Cars, Money and Media.

The media has given UK industry a bit of a battering in the last few years, in fact ever since the high profile industrial collapses in the 70’s the media has focused on doom and gloom stories rather than all the good news that the industrial sector has consistently produced.

I was talking to a bloke last weekend at an arts festival, was was an ordinary chap who happened to have no real interest in cars but as he knew I am a motoring journalist he made conversation by asking what car I would recommend. Being very proud of the UK car industry I immediately replied ‘any car as long as its made in Britain’, he looked quite astonished and said ‘I didn’t think there were any cars still made here’!

This shocked me, the UK makes over 2 million cars a year with factories churning out products from Jaguar, Land Rover, Lotus, Morgan, Ford, Vauxhall, Nissan, Honda and BMW to name but a few. All of these bring revenue and prosperity to the country and use British skills, both in manufacturing and engineering design. But we very rarely hear anything about this on the news, in fact when Lotus dropped a few hundred jobs last year it made national news, but when Jaguar recruit about 3500 this year there is no national coverage, I find this very frustrating and also more than a little suspicious.

I am sure the fact that most of the big media organisations are tied up with the financial sector has absolutely no influence on their bias, but it is remarkable how even the phraseology favours the ‘markets’ at the expense of industry. For instance take a look at exchange rates, to sell things we make abroad we need the pound to be cheap and affordable, but the media call this situation a ‘weak’ pound. But when the pound is expensive and unaffordable, which crushes foreign sales, reduces production and leads to job losses, they refer to that situation as a ‘strong’ pound. Its ridiculous, until you look at the financial sector who benefit greatly when the pound is expensive, and suffer when its cheap.

And the whole idea of being ruled by a stock market that panics like a frightened weasel, thus taking support investment away when its most needed, is utterly ludicrous. A system where a few chaps in blazers in London transfer money when they see their bonuses start to drop, causing a hard working company many miles away to loose several jobs even though they have a full order book, must surely be immoral?

So you might argue that as there are so many people now working in the financial sector that it balances out, when money is tight in industry it must be flowing in the financial sector? Well maybe it does, but the thing I notice is the difference in the way that money is distributed.

I read a report a while ago comparing average wages, I think it was something like average car industry wages were 25k and finance was 36k, or something like that. But the distribution of those wages is dramatically different, many people I have met who work in the city earn less than 20k, normal average office workers, many earn less than 18k and really struggle to pay the bills. The equivalent in the car industry might be factory line workers who earn a basic of about 25k and with usual overtime could be on 35 to 40k, thus allowing them more spare cash to pump back into the economy.

By comparison at the top end of the pay scale things are the other way around, senior managers in the car industry might be on 60k, but their counterpart in finance may be on double that. At director level the difference is even greater, there are no million pound bonuses in the car industry, no seven figure salaries, and all the better for it.

There are two results of this, firstly the car industry benefits more of its employees, the wages are more evenly distributed and more of the cash finds its way into the local economy. But secondly the car industry is much less appealing to the super rich, the rewards are slimmer for directors and for investors the dividends are modest.

Over the decades the press has made industry seem grubby and declining which has damaged its image severely, now UK industry is struggling to recruit the people it needs for continued growth because generations of young workers have been put off by the media image, preferring the relative ‘glamour’ of finance or retail.

Career choice at an early age obviously shapes the subjects kids study at school, and the exams they take at the end. The media bias has driven huge numbers to study softer subjects, and whilst I have absolutely no objection to anyone taking these subjects, we desperately need to rekindle the enthusiasm for learning how to make things, how to design and engineer things, how to turn dreams into tangible working products that people can buy. This mismatch of candidates skills and job requirements, coupled with the apathy toward industrial work puts the country in the ridiculous position of having a large pool of unemployed youngsters and an industry being forced to recruit from abroad.

This situation has to change, the notion that an economy can run on the service and financial sectors alone is clearly flawed, how can a country prosper when all it does is sell someone else’s products to its own populous?

Also the idea that we can be solely a ‘knowledge’ economy, where we design stuff but make it elsewhere is idiotic. All that happens is the detailed knowledge of a product gained by actually making it gradually migrates to the place where it is made, all the product knowledge seeps away until the manufacturing area has greater understanding and technical expertise than we do. Then what do we design? ‘For Sale’ signs maybe.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I know what I see is terribly unfair and inefficient, like a misfiring engine it sort of works some times but keeps stalling at junctions. I think its time this country had a new engine, one driven by selling world class products globally, building real skills and doing useful jobs that benefit everyone.

 

 

Time warp Vauxhall

Time travel is a wonderful thing, you get a great view of time as you warp through the decades. The recent PetrolBlog big day out at

Many thanks to Major Gav and the PetrolBlog massive!
Many thanks to Major Gav and the PetrolBlog massive!

Vauxhall took me right back to the dawn of my motoring career, the sounds and smells of old engines are so amazingly evocative of the age before fuel injection and catalysts. And this got me thinking about just how far we have come, there have been some remarkable advances in areas such as performance and refinement, but also we seem to have lost something along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

Fienza HP (Droop Snoot)

My first drive of the day, and one that instantly transported me back to my first ever car; a Cavalier mk1. There is the smell of fuel you only get with carburettor cars, it’s raw, pure, and for people of my

Droop Snoot Firenza HP, fully restored and dressed to kill.
Droop Snoot Firenza HP, fully restored and dressed to kill.

generation it’s hugely evocative of an era when just getting your car to start was an achievement.

This car was a complete bare shell restoration which I covered for Practical Classics a few years ago, absolutely everything had to be rebuilt from the ground up and is

Firenza interior oozes class, note upside down rev counter and dog leg 'box.
Firenza interior oozes class, note upside down rev counter and dog leg ‘box.

another great example of the fantastic work that master mechanic Andrew Boddy at the Vauxhall Heritage Centre undertakes, and it is wonderful to see the car fully finished. It’s even more wonderful to drive it.

IMAG0598
Definite road presence!

Immediately the car feels direct and delightfully connected to the road, with non-assisted steering you can feel the road under the wheels, it feels alive. Even before I get out the car park I’m smiling like a lunatic, but once out in the country lanes this car delivers joy in great bucket loads. It’s by no means perfect, the 185 tyres seem skinny by modern standards and let go readily, but delightfully progressively making it deeply rewarding to drive. Would I take this car out just for the thrill of it? Well yes, but half the thrill would be wondering if it will make it back in one piece. This is an old car, there are a few clonks and rattles, but it all adds to the theatre of this marvellous car. And when I finally get out of the car and walk away, I just cant help looking back at it and enjoying the superb lines and proportions of this classic beauty. Surely that’s a sign they must have got something really very right.

IMAG0599
Elegant to the very end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astra GTE MK1

Now this was a very interesting car, because my colleagues formed a notably different view of it to me. This highlights how personal car

The first small GTE for the marque.
The first small GTE for the marque.

tests actually are, our view of a car depends on our own preferences, past experiences, expectations and driving style. Every road test is as much a reflection of the tester as it is of the car.

This car was from a far simpler age, non-assisted steering giving lovely feedback through the spindly steering wheel, the view from the large windows is complemented by the low waist line so you can see everything on the road with no blind spots. But that’s where the fun stopped for me.

Mk1 interior boasts push button radio/cassette.
Mk1 interior boasts push button radio/cassette.

On the road the performance of the 1.8 8 valve engine is modest, maybe I’m spoilt by the thrust of modern performance cars but this one just didn’t sing for me, despite not having a rev limiter. The handling is poor by modern standards, but very much the norm for small hatches of that era, go into a corner fast and it understeers horribly, and if you have to back off for some reason mid corner the understeer immediately translates into annoying oversteer. Not that slowing down is that easy, the brakes really don’t do much, press the pedal hard and you really don’t slow down very much, press it harder and a wheel locks up, and you still don’t slow down very much.

But this is in itself important, it’s stable mates at that time had even more pedestrian engines which didn’t overly tax the brakes and handling. By taking the standard car and fitting a slightly more powerful engine they created a dynasty that leads directly to today’s Astra VXR.

Astra GTE MK2

With the MK2 they put a decent engine in, in fact that 16 valve 2.0 litre lump became a legend in racing circles and managed to dislodge

Mk2 a definite improvement.
Mk2 a definite improvement.

the Ford Pinto as the engine of choice in many club racing specials. In the GTE it’s pleasantly nippy and buzzes along with happy eagerness, the understeer is still there but less intrusive, and the lift off oversteer is much better. The brakes are still inadequate when ‘making good progress’, it

I love the digital dash!
I love the digital dash!

doesn’t really do emergency stops as such but at least it has the ability to slow down a bit, unlike its predecessor. It is quite a fun car, but still doesn’t quite work as a complete package.

 

 

 

 

VX220

Now, our illustrious leader Major Gav has actually owned two of these fine motorcars, so I was a bit worried when he joined me for a quick blast through the countryside, was I about to show myself up at the wheel of one of his favourite machines?

Special edition VX220. Great on track, painful on road. Still fun though.
Special edition VX220. Great on track, painful on road. Still fun though.

This particular version is the higher powered version, still based on the Lotus Elese but with the suspension and engine tuned by Opel. It seems to be set up for a race track, with very hard suspension that is not helped by the non standard ultra low profile tyres, it crashes and bangs over irregularities and pot holes are like a kick in the butt. It’s not nice.

