woensdag 7 december 2011

Box of Neutrals Interview (The Full HD Sky Version)

Pleasently surprised to see the previous highlights post has been the most read post so far on this blog, and as promised I would also make the full, uncut interview available. 16 Pages which feature never released content ;)
So in reprise: That Cars Blog interviews Box of Neutrals!

Get it up you!

woensdag 30 november 2011

That Cars Blog interviews Box Of Neutrals (Extended Highlight Package)

Something that you might (not) know is that part from having an immense petrolhead I also like my fair share of Formula One. And if I remember correctly it was a tweet from Dutch F1-commentator Olav Mol that got me hooked with a very special podcast called Box of Neutrals. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was made by a bunch of guys not much older than myself and that they managed to avoid much of the seriousness of F1 journalism and show the funny side of paddock life. To the best of my knowledge, Michael, Rob and Peter are probably the youngest (to some extent professional) F1-journalists.....in the world.

Anywho, time passed and so when friend and Box of Neutrals-groupie Tiff (who also happens to write a BLOG every now and then) told me she was doing an interview with Michael, Rob and Peter from the podcast and was looking for questions there was no way I was going to let this chance go by. So now, after intense brainstorming for questions and refining the answers we got back, That Cars Blog presents: Box of Neutrals, the Extended Highlight Edition, the full uncut interview will be published right after this.

Before you start reading, I'd like to thank Tiff for letting my twisted journalistic mind join in, and Michael, Rob and to a certain extent Peter for giving two groupies more attention than they could ever imagine or deserve (we got 16 pages of answers).
Therefore you should definitely listen to Box of Neutrals, every Friday from 3 till 4.30pm Melbourne time on SYN, if you happen to live in a part of the world which makes that a very early breakfast show, listen to one of their podcasts here or in the itunes store. You can also find them on twitter and facebook to liven up that boring procession at the Bahrain GP.
And give Tiff's blog a read, visit http://www.femaleformulafun.blogspot.com

NOTE: This interview might contain references you don't understand at all, I told you you should listen to Box of Neutrals! Now Get It Up You!

Please explain to our millions of readers, who you are, and what Box Of Neutrals is.
Michael: Box Of Neutrals is a controversial Australian News and Current Affairs programme, notorious for its sensationalist reporting, and is an example of tabloid television where stories rotate around diet fads, miracle cures, welfare cheats, shonky builders, negligent doctors, poorly run businesses, and corrupt government officials. For this reason the programme is constantly under criticism and ridicule.
Rob: Michael’s pretty much covered that part, and plus I probably misread the question in my original response so I have a story/Wikipedia entry of how the show came to be, or be to came. Like an old wise tale.
Box Of Neutrals was born in the middle of 2010 when Michael and I were both at SYN Radio in Melbourne and realised we also went to the same university. And the same class - Australian Cinema.
Most of the meetings about what would eventually become Box Of Neutrals were born out of those lectures. I’ve been trying to find my notes where we scribbled down a list of potential names for the show, which I’m willing to say I lost, only to save myself from the disappointment of never finding them!
Michael and I each had separate shows, yet I found out when listening to Michael’s old show that he was into cars and Formula 1. Then we sort of crossed paths and worked out some weird co-incidences.
Speaking of weird co-incidences, Peter McGinley and I went to the same high school. Except Peter was a year level below myself, so I’ve technically known Peter since I was 13. Even though I only spoke to him last year when I joined SYN Radio. So just like most things that have happened on the show, Box Of Neutrals really came to be by accident.

Pete:  I like Neil Mitchell.

You do an amazing job of delivering serious F1 related content with a comedic twist. How do you decide what makes funny F1?
Michael: If you analyse the show on a really deep level, you’ll discover that it’s mostly Peter McGinley trying to say something funny, then Rob playing a sound effect. Somehow, this works. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but then Two And A Half Men doesn’t really make any sense to me either – and that’s popular, apparently.
In all seriousness, I don’t really know, I think it’s just that we all get along pretty well. 

Rob: Formula 1 is a very funny sport. It features some brilliant personalities, moments and storylines, and to be honest we don’t think a lot of the mainstream broadcasters see this aspect of the sport. Because sport is supposed to be sport, humour isn’t the first thing you think of when talking about Formula 1.
When you see or hear other Formula 1/motorsport shows around the world, they all pretty much do the same thing. Talk about the latest news and happenings, and then cut to the race itself. We knew there was no point trying to be something we’re not, and for that matter doing the same thing as everyone else is doing.
For example, Mark Webber. Everybody else would say he’s Australian, is teammates with Sebastian Vettel and probably isn’t as good as Vettel. Whereas we see him as the guy that licks his face in the press conferences a lot, looks a bit like Don Draper from Mad Men and once vomited inside of his helmet. We also see him as a great racing driver, but who else could even imagine to come up with half of the crap that we come up with for these characters of the sport?

Michael: I think Peter Windsor sums it up pretty well, we are arm-chaired journalists. Like most things we do, Windsor seems to do it better. Like with his blog, he said he wasn’t going to write just another news blog. So, instead, he made a diary-style feature website, which I thought was really cool. IN that way, we didn’t make just an ordinary podcast, we made one that was a little more character-driven, based on what we found funny. I think it comes back to that ‘attention whore’ thing...
Rob: That isn’t to say other shows don’t do a good job, but we actively scour to find the bits in Formula 1 that other people/shows miss. I’d like to think we’ve single handedly bolstered the popularity of Olav Mol in Australia.

Pete: Lefties!

In which countries is your podcast most popular? Do you get surprised by how international Box of Neutrals is getting?
Rob: Michael and Peter have more access to those statistics, but based on the conversations we’ve had, it’s a tie between Australia and Europe. We have a good following in the UK as I man the Twitter feed during the races through the #BBCF1 hashtag, and plus we speak English. I’m more surprised by our reach in places like the Netherlands and even Asia. Maybe less surprised by the Netherlands as we interviewed Olav Mol.

Michael: We don’t have much to tell us where our podcast is most popular, though Facebook tells us it’s in Australia that we have the most listeners. After that comes the UK, then a whole bunch of places like Belgium, the Netherlands, and even Malaysia for some reason.

