Ford tackles fear of the dark

Ford night driving

A fear of the dark is a human phobia going back thousands of years, if experts can be believed, originating with our cave-dwelling ancestors who feared animal attacks after the sun set.

Not much has changed today – many people (of all ages) still feel that primeval fear when darkness falls, even if it usually concerns other people rather than sabre-toothed tigers. For some, that fear solidifies when they get behind the wheel, worrying about night blindness, hitting pedestrians or getting into an accident.

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Pothole alert

Potholes

Potholes are the driver’s bane – at best uncomfortable, at worst a recipe for a broken wheel or axle. In some parts of the country, roads have more potholes than smooth surface, as the local council either forgets their existence or simply flings a shovelful of gravel into the hole every couple of years.

And it’s not just a uniquely Irish problem. Bad road surfaces contribute to more than a third of all accidents every year across Europe, and in Britain local authorities receive a pothole damage-related claim every 17 minutes, with an average claim of €508.

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Return of the ST

77564_2017_fiesta_focus_st-line

Good news for fans of ordinary cars with a sporty twist – Ford Ireland has launched a new ST-Line range of models. Four versions have been launched as of today, offering boosted versions of the Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo and Kuga in dealerships across the country.

Alongside sports suspensions, better styling, ambient lighting, new alloys, sports seats, steering wheel and pedals, the ST range comes with a range of more powerful and efficient engines, ranging from the zippy 125hp 1.0L EcoBoost in the Fiesta ST to the 178hp 2.0TDCi available in the Kuga ST.

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Rebuilding a V8

Rebuilding an engine is no easy task. Even for the most dedicated petrolhead with a decent collection of tools, it’s a job best left to the professionals.

The good folks at Hagerty decided to rebuild the flathead V8 from their 1946 Ford pickup, and to show us exactly how it was done.

The six-minute video, comprising over 40,000 photographs kindly taken throughout the 100-hour project, charts the captivating rebuilding process, complete with complex machinery and plenty of elbow grease.

To be honest, we’re still not exactly sure as to how it was done, but you’ll find it hard to take your eyes off this.

Back on the Horse

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It’s an instantly recognisable car, beloved by millions of people the world over since it first launched in 1965. But why does the Mustang have such a firm grip on so many car lover’s hearts? Perhaps because it’s an iconic American symbol, generating a dream of an open road, tarmac stretching in front of you. Or because it’s the car from Bullitt, Gone in Sixty Seconds and even Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (although the latter doesn’t rank quite as high in the list of all time greats). Most of all, it represents affordable fun – fast, flash but yet still attainable for the ordinary petrolhead.

And the brand new model is nearly here. The epitome of old school American cool, the first ever right hand drive Ford Mustang is due to hit Irish shores in November. 2,000 of these Mustangs have already been sold in the UK, with the waiting list stretching until at least April 2016. Interestingly enough, most of the advance sales in the UK have been for the somewhat monstrous 415bhp 5.0L V8 engined-version (0-100km/h in a mere 4.8 seconds), its roughly 19mpg figures notwithstanding. It’s hard to see the same happening in Ireland, however; more than likely it’ll be the softer 2.3L EcoBoost version that will be purring around Irish roads.

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Return of the beast

The Focus RS is back!

In a YouTube teaser trailer, Ford Europe have informed the world that the RS Mk 3 will hit the roads on February 3 2015. It’s been a little while coming – the ordinary Mk 3 was launched in 2011, and we’ve been (somewhat) patiently waiting for the sportier version ever since.

The older RS Mk 1 was one of the truly fun hot hatches, over-engineered to such a degree that Ford lost £4,000 on sales of each mode, held its own against the rivals, was fairly cheap to buy and depreciates a lot slower. Powered by a turbocharged version of the 2.0L Zeta engine (which wasn’t too far off the WRC version), it had 212 horsepowers underneath the bright bonnet, with 70% of the original Focus parts upgraded or replaced, with production limited to 4,500. We still keep an eye out for a 2002-04 model in that fantastic shade of blue.

The Mk 2 was a step up, with the addition of an extra 88hp for even more oomph, and was described by Ford UK at the time as being “as close as you’ll come to driving a full-spec rally car.”

It’s expected the Mk 3 will be FWD, just like the other two, with another increase in power, likely around 330hp but perhaps higher. “To earn the RS badge, the vehicle has to be a no-compromise driver’s car that can deliver exceptional performance on the track when required while providing excellent every day driving,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development.

Ford hasn’t released any other details about this latest version, but as the teaser trailer hints, we can expect a car in the same spirit as its two predecessors – flash, loud, fast and required by law to travel sideways around bends.