But on smooth stretches it sticks to the road quite well and picks up pace briskly, the steering is direct and it changes direction swiftly. It’s quite a lot of fun and begs to be pushed harder, and somehow as it wears a Vauxhall badge and not a Lotus one it seems a bit more humble, I like that.

The last stop on the time machine was the present day, and here I had the opportunity to sample the descendants of these old cars and see exactly what their future held.

Mokka

Now, those who know me will be wondering what witchcraft managed

Mokka
Mokka

to get me into this sort of car. It’s not a fire breathing supercar or a go anywhere off road superhero, but putting my own preferences to one side I find that this sort of car is a very good idea. Its big inside, not too big on the outside, it goes and stops as it should and doesn’t use too much fuel. Normally that formula could be dangerously close to dull, so the splash of stainless steel and the nice blend of colours adds a touch of interest. In short it’s a perfectly good car. If you like that sort of thing.

Adam

This was a surprise. Again not my usual sort of test car, it has very little power and has no noticeable acceleration. Inside it is very roomy for two adults and two small kids at the back, an ideal car for a young

Striking Adam. Small children pointed and laughed, but that might just be my driving...
Striking Adam. Small children pointed and laughed, but that might just be my driving…

family, and I think that is a useful focus for this test. The car is painted to look sporty, it has stripes and graphics, even the headlining is a massive chequered flag, which initially seems at odds with its lack of performance and its super soft suspension, but I actually think it makes sense. If

Sporty? Not sure, but definitely fun.
Sporty? Not sure, but definitely fun.

you have just started a family you might not want to give up on the idea of a sports car, but even if you had one you would drive it gently with your new family installed, so this car works; it has a fun and sporty image yet delivers sensible family practicality.

 

 

 

 

Ampera

I drove this on a test track last year, but driving it through the heart of Luton was a far more realistic test, particularly accelerating between speedbumps up some of the towns steep hills. Now, you might expect me to slate electric cars, as I spend most of my time testing things like

This is what the future looks like, quite close to the road.
This is what the future looks like, quite close to the road.

Bentleys, Jaguars and Porsches, but actually I am a strong believer in electric cars, which are in many ways still in their infancy but will increasingly meet an exceed the abilities of internal combustion.

But this car should not be judged as an electric car, it should be judged as a normal small family car, and that is something it does very well, in fact in many ways it does it better than the Adam. It has reasonable performance, it’s quicker than many other conventional cars in this class and handles acceptably well too, although the low ground clearance at the front can be an issue on speedbumps. The interior is well equipped and spacious, not massive by any means but certainly big enough for most things.

Interesting, but a bit too much information.
Interesting, but a bit too much information.

In short this is a good car in it’s own right, and if I had the cash I would probably buy one.

So in summary, there are many things that are good such as ABS and crash safety, but there are many things that are a bit of a sad loss too. Being able to feel the road through the steering wheel in such a vivid way that you know how much traction the tyres have has completely gone, and whilst it may be true that you don’t need to read the road any more because the car stability control does that all for you it also means that drivers aren’t compelled to concentrate on the road like they used to. One result being that crashes keep getting more frequent, and now for the first time in decades road deaths are increasing.

 

 

My first car was a Cavalier, spindly A pillars and lots of feedback made it good to drive.
My first car was a Cavalier, spindly A pillars and lots of feedback made it good to drive.

The styling of cars is much more intense than it used to be, we are cocooned and protected with styling flourishes here there and everywhere. The window glass area is increasing, front screens are massive now, but the view out is getting more restrictive. A pillars are huge, mirrors are multifunction colossus, waistlines are getting higher, our actual view of the road is diminishing. In fact it is quite easy to loose sight of a car behind the mirror and A pillar whilst waiting at a T junction or roundabout on a modern car, by comparison a car of the ’70s with its spindly A pillar, tiny mirror mounted lower and not obstructing your line of sight forward, all makes for a far better view of the road, I felt much more a part of the traffic in an old-timer than in a new car.

Our connection to the road and to the traffic is reduced, our responsibility in terms of controlling the car and observing traffic have been eroded. But it is possible to design a car with the best of both old and new, spindly A pillars made out of stronger modern materials, mirrors replaced by cameras and a head up display, nicely assisted steering but with the soft compliant isolation removed etc. Driving both old and new on the same day brings it all into sharp focus.

And a final observation, not about cars but about our car industry in the UK. Currently UK automotive is doing very well indeed, the car sector is probably better than it has ever been. But there is a sobering reminder of how things can change for the worse in the Vauxhal

Map made in the eighties showing the huge Luton plant, including 'planned extension'.
Map made in the eighties showing the huge Luton plant, including ‘planned extension’.

museum, there is a map of the site from the early ’80s, it shows the massive scale of the sprawling complex, with roads and railways running through the site. Some areas are marked up for planned expansion, there are research and development facilities, prototype workshops, a styling studio as well as a myriad of huge production buildings. Thousands of people worked there, the streets around the plant housed thousands of families dependent on the thriving factory, for every job at the plant it is reckoned that about 5 further jobs were supported in support activities such as parts suppliers, transport drivers, sales staff and even the local shops and restaurants. The whole town fed this plant, and the plant fed the whole town.

And it’s all gone. Only a skeleton crew remain, some marketing people and a few support activities, even the fantastic array of cars in the heritage centre are restored and maintained by just one bloke. The streets reflect this change, there is not so much money about round there at the moment.

And this is not a case of me dreaming of a bygone industry, I’m not lamenting the passing of steam engines of horse drawn ploughs, no I’m cross because all those jobs went somewhere else. Vauxhall make more cars now than they did back then, the demand for there product is there, production is marching on, research and development is busier than ever, the jobs exist, but not here.

Over a hundred years of history at the Vauxhall Heritage Center.
Over a hundred years of history at the Vauxhall Heritage Center.

I’ve driven some very impressive cars here today, and I thank Vauxhall very much for the opportunity, but as I drive away through old streets, past the large retail site that has been built on part of the old factory, I feel a bit sad that all those jobs have gone. And with that loss the skills have gone, the real heritage of a hundred years of Vauxhalls, the stories, the effort, the stress of pushing out a new model, the dramas, all become fading memories.

Look out!

A good motto to live your life by; look out!
Last year saw the first rise in road deaths for decades, despite cars being safer than ever. This is truly shocking, already we suffer about two thousand road deaths every year in the UK, just compare that stat to war deaths and cancer victims. It’s a scandal. And of course it doesn’t have to be this way at all.
There’s a trick that I learnt as a motorcyclists, used when passing a T junction, one of the prime danger areas for vulnerable bikers. If there is a car at the junction waiting to pull out, you stare at their eyes, strangely usually they then look at you and acknowledge you, if they don’t then you know they haven’t seen you and you slow ready for them pulling out in front of you. It becomes a sixth sense for bikers who survive long enough to become experienced.
I stopped riding my beloved Triumph a few years ago because there was a sudden increase in people not engaging with me or the traffic around them. I still use the technique in the car to good effect, but in the last two years I have notices a massive increase in people who are driving but seem completely disengaged from their surroundings.
I do a high mileage, spend a lot of time on motorways and A roads. Barely a week passes without me getting stuck in a traffic jam, only to slowly crawl past a multiple car pile up. It’s ridiculous, people just driving into each other, what a waste.
I am not sure what the cause is, but I have notice a number of trends in behaviour and in some technology that must be called into question. Obviously the problem is people not looking out, not thinking ahead, not concentrating on the job in hand. But there must be a cause for this noticeable change.
There seems to be much more driver aggression, lane 3 on most motorways is a battlefield with cars tailgating horrifically and slamming on brakes at the last millisecond. This may be to do with society, maybe the saturation of violent films and games, even Top Gear features the occasional helicopter gun ship now, this violent environment is everywhere.
But also our lifestyles are more fraught, specially since the recession which left many of us in poor financial state and having to work longer hours for less pay, stressful environments cause stressful behaviour.
Also we have become an ‘on demand’ culture, where slogans like ‘because you deserve it’ are flung at us left right and centre. We demand more, we expect not to be delayed, to get through fast. But of course this is just being selfish and not considering others. Clearly this negates the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie that is so essential for driving in heavy traffic.
We all know there has also been an increase in mobile phone use too, to me this is astonishing and may only be explained as being a result of drivers simply not understanding the risks. Despite being bombarded by information and statistics clearly showing the danger of phone use whilst driving, many drivers don’t get it. Maybe this is because we have so much exposure to violent and extreme images, games that turn killing and war into entertainment, films that glorify guns and extreme violence, that a safety campaign seems weak by comparison. Texting whilst driving is bizarre, why would anyone think it a good idea to not look at the road and concentrate on something down in their hand whilst covering ground at tens of meters per second in over a ton of machinery? But it’s not just phones that divert our attention.

Find out what all those buttons actually do!
Find out what all those buttons actually do!

