Thursday, 14 January 2010


Looks like Fiat Auto South Africa is reloading a salvo set to be fired upon a depressed market. Hopefully the load is not just fireworks but actually helps lift the spirits. Glancing through the plans I can already see one or three potential firecrackers which, if the market is as bad as they say, should do quite well.

The company’s two auto brands, Fiat and Alfa Romeo will give us a lot to smile about. Let’s see what’s in the pot.

The Panda range will receive a facelift in the form of a new front grille, headlights, side mirrors, wheels, exterior colours and interior trim. A new 1.2-litre engine with Fiat’s Duologic auto gearbox (MTA) appears. I suppose it’s a step up from the old 1.1-litre but personally I would have liked to see the 1.4-litre instead. Ah well. Expect to see it around February or March at the latest.

A new range-topping Punto Evo range arrives sometime around May or June. Power should come from the highly innovative 1.4 Multiair and a 1.4 Turbo (very good potential here).

By relaunching the sexy 500 between March and April Fiat essentially admits something went amiss with the initial Cinquecento introduction. I guess the market wasn’t really listening. Nevertheless this is to be fixed with a second attempt which (hopefully) comes with lower pricing.  This little number has everything going for it except the price and the engine. Again, that 1.4 Turbo is just what the doctor wants but sadly the 100kW Abarth model won’t make it in 2010. Then the roofless 500 C (cabriolet) comes into the scene. For those who live in traffic-infested Johannesburg a Duologic automatic transmission will also become available.

Across the yard Alfa Romeo is also preparing a few special treats for its growing fanbase as a celebration of 100 years of existence. The baby MiTo also acquires its own Multiair turbo engine with a basic 100kW and a 125kW model that could be badged a Quadrofoglio Verde. Should be landing during the second quarter.

One of Alfa’s proudest names Giulietta, is resurrected as an Audi A3 competitor. The Alfa Giulietta will come with two models, the same 1.4 Multiair Turbo worth 125kW and a 1.8 Turbo Multiair kicking out a funked-up 170kW. It won’t come later than October.

Lastly the marque is still considering whether to offer the 149kW 1750 TBi engine on its Brera and Spider cars. I say go for it, take on the mid-range German turbos!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


East London – Rural schools, in the far-flung regions of the Eastern Cape, will receive focused attention from officials of the Eastern Cape Department of Education as they set off today on an eight-day itinerary to monitor the school start-up phase. Referred to as the “forgotten people” by a respected columnist in a leading newspaper last week, some remote communities are virtually inaccessible due to the generally poor road conditions.

Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA), manufacturer of amongst others, the Mitsubishi Triton 4X2 bakkie, yesterday made available 12 of these ‘workhorses’ to the department for their school start-up programme. 

“This is the tenth year that the department has been enjoying the support of MBSA for this programme. These vehicles are also most suitable for our unpredictable weather conditions”, said Ms Nosipho Skenjana, chief director for institutional management development and governance (IMD&G) in the department.

As the province’s teachers and learners prepare to face yet another grueling year of schooling, the Mitsubishi bakkies will assist department officials to travel to schools in 23 remote districts to monitor the readiness and start-up processes for the 2010 academic year and identify areas of improvement for future attention.

Handing over the vehicles, MBSA executive director and vice-president responsible for human resources, Johann Evertse said, “The state of education in the Eastern Cape Province, where MBSA’s manufacturing plant is based, is of interest to the company in that it draws the majority of its workforce from the region. Therefore we feel that this is a very good opportunity for us to invest in our province and support our local government in its effort to improve the quality of learning and teaching at all remote schools.”

“This year’s provincial matric results shows stabilisation in the Eastern Cape. This is an encouraging sign. Generally-speaking the rural areas are the ones most affected by low pass rates, because of the high levels of poverty and a lack of infrastructure. Therefore the use of our vehicles during this initiative will ensure that some of the harder-to-reach rural villages in the province can be included in the programme,” said Evertse.

