2019, a most extraordinary motoring year!
Changes have been weighing-in to alter the UK motoring environment for the future, highlights Iain Robertson, some that upset the industry and the consumer, with others designed to enthuse and engage, even in a market in a downwards spiral.
Most noticeable for the motoring journalist is the final nail being placed in the coffin of media relations. Over the years, we have been supported by the carmakers, keen to promote their products, through a network of skilled public relations exponents. Slowly but more assuredly than ever, this function has been removed, leaving some old-stager (several of whom should have retired years ago!) and a plethora of former (ill-qualified) motoring scribes and marketing personnel running the respective shows. The media relations function has been subsumed into car company marketing departments, as the manufacturers seek to apply tighter controls on what is reported about their products.
Be aware, as you read this, that Business Money magazine has a proud history of never bending towards advertorial; it is a haven of free expression and valuable opinion. The vast majority of publications however, rely upon it, which allows marketing briefs to proliferate, which, in turn, skews and biases those views in their favour. The business user becomes short-changed.
Yet, it is difficult for the car firms, as they tend to use the expensive services of external agencies to allocate their advertising budgets and, by nature, they will always seek the highest common denominator that is usually in their favour. As a result, in a truly massive market that encompasses TV, radio, print, billboards, buses/trains/airports and a huge online scene, they either risk severe dilution of message, or find themselves with insufficient budgets.
However, the avaricious agencies are often lazy in a cash-strapped market, which does not help the situation. If you were unaware, the SUV sector is now top of the pops, relegating hatchbacks into second spot. Some carmakers might be better advised to start dispensing with certain models and to consolidate their model ranges, both as a means to saving money and reducing buyer confusion, which might have a practical spin-off in reducing list prices too.
Peaks and troughs
Despite the downturn, for which it has been too easy to blame ‘Brexit’ but is actually a result of manufacturer confusion about the Electric Vehicle scene, with more than a soupcon of inaction from government, allied to a hit of consumer financial reality, around 2.2 million vehicles have been registered in the UK. The vast majority of them are registered to companies of all sizes, from one-man-bands to major corporates.
Encourage’ by government, although the grant support has slumped from £5,000 just a few years ago to just £3,500 (with the spectre of future EV taxation hanging in the ether), the number of new electrified vehicles has been in the ascendant. While EVs are vaunted as the future, with government suggesting that conventional fossil-fuelled vehicles will not have one, a simple truth has been emerging…they are not quite as clean and green as car marketing departments have been promoting. Of course, why would government care; its attitude towards the truth has seldom been more blatant.
It is suggested by vehicle emissions analysts that the average CO2 output of the average EV is around 124g/km. Put into perspective, the latest non-turbo-petrol Mazda3 powered by a Skyactiv-X petrol/diesel engine mash-up is stated as 105g/km. Oops!
Yet, as responsible human beings, while we should not be converted by the relatively fluent ramblings of a Swedish schoolgirl, who is being exceedingly well stage-managed but remains a definite snowflake, we must be aware that natural resources are under threat, even if the entire environmental crisis (everything is a crisis, chaos, or disaster these days!) is little more than cyclical. Although oil supplies will probably outlive most of us, they are diminished to a level that will become critical in a few years’ time. Seeking alternatives is more than just a good idea.
Hydrogen fuel cells are the answer. Sadly, only Toyota, Honda and Hyundai have been brave enough to productionise vehicles. Fortunately, towards the end of this year, it has been stated that several others have fuel cell projects soon to reach fulfilment stage. When you consider that the creation of hydrogen can be started by sunlight and that a refuelling infrastructure is actually easier and less costly than installing plug-in charging devices everywhere, the future lies truly with FCVs, the engine of which emit less than half the CO2 of the average EV and potable water.
The year’s ‘dodos’
Mustang E-Mach – so uncertain that Ford will not even apply the ‘Blue Oval’ to the new electric SUV.
Renault Megane RS – for its harsh ride, harsh performance and sky-high price tag.
VW Golf Mark VIII – for more tediousness allied to a far-from-people’s-car price tag.
Ssangyong Turismo – like the rest of the value-for-money Ssangyong range, cars in which being seen dead would be an insult.
Most BMWs – onto which a new ‘big gob’ grille appears to be an assertive development.
Suzuki Cars – for dropping the 1.0-litre Vitara and Baleno, as well as Celerio, due to exhaust emissions (apparently) and restricting Jimny volumes.
PSA Group – for what it is about to do to Vauxhall-Opel.
Tesla – for launching the ugliest EV pickup truck ever.
HM Government – for not spending road tax on roads, as promised.
The year’s ‘victors’
Business Money motoring – for telling it like it is not how it can be perceived.
Suzuki Cars – for Jimny and Ignis models.
Vauxhall Corsa – due next year, a future car of the year, for sure!
Mazda3 line-up – from hatch and saloon, to the brilliant CX-30, a perfect motorcar range.
Honda CR-V – for the essential Honda rethink that is the consummate crossover.
Mission Motorsport – for creating job opportunities in the motor industry for former service-people.
Volvo Cars – for ploughing its own furrow in the executive class and for reducing the use of the American term ‘premium’, when describing its products!
Make no bones about it, the UK motor industry is having an uncomfortable ride at present. Yet, remarkable deals can be done on some amazing motorcars (both new and used), if consumers stand their ground. Regardless of what happens politically, 2020 is not going to be any easier, although the choices will still grow.