An electric car game-changer is nearly here

It is likely carmakers like Tesla will use the new technology first

ANYONE who grew up watching Space 1999 needn’t feel disappointed. We might not be living on the Moon and eating everything in pill form, but the world today’s a lot more advanced than it used to be.

You can tap your finger against a handheld electronic screen and a van carrying your shopping rocks up a couple of hours later – and chances are that’s only because the supermarket isn’t allowed to deliver it by drone yet. We have trains that go under the sea and stealth fighter planes that fly above it. It beats driving home in your Morris Oxford and watching Terry and June over a bowl of Angel Delight, that’s for sure.

Just about every conceivable piece of technology has come along in leaps and bounds – with the exception of two things. You might not have noticed that the fastest transatlantic flights of today are a lot slower than Concorde could manage, but you’ll almost certainly have noticed that phones can barely manage a day before running out of breath. If you’re reading this on your smartphone via Champnews.com it might not even make it to the end of this article.

But an Israeli company that reckons it might have cracked the problem of rubbish smartphone batteries might have inadvertently created a genuine motoring game-changer. The smart money is that as of next year you’ll be able to use its tech to charge your phone up in a few minutes – and because electric cars run on the same sort of batteries it figures that it should work equally well on those too. Perhaps not unsurprisingly half the car industry’s keeping a very close eye on how StoreDot’s boffins are getting on.

Don’t expect it to revolutionise the roads overnight. It’s worth remembering that while nearly 100,000 plug-in cars were sold across the UK in 2016 that’s still nowhere near the number of Golfs or Focuses you all buy. It’ll also make sense that the most expensive offerings will be fitted with quick-charging tech first, so it’ll be a while before it filters down to the Nissans and Mitsubishis that dominate the ‘leccy car market.

But once it does break through to the mainstream the issue of battery anxiety – and the main reason you wouldn’t buy an electric car – will disappear. The cars themselves are absolutely fine, but no longer will you have to worry about an eight-hour wait if you start running low in deepest Snowdonia. You’ll be able to pull into a filling station and be on your way a couple of minutes later.

That idea might catch on. Eating food pills on the Moon it ain’t, but it’s a brave new world all the same.

The Volkswagen Scirocco is part of a dying breed

The VW Scirocco is now part of a dying breed of car

I DON’T know if the car world has a Grim Reaper – I imagine he’d look a bit like The Stig in some black robes – but he must be rubbing his hands with glee at the moment.

Not long ago I wrote about the death knell being sounded for Skoda’s Yeti, but now an entire automotive species is facing extinction; the fun, affordable coupé. Rumour has it that once Volkswagen’s Scirocco is put out to pasture, it won’t be replaced. Which for a fan of small two-doors is a big deal, because it’s pretty much the only one left.

Cast your mind back to the days when Tony Blair was eyeing up Number Ten and you were spoilt for choice if you had roughly £20,000 and a generous fleet manager prepared to offer you something sleeker than a Mondeo. Ford had the trendy Puma, and was in the process of replacing the Probe with the Cougar. Smile at a Vauxhall salesman and he’d rustle up a Tigra or Calibra, and that’s before we get to all the sleek two-doors Peugeot, Fiat, Honda, Toyota and just about everyone else had to offer. There were 20 different coupés on offer, and they were all exciting in their own way.

But now there’s the Scirocco, and that’s about it. Sure, there are a couple of three-door hatchbacks flaunting the c-word on their bootlids – and they’re coupés in name only, really – but nowadays you have to venture more upmarket before you arrive at the Toyota GT86, Ford Mustang and BMW 4-series. Hardly the sort of affordable offerings that give Mr Family Man hope.

The world needs coupés as much now as it did when the Ford Capri and the Opel Manta were the top dogs. They offer a welcome injection of panache into a motoring landscape dominated by boring family hatchbacks and me-too off-roaders, but because their underpinnings are ordinary they’re affordable, reliable and easy to service. So what if they’re a bit cramped in the back?

Perhaps we should persuade Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn that as part of their election pledges there should be state-funded grants for people prepared to brighten up the landscape with two-door coupés.

Alternatively, just buy a Volkswagen Scirocco while you still can.

The Skoda Yeti is a hard act to follow

Skoda put substance ahead of style with its Yeti

IN A WORLD of Jukes, Capturs and Mokkas the Karoq is a good thing; a proper, evocative car name of the old school.

