EU presses Germany on Mercedes-Benz airconditioning refrigerant issue

Auto-fire-under-hood-R1234yfIn a press conference in Brussels yesterday, the European Commission announced they would start legal proceedings against the German government over non-compliance with the 2006/40/EC directive, concerning the refrigerant in automobile air conditioners, and allowing the continued use of the banned refrigerant R134a in A/C systems of certain new types of vehicles, notably those of Mercedes-Benz.

What’s going on?

Air conditioners rely on refrigerant fluids that are compressed and then expand rapidly when a cooling effect is desired. Unfortunately, these coolants have had a horrible effect on the earth’s environment. The original refrigerants, from decades ago, were based on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which was later proven to damage the ozone layer. When they were banned, the current refrigerant R134a was introduced, but this still has a 1400 times larger effect on global warming than carbon dioxide (CO2), when released into the air due to system leakages, in case of a crash or due to improper disposal at the end of a car’s life.… Continue Reading …

German automobile club ADAC admits fraud at car awards

ADAC-gelber-engel-award-fraudADAC is in an unfamiliar situation: normally, the German Automobile Club is the one who accuses others of cheating. Either of tachometer manipulation, overcharging or underdelivering for repairs or maintenance, or dubious car buying sites. But the club, which is no longer just a roadside assistance provider, but one of Germany’s largest lobby clubs with almost 19 million members, is now in the spotlight for manipulation the votes at one of their most prestigious awards. The “Gelber Engel”, or Yellow Angel, is an annual award which lets ADAC members choose their favorite vehicle out of all newly introduced or redesigned cars. The automobile club promotes the award by saying “Germany picks its most beloved car”, and calling it “the most important and biggest German automotive award” based on the club’s nearly 19 million members.

Not enough votes

Michael Ramstetter, PR manager of the ADAC and Editor-in-chief of the automobile club’s auto magazine Motorwelt, one of Europe’s most widely circulated magazines, founded the “Yellow Angel” more than 10 years ago, banking on the millions of readers and millions of ADAC members to give the award the desired credibility. But as the percentage of members who actually voted was shamefully low for the past couple of years, Ramstetter feared the award would no longer be taken seriously. Apparently, out of those millions of members, only about 76.000 made the effort of voting for their favorite car this year. So he decided to fabricate over 200.000 additional votes, leading to a total of 290.000 votes, and choosing the new generation VW Golf as the “most popular” model. According to the press report the ADAC was about to issue, the Golf had received 34.299 votes. But the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung was able to lay hands on the actual results: a mere 3.409 for the Golf.… Continue Reading …

European car sales analysis 2013 full year

Dacia-auto-sales-statistics-EuropeCar sales in Europe are down 1,8% in 2013, the fourth consecutive annual loss and down almost 16% on 2009 and down more than 21% on 2007. The bright spot is that December marked the largest monthly year-on-year increase of 2013 and that growth was shared among all major markets. Over the full year 2013, the UK recorded a double-digit growth of +10.8%, while Spain posted a more moderate upturn at +3.3%, while Germany at -4.2%, France at -5.7% and Italy at -7.1% saw their demand for new cars decline, each losing 100.000 sales or more.

Unfortunately, the sales increases in the UK and Spain are not due to sustainable factors, as the British banks paid billions of pounds in compensation to consumers for past insurance mis-selling, and because of the artificially low interest rates in the UK, most people used that compensation of 3.000 pounds on average as a deposit for a loan on a new car. In Spain, the government provided incentives to boost new-car sales.

