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Archive for August, 2012

Ugly is in the eye of the beholder

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So is ugliness. Some cars rated as being horribly hideous by one reviewer might have a certain quirkiness that endears the vehicle to other people. So it’s always a little bit iffy when people come up with the lists of the ugliest cars.

The following were ranked as being the ugliest cars of 2012 by Forbes magazine and website. In other words, if your favourite set of wheels is in this list, or if you actually quite like the looks of a particular vehicle, don’t blame me. A few of these had me scratching my head and wondering what on earth these guys were on about. Some I did agree with, of course. But the practical side of me says that there’s more to a car than the way it looks, and if it gets you from A to B comfortably and efficiently, then looks can be irrelevant. And is it really a big deal that you have a car so hideous that it stands out from all the rest of the computer-designed blandness?

So here’s the list of the ugliest cars of 2012, as Forbes magazine and website calls it.
• Acura ZDX: we don’t have this one over here, so don’t go looking for it in our car reviews page

Ford Transit Connect (actually, it looks better than some fridge-on-wheels vans I’ve seen)

• GMC Terrain: another one that we don’t have here, so you’ll be spared the variation on squareness the designers played with

• Honda Crosstour (are these reviewers nuts?)

• Lexus CT 200h hybrid (see above – who’s paying them?)

• Lincoln MKT (again, one we don’t have over in Australia)

• Mercedes Benz R-Class: OK, so it looks like a hearse… which is a good thing if you actually are an undertaker. But is it really that ugly?

• Mini Coupe: well, it certainly isn’t the classic Mini as we know it.

• Mitsubishi i MieV: yes, this one does look a bit weird. The overall silhouette isn’t bad, so maybe the designers will be able to improve on it as the years go by.

Nissan Murano Crosscabriolet: not that ugly in my books, as you can expect an interesting crossover vehicle to look different

Porsche Panamera: hey, I think this one looks quite nice!

• Smart Pure Coupe: Another oddball one, but that’s expected with Smart.

• Toyota Prius V: I now have a very low opinion of the reviewers of the Forbes magazine.

OK, that was one list. And it was rather limited in that it only considered cars that came out this year (and 2012 isn’t even over yet, so who knows what’s coming?). Other lists, such as the one put out by the Discovery channel, have older and uglier ones, many of which were unsafe into the bargain… now that’s ugly.
The list was:
10 Ford Edsel

9 Studebaker Avanti (yes, that’s the front of the car)

8 Chevrolet Corvair

7 Fiat Yugo

6 Ford Pinto (and an absolute deathtrap into the bargain)

5 Chevrolet Vega

4 AMC Gremlin

3 Fiat Multipla

2 Pontiac Aztek

1 AMC Pacer.

It would be fun to develop a list of the ugliest cars in Australia. Personally, that Fiat Multipla ought to be in there. Any other suggestions?

The World's Priciest Car Wash!

The Death of the Car Dealer article last month evoked much comment, including that of ‘Jerry’ who bitterly complained about the ‘farcical dealer delivery charges’, in Australia. This is the item on the invoice usually labeled “Pre-Delivery Charges”.

Cynics call this just an ‘expensive car wash’, so let’s look at what it means and how much we are asked to pay.

Dealer delivery is a real cost and imposition on the new car dealer, as there is work to be done and money to pay out after the car arrives at the dealers, but before you collect your shiny new car.

Work and costs involved include:-

1. Freight charges from the manufacturer or importer to the dealer.

2. Time taken to register the vehicle

3. Affixing the number plates

4. Completing the paperwork.

5. Inspecting the vehicle for faults and imperfections,and doing a full mechanical check.

6. Downloading software and programming electronic equipment.

7. Car wash and detail.

8. Filling it with fuel..

So how much do you think this would cost the dealer?

Let’s see if we can make a fair estimate.

Delivery to the dealer is possibly as much as $500, an hour or two getting the car registered and doing the paperwork, a couple of hours in the workshop, then the body shop and car wash bay for another couple of hours, and that’s about it.

