More haste, less speed: for motor industry under intense pressure


While either the EU, or ‘Brexit’, have been receiving the blame recently for new legislation, highlights Iain Robertson, worldwide safety organisations lie behind the latest and seemingly most contentious installation of vehicle speed-limiters.

Part 1: Despite profit warnings, problems related to over-production and the frequent, negative impacts of marketing push, the UK motor industry, while enduring an uncomfortable ride at present, is not in the dire straits reported in some segments of the media. However, the more damaging effects of political uncertainty that seem to be turning the UK plc into a laughing stock are certainly keeping the hands of many consumers, both private and business, deep within their pockets.

The majority of sales figures are down. Of that there is no doubt. Yet, there are still stars among the key players and firms like Mazda, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz are riding out the storms. February’s registration figures were actually an improvement on February 2018 and the third best figure (81,969) since 2005. Yet, car manufacturing has experienced one of its biggest drops (-8% domestic market; -18.9% export market) since hitting a seemingly insurmountable peak just shy of 1.8m annual units in February 2017.

A slowing of exports to China (-55.6%) represents a sizeable chunk of the decline, although the US situation (-2.8%) is not as severe as the reduction in exports to the EU (-14.9%). Put into perspective, with more than half of the total UK production destined for the EU markets and overseas’ demand still riding on eight out of ten cars produced, a temporary slowing-down of production processes will result in less pain.

The big volume players, Toyota and Nissan continue to work efficiently, supported by myriad smaller players that are enjoying strong results. The Honda situation is unfortunate and hurried on by a genuine market disinterest in its products. The company is also closing down its Turkish plant but developing its US and Japanese home market operations.

Much like Jaguar-Land-Rover (JLR), the much-publicised impact of which has added over 5,000 redundancies to the 3,500 promised for Honda (by 2021), although it is a subject scarcely mentioned across the broader, or specialised media, a lack of design ingenuity, unit greed by high pricing and products unsuitable for certain markets, especially with the dawn of Electric Vehicles worldwide, has led to serious decline of their sales expectations. The age-old remit of making their products sexier would have been worth employing, if Volvo’s successes are anything to go by.

Yet, JLR, bolstered by its Indian owner, Tata, removing its amassed and self-destructive overspend with a sizeable reinvestment of £4bn has already launched the Evoque Mark 2 and revised versions of the F-Pace and XE so far in 2019. While hardly ‘business as usual’, perhaps JLR has learned a lesson…but, somehow, I do not think it has. It is worth highlighting that, despite the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) pointing at ‘Brexit’ for the current malaise, a greater proportion of the blame should be levelled at weak British management.

Part 2:  Installing speed-limiters on vehicles is not a novelty. Trucks have had them for years, as have many commercial and people-carrying vehicles. While I am not personally against their introduction on passenger cars, I do have a number of caveats to air.

We have speed limits dotted all over our sceptred isles. In the main, they are a means of limiting speeds in built-up areas, where the risk of people clashing with motorised transport is more prevalent. However, as the vast majority of UK motorists tend to treat limits as targets to be attained, a small percentage of them throwing caution to the wind by exceeding the posted restrictions, the real issue lies in both poor and inadequate driver education.

In Holland and some parts of Germany, an experiment was carried out that involved removing all speed restrictions in some streets, along with removing other road signs and street furniture. Thanks to a natural self-policing being carried out by motorists in those areas, local speeds dropped and former incident levels were reduced to ZERO. It is my belief that over-populating our streets with signages does little but lead to frustration and confusion.

There is a tangential issue at play. Car performance levels have increased exponentially in the past 20 years, in a market where overcrowding on our roads is more than abundant. Once again, frustration enters the mind of the driver, who already spends a much-inflated price for his wheels, which means risking a fine and endorsement, when policing levels are at an all-time low, appears like a risk worth taking. Again, education could resolve the situation.

