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Archive for September, 2013

Men and Women Drivers: Does The Gender Gap Actually Exist?

From time to time – but less often than we did in the past – you hear people making snarky comments about “women drivers”.  This has always puzzled me. Do women really drive differently from men? Is there are gender difference in the way that people treat their cars?

This is far from being scientific research, but I reckon that the answer is no, not really.  Sometimes, it seems as if everything I’ve read about gender differences in driving conflicts with what I’ve actually experienced or seen.

What I’ve read: Men are more aggressive and competitive when they drive.

What I’ve experienced: The majority of guys driving aren’t all that competitive or aggressive.  The majority of drivers aren’t aggressive and competitive. Yes, you get the odd berk who overtakes everything in sight just to get to the traffic lights two seconds in front of you, but as far as I can see, these people can be either gender.  I’ve even given in to the odd competitive urge myself… like that time that I was waiting at the lights and noticed that the car beside me was an orange HSV. I have a soft spot for Fords, and orange is my least favourite colour, so if the road hadn’t been so busy, I probably would have turned the green light into a chance for the great rivalry to continue between the blue oval and the lion.

What I’ve read: Women have more of an emotional attachment to their cars and treat them more like pets, while for a man, a car is a glorified power tool.

What I’ve also read: Men have more of an emotional attachment to their cars – “boys and their toys” – while women just want something that goes from A to B.

These two statements are mutually exclusive, so it’s probably best to say that some people have an emotional attachment to their cars while others do not.  It also depends on the car itself and memories associated with the car.

What I’ve read: Women get distracted more easily because they are more likely to text while driving and because they use the mirror to check their appearance and/or apply makeup.

What I’ve experienced: If you can see your face in the rear view mirror while you’re driving, it’s in the wrong position. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of my woman friends applying any sort of cosmetic while driving and I certainly haven’t done it myself. Not even at the traffic lights when I know from experience that I’ve got at least a minute to wait.  Idiots who text and drive are just as likely to be male as female, judging by the ones I’ve had to dodge recently. And as for women being more distracted in general, well, those billboards featuring bikini babes we see all over the show aren’t going to be much of a distraction for a straight woman, are they?

What I’ve read (quite recently, in fact): Men are more likely to honk the horn at other drivers when ticked off, while women are more likely to swear or give the one-fingered salute.

What I’ve experienced: If you’re dodging some idiot who has decided that the give way laws don’t apply to them at the moment, then your main focus is going to be on avoiding a collision rather than using your hands to give someone the big finger or to find the horn (I always end up hitting one of the cruise control buttons by mistake). Applies to either gender.  You might give some exclamation along the lines of “Oh, crap!” to give a printable example.  Again, applies to both genders.  By the time you’re out of the situation, it’s too late for either the horn or the hand, as the twit who forced you to jam on the brakes has vanished, so muttering comments about him/her is the only option left.

What I’ve read: Men are more mechanically adept than women and are more likely to take care of their cars.

What I’ve experienced: This is probably more a matter of training than actual ability. Most of us considering buying a new car today grew up when the “girls can do anything” movement was just getting underway and girls just weren’t taught mechanical bits and pieces, same as guys weren’t taught how to sew on a button.  The reasons for this are obscure, as people from the World War 2 generation knew perfectly well that women could fix and make machinery.  It’s changing again, with more and more girls and women being taught the basics of car maintenance and DIY.

What I’ve read (and this would have to be the stupidest claim of all): Men invented cars in the first place, so they’re necessarily more interested in them, are better drivers, etc.

What I’ve also read: While Herr Benz invented the horseless carriage and the internal combustion engine, it was his wife (no, she wasn’t called Mercedes Benz – her name was Bertha) that actually took the invention out on the road to show the world how easy this invention was to drive. And she did her own repairs on the road, inventing brake linings on the way.

In my opinion, there aren’t gender differences when it comes to driving. Personality differences, yes.


