Indian cars.
   It’s still a bit light on American cars, mostly due to the issues of converting from cubic inches. Some of my references aren’t that accurate on this for the same reason, and I want to make sure that everything’s correct before it’s published. Most US sites just record cubic capacity in litres when metric measures are given, and we need to be more accurate. But we will get there.
   Of course, over the years, we have recorded some oddball cars. So, as I did for its fourth birthday, here is a selection. My thanks to Keith and Pete, and to all our readers.
   And since I blog less these days—Facebook (including the fan page), Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and the rest seem to take more of my attention—I imagine this is my last entry for 2012. Have a wonderful 2013, everyone!

Rambler by Renault: after Renault bought IKA’s operations in Argentina in the mid-1970s, it inherited a design based on the Rambler American.

Image:Renault_Torino.jpgRenault Torino. 1975–81 (prod. 100,000 approx. all versions). 4-door sedan, 2-door coupé. F/R, 2962, 3770 cm³ (6 cyl. OHC). Continuation of Rambler American (1964–9)-based IKA Torino, rebadged Renault after it took over IKA in 1975. Facelift in 1978. Very subtle changes thereafter, with Renault logo eventually displacing the Torino prancing horse. Two versions at the end of its run, the Grand Routier sedan and ZX coupé. A planned, more modern successor never saw the light of day.

Ford by Chrysler: Simca took over Ford’s operations in France in the 1950s, and the model it inherited, the Vedette, stayed in production long enough in Brazil for Chrysler to put its own badges on it when it bought Simca out.

Image:Chrysler_Esplanada.jpgChrysler Esplanada. 1967–9 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2505 cm³ (V8 OHV). As with Regente, rebadged when Chrysler took over Simca Brasil. Power reduced to 130 PS; comments for Regente apply here, with the principal outward difference being Esplanada’s higher trim level. Slightly more powerful engine.

Chrysler by Volkswagen: this one is perhaps better known. Chrysler found itself in such a mess by the end of the 1970s that it sold its Brazilian operations to Volkswagen, which eventually rebadged the local edition of the Hillman Avenger.

Image:1991_Volkswagen_1500.jpgVolkswagen 1500/Volkswagen 1500M. 1982–91 (prod. 262,668 all versions). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1498, 1798 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Facelifted version of Dodge 1500, itself an Argentine version of the Hillman Avenger. Had a good history as a Dodge in the 1970s, and sold on that goodwill as well as robustness; but largely seen as an economy model for VW in the 1980s. Five-speed gearbox from 1988, with air conditioning on more models.

Volkswagen by Ford: as part of the Autolatina JV in Brazil, Volkswagen and Ford rebadged each other’s models. A similar experiment was happening in Australia between Ford and Nissan, and Toyota and Holden, around this time.

Image:Ford_Versailles.jpgFord Versailles (B2). 1991–6 (prod. unknown). 2- and 4-door sedan, 3- and 5-door wagon. F/F, 1781, 1984 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC). Volkswagen Santana (B2) with redone front and rear ends, and addition of two-door sedan and three-door wagon. Part of the Autolatina tie-up in South America between Ford and VW, replacing Corcel-based Del Rey. No different to Volkswagens in that market, with same engines. Wagons called Royale, but five-door only added in 1995. Fairly refined by early 1980s’ standards but ageing by time of launch, though better than Del Rey.

While we’re looking at South America, the Aero-Willys probably deserves a mention. Autocade doesn’t have the Ford-badged versions there yet, but it will in due course. Thanks also to acquisitions, Ford wound up with Willys in Brazil, and built a Brooks Stevens-penned design till it was replaced by its own Maverick in the 1970s. Here is that car, with an old platform, but more modern (compared to the 1950s’ version) styling.

Image:1963_Aero_Willys.jpgAero Willys 2600 (213). 1963–8 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2638 cm³ (6 cyl. OHV). Rebodied Aero, considered one of the first all-Brazilian cars, originally shown at the Paris Salon the year before. US platform as before, and modern styling by Brooks Stevens, but this shape was unique to Brazil. Engine now with 110 hp. Rear end altered in 1965, and spun off upmarket Itamaraty model in 1966.

