Search This Blog Below

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ghosn teams up with Bajaj for small car

PUNE: The passion of Rajiv Bajaj, MD of Bajaj Auto, for total productivity management has a new admirer — Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault and Nissan. Ghosn, whom Bajaj describes as the “rockstar of the global automotive industry”, was on a whirlwind visit to the Bajaj Auto’s 198-acre two-wheeler manufacturing facility at Chakan, near Pune, on Monday afternoon.

The visit was to announce the collaboration of both Renault and Nissan with BAL for making and selling an ultra low cost car (ULC) priced at around $2,500.

A tough call considering that the latest Bajaj Auto three-wheeler passenger vehicle (RE DD-Fi) is itself priced at $2,500. But not an impossible one, feel both Bajaj and Ghosn. “If Tatas can do it, there is no reason Bajaj cannot with the help of Renault and Nissan,” said Ghosn. He said that Bajaj would lead the tripartite tie-up, while the two global auto makers support the venture in design, engineering and even equity participation in the project if needed.

The idea is to build a car of robust quality that meets the basic requirement of the customers in India initially and then see if it can be exported to other markets, says Ghosn.

If the answer to that is an ‘yes’, which the two companies would know in a few months when the feasibility study is completed, then the ULC car is expected to be launched by end 2011. Whether the new car will have an independent badging or joint badging is yet to be decided.

Ferrari FXX gets faster

The awesome Ferrari FXX supercar has been given an upgrade. More power, better aerodynamics and sharper handling are the result.

Ferrari FXX

Italian supercar maker Ferrari has given its stunning FXX a bit of a work out. As a result the Enzo based track car gets a power boost, together with tweaks to the bodywork and suspension.

Under the carbon fibre skin is a modified version of the existing 6.3-litre V12 that now churns out 848bhp - 50bhp more than the original. This is connected to a gearbox that has had its shift times reduced from 80 to 60 milliseconds.

To keep the Ferrari on the road engineers have modified the rear spolier and underbody diffuser to give more downforce. At the front revised suspension geometery gives the Evoluzione even sharper steering, while the carbon ceramic brakes now last twice as long.

The modifications have resulted in an an impressive two second reduction in the standard FXX's 1 min 18sec lap of Fiorano. Many of the changes were the work of seven-times F1 champion Michael Shumacher.

The original FXX was developed as a mobile test bed for forthcoming Ferraris, with 30 super rich owners being given the opportunity to buy cars. Each one had to fork out an estimated £1 million pounds for the privilege of driving at 28 private events. Sadly none of the limited model run have ever been made road legal.

Unfortunately there will be no new cars as the modifications are to be carried out on existing versions only. Over the next two years owners will get the opportunity to test the improvements at circuits around the world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chrysler LLC Launches Production of New 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 at Conner Avenue Assembly Plant

AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Oct. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Chrysler LLC today announced the manufacturing launch of the new 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10, which is being built at the company's Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit.

In a time when most manufacturing plants utilize hundreds of state-of-the- art robots to assemble vehicles, a unique plant in Detroit is producing hand- built performance vehicles.

At the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant, workers called "Craftspersons" hand- build the new Dodge Viper SRT10 and all-new 600-horsepower 8.4-liter SRT V-10 engine. Utilizing 26 work stations on a 705-foot-long assembly line, 48 hand- picked UAW workers assemble each vehicle. Each vehicle remains stationary for up to 49 minutes per work area as the Craftspersons make any necessary adjustments. This process eliminates traditional repair stations with all procedures verified by Craftsperson team members.

Each Dodge Viper is primarily made of seven component modules (instrument panel, fuel tank, suspension corner modules, wheels and tires, cooling module, lift gate assembly and full dressed engine). With the exception of the engine, all modules are shipped to the Conner facility from other locations. Stamping, casting and welding all take place off-site with body panels arriving already painted.

Normally performed only on race cars, an alignment machine sets caster and camber at normal ride height, at jounce and at rebound (upward and downward travel of suspension). Typical factory alignments set caster and camber in the normal ride height position only. The 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 is the only U.S. production vehicle set up for such alignment at the factory.