Ship Out Or Else: Holden Told To Increase Exports

holden_logo_01New Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has given Holden a blunt piece of advice: export more if you want more support. With the red lion brand finding public support dwindling thanks to its near sighted attitude, it’s advice Holden itself are probably well aware of.

Macfarlane has said he’d like to see Holden with an export rate of around 30%; currently the numbers are 17% against Toyota’s 72% which begs the question: are Toyota making a better product or have a better export market situation? The local arm of General Motors has tried exports before and currently has the Caprice being sold into the US as a Caprice policepolice vehicle.  It was also sold into the Middle East successfully yet doesn’t appear to have been continued as a market, with the exchange rate a telling indicator. In 2005 Holden shipped out over 60, 000 vehicles to the US and Middle East, about 38% of its production. Aiding that was having the dollar buying just 71c US. Now it’s more in the region of 95c…. Counting against Holden currently is the economic value of the dollar, plus the expectation that, from 2016 onwards, the two vehicles it will build here in Australia will also be built for and by overseas markets, further cruelling a long term export market.Toyota loses around $2500 on each Camry exported but, crucially, with such a high number of imported Toyotas sold, makes that back on those imported sales. MacFarlane says: “I know (Toyota is) doing it at a loss, I’d like to stop that happening,” said Mr Macfarlane.“But that shows real dedication to me to Australia. That’s what Toyota are about.” Toyota has also just completed its one millionth export Camry.

Holden is also copping flak for importing wheels from the US for its high end Redline models whilst ROH Wheels, once a major supplier and Export Toyota Camrylocated just 25 kilometres from Holden in Adelaide sits waiting. Toyota sources all of its rolling stock from ROH; Holden insists it’s to do with the higher than expected demand for their new VF Commodore and, in particular, the Redline, as there’s now a three month waiting list. It’s also better news for the struggling company, with demand for the Commodore firmly placing the range into the top five sellers in Australia.

Another issue with Holden is the increasing non local componentry in the Commodore; the Falcon is 70 percent locally supplied whilst Toyota is 65%…the Commodore is around fifty percent whilst the success story that is Cruze is even lower, at just 30%. In just the last week, a number of staff from Holden’s purchasing and admin sections were let go and this is on top of a number of design and engineering staff at about the same time. Coming into play is the new government’s forthright attitude and its confirmation of restructuring car industry funding. Says Mr Macfarlane:  it will make good on its pre-election promise to cut $500 million from the $5.4 billion set aside for car manufacturing industry assistance.“We’re not giving back the $500 million, so I’ve got to come up with a solution there,” said Mr Macfarlane. “And then we’ve got to have a long term plan which will be ‘The End’, in capital letters, in black, six feet high, ‘This is all we’re ever going to give you’. That’ll be the end. I won’t be seeing car companies after that.”

It’s not shaping up to be a smooth road for the red lion.

Tasmanian Sojourn: How Does The Southern Isle Drive?

Constitution Dock, HobartMy spouse works for a university and has a role which requires her to attend interstate conferences. Last week it was a ride to Hobart; three days of work then a bit of down time.

Day one: arrival on a cloudless Sunday and hotel right next to Constitution Dock (finish line for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race). Do the basics of unpacking and walk around the immediate harbour precinct; some wonderful fish and chips (bad luck if you’re a vegetarian seeking anything other than fried potatoes though, as my partner is) and a topless double decker bus ride around to Wrest Point, to the base of Mt Wellington and the Cascade Brewery, through town and back to the harbour. What becomes increasingly obvious is Hobart is a living museum, locked in a time bubble with regulations forbidding development and buildings of a residential nature past a double storey. Being Australia’s second oldest city is one thing, making it look like a time traveller’s paradox is another.

An odd piece of road design has the main north western entrance streaming past Constitution Dock, leading to Hobartian gridlock morning and afternoon. I say odd as it is right next door to what is the town’s main tourist attraction, in real terms and having to wait for traffic that should be a block or two away isn’t tourist friendly. Having said that, at least the delay between greens and reds and turns is minimal to NSW’s laughably titled “world class system”. Sadly, Hobart is even more infected by colour blind drivers than the rest of the country, with eight of ten drivers having no idea what an amber or red light stands for, to the detriment of pedestrians that thought they were safe to cross….

