Blogs : August 2008
Back on the road
DESPITE having landed a job on the best car magazine in the world (I would say that, though), and being able to drive the finest cars money can buy, there are few things that fill me with a tingling sense of anticipation than a crap car challenge. During the Bank Holiday weekend, I finally went about repatriating AROnline’s aborted project car, and putting it into the hands of someone who will truly appreciate the finer points of this magnificent Rover 827SLi fastback.
The challenge was a simple one – to drive from AROnline Towers in Northamptonshire, up to Blackpool to pick up the 827’s new owner, and then transport him up to Whitley Bay, where it’s been residing for the last few years, then shadow it back to Blackpool in case of any unforeseen circumstances. As it was, my current car (and not mine, I hasten to add) a Subaru Outback diesel was out with a work colleague, who’d kindly lent me his 1987 Audi 100CD. At the beginning of the Bank Holiday, I’d not planned on going anywhere in his Audi, but when it became clear that the new owner of the Rover would need to pick it up sooner rather than later, I realised, I’d be putting some miles on his poor car.
And that’s why I found myself heading up the M6 in the ageing Audi – heading towards Blackpool. I’ll not give too much of the story away, as I’m intending to feature the 600-mile day in AROnline soon, but needless to say we all had a great day, despite one or two mishaps…
I’m still smiling at the memory of the warbling five-pot soundtrack overlaying the Rover’s V6 music.
Convoy? Who needs Ferraris to have fun.
The truth: outed
SPENDING an idle few moments reading the forums at mg-rover.org, I stumbled across a thread that made me smile. Discussing prototype MGs, it went on to talk about RDX60 mules and prototypes, and in particular the Wedgewood Blue cut ‘n’ shut pictured above.
The image first appeared in Autocar back in 2001, where the magazine went on to discuss the excitingly titled RD60 programme. We knew the rest, of course, but it’s interesting to learn how the magazine came into possession of the facts. Basically someone working at MG Rover met someone working at the magazine; he ‘accidentally’ dropped a couple of images – this being one of them – before leaving. Said member of Autocar dashed back to Teddington, held the news page and ran the story. Ancient history now, you understand.
However, the subterfuge went an awful lot further than that. Said MG Rover employee spent a busy afternoon taping bin bags to a standard 75 at a wind-swept MIRA and deploying a roll of black tape and some bin bags. You notice I said standard 75? That’s because the truncated rear end was added on later by an imaginative Photoshop artist at MG Rover. The ruse was sufficient enough to convince the world that plans for RDX60 were further advanced than they may well have been – and gave us hope for the future.
As it is, we all know just how far RDX60 actually progressed… but for a while, it was nice that we could all dare to dream.
Good to see things moving again
FINALLY, I made it to Longbridge yesterday. It’s always good to return to the site of my favourite car factory and, even if things are considerably quieter these days, it’s hard to deny the emotional pull.
Funny thing is, as I drew up to Q Gate, I felt more optimism about the place than I’d done for quite some time. Okay, it’s a long way from having the buzz that it did in the late-1990s when I worked there and the 25/45 had just been launched but, at the same time, there were comings and goings (more comings) – something not apparent when I was last at the place in May 2007, when NAC MG UK formally re-opened the factory to the press.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I had a good poke around the TF LE500, met with marketing man, Gary Hagen, and had a look at the production facility. Cars are being built and the quality looks good – and they appear to have a reasonably full order book for the LE500.
There’s a lot more to it than that and I’ll be uploading a series of articles from next Tuesday, including a First Drive, an Interview, a look at the production line and an outline of NAC MG UK’s plans for the future. You’ll be surprised just how forthright these guys are and how confident they are about the future of Longbridge…
Yep, they’re describing the orange ones as being the ‘halo’ models – and that first few cars are all going to finished in this colour.
My hybrid experience
I’VE been spending the week with a Honda Civic IMA Hybrid, and it’s been a fascinating experience so far. Firstly, though, I have to say that those who say that cars lack technical diversity these days are talking through their hat – because the IMA (like the much-hyped Toyota Prius) offers some interesting solutions to the all-important matter of saving fuel. There have been plenty of AROnline correspondents who’ve vented their spleens about the ‘hybrid con’, but I’ve always kept pretty quiet, deciding not make an opinion until I’ve actually driven one.
