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Sometimes car companies get a bit carried away with a new idea that, for a myriad of reasons, doesn’t translate so well in its execution. Toyota (and other Japanese companies) did exactly this when they invested in the very unsuccessful line of WiLL cars and other consumer products in the early 2000s. Today we look at […]
The post Abandoned History: The Cadillac Cimarron, a Good Mercedes-Benz Competitor appeared first on The Truth About Cars.
Think you have a hard time keeping track of all the trims and bodystyles on the Ford Bronco now? Well, get ready for more. At least one more trim is on the way for 2022. The 2022 Ford Bronco Everglades was confirmed by Ford PR spokesperson Mike Levine on Twitter earlier this week, though I […]
Barely a month has passed since Rivian’s CEO first posted pictures of the company’s fully certified, in-production R1T electric pickup rolling down the Normal, Illinois assembly line. The R1T is here, it’s real, and it’s got the blessing of the NHTSA, EPA, and CARB to prove it – but the fact that the R1T made […]
The post Analysis: How Rivian Beat EVERYONE to Market With the First Electric Pickup appeared first on The Truth About Cars.
The Rare Rides series is a friend to the General Motors J-body. In 2018 we featured a 2000 Sunbird from ’83, in 2020 there was the ’84 Oldsmobile Firenza Cruiser, and earlier this year a ’91 Cavalier wagon. But we’ve never featured the OG J-body main event, a first-gen Cavalier. Let’s go. Introduced for the 1982 model […]
The post Rare Rides: The 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier RS Convertible, Last of First appeared first on The Truth About Cars.
Like the rest of the world, the automotive industry is currently living in two distinct realities. Labor unions and part suppliers have been sounding the alarm that electric vehicles will require far fewer hands to manufacture and will ultimately lead to their demise. But battery firms, establishment politicians, and most automakers have claimed that transitioning […]
The post Dual Realities: VW CEO Claims Slow EV Shift Could Cost 30,000 Jobs appeared first on The Truth About Cars.
Almost four in 10 back road pricing to replace fuel duty and other taxes as people switch to electric cars
Road pricing is seen as a fairer possible system to raise revenue than fuel duty and motoring taxes, thinktank research has found.
The switch to electric cars means almost £30bn in fuel duty raised annually for the Treasury will need to be replaced, but politicians have shied away from introducing road pricing as an alternative.Continue reading...
Dutch team designed and built two-person van with kitchen, bed, shower, loo and range of up to 450 miles a day
A team of students from the Netherlands are due to complete an 1,800-mile (3,000km) road trip across western Europe in a solar-powered camper van that they designed and built themselves.
The Stella Vita is designed for two passengers and has a kitchen, sitting area, bed, shower and toilet. Using solar energy alone, the vehicle can cover up to 450 miles on a sunny day, reaching a top speed of 75mph, as well as powering all the inside amenities, a TV and a laptop.Continue reading...
With running-cost savings available, motorists are increasingly keen to go green
As some petrol stations ran out of fuel and queues of cars lined up outside those that did have stocks, causing lengthy waits for motorists waiting to fill up, many drivers’ thoughts turned to the option of buying an electric vehicle.
The classified ad website Autotrader says there was a 60% rise in searches for electric cars in the week after 24 September, when shortages at the pumps started. Industry figures show that the number of electric cars sold in the UK last month neared the figures for the whole of 2019.Continue reading...
Global chip shortage helps push car registrations to lowest level for more than two decades
The number of electric cars sold in the UK last month neared the figures for the whole of 2019, with panic-buying at the petrol pumps expected to accelerate consumer appetite to switch to cleaner vehicles.
Nearly 33,000 pure electric cars were registered in a record month for EVs, almost 50% more than last year, as sales of new cars otherwise tumbled to the weakest September total for more than two decades.Continue reading...
A continuing global shortage of semiconductors further dents the sector’s post-pandemic recovery
The number of cars built in UK factories fell by 27% year-on-year to 37,200 in August, according to lobby group the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). That was down from 51,000 in the same month in 2020, when carmakers were racing to make up for time lost to lockdowns.Continue reading...
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It’s come to something when not even Ethan Hunt, fictional hero of movie franchise Mission Impossible, can prevent his BMW X7 from being stolen. That’s what happened one night in August when Tom Cruise’s SUV was pinched from outside the Grand Hotel in central Birmingham, where he had been staying. The car, which was equipped with a tracking device, was recovered three miles away a short time later. CCTV footage showed three people leaving it with a bag containing some of its contents.
The actor was reportedly furious about the incident, and we British motorists should be concerned too. At the time, a relay attack, where the car’s electronic security is fooled into believing the key fob is present, was the favoured explanation. However, weeks later, the police don’t know exactly how it was stolen, only that its electronics were compromised.
The incident appears to show that for all their sophistication, today’s cars are seemingly as easy to steal as their forebears were in the 1990s, when more than 300,000 were pinched each year in England and Wales. In 2020, ‘only’ 89,000 cars were stolen, 24,000 down on 2019 – a fall credited to fewer journeys being undertaken during the lockdowns, as well as to improved vehicle security, heightened public awareness and more effective policing. For example, West Midlands Police says that it has identified and closed down more than 100 chop shops – where stolen cars are broken for parts by organised gangs – in the past 18 months.
That’s the good news, but the bad news is that last year’s figure is still 20,000 higher than that from 2013. Indeed, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) recently reported a 3.1% year-on-year rise in vehicle crime between May and June.
It’s a confusing picture, but not as confusing as the methods criminals employ to steal, and steal from, cars. Here, we survey the state of affairs...
Thefts of and from vehicles: the numbers
85% of thefts happen during the night, and 39% happen on the owner’s home street
72% of stolen vehicles are never returned to owner
30% of stolen vehicles are written off
The entry method in 44% of thefts is opening unlocked doors, with 36% being by manipulation of a remote-locking signal
39% of items stolen from vehicles are valuables
37% of stolen vehicles are more than one year old but less than five years old
The most commonly reported emotional impact of vehicle-related theft is annoyance, at 76%
Figures courtesy of the Office for National Statistics, from Crime Survey for England and Wales, April 2019 to March 2020Electronic compromise
Electronic compromise is the term for gaining control of a vehicle by hacking into its electronic systems. Relay attack is one of the best-known methods: a criminal holds a device against the door of the car, amplifying the security signal that the vehicle transmits. Another stands near the owner’s home with a device that relays a pairing signal from the vehicle owner’s key to the accomplice, who then opens the car’s door and starts the engine. Relay attacks often take place on a vehicle owner’s driveway. In a disturbing twist, it appears that some crooks are now disabling home owners’ wi-fi to prevent doorbell video footage being captured as evidence.
The NPCC says that relay attacks accounted for a large share of the increase in vehicle crime during May and June 2021. How large can be gauged by the fact that in 2020, 93% of the vehicles recorded as stolen by Tracker, a vehicle tracking company, were taken as a result of a relay attack.
Thankfully, car makers are fighting back. In 2019, Ford introduced ‘sleeping key fobs’, which become deactivated when not in use, on the Fiesta and Focus, and earlier this year extended the technology to the Kuga and Puma. These can’t be activated by a relay device. Since their introduction, Fiesta thefts have fallen by two-thirds.
Other forms of electronic compromise include having an additional key programmed to the vehicle, manipulating the car’s electronics via the on-board diagnostics port and swapping out the vehicle’s engine control unit. Many of the devices that thieves use are available to buy online.
Pleasingly, there’s little honour among criminals, as a security source explained: “A contact told us that he broke into a new Range Rover with a system that he had purchased for £12,000. It enabled him to get into the vehicle, but it didn’t have the promised firmware that would allow him to start it. He’s now worried that if he returns the device for the update, he might not get it back.”
Have your car’s windows etched with its registration and VIN.
Park in a well-lit place and, if on your driveway, facing your house so that the thief will have to reverse the car.
If your car has keyless entry, check if you can disable the system; and if not, if a software update is available enabling you to.
Block the key signal by storing it in a Faraday pouch or a tin lined with metallic foil.
Fit an ECU security cradle.
Have your car’s security system updated to accept only two keys.
Fit a mechanical lock, such as a gearstick or steering-wheel lock.Catalytic converter theft
If you think relay attacks on driveways are audacious, catalytic converter thefts are in another league. Many are done in broad daylight by the roadside and even in supermarket car parks. The thieves are after the precious metals that the converters contain and which, having passed through various hands, fetch astronomical sums on the open market.