20130918_144539Come Wednesday lunchtime (whilst the boss was at work, the kids and I had visited the Cadbury factory, overrun with American OH&S laws and a trip to a wildlife refuge), after solid rain since Monday and no chance to visit the 1200+ metre peak of Mt Wellington as a result, it’s a lazy 90 minute drive to Port Arthur. The one thing about maps, which brings to mind the old stories about tourists visiting the mainland and going “it was only this far on the map (spreading finger and thumb)” is that everything really isn’t that far away. Cold, wet and grey skies dominate the landscape and here is another sign that the insiduous desease of bad driving has clearly spread to our southern cousins; no one, but no one uses headlights if they are locals. Our hire car, a Nissan X-Trail (thankfully upgraded from a what would have been too small i20, with petrol and CVT box), with a West Aussie trained driver at the wheel, has lights ablaze, only to be greeted by confused Tasmanian faces.

Port Arthur itself, a marvel of convict construction, is probably best seen when it’s not being covered in Niagara Falls….sadly, poignantly, there’s  no apparent acknowledgement of those that lost their lives during the mass shooting in 1996 with that absence overshadowing what we should have felt. The roads themselves are generally well built and maintained, plus there’s a welcome reliance on the driver to be more aware of road conditions on hillside roads in some areas by having only the vertical reflector posts rather than the crash barriers automatically expected.

20130919_155126Thursday morning, still wet and the schedule is to drive to Cradle Mountain. Due to a minor navigational hiccup we end up heading north on the highway to Launceston rather than the planned route through the mid western coast. Again, the roads are easy to drive, causing the X-Trail no issues although I had switched it into torque-sensing 4WD for the expected wet roads. The highway to Launceston is not particularly engaging until we head west, south of Devonport, with the spectacular bluffs of the Mt Roland and Gog Ranges in view. Unfortunately the route taken takes us north and out of view of the beautiful Lake St Clair but leads into some tight and steep roads through the quaintly named Mole Creek before finally arriving in 5degree air temps and Cradle Mountain.20130920_090014 The X-Trail has performed well; two adults, two kids and probably 70kg of luggage for around 570kms from the unleaded fuel. Cars passed: not that many. Cars with headlights on: not that many. Cars of a dark colour: just about every one. Safety factor:….ummmmmmmmm…..

Friday morning; it’s back down to the Cradle Mountain view point at Dove Lake as it’s a clear and almost cloudless day; it’s a spectacular sight but the wind chill precludes a planned walk. To drive to the lake, the authorities have put in place a 40kmh limit along a 8km long road most of one lane. It’s smart, simple and effective but surprisingly not to do with traffic control, as a night time animal spotting tour the evening before confirms. It’s solely to do with minimising animal fatalities, with wallabies, possums and “paddy melons” (a almost kangaroo version of a quokka) plus the declining Tasmanian Devil population finding their lives ended by vehicles. A quick visit to the Tasmanian Devil refuge just up the road, an effort to help stem the shocking facial tumour disease that’s decimated a terrible 80+ percent of the island’s devil population shows them as they are; a surprisingly cute, almost puppy like creature curled up in the morning sun.20130920_100616

Most of the state limit is either 100 or 110 kmh; that’s most comfortable enough with the roads generally not straight enough on the western side to offer a higher velocity, whilst the highway north to Launceston clearly had room to increase. From Cradle Mountain, to Burnie, across to Devonport and finally Launceston (with a diversion to the cataract chair lift ride on the western fringes, plus a Devon Tea shared with the 20130920_153700_LLSnumerous peacocks and peahens) was a leisurely drive, along some quality surfaces. For the most part, Tasmanian roads are smooth, maintained and ask the driver to be aware of the conditions and take responsibility for their safety. A noticeable not quite downside is having a sign, say 300m before a turnoff alerting you to a potential sight to see….yet no sign AT the actual point you were meant to turn and the distances certainly weren’t always accurate….Another noticeable lack was police or highway patrol cars. I genuinely don’t recall seeing one until Friday evening coming into the airport at Launceston where JetStar lived up to their reputation with another two hour delay….