Touch screens now seem to adorn every new model, they allow a huge array of complex controls to be put in one place which saves space and money. But there’s a big problem, a touch screen demands that you look at it, there is no tactile feedback at all. With old fashioned heater controls you could turn the heat or fan speed up without looking at the knob, you just reached over to where you knew the knob was and felt it move as you adjusted it. Easy, simple and absolutely no need to take your eyes off the road, unlike touch screens.
It is clear to me that any control that the driver is expected to use should not require them to stare intently at the centre console, in an old car you needed no more than a quick glance to operate switches or knobs, so touch screens are not really progress in my view. But things like voice command, which is already available on many luxury cars, doesn’t distract you and certainly is progress.
You see, anything that you have to look at carefully and think about, such as touch screens or mobile phone screens, focuses your mind on that area at the expense of your peripheral awareness. Usually as you walk down the street you are processing data from your peripheral vision and hearing to build a subconscious picture of the world around you, and not just what’s directly in front of you. In fact it’s happening to you right now, you’re reading this and your mind is in here with me, which is why you are completely unaware of that weird bloke staring at you over your shoulder.
Made you look!
Being aware of the traffic around you when driving is vital if you have to make an emergency manoeuvre, if a car cuts you up on the motorway you might not have time to look in the mirror and over your shoulder to check there is a clear space to move into, peripheral awareness is vital and is hugely compromised by using things like touch screens and phone displays.
Risk compensation is a phrase commonly bandied about, usually to do with the perceived safety of ABS, crumple zones and air bags. The safer we feel the faster we feel comfortable driving, but more importantly feeling safe makes us concentrate less. You know the feeling, you feel comfy and your mind wanders, then all of a sudden you realise you have no recollection of driving the last five miles. Humans need stimulation to stay awake, but modern cars are very quiet, with smooth running suspension, great sound systems. Not only is this a more relaxing place to be, but also the workload on the driver has been reduced, many functions are automatic such as lights and wipers so you don’t even have to think about road conditions any more. Whilst this may help reduce driver fatigue it also reduces our sensitivity to what is happening around us, increasing the chances of making a mistake and even crashing.
Certainly technology has a part to play here, but of course what matters is how we use it. Having a mobile phone is fine, texting whilst driving at forty meters per second is clearly not fine. We all have a responsibility to use our tools without causing others undue risk. So clearly there is something needed in our education system and media to bring this moral code back to strength.
It is fair to say that a similar responsibility lies with car companies when it comes to things like touch screens. But it is also fair to say that companies make things they think people want, if we the customer reject such things then they wouldn’t be there. The choice is ours.

Porsche Experience

Porsche is a very powerful word. As brand names go it’s a bit like Marmite. But love it or hate it one thing is certain, their cars are fast, designed for performance and driver enjoyment. Of course, to get the best out of such a specialised machine the driver needs to have the right skills and experience too, but crucially these driver skills are of huge benefit to any driver no matter what car we drive.

ASL, DSC and other stability control systems allow even the clumsiest driver to enjoy supercar power in reletive safety. Technology can be amazing.
ASL, DSC and other stability control systems allow even the clumsiest driver to enjoy supercar power in reletive safety. Technology can be amazing.

In fact you don’t even need to be a Porsche fan to benefit hugely from a bit of driver training, such as the rather brilliant packages on offer at the Porsche Experience Centre. Situated in its own dedicated complex of test tracks just a few yards from one of the fastest corners at Silverstone race circuit, it has a bit of everything to allow drivers of all levels to safely learn and develop their skills.
Pick a car, any car...
Pick a car, any car…

The main circuit is not really a race track, its flowing twisting curves are actually designed to replicate the most demanding country roads. Here you can learn how to approach corners safely whilst enjoying the full potential of one of the centre’s immaculate Porsche cars. Their skilled instructors, most of whom are professional race drivers, first asses your ability at modest speed, then identify areas where you can improve and then gradually build your skill and confidence at a pace that suits you.
Find out what the real difference is between a Cayman and a 911, it is actually quite interesting.
Find out what the real difference is between a Cayman and a 911, it is actually quite interesting.

You don’t have to drive fast either, they go at your pace making sure you are comfortable with the speeds. They can teach you road craft, how to balance the car and how to control it in emergencies, so when something springs out in front of you on the road home you should be better able to react and maintain control.
One crucial part of coping with emergencies is skid control, and although modern Porsches have stunning dynamic stability control systems built in it is still essential that the driver knows what to do should the unexpected occur.
On road tuition in the rather lovely Panamera.
On road tuition in the rather lovely Panamera.

To this end the Centre has two dedicated skid control areas where you can practice not going sideways, these smooth plastic roads are irrigated with soapy water so it can simulate the worst black ice. One area is on a hill which is set up as a series of corners, demonstrating superbly how quickly things can get out of hand if you don’t react at the first sign of a skid. The first time I tried it I drifted reasonably elegantly through the first corner, but the turn into the second put the car into a massive skid and the final corner was taken very inelegantly backwards! But with the skilled guidance of my coach the next pass was taken largely in the intended direction, if a little ragged. By the third pass all was well, under control and I was able to keep the car on the correct side of the road. I’m sure you’ll agree these skills are vital in any car, not just a high powered sports car.
But of course it’s one thing to enter a skid pan fully aware of what lies ahead, in the read world you may get no warning. The Porsche Experience Centre have this covered too, they have another skid pan with the same super slippery surface, but this time it’s flat and very wide with a very sneaky surprise at the start. You are asked to drive at about 15mph in a dead straight line, a simple instruction to get from one end of the surface to the other, it should be simple. But as soon as you enter the plastic road section a computer controlled kick plate throws the back of the car sideways with a violent jolt, the system can be set up to be mild or seveqre, usually it is set to be random so that you have no idea how sideways the car will go, or indeed in which direction! This is a fantastic facility, no other track I know of has the ability to continually surprise on every lap. After just a few passes I found my reactions improving, becoming more instinctive and flowing.
Find out what all those buttons actually do!
Find out what all those buttons actually do!

This area also allows the staff to demonstrate exactly what all those stability control systems actually do, taking runs over the slippery stuff first in normal fully assisted mode, here you have to steer into the skid but the car then brings everything into line very swiftly for you. Then there is a run with stability control off but traction control still on, here you have to put in much more steering input to keep things going in the right direction and then counter steer to avoid the car flicking back the other way. Finally they let you do a run with it all turned off, with only your wits to help you as the inevitable series of dramatic spins awaits. This remarkable demonstration really does show just how brilliant modern car technology is and is well worth doing.Plunge
I was fortunate enough to spend a day there courtesy of Porsche GB PR, but a variety of courses are available for anyone who fancies learning something new, you don’t need to be a Porsche driver or even have a fast car, they have a selection of cars for you to use including their luxurious executive saloon and the Cayenne off roader. And it’s not all about speed, there are road based courses, off road courses and you can even book a session in their classic ’70s 911. There is something to cover every aspect of driving, and before you ask yes I am going to book one myself!
Your office for the day.
Your office for the day.

The truth about electric cars

Or at least the truth from an engineering perspective. And that is an important distinction because of course the main catalyst for the change is political, there may be some very fine environmental and technical reasons for the change too, but politics holds all the aces. It can make oil prices prohibitive, it can subsidise new technologies that herald breakthrough innovations.
You see, every life changing new technology had to start somewhere, it usually starts off prohibitively expensive and a bit unreliable. Just think about those early mobile phones the size of a suitcase with a battery life of only a few minuets and call costs a hundred times greater than a normal land line. Or even the first computers, the size of a large room and less brains than a digital watch. The format is well established; pour loads of funding into research, laugh at boffins making experimental machines with questionable ability, wait for a company to spot the potential, get it into production and within ten years every competitor is developing better versions.

Rolls Royce are leading the charge (pardon the pun) in ultra luxury electric vehicles.

