Infiniti arrives in Northern Ireland as new outlet opens in Belfast

Infiniti arrives in Northern Ireland as new outlet opens in Belfast

INFINITI opened its first retail store in Northern Ireland today.

The opening of the new centre – in Belfast – demonstrates the continuous growth of the brand in the UK and across Europe.

The introduction of Infiniti Centre Belfast brings with it a new partner to the brand: Mervyn Stewart Ltd, which is investing in an all-new site in Boucher Crescent.

Stephen Stewart

Stephen Stewart

The family-run business, which has been operating in Northern Ireland for more than 50 years, will design the premises to tie in with Infiniti’s customer experience standards known as IREDI – Infiniti’s Retail Environment Design Initiative.

The new site is expected to be completed in early 2017 but will initially operate from one of Infiniti’s unique temporary retail sales environments, specifically designed to accommodate a development phase.

Managing director Stephen Stewart from Mervyn Stewart Limited said: ‘We are very pleased to introduce the premium brand of Infiniti to Northern Ireland.

‘I am sure our customers will enjoy not only the exciting range of products on offer but also the environment and experience we will provide.’

Since the introduction of the British-built Q30 earlier this year and the more recent QX30, Infiniti’s new car registrations in the UK have been dramatically increasing month-on-month. Sales so far in 2016 have increased by nearly 150 per cent.

Barry Beeston, regional director for Infiniti in the UK, said: ‘Infiniti is now well on its way to establishing itself within the UK automotive industry as a challenger brand.

‘Increased sales have placed the company as one of the fastest growing automotive brands in the UK. Expansion of the centre network is an important part of our growth strategy and the opening of Infiniti Centre Belfast allows our brand reach to go further than ever before.’

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Galway researchers in push to make autonomous cars safer

Dr Edward Jones and Dr Martin Glavin, of the Connaught Automotive Research, with Liam Kilmartin, college of engineering and informatics, NUI Galway and Valeo’s automated parking R&D director Derek Savage: the groups have teamed up to develop technology to make self-driving vehicles safer

Dr Edward Jones and Dr Martin Glavin, of the Connaught Automotive Research, with Liam Kilmartin, college of engineering and informatics, NUI Galway and Valeo’s automated parking R&D director Derek Savage: the groups have teamed up to develop technology to make self-driving vehicles safer

Researchers at NUI Galway have teamed up with motor parts group Valeo Vision Systems to develop technology to make self-driving vehicles safer.

The Connaught Automotive Research (CAR) Group, which is based on the university’s campus, is researching the development of intelligent signal processing algorithms to aid the automatic detection of pedestrians and other vehicles using cameras and other sensors.

The objective is to provide advance warning of hazards on the road and give vehicles more time to avoid a collision. Technology like this is already making its way into production and is expected to be an important feature of self-driving vehicles in the future.

Dr Edward Jones and Dr Martin Glavin, joint directors of the CAR Group recently presented their work in this area to the European Road Transport Research Advisory Committee, which is seeking to develop a common Europe-wide technology transportation platform.

The team has been collaborating with Valeo, which is one of the world’s biggest motor parts suppliers for the last 17 years. The Tuam-based firm started life as Connaught Electronics before being bought by the French-owned vision systems multinational Valeo in 2007. The company, which employs 1,200 people in Ireland, is a specialist in automotive multi-camera systems that offer advanced monitoring options for motorists such as surround view.

“A particular strength of the CAR Group is signal and image processing for a range of applications. Automotive systems is one area of focus and with the work we’re doing with Valeo we are taking information from cameras and extracting useful data from them, such as information relating to other vehicles and pedestrians,” said Dr Jones.

“The benefit of doing this is to give advance warning to drivers of hazards that they might not spot themselves or potentially in the future to allow vehicles to behave more autonomously,” he added.

Dr Jones said it was “inevitable” that such technology would make its way into vehicles and was already on its way to becoming commonplace.

“Once upon a time it was only so-called high-end vehicles that would have advanced system driving technology but it is now more available generally. The technology is becoming increasingly popular and will, over time, also become more autonomous,” he said.

