Interview with BMW i’s Uli Kranz

21 Oct

I met with Uli Kranz, the head of BMW’s new sub-brand BMW i, at the Frankfurt motor show last month to discuss the unveiling on their first two cars, the i3 and i8. The i3 is an all-electric city car, whilst the i8, already mentioned in these hallowed pages, is a plug-in hybrid sports car which will be able to outperform an M3, whilst returning a claimed 104mpg. Both introduce some seriously futuristic design language into the BMW brand, or will do when they go on sale in 2013. Are hybrids and electric cars becoming sexy? Dear Lord…..Anyway, take it away, Herr Kranz!

Carficionado: As BMWs, the i cars are surely going to have to be pure drivers’ cars. Presumably you haven’t been been sending them around the Nordschleife, but will BMW i cars still be “pure driving machines”?

Uli Kranz: I can simply answer ‘yes’. These cars will keep the BMW sheer driving pleasure alive because this is key and this is why we introduced the sub-brand as BMW i. We did our homework on that, because if you see the BMW i3, this is a car with a powerful electric engine installed in the rear and we have rear-wheel drive which is perfectly fine for a BMW.

We have an architecture of the vehicle which puts the centre of gravity very low, because in the middle, there’s the battery which is really low above the floor. And we’ve put our focus on lightweight materials. We reduced dramatically the weight of the vehicle by using carbon fibre for the passenger cell and for the drive module we are using aluminium spaceframe. So we have a very light car and with the material choice, we could really offset the additional weight of the battery. So I can assure you that this car will have the BMW DNA and it will be a perfectly dynamic, fun-to-drive vehicle.

Carficionado: Surely one of the big problems you have to overcome with starting a sub-brand like this is that you have to entice people in who won’t be enticed solely because you are using electric power – you’ve got to sell it to them in a unique way. Has that been the main problem to overcome?

Uli Kranz: We had to make sure that [the i3] is a premium vehicle, that it is a BMW and for that reason we also decided very early to develop the complete powertrain, including the battery, gearbox, power electronics and the electric motor in-house and we do all the application in-house with our experts at BMW. And we know how to build cars that are really fun to drive. And the same applies to the i8. The i8 is a plug-in hybrid super sports car that will have performance comparable to an M3 but with a fuel consumption below 3 litres per 100km and we think this is a very good answer for our customers [so that] they see that the future BMW programmes will still be fun and that we will keep the sheer driving pleasure alive with both cars as well.

Carficionado: Why has it taken BMW, who have been seen as a leader in every other aspect in the automotive industry, so long to bring in hybrid systems or electric systems when the Toyota Prius is already 15 years old?

Uli Kranz: We always actually worked with different powertrains, and you will have seen in 1972 with the Olympic Games in Munich we introduced an electric 1602. So we have always worked on very efficient combustion engines and also electric engines, and we introduced also some concept cars like the E1 in the 90s. The reason why we decided now to go into serious production is, of course, the battery technology, because all the batteries we had in the past, they were not as good as we [needed] them to be and the thing with lithium ion technology is that we could overcome all the problems with memory effects and difficulties in charging. With lithium ion batteries we can offer our customers a reliable, good-working car with good performance. This is the reason why we started now with electric vehicles like the i3 and i8. But in parallel we always work on even more efficient diesels and combustion engines. And we’ve introduced the complete EfficientDynamics package with start-stop engines, brake-energy recuperation and on top of that, we focus on low-rolling resistance tyres and also on very efficient aerodynamics. And this all, in combination with the new lithium ion batteries, gives us a very good opportunity to introduce the next step towards the future.

Carficionado: So it was a question of you not wanting to inconvenience your customers by using sub-standard technology?

Uli Kranz: Absolutely. Our customers expect from a premium car manufacturer premium quality and premium products

(l to r) The i8 and i3. Better than a G-Wiz!

Carficionado: The i Division is obviously at the other end of the spectrum to the M Division. But do you feel that there’s any room for this modern technology creeping into motorsport, or are they mutually exclusive?

