London Calling?

December 12th, 2011 by Tim Grimley

Curmudgeonly English comedian Jack Dee once said that he disliked the term ‘Old Aged Pensioner’ because it was essentially telling them the same thing three times and it’s fair to say he had a point. Any single word from that terminology could accurately be used in isolation to describe a person of SuperGold Card holding vintage, which means that utilising either of the other two is essentially wasting your breath.

The same could also be said of KEA – Kiwi Expats Abroad – who for the sake of a snappier acronym decided it was necessary to point out that the place for ex-patriot New Zealanders to be found was beyond the shores of Aotearoa. But to dwell on such a point would be a case of extreme pedantry, particularly when KEA has just published the results of its five yearly ‘Every Kiwi Counts’ survey which has revealed a startling piece of information.

46% of Kiwi’s living and working overseas earn in excess of $100,000 per year.

Rather predictably – and it must be said, against the logic of the people at KEA who sagely regard our overseas-based populace as a valuable resource for both current investment and the future – the national media jumped on this as ‘evidence’ of the brain drain the nation is suffering from. Pictures of London’s skyline were emblazoned on the front of The NZ Herald, with the headline “Goodbye NZ, Hello $100,000” almost mocking those of us still slogging away in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

And I’m the first to admit that a $100,000 salary sounds like a lovely thing indeed, but before you start digging out the visa application forms let me add a dose of realism to the matter.

Would you like to take $100,000......

Firstly, as anyone who has tried to live a comfortable life in London will tell you $100,000 doesn’t really go that far. Not if you have aspirations of living in anything bigger than a shoe box, without the need to flat share with a group of alcoholic students with broken body clocks. Yes, there are lots of interesting old buildings to look at, but finding a day when the sky isn’t leaking so you can properly enjoy them can be a challenge.

And don’t even mention Australia. You’ll need all of $100,000 just to keep the air conditioning running in summer and the family dosed up on anti-venom when they bump into the local wildlife. And it’s full of bloody Australian’s anyway.

Although I’m not about to go all gooey and proclaim NZ the capital of all that is awesome, because I’m fully aware that for any given thing you care to mention someone, somewhere will do it better. The Italian’s have better food, the Swiss better scenery, the American’s better entertainment, the British a better health service; the list could go on for ever.

But crucially, there is absolutely nothing that we do badly. Our beaches are great, our cities cool, the mountains of the Southern Alps are stunning, the people are friendly and if we’re being brutally honest, the wages aren’t at sweat shop levels either. Sure there may be politicians and newspaper editors trying to cause ructions by playing to the financial avarice inherent in all of us, but take every last thing into consideration and you’ll realise that while the base salaries may not be the flashest, the whole package is nigh on unbeatable.

And the good news is that most people seem to realise it too – they must do, because the Mazda MX-5 continues to sell for Africa.

Much like Kiwi salaries, the figures associated with the MX-5 are not much to write home about. While the days of the asthmatic 1.6 variant have gone, there are still plenty of family cars that will make it look rather foolish in a straight line and there isn’t a neighbour in the world who will get badge envy over one of Fuchú’s finest.

......or consider an alternative package?

I’m not going to pretend that the styling overly excites me either. Yes, the MK 1’s Lotus Elan inspired looks had a certain olde worlde charm, but subsequent revisions certainly haven’t been what you would call head turners.

But crucially, neither of the above things are a let down. Performance is brisk and there’s certainly nothing offensive about the little Mazda from whichever angle you look at it. And the absolute best way to look at it is from behind the steering wheel, because when you get an MX-5 – any MX-5 – on a winding back road, it simply comes alive.

Encased in the snug cockpit, slung low to the ground and with the wind in your hair the sensation of speed belies the relatively tame numbers on the dials in front of you. Once into the bends the MX-5 clings to the tarmac more tightly than a Syrian President holds onto power; the thrill of hard driving in one of these little beauties can rightly be compared with ostensibly more sporting cars costing several times as much.

And best of all when the fun is over, the MX-5 becomes a normal car again. Unlike traditional roadsters the roof doesn’t leak, with the hard top up the boot offers ample room for shopping or travel bags and it has developed an enviable reputation for reliability and longevity.

It’s little wonder that with 20 years production and over 900,000 examples behind it, the MX-5 is the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car in history. For my money it could lay a claim to being one of the great cars of all time and I could go on for hours telling you over and over how wonderful it is.

But that would be a waste of words and I wouldn’t want to make Jack any grumpier.