“There are still a lot of things to be done before such systems are in every vehicle because the technology aspect is only one element of it all. There are wider issues to contend with such as social acceptance of autonomous vehicles as well as issues surrounding insurance, infrastructure and so on, but we’re definitely moving in that direction,” he added.

His colleague, Dr Glavin said the group has jointly filed a number of patents with Valeo arising from the collaboration over the last few years.

“Our work is being translated into real products and it is being seen to be of value to the automotive industry,” he said.

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Automotive retail is simple: go digital or go bust

It’s time for OEMs to catch up with the financial services and retail sectors, and make online channels work harder – for themselves and their customers, writes Foolproof’s Executive Director, Peter Ballard

The automotive industry has finally embraced the digital experience, and most brands have either launched, or are about to announce, the ability to buy new cars online. But in the race to attract online buyers, it’s crucial to not leave customers out in the cold.

The problem for consumers is that although OEMs may have ‘gone digital’, few have re-engineered the shopping journey to address the many pain points customers encounter when trying to make purchase decisions about their next car.

The issues for consumers do not relate to showroom stock, or fulfilment of online orders; they lie in the lack of support during the buying decision itself, when the majority of customers still do not feel sufficiently in control of the choices and options that manufacturers present in the car buying process.

A recent survey by Auto Trader, a UK-based digital automotive marketplace, found that the majority of consumers, 99% in fact, said they were unhappy with the current car buying process.

Clearly, consumers are more than ready for a change in approach.

Last year’s JD Power survey revealed that millennials accounted for over a quarter of new car buyers in 2015, and this number is set to rise dramatically over the coming years. Millennial buyers have grown up with digital, and bring with them the highest level of expectations for the digital experience, and a preference for subscription-based ownership models.

The automotive industry must take note of established digital practices that are now mature and commonplace in the financial services and retail sectors

Manufacturers that aim to get channels right for this user group will have the best chance of future-proofing their platforms for customers going forward.

Insight generated by Foolproof observing car buyers has highlighted that browsing online and visiting a dealer are not binary choices – consumers expect to do both during their decision-making process. Many even look forward to a trip to the dealer, and make an occasion of it, because they enjoy getting an up close, physical experience of the cars, before making a final choice.

Crucially, what most manufacturers continue to miss is the joining up of the online and offline experiences. Today, too much responsibility for that falls on the customer, asking them to bridge the gap between a website and the dealer.

Customers want to feel in control of the car buying process, and it is here that manufacturers should help them with their research online, empowering them to feel more confident when interacting with a dealer.

A case in point here is Suzuki, a vehicle manufacturer which has taken this knowledge to the heart of its digital strategy. The brand has recently re-launched its UK website to improve the experience customers have with the brand online, and in the transition from digital to the dealership. The OEM understood that customers needed an online experience that would help them make better decisions about the type and grade of car that they wanted to buy, before reaching out to a dealer.

Browsing online and visiting a dealer are not binary choices – consumers expect to do both during their decision-making process

The new Suzuki website works for multiple users, supporting the varying needs of three different potential customer profiles. The first is the buyer who relies primarily on the dealership experience, and appreciates seeing and touching the car, and talking to someone about it; the second, the online shopper, believes the Internet, not the dealer, should provide all of the information to keep them in control of the decision-making process; the third is the multi-focused shopper who likes to mix dealers’ views with independent sources.

Make better decisions faster

Better decision-making for each of these groups lies at the heart of the relaunched Suzuki website. The newly designed site helps customers narrow down their choices to find the car that is right for their needs more quickly, and with more confidence, than before.

During research, customers told Foolproof researchers that they found it difficult to understand the value of buying a more expensive version of their chosen car, when online. Most car websites provide this information over multiple pages, or long feature lists, complicating what should be a clear and easy comparison process. Suzuki has cleverly implemented a side-by-side comparison feature that visually differentiates which key features become available, as the price increases.

It has become clear that overly-complicated car configurators are a major turn off-for many customers. For this reason, the decision to simplify this function was the first part of the design challenge. Suzuki’s new ‘Send to Dealer’ button enables customers to easily send their choices to a local dealer, prior to booking a meeting or a test drive.

