Automotive News & Current Affairs 28 June 2013

In the news this week:

Hacking – it’s the new black if you’re a car thief. They use lock jammers and relay attacks - not crowbars and slim Jims. And these attacks might be coming soon to a proximity key near you.

Also in this week’s news: Holden's alleged 'commitment' to Australia, the new super Veyron, the bloke who drove 5 million kays in a Volvo (at least he was safe) and: you’ll find out which car company has the most fuel-efficient CEO.

Plus Euro car sales have tanked, glow-in-the-dark Merc badge, new Ferrari headphones, goose of the week, and the 'real' Australian automotive crisis.


[WIDE] Hackers have stolen a spate of cars in the USA and UK. Law enforcement agencies across the USA are struggling to understand how the thieves are doing it. Here’s a little help. In 2011 researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich demonstrated it was possible to breach the security of basically all proximity/smart key systems using what they call a relay attack. For under $1000 you can build a wireless relay attack system (there’s a helpful wiring diagram in the Swiss report) and all you need then is an accomplice. The accomplice has to stand within eight metres of the victim to trap the signal being emitted by the smart key – it’s transmitted wirelessly to the car, where bad guy two simply gets in, starts up and drives off. The car is tricked into thinking the key is right there. It authenticates the key, and the crook drives off – leaving absolutely no forensic evidence of theft. So, good luck with your insurance company on that. Very James Bond.


and speaking of Bond, in the UK, thieves have used an alternative hacking technique called ‘lock-jamming’ to steal 1000 cars in London during 2012 – with BMWs proving themselves especially vulnerable and/or popular. These particular scumbags jam the lock signal electronically, they jump in after you walk away, they plug a key-encoder into the onboard diagnostics port, they burn a new key and they drive off. It takes less than a minute. You can buy a key encoder from China for $30, and eBay has enough blank key fobs on sale now to smother a herd of wildebeest. That’s not advice. 


If the base-model ‘poverty pack’ Veyron just isn’t excessive enough you, stand by because the Big B is thinking about building a super Veyron. Just what the world needs. Autocar says Bugatti’s most outrageous Veyron yet will most probably be 200kg lighter than the standard jigger, as well as punching out about 1100 kilowatts. Top speed will most likely be limited by tyres – that means around 450km/h … which should make for some interesting roadside conversations with the boys in blue. In the unlikely event they catch you. About eight million bucks – if you have to ask.


European car sales for the month of May have hit their lowest level in 20 years. Sales fell to an annualized 17-year low in 2012 – and new depths are expected to be plumbed in 2013 as the European market contracts even further. Still – everything in life is a good news/bad news story. Here in Australia, you can expect a flood of attractive sales incentives as the Euros attempt to prop up flagging home ground sales by whipping their senior executives in far-flung markets like ours. Stand by for a tsunami of free fuel, free servicing, low interest and complimentary extras. So that’s good news for us.


Now you too can announce to the world you’re a tacky, tasteless egomaniac for just $500 – with the all-new glow-in-the-dark, LED three-pointed star Mercedes-Benz grille badge. That’s right. You’ve always wanted one. Admit it. And now it’s here. Genuine accessory. It’s pretty affordable, as hi-tech tack goes. Available from August in some markets and even retro-fittable to some existing models. But, there’s a catch (isn’t there always?) – it lights up for 40 only seconds. Regulations (and the bad taste police) actually prohibit badges being aglow as you drive. Still, for $500, soon you can show the world exactly how you roll. As long as you’re not actually rolling.


[TIGHT, TURN] Ferraris themselves are cost-prohibitive. Everyone knows it. But the Ferrari by Logic3 P200 headphones – are one affordable alternative. They’re modeled on the F1 team headphones and priced so almost anyone can afford a pair. Brilliantly packaged – they come in a faux carbon fibre carry case (I love fake carbon). There are three cables – and iOS-friendly one, a single-button cable, and one sans microphone. You also get a 6mm jack adapter, an aircraft adapter and a bright red certificate of authenticity. $250 online – with, apparently, free shipping to Australia. There’s a link here: if you’re interested.


