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Archive for November, 2011

A Varley Good Idea

A lot of people switch off when they read about electric cars. They’re all over in the USA, aren’t they? Or they’re just concept cars that turn up to make a manufacturer look good at a big motor show. We just can’t get straight electric cars over here in Australia at the moment, and those who are interested in sustainable motoring and alternative fuels have to make do with hybrid cars (and probably feel very grateful for their Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids.
Well, that’s about to change. Varley is getting in on the act. Varley may be quite an old Australian company that was originally founded in 1886 and has been involved in all sorts of engineering projects (including marine, defence force, rail and more) for quite some time. However, now Varley is producing Australia’s first-ever all-electric supercar, the evR450.

The Varley evR450 first made a rather tentative appearance at the Electric Vehicle Conference held in Brisbane in mid-October 2011 and the makers have been surprised at how much interest has been shown in this vehicle. Maybe they shouldn’t have been so surprised – electric cars and hybrid cars are very sexy in automotive design (and this isn’t the only place that electric-powered transport is a hot topic: aviation is another area where the engineers are breaking new ground to get a battery-powered plane off the ground).
The Varley evR450 does quite well in the supercar stakes, as it can do the nought-to-100 sprint in a very, very respectable 3.8 seconds, which can beat the figures of some other Aussie-built supercars such as the HSV and FPV. Its top speed is a nippy 200 km/h, and it can do anything between 150 and 300 km to the battery pack, depending on the type of battery pack under the bonnet.
However, while the Varley evR450 is the first real passenger-style car to be launched on the Australian market, this isn’t the first electric vehicle that Varley have manufactured. Varley already make a number of small electric runabouts that you may well have seen in action. If you’ve seen some of those dinky tugs on wheels at airports pulling the baggage carts and the like, the chances are that it’s a Varley and it’s probably electric. Varley also make those little buses that take people on tours around parks and botanical gardens. Have a look on the back of one of those vehicles next time you see one to see if the Varley logo’s on the back. And have a listen and a sniff, too: can you smell fuel burning? And is the motor quiet?
The Varley evR450 will officially hit the roads in Queensland in January 2012, which isn’t far off. At the moment, they’re not sure how many units are going to produce for sale, and they’re going to wait and see what the demand’s like (which means that it won’t be listed in Private Fleet’s car reviews for the moment, and this post is the best you’re going to get for now). The Varley evR450 is aimed at the luxury car end of the market, and will cost about $200,000.

Women and Car Servicing- What It Means To Us In 2011/12

Today more and more people are moving to minor ‘self-servicing’ of their vehicles due to the financial crunch hitting the world and everyone’s pockets. What is staggering is who is doing it?

There is an enormous growth in ‘back yard’ servicing today. 1 in 3 people have said that they carry out basic home servicing, changing oil and filters when it is required rather than taking it to their service centre.

Women are joining into this trend more than anyone, particularly Gen Y. They are more likely to take things into their own hands today than be ‘conned’ into paying for unnecessary work or being up-sold over the counter. The later is particularly so. It has come to their attention that the every time the dealer services their car they will inevitably be a phone call asking if they would like some other ‘recommended’ servicing before they collect their vehicle. It seems like revenue raising or overselling – and for the most part it is.

People today are recognising the cheaper avenues for servicing such as their local garage and places like Ultratune and K Mart Tyre and Auto as safe, reliable and cost effective. The ever increasing information flow such as warranties are NOT void by manufacturers if work is carried out by professionals with log book history are showing how much money the manufacturers service centres are actually making, and people are not prepared to pay over the odds anymore. Gen Y’s are more capable than ever as they have been raised by Gen X’s mistakes…not to follow. Gen Y’s may not know how to ‘play’ a record, talk to your face or ‘dial’ a telephone, but they surely know how to research and act on anything. In 10 years time Gen Y’s will be in their forties, so watch how things change faster than ever before!

People generally today are now convinced that they will not get value for money or over the top customer service by going to the ‘dealer’ for servicing their car. The survey involving 2091 customers who had booked a service in the past 2 years was conducted by Colmar Bruton and commissioned by the customer satisfaction rating agency Canstar Blue.

The motor vehicle has come a long way and many of us look under the bonnet and just see a blur of technology, metal and plastic. You would be right, but under all that protective plastic and computer wires still remains an engine that needs oil, water and TLC before anything. An impressive 26% of women and 38% of men bucked the stereotype or norm to perform basic car servicing at home.