Manufacturers that aim to get channels right for millennials will have the best chance of future-proofing their platforms for customers going forward

Not only does this feature bridge the gap between customer and dealer, but it has also improved one of the more arduous tasks in buying a car, namely the test drive booking.

Many commentators have questioned whether the new showrooming approach, trialled by some manufactures in retail outlets, will be the death of the test drive. Auto Trader’s study, however, suggests that test-drives will continue to play an important role in the car buying process: “88% of consumers said they would not purchase a car without test-driving it first.”

However, 80% of consumers also said they would welcome a different test-drive experience from the traditional accompanied test-drive model that predominantly exists today.

In the future, we can expect the booking of a test drive to be as easy as making a restaurant reservation. Customers will be able to book a test drive through their chosen dealer, selecting date, time and model from an online diary.

The future of ownership

Automated scheduling and booking of test drives is one development that will hugely benefit dealers by reducing the amount of time it takes to make booking arrangements with customers. Piloting this new functionality, in addition to continually learning from this initial implementation, will allow manufacturers to pave the way for other future innovation that could use digital channels to streamline the online vehicle buying experience.

For example, car manufacturers are expected to develop more subscription models to help consumers ‘rent’ rather than ‘own’ their car. This will go beyond the traditional personal contract purchase and hire purchase arrangements, and could include monthly subscription fees giving access to a range of cars that customers can book in advance. Date night on Friday? Book the two-door sports model. Carpool to football training every other Wednesday? Book the spacious minivan. Planning a drive on country roads? Book the SUV.

And the winner is…

The automotive industry must take note of established digital practices that are now mature and commonplace in the financial services and retail sectors. These industries have long since discovered the value and importance of experience design, product design, and service design methodologies to help create frictionless, elegant, and truly engaging digital experiences for their customers. The top brands in these sectors understand that customer experience is the best way to differentiate and create a lasting competitive advantage.

Those automotive players that adopt the same principles, as they move in to this improved digital phase, are the ones that will take the lead over their competitors.

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Karma airs first TV commercial for Revero plug-in hybrid

Karma Automotive, of Costa Mesa, Calif., is owned by Chinese automotive supplier Wanxiang Group.
Karma Automotive aired its first TV commercial on Sunday, ahead of the start of deliveries of the Chinese-owned automaker’s $130,000 Revero car this month.

A Karma spokeswoman said she didn’t have a definitive date on when deliveries of the plug-in hybrid Revero will begin, but she said it “most likely” will be the second half of May. She couldn’t specify how many vehicles will be delivered, only that a “very low volume” will be sold in 2017, so “not many” will be delivered this month.

Karma, formerly known as Fisker Automotive Inc., previously said it will sell through independent dealerships and company-owned “brand-experience centers.” Karma has eight U.S. sales and service dealerships: one each in Illinois, Texas, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania and California and two in Florida.

The 30-second TV spot, called “Delivery,” aired on CBS during the 2017 U.S. Open Polo Championship, for which Karma is a sponsor. The commercial featured Revero deliveries to waterfront mansions in Florida and California.

“The spot marks the rebirth of one of the most honored silhouettes in automotive history,” Karma Chief Revenue Officer Jim Taylor said in a statement. “We felt this moment in time deserved to be recognized.”

The Revero is Karma’s first model. It is priced at $130,000.

Karma Automotive, of Costa Mesa, Calif., is owned by Chinese automotive supplier Wanxiang Group.

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Small Sports Cars Will Save The Automotive Industry

Image: Mazda

Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: Entry-Level Sports Cars Are Hanging On In A Gloomy Car Market

April sales numbers aren’t looking good, causing the automotive press to officially declared the honeymoon (i.e. two years of record car sales) over. Let the The Detroit Free Press hit you with the doom-and-gloom you need early each morning:

It’s official. The red hot auto industry is finally cooling off after two consecutive years of record industry sales and seven consecutive years of annual sales increases.

You’ll find similar bleak sentiments on pretty much every car news website. But there is good news in all of this talk of the coming end-times, and that news comes from Automotive News, who managed to find a tiny silver lining: small sports cars are actually selling well:

According to the Automotive News Data Center, U.S. sales of compact sports cars are up 3.4 percent in 2017, while overall car demand is off 12 percent, including an 11 percent slump in April.