Not only is it drawn from the language of a remote Alaskan tribe but you can just imagine it being slapped across a supercar’s rump. A Maserati Karoq has a certain ring to it.

But this name isn’t going on some Italian slingshot; it’s going on Skoda’s new baby off-roader, which looks great and should sell like Ed Sheeran tickets when it goes on sale here later this year. I’ve no doubt it’ll be an accomplished all-rounder (especially if its Kodiaq big brother is anything to go by) but it means Skoda’s existing baby off-roader, the Yeti, will be quietly put down.

Which is a real shame because I still reckon it’s one of the most talented tiny off-roaders out there. In fact, it’s one of the best motoring all-rounders, full stop.

I remember road-testing it for The Champion in 2010, not long after it first arrived in the UK, and thinking how willfully different it was from the rest of the Qashqai-alikes out there. It eschewed trendy styling and clever in-car infotainment for slab-sided proportions and minimal overhangs for better ground clearance – just like you get on a Land Rover Discovery. It even had the same sort of chunky buttons and indestructible interior plastics as most off-roaders, so that even the clumsiest of schoolchildren or the hungriest of Labradors wouldn’t be able to ruin it.

But best of all it had that rare thing missing from so many of today’s off-roader-esque family cars; the prowess to match the proposition. One of the cars we occasionally use at Classic Car Weekly for photoshoots is a 13-reg Yeti, and no matter what we throw in its direction it always emerges totally unflummoxed. On one jaunt back from the Goodwood Festival of Speed we actually took it green laning to avoid the traffic jams and it dealt with the muddy ruts and rocks superbly – and as a result, it was faster than every Ferrari, Porsche and M-badged BMW within a ten-mile radius.

For a five-door hatchback that kicks in at a shade under 18 grand it is supremely talented, and definitely something that even in its twilight years I’d thoroughly recommend. I can only hope the new arrival picks up the Yeti’s baton of being something you can count upon in a muddy field, rather than following the me-too route of looks over all else.

It does at least have a cool name, though, which is a good start.

Why re-testing the over-70s isn’t the key to safer roads

Even autonomous cars like this Volvo cannot completely eliminate accident risks

ROGER Daltrey hoped he’d die before he got old but I reckon there’s loads of things to look forward to.

Cheaper car insurance, for starters. Opportunities aplenty to play golf or go on coach tours of North Wales. Or, if you’re my recently-retired father, all that free time to mend the MGB in the garage.

But Roger – who’s still very much alive and well at the age of 73 – probably won’t be looking forward to doing another driving test. Yet he and just about every other motorist over the age of 70 might be forced to, if a petition that’s already gained more than 250,000 signatures is submitted to Westminster and taken seriously.

The circumstances that prompted it were truly tragic – an 85-year-old pensioner out for a drive in his classic Mercedes-Benz SL momentarily got confused, hit the wrong pedal, and ended up killing a pedestrian. The petition it prompted is calling for all motorists over the age of 70 to be given mandatory retests every three years, to prevent similar incidents ever happening again.

I’ve been following the issue with interest ever since this truly horrific incident happened back in 2012. I’ve every sympathy for Ben Brooks-Button, the widower of the woman killed and the man who nobly started this petition – but I’m not sure mandatory retests are the answer.

Statistically speaking if the suits at Whitehall are going to retest anyone it’s the generation I was part of not all that long ago – the 18-24s, with their Calvis Harris MP3s booming out of their mum’s borrowed Corsas. Nearly a quarter of them have a crash within two years of passing the driving test. It’s even worse if you’re under the age of 19; not only do you still get ID’d going into nightclubs but you’re involved in nine per cent of the nation’s big collisions, despite only making up 1.5 percent of the motoring population.

So should they be made to redo the test every three years? Of course not, and with the possible exception of anyone who works in sales and has an Audi A3 or A4 nor should anyone else. What we should be offering are courses that don’t cost a fortune, and a campaign that encourages people to think of driving as a skill to be honed and perfected, like tennis or playing a piano. We’re never going to get rid of all the incidents on Britain’s roads (and that includes ones caused by autonomous cars, so anyone suggesting that as answer can get back in their box), but we can bring them down by encouraging people to sharpen their skills.

Maybe the Government can hire Roger Daltrey to do the jingle. I hope I drive before I get old?

Closed roads motor sport is a good thing for Britain

F1 cars have long been a big draw at the Ormskirk MotorFest

GIVE the Government credit where it’s due. It’s stuck to its promises and handed power back to Britain’s towns and cities – about 475bhp, by my reckoning.