German team travels across Australia in wind powered car (+video)

February 25th, 2011 by Darren Cottingham

For semi-crazed cutting edge engineering you just can’t beat the Germans. If something is in any way possible a German inventor will find a way to make it a reality, in this case there are two of them. Eco travellers and ground breakers Stefan Simmerer and Dirk Gion have just broken three Guinness World Records in a wind turbine powered electric car.

How the hell is that possible? Well, it’s not easy but in essence uses the same tech as those big robotic windmills that now adorn farm hilltops around the globe. During there travels Simmerer and Gion would park the Wind Explorer car (that’s really is its name) and erect a compact and complex looking collapsible wind turbine. While they get some shut eye, this lightweight turbine generates enough energy to recharge the Wind Explorer’s batteries directly. This didn’t always get them quite enough energy for the day ahead, so in that case they used a large kite that can help move the small vehicle forward. Clearly no fossil fuels was required by the Wind Explorer.

Simmerer, Gion and the Wind Explorer recently completed a 4,800 kilometre, 18 day trek across Australia where they either broke or established three Guinness World Records: the first to cross the Great Southern Land in a wind powered car, the longest distance travelled in a 36 hour period and the most distance travelled overall in a wind powered car.

To see how it all worked check out the three videos below, where you can watch the wind turbine be erected, the use of the kite and the triumphant arrival in Sydney. Continue reading “German team travels across Australia in wind powered car (+video)” »

Australia to launch ‘cash for clunkers’ program

July 27th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Australia’s recently seated prime minister, Julia Gillard, is already making motions towards a ‘cash for clunkers’ where older vehicles are taken off the road to make way for newer cars. Other countries have implemented programs in recent years to simulate car sales and keep their domestic economies ticking. But for Gillard, the Australian program won’t be about stimulating car sales but rather about stimulating the Earth because Gillard wants to get about ten percent of Oz’s two million pre-1995 vehicles off the roads.

The mechanics of the program are largely the same as they were in the States, the new stipulation being that purchasers need to buy an “extra-efficient vehicle” like a Holden Cruze, Hyundai Getz or Toyota Camry Hybrid. The cash credit will be set at $AUS 2,000 and the program will require $AUS 394 million in funding and is scheduled to run from January 1, 2011 until December 31, 2014.

Click here to read a Car and SUV review of the new Toyota Hybrid Camry.

Skoda now on Australia

December 22nd, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

Skoda launch in Australia ad


Holden VR Commodore

December 21st, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

Introductory commercial for Holden Commodore VR series

Is the Australian car manufacturing industry doomed?

April 15th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

Holden Commodore SS Sportwagon rq

Is the Australian car manufacturing industry going to the dingoes? An industry analyst has predicted Holden will be the first to go, and that no amount of Australian government intervention will reverse the steep decline in new car sales coupled with the fact that Australian manufacturers lose money on every car they produce.

Holden has recently halved production at its South Australian plant from 600 to around 310. If Holden goes, so could Ford (another big victim of the credit crunch), and ultimately Toyota. But is it a correct assumption?

It certainly isn’t anything new – Car and SUV reported months ago that the bailouts from the US government would force Ford and GM to look at consolidating operations. But, Holden has a weapon: the Commodore. It is very successful in the Middle East, and America has adopted it in the form of the Pontiac G8. Ford America has not adopted the Falcon (which, arguably, is a slightly better car).

While we think that Holden and Ford (and perhaps Toyota) will be around for quite some time in Australia, here are some of the influencing factors so you can decide for yourself:
For

GM is too broke to develop a new rear-wheel-drive platform, so the Zeta platform that underpins the Camaro and Commodore could see active service for 10 years.

The global exposure to V8 Supercars will surely keep at least FPV and HSV in business, even if they become niche manufacturers.

Australians thrive on the competition between Ford and Holden. GM may retrench, but it would still need to badge its cars Holden to have credibility, or it will lose sales to other manufacturers

And therefore, branding: Ford has the advantage as there’s no difference in name between Ford overseas and Ford in Australia; Holden has a lot of brand equity in Oz – is would be expensive (and potentially damaging to its value) to just ditch Holden. And who would want to buy it?

Exchange rates will make European cars relatively more expensive than domestically produced cars
Against

Car sales have hit an 8-year low and there’s a glut of new cars and near-new cars on the market at knock-down prices.

Australian car manufacturers are losing money on cars they produce

China could pose a threat in terms of manufacturing capability – it pays its workers pitifully

US government bailouts may come with conditions to remove unprofitable centres – this might be especially true of GM which is teetering on declaring bankruptcy so it can restructure