The initiative runs from 13 to 21 January, across the length and breadth of the second largest province in the country, at nearly 170 000 km2, and home to 15.7% of the country’s population.


MAHINDRA SAYS: Mahindra South Africa, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mahindra & Mahindra Limited, today launched its new multipurpose XYLO Panel Van.  With its spacious dimensions, the XYLO Panel Van offers class-leading cargo-carrying capacity at an affordable price. 

The launch of the Mahindra XYLO Panel Van follows close on the heels of the introduction of the XYLO MPV in South Africa in March 2009, and is the result of encouraging local demand for the vehicle.

“The XYLO Panel Van is the result of customer input and should be able to cater to the needs of both individuals and businesses who are looking for a mid-sized cargo carrier with good ground clearance, a low kerb weight and a robust CRDe engine,” said Ashok Thakur, Chief Executive of Mahindra South Africa.  “The vehicle offers the most space in its class and is available at a very affordable price.”

Based on the XYLO E2 platform, the XYLO Panel Van is powered by the proven 2.5-litre m-Eagle CRDe engine and delivers 83.5kW at 3 800rpm and 240Nm between 1 800 and 3000 rpm. 

The engine offers good all-round drivability with improved features to reduce maintenance costs and less downtime, and features dual pilot injections, hydraulic valve adjusters, an automatic belt tensioner and a recalibrated ECU.  Mahindra’s XYLO Panel Van is linked to a five-speed manual gearbox which plays a key role in the engine’s enhanced performance.  In addition, the XYLO returns a good average fuel economy, a big advantage for any business.

The interior of the XYLO is all about space, comfort and convenience, ensuring a roomy and pleasurable ride for all occupants. 

The cargo area is separated from the driver and passenger by a protective wire mesh with frame – keeping the load safely at bay.  The added convenience of air-conditioning keeps the occupants cool and comfortable. 

The driver’s seat is ergonomically designed with height adjustment control to maximise comfort for tall drivers, and a tiltable steering wheel gives drivers the opportunity to find that perfect driving position.

Utility spaces abound in the XYLO with a well defined centre console with ample space for loose items. The XYLO Panel Van also has a lockable storage tray under the driver’s seat. 

The XYLO E2 Panel Van also has power steering, HVAC, an electrically-operated fuel lid opener, an immobiliser and electric windows. 

The dynamic-looking Mahindra XYLO measures 1 895 mm in height, 4 520mm in length and is 1 850mm in width and has a turning radius of 5.4m, making it as easy as a sedan to manoeuvre in and out of parking spaces. 

The XYLO has a ground clearance of 186 mm, allowing easy entry and exit out of the vehicle. 

Hours of testing and development has resulted in a stiffer chassis with reduced unsprung masses, providing a smoother ride.  Mahindra has also optimised the suspension with a multi-link coil spring system in the rear and independent coil springs in the front.  Gas shock absorbers with European-manufactured valves provide additional damping. 

Steering is well-weighted and provides enough feedback to allow for easy driving.  Braking is supplied by discs in the front and drums in the rear. 

Mahindra XYLO Pricing
 2.5 CRDe E2Panel Van (R164 900)


Former world rally champion Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz won their first stage on this year’s Dakar Rally when they took their diesel-engined Volkswagen Race Touareg to victory in special stage 10 on Tuesday.  Sainz, revelling in the world championship rally-type conditions of the 238-km stage between La Serena and Santiago in Chile, finished 28 seconds ahead of France’s Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret (BMW X3) and 1min 02sec in front of VW team-mates Mark Miller of America and South African Ralph Pitchford.

Sainz remains in the overall lead for the fifth day in a row, 10min 06sec ahead of team-mate Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and 28min 19sec quicker than Miller and Pitchford.  With just four of the rally’s 14 special stages remaining, all in Argentina, Volkswagen is looking good for an historic 1-2-3 finish.

