APOLOGIES to Mark Twain’s estate for having to shamelessly pilfer one of his better-known quotes. Reports of the car’s death – which you’ve probably read over the past week or so – have been greatly exaggerated.
Chances are you’ll already be aware of the Government’s intention to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars as of 2040, which a million internet bores instantly took to mean the death knell for motoring fun as we know it. The party that Karl Benz and his pals threw back in 1886 is finally over, because we all overdid it and got drunk on AC Cobras and Range Rover Sports.
But calling it quits isn’t really doing us as a species, particularly those of who love cars, much credit. Ever since we figured out that we had opposable thumbs and could light fires we’ve been pretty good at working out answers to things, and even by the Government’s own prescription we have roughly 23 years to solve this one.
I’m not going to get into how we make the clean energy that propels a zero emissions car but the end result’s a lot better than it used to be. Seven years ago I drove an electric MINI that had a battery so huge it took up the back seats, a range of barely 100 miles and engine braking so severe you could pull up at roundabouts without touching the middle pedal. It only took another two years for the motor industry to invent an electric car that was fun to drive – take a bow, Renault Twizy – and fast forward to 2017 and the charging points at motorway service stations are crammed with Nissan Leafs and Teslas. If we’ve made it this far in seven years, you probably won’t need a diesel Golf as a new car in two decades’ time.
The bit I worry about is what happens with all the old ones. The more intelligent people at Westminster have already said that banning them isn’t the answer, partly because outlawing the MGB is a bit like banning Buckingham Palace and more importantly because the nation’s classic car hobby is worth £5.5 billion to the British economy (and it’s still growing). Horses have been old hat to commuters since the Austin Seven showed up, but they’re still allowed to use our roads.
But the thing with horses is that you only need straw, carrots and a decent vet to keep them going. If everyone else is driving electric cars in 2040 will there still be petrol stations to fill up the MGF or the Peugeot 205 GTI? Or places that can do a new battery for an Audi TT?
The car, I honestly reckon, will live on. It just might be a bit trickier than it used to be.
I’VE LONG suspected that jogging is just a sweatier form of walking. I’ll cheerily wave at people powering past on yet another 10k, but I’m quite content that simply strolling to the nearest pub is exercise aplenty.
But then a colleague – who’s practically taken me on as some sort of flabby protégé – insisted I give it a go. Worryingly, I’ve found this whole moving quickly without a car lark to be surprisingly good fun.
I feel better for myself after every run, and I’m already beginning to see the results on my waistline. The idea is that I’ll get fitter, build up my speed and stamina – and then I’ll invite the new Volkswagen Polo along too, because boy does it need it.
By the looks of things Germany’s supermini of choice has been spent too long watching The Jeremy Kyle show with a can of Stella in one hand and a freshly cooked Fray Bentos in the other. By Volkswagen’s own admission it’s taller and wider than the outgoing model, and bumper-to-bumper it’s 94mm longer, which is like going up three waist sizes in car terms. What’s more the latest press packs favourably compare its dimensions to how big the Golf was in the Nineties but don’t mention weight once, presumably because the Polo’s scared of stepping on the scales and screaming in horror.
Which is a shame, because while the new Polo looks like the Golf (which is a good thing) and builds on 2009’s European Car of the Year (ditto), it’s getting increasingly hard to relate to it as a small car. The gap between the new boy and the pint-sized Up is bigger than you’d imagine.
But then the Polo isn’t the only one looking a tad porky these days. The other day I had a nose around Nissan’s new Micra and it is vast compared to the lovably cute bubble-shaped ones learner drivers used to have crashes in, and while I love the looks of Renault’s latest Clio I had to conclude the 900cc engine in the one I borrowed felt a bit strained because it’s a far bigger car than its predecessors. Virtually all of today’s superminis are blobbier than they used to be – very few are lighter, smaller or nimbler.
But I can guarantee that while small cars have got bigger the multi-storey at the Concourse in Skelmersdale hasn’t expanded, and nor have any of Southport’s parking spaces. If you really do need to squeeze into those awkwardly tight spaces outside supermarkets, you’d be better off slipping down a size and buying something like Ford’s Ka+.
IF SOUTHPORT really is the Paris of The North then I’d like to nominate it for an ambitious new automotive project. We should use the resort as a pilot scheme for reintroducing the Big French Car to Britain’s roads.
The Big French Car is a species not so much on life support in this country as completely dead and buried, consigned to a much earlier grave than the rest of Europe because we’re far more interested in what BMW, Audi and Mercedes have to offer. Citroen’s decision to can the C5 a few months ago is a case in point. It’s alive and well on the continent, but last year we Brits bought just 237 of them. Not a lot for what’s meant to be the Gallic answer to Ford’s Mondeo.
Yet if a business trip I’ve just taken to Normandy is anything to go by then we really ought to be slowly but surely reintroducing the endangered breed that is the Big French Car back to Britain. If the new Renault Espace is anything to go by, big wafty motors from the other side of the Channel started getting interesting the moment we bid them adieu.
In the course of a weekend I saw plenty of French families happily tootling around in something that no longer looks like a van with windows and suddenly has a rather rakish quality. Convert the French price into English and you’re looking at a £29k car – yes, that’s three grand more than Volkswagen’s Sharan but worth it something that looks like TGV high speed train rather than a minibus.
It’s the same story elsewhere in Renault’s range; the big new Talisman saloon looks fantastic and our French friends can have a neat estate version of the current Clio, but neither of these are available in the UK. Citroen, meanwhile, has announced a follow-up to its fabulous C6 luxury saloon, which is as likely to see a UK showroom as Boris Johnson is to see a friendly face in Brussels. Peugeot’s a little better, with a French range that roughly mirrors ours, but it’s clear there are plenty of wonderfully endearing cars we Brits should be getting but aren’t.
Which is why I think Southport, with its vaguely Parisian boulevard running right through its centre and al fresco dining areas alongside it, is somewhere vaguely French enough to support the reintroduction of big French cars. We should all be given new Renault Espaces and Citroen C6s so we can show the rest of Britain that cars other than bland crossovers and poverty-spec German saloons are available. The Big French Car deserves a reintroduction here, and with our historical connections to Paris we’re the ideal place to do it.
Just don’t mention depreciation or the whole idea’s ruined…