Driven: The Game Changer? Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV

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There’s no doubt that we live in an age of motoring evolution, watching history unfold before our eyes. Hybrid and electric vehicles were once the butt of many motoring columnists’ jokes, discarded as a waste of time or, at their worst, as something which threatened the joy of true motoring. In a way it’s an ironic viewpoint, considering that electric cars have been around almost as long as their counterparts which rely on miniature explosions for propulsion. But they’re steadily gaining a foothold in the modern era, thanks in part to government schemes, the interest of early adopters and increasingly efficient technology.31

Nissan’s Leaf is an affordable electric car which has got a lot going for it in terms of comfort and ease of use, even if it isn’t the best looking vehicle on the market. Ford have an electric Focus which doesn’t look altogether different from the outside. Mitsubishi’s i-Miev might look a like a bug which has crashed into your windscreen at speed, but it’s a useful city car and isn’t all that bad to drive. Even BMW have got in on the act, with their luxury i3 and the electric sportscar, the i8. And eventually we’ll see Tesla’s beautifully crafted Model S reach European shores, looking for all the world like the offspring of a Jaguar and an Aston Martin. For the electric car enthusiast there’s quite the range of options, a list which continues to grow.

These vehicles have one thing in common – they’re all road cars, designed for smooth tarmac, urban (and rural) roads. And if you want to delve deeper, off road, via battery power? The options are limited. There’s Toyota’s RAV 4 EV, but that’s only sold in California. Porsche, meanwhile, have launched a hybrid Cayenne, although that is likely to be out of reach for the ordinary EV driver. You could always try to manoeuvre a BMW i3 around a muddy track, but you’re not likely to get very far. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug in hybrid electric vehicle) is another story, however.

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Tough times for Tesla

Tesla's global corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, California
Tesla’s global corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

New kid on the block Tesla has looked to cut out the middleman in American car sales by attempting to sell directly to its potential customers. US dealerships, predictably, aren’t too happy about this, and have filed suit across multiple states to avoid having to compete with the electric brand. Tesla has since been battling dealers and their friends in political places to allow them to sell their cars without having to set up a dealer network – at the moment, Tesla operates stores or galleries in 22 US states, though consumers can’t actually buy a Tesla car from these locations as they might from a conventional dealership.

Tesla insignia. Photo: Wikicommons/User Norio Nakayama.
Tesla insignia. Photo: Wikicommons/User Norio Nakayama.

There are arguments for and against direct sales. Dealerships in America, for example, are going with the argument that such a move would leave the poor, defenceless consumer at the mercy of the automaker, in the event of anything going wrong. Those in favour of Tesla selling directly to consumers take great glee in poking holes in such arguments. And you can’t really argue with them. Anybody who has bought a car knows that while there are some salespeople out there who are genuine these are, unfortunately, few and far between, and a great deal too many seem only interested in squeezing as much as they can out of your wallet before you leave. In a report published by the Consumer Federation of America in July 2013, complaints about car sales topped the top ten list of consumer complaints for the country in 2012; including misrepresentation in new/used car advertising, faulty repairs and the sale of ‘lemons’ i.e. cars which have only been found to be defective after they’ve been bought.

Tesla, meanwhile, maintains it wants nothing to do with the dealership model, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it views this system as a way of extracting more money from consumers, particularly in relation to servicing and maintenance. Secondly, it remains wary of the risk it might run in putting its new technology on sale beside conventional combustion engines. As Elon Musk said in a recent blog post: “The reason that we did not choose to do this is that the auto dealers have a fundamental conflict of interest between promoting gasoline cars, which constitute almost all their revenue, and electric cars, which constitute almost none. Moreover, it is much harder to sell a new technology car from a new company when people are so used to the old. Inevitably, they revert to selling what’s easy and it is game over for the new company.”

Tesla's Roadster, its first production vehicle. Copyright Tesla Motors.
Tesla’s Roadster, its first production vehicle. Copyright Tesla Motors.

It has to be said there’s a certain irony in such restrictions being placed on Tesla in what has been known as ‘the Land of the Free’, particularly as the US has long been a capitalist nation, with many politicians and commentators lauding the benefits of a free-market economy. Most recently, the state of New Jersey blocked the automaker from selling directly to the public, something which Tesla has vowed to fight. In early March, NJ Governor Chris Christie addressed a conservative convention saying: “We need to talk about the fact that we are for a free-market society that allows your effort and ingenuity to determine your success, not the cold, hard hand of the government,” a contradiction which has not gone unnoticed.

Dealers in Ohio have also been campaigning against Tesla’s expansion in their state, arguing that their prospects for success will be damaged if a line isn’t drawn between manufacturer and dealer. Basically speaking, dealerships in America are protected by laws dating back decades, which were brought in to protect auto dealers from the likes of Ford and General Motors from moving in and taking a slice of the profits. The only problem is that there aren’t any Tesla dealerships for them to hurt by selling directly to the public, yet they remain bound by those laws, or those which have since been updated.

One solution, according to the dealerships, is for Tesla to change their business plan, and adopt the third-party dealership route used by other car manufacturers. So why can’t Tesla simply do this?

