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Archive for February, 2012

Beaut Little Utes

Thanks to rising fuel costs, we’re seeing a greater shift to smaller engines and smaller cars.  The chances of some of the more unusual offerings, in small-ute form, might be a realistic option for Australian buyers.  In the modern requirements for smaller carbon footprints, a small ute is what every business in Australia could do with.  Right?

Smaller utes/pick-up trucks are doing very well in one or two places in the world.  South America has seen a great success in people buying into a little ute – as their benefits have a growing appeal.  Europe is shortly to test the introduction of the Fiat Strada – a very cool mini ute that is surprisingly handy and exceptionally rugged.

The Fiat Strada has had years of success in South America, and Fiat wants to export the Strada ute into other overseas markets.  It is built in South America, and Italy want to bring the little ute to Italy for its own people to enjoy.

Other small trucks, like the Fiat Strada, are very popular in South America.  Peugeot has a ute version of its 206 model, called the Peugeot Hoggar.  The toughened up version of Peugeot’s 206 Hatch is doing very well.  So too, is GM’s Chevrolet Montana.  The Montana has miniature design cues found in the latest Toyota Hilux ute.

Amazingly, the Fiat Strada ute is Fiat’s second-best selling light commercial unit worldwide, after Fiat’s Ducato van.  So, who’s using them?  Florists, garden centres, wineries, the adventure holiday businesses and the farming sector.  They may not take the same weights as the bigger Hilux and Navara utes but, then, most of the time they don’t need to.  They are proving very handy small pick-ups.

The Fiat Strada ute offers a range of body types.  You can have yourself a single cab, an extended single cab or a crew cab version.  The Strada’s payloads range from 630 kg to 705 kg.  These are quite handy weights.  I mean, at least 15 bags of cement can be stacked inside the high sided ute.  Though front-wheel-drive, the Strada provides an electronic differential lock – so you can attack a good bit of off-road terrain, quite easily.

Everybody is going to enjoy the benefits of a smaller ute’s engine, like the one used in the Fiat Strada.  The Fiat engine is a diesel engine that promises to be very frugal, indeed.  It is rated for 5.3 litres/100 km, on average.  The 1.3-litre turbo-diesel is also grunty, offering 71 kW of peak power, and 200 Nm of torque that is available from as low as 1500 rpm.

While you won’t find the Fiat Strada, the Chevrolet Montana or the Peugeot Hoggar for sale in Australia, yet.  It is their success overseas that might just be the catalyst for what the market in Australia needs.  Low carbon emissions and frugal economy … now you can’t argue with that.  All that has to happen now is to build these utes in right-hand-drive format.  I reckon they’d sell like hot cakes over here.

In-Car Breathalyzers Now Compulsory – in France

The French have become the first nation in the World to compel ALL drivers to carry a breathalyzer in their cars from July 1st.

This rather draconian legislation has come about due to the high incidence of all road fatalities that involve drivers above the legal limit – a staggering 31 percent. 

As nearly one in three of all fatal accidents involve a drink driver, it’s no wonder that authorities need to take urgent action.

Complying breathalyzers include single use ones that can cost as little as $5.00. Whilst the task of getting drunk drivers off the road is commendable you have to question whether this is the way to do it. Critics claim that this is a toothless measure that will only work with responsible drivers and will have little effect on those who are a real problem. You can see their point when the average blood alcahol level in drivers involved in drink-related fatal accidents is 2.25gms per litre, or more than four-and-a-half times the legal limit! Let me repeat that…..the average blood alcahol level of all those fatal drink- related accidents was more than  four times the legal limit. That is an astonishing statistic which would certainly make many visitors wary of even venturing onto the French highways. So certainly something must be done. But is this the answer? 

What’s the point? Will it work? Does it make sense? Is it likely to be adopted by the autocrats in Oz?

Have your say below

Time for TPMS

We all know how important a good set of tyres is for safe motoring.  Correct tyre pressures go a long way towards keeping the tyres firmly and safely in contact with the road.  Keeping your car tyres at the correct tyre pressure is going to give the maximum opportunity for the tyres to perform at their best – which is what they were designed to do.  The ability of a car to maintain grip is closely connected to its inflation pressure.  European laws are going to tighten up in the area of keeping tyre pressures in their optimum range.  It’s good because it sends the message out there that the ‘powers that be’ want to keep Europe’s roads as safe as possible.  Not sure what’s going to happen over here, though.  But what’s good for Europe is usually good for over here, at least when safety’s the issue.

