Thursday, 25 February 2010

Mini Me

I got a book about Minis for Christmas - I found it very interesting - there were even a few mentions of the Metro. I used to drive a Mini back in my student days at the end of the Eighties. It was a 1-litre Mayfair and it was an automatic so you could beat anything away from the lights.

In those days, a Mini Clubman looked like this...

It was basically a standard Mini with a square front and a better dash.

So when MINI (note the capital letters - it's how you're supposed to distinguish the new BMW-Owned version) announced their Clubman you could be forgiven for thinking there would be a similar revision but no - this was to be an estate variant. Now Mini-traditionalists would expect this to be called a Traveller or Countryman like this example here...

Doesn't that look good? Any road up, the MINI Clubman (capital letters!) was a pretty good car except for the doors. They went with the split side-opening rear doors which irritated some drivers due to rear view issues. But I quite like the retro look so that's not my beef. My beef is the suicide-side door behind the driver's door - BMW refused to put this on the left-hand side for right-hand-drive cars so anyone getting out of the back using this door has to do so into the road rather than onto the pavement. This was well-documented when this car was launched in 2008 but I do think that the design of a British-built car based on a British icon should cater for British roads.

The latest incarnation of MINI, due to go on sale in the Autumn, does now use the Countryman name. I spotted this short film on the Fifth Gear site a couple of weeks back and Top Gear Magazine have done a brief review of it. It seems to be bigger than most MINIs - in fact it is Golf-sized (don't you just hate those "it's like a Golf but not a Golf" ads? - maybe I'll do a post about car ads - after all I did do car insurance ads) It has two separate fully-adjustable rear seats (with the option of a bench instead but how often do Mini (or MINI) drivers have three people in the back of their cars?) It also has the option of four-wheel drive which makes you feel a bit safer in the current weather but stuffs your fuel economy. Most importantly, it has conventional, non-controversial rear doors. It does seem, though, to be getting even further away from the true Mini ethos but why not?

For the Mini-traditionalist who likes the MINI, there is the entry-level MINI First and for the Mini-traditionalist who doesn't like the MINI, there are plenty of good, nippy, reliable and cheap small (even Mini-sized) cars from Japan, Korea and Malaysia. And for the real Mini-traditionalist, there are still plenty of real Minis built in the '80s and '90s on the market - I regularly see one on a 51-plate as well.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Faulty Toyotas...

...starring John Creese.

Toyota are fitting a new override system to all of their new cars.

According to BBC News, President Akio Toyoda told reporters in Tokyo that the new system would cut engine power when the accelerator and brakes are applied at the same time.

I think I can see the logic here. If your accelerator pedal is wedged on, then your natural initial reaction would be to use the brake. I'm not sure exactly how the fault fully manifests itself, but if the override actually requires you to put your foot on the accelerator, then this is definitely not going to work in a heading-towards-a-tree-at-40mph situation.

Another problem is that when the engine is switched off, you will lose power-steering and braking capacity as well. Part of the advice currently being given is that switching off the engine will help in a runaway situation but don't take the key out!! - or your steering lock will kick in and much damage will ensue.

I also think any racing or rally drivers might have issues with this solution if every time they use left-foot braking, their cars cut out.

Overall, though, this is obviously a big exercise in reassurance - it probably won't add too much to the cost of manufacture since it will be installed on the production lines. Current owners know that Toyota make good cars and potential future owners will gain a bit of confidence in their purchase.

Friday, 5 February 2010

So Who Makes The Most Reliable Cars?

When I was a nipper, if something had "Made in Japan" stamped on it, you knew it was cheap rubbish. Then, as the Modern Romantics made way for Stock, Aitken and Waterman, the Japanese slowly and quietly sorted out their quality issues and started to build good, cheap, boring cars, the most prolific of which being the many guises of the Toyota Corolla.

Since these were now gaining a reputation for not breaking down, they lost their cheap image and started to put up their prices. This left a nice little niche for the Koreans closely followed by the Malaysians. Remember the excitement of seeing "Made in Korea" on the back of your radio-cassette player? No, me neither.

Any road up, nowadays, I tend to think of cars as follows:

Japanese: Reliable, Boring
Italian: Faulty Wiring, Rusty
French: Stylish, Break down a lot
German: Prestige, Expensive, Reliable Image
American: Big, Fast in a straight line, Cheap Interiors
Korean: Cheap but Reliable
Malaysian: Slightly cheaper than Korean
British: Foreign-owned, More reliable than in the past

Of course there are exceptions to prove all the rules - you couldn't call a Nissan Skyline or Subaru Impreza boring. Lamborghini are part of the VW/Audi Group and have the engines and knowledge that go with that. My Mercedes was built in Germany in 1999 but had many issues shared with Mercs of a similar age outsourced to America and South Africa - I had to superglue on the air-vent handles that fell off and had fuel sender issues resolved under warranty and an expensive battery replacement done out of warranty. Americans are now testing their new cars at the Nürburgring with a view to appealing to European customers.

Reviews of new Renault, Peugeots and Citroens report a massive increase in quality but only time will tell - I still see quite new Lagunas and Meganes being tended to by the Recovery Services.

By getting into bed with the Japanese, the French have been upping their act - comparing the current Nissan and Renault ranges show a lot of cars that look identical apart from the badges - probably because they are. The Vauxhall plant in Luton produce Vauxhall, Opel, Nissan and Renault vans on the same production line.

Similarly, the Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 107 and Citroen C1 are all effectively the same car, built on the same line in the Czech Republic. Oops - this means that now two French names are now subject to the same recalls that are currently embarrassing the World's largest car manufacturer, Toyota.

Toyota claim that the "sticky-brake-pedal" syndrome is not dangerous as long as you get it fixed if you start to notice the problem - that is assuming your local Toyota dealer will have the capacity to handle your case since they are now starting a massive recall programme. This is on top of a floormat-impeding-on-the-pedals recall and now a Prius Braking Issue which has allegedly led to some crashes in The States.

Overall, the recalls are expected to cost Toyota a couple of billion dollars worldwide to remedy. This comes as they just announced a $1.68bn profit for the last Quarter of 2009 following larger losses. The bigger impact, though, may well be on the reputation of the Toyota name.

I suspect, since Toyotas, and Japanese cars in general, tend to keep going for years, that they will soon get over this. But only time will tell.