It is good news to hear that people are still confident (at the most part) for professional service. What this survey shows is that it is up to these professionals to remain so and be competent and cost effective to gain and retain customers. It is time for the dealers to re-evaluate their costs and work practices to draw their buying customers back.

The first step in the right direction is seen by companies like Ford, Toyota, Hyundai , and Mitsubishi who are now ‘price-capping’ their scheduled service costs. Some have even offered ‘free servicing ‘ as part of the deal

We all know the best customer is a return customer, for with them comes their family and friends, so don’t expect the manufacturers and dealers to keep losing their customers. There will be much more aggression from them, which can only mean one thing…a better deal for us, the customer!

For more information about customer service, car leasing or current car reviews visit or for an explanation watch the video.

Protecting Your Vehicle's Resale Value

Protecting the of your vehicle is not only prudent but necessary in attaining the right lease package for you. One of the major costs in owning a motor vehicle is depreciation. A car is a depreciating asset. It seems like an oxymoron ‘depreciating’ – ‘asset’. In fact it is quite straight forward. The car is the ‘asset’ and the aging process is ‘depreciating’ its value to the next buyer.

By simply thinking ahead and planning your purchase and taking a modicum of care in its condition you can save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

By projecting the resale value you can also determine an appropriate ‘residual payment’ or balloon payment for your car finance. This will set your monthly payments and allow you to avoid any unexpected surprises when it comes time to sell and/or refinance your vehicle.

You should also take the vehicle itself into account. Do your homework on the make and model you want. Also include such factors as reliability and practicality into account. A family of 5 does not fit into a cabriolet – It may look good in the office car park, but your own bed at night is always warmer!!

Other important qualities in retaining resale are to look for a slightly used, demonstrators or end of model/year run-outs. They can save you thousands with only minor kilometres that can still be fully leased.

If you are time poor, weary of the ‘car salesman’ or simply a novice; seek professional help in obtaining the vehicle you have chosen.

Another trap many people fall into is the monumental catastrophe of colour choice. Bright yellow belongs on Ferrari’s and Fiat 500’s not a family CX-9.

Watching the current market leading trends is also important, such as the decline in purchases of large vehicles and the increasing popularity of diesel and LPG driven family sedans.

And finally before you do trade-in your current car assess any minor damage as a cost to your sale price. Sometimes a minor scratch will be over looked but smelly internals and/or stained seats may need a steam clean to increase the appeal to a future buyer. You will also have to weigh up the time involved in a private sale verses a trade-in price. Generally you will get a little more in a private sale, but this may take up time you do not have. Do what is best for your situation.

Thinking ahead with a clear head is the best way to increase your re-sale value of your car. Likewise selecting an appropriate residual value will protect you from having a shortfall payment at the end of your lease. Private Fleet consultants can create a tailored finance package which takes all these aspects into account for you including an appropriate lease term, residual payment and cost of ownership packages.

For an explanation of how it works watch the video.

Fuel Efficient Driving Advice From The Boffins

Sometimes, it’s not what you drive but how you drive that counts. The boffins have done all sorts of research into cutting fuel costs and driving more efficiently to find out just how you should drive to trim down the fuel costs. Sometimes it’s not as simple as looking for a little small-engined hatchback such as a Peugeot 207 or a Mazda 2 to replace a large gas-guzzler.


A lot of that research has been done with heavy trucks – after all, if you’re the owner of a company with oodles of big rigs to top up with diesel or petrol, you will want to know what you can do to save on fuel bills without affecting your performance. And, as the boffins found out, what works with heavy vehicles tends to work with smaller vehicles – fleets and privately owned vehicles – as well.

Boffin doing the calculations
One of the most interesting ways of saving fuel that does apply to all vehicles (obviously, things related to truck design don’t relate to your family wheels) is how you drive. The difference in fuel consumption between a good driver (i.e. one who drives efficiently) and a not-so-good one could be up to 35%. As an added bonus, the boffins found that the more fuel-efficient drivers were also the safer drivers, which provides an extra incentive for improving your driving behaviour.

What were the factors that made the difference between a good driver and a not-so-good driver? Speed was the first factor – if you keep under or to the speed limit, you will consume less fuel than you would if you stepped on the gas a bit more. Gear selection, i.e. picking the right gear for what you’re doing, was another important factor mentioned, as was changing gear at the right number of engine revs. Of course, if you have an automatic gearbox, these two factors aren’t really an issue.