"Our assembly process is just as exceptional as the car," said Melissa Holobach, Plant Manager - Conner Avenue Assembly Plant, Sterling Heights Vehicle Test Center (SHVTC) and Pilot Operations. "The process of building these vehicles by hand has allowed us the freedom to produce race-inspired performance without the constraints of mass production," Holobach said. "Our workforce is committed to producing the best vehicles possible and it shows in their commitment to detail."

The all-new 600-horsepower 8.4-liter SRT V-10 engine is built next to the vehicle on a 24-station circular line by nine Craftspersons. These nine workers assemble and certify each engine before they are installed in the chassis.

Each Dodge Viper is tested in place on the assembly line utilizing special rollers. At this stage the vehicle is a rolling chassis without its body panels. During this "roll test" it is driven through all six speeds of the transmission, up to 90 mph to verify vehicle function.

Since its introduction as a concept car at the 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Dodge Viper has captured the hearts and imagination of enthusiasts around the world. The 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 is offered in both Roadster and Coupe versions. With its dramatic styling and 600 horsepower, the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 is the ultimate American sports car.

"The 2008 Dodge Viper continues to be an icon for not only the Dodge brand but the Company," said Frank Ewasyshyn, Executive Vice President - Manufacturing. "Compared to our other manufacturing facilities, this is a very labor-intensive plant, but to build the Dodge Viper any other way wouldn't be right. This small craft shop allows us to produce a true American legend."

The next chapter of Dodge Viper continues to set the definition of extreme, yet features greater levels of refinement and finish. The new 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 boasts more of what performance aficionados crave: more horsepower, benchmark braking, world-class ride and handling, a race-inspired interior and bold exterior styling.

While every SRT vehicle offers balanced overall performance, the heart and soul of the new 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 is its new powertrain. For 2008, SRT ups the ante with a new, 8.4-liter aluminum V-10 engine that produces an astounding 600 horsepower and 560 lb.-ft. of torque.

With 600 horsepower -- 90 more than before, and 0-to-60 performance in less than four seconds, the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 sets a new benchmark for the ultimate American sports car.

The new 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 will arrive in Dodge showrooms in North America this fall with a new level of customization options, including five new exterior colors, four new interior color combinations and a new wheel design.

Street and Racing Technology

SRT creates Chrysler's boldest, most distinctive products by single- mindedly following its core vision: Deliver benchmark performance at the lowest price, and deliver it with absolute integrity and credibility.

Every SRT vehicle showcases five key aspects: Exterior styling that resonates with the brand image; race-inspired interiors; world-class ride and handling characteristics across a dynamic range; benchmark braking; and standout powertrain.

Detroit Community

Chrysler's commitment to the City of Detroit is strong. In 2006, Chrysler generated over $960 million in annual wages, over $16 million in income taxes, and over $44 million in personal and real property taxes in the City of Detroit. Throughout Michigan, the company has 35,000 employees who generate more than $4 billion in annual wages and provide more than $258 million in taxable income to the state.

Since April 2007, the company has invested $1.8 billion in Detroit-area plants in support of flexible manufacturing efforts.

The company's operations in Detroit include Conner Avenue Assembly Plant, Jefferson North Assembly Plant, Mack Engine Plants I and II, Detroit Axle, Mt. Elliott Tool and Die and the Plymouth Road Office Complex. Other facilities in southeast Michigan include its global headquarters and Technology Center, Chelsea Proving Grounds, Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance (GEMA), Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, Sterling Heights Stamping Plant, Trenton Engine Plant, Warren Stamping Plant and Warren Truck Assembly Plant.

Chrysler LLC

GM India eyes engine manufacturing facility

NEW DELHI: Karl Slym may be only a day-old in the country but the new president and MD of General Motors India has his strategy in place.

Slym said GM India was evaluating the possibility of setting up an engine manufacturing facility in India that would cater to domestic as well as export demand. While the details - including the location and investment - are yet to be finalised, the Englishman, by his own admission, loves setting up plants.

GM India presently sources engines for its products from its other global plants. Apart from multi-utility vehicle Tavera, which is 97% localised, the company's other products run on sourced engines. The company is in talks with more than one state government to set up the proposed plant, but has not zeroed down on a particular location yet.