Dealers like to talk about holding costs, showroom expenses, fitting extras, costs of arranging finance and the like, but then we reckon these are covered by the profit margin and commission given to the dealer from the suppliers.

So let’s be generous and say that a reasonable cost recovery (with a bit of profit) could be up to $2000.

However, most new car dealers around the world will incur similar costs, but their charges to the purchaser amount to far less. In the USA the customer is imposed a pre delivery charge of about $750 to $950. It’s slightly less in the UK, and stays around this mark throughout Europe.  But it’s a very different matter in Australia…


We made a few phone calls asking the delivery charges from separate dealers in different states for exactly the same car, with exactly the same specifications.

You don’t need to second guess us, as you can expect a wide variation, but even we were surprised to get quotes varying from a very acceptable $1995 to a serious request to pay and extra $5000!  And this dealer was not alone in asking for more than 150 percent more than some of his counterparts, as one also quoted $4995.

Is this a disgraceful rip off from the unsuspecting purchaser, especially when some salesmen claim that this is ‘non negotiable’.   So is this just another case of buyer beware?

Well, yes and no.

Clearly the car dealer has to make a profit to stay in business, but an exorbitant profit is certainly not justified. Yet it’s a free market, so virtually anything goes, huh?  Yes, and that goes back to negotiating the final deal.   It really doesn’t matter where the dealer makes his profit. It’s the bottom line that really counts.

Let us explain:

Suppose you want to trade your trusty family car for a brand new four wheel drive.
The recommended retail price (excluding dealer delivery and statutory costs, as they say) of the new vehicle is $40,000, but, by the time you’ve paid the dealer delivery fee and on-road costs, dealer A quotes $47000, including pre-delivery charges of $3450.  But dealer B only charges $2250 for pre-delivery (so the total cost is only $45,800).
So you’d go to Dealer B, wouldn’t you?

Of course you would – unless…..suppose dealer A wants to pay you $10,000 for your trade in, but dealer B reckons the best he can give you is $6,000.
Now what?  Well, to hand in your old car for the new one from dealer B will cost you $39,800 (dealer quote of $45,800 less $6,000 trade in).

Dealer A, however, quoted you $47,000 for your new car, but will give you $10,000 for your trade in. That means you’ll pay less, $37,000 versus $39,800, so dealer A should get your business.

The moral of the story is that it is the changeover price that matters. Clearly Private Fleet is well aware of all these dealer tricks, so it’s second nature to us. But it’s a minefield for the private buyer that is unnecessary and unwarranted, and makes what should be a pleasurable and exciting task, frustrating confusing and, all too often, unrewarding.

In fact, it is clearly such an issue to the buyer that regulatory authorities have tried to impose drive-away pricing throughout Australia. But that has its own problems as there are substantial variations in state taxes throughout Australia that make a uniform ‘National Price’ impossible.

‘Drive away- no more to pay’ is another example which can erase the pre-delivery rort, and this is where the manufacturer imposes a final drive away price for a particular car in each state. But, sadly, this only applies to selected cars on the dealer lot.  As we said, at Private Fleet we are very aware of these cost impositions, but that really doesn’t matter to us, as it’s always the final cost that matters, no matter how it’s arrived at. But for the unwary it can be an extra under-the-table revenue maker that just shouldn’t happen.

Do you think that these charges should be controlled, contained and specified by the maker, or should it be a free market?
Have you paid the pre delivery as a ‘non-negotiable charge’? Have your say below.

Keep Your Eyes Open

There are some new vehicles that have arrived or will be about to roll onto showroom floors in Australia.  Some of them are particularly stunning and will end up in the limelight, I’m sure.  Thought I’d let you know, especially if you’re looking to upgrade in the near future.

In another year or so, the brand new Mazda6 with SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY and the SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter gasoline engine will set the roads alight with its award-winning design and efficiency.  Can’t wait!

How about the next-generation Subaru WRX?  A new motor, a nice set of headlights, big wheel arches, big spoiler at the back, a new tail lamp design and a carbon fibre hood set the new WRX apart.  If it’s performance you’re after, then this is the machine.