A new EU ruling is about to be passed this year that will mean new car models must be fitted with tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMSs).  TPMSs have, actually, been systems that have been used for many years by various car manufacturers.  Porsche was the first to use a TPMS in a production passenger car.  They used a TPMS in their Porsche 959 in 1986.  It is no real surprise to see that Renault have employed TPMSs over the years.  In 1996, Renault used a type of TPMS in their Scenic model, called the Michelin PAX system.  Peugeot’s 607, in 1999, used a TPMS, as well.  Renault, in their Laguna II (year 2000), was the first mid-size passenger vehicle to be equipped with a TPMS as standard.

So why all the fuss?  Is a TPMS just another set of lights to keep an eye on when you’re driving.  Can you ignore them at all?  The short answer is: NO.

Seriously underinflated tyres run the risk of becoming so hot that they can burst.  Seen all those burst tyre remnants along the road in the hotter bits of the country?  Possibly, underinflation was the cause (other reasons exist, but we won’t get into them here) Underinflated tyres take longer to stop in a braking situation, and you can guess the results of that.  Also, under hard cornering, the integrityof the underinflated tyre wall becomes softer and less rigid, meaning that the tread pattern loses its optimum contact with the road.

From another perspective, driving with seriously underinflated tyres will negatively affect the fuel efficiency of your car, as well as how your tyre wears over time.  So it is true: check your tyre pressures regularly, and you’ll save on fuel costs, the tyres will last longer and you’ll be enhancing your safety and the safety of other motorists around you.

How do TPMSs work?  A standard TPMS uses radio frequency technology to transmit pressure data and other information to the vehicle’s ECU.

Kwik Fit surveys (Kwik Fit is based in the UK) suggest that 68% of cars on European roads have underinflated tyres.  With these sort of results, the new EU law should be very helpful in making Europe’s roads a lot safer.  However, on the lighter side, the same survey found that not everyone with a TPMS in their car knows what the warning light means.  Some thought it meant the coolant was overheating (34% of those surveyed), while others thought it was warning them about a cattle-stop grid on the road ahead.

Best cars for economy

I bet you’re interested in this.  Take a look at the website.  They have a list of the top twenty most fuel efficient cars, in Britain, for each class of car.  If you are a family person with plenty of kids or just have plenty of friends, then it’s likely you’ll be looking at a car that doesn’t feature on the City Car, Supermini or Small Family car list.  The cars in these brackets are just way too small to be practical family cars. But, I will let you in on a secret: Hondas, BMWs, Toyotas and the like do make some pretty frugal mid-sized vehicles that run on either electricity, hybrid power, petrol or diesel.  So don’t despair when you see how tiny some of the most frugal cars can be.

Not so surprisingly, you’ll see that it’s the Smart cars that lead the way.  With an incredible combined fuel economy figure of 86 mpg, these cars just don’t know how to drink the fuel heavily.  These are the cars for the city street.  If it’s only going to be you in the car, most the time, then one of the City Cars like the Smart car should do the trick.  It is nice to see the Fiat 500 models dominating the City Car top ten spots with a Citroen C1 (I wish these were in Australia) and a Hyundai i10 featured, as well. You’ll also find a Peugeot, Nissan, Ford and Toyota sitting in the top 20, but did you guess that here would be an Aston Martin!

The list for each class of car shows the Top 20 cars with various other useful bits of information about them: vehicle class, MPG, CO2 g/km and Next Green Car’s unique Green Car Rating.

For the family person, take a look at the small family car, anyway – as you might be surprised at what you find.  Volvos, Golfs, Toyotas and Kias feature on this list.  Fancy a Volkswagen Golf 1.6TDI managing an impressive combined fuel economy figure of 74 mpg.

I love the Large Family car and Execs.  These are the cars that have all the space, roadholding and performance.   But do they have economy?  The Toyota Prius is amazing, offering 72 mpg for its careful driver.  Peugeot’s 508 and Volkswagens Passat both have models that come a close second and third respectively.  You’ll even find new Hyundai i40 turns out a combined 66 mpg.

Quite possibly, the Skoda Fabia Estate 1.2 CR TDI might be the standout performer.  It has the extra load carrying capacity, yet turns out an amazing 83 mpg and 89 g/km of CO2 emissions.

Volvos and BMWs rule the top spots for the Executive class, while the Crossover class finds the smaller Mini Countryman and Nissan Qashqai at the top.