But electric cars are a bit of an exception because at the dawn of motoring they were a front runner, even Porche’s first car was electric. 130 years ago petrol was not readily available, you bought it in cans for quite a lot of money, car journeys were very short and cars were so expensive that only those with a large estate could afford one. Electric cars had the advantage over those first fledgling petrol cars in many ways, they were faster, quieter, much more reliable and had no starting problems. They didn’t even need a gearbox or clutch mechanism, so driving them was a far simpler affair than a crash box piston powered chariot.
But the materials technology needed to advance battery design was simply not there, the early EV hit a performance limit that it couldn’t break free from. The second problem was in motor control, all they had was switches, and as motors became more powerful the need for fine control at low speed became more problematic.
By comparison funding poured into petrol engine design, at that time it was far easier to improve than electric cars and oil companies were understandably keen to see this new product thrive. A couple of world wars forced engine design ahead very rapidly, not least to power aircraft from the humble Tiger Moth to the magnificent Spitfire.
Very rapidly it became far easier to make a high power, low cost petrol engine, opening up the possibility of cheap mass market motor cars.
Electric vehicles didn’t stand a chance. Half a century ago there was simply no reason to invest in electric vehicle research, emissions concerns had not yet manifested, climate change was unheard of and oil supplies were plentiful. A few enthusiasts continued to attempt to make electric vehicles, enjoying their simplicity and quietness, but materials technology would still limit their capability.
But times change, and now with political difficulties in oil supply, a far greater and ever developing understanding of emissions problems and climate change, coupled with massive advancements in technology there is an overwhelming desire to find alternatives to petrol and diesel.
This means that funding is now pouring into research in electric vehicles. But as mentioned above this is merely the first stage in a product becoming a commercial success, early adopters such as Honda with the Insight and more recently Toyota with the Prius have been suffering the commercial pain of subsidising less than ideal technology, but remember this is another essential stage in a technology’s development.
I hope that gives you an idea of where we are; about half way to getting a really useful, cheap and effective electric vehicle. There is now sufficient funding from a sufficiently large range of institutions, governments and corporations that the rest of the development process is pretty much inevitable, after all they all want to see a return on their investments.
Of course electric cars are not the only option for reducing CO2, existing piston engines could be re-engineered to run on hydrogen, and that fuel could be obtained by electrolysis of water. Storing hydrogen is a bit tricky unfortunately, but there are some exciting new developments that could make it a viable option. This has the advantage of using existing engine technology, but introduces large inefficiencies due to the process of hydrogen manufacture, its transport and the low efficiency of the internal combustion engine. You’d be lucky to turn 15% of the electrical energy used in hydrogen production into energy at the car’s wheels. and as ever you loose all that energy as soon as you apply the brakes.
The observant amongst you will know that lost energy from braking could be recovered by hooking up generators to the wheels and using the recovered energy to power the wheels on the next acceleration, as in KERS and other regenerative brake systems, but then you are carrying part of the weight and financial burden of the electric car but without all the benefit.
When you consider the total path from the source to the wheel the electric car can work out significantly better, potentially getting 50% of the source energy to the car wheels.
The other interesting possibility is gaining some, or possibly all, of the electricity from solar cells built into the car body. Various companies are developing composite body panels and special paints that act as solar panels that can be unobtrusively incorporated into the car design. In the UK the average energy from the sun through our legendary gloomy cloud is enough to power a small family car for about ten miles each day, so if all the car does is the school run and weekly shop then there could potentially be no fuel cost. Although as ever with new technology the first cars to have this feature will be hideously expensive and totally negate this benefit, but in time it will become a viable option.
Emissions are not the only reason for going electric, as the technology matures and becomes cheaper it will eventually become far cheaper to make an electric car than a combustion engined one. On a modern small car the engine and associated emissions systems can easily cost more than the rest of the entire car, getting this cost down is a huge incentive to car companies that struggle to make a profit at the best of times. in fact car companies have been trying to get up into electric cars for decades, remember the Ford Think?
There are many other benefits too, electric drives lend themselves to the ever increasing demands of advanced traction and stability control systems. As driver aids such as auto parking gradually evolve into fully autonomous self driving cars, having a simple method of accurately controlling the torque at each wheel becomes increasingly important.
When you put all these factors together the case for electric vehicles becomes compelling, and when you add in the political desire to reduce dependence on unstable oil producing countries the argument becomes overwhelming.
Obviously we are not quite there yet, historically the big problem has always been the battery. Old methods resulted in heavy, expensive and physically large units with limited range, they haven’t really changed in over a century. But in the last ten years or so there has been renewed investment, finally, and whilst there is still a long way to go we are definitely on the road to success already.
In fact as the ‘power density’ of batteries improves, eventually it will exceed that of petrol. This means that eventually electric cars will be lighter for the same power when compared to a petrol or diesel car, or more interesting to a racer like me, an electric car will be more powerful for the same weight. Imagine massively powerful electric supercars with precise control of the torque at each wheel from its four wheel motors, the ultimate in performance. The future world of electric vehicles is a very exciting place.
So there it is, electric cars offer huge benefits to the environment, car companies, drivers and world politics. They are not perfect yet, but within a decade or two they will be as ubiquitous as mobile phones.
And yes, before you ask, I still prefer the sound of a V8. But as long as the car accelerates as if it had one then maybe I could cope, after all we can always simulate the sound!

For more news about electric cars why not follow Robert Llewellyn, a superb ambassador for the EV revolution:bobbyllew

And you must follow Jonny Smith and his fabulous drag racing electric car ‘Flux Capacitor’: Carpervert

How to spot a car company that is about to fail.

The car industry is a very spacial environment, with some very special people in. It seem to attract an amazing mix of personalities and a huge range of talents. Making cars fires some people with an enthusiasm that drives them far beyond the limits of their own talent, it’s a curios business, not quite like any other area of industry.

Old MGs are fun, but they were constrained to use parts that were already out of date, this one has a Lancia Twin Cam engine and shows what could have been.

The history of the car industry is littered with the corpses of dead dreams, idealists, optimists, dreamers have all had a hand in making the story, but equally so have rogues, villains and cheats. It’s even more colourful than the newspaper industry!

Sometimes it’s just one name that signifies the loss of hope, the crushing of dreams and the tragic culling of ordinary hard working decent folk’s jobs. Names like Delorean are well known, but he is unusual in being almost universally held guilty, more often opinion is ferociously split. Names like Eagan, one camp see him as securing the future of Jaguar

The Rover 400, a good example of using Honda's platform investment and adding their own identity. Trouble is it was never replaced when it had run it's course, just facelifted, twice.

with a wealthy parent (Ford), others view his skill in presenting a failing company as being a raging success as nothing more than a traditional used car salesman, some love him, some hate him, this is more often the case with the main characters in the industry.

There are a couple of key facts that are far too often overlooked when bloated executives prepare a new daring business plan for a car company. Firstly it takes a hell of a lot of money, time and people to develop a good car. I think the Ford Focus cost something like four billion dollars, seven years and a couple of thousand people to develop. That’s a huge investment, and a really long wait for a return, remember that is four billion over seven years and not one salable car produced, it would be many years after production started before any return on investment was made. In the Focus case it turned out rather well, but that’s not guaranteed, remember the Scorpio? That was designed many years before launch, as are all cars, can you predict what cars will look like in five years? Can you make a style that will fit in nicely on the high street in ten years time? It’s really easy to poke fun at the tragedy of the Scorpio, a car that lost Ford the D sector market so utterly that they found it more cost effective to just buy Volvo instead of trying to resurrect it, but when you look at the Mercedes that came out a few years later it looks very similar so they were not that far off.

Car design is a massive gamble, huge in fact. Not only does the product have to meet all the customers expectations, but it must meet incredibly stringent legal requirements too. I won’t bang on about the incredible scale and breadth of technical challenges, suffices to say it makes rocket science seem easy by comparison. I’m struggling to thing of another high tech, multi computer controlled, real time systems that has to function in specific ways even whilst being crashed.

It’s a sad fact that throughout the history of car design incompetent management have made the tragic mistake of thinking that the technical things they don’t know about must be easy. Just look at the once magnificent Rover K series engine, originally designed with a closed deck block, no head gasket worries there, solid and robust. But a decision was made to stretch it to a capacity well above it’s original design limits, this is not an engineers decision, this is a managers decision. This decision necessitated the loss of the closed deck and the inevitable sensitivity of the head gasket, but the mangers did what they so often do and pushed it through. Then they had a the clever idea of saving money by making the smaller engines in the same way, thus making the formally robust 1.4 just as fragile as the 1.8. The rest is history.

This is just one example of management not understanding the importance of investing in new designs to meet new targets. This problem is often scaled up to include whole companies, not just one car part. Trying to produce a new model without the correct investment in time, money and people results in inadequate products. Inadequate products result in reduced sales, and so less revenue coming in. Now a clever management team would spot this and invest in a new product to get sales up again, this is a long term strategy and makes successful companies. But a poor management team will notice the falling revenue and react the wrong way by tightening spending, reducing investment and continuing to bang out inadequate cars but with shinier badges and brighter paint.

The Rover 75 was a great new car. By 2003 the company should have started work on it's replacement so that it would be ready for launch in 2010, but they didn't.

When BMW sold Rover they had already made the investment in the 75, from that point on not one new model was developed. The Phoenix chaps made no obvious attempt to replace the old Honda derived 400/45/MGZwhateverthehellitwas etc. Remember it costs billions to develop a new car, they ‘invested’ millions, so no new platforms, no new engines, no new sales. From the moment they announced their plans most people inside the industry knew it was just a matter of time before the company sputtered to a tragic and unnecessary halt. The fact the the government also were convinced to invest millions into the failing company merely shows that ministers were either clueless or had other motives for handing over money to the increasingly wealthy board members.

The new Jaguar XJ. Real investment leads to real success.

Compare this with Jaguar, a company that had suffered inadequate investment since the grim days of the ’70s. When Ford took stock of what they bought and found out the truth they swallowed hard and started investing in making new models such as the XK8 and the S type, they also invested heavily on a complete redesign of the XJ plus they funded the development of Jaguars own legendary V8 even though Ford had a wealth of V8 engines available. They invested heavily and sales increased. No one is perfect and the idea that the X type would out sell the BMW 3 series was flawed, that decision cost them dearly. And the conservative styling of the S type and the XJ limited appeal. But again they saw struggling revenues and invested in new models, the current stunning XJ, XF and XKR were all funded by Ford. They bought Land Rover when BMW split up the Rover group and used the Jaguar engines in a range of new models there too. Unfortunately for Ford their own cash flow problems meant they had to sell Jaguar Land Rover before they saw the return on the investment, but their decision to invest in new engineering has resulted in Jaguar Land Rover posting billion dollar profits.

The Bentley GT was a totally new design, VW invested properly in the factory, the people and the product. A big change compared to the previous owners.

