Friday, 29 January 2010

UKMotorTalk - First podcast of 2010

In this edition, the team:
  • Discuss the world car market with Toyota, SAAB, Spyker, Ford and Volvo under the microscope
  • Remind listeners about claiming for pothole damage to their cars
  • Get excited about the new F1 cars!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Sold (subject to contract)

Well, with a flourish akin to a stage magician pulling a rabbit from a top hat, Spyker have achieved a similar trick with SAAB - yanking them from the dark silkiness of oblivion and back into the harsh limelight of the automotive world's attention.

To be honest, when we wrote yesterday of our hopes that the Swedish firm would be rescued at the last minute we weren't overly optimistic to put it mildly; but the fact that the Dutch have pulled it off - for now at least - has left us feeling just a little bit happier that one of the world's more interesting marques will continue to be around for a while longer.

It's still early days and there are (900)i's to be dotted and T's crossed but barring any major mishap (he says, checking the calendar and making sure it's not April 1st) Spyker have increased their payroll by quite a substantial order of magnitude.

It's fair to say that there are many out there who are questioning the viability of this arrangement, asking quite rightly how teeny-tiny Spyker will be able to manage ownership of a comparatively vast operation such as SAAB, let alone turn around their ailing fortunes.

Others point to SAAB's relatively paltry sales figures and limited model range (no lead-in model along the lines of the ubiquitous Golf being the main criticism) and state that the brand is irrevocably damaged by the recent uncertainty surrounding the company and its fortunes.

We do indeed share these concerns and will be watching developments with a keen eye; however, one should consider that logically-speaking, no-one in their right mind is going to commit the rather large sums of money such as have been invested by Spyker and the European Investment Bank (a loan, incidentally underwritten by the Swedish Government) without the belief - particularly at the moment as we scour the financial landscape for any signs of  the elusive Green Shoots Of Recovery - that they are going to make a return on their investment.

For the time being then, we wait with interest and hopeful anticipation to see what Victor Muller, Spyker's Chief Executive and Jan-Åke Jonsson, his opposite number at SAAB (soon to be re-titled SAAB Spyker Automobiles) have up their sleeves.

Whatever they're planning to do though, there's little doubt that they are going to have to work fast if they are to rebuild SAAB's image and establish themselves as a credible brand with a strong and successful future ahead of them.

If they hang about, they could well just be delaying the inevitable..

Dave Wakefield

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Spyk'd - SAAB to be saved at the last minute or consigned to Valhalla?

As one of the three main major markets for SAAB worldwide, we in the UK might be forgiven for taking more than a passing interest in the tempestuous fortunes of Sweden's 'other' car manufacturer.

We've commented before here at UkMotorTalk on the travails of the company and have made no secret of the fact that we would be very sorry indeed to see this once innovative marque disappear for good into the acrid smoke of General Motors' financial implosion.

With yesterday's hints that the tiny Dutch sports car company Spyker was close to finalising its protracted purchase of SAAB and a huge 70-something percent leap in their share price on Euronext Amsterdam it appeared to us that perhaps this unlikely purchase was indeed about to come to fruition.

This news came as Luxembourg investors Genii Capital - who had also tabled a last minute bid in conjunction with none other than one Bernard Ecclestone (aka "The King of F1 © ® TM") - looked to have fallen out of the running to take over the company, leaving Spyker as the sole remaining suitor asking for the Swede's hand in marriage.

So - deal done then or will The General still be of the opinion that the Dutch bid wasn't serious enough?

Well, later on in the day, a much anticipated press conference (partly responsible it seems for fuelling the rumours of a successful deal with its attendant skyrocketing of Spyker's share price) in Detroit appeared to pour a liberal dose of cold water on the story with GM's Head Honcho Ed Whitacre stating bluntly that no deal had yet been done and the winding down of SAAB would continue as planned.

To those of us following this saga with interest and, it has to be said, crossed fingers this came as just another opportunity to exhale resignedly and slump the shoulders that little bit more as the old 'one step forward, one step back' dance routine played itself out yet again.

Ever since Spyker, a diminutive manufacturer of bespoke and, dare we say, slighly mad motor cars for the well-heeled individual threw its hat into the ring we've been somewhat confused as to just where the Hell they were going to get the money from, let alone how a tiny little operation such as they are was going to take on the running of the operation which in 2008 produced approximately 90,000 vehicles. (Spyker's projected output from its new Midlands facility - 50 cars per year).

The Dutch company has investment from both Russian and Middle Eastern sources and doesn't appear to be suffering unduly in the teeth of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s but all the same, given that Koenigsegg (another relatively well-funded potential owner and producer of slightly less mainstream automobiles) got cold feet and bailed out of the deal earlier on, a Dutch/Swedish tie-up still looks as tenuous as it ever did.

From a more optimistic point of view, were Spyker and General Motors to come to a 12th-hour style arrangement, what could we expect from this new outfit?