In the Multi Purpose class, you can’t go past a Renault Scenic if you want to keep the costs at the fuel pump down.

Pothole Punishment

What’s your car like at handling the rough roads?  Driving over any rut, pothole or big undulation on a main road can be off-putting for the driver or passengers inside a car.  The chassis design team has a lot of work to do on a new modern car to keep the ride controlled and compliant.  Also, the suspension must be able to cope with a beating from time to time.  However, sometimes there is something on the road ahead that seems to just jump out and bite you from time-to-time.  Wheel alignment problems can result from running your wheels through a big pothole or against the kerb.

There is no doubt that potholes are a major factor in causing wheel, axle and suspension failure.  A year or two ago, our holiday plans were changed when our Saab was fully loaded up and we were travelling happily toward our first destination.  We were travelling along a sealed road, and I hadn’t noticed a nasty hole in the deterioration of the left-side edge of the tarmac.  The next thing we all knew was that the front left wheel on the Saab dropped in and out of this hole with an almighty thump, followed by the left rear wheel.  The left front tyre went flat, and we pulled over to change the tyre.  What we found was that the tyre had been sliced on impact and that the rim had been severely damaged and would need specialist repair.  This repair on the Saab’s rim wasn’t cheap, though the tyre was replaced at no cost.  Hmmm…not the best way to start the holiday.

Funding for road repairs doesn’t always keep up with the growing number of potholes in need of repair.  In the UK, some clever surveyors have taken this a step further and have managed to work out the cars on UK roads that can handle the potholes better.  Apparently, Honda cars seem to be the most apt at taking a beating.  Hondas seem to be the most resilient marque against pothole damage.  This resilience saves drivers lots of money in repairs each year according to new research carried out by  Second to Honda is Toyota.  And third comes Hyundai at being the most pothole proof manufacturer.  Less than two percent of Hyundai cars suffer axle and suspension damage.

Looking at the flipside of the coin; Chrysler, Mercedes Benz and Land Rover models are the most likely to be damaged by the UK’s potholey roads.  Results show that more than ten percent suffer damage each year.

A "Howard" Motor Car?

Have you seen a rather funny dialogue going the email rounds lately purporting to be a sketch featuring John Clarke and Bryan Dawe?

It’s worth a read so we have re-produced it below. As far as we can discover it was not a skit run on the ABC, and it is not ascribed to either of these humorists, but it’s funny, nevertheless:

Scene: A car yard. BRYAN is perusing the stock. He is approached by JOHN] John:     Morning! Looking for a new car?

Bryan:     Nope. New Prime Minister, actually.

John:     You’re the third one this morning. Anything in mind?

Bryan:     You know…… nothing fancy, reliable, economical family model. Something to get the country from A to B.

John:     You mean like a Howard?

Bryan:     Yeah…a little Johnny. Nothing flash, does the job. Low maintenance, economical, sensible. Runs for years, no troubles.

John:     So…. you used to have one?

Bryan:     Yeah. About 10 years. Great little model – don’t know why I got rid of him — biggest mistake I’ve ever made.

John:     What happened?

Bryan:     Traded him in for a Kevin 07

John:     Big mistake.

Bryan:     Lot of people bought it. Good political mileage.

John:     How was the Kevin 07?

Bryan:     Came with a $900 factory rebate – that was good.

John:     Anything else?

Bryan:     Not much. Sounded nice but nothing under the bonnet. It was a lemon.

John:     Didn’t stick around for long did it?

Bryan:     Nah – had a factory recall. Shipped overseas and was never seen again.

John:     What was the problem?

Bryan:     Lots. But the final straw was the navigation system. Plug it in and it automatically loses its own way.

John:     Whatcha got now?

Bryan:     It’s a Gillard-Brown.

John:     The hybrid?

Bryan:     Yeah. The Eco-drive system – not a good idea. An engine that can’t deliver hooked up to a transmission stuck in permanent reverse.

John:     Green paintwork with a red interior. And steering that always lurches to the left for no apparent reason – that’s the one?

Bryan:     The Fustercluck model.

John:     The only one they made, Bryan. Not the vehicle of choice for the road to recovery – but did they finish up fixing the navigation system?

Bryan:     Made it worse. Turn it on and it does a press release, heads off in all directions and goes nowhere.John:     So that’s why you’re here?

Bryan:     That’s right. I’m stuck with a car that’s wasteful, expensive, ineffective and past its use by date. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of the “Cash for  Clunkers” scheme?

John:     Join the queue brother.