I distinctly remember creating this Olav Mol page as a joke, after Rob introduced me to the world of Olav Mol. For a long while it had only a handful of followers, but now there are loads of these Dutch people joining up and leaving comments - one of them even posted a picture of themselves with Olav! I feel a little bit guilty - maybe I should tell him next time we see him. I feel oddly powerful, though - I control his online image. The things I could do...
Rob: I am surprised, yet I’m not at the same time, by our overseas followers. We’ve been quietly chipping away at creating a fan base, and compared to this time last year, there’s been an astonishing increase. I do hope it continues to spiral out of control this time next year. I’m hoping to make Peter McGinley a cult celebrity in Estonia by mid-2013.

Michael:  It still baffles me, and puts an incredible grin on my face, that the likes of yourself - and even Martijn from the Netherlands (yours truly, rambling away on this blog) - sat down on your Saturday afternoon or whenever and coloured in a picture of Peter McGinley’s face. The frickin’ Netherlands, that’s just ridiculous. I could never have imagined that happening, ever. It’s like Peter’s face is some sort of trans-continental disease. In a nice way. We love it.
Pete: Go feck yourself to buggery!

To all three of you: Replace a GP on the current calendar with a race at a location of your choice (either existing circuit or new location).
Rob: I would lose the Chinese Grand Prix and stage a race at Imola. I think the Chinese Grand Prix has had its chance to make an impact, and considering China is fast becoming one of the powerhouses of the Western world, Formula 1 stuffed it up. There isn’t a motorsport culture there, and the circuit itself hardly has any redeeming qualities. It’s an expensive fad these kind of races, if I’m brutally honest. They’re not sustainable.
And I know Michael will say France.
Michael: That’s cheating! I wrote my answer to this first!
...Bahrain for France, easy. That way we get to race in Belgium annually, and we don’t have to go to Bahrain. There are literally no losers... except for Bahrain, I suppose.


If you were to design your own track, what parts or corners of other circuits would you definitely put in it?
Michael:  It’s going to be difficult to top Rob’s answer. But I’ll say Eau Rouge and Rivage at Spa are the first two that come to my head. I love Eau Rouge - cliché, I know - because it’s such a rare sort of part of a racetrack these days. Rivage is such a pain of a corner because of the way it’s cambered, and so purely just because it’s a bit irritating I’d include it. I’d probably throw the Lesmos in too, from Monza, but just because it’s a bit funny to say ‘lesmos’.
Now do read on...

Rob: For all the shit we and others have given to Hermann Tilke, it’s a hard gig. This is my entry.

Circuit du McGinley

Michael: It is pretty tough to design a circuit. Our crazy voiceover man Adam sometimes sits in the studio with us. He had a crack at designing his own racetrack during one episode - it ended up looking suspiciously like a... phallic object. See the dishonourable mention from the Kolouring Kopmetition.
Pete: Nuuuurrrggghhh.

And then, It really turned Box of Neutralesque:

Would you rather host F1 on Australian national TV or co-commentate with Olav Mol in the Netherlands?
Rob: I’d love to tag team the Dutch commentary as an English commentator! I think hosting the Formula 1 coverage is the great dream of ours, especially if we could do it in the current format we do now. F1 in Australia needs a bit more storytelling and personality like the BBC. Then again, the BBC have a monstrous budget. 2012 will be interesting for the BBC if they can maintain their high standards next year with a compromised budget and on-air cast, possibly.

Michael: I would love to commentate with Olav Mol, but I think there’d be a language barrier issue. I’d probably just say ‘fuck’ a lot, and I don’t even like to swear regularly, I just imagine he’d be that infectious.
Plus I’d really like to shake up the coverage currently provided by the Australian host broadcaster. I think Ten does very little with the rights granted to them by FOM, and would love to try to change it somehow. While totally appreciating that Ten isn’t willing to spend much money because the commercial return isn’t great, I’d still love to try to provide something a little more unique than the generic panel-style show we have now. Like incorporate more swearing, for example – it seems to work in the Netherlands.

Pete: [My pants] smell like vomit.

'Oh Mark Webber, What the fuck gebeurd daar nou zeg?'
Rob: Huld hulda..

Michael: Fucken-eh.
Pete: Cows are only good for eating, and nothin’ much else.

Lotus-Genii Capital-Eric Booyeah-Vitaly Trololololo Petrov-Lada Renault GP or Lotus-Air Asia-Tony NAAAAAAAGGGHHHHH Feranandes-Caterham-Renault?
Rob: I really admire the way Team Lotus (nee Caterham) have conducted themselves. They’re easily my favourite of the new teams, and I believe they have a bright future ahead of them. Red Bull Racing took over a decade to really show any promise, if you count their spells under Stewart and Jaguar. Even Red Bull had to accept being mid-field for about four years as a constructor.
The way Team Lotus also conduct themselves with the media and the fans is something I admire. They certainly set the trend with leading Formula One into this era of Twitter and new media. For a team that has not scored a point this season and with far less resources compared to the bigger teams, they certainly sell themselves well. Just have a look at the number of sponsors they’ve managed to secure.
Renault (nee Lotus - wow that’s confusing) I respect what they do as a team. They’ve been world champions before, and such is the circle of Formula One, I don’t doubt they will be again if they hang around.
The team is in a different era to that of the Briatore Benetton/Renault days, but it has gone through the highs of being double world champions under both Benetton and Renault, and mid-field stragglers under both establishments. If they hold onto Bruno Senna for 2012, I’ll have a softer spot for that team. I think the whole Lotus versus Lotus affair made them look like the bad guys. Maybe I just really missed their yellow & black livery of 2010!

Michael: If I can say something totally unexpected, I already miss this. Next year we’ll only have one Lotus, and I bet we’ll (probably, maybe) reminisce about the good ol’ days when we had two Lotuses (Loti?) on the grid, and Vitaly Petrov used to get confused as being Jarno Trulli’s team-mate. Plus it’s been fun trying to explain the battle to people and confusing them - and usually me in the process.
Pete: I’m pouring kerosene in my ears.