Uli Kranz: What we are doing with the BMW i sub-brand and with the M, which is a sub-brand also, is perfectly balancing the core of the BMW brand. The BMW brand benefits from the M division because they highlight even more performance and even faster, quicker and more dynamic [cars]. On the other side, the BMW i is supporting BMW in new technologies and new design language and both sub-brands benefit from the core brand of BMW. So in the future we will benefit from both, so that means that some of the ideas that we develop you will see in the M division or the BMW core brand. Just think about the lightweight materials; this is something that the core brand will see in the future and will use in the M division as well.

Carficionado: How much money has been put into the i Division?

Uli Kranz: I cannot give you a figure on how much money we have put in, but I can assure you that we have the task to make money.

Carficionado: But you’d like to see the technology from the i brand trickle down into other BMWs?

Uli Kranz: Of course. One of the tasks we got within Project i is to pave the way towards new technology but not only focussed on the vehicles, also on the production and the production process, introducing new materials and new processes, and this is what we are doing with the electric powertrain, as well as the carbon fibre lightweight materials.

Carficionado: Has there been any co-operation with the German government in terms of incentives for the company?

Uli Kranz: No.

Carficionado: Would you like to have had incentives?

Uli Kranz: Actually we are not asking for incentives because we do our developments in-house. On the other hand, what we expect from the government is that we have clear rules and standards. This is key because then we have reliable targets to work towards.

Standardisation is key for electric vehicles because at the moment there’s still different standards in Asia, the US and in Europe, but we would be happy if we had three clearly divided standards for where our customers could plug-in and charge the vehicles. Infrastructure is key.

Carficionado: Do you think the same customer who buys an M3 will buy an i8?

Uli Kranz: We will still have customers, I’m sure, who will opt for an M3, because an M3 is a very emotive car. But with the i8 we have the opportunity to bring new customers into the BMW brand and this was also the reason why we established BMW i, because one of the targets we got from the board at the very beginning is to bring new customers into the BMW brand. And this is what we think we can fulfil with the i8, because the i8 is a real sports car but at the same time has a very low fuel consumption and the complete vehicle architecture is very sustainable and the compete production process is very sustainable as well. So therefore I guess we are talking to a different audience with the i8, and this is the reason why we decided to establish a sub-brand. And the same goes for the i3, because we are absolutely convinced that it we will bring new customers to the BMW brand.

Carficionado: Do you envisage a future where there will be an i1, i2, i3, i4 and so on?

Uli Kranz: We are focussed now on the i3 and the i8, but there is enough room between these two figures, 3 and 8, for additional derivatives, even above and below. This is all I can say at the moment.

Carficionado: But you’ve got nice brackets?

Uli Kranz: Exactly!  

Should motorsport be banned following the death of Dan Wheldon?

19 Oct

Dan Wheldon 1978 - 2011

This morning a friend sent me this article. In it, the journalist argues that, following the tragic death of Dan Wheldon last weekend, there should be a move towards banning motorsport. The journalist also argues that, failing the banning of motorsport, there needs to be a serious review of safety, at least within IndyCar racing.

Now the second point I get. Any sport where you have cars driving at 200+mph should be subject to the very highest levels of safety scrutinising. The fact that the drivers expressed concern about the Las Vegas Motor Speedway ahead of the race last weekend should have been enough to encourage a wide-scale investigation into whether very powerful, open-cockpit cars should have been green-lighted to race around that track – and even enough to have the race cancelled, should the track be found to be not up to scratch. In this instance, I would personally level a failure at the IndyCar administration, who have a duty of care to protect drivers involved in their series.

However, by using Formula 1 as a comparison, I want to show that the idea of banning motorsport because of the death of Dan Wheldon is inane. In Formula 1, the fatality rate has been declining steadily decade on decade for the last 60 years, as shown in the graph below.

