Wednesday, March 14, 2007

EU chief's hypocrisy on car emissions

The president of the EU Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has been forced to defend himself against charges of hypocrisy for owning a so-called 'gas-guzzling' 4x4.

While driving a 4x4 is not an activity that someone can come under fire for on this blog, the problem lies in Barroso's abject double standards.

For himself, he chooses the safety, style and driving experience of a 4x4.

But at work heading the European Commission, he piously lectures us all about the urgency of cutting car emissions. Worse, he busies himself making excessive laws aimed at forcing the rest of us who aren't paid out of an apparently bottomless pit of taxpayers' money into tiny city cars, by steadily making anything else unaffordable.

Barroso, who owns a Volkswagen Touareg, said: "I have never spoken of myself as an example to anybody - today's moralistic approach is not mine."

But this is more than a tad rich, coming from the head of a body that, despite its democratic illegitimacy, constantly makes moral choices in a wide range of policy areas and enforces them on us all through EU-wide laws.

Barroso's VW 4x4 emits an above-average level of CO2 of 356 g/km - well above a 130g limit Brussels is seeking to impose on the car industry by 2012. Taken as a whole, the EU Commission's car fleet of 85 vehicles has an average emissions level of more than 258g/km.

Are they doing anything about that? So why should we make sacrifices in our choices?

'Collective action' EU-style

In response to the hypocrisy charge, Mr Barroso bizarrely insisted that fighting climate change was about "collective action" and voiced concern that a focus on an individual's CO2 usage could be a "slippery slope".

Yet most people would understand the simple idea that 'collective action' actually results from the choices of large numbers of individuals.

And few are likely to heed 'encouragements' to make certain perceived pro-environment choices when those doing the encouraging (or more accurately in this case, enforcing through EU law) don't take their own words seriously enough to act on them.

Euro corporatism exposed

Actually Barroso's response provides a chilling exposé of the corporatist mindset of those running the EU, in which 'collective action' comprised of individuals acting in common (for example, in voting for those who govern them) plays no part.

Rather, collective action EU-style is derived through the interaction of bodies taken to speak on behalf of groups of individuals. We individuals ourselves are expected to just do what the annointed 'collective' says.

Hence Barroso's idea that there's no need to focus on individuals, or being remotely credible in front of us.

Certainly, with such a 'don't drive what I do, drive what I say' mindset in evidence at the top of the EU and no appreciation of there being a problem in such an attitude, it's no wonder the EU-led way in which its member countries are increasingly governed is being described as 'neo-feudal'.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rapide growth planned at Aston Martin

More Aston Martin news in The Times today, which reports that the company plans to step up production by more than a quarter in the next three years.

Growth will be driven by the start of production of two new models - the DBS of latest James Bond fame and the four-door Rapide - taking the marque's range to seven cars.

Ulrich Bez, chief exec of Aston Martin, said that the Rapide would add another 1,000 - 2,000 cars to its record 2006 total of 7,000.

The sportscar maker expects to take on at least 200 more workers at its Warwickshire plant as a result, with the facility having to be expanded with a new production line and developments to the body and paint shops.

Mr Richards reassured Aston Martin fans that the new owners were committed to the company long term and would not be seeking a quick turnaround like many private equity groups.

He said: “The car industry and this business require long-term investment. You can’t come in and out in two to three years as some private equity groups do.”

Ford also owns Jaguar and Land Rover in the UK, but Lewis Booth, head of Ford Europe, yesterday said that there were no plans to sell those companies too.

Aston Martin has very little in common with other Ford brands so was seen as the easiest to sell. Land Rover and Jaguar and Ford-badged cars share a great deal of parts and design.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Back to British

Luxury sports car maker Aston Martin is heading back into British hands. Ford have sold the company to a UK-led group for £479 million.

The buying consortium is led by Dave Richards, boss of respected motorsport specialist Prodrive.

The American car giant has had a big stake in Aston Martin since 1987, buying the company outright in 1994. Under Ford's ownership, the company reported record sales of 4,500 cars in 2005.

But with the onset of Ford's financial troubles, the group decided to sell Aston Martin. Ford lost more than $12bn in 2006, and faces huge restructuring costs. However the group has still held on to a £40 million slice of the company.

The sportscar specialist will remain at its purpose-built factory in Gaydon (Warwickshire), which employs 1,800 people.

Prodrive success

Under the leadership of Dave Richards, Prodrive has built a formidable reputation in motorsport, running the Aston Martin racing team in the sports car series around the world as well as the highly-successful Subaru rally team.

Dave Richards also managed the BAR Formula One team from 2002 to 2004, taking the team from eighth to second in the manufacturers world championship in that period, before Honda took a greater role in the team. Richards was also a leading figure in the Benetton F1 team in the late 90s.

Prodrive owns a slot to enter the 2008 F1 World Championship, but the consortium has called 'unfounded' speculation that Prodrive may now brand its cars Aston Martin.

Also in the consortium with Dave Richards is John Sinders - a banker in finance and shipping who spends his time between Texas and Dubai - and two Kuwaiti investment companies.

Future challenges

Looking ahead, the biggest question facing the new owners is whether, without the backing of a well-funded major car group enjoyed by many of Aston Martin's main rivals, the new owners will have enough cash to spend on developing the brand's cars to keep them ahead of the competition.

A further threat is looming EU car emissions regulations. If these are implemented on a per-manufacturer basis, that would present a major problem for independent sportscar makers unable to meet such rules by balancing the inevitably higher emissions of their products with the low-emissions city cars also produced by a large car group.

For the company to survive under such an imposed EU regime, huge investment would be needed to produce low-emissions powerplants that nevertheless maintain the required level of power and performance.