The fourth point on the list is one that does come down to the individual driver: the aggressiveness of using the brake and the accelerator pedals. In a nutshell, if you step on the pedals like you’re trying to squash cockroaches, you will go through the gas a lot more. If you use the pedals like you’re trying to walk across gravel barefoot, you use less. This factor has been noticed by the car manufacturers as well, and they’ve introduced indicators on the dashboard to let you know if you’re driving aggressively or not – the Honda Insight is one good example.

Idling time was another factor that the boffins noticed, but is probably one that we could have told them about. If you leave your motor idling for longer, you go through more petrol. Unless, of course, you have a hybrid vehicle such as the Toyota Prius that lets the electric motor take over if you do have to sit there with the motor going – at the traffic lights, for example. What shouldn’t be done, electric vehicle or otherwise, is sitting there at the side of the road with the motor going. If you have to take a phone call (and you haven’t got a hands-free phone) or if you’re a courier or tradesperson who has to do a bit of paperwork at every stop, then leave the motor off when you’re doing it.

One factor, albeit a lesser one, could be controversial. This advice was to open the windows instead of using the air conditioning, as this uses less fuel. However, another set of boffins have concluded that doing this exposes you to more nasties from pollution getting into your airways and you should use the air conditioning if you want to minimise your exposure to particulate matter, carbon monoxide and all the rest of it. On the other hand, if everybody opened their windows instead of using the air conditioning, we’d all use less fuel and there’d be fewer pollutants in the air. The big thing here is getting everyone started with the good habits.

Other factors mentioned by the boffins for reducing fuel consumption included aerodynamics (take those roof racks off if you’re not carrying them), keeping tyres at the right pressure and maintaining the engines properly (a clogged air filter can increase fuel consumption by 10%, for example). Another one was picking the right vehicle for the job, which is very relevant to a fleet but is less relevant to the private driver, except it gives you an excuse to ask your mate for the loan of his/her Land Rover if you need to shift a heavy load of furniture and you’ve got a little Mini.

Frequently Stolen Cars

Car alarms might drive you nuts when they go off when someone isn’t trying to hijack your wheels thanks to the cat jumping on top of them hoping for a quiet nap (actually, that one could be quite funny to watch when the cat leaps up like… a startled cat), a heavy truck or an earthquake (if you’re in New Zealand) shakes the car a bit, or something going wrong with the wiring.  I’m not making the wiring one up – a male friend of mine who will remain unnamed once had his Mazda Bongo van’s alarm go off in the middle of the night.  He went out practically in the nuddy to switch it off only to have a female police officer come down the drive to make sure everything was all right – she had the sense to realise that a scantily-clad person poking around a noisy car is likely to be the owner.  Anyway, back to car alarms.  They might be annoying but they are a deterrent if someone does want to steal your car.

According to Top Gear magazine, the cars most frequently stolen in Australia are:

1)      Holden Commodore Executive four-door sedan, 1999 model

2)      Holden Commodore Berlina four-door sedan, 1998 model

3)      Ford Falcon Forte four-door sedan, 1999 model

4)      Holden Commodore Executive four-door sedan, 1998 model

5)      Hyundai Excel Sprint hatchback, 1996 model

6)      Holden Commodore Executive four-door sedan, 1996 model

7)      Holden Commodore Executive four-door sedan, 1990 model

8)      Holden Commodore Executive stationwagon, 1996 model

9)      Toyota RAV Cruiser 4×4/SUV, 2002 model

10)   Hyundai Excel Sprint hatchback, 1999 model.

Not sure what Top Gear based their research on, but similar research was done across the Tasman by an insurance company, who looked at all the insurance claims for stolen vehicles over five or so years to compile their list.  The list of cars most stolen in New Zealand reads a little differently, which could prove food for thought for social scientists trying to analyse the cultural differences between here and there, although the trans-Tasman list is less specific. The cars stolen most often in New Zealand are:

1)      Honda Torneo

2)      Nissan Elgrande

3)      Subaru Impreza

4)      Subaru Forester

5)      Subaru Legacy

6)      Nissan Skyline

7)      Nissan Presea

8)      Mitsubishi Libero

9)      Nissan Cefiro

10)   Nissan Sunny.

The New Zealand research also found that most of the cars were stolen from public car parks, and that almost half the drivers/insurance claimants interviewed for the research didn’t lock their cars around their home, and about 10% didn’t lock their cars up AT ALL no matter where it was parked.

