Going the way of the Porsche 911 GT3, Lamborghini will be retiring its manual gearboxes with them making one last appearance in a limited-run, rear-drive-only Gallardo. After this, expect the next generation of cars from the Sant’Agata Bolognese bullpen to be available only with automatics.
As it is, there is already a waning market for stick shifters, with buyers preferring the paddle-shifters over the manuals by a ratio of 9:1. The present era where customers demand technology and products that adapt to them, and not the other way around (as required by Lamborghini’s challenging gated H-pattern shifter) explains the company’s decision.
The Gallardo is also likely to be reaching the end of its sales life because at nine model years old, the Gallardo faces stiff competition from newer rivals. It has been likened to a boxing champion, being the oldest supercar still standing, It has been able to turn heads and remain current because of Lamborghini’s mechanistic styling language. Compared to the organic forms chosen by the likes of Ferrari and other supercar makers, the overtly man-made lines of Lamborghinis since the superlative Countach have in-you-face staying power.
It seems that the replacement model could arrive by the end of 2013
Towkays, get your chequebooks ready. The new 2014 Mercedes Benz S-Class looks set to raise the bar for flagship sedans across the industry as it closes the gap with ultra-premium models such as Bentley Continental Flying Spur, especially in the area of build quality and comfort.
Hoping to actively relax occupants through a concept known as “energizing comfort”, the new S-Class features rear seats that recline past 43 degrees (Mercedes has developed seatbelts with airbags in them and cushions that pop up under occupants’ thighs to keep them in place during a crash while reclined), back massages courtesy of 14 separately actuated air cushions in the backrest that simulate a shiatsu massage and hot stone treatment, a premium sound system by German audiophile house Burmester, mood lighting aircraft inspired instrument panels and a renewed user interface and an integrated fragrance dispenser. Located in the glove box, the dispenser releases perfume developed by the fragrance house Symrise into the cabin via vents in the dashboard. Most of the car’s functions can be controlled by a paired smartphone, allowing for customization of information and settings by different users simultaneously.
The S-Class has always been a pioneer; the 1959 220S was the first passenger car in the world to feature a dedicated crash structure around the cabin, complete with crumple zones. The 1978 S-Class was the first passenger vehicle in the world to get antilock brakes and the 1981 S-Class pioneered airbag, so expect some of these new innovations to become standard fare on cars in the near future.
The new S-Class will officially be unveiled in Hamburg, Germany on 15 May.
More information on engine types and model variants to come.
With the property boom in full swing, showflats are a regular sighting across the island. Having occasionally accompanied friends with much deeper pockets than myself to these pop-up pavilions, I’m regularly floored by the creativity and quality of the interior design. The furnishings and fixtures are luxurious, to say the least, and the palette and thematic sensibilities displayed by the designers would not be out of place in Ibiza or the Hamptons. Clearly they know how to exploit one of our very human tendencies, and that is the penchant for visual and tactile simulation. The oft quoted property mantra of “location, location and location” is left at the doormat and replaced by the tempting possibility of creating one’s own nirvana; a shelter from the elements and a comfortable cocoon for rest.
Car manufacturers should take note and be quick to take a leaf out of that book, because when it comes to interiors, cars are just like homes - the more comfortable and functional they are, the better. We’ve all had our experiences with hollow indicator stalks, peeling air-conditioner temperature controls and steering wheels that deteriorate and shed bits of their being in the heat. There have been car seats that threaten to suck you in like a pit of quicksand, cars devoid of sound insulation (just as well, considering the quality of the factory-installed stereo), thin carpeting with the texture of a warthog’s hide and reverse sensor aural warnings that would not have been out of place at the Battle of Britain.
While I applaud their efforts in improving safety (that should never be compromised) and optimizing performance at the limits of the cars’ envelope (although these appeal more to the petrolheads more than anyone else), it does leave me wondering why car manufacturers do not strive to accord their interiors similar treatment. The majority of car journeys are carried out in safe conditions, and at a leisurely pace. Most of the time, drivers are concerned with comfort and being cossetted as they potter along. Tell the average driver that 3000 parts in the 2013 Lexus LS460 have been changed and he’d be hard pressed to identify 50 of them. Let him know that the revised version of the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) transmission used in the Panamera class differs from the PDK used in the Carrera range, having its internal shafts are mounted above the input shaft so as to achieve a lower centre of gravity and also uses just one oil circuit, instead of two and you will likely be met with a blank stare.