Slym has also decided to speed up the rollout of sports utility vehicle Captiva to January, instead of March earlier, which would be imported as completely built units from GM's South Korean facility. Captiva would be pitted against Honda CR-V and Maruti Suzuki's Grand Vitara which are also sold as CBUs.

The president Slym said he would evaluate the company's portfolio and may also get luxury brands like Buick, Cadillac or even the Hummer to India.

Related Blog : Highlights on Cars

AUTOSHOW-Daimler sees no BMW engine deal this year

CHIBA, Japan, Oct 24 (Reuters) - An engine cooperation pact between German carmakers BMW (BMWG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) and Mercedes is unlikely to be concluded this year, Daimler (DAIGn.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) chief executive Dieter Zetsche said on Wednesday.

"We are studying whether it makes sense, whether we can arrive at a win-win situation for both," Zetsche told reporters at the Tokyo Motor Show.

"Such a study takes time. It is unlikely that there will be a decision this year -- probably next year," he said.

Zetsche said Daimler, which has the Mercedes passenger car brand and Benz truck brands, was also in exploratory talks with other carmakers but he declined to confirm whether that meant with Fiat (FIA.MI: Quote, Profile, Research).

"It is true that I see (Fiat Group CEO) Sergio Marchionne often. He is ACEA chairman and is in Formula 1. But I do not want to make a statement here that we are in talks with Fiat," he said.

Zetsche added that cooperation with other carmakers on vehicle platforms was unlikely because it would be too complex.

German Stocks Decline, Led by Merck, Allianz; Daimler Advances

By Henrietta Rumberger

Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- German benchmarks DAX Index dropped, led by Merck KGaA after the company reported a decline in third- quarter earnings. Allianz SE also retreated.

Daimler AG, the world's largest truckmaker, paced rising shares after Volvo AB raised its outlook for the European heavy truck market this year. RWE AG climbed after brokerages lifted their recommendations on the stock.

The DAX Index lost 13.83, or 0.2 percent, to 7,828.96. DAX futures expiring in December fell 2.5, or less than 0.1 percent, to 7,888 as of 5:43 p.m. in Frankfurt. The HDAX Index of the country's 110 biggest companies decreased 0.3 percent.

Merck slid 1.22 euros, or 1.4 percent, to 87.78 euros. Europe's largest biotechnology company said third-quarter profit declined 75 percent to 36.2 million euros ($51.6 million) on writedowns from the purchase of Switzerland's Serono SA.

Merck paid $14 billion for Serono to cut reliance on liquid crystals used in flat panel televisions and add funds to develop more medicines.

Allianz, Europe's largest insurer, retreated 2.64 euros, or 1.7 percent, to 152.02 euros.

RWE added 1.51 euros, or 1.6 percent, to 94.55 euros. Goldman, Sachs & Co. raised its recommendation on the shares of Germany's second-largest utility to ``neutral'' from ``sell.''

Societe Generale also lifted its recommendation to ``buy'' from ``sell.'' The brokerage upgraded European utility stocks to ``overweight'' from ``underweight.''

Daimler, where the heavy-truck division was the second-most profitable unit after the Mercedes passenger car business last year, gained 1.06 euros, or 1.5 percent, to 74.30 euros.

Volvo, the world's second-largest truck maker, raised its 2007 European industry forecast to 340,000 trucks from 330,000 previously. Sales last year totaled 295,000 vehicles.

The following stocks also gained or fell in Germany. Stock symbols are in parentheses.

Bauer AG (B5A GY) rallied 3.77 euros, or 7.7 percent, to 53.06 euros. The construction company that sold shares last year raised its full-year profit forecast 10 percent, citing ``excellent business development.'

DAB Bank AG (DRN GY) gained 23 cents, or 3.5 percent, to 6.72 euros. The online broker controlled by UniCredit SpA said third-quarter profit was little changed from a year earlier, hurt by a tax charge. Net income was 4.3 million euros, almost exactly the same as the year-earlier quarter, DAB said today.

Commission income, its biggest source of revenue, was boosted by ``heavy trading activity'' because of volatility in the stock markets.

Demag Cranes AG (D9C GY) rose 95 cents, or 2.6 percent, to 38 euros. The world's largest maker of mobile harbor cranes said full-year operating profit beat the company's forecast after the port technology division booked record fourth-quarter orders.