Down to brass tacks. The Civic IMA’s twin-plugged 1.4-litre i-VTEC engine is mated to a 20bhp electric motor, which acts like a dynamo under braking and provides motive force at trickling speed, as well as boosting power under full bore acceleration. It also drives through a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which motoring pundits since time immemorial have told us is the transmission of the future.
With all that hardware aboard, it must be fantastically economical, I hear you say… well, er, on my mixed commute, so far, it’s averaging 58mpg – a figure that would be easily matched by a similarly sized common rail diesel and, in fact, the Ford Focus ECOnetic I had a couple of weeks ago actually nudged that slightly. To be fair, though, the Honda’s not actually a bad drive – and it usually feels like it has more than 1.4-litres under the bonnet. Government figures indicate a mixed consumption figure of 61.4mpg and 109g/km emissions, but I would suspect that the average user would struggle like Billy-o to match those.
So, is it all a big con? Well, as the solution to our environmental concerns, the answer has to be yes. After all, it’s no more parsimonious or clean than the best similarly priced TDs and, in terms of performance, rarely do you feel the benefits of the electrical assistance. With a heftier motor putting out more power, perhaps, but then that (relatively for a new car) low kerb weight of 1297kg would be smashed to pieces. The CVT is also a talking point and may indeed be the transmission of the future – but it does take time to adjust and the notion that you’re driving a car with a slipping clutch (something I’m used to with my heaps) takes an awful long time to subside.
However, on my regular commute, I can’t really see the benefit though. I never halt long enough for the stop/start system to have an effect – but, having said that, city dwellers might really have a reason to own one.
Are hybrids the saviour of the petrol engined car? Do me a favour. And clean? Nah… What happens when those batteries pack up?
I have heard that there is a British hybrid car in the form of the Connaught Type D sports car.
Perhaps if David Cameron is so keen on these cars he should get one of these instead of his Lexus 🙁 A British PM driving a Jap car? Unthinkabl
The electric motor doesn’t do the work unless you’re driving 1-2 miles. The Prius barely scrapes a range of 5 miles on a full charge (and it has to have had the engine running to acquire that charge). To make the Prius genuinely non-pollut
If you’re using the car to drive 1-2 miles then you’re merely offsetting the habits that have got people’s car use into the dreadful state it is in now, with parents driving their kids a mile to school – the problem is not inappropri
FWIW, if you’re worrying about emissions and environmen
FWIW, I considered a Prius, largely for the way the CVT gearbox/to
Having driven the same Civic Hybrid for a couple of days, I’ve grown to like it more and more. It’s great fun creeping up on old ladies in supermarke
The Civic 2.2 i-CTDi EX that I had for 4 days prior was a relevation – really enjoyed it – punchy, comfortabl
It was pretty photogenic too.
“It’s great fun creeping up on old ladies in supermarke
Why do everyone else’s number plates look cooler than ours?
EVERY time I go abroad, I find myself wondering why it is that everyone else’s number plates look cooler than ours. Okay, so perhaps my obsession with registration font size and style might just be a little peculiar, but I am sure I’m not alone. And that’s why I found myself stood in a small motor factors in rural France last week, nervously asking for a plate to be pressed for the family Citroen.
And now, I’m wondering what the legalities are about it being fitted. Either way, I reckon it looks a little odd seeing French ‘plate characters spaced and configured in UK standard – and yet, I can’t help but think it actually quite suits the car. I have to say that I do have my European favourites; silver-on-black French plates look gorgeous, as do the current German ones. Actually, the German system has always fascinated me, with its neatly crafted letters, the ID marks separating the region mark and the vehicle identifiers.