If you were 'Conducteur' i.e. Jean Todt for one day, what would you immediately introduce into F1?
Rob: I would love to see an endurance style Formula One race. I’ve been mocked on several occasions on the programme for coming up with it, but with enough planning and foresight, I think it could actually be done.
I think it would partly eliminate the issue that we have in the sport at the moment where testing days are limited.

Michael: I continue to mock this idea, now in print form. It just wouldn’t work. Formula One cars aren’t designed to run endurance. Some of them *coughVirgincough* can barely make it through the regular distance.
Rob: If you give a non-full time driver a golden opportunity to compete in a race, then I think it can be justified. I think my inspiration is from V8 Supercars where you see a lot of young drivers, and even the ones on the brink of the pension, only racing twice a year the endurance events.
Just imagine Sebastian Vettel & Daniel Ricciardo winning the same race in the Red Bull! It would give another 24 drivers in the world to have a shot at driving in Formula One, even if it’s only for one or two rounds at these crazy endurance events.

It’s a crazy idea I know, but the best decision is my decision.

Michael: I answered this question last, because I couldn’t come up with an answer! I’m still not sure I have one, actually. I would like to see some open architecture when it comes to engines – I think Formula One is becoming a little bit restrictive these days. I mean, I know it’s all to keep costs down, which quite sensible – but I don’t like that we have an engine freeze, and that sort of thing. I’d like to see manufacturers be able to try different engine configurations – within some pre-defined boundaries, of course – but for them to try different stuff, just to mix it up a little bit.
Pete: Why does everything seem to be served with pancakes at the Pancake Parlour?

One country that definitely would deserve a Grand Prix is...
Rob: I’m astonished that Finland, a country rich with racing talent inside and outside of Formula One, does not have a Grand Prix. I’d love to see a race there, but I suspect they don’t have the money like Abu Dhabi, Singapore, India, American behind them to build their own Hermann Tilke super-circuit.
Although I suspect Bernie Ecclestone may have privately pondered the thought of Formula One going around the Ouninpohja stage in Rally Finland.

Oy, saatana!

Michael: Now that France is set to return, I’m not really sure. There’s this place called ‘Sandwich Island’ off the South American coast. There’s only a handful of people living there, so we could pretty much do what we like. It’s be an easy island to conquer, so I think it’s worth a shot.
Uhm... but how about Libya? Or maybe Iran? Both have been touted as future Formula One destinations.

Pete: Don’t talk to me about tolerance.

This is a cool spot. Discuss.

Rob: I love it! It’s not every day that you see teams adopting fake sponsors on their cars just to make it look busy. Not since the days of tobacco sponsorship when they had to obscure it with random phrases like “TEAM SPIRIT” and “DON’T WALK”.

Michael:This is a cool spot’ ranks as one of my favourite ever Formula One things ever, and has ensured that HRT will surely go down with designing one of history’s greatest ever racing liveries. Children will dream of one day racing for the cool spot colours, and I imagine that in around 20 years, the colours will be brought back in all of their glory as HRT attempts to rekindle that magic of its early years.
Rob: My favourite one has to be ‘this could be you’ on the rear wing of the HRT. I found it particularly amusing when I went to the Australian Grand Prix and saw a four car train behind Narain Karthikeyan.
That said, I find it amusing that they’ve now disappeared from the cars. I’d hate to think it was our constant mockery of it that brought it to an end. Only HRT could make a fake sponsor dissolve.

Michael: Undoubtedly the best part about ‘This is a cool spot’ is that it no longer exists. HRT have managed to do the impossible - create a fictional company that went bankrupt. How does that even happen? Oh HRT, how we love you.
Pete: Horrible Racing Team. *dun* *dun* *tsh*

Do you think the F1 organisers (led by Bernie Ecclestone) ask too much from the circuits in terms of money for holding a F1 race?
Rob: To be honest, I’m not entirely certain. By that I mean, I’m not privy to the facts and figures of the circuits and its promoters. From what I’ve observed, I think Formula One has failed to adapt to the change in economic climate in terms of where the races are staged. It has in terms of how teams spend their money, but Formula One appeared invincible during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/9 Mk 1.

Michael: I think it’s a tough call. On the one hand I think not – purely because there’s a clever business strategy behind it. By charging a lot of money. Bernie can price out some of the ‘pretender’ bids, and assume safely that promoters that can pay large fees up front will be able to continue to pay large fees. On the other hand, the high cost of hosting a race is starting to price out some of the core Grand Prix events. We’re seeing Belgium having to alternate with France just to stay afloat, and it seems only a matter of time before the two German circuits go under – and they’re already alternating.
Rob: The likes of Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and China who have thrown millions upon millions of dollars have set the trend, and the expectation, that other circuits need to match their standards and price. It’s not feasible to expect a long standing circuit such as Spa or Interlagos to mimic the style of Hermann Tilke’s designs and the money the promoters/investors/government/omnipresent forces have poured into it.

Michael: I think it has to be accepted that Formula One is probably the biggest capitalist sport going around at this point, when you consider the vast amounts of money that travels through the F1 banks (and those of Ecclestone’s family trust, and various shifty German bankers). Bernie’s job isn’t to cater to the fans, it’s to make money for his employers at CVC. If he does cater to the fans, that’s by coincidence – in the end it’s all about money.
Rob: Silverstone has done an awesome job of improving its facilities to secure its long term future in Formula One, but Bernie Ecclestone - for whatever reason - appears annoyed that they managed to achieve what they’ve done.
He’d love to go to Russia or another country willing to throw money at Formula One to host a race. Turkey did that, and look where they’ve ended up. Formula One should not, and I don’t believe can sustain in the long term, to go to circuits throwing money at Formula One where the market isn’t really there. How could Formula One justify dropping the Belgian, British, Australian Grands Prix to race at Turkey?

Michael: One thing we are seeing, though, is that with things like the Euro debt crisis, and the financial instability pretty much everywhere in the world (the collapse of the US GP bid could be an example of economic conservatism), fewer and fewer places are going to be willing to fork out for a race. I think Bernie will have to cater for this eventually, because while he’s willing to farewell a few European rounds on the calendar, he can’t afford to lose too many, lest it detracts from the sport’s popularity which is, ultimately, what makes the money.
Pete: I don’t really endorse cheap labour, but...