The report goes on, saying the Mazda Miata is killing it right now, with sales up 35 percent this year. Even the Miata’s sister, the Fiat 124, is “selling in steady volume,” and the BMW Z4 and Toyota 86 have seen their volumes jump a bit for 2017, too.

Granted, these are all relatively low volume vehicles, and the Miata is only seeing its second full year of sales in the U.S., but it’s encouraging when you consider that mid-size sports cars—like the Mustang, Challenger and Camaro—are down 16 percent this year as they head into prime sales season. Heck, according to Automotive News, even Corvette sales are down 10 percent.

So even if vehicle sales are down, at least sports car sales aren’t; that’s at least something, right? Hang in there little Miata; if this “plateauing” auto market takes a few new Camrys (Camries?) and Accords with it, so be it.

But America cannot withstand a Miata shortage—we’re just not strong enough.

2nd Gear: Car Sales Slowdown May Not Be As Bad As We Think

So the honeymoon is over, but that doesn’t mean the sky is falling, even if it’s hard to forget that the last time the auto industry fell into a “trough,” it nearly wiped out half the American auto industry.

The Detroit Free Press says new car and truck sales are down 4.7 percent this month (the fourth straight monthly decline), and the sales rate of 16.92 million fell nearly 200,000 short of the 17.1 million forecast. But as dark as that all sounds, multiple automotive experts told the news site they don’t think this is going to be anywhere near as bad as we all remember from the late 2000s.

In fact, Ford’s vice president of sales and marketing, Mark LaNeve, really doesn’t consider this the beginning of a “trough,” but rather a “plateau,” saying:

We have to let the year play out…I am not discouraged by the numbers. I view it as within some kind of normal range in a plateauing industry.

And indeed, GM’s chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem agrees, telling The Detroit News that strong sales have every reason to continue on in the coming months:

When you look at the broader economy, including a strong job market, rising wages, low inflation and low interest rates, and couple them to low fuel prices and strong consumer confidence, you have everything you need for auto sales to … remain at or near historic highs.

Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, also chimed in, saying the transition into “negative territory” should be “much smoother” than the last time, which was part of an enormous economic downturn.

So for all of you about to sell your stocks in the auto industry, just try to hold back those flashbacks from 2008—this time won’t be like that, hopefully.

3rd Gear: Volkswagen Is Killing It Thanks To Smart Cost Cutting

Volkswagen, the disgraced automaker whose name for the past two years has been accompanied by “diesel crisis” and also “can kiss my ass” by diesel buyers, is actually doing quite well financially thanks to strategic cost cutting, Reuters reports:

Structural changes since the scandal broke in Sept. 2015 include streamlining vehicle development, cutting material costs by reducing complexity in parts, dropping unprofitable models and shifting more power to brands and regions to respond more quickly to market needs.

The news wire says VW’s primary aim is to increase its profit margins, and not necessarily to focus on winning the sales volume war. It’s been working, too, as Reuters says VW’s operating margin is up to 4.6 percent this year, compared to 0.3 percent from January to March of 2016:

Group operating profit jumped 40 percent to 4.37 billion euros in the three months to the end of March, one of the carmaker’s highest-ever quarterly results, even as vehicle sales at the 12-brand group declined.

Reuters goes on, saying first quarter operating profits of the company’s largest division went up to 869 million euros compared to 73 million the previous year, despite sales dropping 1.3 percent.

This is all great news, and CEO Matthias Mueller attributes it to improvements in efficiency, saying: “Our efforts to improve efficiency and productivity across all areas of the company are also paying off,” a statement backed by his CFO, who says the sales results are the “first tangible results” of cost savings that went into place months ago.

It looks like, out of necessity, VW has streamlined its business—maybe something good has come of the whole Dieselgate crisis?

4th Gear: Why Can’t Dealership Ravaged By Tornado Contact FCA?

Yesterday we showed you the Fiat Chrysler dealer near Dallas whose property was decimated by a powerful tornado. The owner of that dealership, Randall Noe, thinks he’s lost $10 million in buildings and equipment as well as five to 6 million in cars, Automotive News reports. So it’s not too surprising that he was none too thrilled when Fiat Chrysler allegedly wouldn’t pick up the phone, saying:

We’re all supposed to be partners — you make them, we sell them, all that stuff. It’s just very strange not to have heard from someone…I’m very disappointed that our manufacturer hasn’t even contacted us. I am very disappointed they haven’t done anything at all.