Al-Attiyah was fourth on yesterday’s stage, while defending Dakar champions Giniel de Villiers of South Africa and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz were 11th after riding shotgun again for their front-running team-mates.  They remain seventh overall, 4h 46min 13sec in arrears.

Only 206 of the original 362 crews started stage 10, with 94 of 151 bikes, 68 of 134 cars, 35 of 52 trucks and 14 of 25 quads left in the race.

Stage 10, the final one in Chile, saw the competitors bid farewell to the Atacama Desert and undertake a more technical and undulating route on hard surfaces that wound through a landscape of mountains.  It was a tricky special stage, dotted with vegetation and cactuses.

“We were happy with third place today,” said Pitchford.  “Mark prefers the sandy desert stages to the world rally championship-type conditions we experienced today – fast, loose surfaces on hard roads with lots of corners and gear changes.  We had no problems.”

De Villiers thoroughly enjoyed the stage: "It had with many gravel sections which were great fun to drive. It's easy to explain our loss of time. At the start of the stage we waited until our team mate Mark Miller had overtaken us to be able to help if something happened. That was the first four minutes. A puncture cost us another two minutes. Afterwards we were stuck in the dust cloud kicked up by Peterhansel's BMW.”

Today’s stage (stage 11) from Santiago to San Juan in Argentina will cover 434 km and will take competitors out of Chile through the Paso Libertadores in the Andes at an altitude of 3 500 metres.  The special stage section is 220 km in Argentina and the first 50 km will be the only portion of the rally contested at high altitude and in the snow line.  Racing high in the Andes, the highest mountain range outside Asia and the world’s longest continental mountain range (extending 7 000 km over seven countries), the surviving crews will catch a glimpse of its highest peak, Aconcagua, 6 859 m above sea level.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


Honda’s compact coupe, the CR-Z, is out to prove that driving enjoyment doesn’t have to come at a heavy cost at the fuel pumps. The car has a hybrid system with a small four-cylinder engine but gives it a twist, thanks to a 6-speed manual gearbox. Apparently it’s the first time a hybrid has been mated to a manual tranny.

In conjunction with the IMA hybrid system a 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine sits up front. The system output is 91kW and 174Nm of torque. Honda says the torque curve is so flat that twist is accessible from as early as 1500rpm. C02 emissions are 117g/km.

A new 3-Mode Driving System adjusts the responses of the throttle, steering, idle stop timing, climate control and the level of assistance provided by the IMA system. What it does is to allow the driver to choose if he wants performance, fuel economy or a combination of the two, a sort of middle ground.

Some of the design elements include daytime running lights with 8 LEDs (European spec), a two-level construction dashboard, and rear seats that can be completely flattened.

It is quite safe to assume the Honda CR-Z hybrid will go into production soon, perhaps as soon as late 2010. South Africa could even see very limited numbers being brought into the country.


RENAULT SAYS: Renault South Africa outperformed the market during the most depressed passenger car (PC) market in seven years improving its sales by 70%. With a 3.1% share of the market - more than double that of 2008 - the French marque recorded its best result since 2006.

“In December 2009, for the fourth consecutive month, Renault achieved in excess of a 4% share of the market,” says RĂ©gis Fricotte, Vice President of Marketing at Renault South Africa. “In fact, our consistent performance throughout the year resulted in Renault being the winner in terms of the biggest overall increase in PC market share. 

“Since launching in March 2009, Sandero continued to improve its performance and in December, led the field in its market segment for the first time,” he adds. Sandero is the first Renault to be manufactured locally in the past three decades and clearly underscores Renault’s long-term commitment to be a leading player in South Africa’s automotive arena.

“Despite 2009 proving to be the worst market in the past seven years - down 24% on 2008 and almost 50% on 2007 - the Renault brand showed its resilience,” he adds. “The economy is beginning to show tentative signs of recovery and this - together with Renault’s completely renewed and integrated product - gives us representation across the segments of the PC market making us confident of continued growth in 2010.”