The Italians have it pretty cool, too – although I miss the micro-plates they used to fit on the front. Despite that, there’s something tasty about the flashes of blue at both ends, and the fact that in this era of EU-conformity, they still manage with a undersized front plate. Knowing the Italians, it’s probably done that way simply because it looks better. I should like the Belgian system – usually three letters followed by three numbers, finished in red, but because each plate belongs to the person, and not the car, they tend to get battered as they’re moved from one vehicle to another. And those insurance and tax plates either side? How lame…
The Dutch ones would be okay, except that orange just looks plain wrong on the front of a car; and as for the Polish ones – I reckon the font used is just too spidery and bland. The pseudo-digital era Irish plates look nice, though – and like all the best countries, there merest glance tells you where the car is from and how old it is. I know the current UK system is flawed, and decipherable with patience, just how many people really understand how it works, and why the annual change-over point happens in April (or is it September)? Having said that, I don’t object to the narrower letters now used – although I know many who do.
But I do have a favourite – and I want to own a car that wears a set. I’m talking, of course, about Finland. Three numbers, three letters, white on black, plain border and blue country flash. Lovely.
Actually, I’m quite a fan of your British system! Think the font (when the proper font is used that is) really suits cars and it’s really nice to see they have special sized fill-all plates for some cars there (eg. Rover 75).
On the Belgian ones: After some thirty years we’ve changed systems last month, new ones come with numbers in front of letters. But they luckily still have the advantage of being practicall
Other than that, I think the Silver/whi
Having just had a set of german style plates made for the Audi to replace the knackered ones it came with, I agree that they do look cooler. But maybe JUST because they look DIFFERENT? Maybe not, though, as some “show plates” you see just mark the owner of the vehicle out as a massive twat, although i’m sure they think they look really excellent. eah, maybe on your council estate…
As for the legality – technicall
So i’ll be needing another new set of plates next August…
Must admit, I think a French font on a GB format plate looks wrong to me.
I reckon a Francophil
To me, our complex system seems more intelligib
Northern Ireland plates are dateless, my 99 Xantia was re-registe
Albeit there are some politcal issues over the “country flash” – GB / NI / UK / IRL (some do without a county code altogether just the EU stars, and most do not have any blue flash).
There seem to be a few VW/BMW/Por
*D | M:BZ-1234
I’ve always liked the style of the Isle of Man plates, the Irish style font and header, big red flag, and although they follow a similar syntax to pre-2001 GB plates, they are dateless.
Liam, what I was getting at is that they are dateless in that “MAZ” for example, being a Belfast plate registered in the mid 90s, can be applied to a car from the 70s or 80s, whereas a “P” plate for example “P123 ABC” would need to be placed on a car from 1996 onwards.
I see what you mean however about the sequential ordering ie LAZ -> MAZ -> PAZ (NAZ not being issued), yes they roll over to the next availble letter, but they do not rollover at predetermi
I think the black on silver french plates will shortly been a sign of “old money” across France soon.
Memories of Land Rover
BACK in 2004, I had the good fortune to be working with a chap at a now-defunct electrical retail chain. He moved onto better things after an altercation with the management and I soldiered on with the company, working my way higher up the ladder until I found myself a nice cushy office job – then the company went bust – which was nice of it…
Thoroughly disheartened by this, I used my redundancy pay to fund a three-month holiday to Australia and, liking their propensity for rear-wheel-drive cars with huge engines and manual gearboxes, decided to return home in December 2006 and begin the emigration process. However, while I set the wheels in motion, I had a problem. The mortgage still needed to be paid and the redundancy money had long gone.
After a couple of months of vainly trying different jobs, I phoned my ex-workmate and asked him what he was doing: “Oh I’m a Team Leader working on the logistics contract for Land Rover. I can give you a number if you’d like a job, they’re always taking on.”
Land Rover? Land Rover? Hell’s Bells this was just what I needed! I built a Series 3 years back, rebuilt 101s for the Army and run a Range Rover until it ruined me. I’d got experience and the job was fairly well-paid so it would do while I waited for all my paperwork to go through. A couple of phone calls, a rather hasty interview, a medical and a week or so later had me working on Deck 86 Defender Trim and final goods-in.