The same success from investment can be seen at companies such as Rolls Royce and Bentley. Morgan is a fascinating departure from the norm, they have steadfastly remained focused on doing what they do best, on servicing their unique customers demands, resisting the brainless call to expand excessively. They have stayed small but crucially stayed profitable, it is a very clever model and one that any aspiring business leader should make time to understand. But even they have understood the need to invest in new models, but where they could not afford to design their own parts they have bought in parts that meet their needs, benefiting from someone else’s investment and avoiding the trap of under investing in designing their own engines etc.

Focused investment at the right level generates success. Under investment generates failure.

So you see, if a mainstream car company announces it is going to make new models then there needs to be a large amount of money behind it to work, billions not millions. It also need the facilities and people to make it happen, thousands, not hundreds.

If you see a company that historically designs only one new model at a time then they will have the facilities and people to do only that. If they announce that they will suddenly make five new models at once then they will need five times more people, larger facilities and huge investment.

It is sad to see that there are such companies about in the UK, making bold plans but with a fraction of the required investment. The same old story, with inevitably the same old ending; lots of trouble, usually serious.

The genesis of the Jaguar V8

There was a time when ‘Jaguar’ and ‘V8’ could not be uttered in the same breath, which is odd when you consider the majesty of the Daimler 2.5 and 4.5 V8s used since the ’60s.

But by the end of the ’80s it was becoming clear that the weight of the gorgeous Jaguar

Potent as the V12 was, it weighs about 350kg on its own! As I found out when I built this XJ-S...

V12 was just too much, plus its enormous physical size was hampering car design, particularly for crash performance where you need some crumple zone rather than solid engine. The engine was revolutionary in the ’70s, but in the ’80s the labour intensive assembly and expensive parts was costing the company more than it was making. For the last years of the XJS the V12 was not even on the official brochures, it was only its legend that was keeping sales alive.

The AJ6 and AJ16 6 cylinder engines were making almost the same power and saved about 120kg which made a huge difference to the cars handling. But even this engine was showing its age.

New shorter engines were needed in order to allow sufficient room for an effective crumple zone. The engines needed to warm up more quickly, for both customer comfort and the ever tightening emissions regulations. This needs more precise cooling in the heads and block plus the use of considerably less metal. The piston ring system needed to control the oil much more accurately and piston friction had to be lowered. Indeed, friction throughout the engine needed to be reduced to meet the fuel economy and emissions targets.

With these issues in mind, a number of alternatives were looked at in the late ’80s, including a V12 derived V6 with the lost power being returned by using a brace of turbos. Another V6, an Orbital 2 stroke engine which gave the same number of power strokes per rev as the old V12 engine, was looked at but oil control and refinement never quite met the targets. They even looked at a number of engines from other companies, which could be bought in without the huge cost of developing their own engine.

During the dreaded BL days there had been some discussion of using the Buick derived Rover V8, which had substantial advantages in terms of weight (in fact it weighed half as much as the V12), cost and size. Unfortunately, most of the advantage came from the fact that it was relatively thin walled and so suffered in refinement a little. But in reality this could have been developed out, as was the case in the final fling of the Rover V8 inside the P38a Range Rovers.

But that venerable V8 was itself a relic of the ’60s and ultimately suffered from the same issues as the old Jaguar engines, in terms of efficiency and emissions. It also struggled to meet the power demands of modern cars, the 4.6 version only putting out 220bhp.

So the bold decision was made to design a completely new Jaguar engine, one that would meet the forthcoming challenges of regulations and customer expectations. Originally code named the AJ12, the project used a single cylinder research engine to examine a number of different combustion chamber, cylinder head/ port and cam options. This data showed that a 500cc cylinder with 26 degree ports and a four valve configuration gave the best economy and performance for Jaguar applications.

Although AJ12 never resulted in a physical engine, the data was used to study a modular engine design concept, concentrating on a 4 litre 8 cylinder and a 3 litre 6cyl, but also looking at a 2 litre 4 cylinder, a 5 litre 10 cylinder and a 6 litre 12 cylinder engine. This would require some rather sophisticated machinery to be able to make all those variants, sharing common components such as piston and valves but little else. As the analysis data grew, it became clear that the complexity of doing all those variants would be crippling, so it was decided to concentrate on 6, 8 and 12 cylinder V engines. Thus the project now became known as AJ26, 26 being the sum of 6, 8 and 12.

The Jaguar V8 would also make a damn fine race engine...

 

But this would be hugely expensive, the fuel bill alone for testing engines runs into millions of pounds per year. At this time Jaguar was privately owned and as such there was simply not enough spare cash to invest in new products. What was needed was an owner who could suffer the financial hit in the long period between investment and return.

When Ford became interested in buying Jaguar, it was only natural to see if one of their many engines would fit the bill. Indeed it was not uncommon for Jaguar owners in the USA to retro fit a Yank V8 so there was some precedence for this already.

But work had already started on the fledgling Jaguar V8 and the Whitley team, lead by Dave Szczupak, were passionate about seeing it through, they had looked at all the requirements and designed something that would give the legendary levels of Jaguar refinement and power whilst being small, light and efficient. But there would be a long road to go, from a concept to a fully customer ready production engine. Typically it takes around 7 years, that’s a long time to ask an investor to wait for a return.

Ford looked at the arguments for both Ford engines and for the new Jaguar engines, after all the data was analysed and the requirements understood, they decided to invest the millions needed by Jaguar to make their own new engine. But this would be dedicated tooling for just the V8, all other variants were not to be.

The first year had been largely given over to defining the requirements, the specifications for each part of the engine such as how much heat goes into the coolant and the oil, how much force is needed to turn the engine over, valve train stiffness, noise levels as well as the major things like the power and torque levels.

This had lead to the basic design, this was put into the new computers and virtual tests run to establish the best coolant flow paths, the best inlet and exhaust port shape, the cam profiles and the such. A huge amount of data was produced and analysed, without making a single engine. Somewhat different to the early days of the V12 when development was a matter of calculated guess work and then lots of test engines trying it all out.

The calculation gave most of the answers, but some elements still required real world testing. To this end some elements of the new engine were experimented on in isolation, using a current production ‘slave’ engine as a base, giving rise to some odd reports in the press of the new engine being based on this that and the other engine. For example, in order to try different bore and stroke combinations on the single cylinder rig, the engineers looked about for existing parts from all sorts of manufacturers, at one point it was using a Peugeot piston and a Mazda con rod!

The first V8 engines were run on test beds in late ’89 and the first car to receive one was an XJ-S, one of the cars that had just finished being used to evaluate the twin turbo AJ16 in fact. As is always the way with the first ever engine installation, nothing fits, mounts, hoses, air intake and exhaust manifolds all had to be fabricated for the job. Steve, one of the mechanics on the job, recalls ‘they gave me a bag full of exhaust tube and various bends and told me to get on with it’. At the end of ’90, after a couple of weeks of trial and error fitting work the first 4 litre V8 Jag burbled into life and was universally admired by the small select audience of management privileged enough to see it, particularly in America which was a crucial market.

It weighed about the same as the old 6 cyl but had more power and a greater spread of torque, thanks to the new variable cam timing system. But there was a small problem, it didn’t sound like a ‘Jaguar’. Although very appealing, the V8 burble sounded like any normal mid size car in the USA and part of the Jaguar magic was the very high levels of refinement and quietness. Sound is such an emotive thing and much debate was had as to what the new engine should sound like, eventually the decision was made to make it quiet and an enormous amount of work went into designing complex intake and exhaust systems. It is interesting to note how this has changed now such that the current XKR even has a device built into the bulkhead to help you hear the engines magnificent growl.

The first car I drove with the new V8 was an XJ40 in about ’93 at the Ford research centre in Dunton, Essex. The car was based on the XJ12 body, code namedXJ81, which had completely new metal work in front of the bulkhead in order to accept a V engine. This car was bristling with new technology, it had one of the first electronic throttle systems and this particular car had a manual gearbox but with an automatic clutch. As you shifted gear the systems would move the throttle and clutch so as to give you smooth gear shifts. It was marvellous to drive but ultimately it was easier to just use one of the excellent ZF 5 speed auto gearboxes instead.

Its interesting to note how Jaguar has had a history of technological innovation, and how right from the start Jaguar was showing Ford new things. In return Ford showed Jaguar how to massively improve production processes, improving quality and reducing costs. This relationship is continuing to this day, I am pleased to say, with both sides benefiting.

As the engine developed, the early tunes were used to check and refine the basic performance and emissions characteristics. Then cars were used to tune the transient response, that is to say how the engine responds to acceleration, deceleration and gear shifts. This is always a very difficult balance between good drivability and good emissions, a slightly rich fuelling on acceleration give very good drivability but will fail emission completely on hydrocarbons alone.

The new XK was launched with the revised 4.2 V8, a swansong for the first generation V8.

 

Part of the solution was to ensure the automatic gearbox control system ‘talked’ to the engine control system. This kept the throttle, fuel and spark precisely in tune with the change in engine speed during the shift, allowing the engine to anticipate the changes rather than have to react to them after the fact.