A new Jaguar F-Type with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine, and possibly a 2.0-litre motor as well, is nearing completion.  Jaguar is making a statement with this one.  Eight-speed automatics with start–stop technology, an aluminium body, and great handling promise to set the new F-type up against the Porsche Boxster and Audi TT-RS.  The platform for this Roadster may also underpin an imminent XF sedan replacement.

If you can get your hands on one… mate, I reckon this has to be the hottest supercar for some time.  2013 will see the new Corvette.  A grunty 5.5-liter V-8 with direct injection and higher compression provide the car’s awesome looks with performance and handling to compete with the latest Ferraris.  Check out the sizzling rear lights and quad exhausts!

From supercar to supersuv, Porsche are on a mission to bring out their new Macan.  Quite apart from the fact that the Macan, quite possibly, will be the best looking SUV in the medium-sized bracket, the performance will be remarkable.  Porsche and Volkswagen continue to push the performance envelope here, and if the current Cayenne models are anything to go by the new Macan will be every bit as quick – as Porsches should be.

Enter the Mercedes Benz CLA.  It will be well worth the wait and will be throwing its weight around as a big BMW competitor.  The car should be rolling around in Australia by 2014.

Another car I’m really hanging out for is the new Peugeot 208.  Very stylish lines, and Pulsion paintwork that changes its colour effects, will brighten up anyone’s day.  Inside the new Peugeot 208 will be a crimson stitched leather interior, stripes and a panoramic glass roof.  Powered by the efficient and responsive 1.6 HDi engine, the Peugeot 208 will be seen about next year.

Because we’re looking into the future, how about I finish with a car that runs on electricity?  Holden’s new Volt is pretty much arrived, and will be an exciting car to drive.  Plenty of zip and clean burning transport are what the Holden Volt is all about.  Inspiring fresh looks, too.

Danger Lurks In Chinese Imports

The automotive press have got stuck into the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for not taking decisive action against Chinese auto makers Great Wall and Chery.

Great Wall is the most successful Chinese brand in Australia, ranking in the top half of all imports, and is continuing to make significant inroads into the Australian market. So, are the press, and the motor repair trade justified in getting het up, or is it just a media beat up?

Let’s look at the facts-and it’s all about the asbestos content in the engine bays of these cars:-
• Asbestos was frequently and almost universally employed in motor vehicles for brake pads, engine gaskets and other parts for many years.
• Use of asbestos was banned for all motor vehicles sold in Australia in 2004
• Ateco imports Great Wall and Chery cars into Australia. They were given ‘written assurances’ that these vehicles complied with Australian design rules (and therefore did not use asbestos) before they signed the import licence agreements in 2007.
• But that was not the case, as it appears that these vehicle did have asbestos in them, thereby contravening various regulations.
• The ACCC was therefore brought into play to determine what action should be taken.
• Repairers called upon the ACCC to issue a full recall and replace all offending parts immediately. That would have cost many millions of dollars.
• The ACCC demurred, instead directing that warning stickers be attached to the offending parts at the next scheduled service- a much more watered down solution that some demanded. The ACCC said that the gaskets were sealed within the engine and presented no risk whatsoever to drivers.

But asbestos is deadly so is the ACCC acting irresponsibly?

The “YES” lobby says they are because the dangers are exemplified in later years when mechanics and possibly handymen owners start to mess around in the engine bay. Stickers may have come off, and owners/mechanics will have a false sense of security as they would be thinking that asbestos is banned, and therefore not a problem.

The “NO”  lobby says that the ACCC has done all that’s necessary, that there is no immediate danger, and that mechanics have become well aware of the handling requirements of gaskets, and current imports of these cars now comply absolutely.