The last recorded fatality was that of the great Ayrton Senna, who died at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, on the same weekend as Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger. That means that there have been no fatalities within that sport for the past 17 years. Now, this is by no means a chance for complacency. Safety should continue to evolve within Formula 1, as it should within all forms of motorsport. The injuries sustained by Felipe Massa in 2009 illustrated the dangers inherent in open-cockpit racing. The death of Henry Surtees in a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch a week earlier made the point even more chillingly. But recent big crashes in F1, such as Mark Webber’s dramatic flip at the 2010 European Grand Prix, or the chaotic start to the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, illustrate how far safety has evolved in the sport.

Two particular events in Formula 1 come to mind when I think about this issue. One is the circumstances surrounding the 1976 Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. It was here that Niki Lauda, concerned with the lack of safety features at the track, proposed a boycott of the race. Other drivers vetoed the boycott and the race went ahead as planned. Lauda crashed on the second lap of the race, and the horrific burns he suffered in that incident still stand today as a totem to the folly of the decision to race that weekend.

The second event that I’m reminded of is the infamous 2005 US Grand Prix, when all cars running with Michelin tyres pulled out of the race due to fears, prompted by Ralf Schumacher’s massive crash during Friday practice, that the tyres would not be able to hold up for a whole race. Here, in stark contrast to the Nürburgring race 29 years previously, the teams and drivers exercised their free-will – in the face of much bloody-mindedness from the FIA regarding the installation of a chicane at the banked Turn 13 – in order not to race at a circuit where there was a serious concern about safety.

IndyCar really needs to look to the sophistication of safety within Formula 1 to show them the way forward. In addition, I would argue that two aspects need to be looked at in particular. One is the fact that 34 cars started that race in Las Vegas – a full 10 more cars than appeared on the grid at the Korean Grand Prix last weekend. And I would argue that that is simply far too many cars to have racing in that kind of scenario.

The second, and I think far more relevant, aspect that needs to be looked at it is the viability of continuing to race open-cockpit cars on oval, banked circuits. The stresses that banking puts on the tyres is, in my opinion, too dangerous, as is the fact that there are, clearly, no run-off areas on the outside of the track. This means that if a car loses control and is heading towards the outside wall, you run the risk of tyres and suspension arms coming into the cockpit – precisely what killed Senna in 1994. This is clearly a risk in all open-cockpit racing – but on an oval circuit with concrete walls, the incident seems to be invited. And interestingly, if you look at fatalities in Formula 1, which track has been the most lethal? The Indianapolis Speedway.

But is all this enough to prompt a worldwide ban on motorsport at all levels? That’s Formula 1, Formula 2, Le Mans, DTM, NASCAR, MotoGP, British Touring Car, World Touring Car, World Rally Championship and many, many more besides. Frankly, I think that that is a ridiculous notion, a knee jerk reaction to what definitely was a tragedy and a step that I feel certain Dan Wheldon wouldn’t have called for.

Not so fast, Jamie Oliver!

18 Oct

Mr Oliver behind the wheel of his "Porsche-powered" camper

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out at a noted Porsche specialist in Essex, as I am wont to do from time to time. Around me were 993 Turbos and beautiful 1970s 911s with Fuchs wheels and a couple of “future classic” 996 GT3s. However, taking pride of place in the garage was a beautiful, blue split-sceen VW camper, or as it’s known more informally in Germany, Kombinationskraftwagen, which was being renovated for a customer. I remarked to the salesman that it looked similar to the one owned by local Essex celebrity chef and all-round pukka geezer Jamie Oliver – in fact, I thought it might have been his. It wasn’t, as it turned out.

However, I also remarked, thinking that it would impress said salesman, that I happened to know that Mr Oliver had dropped a 3.6 litre Porsche engine into the back of his camper, as he proudly announced on Top Gear a few years ago. This, however, drew a wry look from our salesman. It transpired that a friend of the salesman had been responsible for doing up Mr Oliver’s camper originally, and had put in the common engine upgrade that camper drivers tend to get, that being a modified 2.1 litre Volkswagen engine. However, the engine put into this particular camper had a Porsche fan on it which, according to our nice salesman, had led Mr Oliver to believe that he had in fact put an entire Porsche engine into his camper.

True or false? I don’t know, but I will say that the salesman seemed a very pleasant and honest chap who knew his Porsches, and especially those in the Essex area. If it is true, it seems that the Naked Chef’s motor may not be quite as nippy as he would like to think.

