18 September 2019

Private car ownership is dead

Rónán Furlong of DCU was the keynote speaker at a Future of Mobility event organised by Europcar Mobility Group, whose business is based on car rental, writes Brian Byrne. And he did say he was going to be controversial.

Besides, his work at DCU Alpha is about nurturing tech companies focusing on the disruption of various sectors, including transportation.

So saying something like 'car ownership is dead' was not to be unexpected. It may be, like Mark Twain's first obituary, a bit premature. But, eventually, I suspect he's right.

And in the nature of change in these times, eventually can come more quickly than it used to.

At the event held in Dogpatch Labs in Dublin yesterday, Furlong did say that cars and transportation are 'coming late' to the 'disruption tipping point'. "But the speed of the shift is extraordinary. There are really fundamental changes coming. They are inevitable."

In what had to be, in the time available, only a brief overview of what he believes is the near future he forecast 'an explosion of micro-mobility'. That's e-scooters, and more available shared bicycles to you and me. And more car-sharing and ride-hailing (Uber and like, which we don't have here ... yet).

On the shared e-scooters, he said the dockless experience in US cities got bad press, mainly because they were introduced in a 'Wild West' unregulated environment.

That can be fixed. And Irish companies are working on that stuff. Like one of his DCU Alpha enterprises which is developing centimetre-level tracking technology that can be used to control shared micro-mobility users who are breaking the rules.

Car makers will be happy to hear Furlong's statement that much personal transport will still be underpinned by the car. "But not by ownership. We're moving towards a 'servitization' of the car asset. Where mobility moves into the realm of a financial service."

He talked of a 'tokenisation' of the urban transport system which will allow customers to use a variety of ways of getting around, seamlessly, on a subscription basis. "It will create challenges. For municipalities in providing the infrastructure. For politicians."

Ah, yes, for politicians. Changes in planning needed, for instance, to provide for more micromobility facilities than car parking in new city apartment developments. Taxing existing city parking spaces, heavily (Ouch! Motorists' Votes! Ouch!).

"We need a congestion charge (in Dublin) and we need it fast." (Ouch! Motorists' Votes! Ouch!)

Nevertheless, in conclusion the DCU man was adamant that change is coming, and fast. "It's inexorable."

There was more. Journalist Vincent Wall, managing the discussion at the event, wondered how the behaviour and aspirations of the very many car owners would be changed? Colm Brady of the Europcar Mobility Group referred to a survey which showed that young people are more willing to use the options that are coming down the way.

"Private cars spend 95pc of their time parked," he noted. "They are very expensive ways of satisfying transport needs."

His company's fleet of rent-by-the-hour GoCars is now 800, and a high percentage of them have more than 20 drivers each. "We can put 800 more on the road in a year if the demand is there."

He added that according to the survey his company commissioned, there's a strong belief that change will only come from Government action. "We have to vote in governments that will make these happen. It's going to hurt for some, but this has to happen."

Ray Coyne, CEO of Dublin Bus, counselled against trying to ease congestion by providing more road space for cars. "Add another lane for cars and it just fills up with cars. Cut down the space for cars. Give more room for transport that gets the most value in the use of space."

Orla O'Halloran, Intelligent Mobility Engineer with Arup, said authorities should stop thinking about how many cars can come into a city, and think instead about the number of people who can come in by transit. "If you want to change behaviour, you have to use carrot and stick. But individuals have to take responsibility for their choices. There needs to be a lot more investment in alternatives."

Professor David Timoney of UCD, an expert in energy for transportation, cautioned against simplistic analysis, such as suggesting that all the people in individual cars on a stretch of the M50 would be more efficiently accommodated on a few buses. "Each of those people is going on a different journey, so it is not as simple as putting them all into a bus."

Are we there yet?

No. But we're getting there. Where 'there' is, has yet to be decided.

17 September 2019

'Target dumped used imports' in Budget, motor industry plea

Brian Cooke, Director General of SIMI, with Paddy Magee, Country Operations Manager, Renault Group Ireland.
The Irish motor industry is seeking a no change in motor taxes scenario in the upcoming budget, along with measures to deal with the massive expansion of used imports, writes Brian Byrne. Otherwise there’s a risk to 10,000 jobs in the industry, a potential direct revenue loss to the Exchequer of €231m, and a crash of new car sales to as low as 70,000 next year.

These were stark figures today in a market presentation by the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, which warns that ‘the mistakes of 2008 must be avoided’ and says the industry is now at its most vulnerable since the crash of 2008.