However, soft plastics, highly polished wood surfaces, ergonomically designed switchgear and simple innovations (the cupholders and the “night panel” function in the Saab 9-5, for example) are met with nods of approval. Audi has realized how vital the field of human factors engineering is and as a result, its entire model range as been kitted with premium finishes with almost any review of an Audi usually including some effusive praise about its princely surroundings. Drivers need to match their expectations too, of course. We will not be seeing Toyota Vios’ having the same customization options as a Bentley, and machined aluminium and carbon fiber are not about to replace plastic as the dashboard material of choice; but it may be time for carmakers to invest a bit more efforts into making the car’s living space more… well…. liveable.
This will promote brand loyalty, save drivers from having to visit 3rd party workshops for window glazing, sound insulation and audio enhancements and generally result in a more holistic approach to car design. It also helps drivers to enjoy their cars in the 95% of the time when all they really want is a quiet place to call theirs as they make their separate journeys in their busy worlds. They could take a leaf from Range Rover, whose Range Rover Evoque Special Edition With Victoria Beckham has been a resounding success. Perhaps in some cases, we may just need more show, and less go.
The Porsche 911 GT3 is a scorcher of a machine. Powerful, aggressive, responsive and just plain fast, it achieves its superlative performance through an ingenious blend of engineering and, old-fashioned weight loss. Like most race versions, the GT3 has been stripped of insulation, air-conditioning and even a front seat. The absence of insulation helps to shed a few valuable pounds, leading to milliseconds shaved off lap times and hopefully, a podium finish.
Lightweight performance parts are all the rage in amateur motoring circles as well; from lightweight aluminium rims, carbon fibre bonnets to “performance” wheel nuts. These solutions do not come cheap, however, and change the aesthetic nature of the car’s exterior. Curiously, most people don’t realize is that there is a simple and free solution literally, at hand.
Petrol tank capacities have remained the same, even though fuel economy and engine performance has improved by leaps and bounds. With some diesel cars carrying enough fuel to make a return journey to Penang, it begs the question; why do cars that make pretty short journeys running day-to -day errands need such marathon-ish capacity? I can appreciate why Land Cruisers and Range Rovers have cavernous fuel tanks, as they venture into the Amazonian unknown. For road trips in far-flung corners of the world, a full fuel tank provides a sense of reassurance until the next petrol station appears on the horizon, a sort of proverbial lifeline in desolate landscapes. However with in an urban environment with aids like GPS, Google Maps and more travel resources than you can shake a stick at, poor due diligence and a lack of planning simply don't pass muster as credible excuses for carrying a full load of fuel “just in case”.
In the airline industry, fuel loads are calculated down to the last pound. The next time you board a short-haul flight, stop and notice how much more responsive the plane is and how quickly it gets off the ground, as opposed to a plane fully loaded with fuel for a non-stop leg to London. Imagine a BMW 320i with a fuel tank of 60 liters, and having it filled with only 30 liters each time you head to the filing station. With a highway fuel consumption figure of 14 km/liter, one could potter about for a good 420km or so (ten times across the full breadth of Singapore) before having to visit the pump again. Now it isn’t suggested that drivers attempt to stretch their range and drive on fumes (after all, the petrol in your fuel tank is used to cool the fuel pump and it would be rather embarrassing and not to mention inconvenient to have your car stall by the side of the road), but filling up only to half the tank’s capacity is the equivalent of shedding 30 kilos; the weight of a small child or a full week’s shopping.
This can make a large difference if you drive a small or low powered car and, if your car is already fully loaded to begin with. The extra fuel weight diminishes the car’s performance, increases fuel consumption, decreases braking capability and can be potentially riskier in a crash situation in the event of a fuel leak. Car dealers have long been aware of these gains, with test-drive cars having their tanks at no more than the quarter mark so that they feel as fleet-footed as possible.
Try it out for yourself, and let us know the outcome of your real-world testing. Have you experienced performance gains? Unlike new year resolutions, this in one weight loss plan that is easy to implement (unless you have a strange aversion to petrol kiosks), and the results are instant.
A quick glance at cars on the roads yields the sight of what seem to be driverless cars. No hands are visible on the steering wheel, although a driver is present in the right seat slouching lazily, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is in control of a few tons of moving sheet metal.
Cars have not become that intelligent and the steering wheel hasn't given way to a side-mounted joysticks, yet more and more drivers seem to be adopting dangerous driving positions and are displaying a disregard for proper driving techniques. Executing an emergency lane-change is difficult enough on its own, yet alone having to do it with the two-fingered-one-handed driving technique that many drivers are guilty of. By not having two hands on the wheel (ideally at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions), drivers do not sit fully prepared to react to any contingency that could happen at less than a second’s notice on Singapore’s crowded roads.