Our national roads network, when it is not needing to be repaired, remains inadequate for the traffic volumes it is expected but never designed to carry. If you have ever experienced the ‘Trucks Grand Prix’ that takes place on many of our nation’s trunk routes - dual-carriageways, where 100kph-limited vehicles struggle to carry out safe overtakes and cause huge tailbacks in the process – merely supplementing the problem with cars travelling at precisely 120kph is actually going to lead to worse problems.

Fortunately, despite buzzers and flashed electronic warnings, speed-restricted vehicles can still drive through their limiters. The ‘safety margin’ remains and, while a police presence would understand minor transgressions for the right reasons, a network of unthinking ‘safety’ speed detectors will not.

Conclusion:   Whether looking at the motor industry, or the conduct of motorists, it does seem as if greater haste will never equate to more speed. Perhaps it is better if we all back-pedal a touch.



Merc sheds 50% of its stake in smart

Daimler AG (Merc’s owner) and Geely Corporation (the Chinese owner of Volvo) have agreed to a 50:50 partnership in an attempt to make the smart car brand a more viable proposition than it has been. Originating with the Swiss inventor of smart watches, the car project (which has always offered innumerable ‘smart’ elements) was hived-off to VW Group, which realised that it could not make it work and sold it off to Mercedes-Benz. As a brand, smart has never really hit the highs of wider public acceptance. Yet, stopping short of selling off the brand completely, a fresh partnership with Geely might achieve the desired aims for both manufacturers.

Seat suggests a coffee-stop

The Spanish arm of the VW Group has decided to launch an in-car espresso-maker (£185), with a view of saving its customers around £1,800 in annual coffee-stops. While around 40% of UK daily drivers admit to drinking coffee illegally, while driving, Seat is proposing that a nominal break taken every two hours, during which a couple of coffee shots might be drunk, can have both cost-efficient and restorative effects. While Seat might have a point, I believe that a £12 drinking flask (which can have around four hours of heat retention) might be a more cost-effective solution overall.



RoSPA calls for cessation of seasonal time-changes

In light of the UK road traffic incidents that result in death, or serious injury, around the time of the autumnal hour wind-back, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents finds itself in agreement with the European Parliament recommendation to stick to Summer Time. RoSPA’s research highlights that between 8am and 10am, vulnerable road-users, such as children and cyclists, experience an upward spike in incidents reported, with the number of fatalities almost doubling from an average summer month total of 37, to 63 in November. Occasionally, some of the advice from the EU is worth reacting to positively.



IAM and RoadSmart urge greater tyre care

We all realise that tyres are expensive wear but essential items on our vehicles. Yet, the frequency with which we check their integrity is often little better than scant. As a result, two road safety organisations have collaborated to urge all vehicle owners to make more regular checks, not just for damage that may be out of sight, on the inside edges of wheels and tyres that may be caused by striking potholes, but also to check legal tread depths. It is a self-check that we can all make so readily. Using a 20p coin, if the outer 1.6mm band of the coin is visible, your vehicle may need replacement tyres. To avoid a catastrophic accident caused by a sudden tyre deflation, or by skidding off-road through having insufficient grip, along with an up to £2,500 fine, you are urged to check more frequently. Besides it is part of a Duty of Care responsibility.



Pothole repair costs to motorists sky-rocket

The bill to the UK motorist for repairing pothole damage has skyrocketed to a total of more than £1bn, according to recent research. With more than 11m drivers reporting vehicle damage due to poor road conditions over the last year, the cost has reached a staggering £1.21bn, an increase of £296m compared to 2017-18. However, the cost of damage reported by motorists has risen by 77% in just three years. While the average cost to the individual motorist of repairing damage to components, such as tyres, suspension and wheels, has reduced slightly from £111.00 to £108.86, the number of motorists being affected has jumped by 2.9m since last year. Tyre damage is the worst, followed by suspension, wheels, steering, bodywork and exhaust systems. Victims are urged strongly to claim against their local authorities, as they all hold insurance policies for such incidents.