So how do you prevent your car from being stolen, especially if you’ve got one of those oh-so-popular Holden Commodore Executives?  You should be able to foil the average car-jacker by taking a few simple steps.

  • Don’t leave your engine running while you just nip out to buy a paper and some milk.  This wastes petrol and also is very tempting to an opportunist thief.
  • Always lock your car when you’re out of it, even at home.  Otherwise, you could end up doing what another friend of mine did recently: left the keys in the car and the garage open because he was going to go out again later, but then changed his mind and forgot about it.  One call from the cops in the middle of the night saying they’d found it on a country road with the hazard lights on (??!!) and signs of someone having tried to start a fire in it.  At least he got the car back.
  • Keep all your valuables out of sight.  This includes the car keys.  If you have to leave them in the car, hide them under a sweatshirt, a book or an old chip packet, or shove them in the glove box or some other storage area.
  • Park in a well-lit street or in a public car-park that allows for good visibility.  Yes, most cars are taken from car-parks, but don’t make things too easy for a thief by parking in a dark alley or behind bushes.
  • Install a car alarm and/or have some visible security device in place.

And the most annoying car alarm I’ve ever heard?  It would have to be one that produced a deep, growly voice warning “Don’t touch my car!” when anyone walked within three metres of it.  I saw this at a camping ground, and it was a magnet for kids, who went up to it and poked it just to see what would happen next.

Car Polish Survey

The US consumer survey magazine “Consumer”  has publsished a wide-ranging research document on car polishes. It makes intriguing reading and the main research results are re-produced below:-

                                                                                          (click on thumbnail to enlarge)

Why You Can't Beat The Price Rip Off

 Over the past couple of months, we’ve undertaken the biggest car prices comparison survey ever published.

The clear and incontrovertible conclusion is that we pay far more for our new cars than can be justified.

 Of course, we are not alone in this, as many products are more expensive in Australia, and we’ve heard numerous stories about how people have circumvented this by buying direct from overseas using the internet.

 So why can’t you do this with a new car?  Well, the Motor Vehicle Standards Act (1989) effectively prevents you!  These import rules were initially designed for a genuine road safety agenda, but that is now largely irrelevant and is, in effect, acting as a measure of protection for the local importing and manufacturing industry.

 Any new car that does not comply with all the provisions of the Act cannot be imported for use on Australian roads, and that means any new car personally imported.

But there are exemptions.

The Personal Import Scheme is a specific exemption from the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Standards Act (1989), but it still has its own administrative rules. The guidelines governing these rules for Personal Imports are essentially that you have owned and demonstratively used a car overseas for a minimum of 12 months before seeking Personal Import Approval. There are close checks made on these claims too, both in terms of ownership and use throughout the twelve month period.

 The other major exemption is for cars built prior to January 1st, 1989. These can be imported unrestricted under other ‘special exemption’ provisions – but that date is fixed – it doesn’t move forward from year to year, and there is little likelihood that any changes will be made. You will still have to pay various taxes, including GST when you import the vehicle.

So what about grey imports?


A grey import is a vehicle that is legally imported outside the manufacturer’s legitimate import process. It stems from government decisions taken some twenty years ago that permitted Australians to buy vehicles from overseas that were never sold over here. But once they arrive in Australia they are subjected to a compliance process to conform to Australian Design Rules, and this can sometimes be complicated, tedious and expensive. Such hurdles mean that whilst these cars can represent excellent value, they are mainly restricted to an enthusiast market of limited numbers.

 So the bottom line is: if you want to buy a new car and save money by buying it overseas, you have to stay there at least 12 months before you have a chance of bringing it here with you! (Mind you, when you look at the massive price differences in our survey, you may well consider it worthwhile!)

Postscript:-  Since our last article on price comparisons was published, the US Dollar and UK Pound Sterling exchange rates have fluctuated significantly. Clearly, this affects any conclusion on price comparisons particularly as importers defended price differentials by ‘hiding behind exchange rates. So we looked at our price comparison tables and re-jigged a couple of examples using the very worst rates that we had working against us to see if prices reverted to a close comparison. Guess what? They didn’t. As you can see below there is a small difference, but in no way does it diminish our claims that we still suffer a huge price disadvantage that should be acknowledged by the motor manufacturers and importers NOW!  Furthermore exchange rates have now reverted back to closely resemble the prices quoted in our survey.