Part of it has to do with simple arithmetic. The reason Tesla’s two models have come into being is a result of their development of a battery which could offer similar performance to fossil fuel-powered cars in the same class. Unfortunately, the lithium cell batteries are expensive, and add quite a lot to the cost of the car to the consumer, factoring in Tesla’s cut. Add in the cut for a third-party dealership and you’ve got a car which could be prohibitively expensive for a new technology. That may be alright for a BMW or Mercedes running on petrol or diesel, but Tesla’s battery-powered offering is still leaving consumers undecided. Tesla officials have also stressed the point that with a new technology the process would run much smoother with direct interaction between manufacturer and consumers.

A Tesla showroom in Tokyo. Photo: Wikicommons/User Harani0403.
A Tesla showroom in Tokyo. Photo: Wikicommons/User Harani0403.

And, in cases where the dealership sells more than one car, issues could arise around a mix of electric and fossil fuel vehicles – dealers may be less inclined to sell an electric car which would need a great deal less servicing when compared to a petrol/diesel car, as Musk referred to in his blog post.

This is a new technology, and Tesla will unsurprisingly do whatever they can to make sure it takes off, and to make sure that it doesn’t become another Fisker or Coda. Selling directly (and by doing so, eliminating the middlemen and a chunk of the price) is one way of doing it. In the future, the price of the batteries should decrease, thanks to Tesla’s upcoming investment in their ‘Gigafactory’ where the company will work with battery manufacturing partners to cut costs through creative manufacturing processes. The company expects that the cost per kWh will be reduced by 30 per cent by 2017, and the benefits to consumers from such reduced costs will only increase, something the auto industry is fully aware of.

Perhaps some compromise could be reached down the line, or perhaps the fighting will only get more fierce. While dealers are up in arms about Tesla selling selling to their customers with a brick-and-mortar shop, many perhaps don’t realise the fact that many people buying a Tesla are doing so online. It’s a simple process – you can choose your model, colour scheme, alloy wheels and a variety of optional extras when it comes to the trim or technology. Then it’s simply a matter of paying – through financing, leasing or simply buying outright. You’re given an estimated delivery date and your car added to the production queue, generally around the 2-3 month mark.

A Tesla Model S juicing up. Copyright Tesla Motors.
A Tesla Model S juicing up. Copyright Tesla Motors.

This mightn’t simply be some Tesla-hate by car dealerships across the US however – word is that dealerships are afraid that should Tesla be allowed to sell directly to the consumer, other auto manufacturers such as Ford and GM would seek to do the same, leaving their dealer network in a very uncomfortable place.

To get around this sticky issue proposed legislation in Arizona, one of the proposed sites for the Gigafactory, would allow only electric cars to be sold directly to the consumer. There is some light at the end of the legislative tunnel, however, highlighting that a career in politics doesn’t necessarily have to mean getting in bed with the big boys. In New Jersey, for example, a lawmaker has reacted to the state’s recent direct-selling ban by introducing legislation which would allow such activity – pointing out that sending consumers to a different state to buy electric cars isn’t exactly the smartest move for the state economy.

In any case, the dealership model is an outdated one, and one which many consumers are frustrated with, to varying degrees. The up-and-coming generation is one which wants to buy products with as little fuss as possible, and may simply turn to Tesla’s online stores and buy from there, avoiding dealerships altogether. Still, when it comes to cars, you really need to see them in person, to get a feel for them and whether they’re the right fit for you. In terms of a much more transparent process, direct selling on the part of the manufacturer is the logical next step, for Tesla at least. The dealership model has operated for the best part of a century, and though it doesn’t necessarily have to be abandoned wholesale, just because we’ve become used to something doesn’t make it the best and only option.

They’re watching you…speed

In an age of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and the revelation of just exactly how much the NSA knows about your cereal preferences, there’s little more that irks a great many people than the idea of somebody watching their every move.

Even if you never do anything interesting.
Even if you never do anything interesting. Disturbing, if anything.

For car enthusiasts, this can ring very true. Yes, there are many who love cars and drive them very carefully as a result. On the other hand, there are just as many who love their four-wheeled friends, and prove it by getting from A to B very quickly. For this particular branch, the comments of Jim Farley, Ford’s head of marketing and sales, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas recently, won’t have gone down too well.

“We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing,” he said, presumably while sitting down and arching an eyebrow, stroking a cat of some description.

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Here Comes the Sun

C-MAXSolarEnergi_03_HRWe here at Car Craic are avid fans of motoring technology, particularly those inventions which are undoubtedly cool (such as the force field system destined to render the windscreen wiper a thing of the past).

Ford’s new concept car – the C-Max Solar Energi – fits a little awkwardly into this genre, despite being an electric car. It is, however, an electric car with a bit of a twist. Ford has announced to the world its intent to develop an electric car which uses solar panels to harness the power of the almighty sun, which does pique the interest a little. Working with Georgia Institute of Technology and a firm from California called SunPower they’ve used a special lens, like a magnifying glass, which directs the sun’s rays onto the panels. This clever little device can also track the movements of the sun at all times, much like the NSA and your browsing history, so that the car can be charged at any time of day there is sunlight, instead of plugging it into a socket.

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