BMW Unleash New 3 Series

17 Oct

New 3 Series

BMW unveiled their new 3 Series at a special event in Munich last Friday. And it’s a bit of a cracker. Obviously the unveiled car was red because, as previously mentioned in this blog, our Teutonic friends sometimes drop the ball on matters of taste (incidentally, I can count on the fingers of one hand German cars that look good in postbox red – but perhaps that’s a blog for another day). But the car itself looks great. For me, the most interesting aspect of the new 3 Series is that it points to the future direction of BMW’s design language, joining the dots between the current range and the rather fabulous i8, a petrol-hybrid produced by BMW’s cannily named sub-brand Project i, which is scheduled for release in 2013.

The forthcoming i8. Note the similarities

And, having personally been disappointed by the styling of the new 5 Series (which hasn’t grown on me at all) it’s nice to see BMW being a little bit edgier with its styling. Well, at least with the front fascia. See the way the lights blend into the front grille? Very i8. Admittedly the rest of the car looks like a smaller 5 Series, but at least it has a handsome face.

5 Series. Yawn.

The car will be powered by the usual array of BMW engines, with the 320d looking likely to be the volume seller in Europe, as it was with the previous-gen model. Will there be an M3, I hear you cry? Yes, probably. But ecological conditions being what they are, BMW won’t be shouting about that at this stage, preferring instead to talk about the EfficientDynamics options on offer for the car, such as brake energy recuperation and oil and water pumps that only operate when required.

What will it be like to drive? Well, doubtless it will be like most BMWs, that is, very very good. You’ll just have to wait and see if they let old Carficionado have a go in it (advice: don’t hold your breath).

So what do you, dear Readers, think of the new 3 Series? Carficionado appreciates any comments!

Oh, and as for the aforementioned i8 (and its baby sibling the i3), I’ll be bringing you an exclusive interview that I conducted with Uli Kranz, direction of Project i, in the coming days….

This is the 335i model. Check the twin exhausts

Cabin is set back to emphasise RWD. Presumably.

The Black and White Volkswagen Up! Show

14 Sep

I forgot a category in my Awards Ceremony yesterday.

It was the “Shoot everybody in the marketing department team” award and it goes, without reservation, to Volkswagen, in particular the savvy, culturally informed marketing buffs working on the Up! project. Because everyone wants a different type of Up! don’t they? Consequently, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, they displayed your basic Up! Then for the person who wants a car that looks rugged, there is the Cross Up! Your little 18 year old wants “street cred” (a term marketers probably think is very “hip”) and so they’ve made a GT Up! Fine. Nothing wrong with them.

But there is, apparently, a niche market for people who are in black and white minstrel shows and want a car colour to match their grease-paint covered faces. But don’t worry, VW have got that covered too. Ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not, the Black Up!

"Mammy!"

Alright, up against the wall boys.

Frankfurt Motor Show Awards Ceremony!

13 Sep

So Carficionado ist in Deustchland. And using his mastery of the German language, and disguising himself as a small Schnitzel, he managed to sneak his way into the Frankfurt Motor Show! Other, very reputable, automotive publications will tell you in a more prosaic way how it went down, but I’ve decided that that is too….well, prosaic, so here is Carficionado’s Frankfurt 2011 Award Ceremony. Cue fanfare.

Most Star Studded Cameo of the Day:

Why, it’s the Weltmeister himself, Sebastian Vettel, who turned up at Infiniti to unveil his “Inspired by Vettel” FX50 concept. And reinforce why, when you want to discuss matters of class, taste and discretion in tuning a car, Germany doesn’t usually get the call. (Other notable entries in this category: Michael Schumacher, who drew a big crowd; Nico Rosberg, who didn’t; and Bruno Senna….but more on him later.)