But a wider point of view asks how a car maker can be so unaware of the dangers of its own products and is casting doubts on the manufacturers themselves.
Of course the competitors to these two makers are happy to join in the fray, as there’s no doubt that Great Wall, particularly, is causing them a headache. Breaches with Customs and Border Protection have even been mentioned, and here the fines could be many, many millions of dollars.
We think the bigger picture is at play, that competitors are using every trick in the book to decry Chinese imports, which prompts us to ask how good they really are? Certainly they have a very big price advantage, but are they value for money, do they perform well and reliably?
If you have a Great Wall or a Chery, or you know of someone who has, we’d love to hear from you.
We also want to know what you think of the ACCC’s initiative, so have your say below.

Making Cars The Old Way

The Morgan Automobile Company

 Until Henry Ford developed the assembly line approach to mass production, automobiles were assembled individually by hand. Each part was painstakingly machined, fitted and finished by workers who were more artisans than they were mechanics. Even the body parts were hammered out on wooden bucks and then carefully fitted in place. No two vehicles were exactly the same and parts were not interchangeable. In the early days of the automobile, blacksmiths were the mechanics. Most parts were individually forged and machined with the smith being the only craftsman skilled enough to do the job.

 Along came that Ford guy with his mass production and the world of the automobile changed for nearly all the participants. Modern cars are not only produced where everything is interchangeable, but there are so many electronic “nannies” that they almost drive themselves, too. In fact, there is work being done on a totally automated vehicle that will travel on an electronic roadway while the occupants busy themselves with other tasks while on the way to and from work. For those who to whom the trip is the reason to travel, not the destination, it will be a sad day when most motorways are automated.

 There is still one car manufacturer who has not changed the way they produce cars since the day they built their first car in Great Britain in 1911. Founded by Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan, the Morgan Motor Company is now run by his grandson, Charles Morgan. The company is still independent and still makes cars by hand. Their vehicles sell for between $44,000 and $300,000 USD, depending upon the model and equipment.


The beginnings of a Morgan are carefully assembled wooden frames over which are formed metal structural members. The bodies are individually crafted, fitted and assembled and just like in the early days, no parts are interchangeable with other vehicles of the same model. Every finished car is an individual work of art.


A Morgan purchaser is a special type of motorist. They are an enthusiastic driver who likes to be connected with their vehicle and be aware of the roadway under their wheels. They look forward to winding roads with great anticipation. They appreciate fine craftsmanship and are willing to pay for near perfection. Their friends are also auto enthusiasts and they share stories and the location of interesting stretches of highway on which they exercise their steeds.

Seagull magnets?

The exterior colour of a car presses many a person’s button but I wonder if the colour of a car has any other flow on effects?

Something a little funnier, though.  Britain’s Daily Mail has recorded some results that some scientists have found out about car colour.  Crimson coloured cars are much more likely to be splattered by bird poo!  In a study, the scientists found that 18 percent of red cars were found to be poohed on, compared to just the 1 percent of green cars.  Green cars were the least soiled of the car colours.  I wonder if the red colour of a car spells danger for birds, which results in the bird having a bowel movement.

Silver is a very common colour for a car, and it’s amazing to see the number of times it takes out top spot for colour.  One of the reasons for this is that silver does show off the car’s exterior lines very well.  Choosing a grey car also helps to hide the dirt.  So if you happen to live in an area with a high bird population, either buy a green car for a low hit rate or grey to hide the droppings.  White and red are the worst for displaying bird droppings, though!

To the issue of safety: white cars are safest, so too are yellow cars.  Green, black, blue and grey cars are not so easily seen, particularly in some lighting scenarios.  The colour of your car does play a role on how easily seen you will be on the road.

Now, what about other sorts of grub and the car colours that suit them – or don’t suit them – best.  Let’s take the type of car that’s most likely to get grubby: a 4×4 that actually goes bush rather than just transporting the family around town.  Ideally, the best colours for these would be sort of brownish greens – khaki would be good.  And you do see some green ones around.  However, they tend to be darker green, which shows off all the light coloured dirt and mud.  This may actually be the idea.  Worst colours would have to be white and black.  As many people have said, there are two sorts of dirt: the light sort attracted to dark objects and the dark sort attracted to light objects.  So black and white 4×4 (meaning black ones and white ones; zebra striped Safari styles are good dirt-hiders) are mud magnets.

