Don’t be a car badge snob!
How many of us stay loyal to one particular brand of car, perhaps because it is built in Britain, or maybe it’s seen as being of higher quality than lesser makes? Yet, the increasing globalisation of the car industry means that brands associated with particular countries are often made far away from their assumed home. For example, the C Class Mercedes Benz. Definitely made in Germany, right? Wrong! Most C Class Merc’s actually originate in South Africa – not a place you might traditionally associate with automotive quality. And they are not alone: the latest Volkswagen Polo, for example, is made in both Spain and South Africa, not Germany as you might expect, or indeed hope. And even the iconic MINI – surely a truly British brand – is affected, with the production of some cars taking place in Holland! Perhaps the most unexpected build site, though, is for the upmarket Volvo S90 and V90 models, some of which are put together in China and shipped to us in the UK by rail!
The situation is complicated further by the ever-increasing “platform-sharing” – using the same basic chassis to make several different models and even makes of car. Sometimes this can be foreseen: the similar SEAT Ateca and Skoda Karoq SUV’s share the same VW Group Czech assembly plant, for example. However, the same factory also produces some Audis! One of the more unusual examples of both unexpected manufacturing sites and platform-sharing is the Renault Koleos SUV, which is made not in France but in South Korea at a Samsung factory.
So should you be worried that the quality of upmarket makes is lost by being made in unexpected places or sharing parts with lesser marques? Not at all, in my humble opinion: each brand adopts the same quality standards regardless of where their cars are built. Even more importantly, the fact that the same components as diverse as engines and electrical switches are used on many different models means that the manufacturers can justify spending much more on developing those parts, meaning that their quality and reliability should be improved, which benefits all of us!
The diesel saga continues
As the potential health hazards of diesel engines become increasingly widely known, sales of diesel-engined cars are reducing dramatically in favour of petrol power. This reduction should in due course work its way through to reduced levels of pollution. However, many people are, rightly, concerned at the amount of diesel pollution emitted from buses, accusing bus manufacturers and operators of ignoring this issue. This is far from the truth, however, for the latest Euro 6 bus engines are extremely clean. Unfortunately, simply replacing all pre-Euro 6 buses with clean new vehicles is not a quick process, as a bus can have a service life of anywhere up to 15 years. Scrapping older buses with years of life left in them would result in massively increased fares to pay fo r the new buses, even if the manufacturers could produce them fast enough.
Engine manufacturer Cummins has come up with an excellent solution, however, by developing upgrade kits to rework older buses with the latest in clean, green engines – much cheaper than replacing whole bus fleets. The first of these upgrades hit the streets recently, in the form of a venerable London Routemaster, and more conversions are in progress. So hopefully, we can look forward to reduced pollution from buses as well as cars in the future.
Is the future electric?
Although sales of diesel cars have increasingly given way to petrol, there has also been an increase in the number of electric cars being sold. Many people remain apprehensive about electric cars, not least because of negative publicity which claims that the electricity supply network is vastly inadequate to recharge large numbers of electric vehicles. Media hype said that UK’s electricity generation would need to increase by 50% (30 gigawatts) to meet electric vehicle demand by 2040. Britain’s National Grid company, however, says that this is untrue: they believe the most likely scenario is that electric vehicle usage even by 2050 will only prompt an increase of 8% (5GW) over today’s peak electricity demand of 61GW.
National Grid says that the highest period for electric demand is typically a cold evening when Manchester United are playing in the Champions League and everyone switches their kettles on at half-time! This could be handled, they say, by Smart Charging: if capacity has been reached in a particular area, smart vehicle chargers can be signalled to either delay charging or charge at a lower power in the relevant areas until the demand settles down. Should a customer need to charge their vehicle urgently, they could over-ride the system with the press of a button. Smart Charging should, therefore, avoid the need to build extra power stations.
Sci-fi? No – the use of smart chargers is likely to be mandated in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill 2017-2019 which is currently making its way through the House of Commons. Indeed, some charge point providers are already producing devices that are smart-charge-ready. So perhaps electric cars are more practical than you might have thought.
How soon will we see Driverless cars?
Politicians and manufacturers alike would have us believe that the age of driverless cars is almost upon us, but I suspect that it will, in reality, be many years before fully driverless cars are common. Why, as a petrolhead and engineer, do I hold such a Luddite view? Not because of doubts about the technology, for to all intents and purposes, all the necessary systems exist today, indeed many are already incorporated into the cars we drive now. My reservations are purely related to human nature: unless driverless cars are totally segregated from other traffic, they will need to share the roads with cars driven by humans. There will inevitably be a transition period, most likely taking decades, between the first fully autonomous vehicles and the last human drivers on the road.
Driverless cars will be programmed never to speed, to give way to others as much as possible and generally to obey every rule of the road – in other words, to be perfect drivers. Driverless cars will turn in perfect circles, never cut corners, and would certainly never jump a red light. If a person walks out in front of one, it will stop instantly, with superhuman reflexes.
However, the impeccable behaviour of driverless cars is likely to cause drivers of ordinary vehicles much frustration, indeed the knowledge that a driverless car will do everything possible to avoid an accident is likely to result in them being “bullied” by aggressive human drivers, for example by cutting in front of them to gain a few seconds in a traffic queue. So driverless cars could actually turn humans into worse drivers!
When roads have no more human drivers on them, we are likely to be much safer, for human error is involved in 90 percent of accidents. But in the period until then, for driverless cars to become a reality, they must deal with their biggest problem: the flaws of human beings!
If you have found this article of interest please visit the writer’s website www.autonews.uk.com for more motoring news and views. © Andy Goundry