That’s roughly how much the Cosworth V8 in a Saudia-Williams FW06 F1 car makes, as driven by Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni in the late 1970s, when they’d have been able to use every last inch of its power on the world’s race circuits. But if you’d seen the same car doing its lap of honour at Ormskirk’s MotorFest event it would’ve been limited, for legal reasons, to the same 30mph your mum’s Fiesta does on the town’s one-way system.

Until now. After years of talking about it Whitehall’s finally gone ahead and lifted the ban on cars doing more than the speed limit at one-off events.

In recent years it has technically been possible to have Ferraris and Jaguars do high speed runs on closed-off British roads, but as it was very complicated and involved obtaining an Act of Parliament very few actually bothered. But as of last Monday it’s now much easier to stage races, sprints and various other forms of motorsport on public roads and in town centres – which I reckon is definitely a good thing.

Take the MotorFest. Every year it brings roughly 15,000 of you into the West Lancashire market town for a bit of high-octane fun, making it Ormskirk’s busiest trading day. It’s a great event, but imagine how much more compelling it’d be if you could watch F1 cars, Jaguar D-types and rally-prepped Subaru Imprezas being given the beans on the one-way system. Obviously these closed-off roads would be properly policed and ‘elf ‘n’ safety checked until the organiser’s desk creaks under the weight of paperwork, but the adrenalin rush of great cars being driven as their makers intended would boost all the businesses nearby.

In fact enterprising so-and-sos could use these new powers for all sorts of things. I’d love to see Lord Street in Southport turned into a sprint course for an afternoon – my bet’s that a Lamborghini Huracan would easily beat a Ferrari 488 in a dash from Duke Street to the fire station. Half Mile Island in Skelmersdale could easily host a round of the British Drift Championship. And what about the Parbold Hill Climb?

I’m sure that precisely none of these ideas will end up anywhere other than the bottom of a beer glass, but it’s nice to know we’re legally allowed to.

There are some amazing used car deals out there

Look carefully and there are plenty of great deals at nearby car dealerships

SAUSAGES, beer and the Mercedes-Benz 190E. It’s clear the Germans do some things brilliantly, but on the evidence I saw the other night motoring telly isn’t one of them.

While holed up in an Essen hotel room I ended up watching what can best be described as Germany’s answer to Wheeler Dealers. It involved slightly cocky petrolheads going out to some car dealers and trying to buy as much car as they can, but minus any of the messing around with welding machines or Top Gear-esque challenges afterwards (although there was a lot of sitting around with serious expressions and discussing things).

The programme was about as much as fun as reading a Dusseldorf railway timetable on a wet Wednesday morning (I should know – I tried it the following morning). But the show’s basic premise of finding as much motoring fun for about £15k at a nearby car dealer sounded like a laugh.

It turns out that the idea of scouring the region’s car dealerships translates perfectly well into English.

Within striking distance of The Champion’s offices I found all sorts of sub-£15k bargains, starting with a Bentley Eight with 29,000 miles on the clock and full service history. That’s 6.8-litres of craftsmanship for less than a mid-range Focus. Should you not fancy being bankrupted by a Bentley’s fuel bills there’s also a one-owner-from-new, 14-reg Golf GTI, a five-year-old BMW Z4 with just about every option imaginable thrown at it or a Jaguar XF with the 3.0-litre diesel that’s just about frugal enough to stop you weeping at filling stations after a long drive.

All of these cars, and all the Peugeot RCZ, MINI Cooper S and Volkswagen Scirocco deals I found while I was at it, all have one thing in common. They can all be found at car dealerships that are within half an hour’s drive of where you live. Play it right and you could pop out in the morning, have a look around some cars and end up with a shiny slice of petrolhead fun on your driveway that afternoon. Do your homework first, go in with a clear head and you’d be surprised at what you can find.

Unless you’re a German motoring telly presenter of course, in which case I’d recommend you spend it on sausages, beer and Mercedes-Benz 190Es instead.

A Triumph TR4 or a year of parking tickets? I know which I’d take

Being stretched for time is no excuse for poor parking

IT MIGHT not buy you a house any more but £24,500 still bags you a lot these days. A mid-range BMW 1-Series, for instance, or a Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport with most of the options chucked in.

Classic car nuts like me would probably end up with a Triumph TR4 or Jaguar Mk2 for that sort of money. Or you can follow Carly Mackie’s lead and blow the lot on roughly a year’s worth of parking for the car you already have. That’s something in the region of £65 a day for a car that’s not even moving.