After the engine had received a good stable tune, it was time to test it in all the harsh climates it would face in the real world. Traditionally this involves driving it in the Arctic and in the deserts of Arizona or Africa. But now tests could also be done in Fords climatic test chambers which drastically cuts down the development time and expense. As well as cold and hot climate tests, the new cars had to be tested in extremes of damp to check the corrosion resistance of the components and all the wiring. Then there is the rough road testing, both on specially prepared test track with a range of harsh surfaces, and on shake rigs where computer controlled hydraulic rams try to shake the car to pieces. In short, a lifetime of use and abuse is concentrated into a matter of months. By the end of ’94 a huge amount of data had been produced and all the necessary changes had been made, the results were looking very good indeed.

After this year of climate and durability tests, the final tweaks could be made and then it was time to start running the cars at government approved test centres to get the various certifications needed to sell a new car. At the same time further tests were re-run in house just to confirm that the final version was working as expected.

In parallel to all this development, the production plant was tooling up. First prototype tooling is made and the whole assembly process is tested, any special tools or assembly methods are identified and the first set of workers are trained. The first few test cars were built this way, as were the cars eventually used for the journalists to drive at the launch in ‘95.

The cost of production tooling is huge, the Bridgend AJV8 plant cost Ford £125 million. So it was vital to be certain that everything was right before the orders were placed, this could only happen when all the test data was in and all the tweaks had been tested. This is still true today and is one of the reasons it takes so long to get a new idea into production.

Land Rover with Jaguar V8 power, a rather good combination in my opinion.

 

So, in ’96, seven years after the project started, the first XK8s were sold with the all new, entirely Jaguar, V8 engines. A new era had begun.

The original 4.0 litre V8 went through many detail revisions, and endured the dreded Nickasil debarkle that struck many alluminium bored engines of that era. All the lessons learnt were rolled out together in the later 4.2 litre version of the engine, this unit has a reputation for toughness as well as performance and has been raced with some success too. When Land Rover joined the group it was a natural choice to replace the less than reliable BMW V8 with the trusty and powerfull Jaguar unit. In Discovery it was stretched to 4.4 litres in naturally aspirated form but was left at 4.2 for the supercharged variant, 400bhp seemed perfectly sufficient for a Range Rover back then…..

As with all technology in this rapidly changing modern world, eventually it needed a rethink to regain ground lost to competitors who had brought out engines with the latest innovations. The very name ‘Jaguar’ conjures thoughts of tradition and heritage, but it is easy to forget that a fundamental part of that tradition and heritage is innovation; pushing the boundaries back and surprising the car-buying public. In the 70s and 80s, arguably they made the world’s only mass production V12, and at its launch the XJ6 set new standards in refinement and performance coupled with superb looks and all at a very reasonable price. And whatever you may personally think of the XJ-S, it was a very bold move and still has a very strong following.

The all new AJ-V8 GenIII five litre V8 engine demonstrates the continuation of that innovative tradition, capable of delivering over 500 bhp in a selection of very civilised luxurious cars. And as a demonstration of the engine’s strength, a basically standard engine, a tad over-boosted in a slightly modified XF-R was driven at 225.6 mph on the iconic Bonneville salt flats, faster than the XJ220 super car.

It is interesting to draw a comparison with the magnificent old Jaguar V12, intended to provide approximately 20% greater performance than the 4.2 XK six cylinder engine of the time.

In a similar way, the new AJ-V8 5 litre replaces the 4.2 V8, and pushes power levels up by similar amounts; from 420 to 510 bhp for the R version. However, some things are radically different this time round; the new larger engine manages the rather impressive trick of being significantly more economical than the engine it replaces. An astonishing achievement but absolutely essential in today’s, also radically different, environment.

The V12 was also very advanced for a road car engine at the time, in both its concept and manufacture; it was all alloy and designed for fuel injection from the outset, although they were forced to run carburettors temporarily on the E Type. By comparison the new V8 also uses the latest materials and sports an advanced fuel injection system which heavily influenced the engine design, specifically the cylinder heads with a central fuel injector in each combustion chamber.

From E Type to XJ supercharged 5.0 V8, innovation lives on.

 

The injection concept was proved out before any prototypes were made, on a highly modified current production engine taken out to 4.5 litres. The first real prototype engines were created in 2004 and were immediately and relentlessly tested in engine dynamometers, where each engine can be tested in isolation under precisely controlled conditions. Some engines did specific tests such as trying to deliberately foul the spark plugs, or push the performance limits, and others were run on durability cycles designed to stress components to the max, many a time I walked past a test cell where the exhaust manifolds were glowing bright orange as an engine was run at full tilt.

It is of course the people that really make a company, such as the crack team of expert technicians who build and prepare engines ready for testing, often covered with so much complex test equipment that the engine is totally obscured. Or the chaps in the dedicated powertrain machine shop, a small room packed with tools to weld, cut and machine almost any component, often at short notice, using a mix of the ultra new and the traditional techniques that have served Jaguar engine development for many decades. Research by its very nature involves the unforeseen and as a team, their resourcefulness and creativity has saved many a day. It is the talents of dedicated people like this that form the ‘DNA’ of the company.

After initial assessment of the engines, it soon became clear that the naturally aspirated version would meet its performance targets with ease, something that is quite rare in the rest of the car industry, and the supercharged version could exceed expectations without effort so the original power target was raised from 500 to 510 bhp.

The first car I drove with a prototype engine, in 2007, was one of the first engineering ‘hacks’ and so the engine tune was still splendidly raw. It is from this point that skilled engineers start refining the car’s response, making the car do what the driver wants rather than just reacting to crude mechanical inputs. Before work could begin, this particular car had to be driven from Gaydon, where it had been assembled, to Whitley for testing. As I was making that journey myself I volunteered to take the test car, unfortunately it was pouring with rain and as yet there was no traction control – this lead to a few moments of unintentional entertainment and a degree of sideways progress, but even at that embryonic stage it was still a wonderful car to drive.

Indeed it is an essential part of the vehicle’s development to test drive in every type of likely environment so that the design can be finalised before test cars are sent for official emissions certification all over the world. So cars are out and about with disguise kits on years before launch, trying to avoid the hoards of press photographers camped out in the hedges near the factory. Whenever ‘spy shots’ of a new car are printed, it’s standard practice to work out who was driving and then mock them mercilessly, although sometimes it can land the driver in real trouble if more is revealed than is wise.

As ever, refinement is an essential Jaguar characteristic and this has been achieved by ensuring the moving parts are perfectly balanced in the traditional manner, but also with the new Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) system, where the fuel is forced directly into the combustion chamber at very high pressure. It controls combustion in such a way as to minimise vibration and noise, effectively by shaping the way the cylinder pressure rises, as well as reducing emissions, better fuel economy and higher performance as if the system raises the fuels octane rating. The whole engine is designed round the system and a lot of hard work ensures all the different factors work in harmony, from the computer synchronised high pressure pumps to the crystal operated injectors that give a sequence of perfectly formed fuel pulses.

An experimental race vehicle recieves the new 5.0, light and strong with a tuning potential well above 600bhp.

 

The technology has near magical control, when you hit the start button the engine will synchronise, analyse the current air and coolant temperature, check the oil level and temperature, check all the sensors are working, set the fuel pressure on the twin double-acting high pressure pumps, check and adjust throttle angle, set all four cam positions, charge up the ignition coils and the 160 volt injector control circuit and be ready to fire the first cylinder within one revolution of the engine.

And it’s not just the engine that makes for a stunning drive; the gearbox is a lighter yet stronger version of the ZF 6 speed which works in a detailed and complex harmony with the engine, exchanging data and requests in a high speed electronic conference. For instance – when changing gear the gearbox asks the engine to adjust power to balance the kinetic energy left in the drive train and so removing any cause for a jolt or surge, it all happens in a fraction of a second, all for your driving pleasure.

It’s all very impressive stuff and a million miles away from the possibilities available nearly 20 years ago when the design of the last V8 started. The sheer volume of work that goes into the new engine merits a celebration: so for the privileged few of you who get to drive one of these wonderful cars, please take a moment to look under the bonnet, a lot has gone into that modest space.

Fault codes and conspiracy

I was hearing about some chap who ran his car on Biodiesel and had a few engine problems, the engine would loose power and display the legendary ‘Check Engine’ light prompting him to take it to a dealer to have the fault codes read. There were many fault codes set, mainly due to various blockages, which lead the dealer to change a number of expensive components that in truth were perfectly ok. His conclusion was that

The check engine light, lack of knowledge can lead to bad interpretation and expense.

manufacturers must design the fault detection system to generate revenue from needless parts sales, this is of course complete cobblers, not least because manufacturers always loose heavily when any part is changed under warranty. But also bear in mind that thousands of us Engineers work developing these systems and on the whole we are not a bunch of psychopathic con artists with a hatred of the driving public! On the contrary, most of us are car enthusiasts and obsessed with doing thing right.

So how did this bloke end up in that situation, and what strange sequence of events led him to his disparaging conclusion?

Well, Biodiesel made to BS 14214 contains a fairly high amount of solvents which can cause issues

in cars that have run on ordinary diesel for some time. Wax and other deposits can build up a bit like those fatty deposits you get inside dishwasher drains, but the solvents in biodiesel clean out the tank and fuel lines causing the debris to float off and block the fuel filter (which is only doing its job). Common practice when deciding to run on biodiesel is to fit a new filter first, run the car for a short time to flush things through and then fit another filter; they generally cost only a few pounds. But on this car that wasn’t done and the fuel flow became restricted so when the demand was high the engine would loose fuel pressure and reduce the power level to compensate, to the driver the car drove normally until accelerating hard to overtake when it would suddenly loose power.

