Friday, 10 April 2009


The next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee was launched at 2009 New York Auto Show. The grand Jeep is based on the Mercedes-Benz ML platform thanks to the fact that it was developed when Jeep and Merc were still part of the DaimlerChrysler company.

Engines presented are a 3.6-litre V6 209kW (280hp) and 353Nm baseline motor and a 5.7-litre HEMI worth 268kW (360hp) and 520Nm of torque.

The car features Jeep’s legendary all-wheel-drive Quadra system with a new Selec-Terrain system. Selec-Terrain offers modes for mud, sand, snow, rock, sport and auto driving.

Exterior looks have changed and the car looks smoother than the current one. It features a smaller front grille with smaller headlights and foglights. Overall length has been increased by 13.5cm and the wheelbase is some 291.6cm longer.

Improvements have been made to the interior as well which now has a more upmarket feel to it, although the silver plastics are still el cheapo compared to other premium SUVs. A new panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, keyless go, a rear view camera and Jeep’s awesome myGIG infotainment system are part of the package.


The VW Scirocco is back. VWSA introduced the two-door 4-seater (it has four individual seats, two front two rear) car to motoring media in sunny KwaZulu Natal where it was given the chance to strut its stuff under different driving conditions. “Scirocco” by the way, is pronounced “she-rogo” with the “g” said in the seTswana/ Afrikaans way. The word itself is the name of a wind that blows in the Sahara desert through the Mediterranean, northern Africa and southern Europe.

Although the car is available in other markets as a 2.0-litre TDI, Mzansi will only get three petrol derivatives; a 1.4-litre TSI (118kW), 2.0-litre TSI 6-speed manual and a 2.0-litre TSI 6-speed DSG with paddleshifts behind the steering wheel. The sound it makes when changing gears up or down is one that induces feelings of immense pleasure for the driver, thus begging him to push a little more. For now only the DSG is available for sale and damn does it deliver.

The engine is essentially different in componentry and design from the current GTI’s although it makes the exact amount of power which is 147kW at 5100rpm and maximum torque of 280Nm between 1700 and 5000rpm. VW says it will do the 0 – 100km/h time in 7.1 seconds which is 0.2 seconds more than what was claimed for the 3-door GTI when it was launched 3 years ago. I wasn’t able to test this claim myself but there’s very little reason to doubt it.

Perhaps more important than the 0 – 100km/h time is the handling. It’s always a challenge making a front-wheel-driven car handle as well as a rear-wheeler. VW have done a commendable job in allowing the Scirocco a lot of the properties afforded to a RWD such as the ability to lose the back a bit when traction control is switched off. Some call this the fun factor. There’s no shortage of that in the Scirocco.

This car is not merely a Golf with two less doors, it’s a proper sports car with a modified suspension system with altered springs and dampers to accommodate its lower stance. It actually sits on a wider track than a Golf and you can see it.

In standard form it is fitted with 17-inch alloys with tyres sizes of 225/45. The front grille features the VW family’s new “smile” design on the upper level while the lower part has honeycomb styling. The rear end follows on this simplistic look by providing very clean lines, a roof spoiler, two exhaust pipes and 3D lights. Other standard features include a leather-covered sports steering wheel, climate control and power windows. Options include bi-xenon lights, a panoramic sunroof and a Dynaudio 300W sound system. The highest-spec version will feature a 30GB hard drive with satellite navigation.

VW is launching the new Golf 6 range and the new 155kW GTI in Mzansi within the next few months and it will be interesting to watch how they price the GTI in relation to the Scirocco. For the latter has similar amounts of power, sits one less person, carries almost as much luggage in the boot but is more sporting.

Scirocco is not a new name in the VW family. The first Scirocco was launched in 1974 as a two-door coupe for people who were looking for good driving fun but could not afford a Porsche 911. It went on the sell over 790 000 units by the year 1992 under three different generations.

That same philosophy still applies today when you consider what you get for the price. It may not outgun a 911 but it is undoubtedly a lot of laughs to drive. Rumours say an R20 T version making 195kW is on the horizon.

