July’s motoring news review

Posted on August 12th, 2013 by Rob Marshall

augnewsThe recent hot weather has brought with it some good news from British car factories. In early July, Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port site celebrated the building of 250,000 Astra Sports Tourers, while the same company notched up 900,000 completed vans at its site in Luton. Ford also promoted that its four millionth Fiesta had been sold in the UK, although not one example of that model has been assembled here for just over a decade.

DAGENHAM DUSTBINNED

Yet, what has been good for Ford’s global empire is not necessarily all that fantastic for Great Britain plc, no matter how much gloss is plastered over the bad news.  While a new 2.0-litre diesel engine will be built in Dagenham from 2016, it does not compensate for the ending of over 80 years of British heritage, when the last factory that assembled a complete Ford vehicle, closed on the 26th July, along with its stamping and tooling facility. In a move to shoot its European bedfellow in the foot, the European Investment Bank even provided an £80m loan to Ford, which helped to finance the production shift of Transit van assembly from England to Turkey. A small comfort remains, in that a new 1.5-litre petrol engine will be built at Ford’s Bridgend engine plant in South Wales, although it remains unfortunate that Ford motor vehicles are no longer produced here, considering that British buyers remain fiercely loyal to the Blue Oval, helping to make both the Fiesta (the substantial ST sales of which have forced Ford to increase the UK vehicle allocation) and Focus the most popular new models sold on these shores during June (and, possibly, July as well).

Meanwhile, Volkswagen, owner of Bentley, has confirmed that the luxury brand’s controversial SUV will be built at its spiritual home in Crewe, rather than being sent to a far-flung land, with associated lower labour rates. The result is the creation of over 1,000 jobs and an £800m investment, which should help to make Bentley’s forthcoming offspring a little more acceptable to its critics.

FRANCE vs GERMANY

Elsewhere in Europe, the lines for an unusual battle are being drawn. Following the Daimler Group, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, refusing to comply with a European edict, to switch its air conditioning refrigerant to a new, less polluting, but more expensive type, the French authorities have responded by banning the sales of certain models. Yet, the might of the German car industry should not be underestimated and it has been reported that French motorists have continued to register new Mercedes cars anyway, thus rendering any supposed ‘ban’ as toothless. Additionally, reports have circulated, of the most profitable carmaking nation in Europe, influencing the implementation of ever-more stringent CO2 emissions standards, by having them postponed.

Critics have commented that other manufacturers have met the costs of the more expensive, environmentally-friendly air conditioning gas, so why should another car company be at an unfair advantage? Daimler has defended its position by stating that its reasons are not to try to save production costs, which have been reported to be approximately £20 per car, but that the new refrigerant is flammable under certain conditions and is, therefore, unsafe. The Liberal Democrat MEP, Chris Davis has been keen to put the boot in and has stated that all the affected cars would need to be recalled, in addition to Daimler being hit with a substantial fine from the EU. Sit back everyone; the result of this dispute will highlight who really wields the power.

Staying with Germany, while several new cars were launched last month, one of the more interesting examples was the BMW i3, the brand’s first production-ready foray into the electric vehicle market, since its first prototype, the E1, was revealed in 1991. Although I have yet to drive the i3, I piloted an electric MINI in Munich approximately five years’ ago and was immensely impressed with not only how the car drove but also how the company was working with hydro-electric power stations, to provide cleaner sources of electricity. Although Renault has staked much on the future of electric cars, I would be more confident on the Germans getting vehicle electrics right…

BACK TO EARTH

At the other end of the scale, as Renault begat the budget Dacia brand, Nissan has brought back Datsun – although UK bargain hunters will not have access to it – in the form of a new hatchback, called ‘Go’, that debuted in India last month.

Second-hand car lovers might be unsurprised to hear that Which? magazine established that the most reliable Japanese car is the 1998 – 2005 Mazda MX5. The organisation reported that the little Mazda had the lowest number of faults and no annual repair costs in the first three years. Yet, the validity of the research can be called into question; very few MX5s are bought as company cars to be subjected to the hard life of being pounded up-and-down the country’s motorways. It would be fairer to presume that most small sports cars cover lower mileages, comparatively, and are more cosseted than a typical rep-mobile Focus, 3-series or Astra.

Used sales declined by 5% during July, according to Experian®, while Glass’s Guide reported that many de-fleeted cars are of a poor quality, due to companies cutting costs in recent years, by neglecting both maintenance and body repairs. The result is a continued shortage of good condition used vehicles in the auction houses. Meanwhile, it appears that the UK is still outperforming its European neighbours in new car transactions but it seems as though British buyers are preferring petrol engines, which outsold diesel models.

Increased complexity has seen the reliability of diesel engines nosedive, as their popularity blossomed, encouraged by the British Governments’ low CO2 taxation regimes. I have been arguing for years that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant (without it, we would be all dead) and that diesel engines’ increased levels of NOx and particulates is a more serious worry that is not being addressed fully. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Geoffrey Lean highlighted his view that recent smog, which affected South West London in last month’s heat-wave, was caused by particulates that emanated from diesel cars. Unfortunately, his editorial forgot to mention that most diesel cars are fitted with particulate filters, whereas most vans, trucks and buses are not, plus that fact that diesel engines have negligible carbon monoxide emissions, compared to petrol burning units. Even so, he stated that: “This is a serious matter”, and emphasised that, “Tiny particulates, one of the two most serious pollutants emitted from car exhausts, are officially calculated to kill 29,000 people a year, over 10 times as many as die in car accidents, in a toll only exceeded by smoking.”

While I think that those ‘official’ figures are somewhat misleading, I agree with him that the more serious non-CO2 pollutants should have been highlighted to European politicians many years ago, when carbon dioxide levels were jumped upon by governments as a means by which to tax motorists. I wonder what the answer will be? Hit owners of used diesel cars with a tax so hard that they scrap their cars and buy a ‘clean’ new one, possibly a Mercedes with its ‘polluting’ air conditioning system. Now that’s environmentalism!