Economist Jim Power detailed the national economic background to the Budget submission recently submitted by SIMI on behalf of its members. While there has been generally a strong recovery in the economy, he suggests this has been exaggerated. He pointed to sterling’s weakness since Brexit, a motor market which has declined for the last three years and the 'fragility' of consumer confidence.

A new car market under pressure and a continuing strong growth in used imports are the main concerns. With the potential for serious financial and environmental outcomes.

“We're not looking for handouts in this Budget,” Paddy Magee of Renault Ireland said on behalf of the distributors and dealer networks. “We’re only looking for help in dealing with climate change. On one hand we're doing what we can to sell clean new cars. But on the other, there are no restrictions on used diesel cars, which don't meet current standards, being dumped here from the UK. Whatever we do on the new car side is being undermined by the imports.”

Director General of SIMI Brian Cooke noted that 400,000 used cars had been imported to the Irish market over the past three and a half years. “If a quarter of those had been substituted by new car sales, it would have meant an extra €650m in the state's coffers.”

He criticised the 'open door' policy on used imports, with no regulations in place to refuse registration of an import, which could be a 'write-off' in the UK or be producing emissions no longer acceptable in its home market.

Jim Power noted how the current situation means a big difference for Government revenues, with an average of €10,174 being the tax take on a new car, versus €3,493 for the typical imported used one. “The cost to the Exchequer is €66m for every 10,000 used cars imported that displace new car sales,” he said.

The motor industry wants the state to introduce 'reasonable checks' on imports. They also call for non-recognition of a UK MOT on passenger cars of four years old and over, or one year in the case of commercial vehicles.

The industry wants the diesel CO2 levy introduced last year to be replaced with a charge on nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions instead. This would address the current anomaly where a new car with relatively very low NOx emissions is taxed more than an equivalent used import with high emissions which cause significant health and environmental issues.

The meeting heard that the annual car market has ‘stabilised’ at around 220,000 over recent years, but the proportion of imports is rising inexorably. From just 47,790 units five years ago, the figures are trending to hit 115,000 in 2020, with new car sales for that year shrinking to 105,000.

In a comment on the growth of electric vehicles in the Irish market 'from an extraordinarily low base', Jim Power said the targets for EVs in the recent Government Climate plan are ‘absolute pie in the sky’, and there is no possibility of achieving the numbers in the forseeable future. “But the objective is a good idea, so we should stick with it,” he added.

Looking at the prospects depending on different kinds of Brexit scenario, Jim Power suggested that a no-deal split could see new car sales going as low as 70,000 next year, if there are also VRT increases in the Budget.

“It's a simple message,” Brian Cooke said bluntly. “It's a stark message. We're struggling. We need fair play.”

13 September 2019

Skoda to unveil two new models at ‘The Ploughing’

New Skoda Superb.

Skoda will have two new models at the National Ploughing Championships in Ballintrane, Fenagh, Co Carlow from 17-19 September, the new Superb and a Kamiq Crossover, writes Trish Whelan.

The new Superb receives new exterior styling, refreshed interiors and upgraded specifications across the model range. It will launch in Ireland on 7 October.

The Skoda Kamiq crossover will also be unveiled at The Ploughing and arrive in showrooms on 1 November. It will compete in one of the fastest growing segments in Ireland. With an elevated driving position and raised ground clearance, the Kamiq is positioned at the lower end of the SUV segment.

Skoda Kamiq Crossover.

New Peugeot 208 to be guest at ‘The Ploughing’

All-New Peugeot 208
Peugeot will have a special guest at the Ploughing Championships in the shape of its all-new 208 hatchback, writes Trish Whelan.

With over 300,000 visitors expected, Peugeot will host a preview of the futuristic new 208 hatchback at the National Ploughing Championships from 17-19 September at Fenagh, Co Carlow, along with the full range of their passenger cars and light commercial vehicles.

Available with a choice of petrol, diesel or 100pc electric powertrains, the all-new 208 has the Lion Brand’s latest-generation i-Cockpit and 3D head-up display along with a host of technology and comfort features. It is expected to arrive in Dealer showrooms in late 2019 ahead of the first customer registrations in early 2020. Prices and equipment will be announced closer to launch.

Whether a customer chooses petrol, diesel or all-electric, the new Peugeot 208 retains the same dimensions, the same look, and the same unique character. Longer and wider than its predecessor, the new 208’s wide shaped wings, body curves and sculpted bonnet create a distinctive and sporty look. Like its 3008, 5008 and new 508 siblings, the rear of the new 208 stands out with a black band running the width of the boot lid linking the 3-claw daytime running lights.

