Topless in a New
Our Down-under correspondent John Weinthal has just
returned from a week in a New Beetle and falls in love with being
topless. This is something he obviously had forgotten, as I can
remember John many moons ago driving around in a Triumph TR2 (just to
be different as the rest of us were in MG’s)!
describes this variant of the New Beetle as “User friendly in every
way”, so here are the Words from Weinthal:
“An essential in setting out to review any new
car is to climb aboard with a clear mind. Forget what you have read or
any preconceptions regardless of their source. After driving at least
half a dozen examples of Volkswagen’s no-longer-quite-so New Beetle
I reckoned I knew what was in store when the New Beetle Cabriolet - or
convertible to most of us - arrived.
“I’d previously described new Beetles as little
more than Golfs in Clowns’ Suits and triumphs of form over function.
I’d certainly enjoyed the drive in the very rapid and endearing
Turbo model, but as practical everyday transport they lack a lot.
“But prior to taking over the Beetle Cabriolet
I’d overlooked the magic X-factor; the sheer joy of driving a good
car without a top. Get the weather right - any clear night or a mild
spring or autumn day is ideal - and all normal driving parameters
change. Outright pace and handling play second fiddle.
“When your convertible has four adult-size seats
the potential is there for almost double the fun. But before rushing
in, it’s worth remembering that first in get the rather upright back
seats and more wind in their hair.
“There are a couple of fine four-seater
convertibles for not much more than the AUD 47,000 ask for the New
Beetle, but none has attention-grabbing style. These include VW’s
own much more serious looking Golf and Peugeot’s 307. Renault has a
lower priced, but somewhat underpowered, contender in the handsomely
There’s quite a price leap to the next batch of
four door convertibles such as the 3 Series BMW and the recently
introduced all-new Saab 9-3.
“The New Beetle delivered one of the most
satisfying week’s drives of the year. Hood down, terrific sound
system turned up and cruise control set ensured extended runs to and
from Bundaberg became journeys to savour. This is a user-friendly car
in every way. All the controls are nicely to hand or foot. An ideal
driving position is easily achieved. Raising and lowering the hood is
dead simple and quick.
“Standard gear for the lone 85 kW 2 litre
front-wheel-drive Beetle model includes climate control air, cruise
control, full leather seating and superb sound system with six-stacker
CD located between the front seats. There are locks for everything
that might be tempting should you abandon the car with the hood down.
The large front seats have five-stage heating control and there is a
heated glass rear window. There is even a single button to raise or
lower all four side windows simultaneously - as well as individual
the safety front there’s full ABS braking, electronic brake force
distribution, front and side airbags, an immobiliser and all seats
have head restraints and three-point belts. This is one very well
thought out motor car.
“Of course it pays to be more than a mite
extrovert to maintain a straight face while going about your everyday
driving chores in it. You never travel anonymously in any New Beetle,
and the deal is significantly magnified when your Beetle goes topless.
“Judged simply as a car the New Beetle
Convertible still shines. Performance is more than adequate and the
ride is wonderfully compliant. The steering and brakes are nicely
weighted for a commanding but undemanding drive. Both front seats are
height adjustable and the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach.
Nobody could fail to find a comfortable driving position.
“The made-in-Mexico New Beetle Cabriolet is
easily my Beetle of choice. This is a car I could drive year around
and never be without a smile.”
(Thank you John. From that glowing report I could
almost detect that you liked it! Dr. Iain.)
So you think we’re
paying through the nose?
Compared to America, we pay very dearly for our new
vehicles. Compared to Australia we pay very dearly for our new
vehicles, even though many are manufactured here, so you can’t use
the “import tariff” excuse.
In developing economies (I like that phrase - it
means dragging the poor out of the mire, but not quite enough to make
them feel rich, while the very rich get very richer) you would expect
that governments would make it such that cars were easy to buy. Silly
Take Vietnam for example. The government there was
apparently very impressed about the 35% growth in new vehicle sales
last year, so it thought that if it increased taxes, it would get more
revenue, and has just increased taxes on parts, VAT and “Special
Consumption” items. A Toyota Corolla which costs USD 15,000 here in
Thailand now costs USD 26,500 if you wear a coolie hat. That’s 76%
more than in Thailand, two land borders away. For USD 10,000 I’ll
drive one over to Hanoi!