Trade vans also end up looking shabby.  The ever-popular white van might be great for displaying logos and advertising but if the job involves anything dirty, there’s a chance you’re going to get it on the paintwork.  So maybe white may not be quite so good after all.  This is a good topic to mention a mate of mine who was an interior plasterer.  He couldn’t find a cheap white van – not even a good old bog-standard Mazda van – but saw a dark pink one (Metallic Rose would have been the description if it had been a lipstick) that nobody wanted because pink isn’t the colour for a Real Man. He bought the pink one and is now very recognisable as The Guy With The Pink Van And The Bulldog.  It’s good advertising, I guess.  But white would have suited a plasterer.

The final word?  Well, it really depends on how often you want to head to the car wash or spend time with a bucket of warm soapy water!

The Latest Vehicular Danger: Distracted Drivers

 Five teenage girls were enroute to a school athletic function. They were all chattering away, both with their friends in the car and on their cellular telephones. The driver was even texting to her boyfriend, whom she expected to meet at the game. The car was traveling too fast, but not so fast that the driver couldn’t have reacted in time had she not been multi-tasking. She pulled out to pass a slower moving tractor-trailer just as she was sending a text and ran head-on into a loaded dump truck coming the other way. All five girls were killed, snuffed out before their lives had really begun. The oldest was sixteen and the youngest was fifteen and all were dead.


According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cell phone use is responsible for 28% of the traffic collisions. Many people assume that hand-held phones are the culprit, but testing has shown that regardless of whether the driver is using a handheld or hands-free device, their reaction times are equally diminished. The real culprit is a distraction of any sort. Extensive testing has shown that the human mind is not capable of focusing on more than one thing at a time, despite what busy executives would have you believe. Multi-tasking just isn’t humanly possible, not with full attention to any of the tasks being undertaken. The report says that cell phone users are four times more likely to crash than a driver who is not distracted. Quite simply, driving should occupy 100% of the driver’s attention and any fractional reduction of that is courting disaster.


The younger the driver, the more likely they are to be on their cell phone. Eighty-nine percent of teenagers admitted they used their phones while driving. At that age we all think we are bulletproof and immortal, but we aren’t. Not only do teenagers lack the experience and skills, but they are more likely to be driving distracted. It is more a matter of luck rather than skill, when they avoid a vehicular collision while using their cellular for talking or texting. Thirty-six percent of the teens surveyed admitted to texting while driving. Texting not only distracts their attention, but it diverts their eyes from the road.


Many jurisdictions are banning the use of any hand-held cellular phone while driving. Some of them are even banning all cellular usage by the driver while the vehicle is moving. What is the answer? Should there be a device on vehicles that blocks cell phone use? This would probably not be well accepted by most and viewed as just more governmental intervention in our lives. Much like smoking, everyone knows that it is harmful, but people still light up. But, something has to be done.

Small SUV's Flavour Of The Year

Figures released today by the Federal Chamber Of Automotive Industries (FCAI) reveal that small suv’s are outpacing their bigger counterparts , showing a sixty one per cent increase in sales over last year against thirty two per cent for the whole segment.

Cars in this smaller SUV segment include the Suzuki Grand Vitara, Nissan X Trail, Mazda CX5 and Hyundai IX35.

The sales performances for last month still show the Toyota Hi Lux as the best selling vehicle, followed by the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. Toyota as a brand outsold Holden by almost two to one with Mazda snapping at Holden’s wheels in third place.

Elk Test Strikes Again!

Recently, the Moose Test, administered in Sweden by local publication Teknikens Varld, found another new SUV 4×4 to be wanting. I wonder what the equivalent Australian test might be? Maybe it would be the ‘Roo test’ or the ‘Camel test’ or the “Great Big Bullock test”. Maybe, the ANCAP crash lab might look at the new “Roo Test” as an interesting addition to their testing methods. Hey, it is a valid everyday test that provides a very clear yes-or-no, pass-or-fail result in an emergency situation that could jeopardise a family’s safety.