According to figures obtained from police forces in England and Wales by the BBC, 13,000 converters were recorded stolen in 2019, compared with 2000 the year before. Last April, Ageas, one of the UK’s biggest car insurers, reported a steep rise in converter thefts during lockdown, stating they accounted for around a third of all theft claims (before lockdown, it was a fifth).
However, good news may be on the horizon. Converter thefts peaked this March, with 3245 recorded. The next month, the British Transport Police co-ordinated a multi-agency operation to tackle the problem. More than 1000 stolen converters were recovered and more than 50 people were arrested. Since then, thefts have declined steadily, with only 1378 recorded in July.
The NPCC credits improved liaison between forces for the reduction, as well as a new national database of stolen converters marked with an invisible special formula that contains a unique reference code. Developed by Smartwater Group, the high- temperature-resistant product can be applied to the converter when the vehicle is in a workshop for servicing or an MOT test.
“On its own, marking a converter won’t prevent its theft,” says Mark Silvester, a West Midlands Police crime prevention manager. “However, when, for example, we find converters in chop shops or in the back of a car, the unique codes identify them as stolen, identify their owners and help us to build a trail that can lead to convictions and discourage further thefts.”
Park your car in your garage or else in such a way that it’s hard to access its converter (for example, parked tightly between other cars).
Fit a Thatcham-approved alarm with a tilt function that senses vehicle movement.
Fit a security device such as a Catloc or Catclamp.
Have your converter watermarked and advertise this fact on the car’s window.
Although thieves will operate in daylight, try to park your car in a well-lit area that’s overlooked.Key theft
According to Neil Thomas, director of investigative services at AX Innovation, a fleet management company, you’re unlikely to have your car key stolen from your house. “Many criminals who steal cars to order are reluctant to enter their victim’s home,” he says. “Such crooks call themselves twoccers, which stands for taking without consent, and don’t regard themselves as burglars.” That’s a comfort, then. Even so, it does happen. Indeed, one of Thomas’s neighbours woke up recently to finda thief standing on his landing, demanding his car keys...
Mark Silvester says that programming a key fob to unlock and start a car is another method of attack: “The equipment is freely available but, generally speaking, most vehicle ECUs won’t accept more than three keys being assigned to the car. Ask your main dealer to update the car’s ECU such that it won’t recognise a third key.”
Leave your car key downstairs. Better it’s seen than the burglar coming to you to get it.
Have your car’s ECU updated to recognise only two keys.
Views from a victim
Two years ago, David (not his real name) was confronted in his home by a gang demanding the keys to his BMW. “It was one o’clock in the morning,” he says. “As I opened the bedroom door, I was confronted by three people wearing balaclavas.” David handed over the keys and in a few seconds his car and the gang had gone. “The police arrived in minutes and tracked my X5 hitting the ANPR cameras as it went up the M6 before it vanished. I never got it back.”
David says the experience has had a huge emotional impact on him and made him more risk-averse and security-conscious. “People should check the layers of deterrent they have,” he says. “For example, when I see cars pointing out of a driveway, I think how stealable that is. You have to think like a thief.”Carjacking
You might think carjacking is something that happens only in other countries, but three years ago in Birmingham, a motorist who stopped his car to move wheelie bins blocking his path wasset on by baton-wielding thugs who forced him out of the vehicle before taking it. It was one of a series of carjackings that occurred in or near the city the same year. Other techniques the criminals used included waiting near the victim’s house to attack them and grab their keys; and encouraging victims to stop their car by pretending to be broken down, bumping their car from behind or flashing their headlights. In a concerted effort to quash the city’s carjacking epidemic, the police made 600 arrests in just a few weeks.
Be suspicious of anything blocking your path, headlights flashing you to stop or groups of people lingering nearby.
Reverse into a parking space so you can leave easily and quickly, as well as see who is around you.
Change your parking place regularly.
Have your keys to hand so that you can quickly enter the vehicle and lock it from the inside.
Make sure you unlock only the driver’s door.
Always lock the car when, for example, paying for fuel.
Always allow sufficient space between you and the car in front so that you can pull away quickly.Theft of belongings
In the league table of vehicle crime, theft from a car is still number one. In the past, it occurred because cars were easy to break into or windows were left open, but today it can be because the car is simply unlocked. “Check your fob has done its job,” says Mark Silvester. “Not all cars signal that they’re locked or unlocked. It can be hard to check, too, because, depending on the model, it may unlock as you pull the handle. Mirrors that fold in and indicators that flash are a good indication that a car is locked.” Meanwhile, the old advice about not leaving valuables on view remains as valid as ever: “A lot of car crime is opportunistic. Leaving valuables on display is an open invitation.”
When locking your car, make sure by checking that the indicators flash or that the door mirrors have folded in.
Ensure the windows are closed.
Keep valuables including portable sat-navs out of sight.
Park in a well-lit, overlooked or busy area.
Chew on this problem for a moment. How do you go about highlighting the special virtues of a vehicle that brings a new level of fuel efficiency and climate-friendliness to the super-luxury SUV class (a sector not known for such priorities) when its creators’ main aim is to make it drive exactly like its conventional brethren?
This is the difficulty we faced with Bentley’s first plug-in model, the Bentayga Hybrid. Despite being packed from stem to stern with new equipment – a relatively small (3.0-litre) V6 petrol engine, a 126bhp electric motor sandwiched between engine and gearbox, a lithium ion battery under the boot floor with 13.3kWh of usable power and 25 miles of EV range, plus lots of mysterious black-box gadgetry connected under the skin by thick, brightly coloured high-voltage cables – this electrified edition of the world’s most successful super-luxury SUV had been configured to feel just like all the rest.
The official fuel economy and CO2 figures were no help, either, serving only to advertise the inadequacy of lab figures. A conventional Bentayga V8 returns 21.7mpg on the combined test cycle and pumps out 294g/km of CO2. Corresponding figures for the Hybrid are 81mpg and 79g/km, stats so hopelessly unlike real life that Bentley doesn’t even bother to quote them in its otherwise comprehensive technical presentation on the Hybrid. I mean, nobody’s really going to get 81mpg out of a Bentley hybrid, are they?
The one and only worthwhile comparator is that the electrified Bentayga concedes 0.8sec on 0-62mph acceleration to its V8 sibling, hardly a disaster when the PHEV’s test-track journey takes only 5.2sec. But what about the other stuff? If not 81mpg, what fuel mileage can Bentley hybrid owners expect in real life? How far will their fuel tank truly take them? Critically, will the hybrid deliver the same magic carpet progress as conventional models after you’ve spent hours behind the wheel? There was only one way to find out: take the Bentayga PHEV to the road on a very long day’s drive, including (safe levels of) journey fatigue in the equation to punctuate the mere statistics.
Where to go? A logical first step was to drive the 129 miles from my Cotswolds base to Bentley’s HQ in Crewe to take a technical refresher course. That way I’d be able to ask questions that had arisen in the first three hours of driving. Over the phone, Bentley’s technical comms chief, Jon Smedley, signified that he was ready and willing, and would bring a clever colleague. Crewe would also be a good place to link up with our photographer, Max Edleston, who has family connections in the area.
As we searched for a second destination, the idea of a trip to the welcoming but thoroughly extraordinary emporium of P&A Wood, near Dunmow in Essex, popped obligingly into my head. Started in 1967 by brothers Paul and Andy Wood on the proceeds of an Austin Seven they had been given, this company is the embodiment of its founders’ love of Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars, especially the old ones. They’ll sell you a new Rolls too, but the soul of the business will always be ‘heritage’ models.
From previous visits, I knew that the automotive scenery at P&A is always changing, and was confident we would be able to make a strong link between our second-generation 2021 Bentayga Hybrid and some great cars on the premises that belonged much further back along the Bentley timeline.
It also happens that P&A is exactly 190 miles from Crewe if you take main roads across the beltline of England. Adding my 129 miles from the Cotswolds to a return trip from Crewe to Essex made just over 500 miles, a journey my intuition reckoned the big Bentley could handle with one electric charge en route and a full tank of fuel. That was at least 100 miles beyond the capability of even the most frugally driven standard V8 and would point to one PHEV advantage. I rang P&A managing director Georgina Wood, daughter of Andy. Though in the middle of preparing for the Goodwood Revival, she was as welcoming as P&A people always are. It's the culture they've created over 54 years. Come and have a cup of tea, said Georgina, and see our cars.