A bloke in the US named Irv Gordon is about to clock over three million miles (call it five million kays in the new money) in his 1966 Volvo P1800 – remember those? That was back when Volvo was sexy the first time. The engine’s been reco-ed twice, understandably, but Irv says the driveline is otherwise original. That’s a staggering average 100,000km each year for – half a century. Or, put it another way, 330 years of average Australian driving. Or, about six return trips to the moon, subject to the existence of a bridge.


[TIGHT, TURN] From the shallow end of the gene pool this time: A man in the UK who placed a plastic traffic cone over his head for kicks, while mucking about with friends, has had to be rescued by police after he was unable to free himself. He was trapped in bollard hell for more than two hours until passersby thought it might be a good idea to call emergency services. He survived, so unfortunately his genes are still in our pool. Years from now, when intelligent apes rule the world, they’ll doubtless review a hologram of this incident in schools to teach baby apes the lesson of the inevitable demise of humanity. 


[WIDE, TURN] It’s official: Toyota has the most fuel efficient CEO. Not only does 57-year-old Akio Toyoda earn just $1.9 million – he has also pushed the company’s net worth 26 per cent higher this year. He is the Toyota Prius of CEOs. Volkswagen, by comparison, dropped 13 per cent and yet its CEO Martin Winterkorn earnt 10 times as much. That’s really not a bad gig if you can get it. Money to burn and no KPIs, apparently. General Motors, still climbing out of Chapter 11 oblivion, post-GFC, gained nine per cent this year, and its CEO Dan Akerson got paid $11 million dollars.


Eleven million bucks. Inconvenient timing, with Holden boss Mike Devereux recently on the record, telling factory workers here in Australian that they’re too expensive. Clearly, what we need is a third-world workforce. Two words: 457 visa. (That’s four words.) GM CEO Dan Akerson gets paid 200 times more than the average Holden factory worker. Perhaps Mr Akerson would be willing to sacrifice a little of that to grease the wheels here. Senior executive salaries are out of control. But not just in the Automotive sector. Fairfax Media says the boss of BHP gets paid 200 times more than the average Aussie worker as well. Back in the early 1980s the top job at BHP was worth only seven or eight times the average Aussie wage.


[WIDE, TURN] Richard Dudley, the boss of the Australian Motor Industry Federation says 450 Australian automotive businesses – that’s nine a week, on average – are closing their doors. Sixteen thousand automotive industry jobs were lost last year – but fewer than 3000 of those were in car or component manufacturing. More than 13,000 jobs were lost from the automotive maintenance and repair sectors. That’s where the real crisis is, despite the current focus on Ford and Holden making cars.


Speaking of which, Holden continues to claim it’s committed to making cars in Australia … but it also says, if the coalition gets up on September 14 (likely) and fulfills its promise to remove $500 million in taxpayer funding from car manufacturing, it’s out of here. That’s like telling your wife you’re committed to your marriage, but if she loses her job, you’re gunna expect a divorce.

It would ultimately be cheaper to shut the Holden factory right now, and pay every worker $100,000 to relocate and re-train if necessary over the next 12 months. Because the factory will shut. There is no doubt. Viable economies of scale do not exist, and they will not exist in the future. Dead horses cannot be incentivized by flogging – and a dead car industry can’t be resurrected by taxpayer funding. You, the taxpayer, have no role to play in supporting Holden, which, let’s face it, is about as genuinely Australian as McDonald’s – and just as deserving of your support. Propping up that company’s local manufacturing has allowed two of the independently assessed lowest quality cars on the market to remain on sale well after their use-by dates, and the sooner the fat lady sings in respect of all that, the healthier the automotive landscape will be for us all.