Mainland drivers should visit Tasmania, to experience a less restrictive, less “nanny state” way of doing things. For example, the road to/from Port Arthur and up to Cradle Mountain encompasses plenty of areas where there’s no speed advisory signs nor crash barriers. You, the driver, are expected to do what a driver SHOULD be doing: be aware, drive to the road and the conditions. The downside is the lack of genuine safety enforcement, not just in Tasmania but Australia wide, when it comes to wet road situations. Using headlights and indicators is a basic safety function, as is stopping for red lights. The argument for speeding as a revenue raising exercise is fair yet, mitigated somewhat, by the fact that there’s no police action on other safety aspects which WOULD also contribute to revenue. Currently, NSW’s stance on non-indication is 2 demerit points and $140 per infraction; if policed as a safety initiative it would be a massive contributor to the coffers, yet……

One final point of note: the Government provided indication signs with two markers; one each for a fatality or a crash, each clearly defined. Thankfully and welcomingly, we didn’t see many at all….so, perhaps, apart from the lack of regard for other drivers under dark skies, there may be safer drivers in Tasmania due to the lack of other over policing….

Why The Motor Racing Industry Is Better Than The Yacht Racing Industry

I guess a few of our readers will have been taking at least a passing interest in what’s been happening with the America’s Cup yacht race and the attempts of Team New Zealand to get the Auld Mug down on the right side of the equator, even if it’s not coming back to Australia… yet. Back in the 1980s when the Americas Cup race was held in Fremantle, the yachts looked a lot different to those catamarans with hydrofoils they have today.

And that got me thinking about the motor racing industry. It’s time for a small rant.  You see, a lot of the things that designers and engineers tinker about with and fine-tune in racing cars eventually find their way into regular production cars driven by the average Joe and Jane Smith. More and more cars these days are tested on racing circuits to make sure that their handling’s perfect (the Holden VF Commodore and its recent feats on the Nürburgring circuit, for example).  Paddle-shifters and carb-fibre components were the sole preserve of racing machines, but now they’re everywhere. Even something as simple as a spoiler – back in the 1980s, you hardly ever saw a regular car on the road with them, even though you did see them on racing cars. Nowadays, lots of cars incorporate them into the design.

The racing industry has been good for drivers in general. It’s been a way for designers to make cars – all cars, not just race cars – lighter, stronger, safer, more fuel-efficient, more powerful and more responsive.

However… the yacht racing industry.  Most sailing boats I see look pretty much the same as they did back in the 1980s or even before. Now, with all the emphasis on being environmentally conscious and using renewable resources and all that, wouldn’t you think that somebody somewhere would be interested in making water transport more eco-friendly by going back to using wind power but with all the added technology they’ve developed for yacht racing?  Doesn’t somebody else want to use the sort of thing we see on the racing yachts put onto other craft?

Some people might question the demand for using this sort of technology on a yacht, as there’s no commercial need for sailing boats like there is for cars. However, there are water taxis, coastal patrols, tourism operators and light fishing boats – to say nothing of the pearl industry up in the north of Western Australia and Northern Territory. These still seem to use regular motor boats… but there’s no real reason why they couldn’t switch to eco-friendly wind power when you really come down to it.  I heard a commentator on the America’s Cup say the other day that they could generate 700 hp (that’s 512 kW) from cleverly designed sails in those racing boats. Your typical outboard motor gets about 150 hp, while larger ones as seen on water taxis might have two 250-hp engines. More powerful and much more fuel-efficient… sounds like a winning idea to me. Heck, if there was some means of getting a car’s engine from 250 hp to 700 hp without using any extra fuel, we’d all be demanding it and probably getting it, too.