Clearly the Vietnamese government has not thought
this one through. It is now in the disincentive business! Watch new
car sales fall, foreign investment slow down, and see the goose that
laid the golden egg become sterile.
The Aussies are also peeved that their Holden
Monaro, which they export to the US where it is sold as a Pontiac, is
20 percent cheaper in the US than it is in its country of origin.
Explain that one? Well, you can easily - it’s called taxation, a
nice word for government theft.
Last week I published a photograph. This car returned 63 mpg
in the old money (22 km/litre), had a plastic body and a drag coefficient of
0.25. It was built in 1982, and I asked what it was? It was the BL ECV3, an
Energy Conservation Vehicle that was designed by British Leyland to be the
lightweight economical car of the future. Unfortunately this was not the era of
future thought for the troubled BL organization and the BL ECV3 ended its days
in the Rover Museum.
to this week, and another economy drive. There was a wicker bodied car made in
Europe in 1924. Which company made this peculiar vehicle? And have a stab at
‘why’? For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to
email automania @chiangmai-mail.com
China’s Won Ton market
you think China is into the one ton pick-up market, think again. China is eyeing
off the luxury car segment as the top echelon of Chinese gets its hands on
investment dollars. Last year they sold 1.13 million vehicles making China the
fourth largest market after the US, Japan and Germany.
Toyota is going to produce its Toyota Crown models in China
within two years, where currently they make the Soluna Vios. DaimlerChrysler has
also just signed a framework agreement with Beijing Automotive Industry Holding
Company, under which Benz will produce 25,000 E and C Class Benzes.
So after 10 years, the Chinese have gone from rickshaws to C Class Benzes.
Telematics. A bit more than rear seat TV
Information on the move, or Telematics came out of the US
when General Motors first popularized automotive telematics with its OnStar
system, but the big mover is now Japan, as customer driven demand drives the car
In 2002, Nissan entered the market with its Carwings, Toyota
the G-BOOK, and Pioneer the AirNavi, marking the beginning of full-scale
services. These include extremely detailed maps, voice guides, ease of finding
phone numbers, and points of interest, have all worked to satisfy the new users.
(And you thought you were doing well with the on-board computer that could tell
you how many clicks you could go before you ran out of gas!) Now with navigation
telematics installed in 50 percent of new Japanese cars, the total number of
cars with advanced telematics in Japan is currently over 10 million.
However, it is not quite as electro-simple as the
manufacturers’ advertising departments would lead you to believe. There are
problems. The magnitude of these problems became even more apparent at the
Telematics conference in Munich this year, attended by the auto manufacturers
and the Information Technology industry.
At this conference, DaimlerChrysler’s director of
telematics, Peter Hausserman, said software complexity, unpredictable
development costs and unpredictable time to get it on the market were the
biggest problems in the complex field.
He highlighted the fact that DaimlerChrysler and other
companies have different and incompatible systems in their cars. He described it
as being similar to having IBM computers in some cars and Apples in others. Ah
yes, remember the Beta-VHS recording videotape systems? Or anyone left out there
with an 8 track cassette sound system?
Hausserman says he believes Microsoft is capable of rising to
the challenge, but as I sit here and watch my PC crash because of inherent
software glitches, I don’t share the same optimism. However, with such a huge
potential market, Microsoft must become intimately involved, expecting that
eventually 20 percent to 25 percent of all 55 million new cars annually and 25
million used cars will be equipped with some sort of telematics system.
There is also the issue of cost. The feeling of the
conference was that low-cost software platforms with 10 year life cycles and the
possibility of self-updating are crucial. So is the compatibility of on-board
systems with external devices such as mobile phones.
However, there were some other items of agreement. One
important one was that all telematics functions should be car-related and not be
focused on creating additional revenue. “Infotainment is nice to have, not
something customers currently regard as a must,” says Jan-Christiaan Koenders,
director, Innovation and Advanced Marketing concepts at BMW. “Customers are
not very interested in having the Internet in their car. They are more
interested in car-related functionality.”
The results of the telematics conference were principally
that the automakers have learned the hard way that customers do not always need
all the features being thrown at them. Says DaimlerChrysler’s Haussermann,
“What we now know is that less is more.”
We can expect that in the future, the thrust of telematics will be towards
making life at the wheel simpler, rather than being more informed - other than
where is the location of the closest McDonalds!