   Car Price Comparison at Least Favourable Exchange Rates

 Vehicle                              Aust Price          US Price           UK Price 

Mercedes Mb 300            $93,859.00    $48,840.00      $68,801.00

Subaru WRX STI               $66,928.00    $35,815.00      $54,225.00

Just How Safe Is Your New Car?

Most modern cars have safety features that weren’t even thought of when this writer was a child.  Back then, most cars had safety belts front and back – although a few didn’t have any in the back seat – and most of those seatbelts had adjustment features similar to bra straps, although the posh new ones had those automatically adjustable ones that seized up if you tried to pull them on in a hurry or if you tried to put them on while going around a corner.  You couldn’t find an airbag anywhere in any of the cars that I rode in as a child, or even in the ones that I learned to drive in, and I don’t think any of them had ABS brakes,

Well, times have certainly changed and cars have more and more safety features: ABS brakes, pretensioned seatbelts, anti-submarining seat design, crumple zones, brake assistance, stability control and all the rest of it.  A few marques have even turned the level of safety into a marketing edge: while some tout their superior speed and power over the competition, other manufacturers – most notably Saab and Volvo, with others like Renault, Citroën and Toyota catching on – push the safety of their vehicles as their most notable feature.

But how safe, exactly, is your new car or the car you’re thinking about buying?  One way to find out is to visit, which is a website set up by the Transport Accident Commission of the Victorian state
government.  This site draws on ANCAP statistics to rate new cars hitting the Australian market and also USCR (Used Car  Safety Ratings) figures.  This saves you the hassle of trawling through oodles of crash testing videos and figures, allowing you to find the make and model of vehicle you’re interested in and see how it scores.  You’ll get the overall star rating (five is the best, for those who aren’t familiar with the ANCAP system or its European equivalent, Euro NCAP) plus a more detailed breakdown detailing how the car performed in the frontal offset test (where the car is rammed into a pillar that hits the driver’s side at 64 km/h, simulating the typical front-on accident), the side impact crash test (where a heavy trolley is smacked into the side of a car at 50 km/h to simulate a T-bone collision) and the pole test (which is optional but simulates side-swiping a tree by ramming a concrete pole into the side of the test vehicle at 29 km/H).  You are also given a breakdown on how well the driver and front passenger are protected, using a colour-coded diagram.  Last, but definitely not least, you also get a checklist of all the safety features that are present (or should be) on the vehicle.  And, because safety isn’t just about drivers but about pedestrians and air quality, you also can see the rating for pedestrian safety and the “green vehicle guide” (fuel consumption, carbon emissions, etc.).  Those who really want to see the full details also have the option of downloading a pdf with the full report.

The maximum number of points that can be scored on each of the main tests (frontal offset and side impact) is 16, and a car has to score 12.5 or more in both of them to get a five-star rating.  More points can be picked up via the pole test and by having seatbelt warnings.  A score of 32.5 gets a five-star rating, as long as one of those points came from the pole test.  A modern  ehicle (i.e. one made after 2008) has to have electronic stability control as well in order to get the full five stars.

To give an example of how the system works, let’s have a look at how a couple of recent models that earned five stars at this site performed: the 2011 Holden Barina, the 2011 BMW X3 and the 2011 Audi A6.

The Holden Barina scored 35.43 out of 37 points as follows:

  • Side impact test: 16/16
  • Frontal offset test: 15.43 out of 16
  • Pole test: 2/2
  • Other points: 2/3

The BMW X3 scored 34.58 out of 37 points as follows:

  • Side impact test: 16/16
  • Frontal offset test: 14.58/16
  • Pole test: 2/2
  • Other points: 2/3

The Audi A6 scored 34.91 out of 37 as follows:

  • Side impact test: 15/16
  • Frontal offset test: 14.91/16
  • Pole test: 2/2
  • Other points: 3/3

Every new car that we have listed here at Private Fleet can be checked out for safety, as well as a few that we don’t list (not that there’s many of those!).  The site also lists a large range of older cars that are likely to be bought in the second-hand market
(going back to 1990).  Have a go yourself at the website to find out just how safe the car you learnt to drive on scored
safety-wise and wonder how you managed to survive.  The Ford Falcon and the VW Beetle I had my first lessons weren’t in the list – the ones I got to drive were older than the 1990 model, but I won’t say more than that so I don’t give away my age too