The staff on there seemed to spend their days either asleep, bickering or doing doughnuts on the Forklifts so I didn’t fit in too well, despite my ability to quote part numbers off the top of my head (having worked on ex-MoD Defenders some years previously). I wonder why…
After about three months there, I got myself transferred to T5 Body-in White. This is Range Rover Sport and Discovery Under Body and Cladding – in other words where they make the shells. I also found myself working under my old mate… It wasn’t a problem and, as long as I did what needed to be done and he didn’t tell me what to do, we got along famously!
The work itself wasn’t a problem either. A part came up on the computerised line-feeding system, you pressed the screen to print a ticket out, the ticket told you which part to take, where it was, and where to take it to and all you had to you was bring the empty part container back and put in the correct place.
Dead easy, I mean really easy – as long as you were a quick enough driver not to cause the track to stop (which was fairly rare) you were OK. No, the problem was with some of the staff.
You see Lode Lane has a mixture of staff: those who think they own the place and those who think they ought to own the place.
Time and time again I’d be driving down an aisle and I’d see an Associate (horrible word I know!) walking in the correct pathway, he’d then look over his shoulder, see me, and then promptly step out in front, causing me either to swerve or to brake sharply. The Logistics staff used to call it “Green Shirt Syndrome.” I can only put it down to too many no win no fee claim ads on TV… Though I think part of the problem was that they were employees whilst we were only contructors.
But I digress….
We also had a good few ex-Longbridge and Cowley staff there. They worked for Land Rover (and one on the Logistics side) but didn’t seem to have quite the same work ethic as the others. I’ve been regaled with stories about how everything was much better at Longbridge, about borrowing production cars to nip down the shops, roasting turkeys in the furnaces at Christmas and, above all, the necessity of having regular breaks. A little too regular with hindsight.
I can’t help but think that in ten years or so, when Lode Lane is gone, they’ll be talking about how everything was great there… but I suppose that’s human nature for you.
Another good thing about the place was the overtime. I’d do 2¾ hours overtime everyday, 12 hours Saturday, and 12 hours Sunday.
This wasn’t as arduous as it seems. True to the spirit of cutting corners, the Team Leader (my ex-workmate) and I would come in, make sure there were enough parts on the track to keep it going, then disappear to the pub for several hours…. then come back, replenish as needed then head back out again. However, all this stopped with the takeover by Tata Motors. Production was slashed, overtime was now non-existent and another company bought out the logistics contract. This didn’t make any difference apart from having a new uniform to wear and the HR Department being replaced. This struck fear into the hearts of a lot of the staff who had previously been on an easy ride as regards lateness etc. However, none of that really bothered me, as I was a temp and therefore outside the normal rules – I continued to wear my acquired Land Rover uniform and work as normal.
A few words about my Manager: he was ex-Longbridge and had, in fact, been the Paint Shop Manager. Totally by the book and straight-down-the-line? I can’t really say anything bad about him although, for some odd reason, he loved caravans. My Supervisor was much the same and even shared my Manager’s deep and abiding love of caravans… He ran a 1997 TDi Discovery to tow his disintegrating heap from site to site and was forever complaining that it cost too much to run….
I asked one of the Team Leaders about this and he said that, as the Supervisor worked at Land Rover, he thought should DRIVE a Land Rover. I poured scorn on that until… I bought a Discovery! Suffice to say, my Disco departed this vale of tears after six months of being thrashed, crashed, hammered up mountains, driven through rivers and being just about bent in every way imaginable.
And do I regret it?
Hell no…. I had fun in that thing!
Anyway, on with the story. Times had changed at Land Rover and we had 300 staff depart for Castle Bromwich to support the Jaguar XF build, which came as a surprise to the Lode Lane staff as we mostly viewed the XF as being a Mondeo in a pretty frock and a complete white elephant – much the same as the X-TYPE before. I suppose if you spend your day around the things you get somewhat blasé.
I’ve now left Land Rover due to my emigration process coming to an end. Things are very quiet there but build for the 2010 facelift models (Disco and RR Sport) is going ahead, which is a good thing. Tata Motors have guaranteed five years build at Solihull – which I’m fairly dubious about considering the downturn in sales and the fuel price rises.