If we look at manufacturers and brands, we see Dacia is the success story of 2013, with sales up almost 55.000 units, or +22,8%, helping the Renault Group offset small declines at the Renault and Nissan brands and helping Dacia leapfrog Seat to become Europe’s 15th best selling brand. Mazda also showed impressive growth, with sales up over 22.000 units, or +17,9%. Other notable increases are shown by Jaguar at +15,7%, Seat at +11%, Land Rover at +8% and Mercedes Benz at +5,2%.… Continue Reading …

Brussels Autoshow Coverage

Autoshow-Brussels-AtomiumThe Brussels Autoshow, or Salon de l’automobile Bruxelles, is not one of the major European autoshows, it lacks the glamour of Geneva, the supercar presence of Paris and the sheer magnitude of Frankfurt, but it offers a totally different atmosphere than those other shows. At most autoshows, the brands are mainly focused on introducing and displaying their newest models and revealing jawdropping concept cars which should pave the way for future design, whereas the Salon is a buyer’s show, approximately 30% of all new cars sold annually in Belgium, are either bought or ordered on the show floor. During the entire month of January, Belgium is covered in advertising posters and billboards promising the best “Salon deals” and the highest discounts, up to 35% off.

Nissan-Qashqai-Autoshow-BrusselsAs a result, the show floor is packed with the most popular models, in different colors, trim levels and interior finishes, to give the potential buyer the possibility to compare and configure his or her vehicle of choice. The only true world premiere was the new generation Nissan Qashqai crossover, a vehicle that has large shoes to fill, replacing one of Europe’s top-10 best selling cars and the most popular Japanese car in this continent ever in terms of sales ranking and market share. The outgoing Qashqai was sometimes referred to as Nissan Cashcow, and that is not far from the truth.… Continue Reading …

85 exceptional Volvo’s in a wooden shed

Swedish-Collection-Volvo-760-GLE-HoneckerSo you think Volvo’s past is filled with nothing but boring station wagons, tailored to the safety conscious family man? Then a museum full of Volvo’s must be the epitome of sleeping aid! Think again. Volvo has been a supplier of government- and diplomatic vehicles for decades, and they have built some very beautiful 2-door coupe models over the years as well, some drawn by Italian designer Bertone. In fact, Volvo’s past is much more exciting than just the current line-up of cars. Some of the most interesting cars of this past have been put together in The Swedish Collection.

Hans Blokzijl is a Dutch entrepreneur and mass-collector. His most famous collection is born out of his passion for Sweden and for Volvo automobiles, he has created a private museum of exceptional Volvo cars and paraphernalia in a shed on the property of his tree nursery. It is a collection of exclusive or otherwise special models of the Swedish brand, some of which even the official Volvo museum in Sweden is jealous of. His private museum opened to the public for one day only today, giving visitors a look into the past and present of Volvo.… Continue Reading …

Favorability of hybrids still higher than for full electric vehicles

In a recent survey among 1.084 American consumers, conducted by Navigant Research, favorability ratings for different kinds of clean transportation concepts were measured, among which electric cars, hybrid cars, natural gas vehicles and biofuels.

Electric-Hybrid-Natural-Gas-Biofuel-vehicle-favorabilityConsumers held increasingly favorable opinions of these clean transportation concepts. Hybrid vehicles were considered favorable by two thirds of all respondents, electric cars, and natural gas vehicles were considered favorable by more than half of all respondents, while biofuels were favored by more than two-fifths of respondents (43%).

Interestingly, alternative fuels, natural gas vehicles, and biofuels have significant contrasting opinion ratings between the genders with significantly higher favorability reported by males. In general, favorability for these alternative fuel vehicles also tended to be higher among older and more educated respondents.… Continue Reading …

Electric Vehicles vs. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

In response to my article on hydrogen fuel cells, one of my readers, John V. Ryan, has written a follow-up article about the comparison between Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV’s) and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (HFCV’s). Hopefully, this inspires others to do the same, so we can build this site into a platform where everybody can write or blog about their view on the automotive industry. Thanks John! Bart.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles compared to EV’s

fuel-cell-cartoon

Cartoon by: Peter Welleman

Regarding automobiles, it appears Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV’s) are superior at this time to Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (HFCV’s), and will remain so for the foreseeable future, for three reasons:

