Automotive News & Current Affairs 6 July 2013

Hyundai, Holden and Volkswagen – all making news (some of it good). Plus, you’ll see the world’s worst Koenigsegg driver in action, and why Toyota is sending a robot dwarf into space

Also this week: Volvo builds a car that sees at least half a coat of arms, how – and where – to rent a Lamborghini (and other supercars you can’t afford). And the submarine car you can buy this September.




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Hyundai is on top – at least last month, in Australia. The South Korean manufacturer’s Elantra and i30 – they’re di-zygotic twins, with identical underpinnings and different bodies – were, combined, Australia’s top-selling cars in June, pushing aside the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla.

It’s a technicality – they are, if you believe the badges, allegedly different cars. But, together, they won.







Suits in utes helped Toyota field an even more popular vehicle (not a car, though). The Toyota HiLux ute out-sold the South Korean Twins – by about 300 cars. Utes. Whatever. Vehicles.


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Unlike Europe, the Aussie car market surged in June – but sales of the new Commodore continue to flatline. Holden says computer errors and logistic glitches held dealer deliveries back. (Plus the fact that customers aren’t actually buying cars like that any more. Obviously.) This latest fiasco was so serious that Holden boss Mike Devereux decided to suck it up and apologise in writing to dealers, according to News Limited. The Commodore, formerly Australia’s top-selling car, slipped to 13th place – it’s lowest ranking ever despite recent new hair and makeup. Too little, too late. Priest: in the wings. Fat lady: on in five. Guaranteed.


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Black clouds emerged around Hyundai’s strong sales, too, and they blew across the Pacific from America. Hyundai in the US has been ordered to pay $14 million in compensation to a young Virginian man who suffered a profound traumatic brain injury when the airbags in his 2008 Hyundai Tiburon failed to deploy in a crash. The victim’s lawyer called the verdict an important victory for public safety, but Hyundai North America told the press that the victim “rolled his car into a tree” and said “no side airbag in the world would have prevented his injury”. So, let me get this straight – it’s okay the car was defective because the injury would have occurred anyway. What a comfort to other owners.








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That’s not the only case of botched airbag deployment for Hyundai. In 2011, during an official ANCAP crash test here in Australia the side airbag in a Hyundai Elantra failed to deploy properly because of a component failure. ANCAP and Hyundai later negotiated a five-star safety rating for that car anyway. And now it and it’s twin under the skin are the market’s top-sellers. You might’ve accepted that, back when the company was still swimming in the cheap seats, but it’s up the deep end with the big boys now, and if you swim there, in my view, all the blow-up bits just have to work…


Buyers voted with their feet on the issue of Volkswagen and it’s high-profile mis-management of existing customers plagued by poor reliability. Visit the website – for a stand-alone report on that. Last month – with the market booming, Volkswagen sales tanked by 20 per cent. This is the only thing, frankly, that will make them sit up, pay attention and, hopefully, sing from a different customer support hymn sheet in future. Despite a massive advertising campaign – and there’s an interesting story coming up on that – Volkswagen Golf sales in June fell by an incredible 56 per cent, compared with last year. So the commercial pressure is on.

Full Volkswagen recall report here: 


The defective Volkswagen fiasco continues to fester not just here but across the world. ChinaDaily says Hitler’s revenge is recalling even more vehicles with defective DSGs in China. The latest recall adds 3863 Scirroccos, Golfs, Audi A1s, and Audi A3s to the almost 400,000-strong list of vehicles already recalled.


And here in Australia where the public backlash is especially strong at the moment, one disgruntled owner has re-voiced the current Volkswagen Golf television commercial. Search for ‘What the VW ads should be saying…’ on YouTube. It’s reasonably unequivocal – and another great example of why you need to treat customers with respect. Especially in the digital age, given how much marketing money they can un-spend for you, with nothing more than a laptop and a certain malevolent gleam in their eye. And especially since companies with more than 10 employees can’t sue for defamation. Here’s a snippet. It’s pretty clever. 

What the VW Ads Should Be Saying (at least according to one YouTuber...)


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General Motors has taken inexplicable steps to obscure its performance in the USA. It’s stopped publicly disclosing North American production numbers – and regional production reports. Analysts, investors, economists and even suppliers relied on those reports – so it’s unlikely the company would stop producing them if things were wholly copacetic. Keith Crain, the editor-in-chief of Automotive News, put it like this: “What does GM have to hide?”


Sebastian Loeb. Awesome. Hero. Legend. Respect. Pikes Peak is some serious balls-to-the-wall motorsport. Ride the full 20km, 156-turn course to the 14,000-foot summit here.