On the whole, though, I’m glad I took the chance to work there, even if it was such a lowly job (and it was!) and my commute involved a 50 mile a day round trip. I always wanted to work there and I’m oddly proud that I did…
Those were the days
I’VE just got back from a week away from it all in France and have to say that it was nice to shack up for a week in a rural gite without anything resembling a ‘phone or Internet access. Very nice indeed… Big apologies go to anyone who may have emailed or sent messages during the past few days and thought that they were being ignored. I’ll have a mass replying session this evening!
While stuck there in the middle of nowhere with just the odd trip to the nearest small town to break up the magnificent solitude, it struck me just how many R8s must have been sold over there. Northern France, you see, is awash with the things. That, in turn, set me thinking about Rover’s rapid fall from grace once these cars were off the scene and how things could go so wrong so quickly.
Perhaps it wasn’t that – maybe the R8 really was just the right car at the right time and was no more than a brief interlude in the gradual decline of Rover.
I still find myself congratulating everyone involved with the creation and marketing of this clever range of mid-liners.
Thanks, guys… Let’s hope that enough survive to make it to classic status.
MG born again at Longbridge? Not yet, but some encouraging news… at last.
DAVID BAILEY, Birmingham Post
News yesterday that MGs were being produced at Longbridge seemed to catch everyone on the hop. Even the City Council, which has done so much to develop a positive relationship with owners Nanjing and Shanghai, seemed to be expecting the announcement next week. A rather bungled PR operation by Shanghai should come as no surprise; afterall Chinese state-owned firms going international are very new to dealing with the media, as Duncan Tift notes on the front of Today’s Post.
Maybe the experience they gain during the Olympics shortly will help with that. Better communication by Shanghai with the local media, and indeed their own workers, would help a lot here. Leaving this aside, how much can we actually read into the news that a limited edition run of 500 ‘new’ MG TFs has finally kicked off?
It’s true that the TF is pretty much a 14 year old design with nearly all of the parts brought in from China, and that isn’t a sustainable operation beyond the very short term. Indeed, assembling cars in China using robots and by hand in Birmingham seems to defy some basic laws of comparative advantage and has left me scratching my head as to how this will work.
Furthermore, after StadCo’s pull out a few months ago, as discussed in earlier Post blogs, what seems to be happening at Longbridge is – for now – little more than a screwdriver operation. As a result, few linkages with local suppliers are being built and there is much less in the way of local economic development than we’d hoped for.
And yet. The fact that MG TF production has apparently restarted (I say ‘apparently’ as no one has actually been allowed in the factory to see) does come as a considerable relief after lengthy delays given concerns over the quality of parts coming from China, and much speculation that it simply wasn’t going to happen at all. When StadCo pulled out a few months ago, Shanghai must have looked long-and-hard at whether TF production was still a goer. That they have decided to go ahead is in part about them saving face. They said they would do it, and want to be seen to sticking to a promise. This is important in Chinese business.
Of course, they also want to associate the MG brand with the heritage of British racing car craftsmanship so that they can sell the cars at a premium price (although £16,000 does seem a bit hefty for such a dated model). Reconnecting with the positives about MG is indeed important and needs to be backed up by decent quality and moreover by new models pretty quickly if the brand isn’t to be tarnished.
And therein lies some hope. By going ahead with limited TF assembly, Shanghai are in effect signalling their commitment to the Longbridge site. Their plans for the site seem to include an R&D centre (much of Shanghai’s R&D is currently at Leamington Spa where Shanghai has developed a medium sized car in cooperation with Ricardo). This is the model that MG Rover was working on before it went bust and which Shanghai bought the IPRs to back in late 2004.
This model is about the be launched in China under the name ‘Roewe 550‘ and a ‘more aggressively styled’ (read better looking) MG version is on the cards for Longbridge for 2010 we think. Beyond that, a new MG TF based on the MG / Roewe 550 platform is possible (for impressions click here). Government support, through launch aid, within EU state aid rules, could help things along.