I love dawn driving so left home at 5.30am, which meant that even after a longish stop for coffee on the M6 (even motorway services are welcoming at that time of the morning), I arrived at Bentley’s CW1 House – the showroom outside the factory gates on the western end of Pyms Lane – about 20 minutes before the appointed 9am. Even so, Smedley was waiting, ready to brief me on the subtleties of the hybrid system.
We were soon joined by Jo Duraj, Bentley’s first specialist high-voltage apprentice to become a fully fledged engineer. Her career had followed our car’s gestation. Duraj was proud but very modest, but I soon got the message that completing this four-year course is no small achievement, requiring deep knowledge and confidence if you’re going to have a career handling machines that pack 313 volts like this Bentayga PHEV, and maybe more.
Over coffee, we delved into the efficiency potential of the hybrid powertrain (expect a cool 50% fuel economy improvement over a V8). Then we got into the minutiae of the Bentayga’s screen-based gadgetry, such as the way the smart navigation system deploys battery power as economically as possible across a plotted route, instead of just gobbling it at the start. Also, that a Bentayga hybrid concedes just five litres (of 479 litres) of boot space despite all the extra paraphernalia behind its elegant trim.
The bit I liked best was how the nav system helps you feel the road, tapping the sole of your accelerator foot if it suspects you’re about to bust a speed limit or get your braking wrong. Having been a mite irritated on the way up to Crewe, I soon got to like this gizmo, once I understood it was trying to look after me (and that you could turn it off). We investigated all the powertrain modes (Hybrid makes the best compromise) and the more familiar driving modes (just leave it in ‘Bentley’). In an hour, I was confident about the car. Also, that with people like these on the case, Bentley is well prepared to meet its twin targets – a first EV model by 2026 and all of its cars to be electric by 2030.
By 10.30am, Edleston and I were on the road, gliding out of the Bentley forecourt on a trip many might reckon more notable for length than beauty or challenge. But in a luxurious car, with good company, sun and the puffy clouds of England in September, there was very little not to like. I must confess I’d started out thinking this mission to criss-cross the country to see how far one full battery and a tank of fuel would take us might turn into a bit of a chore, but it wasn’t. Not at all.
Maybe it was the day, or the weather, or the fact that the school holidays had just ended, but we cruised across England with consummate ease. Of course, the effortlessness of the Bentayga was a dominant factor. There was no difficulty getting to the dependably deserted M6 toll road (a better £6.90 than many I’ve spent) and that flowed easily onto the A14 that took us to within a shout of Cambridge. Then we rolled down the M11 a few miles before forking left to P&A Wood, between Thaxted and Dunmow.
Out of the gates on the M6 toll road, we decided we could dedicate enough fuel to one decent acceleration run – just to investigate thrust and engine note – discovering along the way that the big car pulls very strongly, gearchanges occur at a mathematically perfect 6200rpm, and the powertrain is always quiet, smooth and potent when given its head. The throttle response is obedient rather than breakneck-quick, but your impression is always that there's plenty of performance, with abundant electric torque to fill in any petrol-engine gaps. Almost the best fun of all is gliding silently about in town at 20-30mph, deploying the saved energy that continues to be available at low speed even when instruments say the battery is empty.
We had asked to meet Georgina Wood at 2.30pm, and arrived with 10 minutes’ grace, now with the odometer showing 319 miles and a fuel calculation of just under 34mpg, the EV part of the range long exhausted (it shows 300mpg at first). The cup of tea was instantly offered – and drunk.
Wood was relaxed and friendly. You’d never have known that the following day she and her team would be sending 14 concours-level cars to the Revival – five to be used for VIPs, seven to be offered for sale on a stand next to Bonhams’ auction site. “I love seeing our cars drive around the event,” she said. “We’ve been doing it since 2012. This year, we’ll have a team of 10 people, which takes a lot to plan - the travel, the hotel, the meals. But we’re pretty good at it. It comes from my dad. He believes the more organised you are, the better things go...”
There’s a selection of workshops at P&A Wood these days. And a choice of showrooms, too, but Wood guided our new Bentayga across the roads so it could be parked with a line of 1950s Bentley R-Type Continentals, one awaiting collection, one in bare metal having just been painstakingly rebuilt, one being assessed for corrective work because "someone else" had restored it. The R-Type coupé is a phenomenon even among heritage Bentleys for its beauty and rarity. We had a bit of a moment, imagining how amazing it must have looked among all the Standard 10s and Hillman Minxes of its era.
Mind you, the Continental turns out to be a bit of a bargain at present, if you’re in the bracket. Wood calls current values “realistic”: you might well find a decent one between £600,000 and £700,000, which makes it good buying. Not so long ago, they were being snapped up at a million. I liked the concept (and would certainly buy mine from P&A, where they practically know every Conti by name) but had to keep my hands in my pockets.
It’s never much fun to leave this place (one compensation was I knew I’d be seeing some of these people and cars a couple of days later at the Revival), but we were back on the road to Crewe by around 4pm.
In a Volkswagen, Toyota or Renault, this leg might have been a bit of a bind. In the Bentayga, I can simply label it a continuing joy. Against all logic, as the ‘miles to go’ counted down to 150, then 100, and then into dozens, I started to regret that this journey would soon be over. The distance-gathering capability of the car seemed as special as ever; from the PHEV powertrain there was nothing but a kind of creamy, high-geared murmur. It occurred to me that to truly appreciate owning one of these, you’d need to do your share of trips in lesser cars, just to get the sophistication of this performance.
With 490 miles accumulated on the trip meter, 21 miles yet to run, 47 miles of range still offered on the trip computer and 7.45pm approaching, we filled the Bentayga at a convenient station. It had to be like that: Edleston had an early job the following day in another part of the country.
My plan, after the 5.30am start, two destinations, three hours of talk and 511 miles already covered at an average of 31.6mpg (just 0.1mpg below what the super-accurate trip computer calculated), was to find a Premier Inn and get some sleep. But I still felt fresh, there was football on the radio and the Bentayga was continuing to send out its undimmed waves of driver appeal. So I pointed it south, enjoyed the 129 miles home and had my head on the pillow by 11.15pm. It was a long day, for sure, but one of the best.
The Exige and Evora have been killed off and the Emira has yet to go on sale. I expect you wouldn’t have trouble securing a slot for an Evija, but that comes with a snag in the form of a bill for two million quid.
So while we wait for the brave new world of Lotus to unfurl, we thought it might be fun to revisit some cars from the past that were technically not Lotus (don’t let the firm hear you use Lotuses or worse Loti as a plural) but which simply wouldn’t exist without a considerable amount of help from the heroes of Hethel.
So we start with what, at least in Europe, is the rarest of all. In the UK, there’s just one – and you’re looking at it – or possibly two at most. It’s the Kia Elan. Remember that? My recollection was that once production of the M100 Elan had stopped in 1995, Kia asked Lotus to build a few more and badge them Kias for sale in South Korea. And not for the first time, how I recall things happening and how they actually happened are at significant variance.
What actually happened was that Kia literally bought not only the rights to the car but all the tooling, too. The only snag was that General Motors (which owned Lotus at the time) wouldn’t let Kia use any of its parts – a considerable inconvenience when you consider that one of those parts was an engine from GM-owned Isuzu.
Undeterred, Kia pressed on, replacing 162bhp worth of turbo 1.6-litre engine for a 151bhp atmo 1.8-litre unit of its own. It changed the rear lights and replaced the orange GM dials with some white-on-black ones. It also raised the revolutionary suspension, mounted on ‘rafts’ to counteract torque steer, apparently to cope with poor road surfaces in the domestic market.
Kia did briefly consider selling its new roadster in Europe, even though GM wouldn’t have allowed the Elan name to be used, but the Kia Sports – as it would have been known – never materialised over here.
But at some stage, this sole Kia Elan did. I was never much of a fan of the M100 Lotus Elan on which it is based. Dynamically highly capable though it was, I felt it mistook fast for fun, offering rapid, effective but less than involving transport. Ultimately, I just didn’t see why people would buy it when the rear-driven Mazda MX-5 was so much more fun, cheaper and better looking. And, sadly for Lotus, the market saw it the same way.
But as an alternative kind of classic, the Kia Elan is fascinating. First, it seems suspiciously well built, its fit if not its finish probably some distance beyond what Lotus was capable of achieving. And its engine isn’t bad at all, even if I don’t much care for the gearbox to which it’s attached. It needs revs, but that’s no bad thing, and it even manages a plausible hard-edged howl as it heads for the redline.