Pomp and Circumstance Award – an award given to the manufacturer who provided the most amount of bullshit in an unveiling:

It has to be Mercedes. Unveiling the new B-Class, F125 and SLS Roadster, along with the Smart Forvision,  a posse of what can only be described as gay Thunderbirds pranced around the stage, interacting with the massive LED screens and doing some light trampolining, before a couple of wizened German management-types shuffled on stage to bore the pants off the gathered audience. Who were all journalists and who thus didn’t applaud with the great aplomb that I’m sure Mercedes were hoping for.

Most awkward unveiling:

This award goes to Lotus, who summoned poor old Jake Humphreys (‘cos he’s from Norfolk and that) to help do a big unveil on some cars that, frankly, didn’t really seem worthy of a big unveil. Poor Mr Humphreys stood, his ubiquitous iPad by his side, looking for all the world like the beleaguered television presenter that he frankly was, wearing a sickly smile as some dodgy, sub-porn lighting illuminated an updated Evora, the new Elise (including the R-GT 16…..OK, that was quite cool) and Lotus’ 444bhp Evora GTE, their most powerful ever road car. Bruno Senna was waiting in the wings to come on, but I had had enough.

Best surprisingly cool car:

This award goes to Volvo, for their Concept You, err, concept. At a time when another Swedish car maker that shall not be named is in dire straits, it was surprising and heartening to see Volvo offer up this rather swish looking exec saloon, which integrates some of the company’s classic design language with some modern sweeps and tweaks (Oh, like every other car on the market you mean? Yes.). But it looks cool. Well done Volvo.

N.B. Volvo have subsequently had their award revoked for offering Carficionado a bribe in the form of a delicious coffee. Mazda are also not eligible, having provided Carficionado with a rather sizeable brioche and some sparkling water.

Most barren stand:

Sorry to pick on you Ssangyong, I know you’re weak and pathetic and no one’s bought one of your cars since my Mum, presumably as an act of charity, took delivery of a Musso in the 90s. But your stand was more dismal than a Bratwurst floating in a puddle. But your concept looked good. Well if Kia and Hyundai can do it….

Worst dressed person of the day:

Well, this was always going to be a difficult choice. There was such a crop of poorly attired, misled Germans this year. Heck, every year I’m surpised and delighted by the lack of sartorial direction amongst the Teutons. I mean it’s one thing when they’ve obviously given up on life. But it’s when they’re trying and failing that it hurts my heart the most. And so, regrettably, because in my eyes they’re all winners, this chap wins. See, scenesters are everywhere!

And last but not least, best concept car:

A rather dour, serious category I know, but it must be done. And I’ve decided that I’m going to be progressive and say that my favourite concept at the motor show was (drum roll)….the Volkswagen Nils (cymbal crash). You may have noticed an environmental bent in Carficionado’s blog over the years. Not much of one, admittedly, but it’s there. But it came always with a slightly rueful feeling that in the future, big bugger V8s and the like would be eradicated and this would be an awful thing. But this car made me feel that what we’re looking at is a future of economical single-seat (or two or three seat) racing cars! And if they handle well and are nippy and economical, bring them on, I say!

So there you go, awards over. Next year I’ll book Billy Crystal to do it.

Monaco!

14 Jun

So, Carficionado took it upon himself to head to the Monaco Grand Prix. Intrepid little bugger, aren’t I? Frankly, it was absolutely unbelievable, a veritable Disneyland for car lovers – well, maybe second to Ferrari World. Or Goodwood. The thing that struck me the most about being in Monaco was the sound of the engines reverberating around the harbour and up into the dusty hills. And the engines of the 3.5L Formula Renaults and the Porsche Carreras were one thing. But the Forumla 1 cars – you’ve never heard anything quite like it, I assure you. As you enter your designated seating zone (in my case, a very steep hill were you had to fashion your own perch – or Rocher as they grandly put it) you are issued with earplugs. These I scoffed at, thinking them merely a case of health and safety gone mad, symptomatic of the nanny state (or principality…..whatever). Thus I duly gave mine to a mother with a very displeased-looking child, an act of immense altruism which I immediately regretted the moment the first HRT (unfortunate name, really) left the pits.