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Autocade turns four, and it’s about to get its two millionth page view

10.03.2012

It’s hard to believe but Autocade is four years old this month. In fact, its actual birthday was some time last week.
   It’s been busy at work, so Autocade has received a little less attention in the last 12 months, though things were buoyed when Keith Adams (of AROnline) added a whole bunch of models. It’s also about to cross the two million-page view barrier.
   When I look back at the previous year, we’ve added a lot of Chinese models, for the simple reason that China is where most of the new-model activity is these days. There are a lot of translation issues, but Autocade may be one of the only references in English to the more obscure vehicles coming out from behind the Bamboo Curtain.
   Still, there are some oddities from other countries that have appeared over the last 12 months, including a Ford made by Chrysler, and a Hillman Hunter with a Peugeot body (kind of). Here they are, for your entertainment.

Image:Changcheng_Ling_Ao.jpgChangcheng Phenom (長城 凌傲/长城 凌傲). 2010 to date (prod. unknown). 5-door sedan. F/F, 1298, 1497 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Supermini that looked to all the world like a Toyota Vitz (P90) with an ugly grille, with the same wheelbase. Essentially a clone, though interior changed over Toyota version. Even Chinese media noted the similarity to the Vitz at the rear, but did not find the grille distasteful. Engines of Changcheng’s own design, with decent performance from the 1·5.

Image:1968_Chrysler_GTX.jpgChrysler GTX. 1968–9 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2414 cm³ (V8 OHV). Performance version of Esplanada, with go-faster stripes, apeing US imagery. Filled the gap of the earlier Rallye and Tufao in the Chambord series, which had been missing since the Regente–Esplanada took over in 1966. Offered only till the platform was finally retired in favour of the A-body cars from the US.

Image:1958_Dongfeng_CA71.jpgDongfeng (东风/東風) CA71. 1958 (prod. 30). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2000 cm³ approx. (4 cyl. OHV). First passenger car built by First Automobile Works of China, with bodyshell and interior apeing Simca Vedette (1954–7) and 70 bhp OHV engine based around a Mercedes-Benz 190 unit and chassis. Self-designed three-speed manual transmission. Laboriously built, as China lacked the facilities, and bodies were not cast but beaten to the right shape. Initially badged with Latin letters before Chinese ones replaced them on the order of the Central Committee. Used for propaganda, and Mao Tse Tung even rode in one around launch time, but faded into obscurity after 30 examples.

Image:Dongfeng_Fengsheng_A60.jpgDongfeng Fengsheng (東風風神/东风风神) A60. 2011 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1997 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Uglified version of Nissan Bluebird Sylphy (G11) on a Renault Mégane II platform, developed for Chinese market by Dongfeng. Basically the Sylphy with the Dongfeng grille grafted on it, with production commencing December 2011 for 2012 sale.

Image:Emme_Lotus_422T.jpgEmme Lotus 420/Emme Lotus 422/Emme Lotus 422T. 1997–9 (prod. approx. 12–15). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1973, 2174 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Very obscure Brazilian luxury car, built on Lotus principles of lightness, with early Lotus Esprit engines. T model denoted turbocharging. Claimed 87 per cent of components locally sourced. Manufacturing techniques with advanced materials not particularly refined, leading to questionable build quality. Little known about the vehicle, but it faded without trace after currency changes in the late 1990s.

Image:2010_Hawtai_B11.jpgHawtai (華泰/华泰) B11. 2010 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1796 cm³ petrol, 1991 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. DOHC). Ugly first attempt by former Hyundai affiliate at its own sedan, using Roewe 550 engine. Media centre with sat-nav and entertainment perhaps one of its few stand-outs. Petrol model first off the line in late 2010; diesel followed soon after.