I also suspect that it’s considerably lighter than the Isuzu turbo motor, because while I remember nothing but varying shades of understeer from the Lotus Elan, you can neutralise the Kia’s propensity to wander wide of the apex just by shutting down the throttle. Cheap Chinese tyres probably help, too...
What has been preserved, despite its rubber and raised ride height, is the way it combines an astonishingly high cornering limit with frankly bizarre ride quality. You can see how softly sprung it is from outside, but within it feels beautifully controlled and unerringly accurate. Even the steering, despite its ugly airbag wheel, is better than I recall.
Were Kia Elans plentiful and I the owner of an original MX-5, would I now be rushing to swap one for the other? Probably not: like all M100s, it remains for me more a car to admire than with which to fall in love. But I will say this: were it possible to get the Lotus and Kia versions of the Elan side by side, I wouldn’t say it were a given that you would choose the Lotus unless for reasons of image.
And I’m glad to have driven an M100 for the first time in 25 years. As a brand-new car, it was quite hard to build a case for. But as a usable classic, full of quirks, engineering interest and still capable of providing a memorable driving experience, it’s more tempting today than ever.
THE CARS LOTUS OWNED UP TO...
There have been plenty of cars whose makers have been not just prepared but eager to crow about the role played by Lotus in their creation. Probably the most famous is the Ford Cortina Lotus, a rather ordinary family saloon turned into a giant-slaying road and race car by the addition of the famed Lotus twin-cam engine. Images of the likes of Jim Clark three-wheeling to victory are among the most iconic in the history of tin-top racing.
Even more spectacular was the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, a car that started life as the Chrysler Sunbeam. A pure homologation special powered by Lotus’s 2.2-litre 16-valve motor, it made for a thrilling road car and sensational rally machine so good in the World Rally Championship it won Talbot the 1981 manufacturers’ title.
And then, of course, there was the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton, the world’s fastest four-door car when new and making the E34 BMW M5 look somewhat anaemic by comparison. Despite Lotus’s involvement in the widening and stiffening of the chassis, not to mention its 3.6 litre twin-turbo engine, it was never quite as satisfying to drive as the M5, but as a hot rod for all the family, there really wasn’t anything like it.
...AND THOSE IT DIDN'T
The Lotus involvement in some cars is blindingly obvious, even if they lack the badge to prove it. You didn’t, for instance, need to be a genius to figure out that Lotus had quite a lot to do with the original Tesla Roadster. In fact, it was not only based on the Elise but Lotus built it, too. And the Vauxhall VX220 (today a sorely underrated car), while by no means a badge-engineered Elise, still owed enough to its philosophy and construction method to deserve to be considered as derived from it.
But what about the more under-the-radar cars? Remember the Isuzu Piazza? It was actually quite a good car to drive, not least because Lotus had fine-tuned its suspension, softening the springs but beefing up the roll bars. All the evidence of Hethel’s involvement were ‘Handling by Lotus’ badges on its flanks.
Lotus did much more than merely tune the handling of the 1990 Corvette ZR-1. At the time, both Chevrolet and Lotus were owned by GM, so the latter was given the job of engineering a truly high-performance version, leading to the most radical rethink of Chevy’s legendary small-block V8 to date. Out went the pushrod-operated two-valve heads, replaced by quad camshafts and 32 valves per cylinder, half of which could be switched off if the owner didn’t trust the driver. The result was one of the best ’Vettes ever.
The involvement of Lotus in the DeLorean saga probably deserves a book all by itself, but it’s a story from which no key player, particularly John DeLorean or Colin Chapman, emerge with credit. But in brief, a car intended to be mid-engined and lightweight was so flawed that it had to be re-engineered from scratch – a job handed to Lotus, which rebuilt it around a steel backbone chassis not dissimilar to that used by the Esprit. Underpowered and undeveloped, the result was a dismal failure.
Unlike the Aston Martin Vanquish. It’s only in recent years that the role Lotus played in the creation of this car has become well known, but it could scarcely be more important. I recall thinking when it was new, 20 years ago, how similar in concept its bonded aluminium architecture was to that of the Elise. Now I know why: Aston had lost almost all of its in-house engineering capability (which is why TWR did the DB7), so it simply handed the Vanquish project to Lotus, which developed the simple, lightweight and strong chassis using tech that it by then understood well. And Aston has used it ever since.
Now that Lotus is once again under new ownership, it has a stated aim to rebuild the long-neglected engineering side of its business, so who knows how many cars in future will have Lotus to thank for the way they get down a road – or how long it will take before we find out about its involvement.
Setting out to design something that will become ‘iconic’ is an extremely risky proposition. The status of ‘icon’ used to take decades to earn or was instantly applied to a new product that had received near-universal acclaim.
Indeed, the development of this telephone box was a hard-fought battle after London’s boroughs had refused to accommodate the Post Office’s concrete art deco K1 design. The 1924 competition to design a more acceptable box included the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute of British Architects.
The final design was executed by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott. He suggested making the box out of steel and painting it silver. It went into production made of cast iron and painted red.
You can’t really write a design brief demanding an ‘iconic’ outcome – but that’s what the UK government has set out to do with the roadside EV charger. “Electric vehicle charge points set to become next great British emblem. Iconic British electric vehicle charge point could be seen on streets across the country from 2022,” declared the press release. “Electric vehicle charge points across the UK could become as recognisable as the red postbox or black cab, following the appointment of the Royal College of Art and PA Consulting to deliver an iconic British charge point design, transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced.”
Of course, prime minister Boris Johnson has form here. During his time as London mayor, he started a competition to replace the ‘iconic’ London black cab (a competition won by Geely- owned London Taxi International, now LEVC, with its range-extender model) and, back in 2007, Autocar helped realise his dream of reinventing the ‘iconic’ Routemaster bus before he was elected mayor. I worked with Capoco, one of the world’s leading bus designers, to develop an engineering concept that revived the open rear deck (using a range-extender drivetrain was the key) and presented the idea to him in his campaign office.
He duly became mayor and held a New Bus for London contest. The Autocar and Capoco design was the joint winner, along with a styling proposal from Aston Martin and architectural firm Foster and Partners. The bus eventually entered production in 2012 and about 1000 were made by Wrightbus in Northern Ireland. Whether it becomes an icon remains to be seen.
So, can Autocar help again? Why not? I spent six years training in product design, and it’s an experience that never leaves you (although I practised for only a year or so before fleeing for motoring journalism). Even better, the Autocar staffers have huge experience of all types of EVs and chargers. So I sent out a plea for complaints and observations.
“I could moan for hours,” said news editor Felix Page. “If it’s raining, you have to drag your own cable through the mud and puddles, getting your hands and boot floor filthy. You also get your phone wet scanning any QR codes to pay online.”
Road test editor Matt Saunders agreed on the subject of vulnerability to weather: “You can’t read the screens when they’re wet and the touchscreens are always glitchy. Proper buttons just age better. And the ones that aren’t working don’t make it obvious enough: they need a big coloured light on the top that shows when they’re in use, available or offline and clear labelling that shows their maximum charging rate.”
Saunders also made a plea for two types of charger, installing lots of smaller units for overnight charging and reducing the need to drag a heavy cable across a couple of parking spaces to reach your car. Who has a 20-metre cable, anyway? “And the little ones should be simple to operate: no apps, just swipe your bank card.
Editorial director Jim Holder made an interesting point about post-pandemic hygiene: “The biggest issue is the bloody cables. Eighteen months ago, I would have said that chargers all need to have them so I wouldn’t have to fish about in the boot, but now I think that I would always rather use my own, because it would be as clean as I would want it to be. I wonder if Covid-19 might make that a widespread issue – not that it has stopped us all filling up our cars with petrol.”
Holder also wonders about some kind of entertainment option for those who are committed to an hour or so charging. Considering the trouble with ensuring a good 4G data link when operating connected infrastructure, a charger with short-distance wi-fi might also be essential. Indeed, I’ve experienced this issue when trying to unlock a rental vehicle in a 4G dead zone.
Both Holder and associate editor Piers Ward highlighted that disabled drivers might have trouble manipulating heavy cables.
Which? has also compiled some interesting insights on EV charging, with a big emphasis on making it much easier to pay. It proposed a single payment method, possibly via a universally recognised charging card. It also suggested expressing charging in kWh to make the pricing more transparent. Actual charging speed (which depends on the charging capabilities of individual EVs) was also thought to be a good idea.
What’s my conclusion, then? Well, that ‘iconic’ styling isn’t the most important aspect of a new- generation national charger’s design. As Clive Grinyer, head of service design at the Royal College of Art, said in that government press release, we must design “the total service experience to ensure a usable, beautiful and inclusive design that’s an excellent experience for all”.