Earnings before interest and tax for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 were 94.6 million euros, higher than the 93 million euros forecast in July, the company said today.

Itelligence AG (ILH GY) soared 1.35 euros, or 29 percent, to 6.05 euros. NTT Data Corp., a Japanese information technology company, offered to buy the German computer-services company that provides business applications, for 152.5 million euros, or 6.20 euros per share, in cash.

Porsche AG (POR3 GY) gained 19.82 euros, or 1.2 percent, to 1,728.23 euros. The maker of the 911 sports car today won a court case against Volkswagen AG labor leaders, allowing Porsche to proceed with setting up a European company structure that avoids stricter national labor representation rules.

Volkswagen shares climbed 2.82 euros, or 1.7 percent, to 172.55 euros.

Software AG (SOW GY) advanced 78 cents, or 1.3 percent, to 61.18 euros. Merrill Lynch & Co. added shares of Germany's second-largest software maker to its list of ``most preferred'' European technology shares. ``Strong growth at a very reasonable valuation should drive share price performance,'' the analysts including Andrew Griffin wrote in a note to investors.

Westag & Getalit AG (WUG GR) added 71 cents, or 4 percent, to 18.70 euros. The building supplies maker said nine-month net income rose to 7.3 million euros from 5.2 million euros in the year-earlier period. The company also said it will beat its full- year forecast.

Toyota's plug-in Prius

Toyota's plug-in Prius is work in progress

Test drives show the plug-in hybrid has potential
By Martin Zimmerman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 24, 2007
TOKYO -- I had to go to Japan to do it, but I finally got my hands on a plug-in hybrid.

Not one of those hacked Priuses that after-market modifiers will produce in exchange for several thousand dollars and a canceled warranty. This was the real thing, built by Toyota at its research labs in Japan as part of its program to get a workable plug-in hybrid to market.

Toyota Motor Corp. sells more hybrids than any other carmaker, though that hasn't stopped some critics from questioning the company's commitment to advanced fuel-efficient powertrain systems.

So with the automotive media in town this week for the Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota perhaps decided it was opportune to demonstrate it has been spending time and money finding ways to replace the environmental disaster that is the internal combustion engine -- and has the sheet metal to prove it.

Which is how I came to be at a Toyota test track near the foot of Mt. Fuji, surrounded by engineers, interpreters, PR types and about half a dozen plug-in Priuses -- cars that may have a lot to say about how we get around in the future.

Hybrids such as the current-generation Prius use a traditional gasoline engine as their primary power source. A small, battery-powered electric motor powers the car for very short distances at low speeds and provides additional power at higher speeds. The payoff, in the Prius at least, is the highest miles-per-gallon rating of any mass-produced car in the U.S.

(Toyota and other automakers are working on plug-in hybrids with larger battery packs that would enable the car to travel several miles at highway speeds on electricity alone; the batteries would be recharged at night by plugging into a household outlet.)

Besides the bird decals and other eco-cute touches, the Priuses at Toyota's Higashi-Fuji test track looked a lot like the 2006 model that I drive from Glendale to work in downtown L.A. every day.

Other than the steering wheel being on the right, Japanese-style, the major difference in the interior was on the dashboard touch screen. In addition to the usual engine-motor-battery schematic, it displayed colored bars indicating whether the car was running on electricity alone or in hybrid mode. It also included a gauge that counted down the 10-kilometer, electric-only range.

The cars were equipped with nickel-metal hydride battery packs about twice the size of the ones in the current-generation Prius. The reason: to simulate the additional power Toyota hopes to get from lithium ion batteries, which are the leading choice among automakers right now for providing the power needed to move plug-in hybrids appreciable distances on electricity alone.

The Priuses at the test track could be operated in two modes: electric only or hybrid with an electric-only capability. (Unlike those in the U.S., Priuses marketed in Japan have an electric-only option, although the range is just a mile or so at very low speeds.)

The engineers warned me that the test cars were strictly developmental prototypes -- in other words, research vehicles not ready for dealer showrooms.

They weren't kidding. After strapping on my crash helmet and punching the familiar starter button, I hit the accelerator hard and almost threw the car out of electric-only operation.