Image:1978_Panther_de_Ville.jpgPanther De Ville. 1974–85 (prod. 60 approx.). 4-door saloon, 2-door coupé, 2-door convertible, 6-door limousine. F/R, 4235 cm³ (6 cyl. DOHC), 5343 cm³ (V12 OHC). Panther creates a new flagship to sit about its original J72 model, based around Jaguar XJ mechanicals. A pastiche of the Bugatti Royale, creator and “car couturier” Robert Jankel targeted his De Ville at the nouveaux riches, and they found homes with the likes of Elton John. Lavish, though never as quick as the Jaguars due to the weight and poor aerodynamics. Humble bits included BMC “Landcrab” doors. Cars were custom-made and De Ville was usually the most expensive car on the UK price lists. Few redeeming features other than exclusivity; caught on to the 1930s retro craze that seemed to emerge in the 1970s.

Image:2011_Peugeot_Roa.jpgPeugeot RD 1600/Peugeot Roa. 2006 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door saloon. F/R, 1599, 1696 cm³ petrol, 1599 cm³ CNG (4 cyl. OHV). The Rootes Arrow lives on, but with a Peugeot 405 clone bodyshell. Basic model offered by IKCO of Iran, blending the platform of the obsolete rear-wheel-drive Paykan with a more modern interior and exterior. Initially offered with 1·6 petrol and CNG engines; G2 model from 2010 has 1·7 unit.

Image:2011_Renault_Pulse.jpgRenault Pulse. 2011 to date (prod. unknown). 5-door sedan. F/F, 1461 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC). Nissan March (K13) with a nose job, aiming at the premium compact sector in India, expecting to form the bulk of the company’s sales there. Designed by Renault staff in Mumbai. Largely identical under the skin, with diesel at launch, petrol models following later.

Image:Siam_di_Tella_1500.jpgSiam Di Tella 1500. 1959–66 (prod. 45,785 sedan, 1,915 Traveller). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1489 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Licensed Argentinian version of Riley 4/68 but with Traveller wagon (from 1963) adapted from Morris Oxford V Traveller. Very popular among taxi companies, especially as twin-carb OHV was willing, although compression ratio had been reduced to 7·2:1, affecting power (55 hp instead of 68 hp). Modified suspension to cope with Argentinian roads. From 1966, Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA) took over, modifying and renaming the cars. Pick-up (called Argenta) also developed, with at least 11,000 manufactured.

Image:FSM_Syrena_105.jpgSyrena 105. 1972–83 (prod. 521,311). 2-door saloon. F/F, 842 cm³ (3 cyl. 2-str.). Syrena switches factories to FSM at Bielsko-Biała, though it was briefly at FSO in 1972 before the company switched to producing only its Fiat-licensed models. Suicide doors now replaced with conventional ones hinged at the front. Lux from 1974, but with the same 29 kW engine.

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Autocade hits 1,500-model milestone

08.05.2011

Thanks most recently to the work of Keith Adams, who added numerous important models into Autocade, we now have reached 1,500 models. The 1,500th is a bit mainstream, but after all the odd cars we’ve put in over the last three years, it’s nice to have something almost everyone knows.

Image:Audi_TTS.jpgAudi TT (8J). 2006 to date (prod. unknown). 3-door coupé, 2-door convertible. F/F, F/A, 1798, 1984 cm³ petrol, 1968 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. DOHC), 2480 cm³ (5 cyl. DOHC), 3189 cm³ (V6 DOHC). More muscular, grown-up TT, longer and wider than predecessor, and on PQ35 platform. Aluminium in front bodypanels, and steel in rear, to help weight distribution. Excellent handling and roadholding. Diesel from 2008. V6 to 2010; TTS’s turbocharged four had more power and replaced the V6 in some markets earlier. TT RS from 2009, with 340 PS.

   But I couldn’t let this post go without mentioning a few oddities. And since this blog started as a branding one, maybe these are good examples of what not to do if you want to build your model lines.
   Each of the following cars, added this year into Autocade, had the listed nameplate for one year, or an even shorter period. There are many more at the site, but these four came to mind first.
   If you want to confuse your customers, and flush marketing dollars down the toilet, then renaming after a year is the way to go.