Perez, Ricciardo, Maldonado, Di Resta, Senna (to a certain extent), Hülkenberg, Raikkonen and Grosjean might return to F1 next year, who do you think will impress most?
Rob: I think a lot of these names have enormous potential in the future. Maldonado hasn’t sold me yet, but he did well in GP2 last year. There’s got to be more to him than nerfing into Lewis Hamilton down La Source.
I would suggest Perez has the greatest potential, mostly due to his connections. The Sauber team, despite its rebuilding phase post-BMW, is a solid team to be with. He won’t win a race, but he hasn’t had to win races to show his potential. Not to mention his ties with Ferrari, I would not be surprised if he’s announced as the man who will usurp Felipe Massa.
If anything, my biggest concern would be Kimi Raikkonen returning as a massive disappointment. He entered the WRC with so much hype in 2010, and sure enough with time he could’ve established himself as a regular winner. His two years have been rather unspectacular by all accounts. And less promising than his F1 debut in 2001.

Michael: I’m actually really curious to see Grosjean return to Formula One at some point, just to see how much he has/hasn’t improved. He was pretty disappointing in his first year, but he was clearly overwhelmed by it all – plus the shadow of that whole Flavio Briatore thing was hanging over him a bit, I imagine. And Flavio casts a pretty big shadow. Hulkenberg is another I’d like to see in some competitive machinery. He looked good at Williams last year, and I think he deserves a chance to show what he’s worth, without having the added pressure of supplying a paycheque every fortnight.

So... I think, in a good car, Hulkenberg may be the one who impresses the most. I feel like the likes of Ricciardo (and Vergne?) have a load of expectation on them, and even when they do really well we’ll all be a little less impressed than we should be.

Pete: I’m not going to try to justify my racism.

Why should people listen to Box of Neutrals?
Rob: So we can sell the show to a commercial network! We don’t claim to be Autosport or Joe Saward with the integrity that they hold. We still take pride in what we do and even amongst our stupidity, behind it is a very strong work ethic. I mean, I had to find FIVE cameras to record a stripper dancing around for 30 seconds and it took two weeks to edit the footage.
One comment that we get quite regularly is people telling us that they’re not really fans of Formula One, or even know what we’re talking about half the time, but they like listening to what we have to say. That’s the thing I’m most astonished by, and gives us hope that we’re hitting the right notes.

Michael: They probably shouldn’t, really. My theory is that too many people are probably listening to our show, and as a result the Euro is in a financial crisis. Plus I’m sure there are other things people could probably spend their time doing. Like watching Antiques Roadshow.
Pete: I’m a cranberry now.

Michael: Reading back... we sure do crap on about crap.

For more incoherent answers on semi-journalistic questions, go to the full uncut version of That Cars Blog interviews Box of Neutrals.

dinsdag 15 november 2011

Chinese save Swedish car company, again.

Last time, I talked about how we, the Dutch and especially Victor Muller messed up Saab (to be precise, here). And as promised this post now gets its part two, because one thing I noticed that the Chinese transformed from poor copiers of European car companies to owners of European car companies. Volvo, and now Saab are both owned by China and to some extent Land Rover and Jaguar also went Asian as they are (quite successfully) owned by Tata).

When the Volvo brand became available as Ford was aiming to sell it, it soon became known that Geely was the preferred buyer by Ford. Many feared that the decent Swedish brand would go down when it would fall into Chinese hands, mainly because the previous attempts to get into the European market were not at all successful. No, not at all.

Yet two years after the deal, all is more than fine at Volvo. Not a long time ago they showed what the Volvo of the future might look like and it was not very Labradoresque. Admitted, it did look a bit like an Audi from the back, but it shows that the brand is handled with care.

Still, there is no guarantee to success, take for instance the acquirance of MG Rover by SAIC and the Nanjing group. To the relief of everyone they decided that production would still take place in the famous Longbridge factory in the UK, and that new models would be developed. They were, and the end result was the MG6. It would go on sale in the UK in 2011 (it did) and would be sold Europe-wide when it would turn out to be successful. Guess how many have been sold in the UK, 10.000? 1000? No. 242 from January to October. Bentley sold four times as many cars in the same period.

Probably this is caused by the dated quality used on 'the Six'. The MG6 was based on the Roewe 550, which saw the light of day because SAIC had acquired a license to build Rover 75 look-a-likes. The Rover 75 was appreciated by the British public, no doubt about that. But when you are building a budget luxury saloon based on technology originating from 1999, you are not doing it right. Even the term 'Budget Luxury Saloon' sounds strange, a bit like 'Night School Trained Brain Surgeon'.

In the end it is all about how the new owner approaches the brand. For some it is about continuing the brand itself, or helping it into the future like we see with Jaguar and Volvo. Others might see it as an easy access into the European market, lifting on the good name the brand has. Whether the Saab take over will be a success? I don't know. General Motors seems to have an awful lot of doubt about the take over by two small dealer networks in China.

dinsdag 1 november 2011

Surprisingly, Saab Soap Stops

Yes world, and all Saab fanatics, I am sorry on behalf of the Dutch for cocking about with your favorite Swedish manufacturer which doesn't produce flat-pack furniture. Allow me to give a brief overview of what went wrong and who is to blame for it.

I'm desperately trying to avoid turning this post into a Victor Muller rant, yet it is largely due to him and his overoptimism that he is now left with nothing. It all started so well in 1999, he acquired the rights to the Spyker name and presented a beautiful retro sports car with proper engineering under the bonnet. This went reasonable for the first five years, also issuing a spider version which also raced (not quite successfully) at Le Mans. Problem number one is that this car has been produced till 2007, and by the time the production discontinued, Spyker didn't have the money to build any new model.