OK, fine. When in hybrid mode, Toyota's plug-in system is designed to switch out of electric-only operation when it's confronted with a heavy demand for power -- maintaining speed up a steep hill, for example, or when dealing with a driver equipped with a crash helmet and a lead foot.

When I eased off the accelerator, the car didn't immediately switch back to electric power, even though the dashboard display said I had several miles of electric range left. I had to slow down to 20 kilometers per hour (you try to do metric conversions while careening around a test track) to return to electric-only.

That wasn't reassuring to someone thinking in terms of merging onto the 405 and then jamming across four lanes of traffic to the carpool lane, to enjoy seven miles or so of gasoline-free driving. In Southern California freeway traffic, slowing down to 20 kph to get the electric motor to kick back in isn't really an option.

The engineers assured me that it was no more than a software glitch, or maybe the catalytic converter didn't have time to warm up.

Whatever. A second test drive in a different test car resulted in the kind of torque-y acceleration electric motors are known for, speeding smoothly and quickly up to 50 mph or so, at which point an extra dose of throttle caused the gas engine to kick in -- as expected. And this time, almost as soon as the pressure was eased on the gas pedal, the car went back into electric-only operation as it was supposed to.

To get maximum electric-only efficiency, it seemed, the trick was to accelerate with a bit of restraint up to the electric motor's top speed of about 62 mph, thereby avoiding the sudden -- and admittedly satisfying -- burst of acceleration that can cause the gasoline engine to needlessly take charge.

Toyota won't talk mpg for the plug-in Prius, noting that it's tough to come up with a number that reflects both miles per gallon and miles per kilowatt. It also won't speculate on a sell-by date.

General Motors Corp., which is battling Toyota for the title of the world's largest automaker, has talked of a 40-mile all-electric range for its Chevy Volt, provided that researchers can develop more powerful and safer lithium ion batteries. GM says it could be ready for market in three years -- an aggressive projection that invites derision from other automakers, including Toyota.

Truth be told, I think I was a bit spoiled by the hydrogen fuel-cell Toyota Highlander I tried out just before the Prius test runs. The mid-size sport utility vehicle, powered solely by an electric motor, displayed very un-SUV-like oomph as I pushed it past 50 mph. It was smooth as silk and brimming with torque.

Too bad that there are only a few dozen in existence and that if you could actually buy one -- which you can't -- it would have a sticker price of about $1 million.

Maybe, as some critics like to say, hydrogen is the fuel of the future and always will be.

But for a few brief minutes in the shadow of Fujisan, the future felt awfully close at hand.


Car clinic: your motoring problems solved

Q I’ve enjoyed driving my 1995 Toyota Celica GT but am looking for something a bit different, preferably a sporty coupé or convertible. I’ve considered a BMW Z4, Mercedes CLK or Audi TT but can’t make up my mind. My budget is £17,000-£18,000. Any pointers?

PM from Cornwall

A The Mercedes CLK is the largest of the cars on your shortlist, with decent-sized rear seats and an ample boot, but unless you go for one of the six-cylinder models they are not terribly quick. The two-seater BMW Z4 is a much sportier drive and your budget will buy you a 2003 53-plate 3 litre petrol convertible that is quick and, being the current model, should have good resale prospects.

Your budget wouldn’t stretch to a new Audi TT so you would have to settle for a previous generation model. But the old TT has proven reliable and for about £17,000 you could get a 2004 04 3.2 V6 convertible or a coupé of the same age for about £1,000 less.

Also consider the Hyundai Coupé. The latest SIII model is good looking and the 2 litre is great value. Your budget could get you a new car. If you want a bit more performance, look at a 2.7 litre, which at about £19,000 is only a little over budget.

Q I was amazed to read (Used Car, September 30) that the Maserati Quattroporte’s service interval is just 6,250 miles. I drive a 2003 Mercedes C 320 CDI and am unconvinced it requires, as the onboard computer dictates, servicing as often as every 10,000 miles – particularly as 90% of my driving is on motorways. Can manufacturers set any intervals they like?

GT from the Wirral

A The Maserati is a high-performance car and so needs more attention more often – in much the same way as a racehorse. But with more real-world cars, longer service intervals are the norm, due in part to the improvements in oils and parts such as spark plugs.

Many manufacturers offer variable service intervals that are calculated by the vehicle’s computer taking account of the mileage and type of journeys – a car that spends most of its time on long journeys would usually have longer service intervals.