The punishment administered a court up in Dundee this week is widely being described as Britain’s biggest ever parking penalty – but it does (in Scotland at least) scotch the myth that parking tickets issued by private companies on private land are legally unenforceable. All it’ll take is one court case of a similar nature either here in England or over in Wales to make the precedent Britain-wide, and I don’t think any of us want to test it out.

Yet I think this is no bad thing. Too many people on the internet have been perpetuating the idea you should refuse to pay these private penalties under any circumstances, but I’d much rather take the precedent of a court ruling over some self-appointed internet legal eagle and – while it’s unfortunate for Ms Mackie – this does at least clear things up. It also highlights how bad the situation in most town centres has ended up if people are prepared to run this parking gauntlet.

On a busy day Southport and Ormskirk are particularly tricky to find spaces in and I’ll inevitably end up circulating like an automotive vulture, waiting to swoop down the instant someone’s Fiesta backs out and frees up a space. Skelmersdale does rather better, with its swish multi-storey at the Concourse – but it’s a shame the spaces were designed for an age when everyone drove Austin 1100, not BMW X5s.

But there is a solution both to the parking precedent and to another news story that’s been doing the rounds this week. Apparently a third of us are so fat and lazy these days that we’re costing the NHS a billion quid a year, largely because we can no longer be bothered to stroll to the corner shop.

So let’s walk more. I’ve spent years parking on the fringes of Southport on my shopping trips, saving a couple of quid in parking and doubtless extending my life slightly at the same time. If you’re a mum with three prams to push around or someone with a wheelchair or crutches then go ahead and use the town centre, but for the sake of a few minutes I’d much rather enjoy some exercise. Bit rainy? Use an umbrella. Lots of shopping to carry? That’s what bags are for.

I know this new-fangled walking thing is going to take a while to catch on, but just think of all the money you’ll be saving. Enough to buy a Triumph TR4 within a year, if the latest precedent is anything to go by.

I admit it. I am a used car junkie

The internet is full of temptingly priced used cars

IT’S NOT often Tinie Tempah and I agree on something. It’s true that – like our rapper friend – I’ve been to Southampton but never to Scunthorpe (but I wonder if Tinie’s ever been to Southport). But other than that we move in very different circles. 

But Britain’s best known Lamborghini Huracán owner does, as it transpires from watching the telly the other night, have one weird passion in common. I’m wondering if he can be appointed honourary president of Classified Adsaholic Anonymous.

I’ve always been an addict, hooked on the idea that a lightly used Audi S8 for four grand or a laggy-looking Porsche Boxster for about the same is only a phone call away. Sometimes I’d act on my impulses, picking out obscure-looking deals I’d found on the internet or through scouring the classifieds pages in The Champion.

For a while I thought I’d kicked the habit, content that a daily fix of a £1000 Mazda MX-5, a Toyota Avensis that cost £900 and various classic cars that always seem to cost more money than you’d imagine would be more than enough.

But then I downloaded Tinie Tempah’s recommended legal high for used car junkies – the Auto Trader app – and I have to admit it’s on the verge of ruining my life. The giddy, childlike thrill of flicking through coarse pages chock-full of reasonably priced used cars, so cruelly robbed from us when the weekly magazine went out of print four years ago, is back.

But whereas the joy of used car classifieds used to come from spotting the obscure bargain buried within 20 pages of blurry pictures, FSHs and ONOs, nowadays it’s all about setting ridiculous search parameters and seeing what the internet comes back with. Want to know what the best four-door saloon for under £1500 is within a five-mile radius of Skelmersdale? Or Ormskirk’s best five-grand sports car? Bet you do now. 

It’s weirdly addictive, but it does have its plus side; the more you do it the more likely you are to end up with a corking used car bargain. You end up getting to know the prices, what the faults are with various models and which dodgy brand of alloy wheels owners end up fitting to them, and ultimately knowledge is power. It’s much harder to get ripped off by an unscrupulous seller when you’re a Classified Adsaholic who knows exactly what a 2003 Volkswagen Golf 1.6 Match with five doors, service history and 99,000 on the clock is worth.

So give it a go – you won’t regret it. If you end up buying something, blame Tinie Tempah.

The yellow car convoy says a lot about our motoring freedom

david-encourages-you-to-exercise-your-motoring-rights-by-driving-one-of-these-to-a-nearby-beauty-spot

FIRST they came – to badly misquote Martin Niemöller – for the owners of yellow Vauxhall Corsas.