Nasser Al Attiyah won his third stage on the 2010 Dakar Rally on Monday and led home another Volkswagen 1-2-3 between Copiapo and La Serena in Chile.

The Qatari and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk finished 5m 59s ahead of Spanish team-mates Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz and 7m 38s in front of South African Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz.

First of the non-VWs was the BMW X3 of Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit and Swede Tina Thorner, who were fourth and 10m 13s behind Al Attiyah. American Mark Miller and his South African co-driver Ralph Pitchford finished fifth, 10m 48s behind team-mates Sainz and Cruz and 6m 38s ahead of the French pairing of Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret (BMW X3).

Volkswagen Race Touaregs still occupy the first three places overall with Sainz in the overall lead with five special stages remaining, 8m 36s ahead of Al-Attiyah and 27m 17s clear of Miller and Pitchford. Peterhansel and Cottret (BMW X3) are fourth, 2h 28m 27s behind Sainz and 1h 46m 35s behind Miller.
Defending champions De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz improved another two places to seventh overall, 4h 36m 28s behind team-mate Sainz.

Today’s special stage was reduced from 338km to 170km and the start was delayed from 07.15 to 11.00 as a result of heavy fog in the Copiapo area. The stage was made up almost entirely of the sand dunes around Copiapo. A total of 211 crews out of 362 starters lined up for today’s stage, with 94 bikes out of 151, 68 cars from 134, 35 trucks from 52 and 14 quads out of 25 remaining in the race.

“We battled with the navigation a bit today and dropped 10 minutes to Nasser,” said Pitchford. “There are only five stages remaining, but as we know on the Dakar every day has its own challenges and it’s never over until you reach the podium in Buenos Aires. We’re definitely not settling for third place just yet.”
De Villiers commented: “We had another good run today and, although we’re not risking too much, we’re still pushing to try and improve our overall position. However, our goal is to finish and be around if any of our team-mates needs our assistance.”

Special stage 10 on Tuesday it’s a 238-km journey from La Serena to Santiago, the capital city of Chile. It is the last day in the Atacama desert before the rally crosses back into Argentina on Wednesday with a 3 500-metres high traverse of the Paso Libertadores through the Andes mountains.

Monday, 11 January 2010


The hatchback market is set for another colossal battle as Ford prepares to unveil the all-new Focus at the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit later this month. Both sedan and hatch models will be on show.

According to spokesmen of the Blue Oval, the new Focus is of a much higher quality than the outgoing one, with special focus on things like gaps, interior materials and general trim feel.

“The new Ford Focus is a clear demonstration that our ONE Ford strategy is providing global consumers with great products that harness the best of Ford Motor Company,” said Ford CEO Alan Mulally. “The efficiencies generated by our new global C-car platform will enable us to provide Ford Focus customers with an affordable product offering quality, fuel efficiency, safety and technology beyond their expectations.”

Engines will be vast as always, including a new 2.0-litre petrol motor that’s more powerful than its predecessor. I expect turbos to come into play to match rivals from Fiat and Volkswagen. The new 6-speed double-clutch is to be offered in some markets, but there’s no surety on its SA availability yet. Also, although not mentioned in the press release, an ST is a certainty, although we can only speculate at how much power it will have. A figure of about 190kW seems quite reasonable and attainable to me.

Interior features will include things like Bluetooth connectivity, an 8-inch touch screen on some models, satellite navigation (on some models) and a rear parking camera (again, on certain versions). Ford South Africa currently has no factory satellite solution in their cars but that could very well change with the new Focus, or even before that.

“We believe the new Ford Focus will provide consumers with an unmatched driving experience, together with an unrivaled ownership experience,” said Jim Farley, Ford group vice president, Global Marketing. “The Focus brand always has been very special to Ford, and this new global model shows our commitment to developing another generation of exciting and appealing cars.”