Automatic transmissions seem to be major contributors to this malaise. With no need to operate a clutch pedal or to manually shift gears, drivers end up focusing less on communicating with and manipulating their vehicles. There has been a general loss of interaction between man and machine, as cars become more (some say too) intelligent, insulated and capable. Driving faster, changing lanes or negotiating bends and slopes require little consideration from the drivers, as all that is required is a prod of the right foot and a copious application of braking, if necessary. Drivers’ left hands have, as current behavior would suggest, become redundant in the driving process, and are now free to explore the vast expanse of the car’s internal landscape.
Complicated climate control systems, multi-function in-car entertainment, modules satellite navigation, Bluetooth connections, and all other manner of configurable settings can and do act as distractions to drivers who, really, should be almost entirely concerned with driving in a safe and responsible manner. Perhaps carmakers expect too much from the common driver, by developing steering-mounted controls, adjustable heads-up displays, multi function touch screens and switches that are better suited in a F-22 than a sedan. An over-reliance on some inherently useful safety features such as reverse sensors, blind spot alerts and parking cameras have eroded core driving abilities and made drivers complacent. Images on screens and aural cues do not replace old-fashioned turns over the head to see if the path is clear.
Just as a base amount of stress is considered healthy and useful in stimulating productivity in workers, a certain quantum of driver involvement is paramount I keeping drivers engaged on the roads. Rather than aiming to be “productive” while driving (texting, talking on the phone, having one’s mind consumed with life’s burdens) or viewing driving as a necessary evil for getting from Point A to Point B, drivers should take a moment to appreciate what a privilege it is (especially in Singapore) to be behind the wheel and endeavor to immerse themselves fully in driving.
There are a number of ways to develop better driving skills. Practice looking far ahead and anticipating traffic in order to prevent unnecessary stops or lane changes. Pay closer attention to the wear and tear of your tyres, and work out which inflation pressure best suits your needs and driving style. Focus on keeping your car in its optimum rev band in order to maximize performance and efficiency, and switch to semi-auto mode to manage gear changes on your own, should your car have such a feature. This heightened awareness about one’s vehicle and surroundings will add to a collective movement towards better road habits and graciousness in Singapore, leading ultimately to safer journeys for everyone
So, the next time you’re tempted to give less than 100% attention to piloting your vehicle, or if you notice anyone else gambling by not taking driving as seriously as they should, remember that defensive driving not only prevents you from being a menace to others, but also protects you from those who have yet to reach motoring enlightenment.
Major regulatory changes are set to affect the motoring industry after Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam outlined key changes to the tax structure for the Additional Registration Fee (“ARF”) for cars and to the conditions for car loans in the Budget for 2013.
New ARF Structure
The new tiered ARF structure will see high end cars paying higher taxes, as ARF rates become pegged to tiers in the cars’ Open Market Value (“OMV”). This is marked change from the current flat rate of 100% of OMV, regardless of the OMV quantum.
As outlined in the table below, there is no change to the tax on vehicles with an OMV of up to $20,000. Cars that fall in this category include the Ford Focus ($13,682) and the Mitsubishi Lancer ($16,615). On the next $30,000 (i.e. OMV of up to $50,000), the ARF rate is now 140% of the incremental OMV of $30,000. Cars in this bracket include the BMW 320i ($39,486) and the Toyota Alphard ($43,782). For the remaining OMV above $50,000 (i.e cars with an OMV greater than $50,000), the ARF rate becomes 180%. Luxury and performance cars such as the Lexus GS350 ($66,239) and the Ferrari 458 Italia ($325,203) make up the cars in this segment.
ARF Tax Rate
Current ARF Payable
Percentage Increase in ARF
First $20,000 of OMV
100% of OMV
Next $30,000 of OMV
140% of incremental OMV
$20,000 (100% of first $20,000) + $27,280 (140% of remaining $19,486)
Remaining OMV above $50,000
180% of incremental OMV
Ferrari 458 Italia
$20,000 (100% of first $20,000) + $42,000 (140% of next $30,000) + $495,365 (180% of remaining $275,203)
The new rules will come into effect after the first Certificate of Entitlement (“COE”) bidding exercise in March.
New Car Loans Regulations
With effect from 26 February 2013, loans will be capped at 60 percent of the purchase price of motor vehicles for OMVs up to $20,000.
For vehicles with OMVs greater than $20,000 the loans will be limited to 50 percent of the purchase price.
The tenure for the loans is now capped at 5 years. These are marked changes from the prior availability of 100 percent loans for a loan period of up to ten years.
Both these new policy measures will likely result in a reduced demand for cars and a corresponding deflationary effect on COE prices, as the government seeks to curb runaway car prices and encourage prudent spending without an over-reliance on bank financing.