Unfortunately for Jeep, they were on the receiving end of a failed-to-pass mark. The new Jeep Cherokee was put through a sudden left to right turn at a speed of just under 64 km/h to simulate what a driver might have to do to avoid hitting an elk that might wander onto a country road in the Nordic countries. The Moose Test (or Elk Test) is standard practice in Scandinavia, and recreates a potential danger common in these Nordic countries. The Swedes found that the new Jeep Grand Cherokee failed the test. The new 4×4 nearly tipped over. Jeep’s parent company Chrysler contested the results, insisting that Teknikens Varld had tampered with the results by overloading the vehicle and switching the electronic stability program off.

To make sure that this wasn’t a mistake, Teknikens Varld went back and performed the test again. In fact, they tested the Jeep Cherokee seven times. What resulted was the Jeep Cherokee popped the left front tyre seven times in a row, and nearly toppled over.

Adding some balance, German magazine Auto Motor und Sport oversaw the same test with satisfactory results. Even at relatively high speeds, the new Jeep Cherokee did not tip over and passed the test with flying colours. So maybe Cherokee owners don’t have to panic if they spot a roo in the headlights. However, to be on the safe side, make sure you aren’t carrying half the house up top on the roof racks (it wrecks your aerodynamic efficiency, anyway) and keep the ESP switched on. And your speed down at night in rural areas where roos, camels and cattle are likely to think that the middle of the road is a nice place to rest.

Maybe Australian’s Wheels Magazine might be able to simulate a similar test at their yearly COTY testing. It would be amusing, to say the least. But what are they going to call it?

Highway Manners And Commonsense Rules Of The Road

 Driving is a privilege, not a right. That privilege is granted by the people who constitute the governing body; State, District, Region, Country or whatever. It is granted after the driver applicant has passed written and driving tests showing that they have learned the basic rules-of-the-road, both written and implied, as well as possessing the manual skills to operate a vehicle safely. In some areas of the world, these tests and the driving requirements require a high level of skill and much study. In other areas there is less emphasis on these important lessons, resulting in a high percentage of highway deaths and injuries to young people. Many of these teenagers and young adults make fatal errors before they develop the skills to drive responsibly.


Attention diverting activities are also responsible for many automobile collisions. The advent of modern communication devices is largely responsible for much of this inattention. Texting while driving, talking on the cell phone, selecting music on an i-Pod or the CD player or simply talking animatedly with a passenger are frequently the causes of vehicular mishaps. Eating is another diversion that infringes upon the safety, as is involvement with the children in the backseat. In short, a driver should be focused on driving and little else.


“Drive Friendly, Courtesy is Contagious,” was a safety slogan of the State of
Texas, USA, during the 1970s. It made people aware that they weren’t alone on the highway and they should extend courtesy to other drivers. In return, other drivers were influenced to extend courtesy to others, and so-on down the line. Common courtesy goes a long way towards preventing “road-rage,” an action that leads to intended collisions or other automotive mischief. Check out the attached link to a film clip of what a lack of courtesy did to a couple of drivers in Russia, a country that is just now experiencing the frustrations of traffic backups and gridlock at intersections.


The clip is funny in a sense, but illustrates graphically how a lack of courtesy grows into outright maliciousness.


Many years ago, Walt Disney Studios produced a cartoon about drivers and their personality changes that occurred when they took the wheel. The main character is a mild-mannered guy (Goofy) who becomes a raging demon behind the wheel. His normal courtesy and hesitancy vanishes and in a Jeckel and Hyde transformation, he becomes a red-eyed monster when he gets into traffic. He cuts people off, races away from traffic lights and is a poor, inconsiderate driver in general. Of course this activity ends up in a collision.


The Disney cartoon is intended to be both funny and informative. It is both, with the red-eyed driver being a parody of what really happens on highways throughout the world. So, when you get behind the wheel of your ride, think a little more about your actions, be more attentive to your driving and what is going on around you and you’ll probably survive to drive again.