But car lovers across the country did speak out, by effectively telling aggrieved residents of the Cotswold village of Bilbury to get stuffed. You might have read about Peter Maddox, the 84-year-old man whose brightly hued supermini was vandalised by people who objected to it being parked in the picturesque village.

So owners of yellow cars from across the UK are responding by organising an entire convoy to pay the villagers a visit later this spring. As long as it’s all above board – and the organisers are in talks with the local council to make sure it is – I completely support it.

This from someone who hates the Vauxhall Corsa. But I hate curtain-twitching, NIMBY-ist busybodies who resent car enthusiasts lawfully enjoying their hobby even more.

If someone doesn’t like a yellow Corsa I respect their right to poke fun at it, but to scratch someone’s pride and joy, smash its windows in and scrawl the word ‘MOVE’ on it is completely beyond the pale. It’s as though someone watched the hit film Hot Fuzz, where resentful locals forcefully kill or remove anything or anyone that ruins their chances of winning the Best Village award, and thought it was a documentary.

It’s the same with people who write to the council because they object to their neighbour having a partially restored Triumph Spitfire on their driveway or those who take racetracks to court for being a bit noisy, even when the circuit was there long before their house was. Objecting so strongly to someone’s choice of car – and what they do with it, as long as it’s legal – is absurd.

I’d hate to think people who read about Peter’s car and thought ‘Oh, good’ aren’t emboldened by it, because they’ll move on to green Chrysler PT Cruisers and lowered Audi A3s next. Then it’ll be those Toyota MR2s that have been body-kitted to look like Ferrari F355s, followed by people who drive Range Rover Sports and BMW X5s with oversized alloys. Owners of Nissan Jukes, even in completely standard form, should be looking worried by this point.

Then they’ll come for the owners of MGB GTs with slightly flaky paintwork. Only they won’t, because car fans are letting them know now that it’s a ridiculous idea. I may not agree with your yellow Vauxhall Corsa, but I’ll defend to the death your right to drive it.

Originally published in The Champion newspaper on 15 February, 2017

Buying Vauxhall? Please don’t screw it up, Monsieur Peugeot

the-vauxhall-astra-is-the-current-european-car-of-the-year

THE TV news is full of doom ‘n’ gloom. The internet is creaking under the weight of patriotic complaint, and pundits everywhere reckon it’s all going to end in tears.

Nope, it’s not one of Donald Trump’s speeches, but the conclusion it’s all too easy to draw about what’s happening with Vauxhall at the moment. The Government is apparently keeping a close eye on talks some people from PSA – that’s Peugeot to you and me – are having with General Motors about whether it should flog off its European operations. In other words Opel over in Germany, and Vauxhall here in the UK.

There are two things to bear in mind straight away. Firstly, Vauxhall is as British as the Queen sat on a Range Rover’s lowered tailgate sipping Tetley – in other words, as British as a person of German descent drinking an Indian-owned beverage on an Indian-funded car. Vauxhall might still proudly manufacture its cars in the UK but anyone gasping in horror at the thought of it being taken over by a foreign firm should stick their Union Flags and Winston Churchill books back in their boxes. Last year I drove a Vauxhall T-type made way back in 1929, and even that had General Motors bits in it. Being foreign-owned, as Jaguar Land Rover can testify, is by no means a bad thing.

But that doesn’t make Peugeot the right parent. It’s stuck by Citroen for more than 40 years but the last British firm it snapped up – Chrysler Europe, which through lots of boring corporate takeovers had the rights to Sunbeam, Humber and all sorts of other wonderful names – vanished without trace. It also has form for closing down UK factories, calling quits on Ryton when it moved Peugeot 207 production to Slovakia.

I’d love to be proven wrong but I can’t help think Peugeot taking over Vauxhall is a bit like Manchester United being allowed to buy Liverpool FC – why would it be in the interests of one to allow one of its biggest rivals to thrive? Someone in France might have come up with some brilliant plan where the two brands compliment one another, in much the same way Peugeot already does with Citroen, but I have my doubts.

All this at a time when Vauxhall is making some genuinely good cars too; I understand entirely why Astra’s the current European Car of the Year, and the latest Insignia looks very promising. I might even forgive them the Mokka, because by and large it’s a decent range of cars that Brits rightly love.

If you are thinking of buying, Monsieur Peugeot, please don’t screw it up.