That said, I don’t believe that form follows function (unless perhaps you’re designing a fighter jet). There’s plenty of room for good design and great detailing while also making the new charger much easier and instinctive to operate.
So, where to start? I think we must break down the requirements into a number of distinct areas.
● Weatherproofing. There’s a serious problem with wet touchscreens, phones getting wet when scanning QR codes and the significant problem of cables dragging around on wet and dirty pavement, gathering mess that they will soon transfer to hands and boot carpets.
● Eliminating touchscreens and specific apps and making payment as simple as using a cashpoint.
● Giving the charger its own wi-fi provision.
● Clearly indicating that the charger is operational.
● Clearly indicating the actual charging rate.
● Finding some way of dealing with heavy cables.
I might also add a couple of my own observations from people who have quizzed me about buying an EV. A number of female drivers have expressed safety concerns about charging in dark areas or deserted car parks, and it would be a good idea to make it easier to spot a charger from a distance, especially at driving speeds. (In fact, this was one of the reasons the classic telephone box gained backlit glass signage around the top and one of the issues with the 1980s replacement for it. The replacement was a lightweight construction in stainless steel that was so hard to pick out from a streetscape that it was later given an illuminated moulded top in the style of its predecessor.)
With the outline requirements covered, the other main issue is the design and how to achieve an ‘iconic’ result. ‘Icon’ status either takes time or is the result of something truly groundbreaking. Picking up on retro design cues is a good way of bridging this gap. The New Routemaster bus, designed by Heatherwick Studio, has a curved rear window that follows the staircase, which was inspired by the curved staircase on London’s original horse-drawn double-decker buses. Likewise, the Mk1 Audi TT was partly inspired by 1930s Auto Union race cars and managed to reflect the Bauhaus furniture and art deco engineering of that era.
We may be talking about a roadside EV charger, but the retro reference is relatively easy to uncover: original petrol pumps. Aside from the now highly collectable illuminated lamps that used to advertise the brand of fuel, one of the most interesting things about vintage pumps is their very long hoses.
It seems likely that these hose designs were a consequence of fuel fillers being in widely differing positions in early cars – a situation replicated with today’s EVs. Many of the pumps also have swivelling supports for the long and heavy hoses, which would also be applicable today for the weighty charging cables. They’re also nicely detailed and full of period character, most with large, clock-style faces that show the amount of fuel dispensed.
Today’s EV chargers are usually generic boxes made of folded steel and covered in logos. They will never be iconic and do little for neighbourhoods already ruined with street furniture, over-signage and multi-coloured roads. Good product design can do a lot better.
The final consideration for a new charger design is the vital issue of operating it. We’ve heard the complaints about exposed touchscreens and a lack of rain protection. Touchscreens seem unpopular and paying with a bank card needs to be made as simple as when we buy petrol or diesel.
There’s an existing answer for these issues: adopt the keypad and screen design used by millions of cashpoints. These have proved reliable and weather-resistant over billions of transactions. Recessed enough to escape the worst of the rain, the steel keypad is durable and vandal-proof and the screen is bordered by buttons rather than being a tetchy touchscreen. The cashpoint is so familiar to everyone that it would surely be poor industrial design practice to try to reinvent it.
One last idea. Drivers using non-rapid chargers inevitably see their cables dragging across the ground, picking up dirt. In winter, the mess is much worse. It’s something that I experienced a decade ago with my first-generation Nissan Leaf, yet little has since been done to address this issue. Perhaps a simple mechanical cable tie on the side of the charger would allow the driver to tension the cable so it is off the ground before plugging in.
You can see my design proposal brigning all of this together above. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
When people look back at the results of the British Touring Car Championship event at Silverstone in September 2021, the headline will be an impressive weekend for Rory Butcher, who put his Toyota on pole position and then backed it up with a pair of wins on race day.
However, arguably the biggest story from the weekend was the appearance on track of another Corolla GR Sport, as the BTCC’s hybrid test car joined the series regulars in the latest stage of the ongoing development programme for the new electrical system that will feature from 2022.
It was back in August 2018 that the BTCC first announced its plan to introduce hybrid technology, before a tender process was opened the following April to determine who would provide a system that would not only spice up the action on track but also ensure that the series remained relevant in the ever-changing wider motorsport landscape. Later that season, Cosworth was named as the company responsible for producing the system. It set to work on the initial design and build and soon the first BTCC car fitted with hybrid technology hit the track to ramp up the testing process.
A 60V gearbox-mounted electric motor complements the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that has become a fixture of the BTCC and provides drivers with an additional 40bhp power boost that they can use on track over the course of a race weekend.
Track running has been carried out by M-Sport, the World Rally Championship powerhouse that will provide the latest incarnation of the Toca engine that will also come in next year, with a number of drivers – including experienced GT racer Darren Turner and veteran BTCC front-runner Andrew Jordan – taking turns behind the wheel.
“Testing of the hybrid system has gone very well, and we’ve been able to complete a season of running with the car as part of the development programme,” said Neal Bateman, Cosworth’s head of support. “Hitting that mileage was the first target we had, and we’ve achieved that without any major problems and things have run largely to plan.
“Developing the system in Covid times hasmade things challenging to an extent, because we weren’t able to go out and test while in lockdown and we had to learn to work in a different way, but it didn’t have a negative impact on the programme.
“We completed the miles we wanted to complete and had the chance to cycle different drivers in the car to gain their feedback, which has been important.”
The system has been designed to be as simple and straightforward to use as possible, with the battery pack positioned where success ballast is currently located in the car to make it easily accessible and the electric motor incorporated into the Xtrac gearbox that’s used across the grid.
That allows cars to run on electricity only when leaving the pits to start a session and ensures the system is easily incorporated into any car, regardless of which engine is under the bonnet.
“As the gearbox is a spec part, it made sense to incorporate the electric motor in that way,” explained Bateman. “It means that the engine isn’t a big factor, and the only real difference there will be for teams is that the installation will be slightly different for a front-wheel-drive car compared with a rear-wheel-drive car.
We now have a BMW 1 Series that we’re working with alongside the Toyota, and the two will continue to test so we can provide teams with all of the information they require when it comes to preparing for next year.”
A button on the steering is used to deploy the electrical power as and when the drivers wish for a maximum amount of time per lap, and this will eplace the existing success ballast system. That will add a different element of strategy into a race weekend, putting the emphasis on the driver behind the wheel rather than on the engineering team in the pits.
“I’ve really enjoyed the experience of being part of the testing programme and the work that has gone in has been hugely important when you consider that there will be a full grid of cars using this system next year,” said Jordan. “We’re now at the stage where the system is reliable and working as it should do, and we know there’s more to come in terms of performance, because we’re still running safe at the moment.
“As a driver, the system is very simple, as it’s a case of pressing a button when you want to use the extra power, and I’ve no doubt it will spice up the racing. It isn’t like DRS [drag reduction system] in Formula 1, where you can just drive past people, as that isn’t the aim, but more of an exaggerated slipstream where you can get alongside someone to attack.
“If you have a good driver in a good car that’s well engineered, you can work out how to deal with running ballast, but you can’t do anything when it comes to horsepower, so it will be interesting to see how [the hybrid tech] impacts the racing and how drivers decide to use the extra power available.
“For me, I think it’s important that the fans watching don’t see anything different compared with what they see now. There will be something to indicate when the hybrid tech is being used, but as far as fans are concerned, it will still be a touring car and it will sound like it always did.”
“It will hand control back to the drivers a bit more,” adds Bateman. “Whereas now people try to engineer a car around any ballast they’re carrying, with this system it will come down to the drivers to work out where they want to use the extra power and whether they want to use it to defend or attack.
“People will have to take a different approach depending on the circuit, and we believe it will make the racing even more exciting that it is now.”
Arriving at Silverstone with a system that was “85-90% there”, the aim wasn’t to chase a headline-grabbing lap time but to gain more valuable knowledge about the operation of the technology in an environment different to that of the previous tests. Saturday’s running was focused on set-up work and collected further important data before Jordan took part in all three races on Sunday – albeit starting each from the pit lane so as not to interfere with the ongoing championship fight.
With 15 seconds of hybrid boost available, he set the third-fastest lap of race one and the fastest of all in race two, where he secured a best result of 20th place and was able to run well in the main pack. Although an exhaust manifold issue (not related to the hybrid system) resulted in retirement from race three, this latest test was another successful step towards the introduction of the new tech ready for the 2022 season opener at Donington Park in late April.