Be careful what you put in the tank, cheap fuel can cause expensive repairs.

A fuel pressure fault would be flagged but international fault code listings are, by their very nature, quite generic which works well for most problems, but in this example the system would only be able to detect that the fuel system pressure had dropped as the demand increased when he was overtaking. As soon as the engine had been restarted the pressure would return.

Once the engine has been restarted a few times the system must assume the fault has been repaired, as there are big penalties for manufacturers if their cars keep flagging false warnings, and so by the time the diagnostics tool was plugged in the codes may have been cleared automatically. So when our chap went to the dealer there would be no trace of the fault code for de-rating, just some ones about fuel pressure which lead to the dealer mistakenly replacing the fuel pump at great expense which obviously would not cure the blocked filter. The customer took the car away and unsurprisingly the same problem occurred, so he took it back to the dealer.

In this case the dealer stated that as well as the generic codes there are manufacturer specific codes that can only be read by the manufacturers own diagnostic equipment, so the system was hiding information and it wasn’t their fault. This is unfortunately what started the conspiracy theory!

Manufactureres spen millions testing engines in all conditions to eradicate faults.

Manufacturer-specific fault codes are there as an extra layer of sophistication and reflect aspects of the engine system design that are unique to that manufacturer and that particular type of engine. They are even more open to misinterpretation which is why car companies are keen to only give them to people who have been properly trained. So yes; there is a separate fault list, but it’s not some secret conspiracy, just a reflection of the very high complexity of modern control systems.

It could well be that the garage personnel had difficulty understanding the diagnostics which is entirely understandable as the systems are hugely complex and every car is different. Not only that, but the technology is changing all the time, so having an understanding of common systems available five years ago is of very little use on cars of today. This complexity is driven by emissions legislation, safety requirements and customer demands whilst reducing costs, it is done out of necessity. Modern engine management is one of the most complex and demanding control systems commercially produced, and yet this feat is hardly recognised, which is a shame.

Its complicated enough without conspiracy theories.

So the moral of the story is two fold; there is a skill to interpreting fault codes and they need to be used in conjunction with traditional fault diagnostic techniques (ie: if there is not enough fuel getting through, check for blockages!), and manufacturers don’t design in faults deliberately, it’s hard enough as it is!

Car faults in perspective: What can possibly go wrong….again..

One in a million.
My boss told me “so that means your design will defiantly kill two people per year!”.
That was 20 years ago, when I was a fresh faced engineering graduate in my first job at a global car maker. I was designing bits of engine management system, and as ever I had gone through every type of conceivable failure and worked out how well it was protected against. But one very obscure scenario involved the car stalling on a hypothetical level crossing near a strong radio transmitter, a bit tenuous but it is a situation that could happen, I had gone through the figures and worked out that it was a million to one chance that the engine would not restart, resulting in something bad involving a train and sudden localised distortion to the car (ok, a crash).
I thought that this was a remote chance, but my then boss pointed out that the systems would be put on about 2 million cars per year in Europe, hence his terminal conclusion.
I redesigned it. No one had to die.

Cars made in high volumes are used in every sort of environment possible, testing for all occurances is a huge investment.

But even so, I am sure there could be even more obscure situations I had never even thought of, I probably could have spent years going through more and more complex scenarios, but the the car would never have been made. So we have to draw the line somewhere.

How common are uncommon faults?
Cast your mind back to Toyota’s ‘sticky pedal’ problem, millions of cars work fine yet a handful of unverified complaints necessitated a total recall. You just can’t take chances, even if almost every car is perfect.
Of course Toyota are no worse than Ford, Mercedes and all the rest, all volume products suffer from occasional problems, largely due to the scale of production and of course because we want our complex cars dirt cheap, and that’s not going to change any time soon.
When an industry has to make very complicated machines with highly sophisticated features that are used by the general public who have only minimal training, and have to endure a vast array of harsh environments including salt spray, Arctic freeze, road shocks and days on end in scorching sun, things are going to be difficult. And when this problem is massively compounded by having to make the car as cheap as possible, something has to give.

New ideas like this Rolls Royce EV undergo a huge amount of testing before any customer is allowed near it.

Times this set of problems by the millions of cars made every year and the law of averages is definitely not on the side of car makers. If you think about it, the mere fact that when something does go wrong it makes the headlines tells us something about the utterly fantastic job that all these companies usually do.
If the average Joe knew anything of the vast amount of sheer hard work that goes into creating cheap, economical, useful and reliable cars they would bow down in reverence, and those that fancy their chances at suing for spurious accidents would hang their head in shame.
But hardly anyone knows about all that fantastic engineering work, it doesn’t make sexy TV programs, it’s not vacuous and glamorous enough to make it into the glossy magazines. So every one just accepts that every machine should work perfectly no matter what, and are utterly surprised on the very rare occasion that it doesn’t.
So how often do things fail? Well things are much more likely to go wrong when any product is either new or reaching the end of its designed life, the first few miles a car experiences show up any glitches in production and then once these are sorted most modern cars will trundle on for over a decade without significant problems (assuming its correctly maintained). During the cars early life car makers measure things in returns per thousand and generally they run well below 5, that’s 0.5% of cars having any sort of fault at all in the first year of ownership. Good models will run at less than 0.005%, and these faults could be anything from a cup holder breaking to an engine failing. The trouble is that if you churn out a couple of million cars a year then even these tiny numbers mean there will be hundreds of failures in the field, unfortunately these make good stories. Manufacturers hate even these small numbers of faults, obviously every company’s dream is to have no failures at all, and indeed some models achieve this, and they are all striving to eradicate all potential for failure. But occasionally I think its a bit sad you will never see a headline reading ‘millions of car turned out to be pretty good actually’.
Even a very high powered Porsche can be safely driven sideways in the rain by an idiot driver, as shown here.

Cars are amazing.
Here’s a challenge for you; think of a machine that has to work in heavy rain, baking sun, snow, ice, deserts, be precise on tarmac yet still cope with cobble stones, Suffer grit and gravel being blasted at it from underneath and do a huge range of complex mechanical tasks at temperatures between -40 to +50 C, last over a decade whilst being shaken, accelerated, decelerated by novice users in a crowded and complex environment.
There are no other machines, just motor vehicles, which have to contend with all this.
But it doesn’t stop there, the engine is retuned every combustion cycle, hundreds of times each second in order to meet the incredibly stringent emissions laws, pollutants are measured in parts per million, the tests are so sensitive that simply exhaling into an emissions test machine would cause the limits to be exceeded (note; these are not the simple emissions testers used at MOT stations, the MOT emissions limits are laughably lax by comparison to the certification tests the manufacturer has to do).
To give you a very rough idea of the amazing computing power needed to control and engine to these limits, a modern engine control box (ECU) may have around 25 thousand variables, tables, maps and functions. It calculates mathematical models of how the air flows through the intake system, how the pistons and valves heat up and how the catalysts is performing, it analyses the subtle acceleration and deceleration of the flywheel every time a cylinder fires, it listens to the noise the cylinder block makes and filters the sound to decide if the engine has the slightest amount of knock (in fact some engine deliberately run the engine into borderline detonation to extract maximum efficiency). It talks to the gearbox to anticipate gear changes and control torque so that the gearbox ECU can precisely control the energy input into the drive line during a gear shift. It analyses the long and short term behaviour of every single sensor and actuator to automatically compensate for ageing and wear as well as diagnosing and compensating for any faults.
But it doesn’t stop there, on some cars the suspension analyses the road and adapts to suit, the auto gearbox monitors the drivers ‘style’ and changes the way it works to please them. The brakes check wheel speed thousands of times a second and deduce when a tyre is about to skid, not when it already has started skidding, and relieve brake pressure just before it happens to ensure the tyre provides maximum grip and stability.
The climate control breathes in cabin air through tiny aspirated temperature sensors and adjusts valves and flaps to discretely meet your comfort needs. The stereo selects a nearby station as you drive along and seamlessly switches in so you never have to retune in order to continue to listen to Radio 2 on long journeys. All sorts of things are controlled and monitored from fuel pumps to light bulbs.
This is the engine and gearbox control from a 20 year old Jaguar, since then it has got a whole lot more complicated!

All in all an average family car might have between five and ten computers working together, sharing information and jointly controlling the car, a typical example would be the ABS unit supplying road speed info to the gearbox so it knows what gear to select. Luxury cars can have over 50 different computers, even the seat heaters have self diagnosing control brains in and talk to the car on a serial bus, and they all interact with things like the battery management systems which may at any time request all these systems change the way they are operating in order to cope with some adverse situation.
The way these systems work together can be very complex, for instance stability control uses the ABS system to apply brakes on individual wheels in order to pull the car to one side as well as requesting a certain wheel torque to ensure the car goes in the desired direction, this torque is controlled by the gearbox and engine working together too, the engine can react almost instantaneously by altering the spark angle (these events happen so fast that the engine has to wait for the airflow to reduce going into each cylinder even though it moves the throttle immediately, because of the air’s inertia!).
Components have to operate faultlessly for millions of cycles, if an engine or drive-line fault develops then the systems must identify it, adjust the mode of operation to minimise risk to car and people, and alert the driver, just like having an expert mechanic on board.
In addition the car has to be comfy by isolating key frequencies from being transmitted by the suspension and engine mounting systems, prevent wind noise from the gale force breeze rushing past the shell, stop the metal box that makes the cabin sounding like a metal box and muffle the many kilowatts of noise running through the exhaust pipe.
It also has to be economical, using every drop of fuel sparingly, compromising the shape of the car itself to reduce drag whilst still allowing enough space to get everything in and have enough air flow round the hot bits to stop them degrading.
But as well as being frugal it also has to perform well, even a modest family hatchback these days has the performance of a race car from the ’60s, indeed there are many saloons with well over 500bhp now, compare this with the 1983 F1 race winning Tyrrell with 530 bhp. Yes our super comfy mobile entertainment centres have the performance of an older Formula 1 car.
And not only does it have to balance all these driving related tasks but it also has to have a really good sound system and have most of the comforts of home, some even have cup holders and fridges.
A few decades ago an Engineer could just look at a car, such as this ultra rare Lagonda V12, and understand how it worked. How times have changed.