Volkswagen Scirocco pricing:

1.4TSI (second quarter 2009)

R282 000

2.0-litre TSI 6-speed manual (second quarter 2009)

R322 000

2.0-litre TSI 6-speed DSG (immediate)

R336 500

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


CHRYSLER SAYS: Chrysler LLC today announced one of its strategic partners and production battery supplier for the company’s first production electric vehicles. Chrysler LLC and A123Systems have signed an agreement for the supply of energy storage systems for Chrysler’s first-generation ENVI Range-extended Electric Vehicles and battery only Electric Vehicles. A123Systems is an American battery supplier with plans for a Michigan-based production facility.

The heart of ENVI’s battery system is a scalable battery module, as demonstrated in ENVI’s five electric-drive vehicles showcased at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The five vehicles included the Dodge Circuit EV, Jeep Wrangler EV, Jeep Patriot EV, Chrysler Town & Country EV and the Chrysler 200C EV concept. At the reveal, Chrysler announced its intention to bring the company’s first production electric vehicle to market in 2010.

Individual lithium-ion prismatic cells are integrated with a proprietary battery management safety system to create an efficient and flexible energy storage solution.

This strategy is integrated in all of Chrysler’s upcoming electric-drive vehicles, helping increase production volumes of the shared battery cell and shared battery module. Chrysler’s approach reduces development time, investment, and overall battery system cost by combining the economics of high-volume component sharing without sacrificing the battery pack flexibility needed to develop a wide range of customer-driven electric-drive vehicles.
A123Systems advanced lithium-ion battery chemistry has the capability of meeting consumer demands for performance, driving range, and durability. A123Systems is currently planning a site in Michigan where it will manufacture Nanophosphate Lithium ion prismatic battery cells, modules, and battery packs for Chrysler LLC.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


A quick glance at automobile prices reveals that most manufacturers have steadily been increasing their asking prices over the past two months or so. Their reaction to a depressed market seems to be universal: just raise prices! Each month it seems we are faced with price hikes.

Questions have been asked about how it is that a car like the Golf GTI for example, which was launched in April 2005 at a price of R240 000, now comes in at throat-choking R313 000 standard with the 6-speed manual. The DSG version will set you back R327 500 without sweet features like satellite navigation and sunroof. At the height of its success VW was moving about 250 new GTIs off the showroom floors every month.

Strangely the new Volkswagen prices reflect that the 110kW baby Polo GTI costs R241 000 brand new, only R1 000 less than the Golf GTI three years ago. Even more peculiar is that the bigger Jettas cost less than their equivalent Golfs. For example the Jetta 2.0TFSI with the same 147kW GTI engine retails at a highly significant R11 000 less than the hatchback GTI!

At a time when people clearly cannot afford to buy new cars (the market is down some 30% year-on-year again for the month of March) how can a big automaker such as VW make a mockery of the recession?

According to the General Manager of Communications at VW Bill Stephens, the 26% depreciation of the Rand to the euro in the last year is the main culprit for these latest increases.

“This has forced us to take pricing moves at a time when it is certainly not in the consumers’ best interest. The alternative is a situation where the more cars we sell, the more money we lose!” says Stephens.

Being a mass producer of cars unlike Lamborghini which only has to sell a few hundred cars a year to survive, how will VWSA continue to stay in business after hiking prices to such levels? Well over 900 workers have already been laid off/ retrenched by the company since December 2008. Production has also been cut at its Uitenhage plant.

“Bear in mind that despite our export contracts, we remain net importers,” stated Stephens, “hence Volkswagen’s drive to localise the manufacture of components from current local content levels of approx 40% to levels of at least 70% - this is critical to the viability of the OE Manufacturing industry in the med to long term.”

I’ve always wondered if the consumer’s sometimes-excessive demands on the motor industry (I want a more powerful lightweight car with LED lights, electric sunroof, ABS, parking sensors...) has been the reason for cars being priced so high. Or is it price of the base commodities which are used to build them like steel and platinum? Or maybe it’s the automakers themselves who are always trying to extract more and more profits from the exact same cars, year after year?

Whatever the case may be it doesn’t seem like the situation is going to get better any time soon. According to industry sources, only 3 out of 10 South Africans who apply for new vehicle financing will get it.

At the end of April the brand new Golf 6 will be launched in South Africa. You can bet your last vote that its introductory price will be higher than the current car's which is R217 000 for the 1.6-litre Trendline.