“This weekend wasn’t about performance; it was more of an operational exercise to allow us to run the car across a race meeting and to follow all of the different processes that a team will have to follow,” concludes Bateman.
“It was nice to see the car running with the pack in the second race in particular, and although performance wasn’t our focus, we can go away from this weekend in the nice position of having had one of the fastest cars. Crucially, Andrew has also been happy and enjoyed the extra boost of power he got out of the corners, so it has been a very positive exercise.
“We are really pleased with how the test has gone and have been able to run the car in race conditions without any issues with the hybrid system. There that have been various things we’ve learned from an operational point of view, and that will all go into the installation manual that we will provide to teams when we start to push the system out to them later in the year.”
Other times the BTCC used alternative fuels
The new hybrid system being introduced into the BTCC for 2022 won’t be the first time that the series has moved from a traditional ICE running solely on petrol or diesel. Back in 2004, Mardi Gras Motorsport joined the grid running a Honda Civic Type R on liquid petroleum gas (LPG). However, it struggled to get the car down to a competitive weight so swapped to a Peugeot 406 Coupé mid-season – although driver John George would still fail to score a point.
Tech-Speed would then introduce bioethanol fuel for 2005 on Fiona Leggate’s Vauxhall Astra, and both Kartworld Racing and WSR would run the fuel in their MG ZS pairing in 2006. LPG returned in 2010 in Arena Motorsport’s Ford Focus STs, with Tom Onslow-Cole and Tom Chilton both winning races and the latter claiming the Independents’ Trophy. A more sustainable fuel will be mandated alongside the hybrid system from next year.
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. I am sitting here awash in the unending platitudes roiling the Internet about the new GT version of the Ford Mach-E crossover. As best as I can determine, judging by the gushing praise being slathered on Ford’s electric crossover, it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the over-the-top verbiage being assigned to the styling-challenged conveyance.
It’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff in this instance, meaning, it’s hard to determine if the commentators in question are just enamored with the first blush of wheeling an EV around, or if they are able to put the usability and performance in perspective with the cost.
One guy who has had plenty of exposure to EVs, certainly enough to put things in perspective, is Mark Phelan from our local Detroit Free Press. In reading his initial review of the $62,185 GT version and the $68,500 Performance version – the one that adds a cool $5,000 for all the tricks – Phelan had this to say:
“The EPA rates the GT at 270 miles on a charge, the GT Performance at 260.
A lot of people pretend the Mach-E GT only competes with electric SUVs like the Tesla X and Audi E-tron. By those standards, its price, power and performance clearly come out on top. But the Mach-E doesn’t live in a fantasy land where everybody drives EVs. Not yet anyway. It also needs to win buyers from sporty gasoline-powered midsize SUVs.
It still pencils out well for performance and value, but like many SUVs, charging time remains a potential issue. Most EV owners do 65%-85% of their charging at home, according to Ford’s data. That’s a clear win for an electric vehicle — owners start every day with a full battery, based on EPA estimates of 10.1 hours charging time at 240 volts.”
Got it, that pretty much sums up the positives – and the negatives – for EVs. But then Phelan’s comments get really interesting:
“The Mach-E’s competitiveness on long highway drives remains an open question, though. Independent tests cite 47-52 minutes to charge to 80% at a 150 kW (400v) DC charger. That’s slower than the best competitors, leaving room for improvement.”
And therein lies the heart of the matter for the transition to EVs in this country. “Leaving room for improvement” is code for we’re not there yet. As in, it’s one thing to operate an EV in the city and in urban environments. I know, I had one – a Chevrolet Bolt EV – and it was certainly capable, competent and unexpectedly, really fun to drive. And I see no compelling reason why an EV wouldn’t work for most motorists for their typical driving needs.
But – and there is a very large “but” in this case – it’s one thing to boast of driving range because that seems to be settling in at over 300 miles on average for most EVs from here on out. And that’s fine, because for most people in urban areas, where they can charge overnight, that should be plenty of range.
But what about 45 minutes to an hour (or more) for a charge on the road, where there’s an added complication looming if the charging stations are occupied, or for some reason not working at the time?
That is flat-out unacceptable. Spare me the argument that goes something like this: “It not all that inconvenient; you can eat, use the restroom, etc., it’s not that big of a deal.” Really? Have you taken a road trip of late? Or, do you want to pretend that all of the driving trips you’ve taken, where the need to get there supersedes the length of the fuel stops, didn’t really happen that way? You’re kidding yourself and it’s unmitigated bullshit too.
The EV thing is great, for a lot of aforementioned reasons and especially for the given realities of urban usage. They will work just fine. But to pretend that charging times aren’t a factor – unless you’re spending well into six figures – is pure folly. Yes, I’ve read countless stories by the EV fanboys about traveling cross-country and how that it is basically “no problem,” but who’s kidding whom here?
I will give you a prime, real-world example: It’s about 375 miles between here and Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, the home of Road America, aka “America’s National Park of Speed.” If you make decent time – and that’s a highly questionable concept due to the never-ending construction along the way – it should take between eight and eight-and-one-half hours to make the trip. And it’s not all that pleasant of a drive until you get through Chicago, which is always fraught with issues depending on the time of day you pass through. Given that, stopping for more than a quick gas stop and maybe a bathroom break is all you want to do. It’s not the kind of drive you want to turn into nine or ten hours in order to charge-up.
This is where the realities of EV driving and ownership come into sharper focus. Everything is shiny-happy when it comes to considering the transition to EVs. The key players want you to believe in the concept, and we’re being promised that it will be a Brand-New Day. And judging by the way this industry is hell-bent on going All-EV-All-The-Time, this is where we’re headed. That’s fine with me – I guess. But until the charging times drop dramatically, this transition is going to be excruciatingly slow.
As for the fact that a lot of auto-journos and wannabe auto journos are canonizing the Mach-E GT and its variations (how ‘bout those prices, folks?) for its performance, let me be crystal clear on this: Just because an EV is blistering fast doesn’t make it a desirable high-performance or track car. I’ve said repeatedly that without the visceral appeal of the sound that goes with contemporary performance cars, the “performance” EVs are a soul-sucking exercise, and there is no amount of computer-enhanced interior audio programs that are a suitable substitute for the lack of those sounds.
For the record, just in case you think I’m piling on Ford’s EV crossover, I drove a Porsche Taycan, and I was so underwhelmed and disappointed that it was painful. Bloated at over 5,000 lbs., the Taycan is about as far removed from the Porsche ideal as you can possibly get. Even with the enhanced cockpit audio that you can dial up, there is no “there” there. And without that, it becomes crystal clear that it’s a soulless conveyance with a Porsche badge and a Porsche price tag to boot. But yeah, people are lining up for them, which is their prerogative, I guess, but “include me out,” as Samuel Goldwyn once famously said.
One more thing, Ford operatives had the Mach-E “Performance” painted in a candy apple-like red for the assembled media. I guess this is supposed to make it a certifiable performance/dream machine, or something like that. But there’s no amount of candy apple red paint that can make the Mach-E anything more than a glorified crossover with a horsey badge.
Instead, it’s a soul-sucking, juice sapping, candy apple nightmare.
And that’s the High-Octane/Electron Truth for this week.
Editor's Note: The Autoextremist needs no introduction. But this week is special. Peter's Rant takes the form of an ode to this particularly fraught time in the business. Strange days indeed. -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
The darkness beckons at 3:00 a.m.A cup or two or three to jump-start meThe news is weird, spinning like a topOn one side, sketchy optimismOn the other, the ugly realityBelieve your eyes, not the stories
On the way to the EV Promised LandThe bumps and grinds and promisesAre getting to be a bit too muchThe Future is starry bright, if we just hang onBut '23, '24, '25?Who has that kind of time?