So far, so....reasonable you might think. Well, no. Around 2004/2005 Victor Muller went a bit mental, he started suffering from megalomania. All of a sudden the small car company, building a very small number of cars and only producing one model had to acquire world fame and should be as well known as Ferrari, Porsche etc. So what they did was buying an unsuccessful, overpriced F1 team, and acquire expensive Ferrari engines that didn't fit properly in the designed chassis. Don't ask me where the money came from (never ask that in the case of Spyker), but the point is that it costed more money that they could ever afford and were pretty rubbish for the whole 1 season they ran their team. Luckily they found Vijay Mallya to buy the team (be it for far less than what they bought it for) and were able to continue building a few cars and showing off concepts that would never be produced.

After another few unsuccessful years without any profit, Spyker found out that Saab was for sale. After Koenigsegg did not get permission from GM to buy over Saab (what a dream team that would have been), Spyker bargained like only the Dutch can and got the go from Detroit. With more non-existent money and obscure shareholders the minute Spyker acquired Saab for about 400 million dollars. More than double what the F1 team costed and that for a car company which has not earned a profit since the 1980s, good one Vic.

Saab never got running properly under Dutch command, Spyker was left with a huge debt after the acquiring of Saab, and daily business consisted of pleading for more loans from the Swedish government and the European Investment Bank. As Saab did not turn profitable within a year, Muller started taking his company apart, he sold Spyker to Vladimir Antonov for just 15 Million Euros. He planned to sell the factory in Trollhattan and hire it from the possible buyer, just to get money for a moment. Everyone saw that this car company was in trouble and it came as no surprise that production has ceased in april of this year. Luckily  the Chinese came along and fancied a go at a Swedish car company. More on that in a following post.

donderdag 22 september 2011

Lexus? What is your commercial about?

Above is the newest commercial from Lexus. Yes indeed, apparently it is a car commercial, not Dr. Phil like the first 25 seconds of the commercial might let you think. Nor is it some MTV series about some girl you don't know, if you watch closely you might even see the car in it! Everything about the commercial is not Lexus, not that I know what 'Lexusness' is, but at no moment this commercial seems to appeal to the/a Lexus driver. Mainly because the driver only features for 1,5 second. Let me carefully analyse this marketing marvel.

Shot one: Girl chewing gum and being busy with her Black Berry, this commercial could be about anything. When I first saw this I thought it was another commercial about some girls thing like lipstick or 'accessories', so I lost interest. Yet I kept seeing it so it got on my nerves, hence the blogpost.

"So Catherine, tell me about your week." 
Then a manly voice comes in, apparently he is not the father as he asks how the girl's week was. Naive idiot. But hey, he's a psychiatrist so he makes money asking naive questions. Following this is a tsunami of complaints from the girls' side, and that is where Lexus really loses it.

"So my week was terrible [...] Well I am green and he (Father-person) knows it, and he bought this Lexus RX"
After nagging on how bad her week was, she mentions what car her father bought. Several mistakes in this sentence. 
1. The girl's week is mainly determined by her father's new car, which is impossible, how can something that is not yours bother you for a whole week?
2. Her dad bought the car, which technically means the teenage girl should be totally indifferent about the whole issue.
3. It's a girl, girls don't know cars come in different types, cars only exist in different colours to them. 

"The RX 450?"
"The Full Hybrid?"

Somehow the commercial turns into a motoring program, carefully mentioning technical details. Lexus completely blows it on above mentioned mistake #3 as the girl seems to recall the engine size and special hybrid feature of Satan's newest tool of mobility. Also she mentions it is a hybrid and green, contrasting the point of her rant about the planet.

"Well what's wrong with that?"
-"Like totally nothing. Can't you see my problem?" 
Psychiatrist guy is with me on that one. You are green, the car is a hybrid, what are you on about?
Luckily Lexus takes us back to step 1 again. All up to know has basically been useless spam about nothing. We now know you're trying to sell A car (we still haven't seen it) which is a hybrid and that drives teenage girls mad. It must be brilliant then, right?

After this we see the girl get in the car, rant some more at her dad who drives of with a smile of utter smugness on his face. Also we finally see the car, wohee! In a cheap computer animation it seems, no psychiatrist's office in the world looks like that. 

So, did it convince you to buy it? Me neither, as I have barely an idea what the car looks like. I don't know how it drives, what it costs, how many people will fit in or how it looks from the front or the back. I do know that this is the car commercial with the least car in it of all times, can someone from the advertising agency tell me how you can sell something by barely showing it?

zondag 18 september 2011

Me and the Hire Car Tyrrany

Being here in Finland, my parents want to visit me at some point. And as I know my way around here a tiny bit better I offered to pick them up at the airport and drive them here. Dad already hired the car and I was ready to pick it up when my parents would arrive (not in a months time, don't worry). Yet once again some absolute monarch at bloody Europcar decided that a drivers license does not count when you are young. Sounds strange doesn't it? Let me explain.
What the hirecar mob does is completely and utterly irrelevant: they put up an age limit to drive a hire car. Experience? Not needed. Capability? Neither. Any form of eyesight? Why would you?

In theory, and in this stupid practice, John who is 20 years old and got his drivers license yesterday is allowed to pick up his car with a nasty dent on the boot and drive of. Despite having ONE day of driving experience for the law. Barry, who is 19 years and 300 days old and who has his license for nearly two years gets rejected because of his age. Surely that'll make the roads safer? The reason that my insurance costs less than John's is because of experience, the reason that John is more likely to get into an accident is his lack of experience. Why does this get ignored if young drivers are always seen as a risk?

I was especially surprised to encounter this in Finland, where the average age for one's first driving experience is at 4,3 years old. That I got rejected in Portugal previously was no surprise to me, as they hate the Dutch (seen any Euro Championship?), but surely the Finns must have some clever training program for future Rally champions that works with hire cars? Otherwise Raikkonen and Grönholm were your last champions I think.

When you read this, Europcar, I hope a young driver crashes into your office hidden somewhere in a mountain in France. Or otherwise into your pathetic cycling team, Thomas Voeckler is an enormous #$%@^&*($#!
Meanwhile I am going to do some Rally stages with the hire car, try to find me, I am near that Finnish lake.

dinsdag 13 september 2011

Has your car got KERS yet?

 Yes, I should have posted something earlier, but I've been quite busy with my exchange here in Finland so never found the time to write something. Until now!