So, just briefly, a few key things regarding the weekend:

  • I discovered that almost all rich people are very boring. Wealth is wasted on the wealthy as I always say. If you, readers of Carficionado, had as much money as these people, do you really think that the most imaginative automobile you could stretch to would be a red Ferrari California? There were loads of them. I was beginning to despair that all rich people were boring when, after the race had finished and the track was opened I saw, looming into Casino Square, a beautiful blue Bentley soft-top, packed with about 8 British people with a man sat up on the boot playing an accordion, all singing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”. Thank God for them!
  • The Renault has the best sounding engine in Formula 1, closely followed by Lotus, Mercedes and McLaren. Ferrari’s was the most disappointing – Felipe Massa’s sounded like a bag of spanners rolling around in the trunk of a car.
  • The red flag robbed us of a spectacular finish. Fortunately Montreal made up for that. Jenson’s looking in fine form at the moment and his driving in both races has been immense.
  • One (admittedly very boring-looking) English bloke turned up in a proper, 1950s, Stirling Moss stylee 300SLR which was absolutely stunning. Pictures to follow…..
OK, so that’s the basic skinny of Carficionado’s first Grand Prix. I had a great weekend, I drank wine, ate cheese, swam in the sea. It was beautiful. So dear readers, get yourselves down to a Grand Prix, it’s highly recommended. Next one I want to catch is Spa, to see those cars flying up Eau Rouge – what a treat!

What’s going on

25 May

Hello friends of Carficionado

Well, I’ve been taking a little break since November, not entirely sure what I’ve been doing. BUT! News. Here are the headlines:

-Carficionado has sold out to the man, and will be doing some work experience at a major UK car magazine in July. He will then presumably be hired by said car magazine, because he’s the tops.

-Carficionado will be attending the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend. He will take a suit and seek to schmooze with the great and the good, and perhaps bag himself a St. Tropezian bronzed countess to keep me in my dotage.

-Carficionado has bought a new car.

And it’s the last point I want to talk to you about today. I was fortunate enough to buy, from a very nice Scottish man, a 57-reg Mark V Golf GTi with 20,000 miles on the clock. For £12,000. In dull grey colour. Now this I considered quite a coup, considering some of the cars I’d driven during my search for the right one. In one famously bad example, my brother and I drove out to a very dingy industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, the sort of place where gangland murders happen, to look at a 55-plate black GTi. The garage was actually pretty well stocked, with RS4s and AMG Mercs sitting around. Then I saw the GTi and, from a distance it was fine. But up close there were weird anomalies. Like on the VW badges there was this weird creamy sperm-like thing that looked like it was beginning to erode them from the inside. The dealer didn’t help his case much. Balding, but not in the triumphant, Prince Michael of Kent style way, more in the ‘my wife’s just run off with her bull-fighting coach’ way. He was also about as warm as a fish freshly pulled from the Arctic Ocean and had a handshake like a used Kleenex. Not only that, but he hadn’t done his homework on the car, and so to every (perfectly reasonable) question I asked, he responded “Yeah, well as I say, there’s a lot of cars here and I can’t remember the precise details of this one” – remember, dear readers, this was in the middle of nowhere, and he hardly had any trade. So me and my brother left, and said we’d be in touch, but the whole experience was just dismal.

So I was very happy to find my baby, who I’ve lovingly called Thor, because in the grey paint, with that menacing red line around the grill, it had something God-like about it. And as a far, it’s fairly hard to fault. The only thing is that I thought, with its 6th gear, it would be a touch more frugal than it is. But it seems to be a pretty thirsty wee beastie, not helped by my ragging it around Oxford in second gear to scare my friends.

My only two complaints would be these.

1) It’s good. You know those kids at school who are in the top sports teams, and they’re bright, and good-looking, but you can’t imagine them having sex. That’s a bit like the Golf. It’s a bit fastidious, a bit Teutonic. It’s not really grabbed me by the heart strings in the same way that I feel a Fiat 500 might, or that my old Peugeot 106 did.

