Rob’s highlights of May
Sad but not entirely unsurprising news kick-started May, with reports that the Trader Media Group (TMG) would cease printing its Auto Trader magazine, almost forty years after it was launched. The final edition is mooted to hit the newsstands on the 28th June, ready to fill the cupboards of automobilia collectors throughout the UK. While Autotrader and its associated publications will continue their online presence, the culling of 150 jobs within TMG is unlikely to please the Exchequer.
Yet, Mr Osborne will be satisfied by the HMRC winning a court battle that has closed down a tax avoidance loophole on car repairs, by a motor breakdown insurance company. The case involved VAT being reclaimed on repair services, which would have resulted in the taxpayer losing £600m annually. The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury commented triumphantly that, “HMRC’s success in defeating this scheme sends a clear signal: the Government will relentlessly pursue those that try to avoid their responsibilities, no matter how long it takes, and win.”
Meanwhile, several new cars were espied last month, including the new BMW X5-series, but the model that stood out for me was the OX, a flat-pack truck (pictured) intended for the developing world. Designed and built in Britain, each example can be assembled in less than 12 hours, without special tools or training being needed. Apart from being about to drive through 75cm of water, to carry two tonnes of payload and seat up to 13 people, its power-take-off can be used to pump water, saw wood, or even power a generator. The British entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sir Torquil Norman, sees UK charities as the main clients and he plans to have production-ready versions available from next year.
Designed to appeal to misty-eyed lovers of a bygone era, the newly-launched classic section of ‘Honest John’s’ website created a list of cars that have disappeared from British roads at the fastest rate, in proportion to the numbers built. Many newspapers jumped upon the statement that 1980s cars are becoming extinct but the RM Award for Sloppy Journalism goes to the BBC1 Breakfast news segment on 1980s cars, which was broadcasted on the 14th May, that featured an Austin Montego alongside a 1970’s Austin Allegro Vanden Plas, a 1970’s Ford Cortina Mark Three and a 1990’s Ford Sierra.
Away from the more entertaining news stories, one of the more serious developments from last month saw European regulators raiding the offices of several prominent oil companies. Lord Oakeshott, former Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, demanded to know why the UK authorities had waited for Brussels to intervene in an oil price rigging suspicion that stretches back beyond a decade. It remains intriguing as to what the conclusions will be but it places into serious doubt the OFT’s January statement, which ruled out an investigation into petrol price rigging, because it believed that the market was ‘working well’.
Ironically, while British motorists complain about high fuel prices, the sales figures uncover that few of us are investing in future powertrain technology, with hybrid sales remaining tepid and very few people being convinced of the viability of electric vehicles. It seems as though alternatives to the internal combustion engine are not being seen as a priority, because the Future Car Challenge, which invites manufacturers to showcase their latest developments in environmental powertrain advances, has been cancelled. Yet, all is not lost. According to the Future Car Challenge’s press release, options for next year’s event are being evaluated.
Meanwhile, Warranty Direct is launching its car reliability survey this month, for its respected reliability index and it is appealing for your feedback on not only your vehicle’s dependability but also other factors, including how easy you have found your car to live with. By filling out the information on the company’s website, you will be entered into a free prize draw to win £1,000 and a year’s free warranty cover.