Your Mercedes should have this variable servicing option and, unless you’re a particularly sporty driver, we’d expect you to be going more than 10,000 miles between services. Consult your Mercedes dealer about this and ask it to check the computer is working correctly.

It is good practice to have the car checked at least once a year, regardless of service schedules, paying particular attention to undervehicle components such as brakes, steering and suspension, which take the brunt of the UK weather. It is also generally accepted that brake fluid should be changed every two years (because it absorbs water) and that an annual oil change, regardless of the official interval, is a good measure to prolong engine life.

Q New blue signs have started appearing by some roads, including the M6. They are positioned every half a mile or so and show the road number, a mileage and a letter. What are they for?

PF from Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire

A These are new driver location signs that have been tested on the M6 and M25 and are now being installed across the motorway and main trunk road network at about 500-metre intervals. They consist of a blue square with a white border and yellow lettering and can be used by the Highway Agency’s traffic officers or breakdown services to help find motorists when they phone to report an incident. Each sign displays the motorway or road the motorist is travelling on and a letter indicating in which the direction he or she is travelling.

The figure beneath the letter represents the distance in kilometres (not miles) from a designated point on the motorway – usually the start, although on the M25 the measurement is taken in the clockwise direction from the Dartford crossing.

Q We run a Citroën Xsara Picasso because we have three children under four. We’d prefer a car with a more executive image, but one that can still take three children in the back and ideally has space for two more. I fancy the Volvo XC90. What do you think? Our budget is about £40,000.

MY from London

A You could afford a brand new Volvo XC90. Probably the best model for resale value would be a D5 SE automatic, which retails at £36,695. In common with most seven-seaters the boot space – at 249 litres – is pretty limited if all seats are in use but this increases hugely when one row of seats is stowed.

Alternatively, take a look at the Mercedes R-class, which sits somewhere between an MPV and a 4x4 in terms of looks but also offers seven potential seats, a broad cabin and a larger boot than the Volvo – 324 litres with all seats in use. Our recommended buy would be the R 320 CDI SE auto at £40,120.

A final thought is the Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon. At £49,995 for a new 4.2 litre diesel it is outside your budget but a 2006-registered example should be closer to £40,000.

Q I have an 05-registered Hyundai Getz 1.3 GSI automatic. I don’t seem to get the fuel economy out of it that I used to when I bought it. In town driving I am lucky if I get 25mpg – motorway driving is a bit better at about 30mpg. It has been checked at a garage but nothing came up. It is a low mileage (15,000 miles) car. What could be wrong?

SW from Newport, south Wales

A The official combined figure for this model is 40mpg, but a real-world figure is probably nearer 35mpg for longer journeys, so you’re not too far off at present. Stop-start town driving will always hammer economy figures and automatics are a little heavier on fuel than their manual counterparts.

“Checked” presumably means no fault codes came up on the garage’s diagnostic computer, but not everything is electrical. As with most modern cars, it is often the case that a car that is driven harder – at least some of the time – performs better.

As your car is low mileage, it may have done more short, urban journeys and it could be that the combustion chambers have started to gum up as the car is rarely driven at speed or under heavy acceleration and/or that the fuel injectors are starting to clog slightly for the same reason. Driving it round the bypass, holding it in the intermediate gears, often blows out any accumulated gunge. Adding a dose of fuel system cleaner (such as Redex Petrol Injector Cleaner, £4.99 for 250ml, or STP Complete Fuel Treatment £14.99 for 500ml from Halfords) might also improve things.

Consider also where you buy your fuel. The big brand suppliers (Esso, BP, Shell etc) claim their fuels cost more because of the extra detergents. There are doubts about how much better these fuels are, but it may be worth trying a few tankfuls to see if there’s any noticeable difference.

Q My partner and I are moving to Ireland next year and intend to take our cars. What’s involved in registering them?

SM from London

A All vehicles taken to Ireland for more than 12 months are subject to vehicle registration tax (VRT), which can be as much as 30% of the car’s open market selling price (OMSP), or estimated value, which can only be decided by an official inspection.