Flying cars and IPOsTakeovers in the search for more controlThe bootlickers and the shallow menHankerin’ for another pieceElbows out juggling empty lotsSomething tells me we’ve lost the plot
It’s all happeningEverything all the time
The media goes on genuflectin’Not even pretendin’Why bother askin’ when no one’s watchin’?The newly anointed King can do no wrongPay no attention to those flyin’ roofsThey’re just a blip on the way to sainthood
The Sturm und Drang oozesIt’s the Swirling Maelstrom writ largeThe chaos is the juice, or is the juice the chaos?Pay no attention to that PR Man Behind the CurtainThe tongue is forked, the agenda is clearAnd don’t kid yourself, the chips still set the tone
The bad taste is palpableThe wait is long and debilitatingEven Godot has come and goneBut don’t worry, it won’t be long nowWide-open promises, unlimited profitsJust don’t ask when or how
It’s all happeningEverything all the time
It’s all about the content, stupidLeveraging everything that movesThere’s gold in them thar subscriptionsRevenue for the takingStop calling it a car companyIt’s a tech company in the making
Forget about Old SchoolThere’s no future in oldThe sooner we get with the programAnd leave the past behindThe better off we’ll beIt’s as simple as a-b-c
The Wall Street Willies call the shotsIt’s all about what they’re gonna say and doThumbs up and the stock soarsThumbs down and we told you soWhat about the consumers?As long as they’re payin’ their monthlies, who cares?
It’s all happeningEverything all the time
The prognosticators are having a field dayMaking it up on the flyForget about tea leavesNow it’s watching chip dust through an hour glassDo they really know what’s coming?Or are they just spewing by the by?
We’ll get it all sorted outOr so they sayBut who is “they” anyway?What have they ever done to deserveMore than a glance and a glimpseAs we ride on by?
Batteries on the brainCheaper better fasterSmaller lighter longerThe ICE Era is overOr sometime soonIt was a good long run, Baby
It’s all happeningEverything all the time
Too many promisesToo much optimismWaiting for a triggerSo everything comes goodI’ve seen this movie beforeIt never ends well
The hucksters have come out of the woodworkNew companies in name onlyIt’s gonna be greatUntil the inevitable wreckWhen there’s no “there” thereWhat did you expect?
In the meantime the dealersAre hangin’ by a threadThis crisis is messin’ with their headsThey can’t sell what they don’t haveEmpty lots, empty promisesCan we interest you in a ‘17 Lexus?
The darkness hoversJust as black at 5:00 a.m.How can that be?And what have we learned?Nothing new, nothing muchIt’s complicated
It’s all happeningEverything all the time
And that’s the High-Octane Electrified Truth for this week.
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. It looks like the “swirling maelstrom” – aka the auto business as we know it – is slowly but surely grinding to a halt, or damn close, anyway. Sales are down because the microchips are missing in action, and the cars and trucks just aren’t being built.
It’s not like we’re surprised by all of this, however, because if you’ve been around this business long enough you quickly come to understand that you can't get comfortable. But the reality for this town and this region is that this is who we are, and try as we might not want to admit it sometimes, this auto thing is what really matters to us.
We’re not looking for sympathy, because we know what it’s really like to live here and be from around here. We’re a state of mind that’s filled with countless contradictions, and we’re well aware that our history is offset by some lurid realities.
We’ve contributed much to the American fabric, yet we have a historical propensity to make things brutally tough on our day-to-day well-being.
We’ve brought this country a sound like no other, and a gritty, gutty context that’s second to none, yet we’ve created countless problems for ourselves, most all of them self-inflicted.
We created the “Arsenal of Democracy” when our country needed it most, yet we allowed a movement based on fairness to become a disease based on entitlement and rancor.
We’ve contributed much to this nation's progress and standing, yet we can’t seem to get out of our own way at times, which is infuriating and debilitating.
But this isn’t the end, because the story never really ends for Detroit. At least not yet anyway. We know who we are. There’s an exuberance and spirit here that remain intact, through every dip and dive of this giant roller coaster called the auto business.
Editor's Note: Due to the overwhelming response to Peter's column from last week - especially on Twitter - we're going to leave it up one more week. But we have updated "On The Table" with Peter's thoughts on Motor Bella (and a guest appearance from Iggy Pop), and Peter has delivered another compelling "Fumes" column with his description and remembrances of "The Muscle Boys" - when V8 power ruled American sports car racing. And finally, Peter has updated "The Line" with coverage of INDYCAR, MotoGP and NASCAR. A full week. Enjoy! -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. I am the passenger. I am a Technicolor Dream Cat riding this kaleidoscope of life. I’ve seen some things, indeed, more than most. Magic things. Loud things. Fast things.
I once looked up at a ghostly tornado finger drifting overhead in Flint. It was ominous and beyond scary. A lot of people died that day too. But then, a few years later, I saw my first 707 hanging in the sky. It was majestic and powerful. And the Jet Age was on.
I got introduced to horsepower, side pipes and chrome, and I happily got sucked in. Corvettes and 409s, GTOs and Starfires. And Sting Rays. Forever Sting Rays. And in the midst of all that, I bought and rebuilt a Bug go-kart, had the Mac 6 engine rebuilt and hopped-up, painted it bright orange, and spent one summer terrorizing our neighborhood. I dubbed it the Orange Juicer Mk 1, and found out how fast 60 mph felt that low to the ground. It was everything, all the time.
It was good. And hard. And fast.
Woodward wasn’t just a thing. It was Life. In 0 to 100 bursts. It all came alive at night. Open pipes, rumbles and roars, dares and boasts. The drive-ins smelled like burning rubber and French fries. Girls leaned and preened. Boys slouched and crouched. To get a better look. Riding shotgun with my brother, it was a world that called me.
From there, it was riding with The Maestro, Bill Mitchell – our neighbor – in the original Sting Ray racer, thinking it was normal and knowing it was not. But I soaked it all in anyway, and it was just the beginning. There were Mako Sharks, Monza Super Spyders and GTs; and XP-700 Corvettes and XP-400 Pontiacs. And on and on. It was all stunning to look at. And be in. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer, and the sounds were intoxicating.
It was good. And hard. And fast.
And then came the Cobras. All lithe and tiny next to the Corvettes. And a new kind of fast. Blistering, neck-snapping fast. A two-car-length jump off the line fast. Open-top roadsters lurking for a fight. It was the smell of English leather and burning tennis shoes when running the Cobras in the cool of the night. And believe me, there was nothing else like it.
And then road racing came calling. My brother Tony’s driver school at Watkins Glen in June of ’64. In a Tuxedo Black Sting Ray that had been personally massaged by Zora and his troops, complete with straight pipes to install when we got there. Riding on Goodyear Blue Streaks the whole way. The Glen Motor Court beckoned, but the track was the thing. That Sting Ray barked and blurted out speed, and Tony was the fastest man there. There was no turning back at that point.
It was good. And hard. And fast.
Next up was a “A” Sedan Corvair that we flat-towed all over hell and back. Starting out at our local Waterford Hills raceway, and then on to Nelson Ledges, Mid-Ohio, Lime Rock, Vineland, Grayling and even a 12-Hour endurance race at Marlboro, Maryland. But that was just the pre-game.
The real stuff was coming in 1967. We ordered what turned out to be the first of just 20 427 L88 Corvette Sting Rays built that year. I remember when we went to Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit to see the bad-ass Sting Ray for the first time. It had just been unloaded off the truck and it was stunning. We hopped in it just to see, and suspicions were conformed: It was a wild, unruly beast. We dismantled it over a weekend and had a roll bar welded-in, installed a set of American Torq-Thrust racing wheels and bolted-on some OK Kustom headers. We added a few other tweaks and we were off to our first SCCA Regional race in Wilmot Hills, Wisconsin. In “A” Production. There was a 427 Cobra there, too, but it was no match for our Super Sting Ray. Tony won going away. And then it was off to the races, literally: Mid-Ohio, Road America, Blackhawk Farms, Nelson Ledges, Watkins Glen, Daytona.
It was good. And hard. And fast.
And then everything changed. Owens/Corning Fiberglas became our sponsor. And the races got bigger. Twenty-two straight wins in “A” Production, with twelve 1-2 finishes with teammate Jerry Thompson, who would go on to win the National Championship in ‘69. Then it was the major endurance races with GT class wins at Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen. And the Trans-Am series in 1970 with Camaros, and in 1971 with ex-Bud Moore factory Mustangs. And finally, the infamous Budd-sponsored Corvette in 1973, with Tony sitting on the pole at Sebring for the all-GT 12-hour race that year.
They were fleeting moments in time, but they were unforgettable. Pouring a bucket of water over my head after gas spilled all over me during a pit stop at Marlboro. Waking up in the cab of our semi on the Ohio Turnpike in the middle of the night on the way to Lime Rock only to see that my brother was fast asleep as we were running diagonally off the left shoulder and headed for the median. I yelled. We made it. But that was just the way it was back then. No sleep for days on end getting the cars ready – to the point of exhaustion – only to then have to load up and drive to the next race. It was relentless.