  1. HFCV’s offer less than 1/3 the efficiency of BEV’s.
  2. Mobile hydrogen fuel cells (HFC’s) are not yet even being manufactured, let alone near reaching economies of scale. In contrast, mobile Li-ion batteries are well-developed and dropping in cost: they have become 40 to 50% cheaper in the past two years alone – and many private and public groups are working intensely to create even better mobile batteries.
  3. Creation of the hydrogen refueling infrastructure will be epic, and cost many billions of dollars. Meanwhile, electricity is available everywhere, and, happily, BEV’s mostly recharge during off-peak hours, utilizing power that would otherwise be wasted. Where required, electrical grid capacity upgrades are relatively inexpensive, and easily accommodated. Even better, within a smart grid, BEV’s add the benefit of becoming dynamic storage devices, allowing the electrical utility to “borrow” power from them at peak times, and then pay it back at off-peak times.

Continue Reading …

Car of the Year 2014 shortlist and history

The shortlist for European Car of the Year 2014 has been made public. These seven cars still have a shot at the ultimate prize: Car-of-the-year-2014

  • BMW i3
  • Citroen C4 Picasso
  • Mazda3
  • Mercedes-Benz S – Class
  • Peugeot 308
  • Skoda Octavia
  • Tesla Model S

Among those who didn’t make the cut, the most surprising is the Renault Zoe EV, especially considering  a couple of average-Joe midsized vehicles that don’t really offer anything new did make it through. Yes, Octavia and 308, I am talking about you.

Is the Zoe not revolutionary enough? It is basically an evolution of the 2011 winner Nissan Leaf, without offering any groundbreaking new technologies. But then what is the Skoda Octavia doing on this shortlist? This is exactly the same vehicle as last year’s winner Volkswagen Golf, but with a different skin. It offers absolutely nothing new compared to the Golf, and to call its design groundbreaking would be the exaggeration of the century. … Continue Reading …

GM challenging Ford F-150’s sales crown?

ford-f150For decades, the Ford F-150 Full-sized pickup truck has been the bestselling vehicle in the United States, and thus also the vehicle that sold the most units in a single market, regularly selling over 60.000 units per month and even occasionally topping 70.000 units. The only way General Motors has been able to come close to those numbers was by marketing its competing pickup truck under two nameplates: Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. But now, General Motors looks set to take that crown from Ford, but it’s not because new generations of the GM pickups have just been introduced. The threat comes from far left-field: minivans!

The segment created by Chrysler some 30 years ago, has struggled for years in the United States. In 2000, 1.37 million minivans (called MPVs in Europe) were sold, but that has dropped to around 500.000 units a year since. Wait, 500.000 a year? That means the Ford F-150 outsells all minivans on the market combined. How can a single minivan even come close to the pickup truck? The answer is: China.… Continue Reading …

Why is Sergio Marchionne still in charge of Fiat-Chrysler?

Sergio-Marchionne-Chrysler-FiatWith GM CEO Dan Akerson stepping down next January to make room for Mary Barra, the first female CEO of a global automaker ever, General Motors no longer has a “change agent” at the helm, but a “car-girl” instead. Akerson has long said that he was not a long-term man for the job, and that he was in the position to turn GM around after the bankruptcy and would step down as soon as he felt the company would be prepared enough for the future, to leave General Motors in the hands of a leader who would take the company to the next level.

Meanwhile, at Fiat-Chrysler, a change-agent is still in charge with CEO Sergio Marchionne in the triple role of CEO of Fiat, Chairman and CEO of Chrysler Group, and Chairman of Fiat Industrial. Marchionne is credited for saving Fiat and then taking over the bankrupt Chrysler and saving this too. Both times, he managed to take the company from (near) bankruptcy to profitability within 2 years time. He is a true “company doctor”, so why didn’t he step down when Fiat was profitable again and leave the management to a leader who is specialized in running an already healthy company? And why is he still in charge of Chrysler now that it’s back on track?… Continue Reading …