Me being a downright petrolhead, I am of course keeping track what happens in the world of motorsport. And over the past years we have seen a move to Greener racing by changing to smaller engines, Diesel cars in several categories and green gizmos like KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). What bothers me is that where motorsports used to be a laboratory for road cars, the green stuff is pure image building as none of the 'discoveries' has been used in the regular road car.

First of all, racing is not green, and will not be. A circus of 6000 people travelling around the world by airplane to drive around in circles (7200km in total for the race alone) is not what I call green. The technology in racing is sometimes kept dated on purpose (i.e. banning of engine development) to keep the SPORT competative. Yet this is no point as up till now racing was never meant to be green. 

In ye olden days, motor racing was part marketing for one's brand and part a high-speed laboratory for that same brand. And you will be surprised when you see the list of things that actually came from motor racing. Basic things like windscreen wipers came from there and later the more advanced Traction Control and Active Suspension were pioneered in motor racing.

Nowadays though, Formula one tells us to fall of our seat in pure amazement just because they turned the cars into a Toyota Prius with wings, yet what Toyota have done is far more impressive and useful than what is being done in F1. See KERS does not contribute to the fuel economy (if any) at all, it is used as an extra boost during races and therefore adding to the excitement, not to the environment. Though there have been talks to make cars drive fully electric during pit stops it hasn't made the slightest of differences so far, contrary to the image they want to sell to the world.

To conclude, F1 have so far jumped on the Green bandwagon, and flipped it in the first corner. I might have a high expectancy from the fans (as they follow a quite technical sport), but I think a lot of people see through this faux-green image. In combination with the near abolition of ingenuity is one bad thing, but to portrait you're being inventive after this is even worse. Please be inventive again, we know you can be.

dinsdag 23 augustus 2011

So I went to pick my brother up at an airport...

The task seemed so simple at first glance, I had the evening off so I could pick my brother Tim and two grannies up from Charleroi airport as they came back from visiting his friend/grandson Joey in France. I've been to that airport before a couple of times, so I assumed it would be one and a bit hour trip and one and a bit hours back. Yet not everything went as planned, it was quite a terrible trip. By the way, hold a map of Belgium on standby, it's more fun if you see where my torture took place.

First signs did not take long to show, some unexpected roadworks before Maastricht meant a little surprise but no real problems. Yet shortly after those, the fancy-pancy built in "Multi Media System" of my dad's Audi A3 went into incompetence mode, unable to find any radio stations with any sort of listener base. I know I should have taken CDs with me. It is a known problem to me, as it can't even find national radio stations in our own street. My Fiesta works better despite having its antenna hidden under its roof for the sake of aerodynamics.
The problem progressed as I entered Belgian territory, the overpriced factory radio was in a bad mood and soon decided to let its signal be destracted by trees and vans. Eventually I was left with half the signal Studio Brussel, who play creepy techno at night, not the kind of company I look for at an empty motorway. Or Belgian Radio 2, who greeted me with a overenthusiastic and brainwashed choir singing "Good evening!", or MUST FM, who basically went on shouting "MUST FM" five times every minute, succeeded by French mumbling. Entertainmentwise I was screwed, lonely and bored.
At least I was moving in the right direction, yes I was, but not in a very comfortable way. Either my buttocks and spine went into Sensitive mode or I must have stepped in a 2 liter bouncing castle as the ride was indeed, bouncy. I attempted to go slower to overcome this, but then I realized the words of Belgian cyclist Tom Boonen, that going faster makes you feel less of the cobblestones. By sheer luck Boonen's Law is also applicable to the motorway network. Yet the road devil had some more tricks up his sleeve: more roadworks. As I was hopping along I overtook Truck number 72 of that night when I spotted roadworks ahead and a speed limit of 90. I slowly overtook the Truck when I saw it lowered again to 70, which I tried to match despite 10 tons of furious truck (driver) behind me. Indeed, mister Truck Driver did not agree with my move to stick to speed limits and decided to pull an overtake (or more accurately: attack) on me. The road swerved for a moment and narrowed when Mad Max occupied the middle of the road and most of the right lane, ignorant of where I was. With the majority of my (dad's) car on the hard shoulder fury took control of me for a brief moment. After the road works were over I experienced "a slight acceleration in speed" and decided to give Onslow over there a taste of precision overtaking at say 160+kph. In a fashion only seen in touringcars I scared the heck out of his left headlight when I passed him. Giving the finger was useless, as our superb intellect was probably watching porn in his ivory tower. If you happen to read this truckdriver in truck OK-86-KK, I hope that misery shall rain on thou, and that you receive many troubles on you forthcoming journeys, you terrible idiot.

As I made it to the airport well on time I found myself having time for some coffee, which turned out to be the best decision of the night. A long road lay ahead. The way home started by taking the wrong so-called exit out of the car park, penalizing me with two rounds of that same car park. Soon after rain started pooring down in a way which it always does as I attempt to get away from Charleroi Airport (which some idiot decided to name Brussels South Airport). As the journey home progressed everyone chatted about what they had done the past two weeks, a few Mercs flashed by, yet I was certain I'd overtake them as they lie upsidedown on the side of the road. Just before half past 11 we got near Liége, which is always tricky as the exit to Maastricht can easily be missed. I didn't do so this time, as it wasn't there. More carefully planned roadworks after the end of everyone's holiday meant I had to take a detour. I carefully counted all the signs that pointed my home: 1. And that one was pointing towards Brussels. Stupidly enough, I believed the sign for five minutes, yet after that I found out that the semi-French Belgians were pulling a joke on me, so I turned on the SM-Mistress that lives next to the incompetant radio.
She commanded me to follow the road for another 10km, driving me to the outskirts of Waremme, which is apparently 20km out of Liége. As She finally let me go off the motorway I noticed I had 50km of B-roads ahead of me. Lucky for me they were empty, twisty and had no lighting on them, so at least a little fun was thrown into the game. Via Waremme we came past (nay: through) Tongeren. A lovely town founded by the Romans with lots of culture and history, exactly what you are not looking for at midnight when you're trying to get home. But there was more to come, more roadworks! In the center of Tongeren I might have taken a few one way streets, looking more at the satnav display than on the road. Through some of the suburbs of the town (I guess, it could have been Poland) I finally found a road that led to Maastricht. Even there I managed to take a wrong exit, waking the grannies up and turning them into satnav mistresses as well. Completely exhausted, stressed out, confused, angry and relieved I found the motorway back home.

