28 November 2007

Way To Go Morgan

The Morgan Motor Company is was founded in 1909 by Mr Morgan (surprise, surprise). The factory is in Malvern, Worcestershire and all the cars are hand built. The waiting list used to be about four years but I mean who wants to wait four years for a car? The waiting list is now a year or less due to increased production. 650 were built in 2006, up from 600 the year before. Most I assume are destined for the UK market, but I don’t know how many. Germany takes about 80 per annum.

The standard model has been going since 1968, as sticking to the tradition is one of the trademarks of the company. There is a two seater 4/4 with a 1.8 motor, a Plus 4 with a 2 litre engine and a 3 litre V6 Roadster. There is also and a four seater model as a Plus 4 or V6 Roadster.

The other model is the Aero 8, with a V8 motor, which has been around only since 2000. It was face lifted in 2006.
Many can’t see the point in making what they see as outdated cars, and mock them as antiquated. I’d imagine for driving thrill, nothing comes close. Old style sports cars were raw and exciting, modern ones smooth yet sterile in comparison. I for one love their sticking with the traditional sports car. The fact they have survived so long and continue to prosper indicates I’m not alone in feeling such. Bravo Morgan.

24 November 2007

Was It Smart?

The original idea behind the smart car was that the vehicle would be easy to drive and park in congested cities. It is short enough to allow it to be parked facing the kerb. The car started selling in 1998 with initial sales encouraging. This led to an expanding of the smart car brand with the introduction of the Roadster and Roadster-Coupe in 2003 and the Forfour sedan in 2004.

Smarts were made in France exclusively up to 2004 but then the smart Forfour were produced in The Netherlands. There the car shared most of its components with the Mitsubishi Colt, which was made there also. However The Forfour and Roadster bombed, as consumers found them to be overpriced and not in keeping with the simplicity of the original idea.

The failure led to a dramatic downturn in smart's fortunes, which led DaimlerChrysler's to consider stopping production altogether. The cars were losing Mercedes Benz a bundle of money. However, it has been kept alive around the basic car only, renamed Fortwo which debuted in 2006. With only a slight increase in size, the look of the original city car remained, but the interior and often-criticized transmission received significant changes and safety was improved. So with the new smart fortwo, how does it rate?

What's good: A design classic; easy to park in crowded cities; quite safe, low carbon emissions.

What's not: Expensive, auto gearbox still jerky and no manual gearbox; cheap feel to the interior. You can get a decent, small four-seater for less.

Overall: It is so-so on the open road so it's really best used around town.

Sales: 2000 100,000 2001-3 120,000 per year 2004 170,000 2005 125,000 2006 85,000 2007 (10 mths) 80,000. The 2004 figure was helped by all three models, but 2005 saw only 45,000 ForFours and 3,000 Roadsters. Best countries: Germany 50,000 (2004) Italy 42,000 (2005).

Why didn’t MB bite the bullet years ago and kill the whole thing instead of stubbornly keeping on going? Maybe it wouldn’t be good for German/French relations. Were the executives too proud to admit their mistake? Pride can hurt you and this car has certainly done that for MB. When smart creators Swatch went to VW to make the car, they wouldn’t. That should have set alarm bells ringing. It didn’t for MB execs and that decision has cost them big time, billions of Euros in fact. It may be easy to park and frugal sipping fuel, but most want more than that and smart just cannot deliver. It proved not to be that smart an idea in the end.

23 November 2007


In the 1920’s Karl Maybach started making expensive limousines. During World War II, Maybach built tank and boat engines. After the war, the German economy could not support a premium automobile and production never resumed. Only 1,800 were made over 20 years which wasn’t too shabby for the time I’d imagine. The brand disappeared until the 21st century when Mercedes Benz resurrected it to be the ultimate luxury car. Has it worked?

As a car: Apparently it is fast considering it’s size. However, it’s Ride & handling is less composed than you would expect from a limousine at this price. It is very expensive to buy and own (no surprise there then). Each is hand made and be specified to your taste. They are so roomy, even the rear seats recline.