Driving a Peugeot 208 T16, young Mr Loeb slashed the epic hillclimb’s record by an incredible 90-odd seconds – climbing the 14,000-foot peak in a whisker under 8 minutes and 14 seconds. That’s an average 144 km/h over the 20km course, inclusive of 156 turns – with basically certain death around every one if you get it just this wrong. And your clothes would be out of fashion by the time the car stops rolling. It’s that epic. Here’s a snippet – full video on the blog with the transcript of this news report at



Also incredible: Carlin Dunne, riding a Lightning electric motorcycle at Pike’s Peak. He deserves a tsunami of respect as well. Pretty much 10-minutes flat for the hillclimb. That would’ve been the outright course record a few years back. But it was also 20-odd seconds faster than the fastest internal-combustion bike this year as well.

Racing at Pikes Peak is a real challenge for internal combustion – because at 14,000 feet there’s only 60 per cent as much oxygen in the air – from a partial-pressure perspective. Maybe that’s why the electrobike did so well. If you fly that high, regulations state you need to be in a pressurized aircraft.


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Toyota says a 33-centimetre robot it co-developed will have the first human-robot conversation in space. It’s all part of a project to make machines that interact with isolated people. (I could not make this up.) Professor Tomotaka Takahashi from Tokyo University says, in about 15 years, he wants to see everyone living with a personal robot. This diminutive Toyota Robot, called Kirobo, was launched last week using the Astro Boy theme song. (I couldn’t make that up either). Munchkin Astroboy Kirobo blasts off for the International Space Station in August and returns to Earth in December next year. It seems like a good idea – at first. Right? Companionship. Helping the elderly, get my slippers, walk the dog, pour me another two fingers. But you’ve seen the Swarzennegger movies. You know what ultimately happens here… Next stop, Skynet.


Loser of the week this week proved that no amount of money can buy driving skill. See it here:

In fact, the two (money and skill) are often mutually exclusive propositions. Watch how this rich moron loses control of his Koenigsegg supercar, and takes out 19 spectators, with four seriously injured, in Poland.



Learner drivers in NSW could soon see their official log book hours drop from 120 to 80 (and you don’t get to say this very often) in a very sensible move by the state government. If they do a government-subsidised safety course, learners will get a 20-hour discount on top of the 20-hour discount already on offer if they take professional lessons. Listen: It’s mums and dads breathing a sigh of relief right across the state – especially those with twins. The course costs $140, with the balance paid to the providers by government subsidy. The pollies also raised the maximum learner speed from 80km/h to 90 – but frankly it should be 100 for freeway safety.


Volvo will upgrade its city safety system within three years – with a unique feature for Australia. Using radar, cameras and smart software, these future Volvos will detect kangaroos, and hit the brakes if the driver doesn’t see them. They’ll also stop for mooses, horses, and cyclists. (Probably not too many moose emergencies in Australia, though, outside Taronga Zoo.) About 20,000 Kangaroo crashes happen every year, though. It’s a serious problem. See a near miss here:

The Swedes will even build their own kangaroo crash-test dummy, with about the same traffic sense as the real thing. Sadly, though, man’s best friend isn’t on the Volvo City Safety ‘protected species’ list. You’ll still have to dodge a dog on your own, the old-fashioned way. (That’s probably a violation of the treaty we signed with the grey wolf 15,000 years ago, but at least cats won’t be protected by Volvo either.)


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If you’ve always lusted after the Lamborghini but found yourself constrained by a budget that barely stretched to accommodate Hyundai or Kia, get yourself to the US. The Hertz rental car company in north America has announced it will launch what it calls a ‘Dream Car’ program that could see you driving off into the sunset in the car of your dreams, albeit briefly. AMG Benzes, the Porsche 911, Aston Martin V8 Vantage or Nissan GTR for a day, will set you back about $1000 USD. If you’ve got $1500 to burn, you could find yourself in a Lamborghini Gallardo or a Ferrari F430 Spider. In the UK Hertz even has a McLaren MP4-12C on the menu. Here in Australia, though, the Toyota 86 is about as extravagant as Hertz gets.


Rental car operator Nonchalant Pty Ltd, which runs AbelRent a Car in Queensland has been hit with a $30,000 fine for adding hidden fees (like a $5 a day rego recovery fee and a 7.5 per cent administration fee) onto its advertised $35 a day car hires. The ACCC says any advertising needs to display the total minimum price, including tax, duty, fees or levies.



The Lotus Esprit submarine car sailed – and driven - by Sir Roger Moore, as James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me has for the first time ever come up for sale.

Six Esprits were used in the filming, but only one was fully functional from a Red October point of view. The conversion was done by – well, obviously by Q , in the movie – but it was really done by a crowd called Perry Oceanographic here in the real world. It cost the equivalent of $500,000 in today’s money. And, apart from anything else, it’s probably the only Lotus of that vintage on the road that doesn’t croak when it rains. It’ll be auctioned without a reserve in September. It’s licensed to spill.

More automotive news and current affairs next week.