2) Well, my other complaint isn’t really a complaint. But when I drive the car fast, and my friends all say “Crikey, this is fast” and in my head I’m usually thinking “Is it?”. This is because, I think, my perception of speed has been ruined by motorcycling, which is very much a case of “I will have that horizon here, now thank you very much”. So I’m perhaps not appreciating the speed so much. I’d love to take it around a track there and really push it. I also think that the car needs quite a bit of work to be kept “on boost” with the turbos. Ayrton Senna used to famously pump the accelerator as he was disengaging the clutch to keep his turbo Lotus F1 car on boost. Maybe I should try that.

Anyway, nonetheless, the car’s so good that you really have to nitpick to find fault with it. Even the boot’s decent. So I’m very happy with him, and very happy to be back, some 6 months after my last post. I’ll try and keep it up this time, and I’ll let you know how Monaco goes!

OK, this isn't my car, but it looks almost exactly the same. I'll post some of Thor soon

Commuting

29 Nov

My invention wouldn't stop these. But hey ho.

Over the past two and a half months, I have become a commuter. Four days a week, I hop into my Land Rover and drive an hour to university, study for the day, turn around and come back. I’ve learnt to leave my commute. I don’t want to come over like a chocolate advert, but it’s nice to have a bit of me time. I put on Radio 4, surreptitiously pick my nose, perv at nice cars, curse BMW drivers. It’s pleasant. I’ve even developed a Buddhist way of looking at traffic jams, which means even they don’t really annoy me either.

However, a commute is also a good place to get some thinking done, and sitting in my 2 tonne leather armchair of a car, the bit of thinking that comes to me most often is that about 60% of my Land Rover is totally superfluous. Now I like space as much as the next guy. But when you’ve got so much space that your sneezes echo, something’s gone wrong.

And so on my commute I’ve started designing a car that would be called The Commuter, or something catchier. It is essentially the same as Gordon Murray’s proposed city car, the T25. Its design brief is that it must:

  1. Cruise happily at 70mph, whilst returning at least 70mpg
  2. Cost about the same as a motorbike
  3. Not be so flimsy that you fear for your life every time you pass an HGV
  4. Keep you dry
  5. Seat 2 people, with enough boot space for 3 bags of shopping.
  6. Have a radio/CD player and other little luxuries.

Now, because it would be so cheap relative to other cars, your average middle-income family could afford to have one as well as your usual kid-mobile. The problem is that the kid-mobile performs does a variety of functions most of which are redundant on your solo trip to work. And in this time of job losses, austerity measures and all the rest, this is a redundancy that we can ill-afford.

 

Gordon Murray's answer, the T25

 

 

R is for Rehabilitation

27 Nov

Shall I make myself a bit of an outsider in the car world? More so than I am already, poring over my posts on a lonely laptop, unpaid, unloved….

Oh alright then. I quite like the Mercedes R-Class. There you go, I said it. This has been gnawing away at me for a few months now. It gets nothing but stick from the car industry, who call it cynical, a needless, money-grabbing expansion of the Mercedes range. Personally, I think that particular hole is filled quite ably by the GL, thank you very much.

You know, from time to time, Carficionado is wont to ask himself  the question: if he were to, tomorrow say, knock someone up, and nine months later this person was to bring forth quintuplets, and assuming that in the intervening pregnancy period he got a fairly decent job, what car would he choose to ferry around his knock up-ee and their squirming brood. And the answer Carficionado keeps coming back to is, you guessed it, a Mercedes R-Class. Personally I can think of little else on the road that can take so many people whilst still being stylish and (R) classy. The only other car that I can think of is a Land Rover Discovery, and frankly the economy will be as good if not better on the Mercedes if you choose the base diesel model and you’ll be able to slither past the environment-types because by dint of the Merc not being a 4×4 (they’ll go after the GL drivers, and rightly so). There’s the Volvo XC90 but, having lived in Toronto and seen the earnest North American soccer mums whooshing around in them – well, it’s all just a bit Volvo-y isn’t it? I think the R-Class deserves to sit at the table of fine cars of today, a good-looking way to ferry your family around without the requisite emasculation. And if you’re really worried about emasculation, get the R63 AMG.

 

It just wants to be loved.....