A combination of R&D and reasonable volumes of local production of genuinely new models (perhaps in the 50,000 – 100,000 range) along with a decent level of local sourcing really could bring benefits to the city and the region. Whilst Shanghai has said this is what they intend to do, much more clarity around timescales, volumes and the number of jobs to be created would be very welcome.
This, of course, gets us back to the need for a better relationship with the media and local agencies. MG TF assembly finally restarting, even in a such a limited way and on such a small scale, really is good news. Further clarity about the next steps for MG at Longbridge is now needed.
It’s not a dream; we’re stuck with it
I wonder how many of AROnline’s readers can, like me, remember the Fawlty Towers episode, Gourmet Night. Poor old Basil had been let down by his drunk and disorderly chef on his first gourmet night. With his rage rising and, failing to keep the chef problem from his overbearing wife, Cybil, he finally cracks. ‘Perhaps it’s a dream,’ he says pathetically – then he bangs his head on the reception desk – hard – looks at her, pauses for a second, then says, ‘…no, we’re stuck with it.’
Well, several calls from colleagues earlier this week brought that fateful episode of Fawlty Towers back to my mind and evoked the same response from me. You see this week a number of motoring journalists were supposed to visit Longbridge and finally drive the TF. It’s been a long time since the LE500 was announced to the world’s media and the collective faith of the baying pack of motoring rotters has been hanging by a gossamer thread. I’d been scheduled to go there this week, too, but began to think that there was a problem on Monday morning, when NAC MG UK Limited’s overworked Corporate Communications Manager, Eleanor De La Haye, told me that a meeting was to take place in order to decide when I’d get a go in the press car – and that the Technicians in the press garage were actually all on holiday. Breathtaking timing that considering that we’re talking about the week of the Press Launch.
|The TF won’t be available to drive, after all, and the magazine embargo had been moved back from the 4th August to the 26th…|
Mid Tuesday morning, I heard the ‘stuck with it’ call. The TF wouldn’t be available to drive, after all, and the magazine embargo had been moved back from the 4th to the 26th August. The monthlies will, as a result, now have to wait until their October issues to get the TF drive story into print. The car could be photographed but not driven and that took some persuasion. Now, to me, this has been a bit of a nightmare – most of the British press will be happy to bury the TF and its maker for good and, thanks to another PR blunder, far worse than anything from the old days, the likelihood of NAC MG getting a positive press for the LE500 has all-but vanished.
However, if we’re to believe the story coming from MG Dealers, perhaps the magazines don’t need to drive the car at all – interest has, reportedly, been immense and a serious number of deposits have been taken. I’d love to believe that – so, if you’re an MG Dealer and have taken deposits, please get in touch.
Will AROnline be able to drive the TF in a couple of weeks’ time? I’ll let you know.
Just spotted this…
The new Ford Ka. I wasn’t expecting much when the first scoop shots were published a couple of years back but, having seen this – the first photograph of the definitive car, I can honestly say that the new Ka looks like a million dollars. Does the Ka have the style to out-do the Fiat 500, the car which shares its underpinnings? I never thought I’d hear myself say this but, on the basis of this shot, I’d say that the answer could well be ‘yes’. You can guarantee that, when the time comes to sell, it’ll be residual gold dust too…
The trouble is that it’s failing as a marketing exercise. All it seems able to do is present MG as an outdated Brand owned and run by a Company that has no understand
This is why I advocate that they should have got Lotus to run them up an Elise clone to provide something smart and capable to boost the Brand (as GM did and as Fiat is currently working on) before the Volume Range arrives from China.
‘the likelihood of NAC MG getting a positive press for the LE500 has all-but vanished.’
And does that say it all about our useless media? The main conduit of informatio
BMW led Rover were pretty awful at maintainin
I might be in the minority here, but I wish they’d just raze the rest of Longbridge
I fail to see why interest in a car that dates back 15 years in design is so great..
“What did you expect to see at a NAC-MG press launch madame?”
“A driveable car? Engineers scurrying around? Wilderbeas