After the news site published a story about how the dealer wasn’t able to get into contact with the automaker, finally—three days after the devastation—Fiat Chrysler contact him.

Three days may not seem like a long time, but when your dealership looks like a pile of rubble, I can see how that might seem like an eternity.

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Automotive Infotainment Systems Aren’t Going Anywhere

Acccording to London-based IHS Markit, an information and analysis firm, there’s big growth in the near future for automotive display systems. The firm is predicting a 17 percent jump in such systems in 2017 alone.

In the aptly titled report “Automotive Display Systems Forecast”, IHS Markit is guessing that revenue for center stacks, instrument clusters, and head-up displays will be more than $20.8 billion in 2022. For reference, it was only $9.2 billion five years ago.

Heads-up displays are a fairly small part of that whole segment, but it’s the segment that is expected to have the most growth. What was once a gimmick may become the mainstream as the technology is fine-tuned and perfected. The world’s drivers are going to need head-up displays to keep their eyes on the road…and off of the huge screens in our center stacks.

Automotive technology analyst Brian Rhodes says this predicted growth comes from two main factors. “First are simple volume increases, with more vehicles adding new displays to the instrument cluster and center stack, along with head-up display deployments becoming more common,” he said. “The second area of growth is in the technology value itself, as these displays are becoming larger and more capable—and therefore more expensive.”

So, not only will screens in car interiors become more common, but they’re going to get bigger and fancier than they are now. Some see these infotainment systems as gimmicks or fads, but the market is showing otherwise. We might be able to expect big, Internet-connected screens to come standard on most base-model, entry-level cars in just a few years.

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The autonomous car is approaching but Irish traffic legislation needs to be brought up to speed

It seems like the autonomous car has been approaching for years now with constant speculation as to what the self-driving car will look like and how it will behave. With automakers committed to a ‘driverless’ future it seems like the age of autonomy is finally here.

That is, the technology is capable, however, people and drivers still have a long way to go when it comes to entrusting their safety and ceding control to a driverless car. Many car makers have nailed their colours to the mast in respect of autonomous driving and there are today many cars that already contain a large amount of self-driving technology.

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo currently offers a semi-autonomous functionality called Pilot Assist on its 90 series cars. Pilot Assist gives gentle steering inputs to keep the car properly aligned within lane markings up to 130 km/h without the need to follow another car.

There are many other manufacturers who are looking to integrate the kind of intelligent driving capability into their cars but Volvo as a leader in automotive safety can lay claim to one of the most advanced programmes of this kind.

This summer Volvo launched ambitious and wide-reaching testing programmes for their AD cars in the Drive Me programme successfully carried out in Gothenburg and London. They are also in the process of setting up a programme with a number of cities in China. These programmes are designed to collect valuable information in a real world environment in what is virgin testing ground.

The automaker has also signed up with Autoliv Inc a worldwide leader in automotive safety systems, to set up a new jointly-owned company to develop next generation autonomous driving software.

Those in favour of AD cars predict that the self-driving car can impact on our roads in four positive ways: – safety, congestion, pollution and time saving.

Independent research has revealed that AD has the potential to reduce the number of car accidents significantly, in some cases by up to 30 per cent. Up to 90 per cent of all accidents are presently caused by driver error or distraction, something that could be reduced greatly with AD cars.

“Vehicle manufacturers are predicting that highly autonomous vehicles, capable of allowing the driver to drop ‘out of the loop’ for certain sections of their journey, will be available from around 2021. Without doubt, crash frequency will also dramatically reduce. We’ve already seen this with the adoption of Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) on many new cars. Research in the US by NHTSA predicts that by 2035, as a result of autonomous and connected cars, crashes will be reduced by 80%. Additionally, if a crash unfortunately can’t be avoided, then the impact speed will also drop as a result of the system’s performance – reducing the severity of the crash,” said Peter Shaw, chief executive at Thatcham Research.