The Peugeot brand recorded the highest volume sales increase in the Irish market again in 2019 (+378 units August year-to-date representing +5.7pc increase, cars and vans combined). 

Peugeot will have 15 vehicles at this year’s show, located at stand number 522, block 3, row number 23. 

Peugeot e-208

Renault hands over Trafic Minibus to Resource Centre

Joe Donoghue, Minister Catherine Byrne, and Conor Dixon of Renault Ireland.

Renault Ireland has handed over a specially converted nine-seater Renault Trafic minibus to Fatima Groups United Family Resource Centre in Rialto, Dublin 8, writes Trish Whelan.

Based on the Trafic van, the converted minibus will be used by the centre during the course of its work within the local community. The centre is the representative body of residents and projects in Fatima and Herberton, and operates from community development principles providing key services in the areas of health and wellbeing, education, employment, arts, childcare, counselling supports, information and advice, family support and advocacy, civic awareness and community development.

Renault supported the Family Resource Centre with the purchase of the minibus and also plans to supply an electric Kangoo Z.E. van to the centre for use in its catering service.

At the handover, Conor Dixon of Renault Ireland said: “We are thrilled to be able to support such a great organisation which does amazing work within the local communities of Fatima and Herberton.” He wished them safe and happy driving from all at Renault Ireland.

Replying on behalf of the Centre, Joe Donohoe, Projects Manager said: “Having our own Renault Trafic minibus will make such a difference to the many people, young and old, using our centre. It will make life a lot easier for us in providing quality services for all those who come into all of our programmes.” He added that later this year, Renault will supply them with an electric Kangoo Z.E. van which will enable their cafe to expand its operations with the aim of creating more jobs for local people. He thanked Renault and looks forward to developing relations with the company in the coming years. 

Pictured at the handover was Minister Catherine Byrne, Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy. 

12 September 2019

Frankfurt Motor Show 2019

The traditional big motorshows in Europe are becoming more for their local consumer markets, and many carmakers are preferring to have their more important reveals at events of their own, writes Brian Byrne. Though the Frankfurt Motor Show this week is still a draw for many thousands of journalists and motor business people to the Press Days debuts, the no-shows include Aston Martin, Bugatti, Citroën, Ferrari, Fiat, Jeep, Kia, Lancia, Mazda, Nissan, Peugeot, Rolls-Royce, Suzuki, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota and Volvo. But there's still a fair bit to report on, much of it electric.

With an even greater emphasis on electric cars than has been growing over recent years of shows, the Mini Electric detailed a few months ago makes its public stage debut. Available from next year, the car is expected to be one of almost half of the total BMW range which will be fully electric by 2023. It has a 0-100km/h capability of 7.4s.

The Tavascan all-electric SUV concept from Cupra, the standalone sports brand within SEAT, is powered by two electric motors, one on each axle. The total output is 306hp and the claimed range is 450km.

This is Hyundai's first ever electric racecar, the Veloster N ETCR. It has a mid-mounted motor with rear-wheel-drive and will compete in the new ETCR series. Hyundai says electric racing will become one of the 'pillars' of the company's strategy.

Honda's 'e', an electric urban car which has been previewed at a number of recent shows, appears in production form. It is the first Honda to be built on a dedicated EV platform. It has a range of around 200km, and 80pc of recharge can be achieved in 30 minutes with an appropriate charger.

The Mercedes-Benz ESF, based on a hybrid GLE, is a rolling showcase for the company's ideas in safety technologies. It's the latest in a line of Experimental Safety vehicles and among the details at Frankfurt is a retractable steering wheel and pedal box. There's also a dynamic lighting system built into the sun visor to try out how mood lamps can improve a driver's alertness.

This Lamborghini Sian FKP 37 has an unusual link in its name — it honours the late Dr Ferdinand Piech, who was behind Audi’s takeover of the Italian supercar maker in 1988. The 37 relates to the year he was born. The car is a hybrid based on a 774hp V12 engine. There’s no battery for the electric motor, instead a unique super-capacitor which can be fully charged every time the brakes are applied.

In a showcase of key cars in a simplified range, Audi's most interesting vehicle in visual terms is the AI: TRAIL concept, which gives a sense of the brand's thinking on electric offroad vehicles. The concept is also a think-bed for automated driving, and with glass all the way to floor level, it certainly has unrivalled visibility for those occupants with not a lot else to do.

Meanwhile, in its established road cars the very sharp-looking front end of the revised Q7 gives an indication of many improvements to that model.