Then there was the infamous Pontiac street race in 1974. It was a dubious track at best, with haybales and guardrails offering little protection for the drivers, or the crowd. Tony was passing a slower car during the race and the driver moved over on him. The move forced Tony into some haybales, turned him sideways, causing his Corvette to barrel roll 20 feet in the air taking out a light pole. That impact with the light pole saved him from going into a spectator area of at least one hundred people. I was a fair distance away when I saw a flash of his car going end-over-end (after the light pole impact) down the straightway on Wide Track avenue. I sprinted to get there, only to see the car burst into a fireball. I arrived to see my brother laying on the ground. He had gotten out in time, barely a moment before the car burst into flames. It was only later that we found out that a guy who was keeping the car in Florida in-between Daytona races had removed the check-valve in the fuel cell “to save weight.” Idiot.
Needless to say, that was a dark day, especially since a reporter at the event called one of my dad’s GM PR staffers – my mom and dad were at an outdoor party with his entire PR staff – and informed him that Tony had been killed in Pontiac. (He never saw Tony get out of the car.) My dad’s right-hand man informed my parents that they had to go to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac immediately. They feared the worse, of course. So that was me at the hospital seeing the ashen look on my parents’ faces when they arrived. I took them to see my brother on a gurney in the hallway; he was alert but battered and extremely sore. My parents were relieved, and so was I.
But that was only part of my ride on this kaleidoscope of life. There was the time we built a prototype ’69 L88 Corvette roadster (in black/black, of course) called the “Daytona GT” with the intention of selling customer versions. It was basically one of our racing cars equipped with a few more comfort options. We even got display space at Cobo Hall during the Auto Show to show it off. But the pressures of running the racing team meant that the project was shelved. The Corvette was eventually rebuilt to fully race-prepared OCF racing team specs, given a psychedelic paint job and sold to a German Lufthansa pilot who used it to terrorize local and national racing events over there. But before that all happened, I was tasked with keeping it in running order and exercised. Needless to say, I relished that assignment and I happily terrorized the area with open headers on my “exercise” jaunts.
It was good. And hard. And fast.
Then I veered off on my own and became enchanted with the Porsche 911. I bought a used ’75 911S and proceeded to drive that car all over hell and as fast as it would go. I spun-out once going 100 mph on a two-lane road because unbeknownst to me the shoulder had just been graded and there was dirt all over the road in a left-hand sweeper. I came to a stop with the rear wheels right on the edge of a 20-foot drop. And then there was the infamous late-afternoon run from East Lansing to Ann Arbor that I did flat-out, rarely going below 100 mph the entire distance. I made it to my destination in just under 30 minutes, door-to-door. And it is just as vivid for me today as it was when I did it. Fleeting moments indeed.
And then there was the time during my ad career that I spent shooting commercials at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, for a full week. We were short performance drivers, so I spent the week assisting with the driving while tearing around the circuit for the filming. And if that wasn’t special enough, NATO jets were using the wide-open terrain to practice high-speed, low-level maneuvers. How low? We could see the helmet marking on the pilots as they banked over us at tree-top level. It was a week-long orgy of speed that I will never forget.
The point of all this? I’m still a Technicolor Dream Cat riding this kaleidoscope of life. This column gave you fleeting glimpses of some fleeting glimpses. There’s plenty more to tell and a long, long way to go. And I'm not close to being finished.
It was good. And hard. And fast. Indeed.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
The Autoextremist. March 1976, East Lansing, Michigan.
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Good morning (or afternoon, or evening, or whenever you might read this). We were going to re-run a column this week since I normally do my writing on Sunday and Monday – just to give myself a bit of a Labor Day break – but since we’ve already updated the rest of the website, there’s no reason for me to step away from my keyboard.
Besides, the swirling maelstrom that defines the current state of the automobile business refuses to slow, and in fact, it is picking up speed. Not to belabor the obvious, but the effects of the chip shortage, as I mentioned last week, are actually accelerating. For those who live in and around these parts – as well as in automobile centers around the world – this situation is wreaking havoc on product programs and cadence, dealership infrastructure, and, most important, profits.
I recently took an extended tour and visited dealerships around here, and the reality is shockingly grim. The inventories at these dealerships are nonexistent, and any cars or trucks they do have are either already spoken for or are marked up beyond all recognition. (There are persistent rumors of new, full-size Broncos being marked up $50,000, and although I did not see it for myself, I have heard that it is happening many more times than once. The “first-on-the-block” types never learn, apparently.)
Yes, dealerships are getting very creative – or trying to anyway – by taking orders on new vehicles and assembling low-mile used cars to sell, but who’s kidding whom here? Livelihoods in this industry are at stake, and with this shortage situation threatening to extend all the way to the 2023 model year, the very foundations of this business may be altered permanently.
Think about this for a moment: It has been 75 years (basically since WWII) that consumers in this country didn’t have enough new vehicles available to purchase. We’ve grown accustomed to the constant “sell-a-thons” (thanks, Toyota), holiday sales, end-of-year blowouts, and a kaleidoscope of other sales and promotional gimmicks designed to move the metal, basically since we all can remember. This is simply no longer the case. And the long-term implications? You can count on higher prices, for one, and many fewer “deals,” for another. This industry has salivated at times over the idea of the “no-dicker sticker.” Don’t be surprised if that concept becomes a permanent result from the shortage.
Let’s see, what else is percolating this week? Still basking in the glow of Ram Truck’s big win in the latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, Stellantis operatives are high-fiving as you read this. I don’t put much stock in Power’s “IQ” study, but there’s no denying that Stellantis has made huge strides in delivering quality in the last 24 months, especially after having been near the bottom for many years. I will give them this one. Yes, it is a big, positive deal.
But there are storm clouds gathering on the not-so-distant horizon for Stellantis on another front. And this has to do with the launch of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee L. (In case you were wondering, there’s no “resting on your laurels” in this business. There’s always a burgeoning Shit Show brewing somewhere. -WG.) You’re familiar with this new “big” Jeep, right? It’s the one with the vaunted “three-row” seating, “A Legacy Extended,” as Jeep marketers say. Three-row seating has become the Holy Grail for SUVs in this business (even though minivans do it easily 100 percent better), because manufacturers have come to believe that without this feature they are losing out to the competition.
In some circles, that may be true, even if owners use the third row so infrequently that the extra ca$h wasn’t even remotely worth it. Be that as it may, Stellantis operatives talked themselves into the “need” for a big Jeep.
How is that working out for them? Well, not so great. For one thing, the new Jeep Cherokee L has absolutely zero presence on the road in terms of design. It’s ungainly and brick-like, and its Jeep styling cues come across as being forced, almost strange. The one Jeep dealer I visited was swimming in Cherokee L Jeeps, probably the result of a couple of truckloads being emptied. But the one thing that stood out about them for me is that they didn’t belong being parked next to “real” Jeeps. Whereas the Gladiator made sense, design-wise, the Cherokee L comes off as a “wannabe” Jeep that simply doesn’t belong anywhere near the rest of the brand. Don’t be surprised if the Cherokee L doesn’t take with Jeep customers. And don’t be surprised when shoppers new to the Jeep brand simply go elsewhere. To paraphrase, Dr. Evil: It’s not quite Jeep enough. It’s true, it’s quasi-Jeep; it’s semi-Jeep; it’s the margarine of Jeep; it’s the Diet Coke of Jeep - just one calorie, not Jeep enough.
In other news, the degradation of Mercedes-Benz Design has been an ongoing train wreck for several years now. Except for one spectacular concept presented four years ago – the Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet – Mercedes designers have been on a downward spiral that simply boggles the mind.
The Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet.
In fact, no design group has done less with more than Mercedes-Benz Design. The company’s glittering legacy is being pathetically underserved. The latest evidence? Check out our “On The Table” column this week for a look at the latest EVs from M-B designers. The work is simply appalling, the G-Class concept in particular. Ugh. Memo to Mercedes-Benz honchos: Mediocrity isn’t bliss. If you don’t get a handle on what’s happening and reverse what appears to be an inexorable slide, then you will get what you deserve. (Then again, BMW’s big news from Frankfurt is two electric bikes and a concept for 2040 that left us chilly. As in, WTF? You can see them in “On The Table” as well. -WG.)
And finally, as I’ve often said, it’s the dedication of the True Believers that makes the difference between success and abject failure in this business. Without them, and their willingness to do things the right way every day, these manufacturers would simply fade away to oblivion. Please go to my “Fumes” column this week and read about some exceptional True Believers from this industry’s past. Their incredible legacy lives on.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
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