The general feeling by those in the industry is that SAAB have for quite some time now been a shadow of their former quirky, innovative selves, getting by with creaky, re-hashed versions of cars that originally saw the light of day - in the case of the venerable 9-5 at least - as long ago as 1997. And whilst a bold replacement for the aforementioned midsize exec is still being readied for production despite the continuing shutting down of the company it remains to be seen whether this much-needed car will ever see the dim light of a Scandinavian Spring or be offered to the Chinese to go with the rest of SAAB's ageing line-up to which they have purchased the rights, further complicating Spyker's task of rebuilding the brand.

For what it's worth, we believe that there is much that the two companies could learn from one another.

Spyker has expertise in constructing its own chassis and major components whilst buying in engines and transmissions from such manufacturers as Audi (in the case of its bonkers C8).

Couple this with SAAB's undoubted underlying innovation; they were first with direct ignition, turbo-charged mass-production engines, active safety systems and so on - honed perhaps through neccessity as GM pulled the purse-strings ever tighter - and the two companies would seem to have the making of an unlikely yet complementary relationship as a lean yet innovative producer of safe & thoughtful (SAAB) yet well-built and enjoyable (Spyker) sporting saloons and coupes.

Appealing perhaps to those who look for quality, innovation, quirkiness and sporting characteristics in their motor but are dissuaded from maybe buying an Alfa Romeo due to (partly unfair) concerns over quality, SAAB might well find that they flourish under the reins of a company who know how to build fun and excitement into their products whilst they bring a dose of Scandinavian practicality and real-world pricing to the party.

All this may well come to nought, and given the ominous noises coming from Motor City this is sadly looking more likely by the day, but we here at UkMotorTalk are still holding out some hope for what we at least believe could be the making of a beautiful relationship..

Dave Wakefield

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Flav and Pat win against bans

So the the French Court of Grand Instance has ruled and found that the punishments handed out to Flav and Pat were outside of the FIA's authority to act and the punishments - a lifetime and a 5 year ban respectively on any involvement with F1 - must therefore be rescinded.

Pat is keeping his head down - wisely - Flav is overjoyed and claims that the whole action was personal, well we all knew that!

However the FIA say the original guilty findings are indisputable and the French court does not disagree so the FIA is considering a further appeal claiming it does and did have the right to mete out such punishments as it sees fit. This will run and run no doubt and all the lawyers will get fatter on it.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the facts are Flav and Pat both conspired to cause a crash to change the result of race, neither claims this not to be true. So we shall probably see both back in F1 in the fullness of time, Pat I welcome back, I think he was probably led astray by Flav.

Flav himself I am not so sure, doubtless he probably regrets what was a hurried and morally wrong decision.

Was the judgement correct and did the punishment fit the crime? Will he be employable again? Will he be trusted? Is he perhaps part of an anachronistic old timer playboy version of F1 inconsistant with the corporate big business it has become?

Flav may have won a victory today but will it get him a job, I'm not so sure....

Graham Benge

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A new year & some old friends.

Well, what better way to see in the New Year than a trip to Brooklands for their annual gathering of classic and vintage cars?

UKMotorTalk's Alex Henry and Dave Wakefield braved the freezing weather and headed over to Weybridge for a cold but sunny day at the historic circuit...

Billed as the largest New Year's gathering for classics in the South East, Brooklands Museum's celebration of pre-1973 motors certainly seemed to be living up to the hyperbole.

Even as we walked onto the site a stream of mouth-watering machinery was arriving via the Campbell gate joining an already bustling collection of vehicles spread all over the famous grounds of the UK's first ever purpose-built racing circuit.

Evocative marques such as Frazer-Nash, Triumph, Alfa Romeo and Sunbeam were well represented with clubs from all over the country proudly displaying their treasured cars.

Whilst vintage and classics were the main feature on this cold but sunny Friday, moderns were well-represented too with Jaguar XKs lining the legendary banking

whilst Lamborghini Gallardos nestled alongside their somewhat more superannuated Alfa cousins..

As well as being able to dawdle through the ever-changing displays of humble and exotic metal on show, visitors could also take the opportunity to explore the museum itself which houses such iconic automotive and aviation exhibits as the recently-returned replica of the WW1 era Vickers Vimy bomber which shares hangar space with the sole remaining Brooklands-built Wellington bomber 'R for Robert' which was rescued from Loch Ness in 1985.

In the Jackson Shed, budding F1 drivers could try their luck at hurtling around a digitally-recreated Brooklands circuit in a genuine McLaren simulator whilst more junior Jenson Button wannabes could live out their racing driver fantasies in a 1991 Mclaren F1 showcar - nigh on identical to the one piloted with such success by none other than Ayrton Senna in the early 1990s.

Probably one of the biggest draws at Brooklands these days is the beautifully-restored Concorde airliner G-BDDG which stands proudly next to the Wellington hangar and offers visitors a glimpse of the now sadly historic world of the supersonic traveller. Many who'd turned up to see a wonderful collection of vehicles of yesteryear were sufficiently entranced with the delta-winged pin-up to part with another £4 for a tour of this icon of aviation glory.

Brooklands is a place with such a palpable sense of history, both in terms of its motor racing and aircraft-related heritage, and therefore a fitting venue for a well-attended event such as this. The museum hosts many other gatherings and themed events throughout the year and UKMotorTalk will be getting along to as many as possible in 2010..

Alex Henry and Dave Wakefield.

All photos © UKMotorTalk 2010