Friday, March 14, 2008

Brit-built cars win top awards

The new Jaguar XF has won the coveted What Car magazine Car of the Year 2008 award, beating off stiff competition from rivals BMW and Mercedes.

What Car stipulate that the winner of the award "must have done more than anything else from the past 12 months to move things on".

Castle Bromwich-based Jaguar is a mere cottage industry alongside the mighty Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Yet its replacement for the retro styled S-Type was considered to have beaten the best the company's German rivals could offer.

This is even more of an achievement when set against the backdrop of uncertainty over Jaguar's future, with the sale of the company by owners Ford now imminent - most likely to Indian motor group Tata.

The magazine singled out in particular the way the XF out-drives the previously unbeatable BMW 5 Series, which is saying something, but also manages to be more supple on poor surfaces.

Accepting the award, Jaguar and Land Rover managing director Mike O'Driscoll said, 'This marks a very special day for Jaguar. We're back.'

Neither is What Car alone in praising the new Jag over its executive peers. In a three-way Auto Express group test against the Mercedes E280 CDI and BMW 525 M Sport, the 2.7 diesel version of the XF emerged triumphant.

Despite being the cheapest of the three, Auto Express described the car as "brilliant: superbly designed inside out, as well as fantastic to drive in all conditions and cost effective to buy and run. Jaguar should be immensely proud of its achievement."

"We're proud to say the XF is a British world-beater", the mag concluded.

But it's not just the Jaguar taking the honours. British-built stable-mate Land Rover won the top What Car award in the compact 4x4 category with its Freelander model, while the Discovery took the accolade for best large 4x4.

Al Kammerer, product development director Jaguar and Land Rover, pointed to strength in automotive manufacturing. 'The automotive industry in the West Midlands is alive and well,' he said.

In the hot hatch category, there was more success for British-built models with Oxford's MINI Cooper taking the title.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

'Green' car tax changes a fundraiser, Treasury admits

Whoops, what a giveaway! And how often is that said on the day after Budget day?

But buried in the small print of yesterday's Budget was an official admission that changes to the car tax system, being spun as having 'green' objectives, will in fact be a healthy fundraiser for the Treasury.

The Treasury has said that by 2010-11, when the six additional car tax bands and the up to £950 graduated ‘showroom tax’ on cars in the upper tax bands come into force, higher vehicle excise duties will be delivering an extra £735m to the government’s coffers.

When the tax on lower emissions cars is also set to go down, the fact that tax income is projected to increase by such a huge amount rather indicates that Alistair Darling himself knows that the changes will not remotely encourage people to switch to less polluting cars.

Probably because, as we all know, many people actually need larger cars to accommodate their families and aren’t just driving them out of perversity or for their own entertainment.

So here we have confirmation from the horse's mouth that these car tax changes are not a ‘green’ move at all, but a way of milking more money from the already over-burdened car user. And what a surprise .... they did it anyway!

Coupled with the news that the fuel tax increase (albeit delayed til October) will be contributing an additional £270m to the Treasury by 2010, and that the government will announce the results of its investigations into how to hit car users with yet more bills via road charging next year, it’s no wonder this Budget has been described as 'Darling's war on the family car'.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Honda's £80m vote of confidence in Britain

Honda has announced an £80 million investment in its manufacturing plant in Swindon.

The extra money is to be spent upgrading the paint shop and plastics operation, and will include £16 million for casting diesel engine blocks - a process only Honda Japan has undertaken to date.

The announcement will take Honda's total investment in Swindon to £1.38 billion. The company's operations on the site began 22 years ago and today the plant produces nearly 240,000 cars a year, with two million Hondas having rolled off Swindon's production lines in total.

The operation is also a huge export success, with 70% of their UK-built CR-V and Civic models destined for more than 60 export markets worldwide.

Ken Kier, senior vice president of Honda Europe, said: "This is a testament to the quality and commitment of 5,000 associates at Swindon and the quality of our component suppliers in the UK and abroad."

"Swindon will continue to be the heart of our European manufacturing operations in the future," he confirmed.

The good news for Swindon follows last month’s announcement of up to 800 new jobs to support a third production shift at Nissan's UK plant in Sunderland.

The boost for jobs comes on the back of the success of the Qashqai model, made at the plant.

Chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Paul Everitt commented:
"Once again a highly-skilled British workforce has shown it can hold its own and that UK car making is alive and well," he added.

The news is confirmation of the statement in today's Budget that, contrary to the scare stories put about a few years ago by those misguided few who wanted us to join the euro, Britain continues to attract large flows of in inward foreign investment.

According to the Budget report, the UK remains the top European recipient of inward direct investment and second in the world only to the USA.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Taxes up again; emissions unaffected - feeling greener yet?

Car users are set, yet again, to be the victim of tax hikes dressed up as 'green' fervour in Alistair Darling's first budget as Chancellor, due tomorrow.

Darling is not just planning to press ahead with his 2p rise in fuel duty, despite fuel prices already reaching record levels, but cap it with punitive extra taxes on so-called 'gas guzzlers'.

As part of a further shake up of the road tax system, including the introduction of extra charging tiers, buyers of cars in Band G will reportedly be hit with a one-off first-year's road tax of "more than £1,000", before the tax reverts to the standard annual level of £400.

Band G is typically referred to as the bastion of Range Rovers and other (gasp) 4x4s. But in fact it also encompasses many ordinary mid-range family cars such as some models - mainly estate and automatic variants - of the Mercedes C-class, Saab 9-3 & 9-5, Volvo S60, Honda Accord, Audi A6, Volvo V70 and the Mondeo-sized Jaguar X-Type.

It also includes many everday people-carriers - even those with distinctly average engine sizes - like the Peugeot 807 2.0 MPV, Citroen C8 2.0i, Ford S-Max 2.3 Duratec, Chevrolet Tacuma 2.0CDX, Chrysler Voyager 2.4, Ford Galaxy 2.3 Duratec, Mitsubishi Grandis 2.4 Mivec, Volkswagen Sharan 2.0 S & SE and the Renault Grand Espace 2.0T.

In fact, the very cars the anti-4x4 brigade are encouraging 4x4 owners with a need for spacious family transport to buy instead!

These mid-range car buyers are the people this "showroom tax" plan will hit the hardest. For those who can afford the Range Rovers or a top end executive or sports car for £40k plus - likely twice the price of the mid-range cars - an extra grand is neither here nor there. They'll pay it anyway, as our Chancellor must well know, and the 'gas guzzling' will carry on regardless.

If Darling were serious about making a real difference to lowering CO2 emissions from cars, rather than just squeezing extra revenue from the car tax system, he would cut the government's huge tax take on the more efficient but more expensive 'premium' unleaded fuels.

Equalising the price with that of normal unleaded, through giving up just a few pence a litre of tax, would mean all car users could all afford to choose to lower their emissions.

The result would be a real and instant reduction in emissions that every car on the road could contribute towards.

Why will he ignore it? Because it will cost him money, not increase tax income. And as we know, only higher taxes are 'green'. Right?

With the timing that only his boss 'Bungler' Brown could be behind, Darling's 'putting climate change at the heart of economic policy' Budget comes as evidence is growing that the global warming theory is actually coming apart at the seams.

These people continue to take people for fools at their electoral peril.