Image:1975_Buick_Apollo.jpgBuick Apollo (X-car). 1975 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 231 in³ (V6 OHV), 250 in³ (6 cyl. OHV), 260, 350 in³ (V8 OHV). Last use of short-lived Apollo name for Buick’s Chevrolet Nova (1975–9) twin. Same platform as before, but restyled; two-doors now called Skylark, which four-door would be called after this model year. Better outward vision; Chevrolet Camaro (1970–81) suspension helped handling and ride. Buick V6 used instead of Chevy unit, which meant the Apollo was more durable, but average reliability only.

Image:Pontiac_J2000.jpgPontiac J2000 (J-car). 1982 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon, 2- and 3-door coupé. F/F, 1835, 1999 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Pontiac version of GM’s world J-car project, most closely related to Chevrolet Cavalier (1982–94). Similar body styles and comments, but with more dramatic front end. Labelled J2000 only for one year, when it was replaced by the 2000, an identical car with engine changes.

Image:2006_Lincoln_Zephyr.jpgLincoln Zephyr (CD378). 2006 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/F, 2967 cm³ (V6 DOHC). Single-year entry for revived Lincoln Zephyr name, before car renamed to MKZ for 2007 (even the renaming was botched, with Lincoln staff calling it ‘Mark Z’ before saying the letters). Basically a glorified Mazda Atenza, on that car’s platform, and too similar to Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan duo. Good equipment levels but best thought of as a Mercury with all the trimmings and the 3·0-litre Duratec V6.

   Finally, so it’s not all US-market cars, though this company was owned by Chrysler when this model emerged for a short period in 1970:

Image:1970_Sunbeam_Vogue.jpgSunbeam Vogue (Arrow). 1970 (prod. unknown). 4-door saloon, 5-door estate. F/R, 1725 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Very short-lived Arrow variant as the last Singer model transferred to Sunbeam from April 1970. The situation lasted half a year, and Sunbeam resorted to selling the Imp, Stiletto, Rapier and Alpine instead. In some countries, Sunbeam Vogue was the export name for the Singer Vogue.

   Other cars of note added to the database that anoraks will enjoy include the Peugeot Roa, a 405 lookalike with Hillman Hunter running-gear, the Bizzarrini GT Strada 5300 (thanks to Keith), and one which might get BMW upset over the name, the Chang’an Benben Mini. Hop on over and if you think of a model you’d like to see, please give me a shout in the comments.

Autocade progress
March 2008: launch
July 2008: 500 (four months for first 500)
June 2009: 800
December 2009: 1,000 (17 months for second 500)
January 2011: 1,250
May 2011: 1,500 (17 months for third 500)

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A great first few days collaborating with Keith Adams on Autocade

10.04.2011

I’m pleased to announce that automotive writer and historian Keith Adams is now collaborating with me on Autocade—and doing an incredible job.
   Keith has been as good as his word: not only has he fulfilled his promise to work with me on Autocade, he has got so much into the spirit of the site that it’s hard to distinguish which entries are his and which are mine on style alone. He’s adopted very quickly to my quirks—there are a few which, were I to do the site from scratch, I wouldn’t have (it would have been easier for I4 to denote inline four cylinders, for example).
   You will see his entries in the history (Kadams is his handle), though in a couple of cases, moved pages will show me (WikiSysop) as the author when it was actually him.
   I’ve linked Keith’s AROnline site—or, as it was once called, The Unofficial Austin–Rover Resource, for years, because I was one of many fans who enjoyed the work he did covering the history of British motoring. I’ve read Octane because of him. So when I said in a press release last week that I could not think of a better collaborator, I meant it.
   Keith’s knowledge of marques such as Bizzarrini is superior to mine, and he’s been able to add entries for such models as the Audi 100 and Peugeot 405. (I blame my own laziness for the absence of these models till now—my motoring books are not in this office and I usually bring out one volume at a time to check facts on Autocade.) He’s logically divided the Saab 9000 entry into Marks I and II (any Fiat 500 fans are welcome to break up the 1957–77 entry), which now makes more sense. Eeriely, I have often found myself on the site at exactly the same times he is.
   Last week, Autocade crossed the 1,000,000 page view barrier, and, with Keith’s help, we’ve shot past 1,400 models.
   So to celebrate, here are three entries that combine the best of Keith’s and my work on Autocade, and to give you an idea of how international we’re getting. Thank you, Keith!