In terms of congestion, AD cars allow traffic to move more smoothly, reducing traffic jams and by extension cutting dangerous emissions and associated pollution. Lastly, reduced congestion saves drivers valuable time.

While companies like Volvo are more than ready to start testing on our roads, in many cases legislation and regulations are not up to speed with the advancing tech. Many governments are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to how they will deal with the coming wave of AD cars and that is probably not good enough.

The AD car is coming, that much we know for sure, but are Irish roads ready for them? The law in Ireland currently takes no provision for the presence of AD cars on Irish roads. The area is apparently covered in most countries by the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 1968. It was signed by 72 countries in ’68 but not all have ratified it. The Convention covers a wide range of subjects including vehicle registration display and signage. However, in respect to AD cars, Article 8 VC stipulates the requirement that a vehicle must have a driver, while Article 13 states that a driver must be in control of his or her vehicle in all circumstances.

The USA and China are the two most notable non-signatories and both are forging ahead with their own adaptive strategy to the advent of autonomous driving car technology on their roads.

While this looks set to change in the near future, the fact that Ireland never signed up to the agreement in the first place means it won’t affect autonomous driving in Ireland. Ireland has no evident plan to deal with AD cars when they arrive. It will most likely depend on consumer demand to tip the legislative bodies in to action.

The other major factor affecting AD cars here is the insurance industry and whether they embrace mass adoption of the tech. Significantly safer roads would make for lower premiums and a cleaner and more stable operating environment for them. The insurance industry could well hold enough sway to influence legislation in favour of AD cars in Ireland.

Ireland is not the only country with a piecemeal attitude to paving the legislative way for AD cars. The UK is in a very similar position.

“The US risks losing its leading position due to the lack of Federal guidelines for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles,” explains Mr. Samuelsson.

Technology advances at a very fast rate and if there is a far reaching benefit for having AD cars on the roads then it is best that all invested parties work together on the issue.

Mr Samuelsson will welcome moves by regulators and car makers in the US and Europe to develop AD cars and infrastructure, but he will also encourage all the parties involved to work more constructively together to avoid patchwork global regulations, technological duplication and needless expense.

“AD is not just about car technology. We need the right rules and the right laws,” says Samuelsson.

“It is natural for us to work together. Our starting point is that both the public and private sectors stand to benefit from new technologies and industries, so it is better to build bridges and work together than to all go in different directions.”

“There are multiple benefits to AD cars,” continues Samuelsson. “That is why governments need to put in place the legislation to allow AD cars onto the streets as soon as possible. The car industry cannot do it all by itself. We need governmental help.”

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Diesel’s demise poses dilemma for Irish drivers

Since the introduction of the CO2-based motor taxation system in 2008, Irish drivers have been effectively incentivised into buying diesel-engined cars. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Since the introduction of the CO2-based motor taxation system in 2008, Irish drivers have been effectively incentivised into buying diesel-engined cars. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The tsunami of criticism that has pounded at the shores of diesel-powered motoring is looking ever more likely to wet the feet of the Irish motorist.

As daily revelations regarding air pollution, car manufacturers cheating on their emissions tests and even national governments conniving to protect their home-grown industry grind away at our motoring consciousness, the fact is that diesel power is almost inevitably now going to be officially penalised.

Growing concerns over the effects of diesel exhaust fumes on public health will almost certainly mean that motorists will have to bear the brunt of extra costs, possibly in the form of increased motor tax charges, or possibly in other “stealthier” ways if diesel use is to be curbed.

While plans are yet far from formed, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment confirmed to The Irish Times that it is working on a consultation paper for a new clean air strategy which “will seek to bring about improved health outcomes and the wider environmental benefits that will accrue from improved air quality.

“The strategy will target priority air pollutants in an integrated manner and will seek initiatives across the relevant sectors including transport with the aim of identifying cost-effective short, medium and long-term goals and action for reducing air pollutant levels” said a spokesperson for the department.

Extra charges

It’s not known yet known what form any extra charges or penalties could take nor whether they might be phased in for older, more polluting vehicles first.

When pressed on what is to be done with the thousands of Irish car buyers who, at the behest of government, bought into diesel since 2008, the department said that our queries would be best directed to Dublin City Council.