South Africa will be one of the last countries to receive the car following initial debuts in the US and Europe.


Defending Dakar Rally champion Giniel de Villiers was in top form on the eighth stage of this year’s edition of the world’s toughest motor race. Giniel led the 472-km sprint from Antofagasta to Copiapo in Chile until stopped by two successive punctures on his Volkswagen Race Touareg within the last seven kilometres. The South African and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz eventually had to settle for fourth place, 4min 01sec behind stage winners Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret of France (BMW X3). De Villiers, whose hopes of a second successive Dakar victory were dashed when he lost over two hours on stage three on Monday with electrical problems, is now on position ninth overall.

VW team-mates Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz of Spain continue to lead the race overall after finishing second on Sunday, 45sec behind the BMW driver. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Timo Gottschalk of Germany are still second overall in their 300 bhp Touareg after completing the stage in fifth place, but have now dropped back to 14min 35sec behind the Spanish pairing. American Mark Miller and South Africa’s Ralph Pitchford kept it a VW 1-2-3 in the overall standings with third place, after finishing stage eight 1min 07sec behind Peterhansel.

The Frenchman, winner of three Dakars in a car and six on bikes, moved up a place to fourth overall at the expense of team-mates Guerlain Chicherit of France and Swede Tina Thorner (BMW X3), but is a distant 1h 35m 57s behind Miller.

Stage eight followed a rest day at Antofagasta on the Pacific coastline of Chile, which provided some of the competitors with welcome relief from the gruelling battle with the elements. Others straggled in to the bivouac throughout the day, with 32 cars still out on the stage at midnight on Friday. Sunday’s stage, which marked the start of the second half of the 9 000-km race, was the penultimate one in the Atacama desert and was described by Pitchford, the 2009 SA rally champion co-driver, as very hard with lots of rocks. All four Volkswagens suffered two punctures each.

"That was by far the most picturesque and difficult stage of the 2010 Dakar Rally so far,” commented De Villiers. “Fields of scree, canyons and at the end plenty of sand and of course many changes in rhythm between fast and slow sections – this is exactly how Dakar stages must be made. Unfortunately Lady Luck has deserted us during this rally. We could have won today's stage but two punctures put paid to this. With a little more luck our slow puncture, which had already held several hundreds of kilometres, would not have needed changing only 30 kilometres before the finish.”
“We know that we cannot win as we are too far behind now. We are aiming to finish in the top 5, and plan to support the team as much as we can. We are carrying a lot of spares (spare turbo, wishbones, driveshafts) for our team mates and have essentially become the quick assistance team. We are going to do our best to ensure a VW 1-2-3 podium finish.”

Today’s 338-km stage from Copiapo to La Serena is the last one in the Atacama desert before heading south to Santiago and then Wednesday’s crossing over the Andes mountains and back into Argentina.


Is Peugeot going after the BMW 6 Series? From the look of this new concept car is sure looks that way. The SR1 Concept car is a two-door coupe designed to be a 2+1-seater, meaning two passengers up front and one at the rear, sitting in the middle behind the other occupants.

Peugeot has also used the new Lion badge on the bonnet, used sculptured lines, a low centre of gravity and LED headlights. Materials used inside include wood, leather, nickel and satin-finished chrome.

HYbrid4 technology is the source of power and it is made up of a 1.6-litre THP engine (same as the one in the 308 CC) making 160kW and an electric motor with 70kW. They say the SR1 is capable of a returning 4.9 litres per 100km of fuel while emitting 119g/km.

Unfortunately the car will not debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this month, but will make us all wait for March in Geneva.


JEEP SAYS: Further expanding the iconic Wrangler brand’s reach, Jeep delivers another high-impact, limited-edition model with the Jeep Wrangler Mountain edition.