Sales: 2002: 900, 2003: 550, 2004: 250 2005/06: 300 each year, 2007 Jan-Oct 260. In comparison, Rolls Royce sold 800 last year and will nudge 1,000 this year. Bentley has in excess of 10,000 in it’s sights for ’07. (To be fair, Bentley sales include the ‘down market’ Continental range).

Now 29 of Maybach’s original 71 US dealers have given up their franchises; in turn, Mercedes has offered compensation to those dealers. Maybach dealers spent up to US$500,000 apiece to build dealerships. But US sales never approached the goal of 600 units per annum. In 2006, Mercedes sold 146 Maybachs in the US.

Why has it failed? It’s a limited market anyway, Bentley & RR have more established names and Maybachs are downright ugly to many including yours truly. To think that it could sell the numbers MB thought is amazing. It probably hasn’t cost MB too much as they do not appear to have put much money into it. Why don’t they just put it out to pasture and the old marque slip back into history and leave it in peace.

14 November 2007

Ugly Cars (In My Eyes Anyway)

They say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, meaning each individual sees beauty differently. What constitutes ugly is the same. When I look at a car, I immediately get a positive or negative impression. I find German cars tend to be ugly as the design brief seems to put too much emphasis on a practical aspect which over rides aesthetics. So here are some examples of German automotive ugliness:

Mecedes CLS. Look at its side profile. It may be aerodynamic and ride well but the lines toward the rear just look wrong. It's too flattened, the windows look poorly shaped and I'd imagine it would be pretty claustrophobic in the rear seat department. To me it is sooooo ugly.

Another ugly car from the Fatherland is the Porsche Cayenne. This car makes a bullfrog look gorgeous. The idea is to make an aerodynamically shaped SUV. While Porsche may have achieved their objective in that sense, ascetically it fails in my opinion. To manage both objectives would not be an easy design to do. Other SUV makers realise that 4wds just are not going to cut through the air like a low slung sports car so they just make them good looking. It's a pity that Porsche didn't understand that. Of course they sell, as some people go for the badge and a typical Cayenne buyer clearly have more dollars than sense. So in summary, while it tries hard, it fails in the looks area.

My final example of ├╝ber ugly is the BMW 1 Series. Apparently it drives outstandingly. However, that apart, I can't see anything to recommend it. It's proboscis is long to say the least. The side profile looks contrived and the rear seat is a cramped place to be. The chopped off rear accentuates the long snout. That also equals a small boot. In other words, the driving experience is everything, practicalities = 0. It's proportions are all wrong, to the point of ugly.

So when engineering takes precedence over everything else, there is a price to pay. In many cases that means ugly and why cars from Deutchland seem to have a high percentage of ugly cars. British and Italian cars don't go for the ultimate in engineering, but they sure look nicer. In other words, a better balance.

08 November 2007

Lotus Cars

Lotus Cars is a manufacturer of sports cars known for their light weight and fine handling. It was founded by Colin Chapman in 1952 and is based in Hethel, Norfolk, UK. The site is a the former RAF base and the test track is the old runway. It entered Formula 1 in 1957 and took the world title seven times. It is now owned by Proton. Much of it’s business is in consultancy work, especially suspensions and powertrains for other manufacturers. It currently makes the Elise, Exige & recently Europa.

Getting production or sales figures is like trying to find water in the Sahara Desert. For example, I gleaned that 2006 production was 3,000. However, the US, it’s biggest market is a bit of a mystery. I was of the opinion about 2,500 were sold there, but if you add UK 820, Japan 450, France, Germany & Canada 130 odd each, Italy 80, Switzerland 75 etc, it’s gone well past 3k. I’m thinking the US figure is too high. Anyway, sales of sports cars is fickle, most sell in summer. Also, 5,000 were made in 2005, 2,000 more than '06. So that kind of fluctuation makes profit impossible.

Porsche is getting away from just sports cars as it nearly went broke not so long ago just relying on them. Lotus loses money but is a valuable contributor to the motor industry and adds character to the car market. Colin Chapman’s motto: "performance through light weight" has been faithfully adhered to and continues in the cars we see today.