The council said that we should talk to the department, which presumably means that as with almost all in Irish politics, the final say rests with the Department of Finance.

Since the introduction of the CO2-based motor taxation system in 2008, Irish drivers have been effectively incentivised into buying diesel-engined cars, as until more recent technological developments in petrol and hybrid power, no other form of propulsion could guarantee a low enough emissions rating to qualify for cheaper tax.

In the wake of the Volkswagen “dieselgate” scandal, however, there are greater and greater concerns over the effect of diesel exhaust fumes on city centre air quality, not least because the most polluted air tends to become trapped by tall buildings and held close to the pavement, where it can do the most damage to the respiratory systems of passers-by.

Legislators around the world are moving to take action on perceived diesel problems, however. The city authorities in Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens last year confirmed that they would totally ban diesel car use by 2025.

Closer to home, diesel car drivers wishing to enter the city of London, and park there, will have to pay more from the April 3rd this year under plans being trialled by the City of Westminster Council.

The charges amount to an additional £2.45 (€2.88) per hour of parking, on top of the existing £4.90 (€5.78) per hour charge. The system, which applies to such high-density areas as the Marylebone Road, Baker Street and Westminster University, has been introduced following concerns that the concentration of nitrogen oxides (NOx, gases which are harmful to the lungs and which are produced in large quantities by diesel engines) and particulate matter have reached harmful levels, above the recommended healthy level.

Pollution concerns

It will use number-plate recognition systems to ensure that the appropriate parking charge is being paid.

However, Edmund King of the UK Automobile Association (AA) said that pollution concerns shouldn’t be used as a stick with which to beat drivers who thought they were doing the right thing.

“Like any new tax regime which makes money for local councils, this scheme is likely to spread like wildfire,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“However it will hit many drivers who bought diesel cars in good faith, with many of them encouraged to buy diesel cars by previous government incentives which promoted them. Frankly, they would do better to reduce air quality by getting rid of older diesel trucks, busses and taxis which cause most of the pollution.”

That is certainly a major issue, and asking the Irish motorist to carry the fiduciary can for diesel’s ills may well be politically untenable. Indeed, one senior Irish motoring industry executive averred, on condition of anonymity, to The Irish Times that the Government “is running scared from the idea”.

Presumably, officials are wary of triggering the sort of melt-down in second-hand values that occurred when the motor tax and vehicle registration tax regime was changed in 2008.

Values of petrol-engined cars, and cars with high CO2 emissions, melted down virtually overnight, leaving both individual owners and car dealers with cars that had suddenly, in some cases, become unsellable.

The notion that, forgiving the pun, bad news is in the air for diesel power is having a slight but noticeable effect on the Irish car market.

Diesel sales fell in January, by a not-insignificant 7.2 per cent, bringing total diesel demand to 65 per cent of all cars sold, much lower than the average since 2008. Demand for petrol cars rose by 3.55 per cent, but perhaps more significant was the sharp spike in sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars.

Hybrid sales rose 117 per cent compared with January 2016, while pure electric sales rose by a massive 242 per cent (from a staggeringly low base, it must be said). Plug-in hybrid sales were up by 6.8 per cent.

Hybrid power

One company benefiting most from this slow switch away from diesel is Toyota. The Japanese giant’s devotion to hybrid power is starting to pay off and Toyota Ireland’s chief executive Steve Tormey told The Irish Times that demand for the hybrid version of its new C-HR crossover is above 70 per cent of models sold.

Mr Tormey also dropped a hint about one route that the Government might take to rebalance petrol and diesel sales without dramatically affecting existing residual values – attack the corporate and fleet market.

“The softening of diesel demand is something that commenced prior to ‘dieselgate’. Since then, the EU Commission seems to have taken a dim view on diesel and in the future the manufacturing costs of diesel engines will rise in order to meet stricter future regulations with a consequent reduction in the offer of diesel powertrains from the industry, especially in the smaller vehicle segments,” he said.

In relation to hybrid, as a significant and environmentally effective powertrain option we have had ongoing discussions with Government and have provided compelling evidence on how hybrid vehicles assist in the reduction of CO2 emissions and improve air quality,” said Mr Tormey.