Your first step will be to register the cars with the vehicle revenue commissioners, part of Irish Tax and Customs. You will need to take proof of ownership to your local office, including, if possible, a copy of the purchasing invoice and your registration document. See (or go straight to the relevant section at for more details. The office will arrange the valuation inspection and once the VRT has been paid, your cars will be allocated Irish numberplates.

If you have owned the vehicles abroad for more than six months and are moving permanently to Ireland you are exempt from VRT, although you still have to register. If you sell the cars within a year of arrival you will be liable for the tax.

— E-mail your questions for our experts to or write to Car Clinic, InGear, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST. Please give a daytime telephone number and as much detail about your car as you can. We cannot send personal replies or deal with every letter. Please do not send original documents or SAEs. Advice is offered without legal responsibility.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lexus LS 460 -- I love this thing


It makes me feel old to realise that the first Lexus LS was launched in 1989. Despite being on the scene for eight years now the luxury arm of Toyota is still seen as the newcomer to the party, certainly when compared with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. However, the LS is far from second rate and in its fourth generation actually leads the way on several new technologies. Here we feature the LS 460, a model often forgotten about with the likes of the LS 600h hybrid model taking all the limelight.

What are its rivals?

Although entry-level models start below £60,000 for the LS, buyers can spend over £70,000 if they opt for the long wheelbase model and a few choice options. That puts the Lexus firmly into competition with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and even the top of the range Jaguar XJ. In our eyes, the Lexus wins the styling competition, but status may sway buyers towards the Merc. The 7 Series range gives buyers a much wider choice too.

How does it drive?

The LS is first and foremost a luxury car and so the remit is to cosset its occupants in all conditions. It does excel at its job, being particularly impressive on a high-speed cruise. Most potholes and road imperfections are nicely soaked up by the air suspension too, though at really low speed it doesn't deal with horizontal ridges as well as the best conventionally-sprung cars do.

Unexpectedly, the LS is actually rather competent through a sequence of corners. The adaptive dampers do a superb job of keeping unwanted body movements in check and the driver has the option to choose between Normal, Comfort or Sport settings. In the latter, body roll is eradicated completely and the LS changes direction just like a much smaller car, obviously to the detriment of ride comfort. As capable as it is, the LS doesn't really involve its driver, with little or no communication.

Still, it does what's asked of it without any fuss.

What's impressive?

In a word: refinement. The cabin is an utterly relaxing place to while away a long drive thanks to well contained wind, road and engine noise. At the same time, the V8 engine gives the LS serious performance when it's required and the eight-speed automatic transmission is one of the best in existence. The fact that the chassis can be altered from really comfortable to really agile is just a bonus in the context of the target market.

What's not?

Despite Lexus being around for nearly eight years, we can't help but feel that the German marques still attract more buyers that are worried about their image. Also, the range is quite limited in comparison to some competitors. There may be a hybrid option, but it's quite pricey. A diesel variant would be welcome.

Should I buy one?

There are very few negatives to Lexus LS ownership. It's one of the best-looking luxury cars on the market and one of the most technologically advanced too. The line-up may be a little limiting, but if you're after a quick, comfortable V8-engined luxury car then the LS is certainly worth a position on your shortlist.

British poll name French as world's worst drivers

Our closest neighbours in France have been singled out as having the 'worst drivers on the planet' in a poll of 5,000 British tourists. The survey, undertaken by social networking site, put French drivers in pole position, followed by Italy, India, Spain and Turkey. Not only were French drivers highlighted by the survey as the worst, but France also topped the table as the worst country to drive in; the 5,000 surveyed obviously hadn't sampled the M25 or M1 on a bank holiday, then.

According to the survey the average Brit has driven on foreign soil more than ten times. However, it's clear that they must be viewing Britain and British drivers through somewhat rose-tinted spectacles. The French were singled out for their 'inconsiderate or aggressive driving, failure to signal, making rude hand gestures and shouting expletives'.

Sound familiar anyone? That could be any daily drive in the UK.

It seems British drivers' behaviour when abroad might have something to do with the French people's behaviour to us on the road; around 13% of the polled UK drivers having had an accident abroad and 15% having been pulled over for speeding. More distressingly, one in twenty polled admitted having driven over the legal alcohol limit while abroad. Perhaps we should stop pointing fingers at our foreign friends and take a look at our own driving standards instead..