One could argue that wind-powered means of transport are dependent on weather conditions. But aren’t we all? Ever slipped on ice while driving? Ever felt a strong wind buffet you or create a bit more drag?  Ever had to slow down because the rain was so strong that you could hardly see, in spite of the best efforts of your windscreen wipers? Cars are affected by weather conditions, too.

The motoring industry is doing its bit for the planet, playing around with alternative fuels, hybrid engines and electric vehicles, as well as making petrol-powered things work more efficiently, and what’s been learned on the race track has helped these efforts.  The airline industry is also getting on board with improved design features and even fuel types. But what about the marine industry?

I’ll close by saying that I’ll be overjoyed if I’m proved wrong and there are some operators who are using wind-powered boats on a commercial basis somewhere.  Let us know.

1980s corolla





Toyota Corolla in the 1980s and from 2013: spot the little additions from the race circuit?

Should Petrol Cars be Banned?

Should petrol cars be banned?

The UK’s Liberal Democrats have recently proposed that petrol and diesel cars be banned from the country’s roads by 2040. The idea that any nation could be using vehicles fuelled by alternative fuels by 2040 seems like a very remote possibility and Australia is no exception. As of 2011, there were almost 12.5 million passenger cars, with New South Wales and Victoria making up around two thirds of that figure. The environmental necessity of replacing these vehicles has seen many potential solutions offered, from the sensible (better public transport) to the weird (dolphin-shaped cars) so we asked ourselves the following questions: what are the possible alternatives to petrol and diesel cars; and will they be any better for the environment?

Electric Cars

The electric car has some way to go if it is ever to usurp the petrol car. But Evans Electric in Australia has come close to perfecting the electric car. The problem with the idea of running on electric cars is that recharging batteries the raft of batteries will be so much more time-consuming than just filling up at the pump. Evans Electric has designed more energy efficient in-wheel engines which bypasses the need for gears and transmission and deploys energy into each wheel as required. They also generate a nifty 800-horsepower and 1250nm of torque.

electric car

Ammonia Engines

New Scientist recently published an article discussing whether ammonia is the future of clean fuel? When burned it produces nothing but water and nitrogen, the most prevalent gas in the atmosphere. However, production of ammonia itself is highly energy-intensive to produce and involves burning a fossil fuel to produce the hydrogen necessary to react with nitrogen. It accounts for the somewhere between 2 and 3 per cent of the world’s energy budget. Ammonia has been used as a fuel during World War II and as one component fuel of the X-15 supersonic aircraft, however it is much less powerful than petrol or diesel and would not work in standard, Otto cycle engines on the market.

More hybrids

This is a much more realistic vision of the future. As if to quash the dreams of the Liberal Democrat party, Exxon Mobil, the world’s richest company, has predicted that by 2040 half of all new cars will be hybrids. The batteries for hybrids, much like for full-on electric cars, add a significant amount of weight to the cars. This is where the experts come in: nine European manufacturers are developing energy-storing body panels which will charge faster than conventional batteries and reduced the weight of car by around 15%. Toyota is also researching body panels that would harness solar energy and store it.

The big question is what will happen to all the current vehicles if petrol is banned in the future. Will governments have to subsidise the retrofitting of electric or ammonia engines to petrol cars? And unless these measures were employed in China and the US it’s doubtful we’d see a dramatic change in the environmental impact of motoring. For now we’ll just have to make do with our petrol cars.

What do those lights mean…?

Do you know what those dashboard warning lights mean?

There are currently more than 15.5 million drivers on Australia’s roads. While a growing population expects to see an increase in motorists, it doesn’t necessarily expect to see an increase in traffic accidents. But that’s what has happened. Research shows that by June 2013 19.6% of motorists had been involved in at least one accident, a figure up from 18.7% in 2008.

Another recent survey conducted in the UK has found that 98 per cent of motorists don’t know what all the dashboard warning lights mean. With most of the accidents coming from new and old drivers, we ask whether being unfamiliar with or forgetting the signals your car gives you can lead to more accidents.

It shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise that people don’t pay much attention to their dashboard. After all, when was the last time you picked up your car’s manual? And, if memory serves, it’s not as though driving instructors are required to take learner drivers through the meaning of dashboard indicators. Most of us simply pay attention to the fuel level indicator and, it seems, rarely wonder what the other symbols represent, assuming that it’ll be self-evident.

The problem has been compounded by a lack of consistency among car manufacturers, with only 12 dashboard warning symbols being the same across 15 of the most popular, recent models. The Mercedes E Class has the most warning/information lights, with 41, and the least was the Volvo S40’s 21. Many of these correspond to newer functions from air-conditioning options to sat-navs.

In another survey conducted by the British Car Auctions (BCA) it turned out that over 20 per cent of drivers had ignored warning lights and decided to address the problem later in the journey. Five per cent admitted to hoping it would eventually switch off of its own accord and six per cent of motorists had gone more than a month without checking a warning light.

Clearly, for the well-being of your vehicle and your safety on the road it’s a good idea to know the most common symbols. Check that you’re aware of the following problems and their corresponding symbols and you’ll be a good deal safer on the road:

Brake System – This is usually indicated by an exclamation mark within a circle. It will automatically illuminate when the handbrake is engaged but should disappear when it is released. If not, it could indicate low brake fluid level or something more serious. Any issues with the braking system should be checked out immediately.


Battery – This is usually indicated by a square with a positive and minus signs. If the light illuminates, it means your car will not be able to travel much further as the battery is no longer being charged. The reasons for this are usually a broken alternator belt, a failed alternator or a faulty battery terminal.battery

Tyre Pressure – Very few people can recognize this symbol: it resembles a bulging tyre with tread at the bottom. Lit-up, it indicates low pressure which can be dangerous, especially when travelling at high speeds. You should stop at the nearest services to put air in your tyres.tyre

Coolant temperature – Indicated by a symbol that resembles a thermometer sitting in a liquid. If you see this warning light illuminate, your engine could be in danger of overheating. This is a problem that requires stopping straight way as overheating an engine can cause irreparable damage.coolant

Tips For Long-Distance Driving

Australia has well over half a million kilometres of road, so we’re lucky enough to be able to answer the call of the road and just head out to drive and drive and drive. It’s a road trip paradise, where you can drive through 35 degrees of longitude (or three time zones) without any hassles with passports and visas and all the rest of the palaver involved with driving long distances in places like Europe, where 35 degrees of longitude will take you through a minimum of five countries (the route that covers this many lines on the map crossing the least borders will take you through France, Germany, Poland, Belarus or Ukraine and Russia).

Some people go on long road trips for fun – for them, the trip there is part of the holiday or even the holiday itself. For others, it’s more of a necessity, as their job requires it, or the family is so big that it’s cheaper to shove everyone in the Honda Odyssey and drive from A to B rather than flying.  But no matter what your situation is, it pays to be prepared and possibly even to change your driving style.

  • If possible, don’t drive alone. Have someone with you who will be able to share the driving or, at the very least, help relieve the monotony of the more boring bits of scenery by talking to you, or scream loudly if you look like you’re falling asleep at the wheel.
  • Stay hydrated.  No matter how good your air-con system is, you are going to need fluids. It’s a mistake to limit your fluid intake while driving long distance so you don’t have to stop to pee all the time.  If you’re dehydrated, you may end up making dumb decisions. OK, don’t guzzle vast quantities but don’t underdo it.
  • Plan to stop for a break here and there rather than doing it all in one long bash.  Have a look at the map before you set out and have a think about where would be a good spot for a break. However, your stops along the way don’t have to be at settlements – you can stop in the middle of nowhere and admire the sheer expanse of the world.
  • Fatigue is your enemy, especially on a long straight stretch of road.  Taking breaks and sharing the driving can help relieve the fatigue, but there are a few other tips that help. Avoid eating carb-heavy meals, as these often make you feel sleepy. Also don’t use some driver aids such as cruise control, as if you’re more active in your driving, you’re less likely to nod off.
  • Caffeine is a double-edged sword. It may make you more alert but it will also stimulate your bladder.
  • Be prepared for the worst. If you broke down in the middle of nowhere, would you be able to cope?  Pack more water and food than you think you are likely to need just in case. A jerry can full of petrol/diesel in the boot wouldn’t go amiss as well, especially if you’re doing the Nullabor.
  • Choose your music wisely.  A long-haul drive is not the time for slow, relaxing music, as this may soothe you off to sleep, especially at the end of the day.  Go for the faster and more upbeat music, or else keep your mind stimulated with a talking book.
  • If you start feeling tense and achy in your neck and shoulders, sleepy, hungry or desperate for the lavatory, stop, even if you haven’t reached your planned stopping point.
  • Let someone know your estimated time of arrival (approximate) and the route you’re taking so if something goes badly wrong, they’ll know when and where to start looking.
  • Try not to drive long distances at night, especially if you’ve been driving most of the day. The road is even more hypnotic at night, with the constant, regular flash of the centre line and the cats-eyes and little else to look at… a sure-fire recipe for getting into a trance state.
  • Better late than never. You are not in a race, so don’t try to beat the “official” time suggested by the AAA (e.g. 1 day and 16 hours non-stop for Sydney to Perth).