Image:Peugeot_405.jpgPeugeot 405. 1987 to date (prod. over 3,933,716). 4-door saloon, 5-door estate. F/F, F/A, 1360, 1587, 1761, 1905, 1998 cm³ petrol, 1769, 1905, 1997 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC), 1761, 1905, 1998 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Hugely important mid-sized Peugeot, riding on a modified Citroën BX platform, that hit the market square-on, rivalling the Ford Sierra and Opel Vectra A. Agreeable Pininfarina styling (and closely resembling the Alfa Romeo 164) and excellent road manners made this an appealing driver’s car, although build quality lagged behind the best of the opposition. Mid-life facelift in 1993 introduced more practical boot, with lower loading lip and folding rear seat. Western European production ended 1997; continued in Iran under IKCO with both OHC and DOHC versions of 1·8-litre engine (in GLX and SLX trims), including CNG variant.

Image:Peugeot_Pars.jpgPeugeot Pars. 1999 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door saloon. F/F, 1761 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC), 1761 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Facelifted version of Peugeot 405, modernizing front and rear for 21st century, and built by Iran Khodro. Sixteen-valve DOHC from 2003 in 16V model, replaced by luxurious ELX in 2004. Well regarded dynamically; used by officials. Produced alongside original 405 in Iran. CKD production in Egypt and other countries.

Image:2011_Peugeot_Roa.jpgPeugeot Roa. 2006 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door saloon. F/R, 1599, 1696 cm³ petrol, 1599 cm³ CNG (4 cyl. OHV). The Rootes Arrow lives on, but with a Peugeot 405 clone bodyshell. Basic model offered by IKCO of Iran, blending the platform of the obsolete rear-wheel-drive Paykan with a more modern interior and exterior. Initially offered with 1·6 petrol and CNG engines; G2 model from 2010 has 1·7 unit.

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Roy Axe gives a sincere look at his career

11.12.2010

Roy Axe: A Life in Style

Keith Adams is well known to many motorheads out there. We probably encountered him initially at his excellent AROnline, formerly The Unofficial Austin–Rover Resource. More recently, some of us have got to know Keith as a writer for Octane, where his well researched articles remind me of some of the best motoring journalists’ work. They combine a love of history with a contemporary style.
   Keith turned publisher earlier this year by publishing automotive designer Roy Axe’s autobiography, A Life in Style. I was more than happy to purchase it: this is not a review of a freebie copy that Keith gave me.
   The book serves its purpose in giving a very sincere look at Axe’s career, beginning at Rootes, before his national service, then continuing with the same firm and setting up a design department closer to the ones we know today, before its takeover by Chrysler. Then at Chrysler, Axe worked on both sides of the Atlantic (various 180 and Avenger proposals are fascinating), and headed the programmes that gave us the Simca 1307 and Horizon; and in the 1980s, Axe was head-hunted for Austin Rover.
   After leaving Rover, he founded his own firm, Design Research Associates, which has worked on designs for numerous international clients.
   The book reflects the career of a true gentleman. Axe supplies wonderful anecdotes from his earlier days and he, and presumably Keith, supply some never-before-seen (at least to me) images of prototypes from the studios. DRA’s work is too new to be revealed, and Axe considers that he is bound by client confidentiality on a lot of those projects, with the exception of one for Bentley and some BAe aircraft interiors.
   It is a must for car buffs, as Axe’s designs will have been seen in most corners of the world and, as all books of this type, reveal some wonderful “might-have-beens” at Chrysler (which was increasingly strapped for cash in the 1970s) and Austin Rover (which seemed always strapped for cash in the 1980s, and hindsight says it should have gone with far more of Axe’s team’s designs). It makes for fun comparison with, say, Iacocca: an Autobiography when discussing the era that Axe and his boss were at the company, and seeing the same personalities mentioned, albeit from different angles. The story is told with a personal love for the industry and a great deal of authenticity.
   My principal complaint is the lack of subediting. While there are precious few spelling mistakes—much heftier tomes, such as one John Barry biography I bought years ago, were full of them—parts of a few chapters read as a simple transcript from Axe. And, perhaps for budgetary reasons or the size of the original artwork, some of the images are a bit small. Initially, the underleaded Sabon body type appeared hard to read but surprisingly, I soon adjusted to it, thanks perhaps in part to the good stories that Axe had to tell.
   Despite these reservations, I’d still heartily recommend it. You can order it directly from Keith’s website and it’s perfect for anyone who loves the design profession or cars in general. Even those of you who read this blog for its branding content might be fascinated to see how brands are translated into industrial design (especially important when Austin Rover and Honda worked off the same platforms), and, for that matter, the organizational structure.
   Sadly, Roy Axe passed away soon after the book’s publication, otherwise I am sure he will have received a great deal of fan mail over it.