Volkswagen's much-anticipated first dedicated electric car, the ID3, is targets to start at under €30,000 in its first markets, available from mid-2020. The Golf-sized car will be offered with three battery sizes, with ranges from 330km-550km.

BMW is using its 4 Series coupe as the base for a concept to showcase its future styling thoughts in 'aesthetic essence'. Maybe the Concept 4 looks a bit in your face, but that's what concepts are for. The brand also has a concept offering an update on its work in fuel cell technology, the i Hydrogen NEXT.

Electrification is a strong underpinning of BMW's current strategy, and a number of its PHEV model versions are also on display.

Sometimes you have to kill off and then resurrect an icon, which is what Land Rover had to do with the Defender. It has taken a few years since they let go the car that is still the image of the foundation of the brand as an extreme conditions vehicle maker. The all-new Defender debuted at Frankfurt is claimed to be all what the original was and much much more. It is clearly a more upmarket Defender than before, but the makers claim it has a toughness and ability above and beyond the normal standards. The powertrain is electrified with mild hybrid technology and there will be plug-in hybrid variants of its petrol and diesel engines in the future.

In the very electric ethos of this year's Frankfurt show, the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS concept is a study of how an all-electric top end luxury car is envisaged. There's much in the show car of futuristic style along with technology which is already in train. Those in the fortunate space of being familiar with luxury yachts will be at home in the interior. While the electric powertrain offering a 4.5s acceleration to 100 km/h will satisfy the speed merchant classes. Range of a production version will be up to 700km.

Opel's fifth generation Corsa is one of the three draw models at Frankfurt, the others being a 300hp Grandland X Hybrid4, and a revised Astra. The Corsa will come early next year with new diesel and petrol engines, and there will also be a fully-electric version e-Corsa with a range of 330km. The new Corsa is some 10pc lighter than the outgoing generation, suggesting an improvement in handling as well as better economy. The latest Astra also gets a new set of engines.

Hyundai has been one of the world leaders in getting electric and electrified cars to market after the breakthrough work of Renault-Nissan. At this year's IAA, its Concept 45 takes a retro look via its original Pony Coupe Concept from 1974 to tease about future electric and autonomous possibilities. A 'lounge' interior previews the eventual self-driving capability.

A completely new i10 is also shown, with a longer wheelbase allowing for better people packaging, while better visibility is also a feature. Goes without saying that buzzword connectivity will be up to latest standards. The 1.0 and 1.2 petrol engines have manual and auto choices.


10 September 2019

Peugeot supports bikers on ‘Miles for Smiles’

Gowan Distributors, Peugeot Importer in Ireland, has teamed up with Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC) and Bikers Ride out for Prems, as official car partner to the Miles for Smiles taking place from today to Sunday 5 September, writes Trish Whelan.

Since the launch in February, the event has seen 20 bikers and supporters raise over €55,000 in funds which will go towards both the building of a room at the new RMHC House at the site of the new National Children’s Hospital, Dublin 8, and to buy medical equipment for Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in hospitals around Ireland.

Over the 4-day venture, the group will cover in excess of 1,500km around Ireland visiting hospitals and delivering life-saving and life-maintaining medical equipment bought with the proceeds to NICUs.Participants in the Ride Out will have the honour of naming a room at the new Ronald McDonald House which in Ireland provides support and care to families who have seriously or terminally ill children in Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin. Since opening in 2004, the House has supported and cared for over 3,900 families in this home-away-from-home type environment.

Marion Carroll, CEO (Volunteer) at RMHC, said: “I can’t speak highly enough of the Bikers Ride Out for Prems group; like us, they are exceptionally motivated and passionate about their cause and I’m really excited to work with them on the first Miles for Smiles event.”

Since its inception in 2014, the Bikers Ride Out for Prems have fundraised over €200,000 to buy equipment for NICUs around Ireland. 

Sean Brennan, representing the Bikers Ride Out for Prems said: “Our main goal ongoing, is to raise funds to buy and deliver very necessary equipment into neonatal intensive care units in Ireland where budgets have reached their limits. We also source and donate breast pumps which can be used by parents of premature babies. This eases the stress and strain on families and enables them focus on feeding their premature infant life-saving breast milk, as their intestinal systems cannot tolerate artificial feeding.”

Supported by Gowan Distributors, Keating Construction & Ruth Scott, Radio DJ & TV Presenter, the journey starts and ends at The Ronald McDonald House, Dublin 12. The route will take in visits to hospitals in Dublin, Louth, Cavan, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Limerick, Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny and Laois.