FBT: Post election

Abbott car industryNow the Federal election is over and the Coalition have taken pole position, Tony Abbott’s declaration that the mooted changes to the Fringe Benefit Tax will not go ahead is now ready to be checked. And, seemingly, this is the case, according to a communique dated 3 September, four days before the election.

A letter sent to the Australian car industry, its employers and employees associated with it, appears to confirm the Coalition’s determination to not go ahead with any modifications to the Fringe Benefit Tax, as it stands; part of the letter states: “…we encourage all stakeholders, including employers and employees engaged in salary sacrifice programs, to urgently and immediately return to normal trading activity in order to repair the damage done….” and: “…we want to acknowledge the role the leasing and salary packaging industry plays in assisting with new car sales, generating demand and, therefore, generating jobs.”

calculator-image-clipart-9With a marked and measurable slowdown in sales and yards full of cars that were ordered and cancelled, the car finance and leasing industries can look forward to a settling of the market and resume the trading levels experienced over the last couple of years. It also has to be said that the reaction of the car lease industry, with the changes not put into legislation and, for the most part, really only put forward as a change should Labor had won, could be seen as a huge overreaction and ultimately a back ended scare.

Since the change of government, car leasing firms have been rehiring people stood down prior to the election and interest in purchasing fleet vehicles has increased. Danny Wilson, from leasing company NLC said: “We started 23 people back at work this week and we’ll keep an eye on demand, and if that keeps getting stronger we’ll keep improving our staffing levels,” he said.”We saw sales start to return almost immediately after the election – even from the Monday or Tuesday.


”We’re below what we’re normally projected to be at this time but I think we’re trending towards that 75 to 80 per cent mark. In terms of the sales levels, it does take some time for those to work through your system, but in terms of our inquiry levels, we’re up to that 75 per cent mark.”

What has also come out of the change of government was this simple observation from Leigh Penberthy, the President of the Australian Salary Packaging Industry Association: ”With the Liberal government now in place, there is no new law to be passed because there were no changes made to the tax law,” he said. ”Effectively, it’s now pretty much as it was prior to July 16, and I guess the industry has got to get back on with business.”

Simple really; the expectation was that the Coalition would win plus there was no actual legislation put forward, voted upon and passed/denied by the government. Sadly, it has come at an industry cost with Falcon and Territory sales collapsing even further and this is being seen as a contributing factor to the company’s decision to close local manufacturing down. Regardless though, let’s hope it is a return to business as usual.

The Logic of Logbooks

There’s been a lot of furore about the changes to the Fringe Benefit Tax rules – what’s it going to do to the car sales industry, what it’s going to mean for companies who want to retain their employees, what it’s going to mean for the economy in general and so forth. My fellow-blogger Dave has posted quite a few very informative articles on the topic ().