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How MG Rover mirrored the developments at Lada

02.11.2010

I still have Adam Curtis’s The Mayfair Set, a TV series charting the decline of British power and the rise of the technocracy, recorded on video cassette somewhere. I consider him someone who can see through the emperor having no clothes, and in The Mayfair Set, he certainly saw through the Empire having no clothes.
   As I type this, John Barry’s ‘Vendetta’ is going through my head as an earworm: the series used this piece as its theme tune.
   On my friend Keith Adams’s Facebook page was a link to Curtis’s blog at the BBC website, titled with a reference to another song, this time from Maurice Jarre’s Doctor Zhivago score. Curtis begins by saying that he uncovered a 1977 film about two British Leyland workers heading to Togliattigrad, where the Жигули (Zhiguli, or Lada to those of us outside the Soviet Bloc) was built.
ВАЗ-2101   At Togliattigrad, the managers used the chaos that was allowed to prevail to set up their alternative economic structures to line their own pockets—and corruption was rife.
   He writes, ‘What then happened is murky, but it is alleged that the managers in effect looted their own factory.’
   So far, so good. It read as a story about the bad old days of communism—till Curtis draws the clear parallels between Togliattigrad and what happened in the last days of the remnants of British Leyland. The Phoenix Four used money meant for the plant for themselves.
   Curtis again: ‘The Phoenix directors systematically restructured the business. They did it in a way that ensured that many economic benefits flowed not to MG Rover and the thousands of workers, but to the directors themselves and the man they appointed chief executive of MG Rover.
   ‘The [government] report [into the collapse of MG Rover] is over 800 pages—and it is a fascinating snapshot of our time. It lists all sorts of schemes with names like “Project Slag”, “Project Platinum” and “Project Aircraft”—all of them designed to try and bring profits not into MG Rover but into the holding company set up by the Phoenix consortium.’
   No more western superiority here: chaos—whether in the political, social, cultural or commercial realms—breeds opportunity for many. The trick is always to ensure that the opportunists are those who can put things right, rather than selfishly benefit themselves.
Beyond Branding cover   Some might see Curtis’s blog entry as a criticism of the monetarist, technocratic system—as was The Mayfair Set.
   But it is equally a story about how the absence of transparency breeds systems that benefit the few—regardless of whether the background is communism or capitalism.
   These are themes that we at the Medinge Group explored as early as 2003 in Beyond Branding, written in the wake of the Enron collapse. We’ve partly stayed on the same theme over the last eight years, because history shows us that transparency is often the enemy of inequity and unfairness. And even the technocracy.

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