Thursday, 20 December 2007

C-Charge chopping and changing

I was interested to see a brief report in yesterday's Times suggesting that Ken Livingstone was about to drop the Congestion Charge exemption he had planned to introduce next year for cars with official CO2 emissions figures of 120g/km or less.

Apparently, so many cars are now sneaking in under the limit that Ken is worried they will flood the streets of central London. I can see why he feels he has to make the change; after all, I don't suppose the BMW 318d was the sort of hair-shirted economy car he had in mind as benefitting from the exemption when he first suggested it. But on the other hand, the prospect of avoiding the C-Charge has obviously provided a useful spur to the car manufacturers to improve their emissions performance; they and their customers are probably entitled to feel cheated now that the proposed concessions won't be available. The real problem is that having been burnt once, the car-makers might not respond to incentives and initiatives of this sort in the future for fear of being messed about again.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Great spots 11 - hydrogen-powered bus in Hamburg

Saw this on my trip to Hamburg last week. There are a number of these operating in the centre of the city - the stuff coming out of the exhaust is just steam, so local pollution is minimal.

I'm a bit hazy about hydrogen engine technology, but I think this is a fuel cell vehicle, rather than one that takes the BMW approach of using hydrogen in a normal combustion engine, which, as I discovered when I drove the company's Hydrogen 7 model earlier this year, is more or less indistinguishable from the standard product, at least from a driving point of view.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Lessons from a life on the road 3 - don't touch Windows Vista with bargepole, at least not yet

Looks nice and has lots of good features but crashes and freezes constantly, at least in my experience. Problems arise in particular when you have several Internet Explorer windows open - this tends to make it difficult to use paid-for public wifi services which use small windows for time counters, inputting credit card details and so on. Exactly what you don't want when you're on the road without the back-up of an IT department and you have limited time to get stuff done because you're running on batteries.

I think I'll go back to one of my older XP-based laptops until Vista gets sorted out - hopefully at the first big revamp.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

What's outside today 33 - Mercedes E-Class taxi

Outside the main railway station in Hamburg that is. The only car I've been in over the last 24 hours was a W210 E-class estate taxi that took me from here to my hotel last night.

The W210 (the version of the E-Class built between 1995 and 2002) has always been considered a bit of a poor relation in quality terms compared with its predecessors, the W123 and the W124, but I noticed that the one I was in last night was still running well with over 400,000 km on the clock. The only area in which these cars seem to show any significant deterioration is their damping, which tends to give the impression of being a bit worn and floaty. The diesel engines always sound super-fit, and the interiors stand up well, even on the W210, it seems.

Even so, as the photo shows, other cars are making inroads into German taxi ranks these days - look at that Touran, for example. That would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Mind you, in Schwerin in eastern Germany I did see a Dacia Logan being used as a taxi earlier this year. At least things haven't slipped that far in prosperous Hamburg - yet.

MINI Colorado to be built in Austria

Didn't expect to return to this subject so soon, but the online edition of the Financial Times Deutschland reports today that BMW will use Magna in Austria to build the new SUV model in the MINI range, the car that is often referred to in press reports as the Colorado (not sure if that is an internal project code or whether it really will be called that once it is on the market).

The FTD looks at this very much from a German perspective, and focuses on the dire consequences for Karmann of failing to win this contract. The possibility of UK assembly isn't even mentioned - I suppose the factory in Oxford is bursting at the seams already.

Anyway, apparently, the Colorado is due to be launched in 2010 and sell at a rate of about 40,000 per year. From memory, I think BMW is in the process of ramping Oxford MINI production up from something like 240,000 to 280,000 per year, so most MINIs will still be British.

I wonder whether a MINI SUV will really work. So far, everything that BMW has done with the MINI has been a success, so I suppose you'd have to bet on the Colorado being a hit as well. On the other hand off-roading and 4x4 aren't really part of the MINI tradition, and BMW always seems a bit timid about doing anything that isn't a reinterpretation of some past Mini theme - you only have to look at the interior of the MINI to see that.

Incidentally, Karmann and Magna were both mentioned as possible suppliers to Aston Martin for the four-door Rapide; it's even more important for Karmann to secure that work now.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Definitions 6 - Trabant government

'Trabant government' = the administration of Mr G. Brown.

In last Friday's Telegraph, Jeff Randall likened the present government to a Trabant, on the grounds that we had to wait ten years for it only for it then to fall apart within six months.

Well it tickled my funny bone, anyway.