At half past 12 I finally opened the front door, what a terrible trip.

vrijdag 12 augustus 2011

Dragging a very efficient elephant – The ignorance of the eco-models

I guess you all know them, hate them, only like them in front of your boss who set you up with it – the eco model. The basic recipe is to take a regular model, add a random colour to the name and remove any form of engine from it and replace it with a coffee mill. The problem is, that the rest of the car is rarely changed. Sure the engine modification is enough to fool your accountant and pay hardly any taxes, though how would you make a heavy car go forward with a tiny diesel?

Let me explain: the two major factors that determine performance and fuel consumption are the power and weight of your car. The more powerful the car the faster, but all this is limited by the weight that needs to be moved forward. On higher speeds aerodynamics comes into the game as well.

The aero is mostly been taken care of by lowering the suspension (which actually looks good) but the engine power that is taken out of the car is not followed by an equal loss of weight. What you get is a car of regular weight with an enormous lack of power. This causes the engine to take on much more work than in a regularly engined car, something which doesn't show when you are cruising on the highway on 3.5L/100km. Yet when you need engine power (which occurs more often than you think) the engine has no power reserve to accelerate and will consume fuel like their is no tomorrow, diminishing the whole point of your iBlueGreenDynamicLineMotion-car.

Of course, the development of engines is always a way forward, where would we be without direct injection and lean-burn fuel mixtures. Yet putting your state of the art engine in a horse carriage will not make any sense. In my opinion manufacturers should focus more on weight reduction. It can't be that a modern hatchback weighs over a third more than a Mk1 Golf, even when using aluminium and s-loads of plastic. It is like despite diets and exercises you weigh a third more than 5 years ago, it's stupid. Modern engineering can do better, I hope.

Furthermore, styling is still a higher priority than aerodynamics, which is true in some respect but pointless in others. Yet the pointless Audi-like grills are one of the least aerodynamic parts on a car, if only a flat floor would be mounted under the car that could save a lot of fuel.

zaterdag 30 juli 2011

What makes a good car? – The hardly definitive guide

Petrolheads all over must have been asked this question at some point. Because people assume you know a lot about cars they ask for your infinite knowledge, your philosophical view of what car they should buy. Yet mostly they don't get an answer more extensive than 'Buy Japanese' or something in that direction. This is because a good car can't be defined in a short answer, or at least before the other gets lost in a maze of DSG-gearboxes and multi-link suspensions. But I am determined to give an answer to this life-determining question, at least what I would define as a good car. Feel free to contribute, I am up for constructive criticism.

First and most importantly, you should feel at home in your car. When you buy a car, you shouldn't be annoyed by a badly positioned switch, or that the car responds slower than you want it to. If Barney Stinson were a car journalist, he'd say it has to fit you like a suit. Also, do you actually like it? The car doesn't actually have to be a head-turner, neither should you be slightly ashamed of the badge on the front. If you don't feel like the car represents you or presents you well, turn it down.

Second, your wants and needs. Hatchbacks might in theory fit five people, but practice tells a different story (own experience kicks in here). Don't expect your three lovely kids to fit in anymore as soon as they hit puberty. The middle seat in the back makes a hatchback more of a 4+1 than a five seater. Estates are not only invented to fit a labrador, but the larger exterior gives more space to those inside without necessarily letting down in looks.

Third, the ride. No, you can't expect a Golf Diesel to fly round the Nürburgring in 8. something minutes, or to take a twisty uphill road like Sebastien Loeb does. Though it should be satisfying and solid during normal use (and a bit beyond that). Part of this will be affected by the tyres supplied by your dealership, the standard Ecotyres you get with a Prius will make you save a glass full of petrol every 1000km, as well as send you into a tree when you encounter some slippery conditions.

Fourth (still important), reliability and build quality. Sure, your Citroën DS3 may have stunning looks, but how do you look when you've got to pay the bills? Factory guarantee might not be interesting when you buy a new microwave, but in cars a seven year guarantee on your Kia might eventually pay off. One other note is that brand new models will have some bugs that take one or two years to be filtered out (hence the facelifts of models).

Fifth, clever engineering. This might be a personal judgement by me as I love things that are developed well and thoughtfully, but I think everybody agrees to some extent on this one. Surely, nobody will be impressed by the lower suspension and closed grille on the Bluemotion/Ecoboost/DrivE like models, but those things work without any serious drawbacks. Or seats that fold without having to pull your wrist out, all this shows that a car has been thought true by the right people, lovely.

Sixth, the balance between eco and driving, it's a thin line between saving fuel and sportivity. Take in account that the majority of the time you'll be doing trips which don't require a rumbling V8, yet to much eco stuff on your car can ruin things. An example of this is Electrc Power Steering, it saves you 0.2 liter every 100 kilometres, and also prevents you from any accurate steering input.

At the bottom of the list we find the extras you get in a car, God forbid you don't choose a car on the base of its extras. A rubbish stereo might be a valid argument to turn down a car, but don't judge a car for the fact it has only 8 speakers instead of 12. Seats with built-in vibrators and carpets made from Brazilian badger fur are not only useless features but also horrible subjects at dinner parties.

woensdag 13 juli 2011

Car #1: The Volvo 440

That Cars Blog kicks off with not the most exciting car in history, but possibly, and in accordance with what my internal 5 year old is telling me, the most exciting car my dad ever owned.

Most of you will remember the Volvo 440 as an ordinary saloon car (although Volvo descirbed it as a hatchback). It was safe like all Volvo's and had an array of lights to tell you it was safe. Further, it had Daytime Running Lights which is the most useless safety feature ever invented.

Old-skool Top Gear described it as: "The motoring equivalent of a Temazepam trip. Compared to a Mondeo or a Vectra it hasn't got a hope. Be particularly careful of the CVT Auto because it sounds like a Bison with a Migraine." (Quentin Wilson)

The 440 had an engine range which ran from a 1.6 (79HP) to a 2 liter (110HP) petrol and a 1.9 Turbo Diesel with 89 HP. Though for me there was another party piece: the 1.7 liter Renault engine combined with a Turbocharger and intercooler, it was boasting out a biblical 122HP.