Not even the Space Shuttle has to contend with this level of sophistication. I can’t see rockets running catalytic converters and exhaust mufflers any day soon.
And here is the kicker; as well as coping with all that, it also has to perform special functions in a crash. We have multiple air bags, who’s operation is tuned to the ‘type’ of crash detected, we have automatic engine cut, hazard indication, seatbelt pre-tensioning and some cars even ring for help. The structure is designed and tested to ensure it collapses in a controlled manner, the engine design is constrained by pedestrian head impact tests on the bonnet, even the steering wheel is designed to steadfastly hold its position as the cars structure a few feet in front of it is crushed at a rate of up to 15 meters per second.
Name me one other machine that has to detect, reliably, when it is about to be destroyed and then deploy safety mechanisms in a controlled and measured manner during the actual process of its own destruction. You’ll struggle with that one.
Now this feat of engineering would be amazing even with an unlimited budget, but the fact is that cars are made as cheaply as possible, which just take the achievement from amazing to utterly astonishing. In fact you can buy a basic car for the price of a really good telly, that’s bonkers.

Please take a few moments to look at your own car, and marvel. And if one part goes wrong by all means take it back and get it fixed, but do try to be sympathetic to the scale of the problem engineers face.

The road ahead is challenging, but also very exciting as Engineers turn dreams into reality.

Post Script:

Media hype
I noticed something interesting during the Toyota recall, the media could have played a very useful role and helped society, I say ‘could have’ because what they actually did was the complete opposite.
What they could have done is reported actual news, facts presented objectively such as ‘a small numbers of cars may have a fault causing the pedal to be stiff’. That is a fact, it gets the info over simply and effectively, you know what is being said. Simple.
They could have gone further and said something like ‘if your pedal feels stiff visit your dealer, but first check the floor mat hasn’t got stuck under the pedal’. That would be helpful.
But they didn’t do that.
No, what actually got reported was along the lines of ‘mum of five in death plunge tragedy’ and ‘is your car a ticking time bomb of doom?’. Stupid, dramatised gossip that conveys absolutely no useful information.
But of course this scaremongering helps to boost sales of that form of media bilge, so expect more useless crap in the future about every important storey going.
And this is a real problem, not only because it leaves us all badly informed and scared, but because the car companies now know that being honest and open has become the wrong thing to do.
All media has a responsibility, and its time they (we) faced up to it.

My rant about our car industry.

The media has given UK industry a bit of a battering in the last few years, in fact ever since the high profile industrial collapses in the 70’s the media dwells on doom and gloom stories rather than all the good news that the industrial sector has consistently produced.

UK industry makes some world leading products including damn fast cars.

I was talking to a bloke last weekend at an arts festival, he was an ordinary chap who happened to have no real interest in cars but as he knew I am a motoring journalist he made conversation by asking what car I would recommend. Being very proud of the UK car industry I immediately replied ‘any car as long as its made in Britain’, he looked quite astonished and said ‘I didn’t think there were any cars still made here’!
This shocked me, the UK makes over 1.5 million cars a year with factories churning out products from Jaguar, Land Rover, Lotus, Toyota, Morgan, Ford, Vauxhall, Rolls Royce, Nissan, Honda, Bentley and BMW to name but a few. About 75% of these are exported bringing in over £25bn to the UK, globally British skills, both in manufacturing and engineering design are recognised as being world class which attracts investment and creates jobs. But we very rarely hear anything about this on the news, in fact when Lotus dropped a few hundred jobs last year it made
Yes, it's designed and built here, be proud.
national news, but when Jaguar recruited about 3500 this year there is no national coverage, I find this very frustrating and also more than a little suspicious.
I am sure the fact that most of the big media organisations are tied up with the financial sector has absolutely no influence on their bias, but it is remarkable how even the phraseology favours the ‘markets’ at the expense of industry. For instance take a look at exchange rates, to sell things we make abroad we need the pound to be cheap and affordable, but the media call this situation a ‘weak’ pound. But when the pound is expensive and unaffordable, which crushes export sales, reduces production and leads to job losses, they refer to that situation as a ‘strong’ pound. Its ridiculous, until you look at the financial sector who benefit greatly when the pound is expensive, and suffer when its cheap.
The car that's seen it all, 60 years has seen UK industry go from world dominance through near colaps in the 70s and now back to global strength.

And the whole idea of being ruled by a stock market that panics like a frightened weasel, moving their money from one company to another, taking support away when its most needed, is utterly ludicrous. A system where a few chaps in blazers in London transfer money when they see their bonuses start to drop, causing a hard working company many miles away to loose several jobs even though they have a full order book, must surely be immoral?
So you might argue that as there are so many people now working in the financial sector that it balances out, when money is tight in industry it must be flowing in the financial sector? Well maybe it does, but the thing I notice is the difference in the way that money is distributed.
I read a report a while ago comparing average wages, I think it said something like average car industry wages were 25k and finance was 36k, or something like that. But the distribution of those wages is dramatically different, many people I have met who work in the city earn less than 20k, normal average office workers, many earn less than 18k and really struggle to pay the bills. The equivalent in the car industry might be factory line workers who earn a basic of about 25k and with usual overtime could be on 35 to 40k, thus allowing them more spare cash to pump back into the economy.
Toys for the super rich bring wages to British workers

By comparison at the top end of the pay scale things are the other way around, senior managers in the car industry might be on 60k, but their counterpart in finance may be on double that. At director level the difference is even greater, there are no million pound bonuses in the car industry, no seven figure salaries, and all the better for it.
There are two results of this, firstly the car industry benefits more of its employees, the wages are more evenly distributed across the whole workforce and more of the cash finds its way into the local economy. But secondly the car industry is much less appealing to the super rich, the rewards are slimmer for directors, and for investors the dividends are modest.
From Derbyshire to the Dakar rally, the best driven by engineering skill and real passion.

Over the decades the press has made industry seem grubby and declining which has damaged its image severely, now UK industry is struggling to recruit the people it needs for continued growth because generations of young workers have been put off by the media image, preferring the relative ‘glamour’ of finance.
Career choice at an early age obviously shapes the subjects kids study at school and the exams they take at the end. The media bias has driven huge numbers to study softer subjects, and whilst I have absolutely no objection to anyone taking these subjects we desperately need to rekindle the enthusiasm for learning how to make things, how to design and engineer things, how to turn dreams into tangible working products that people can buy. This mismatch of candidate’s skills and job requirements, coupled with the apathy toward industrial work puts the country in the ridiculous position of having a large pool of unemployed youngsters and an industry being forced to recruit from abroad.
Yours truely helping to turn road cars into race cars, something this country is rather good at.

This situation has to change, the notion that an economy can run on the service and financial sectors alone is clearly flawed, how can a country prosper when all it does is sell someone else’s products to its own populous?
Also the idea that we can be solely a ‘knowledge’ economy, where we design stuff but make it elsewhere is idiotic. All that happens is the detailed knowledge of a product gained by actually making it gradually migrates to the place where it is made, all the product knowledge seeps away until the manufacturing area has greater understanding and technical expertise than we do. Then what do we design? ‘For Sale’ signs maybe.
F1 companies employ thousands in the UK, would you seriousely rather have a desk job in the city?

I don’t know what the solution is, but do I know that what I see around me is terribly unfair and inefficient, like a misfiring engine it sort of works some times but keeps stalling at junctions. I think its time this country had a new engine, one driven by selling world class products globally, building real skills and doing useful jobs that benefit everyone.
The world has changed dramatically in the last few years, it is a truly global market place with massive opportunities. It is still in a state of change, but everything is starting to settle in, global players are establishing bases across the world, making networks and building brands that people in every country recognise and desire.
This phase is absolutely critical to long term success, if we miss the opportunities now someone else will definitely take them away. Now is the time to build our industry, just as it is in every country, to make it fit for the new market place. We are already leading in many areas such as luxury cars and motorsport, everyone who cares about the future should push the government to give all our industries a fighting chance by moving red tape, developing a tax system that promotes growth, investing in education and promoting our industry across the globe.
But let’s start by promoting our excellent industry to ourselves, spread the word.
UK built electric Rolls Royce shows the way ahead, lets build thease advanced skills into new industry.

Here are some links with more info:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/apr/14/uk-car-production-manufacturing-data-2011