The Jeep Wrangler Mountain edition is based on the Wrangler Sport S package, and is available in Wrangler Unlimited 4x4 models.

Exterior features include a unique “Mountain” decal on the hood with latitude and longitude coordinates that represent an actual location relating to the “Mountain” theme of the vehicle; grill and bumper appliques;  tabular side steps; 32-inch tyres; black tail lamp guards and a fuel-filler door from Mopar.

Available exterior colours include Rescue Green Metallic Clear Coat, Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl Coat and Deep Water Blue Pearl Coat.

Interior features include an embossed seat insert with embroidered “Mountain logo”, and anodized graphite heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) rings.

The Jeep Wrangler Mountain option package will be available in South Africa. 


HONDA SAYS: Honda South Africa has added a 1.8 i-VTE C VXi automatic-transmission model to its five-door Civic Hatchback range. At the same time, the range has also undergone a series of subtle visual updates also equipped with a number of unique features to further enhance its appeal.

These include a standard iPod USB connection and an auxiliary input socket for other MP3 and music players. The sound system is also equipped with six loudspeakers.
Rain-sensing automatic windscreen wipers have been included in the package as standard, as have automatically actuated headlights. An auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a tyre deflation warning system, and rear parking sensors are standard, too.

Further, the extras include an impact-sensing door unlocking system, and a second 12-volt power socket in the console box.

Exterior changes comprise a revised front grille, redesigned front bumper, and a new light cluster integrated into the rear spoiler. The handsome hatchback runs on new 17-inch alloy wheels, shod with 225/45 R17 tyres.

The advent of the upgraded Civic 1.8 i-VTEC Five-Door Hatchback range also marks the availability of a new, striking colour: Premium White Pearl. The new hue will add further lustre and appeal to this latest five-door Civic.

The special white colour is joined by Deep Sapphire Blue Pearl, Urban Titanium Metallic, and Crystal Black Pearl. Still on offer are Alabaster Silver Metallic, Polished Metal Metallic, and Milano Red.
Inside, the interior finishes feature a new gunmetal hue, while the upgrade model also includes the luxury of full leather upholstery, heated front seats, climate control, a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, and cruise control.

Front, side and curtain airbags are fitted as standard, while Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) is also included.
The automatic Civic hatch employs the same, advanced powerplant as the manual model. The sophisticated 1 799 cc four-cylinder unit is equipped with Honda’s i-VTEC ‘intelligent’, electronically controlled valve timing system, ensuring a perfect combination of power, performance and economic fuel consumption.

Credited with 103kW of maximum power and a 174 Nm torque peak, the fuel-injected engine propels the Civic Hatch 1.8 VXi Auto from zero to 100 km/h in only 8.9 seconds, and achieves a top speed of 205 km/h.

Combined-cycle fuel consumption is a frugal 7.2 litres/100 km, while the CO2 emissions rating comes to 172 g/km. The addition of an automatic gearbox derivative to the Civic 5-Door hatchback range comes in the wake of increasing demand for an automatic model in the highly competitive C-segment hatchback market.

“While that sector has always been dominated by manual-transmission models, there is a growing trend favouring the convenience and user-friendly operation of automatic models,” comments Honda SA sales and marketing director, Graham Eagle.
The decision to introduce an automatic gearbox version of the Civic was strengthened by the highly positive market response to the introduction of an automatic model in the new Honda Jazz range, he adds.

“To date, Honda has sold more auto-transmission models of the Jazz than all of its competitors combined, proving the increasing appeal of self-shifting models. We believe that adding an automatic model to our Civic hatchback range will greatly enhance its exposure against its rivals.”

The new Honda Civic 1.8 VXi Five-Door Hatch is offered with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, and is available from all authorised Honda dealers nationally. Retail prices are R267 900 and R279 900 for the manual and auto versions respectively.

A three-year/100 000 km warranty is standard, as well as a five-year/90 000 km service plan. Service intervals are every 15 000 km.