However, let’s have a wee think about the small implications. Not the big ones that discuss whether or not the changes in the rules will affect what’s left of the Australian car manufacturing industry but the ones that affect what you and I will have to do if our company is going to provide us with a novated lease under the new system.

One of the key changes is that when it comes to tax time, you can’t just say that 20% of the kilometres driven were personal and the rest were for business.  We’ve all got to use log books.  A lot of people were already on the logbook method for cars dished out as part of a salary package. If you’re one of these people, you’re probably not going to notice a lot of difference, if any.

The idea behind the logbooks is that some people – OK, make that a lot of people – were using their cars for way more than 20% of the kilometres driven for personal business. This meant that they were paying less fringe benefit tax than they really ought to.  The whole idea behind tcalculator-image-clipart-9he changes was meant to close this loophole so people who weren’t on the logbook system paid a fair amount of tax.

The good news is that keeping a logbook isn’t all that hard.  All you have to do is to write in the date of the trip, the purpose of the trip (which you can shorten down to “business” and “personal” rather than trying to fit in “taking Amy to Sarah’s birthday party and picking up a roll of wallpaper from the hardware store on the way back”) and the odometer reading at the end of the trip. Then you have to work out how many clicks the trip took by subtracting the odometer reading at the end of the last trip from the end of the current trip – which requires a good head for mental arithmetic or a handy cellphone with a calculator app.  Most of us, however, can rely on the trip computer that most modern cars come with.  This sounds fiddly, but it’s not that hard once you’re into the swing of things.

Naturally, people have already come up with smartphone apps for vehicle logbooks.  Sole traders and the self-employed already have to keep logbooks, for example, so there’s been plenty of time to develop them. I guess it’s only a matter of time until someone comes up with an app that logs your trips and sends the info directly to the office bean-counters… or Big Brother.

The big thing to know is the difference between what’s considered a work trip and what is considered a personal trip.  The real stinger here is that the commute to and from work is not considered to be a work or business trip – it’s a personal trip.  If you took the bus to work instead of chugging along in your little Peugeot 206 hatchback or whatever you drive, you’d have to fork out for the bus fare and your employers wouldn’t have to pay your bus fare (in most cases, and we won’t go into the subsidies that some eco-minded businesses have tried here).  However, if you have to visit a client, make a delivery, pick up some supplies for the office or something like that, that’s a business trip.

Logbooks aren’t all that hard, so don’t get into a panic if you have to keep one.  You can still get a car as part of a salary package deal, and you can still claim some of the mileage back against tax.

Fringe Benefits Tax proposed changes: an update.

Writing this one day before the election and with the expectation the Coalition will win doesn’t change the past; much like the words from the immortal “Dragnet”, these are “just the facts”. Since the changes were announced by Kevin Rudd, this is what’s happened: approximately $160 million dollars worth of business for the Australian car industry has been wiped in August. Sales had been growing at around 5% for the six months until June 30, it’s now down by 0.2% in August compared to the same time last year. Car sales AustraliaAt around 4600 vehicles at an average cost of $35000,  it’s a significant hit. Yards are holding far more ordered but unsold stock due to so many cancelled orders. Jobs have been lost in attached industries and sales are down by 3.5% in Queensland and up to 8% in Western Australia. Business purchases are down 10 percent compared to this time last year impacting further on Ford Australia’s already tattered figures, with the venerable Falcon finding just 573 new homes in August, the lowest in the nameplates 53 year history. The changes mooted were intended to help raise $1.8 billion as an offset of scrapping the carbon tax yet there’s been no formal analysis of the changes and with many buyers in business purchasing vehicles via means that don’t attract the FBT or defer purchases then that figure is seeming more unlikely.

Holden’s new Commodore, selling under internal expectations still, though, managed just 400 more in August than July, delivering 2809 vehicles. Only Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Mazda saw sales increase. Also, with fuel prices in no danger of retreating, it’s unsurprising that the Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla were the highest sellers in August (4188 and 3861), followed by the Toyota HiLux, Holden’s VF Commodore, the Hyundai i30 and Holden Cruze variants.