That Volvo 440 Turbo had the 'Holy Trinity' for the 5 year old me (still has), on the small boot there was a styleful spoiler like a racecar. Inside there was an analog clock unlike the crappy digital ones I saw before. And under the bonnet, though I never saw it apart from the badge on the boot, was a Turbo. Turbo was for me like chocolate is for women, everything is better with a Turbo.

The 440 made me forget the previous 480 we owned ever so quickly, the pop up head lamps, armrest in the back and phoney Turbo badge on the 480 were no match to the real deal in the 440. I believe it also drove better, it once claimed to have done 215kph on the counter and also managed a four-wheel jump over a bump that turned out to be bigger and more fun than expected.

After the two Volvo's my dad got company cars, all diesels, first an '99 A3 (1.9, 140HP), than a '04 Megane (2.0, upgraded to 170HP), than in '08 a Seat Leon FR which gave me my first drive and at some point managed 225HP, until some idiot in a Zafira drove into it... Now it's the five of us crammed into a newer A3, of which the steering is vague (Electric), the ride neither comfy or sporty and the only party piece is Torque, which nobody understands really.

Lucky for me, I've got my own fun now, a '95 1.3i Ford Fiesta with an mindboggeling 60 Horsepower. Yeah!

Binnenkort / Soon

Nee we leven nog, maar dit blogje ga ik anders aanpakken. Voor mijn dagelijkse belevenissen is twitter toch meer geschikt (@martijn_kosters). Daar ik toch wat stof tekort kwam om goed over te bloggen schakel ik over (^^) naar een all-time passie: Auto's!

Dus binnenkort verschijnt hier: That Cars Blog.

Stay Tuned!

No, we're still hear, but this little blog will see some changes. For my daily adventures twitter is more suitable (@martijn_kosters). And as I had few things to blog about I shift (^^) to an all-time passion: Cars!

Soon this blog will be known as: That Cars Blog.

You could've figure that last line anyway

maandag 4 april 2011

Is ook kunst!

Guerney´s, Bargeboards, F-ducts, Wing-end plates,
Diffusors, Sidepots, Pullrods, Wastegates,
Apex, Kerbstones, Marbles,

Poëzie uit de dikke duim ;)

donderdag 17 februari 2011

Formule 1, een politiek spelletje

Tunesië, Egypte, Iran en Libië en nu ook Bahrein. Bahrein is normaal gesproken niet meer dan een oliestaatje in het rijtje Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi en Kuweit. Maar ook Bahrein heeft een koninklijke familie die er vrij lang zit, en daar hebben ze onderhand genoeg van.

Normaal gesproken zou ik dit ook hebben weggewuifd, wéér een revolutie. Doe eens wat nieuws, ik ben er wel klaar mee. Maar Bahrein is een geval apart voor mij, op 13 maart wordt daar de eerste Formule 1 Grand Prix van dit seizoen verreden. Dus wat dat betreft is de timing 'niet zo heel erg praktisch', hoewel een revolte zich meestal beperkt tot één Tahrir Plein is een evenement als een Grand Prix ideaal om je nieuwe idealen te spuien.

Even in vergelijking: op een gemiddelde Grand Prix komen er meestal twee of soms zelfs drie keer zoveel man af als de gemiddelde voetbalwedstrijd, en een Grand Prix gaat live de hele wereld over met een schare van om en nabij de 200 miljoen man die om de twee weken op zondag op de bank zitten. Daarop komt nog dat de eerste en de laatste Grand Prix altijd wat meer publiciteit en kijkers trekt dan normaal, we hebben het hier dus niet over een Limburgs Kampioenschap Sjoelen.

Deze morgen leek het nog allemaal aan dit verhaal voorbij te gaan, FIA (Autosportbond) president Jean Todt liet weten: 'er is op dit moment geen reden tot onnodige bezorgdheid in Bahrein'. Ietwat een understatement, want echt rustig was het nou óók weer niet. Al het politieke leek bij het politieke te blijven totdat ik om een uur of een hoorde dat de GP2 race, dit weekend in Bahrein, daadwerkelijk was afgelast. GP2 kan gezien worden als de Formule klasse die net onder de Formule 1 zit. 

Maar het feit dat men nú de conclusie trekt om te vertrekken (alles en iedereen is in principe klaar te beginnen) zegt veel. Wat nog meer zegt is dat dit geen beslissing is van de organisatie, noch de FIA, de lokale autosportbond (lees: de regering) deelde vanmiddag de lakens uit. Zonder enige tegenspraak, want ja de overheid deelt de 'vergunningen' uit. 

Gelukkig hebben we nog drie weken de tijd, hoewel er ook een testsessie gepland staat in het weekend voor de Grand Prix. De FIA wil er op dit moment nog niet over denken om de Grand Prix te annuleren c.q. te verplaatsen (Abu Dhabi en Qatar hebben een F1-waardig circuit). Mogelijk komt er morgen meer duidelijkheid. 

Welk besluit genomen wordt over de Grand Prix is te onzeker, enige leidraad kan de testsessie van over twee weken zijn, als de FIA daar al verstek laat gaan lijkt mij een Grand Prix een week later onwaarschijnlijk, totdat we meer weten wat mogelijke scenario's:

1. De testsessie wordt verplaatst naar Abu Dhabi, zou een praktische overweging zijn aangezien veel van de test met de nieuwe Pirelli banden gedaan is in Abu Dhabi, en het is het dichtstbijzijnde F1 circuit.

2. De testsessie blijft in Europa: Zekere voor het Onzekere, de FIA besluit om de testsessie in Spanje te houden (teams zijn al in Barcelona voor de test van dit weekend).

3. De testsessie blijft staan, en men wacht op nieuwe ontwikkelingen. In dat opzicht heeft de FIA een punt, zo laat ze merken dat ze niet direct terugdeinzen voor elke dreiging en houdt ze alle opties open.

Wordt vervolgd...