November’s motoring news digested

Posted on December 6th, 2013 by Rob Marshall

RM-blog2-Dec13Although an official British Motor Show has not existed for several years, to rival the likes of those held in Geneva and Frankfurt, the Regent Street Motor Show caused traffic to grind to a standstill early last month, in a free-to-view celebration of motoring, as vehicles of all ages gathered on one of London’s most famous streets.

Meanwhile, recent conflicting surveys, involving the reliability of Audis, make me question whether, or not, any statistics should be trusted at all. The first Warranty Direct report surfaced in July, which found that the German company was the UK’s eighth least reliable brand, which was followed by a later report, from the same source, which uncovered that Audi was the second worst carmaker for engine failures, beaten to the bottom spot by the defunct MG Rover group. Shortly after the latter survey was released, Audi’s UK PR team sprang into action, with a counter-survey (carried out by Fleet News) of over 600,000 company car drivers, which stated that Audi is the most dependable brand. Whatever your view, or experience, it does not seem to have harmed the brand’s new car sales…

Meanwhile, maybe the most popular editorial thread that has dominated motoring pages this year is self-driving cars. I am very apprehensive about the subject, because I feel that the technology still has a long way to reach fruition, especially as carmakers have still not perfected the automatic windscreen wiper. According to an interview with the head of Bosch Automotive, the technological and legislative advances required means that a self-driving car will not be possible until after 2020, which suggests that Nissan’s pledge to build a model for series production, by the end of this decade, cannot be anything more than public-relations smoke and mirrors.

While I am on the subject of Nissan (and its French owner, Renault), its Chief Executive, Carlos Ghosn, told the BBC last month that Nissan would reconsider its investment in the company’s Sunderland factory, should the UK leave the EU. Mr Ghosn has clearly not taken into account the considerable sums of money invested in the plant by you and me, via the British government. Yet, he also confirmed that an exit would be unlikely, which is just as well, considering that the highly efficient factory produces the new Qashqai, the predecessor of which was Nissan’s best selling car in Europe. Alas, it also produces the LEAF electric car, which must be one of Nissan’s worst selling models, although that is not the fault of the employees in Sunderland.

While the UK is celebrating higher volumes of new car sales, an interesting development is that hybrid and electric vehicle sales have not been so rosy. Although UK new car launches have been subsiding as the year draws to a close, one of the most important cars of the year appeared in November, in the shape of the BMW i3, in both EV and hybrid forms. Not only can it be specified with a 34bhp, twin-cylinder petrol engine to recharge its batteries, so that drivers need not be as worried about their eco car grinding to a halt miles from nowhere, but the Germans have also been targeting the environmental credentials of the recharging infrastructure. It hopes to cajole British owners of its i3 (and next year’s i8 sports car) to sign-up to an energy tariff with Good Energy Limited, which ensures that the electricity is generated fully by certified renewable sources. Worries about battery life affecting the car’s residual values have been answered, in part, with BMW offering a five years warranty period on the power-packs. Unsurprisingly, the car is not cheap, the version with the range extender engine costs £28,830 and that is after the government’s cash contribution.

Yet, the i3’s arrival has caused a stir at Nissan and, within the same month, the company launched a similar five year battery warranty, plus various other customer incentives, to cajole them through showroom doors. On hearing this news, a colleague contacted his local dealership to see how much discount could now be obtained on a LEAF. He was told that a new base version could be his for a cash price of £10,500, compared to the list of £15,990, providing he leased the batteries. No wonder buyers are worried about electric cars having shaky residual values! Even so, I hope that BMW’s proposition will succeed and introduce a much needed shot of stability and credibility into the electric car market.