“If the current grants for hybrid vehicles are continued to 2020 for all manufactures then these benefits will continue to support Government in its drive to reduce CO2 emissions, reduce the level of fines Ireland will be exposed to from the EU for failing to achieve agreed targets and critically improve public health.

“In addition, there is a request to Government to allow companies reclaim VAT on petrol fuel for hybrid vehicles similar to the existing scheme for diesel.

“Given the level of pent-up demand we are experiencing from companies and fleet buyers for hybrid, this remains one of the biggest impediments to transforming the Irish car market away from diesel. However, while companies can continue to reclaim VAT on diesel but not on petrol there is no incentive for them to make that change.”

Such a background tax change could have a profound effect, given time to propagate through the market, but Ireland is caught between a pollution rock and an emissions hard place – diesel power.

Car ownership grows

Nissan Ireland’s managing director James McCarthy says the Government’s vacillating on its electric car strategy could be plunging us into as much as a €6 billion fine from the EU.

“Ireland is failing utterly in its EV [electric vehicle] strategy and CO2 emissions continue to increase as the population and car ownership grows.

20,000 EVs by 2020 is achievable if the Government gets serious, takes action and stops making grand statements of intent,” said Mr McCarthy at the Transport and Climate Summit in Dublin.

“The initial target set in 2010 was to have 230,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2020. It was reset to 50,000 EVs in 2014 and a new target of 20,000 EVs is now proposed. How do you hit a moving target? The delivery of an electro mobility strategy is central to Ireland meeting its commitments to reduce CO2 emissions. The combined 2020 and 2030 costs to the State of failing to meet those commitments is estimated at between €3 billion and €6 billion.

He proposed the introduction of policy requiring 20 per cent of the car fleets purchased by the State, public bodies and local authorities to be EVs, levying fines against local authorities who fail to achieve EV targets and a benefit-in-kind exemption for those driving EVs for business.

“Local authorities have no skin in the game. Dublin, with about 40 per cent of the national car fleet should have a minimum of 8,000 EVs registered by 2020.

The Dublin taxi fleet should be mandated to go EV from 2018 with the support of a scrappage scheme,” said Mr McCarthy.

“Currently, there are around 2,000 EV drivers in Ireland. The population and demographics of Ireland and Norway are quite similar and the same EV cars are available in both countries. Norway has succeeded in changing the dial on EVs because it took action to encourage and reward EV driving.”

Scrappage scheme

Such a scrappage scheme has been mooted and rumours are that it will form part of the Government’s consultation paper. But where will customers then turn, if they have to hand in their diesels?

Hyundai’s Tucson is the best-selling car in Ireland at the moment, and while all of the Tucsons sold so far have used the 1.7 CRDI diesel engine, there is a 1.6-litre petrol option.

Switching from the cheapest diesel to the cheapest petrol would save a buyer a potential €1,750 on the purchase cost. Their annual motor tax cost would go up by €190 a year (an extra €570 over three years).

The cost of fuel, at today’s prices, would go up by about €470 annually (to €1,494 in total), assuming an average annual mileage of 17,500km (splitting the difference between petrol and diesel mileage averages, according to the CSO), or €1,410 over three years of ownership.

Taking the Tucson as a test case, the cost of running a diesel would have to rise by about €300-€400 over three years to make it more costly than running a petrol model, although those figures would be considerably different depending on the make and model in question.

It might be best for the Government to sit tight and wait a while before it begins to penalise diesel. According to the vast Schaeffler Group, which owns vehicle and tyre technology company Continental, the cost of “mild hybrids” for petrol cars is coming down fast, and in the very near future the new technology of 48-volt hybrids will be able to reduce emissions from an average petrol-engined family car to as little as 85g/km of CO2.

Schaeffler chief technology officer Peter Gutzmer told Automotive News that “in our view, the future of the combustion-engine powertrain is 48-volt electrification combined with plug-in hybrid high-voltage solutions.

“The majority of automakers have to think about installing 48-volt hybrid drives. I think that in the next 10 years 48-volt systems will account for the majority of hybrids. I even think 48-volt systems will have the potential to extend or even replace what Toyota is very successfully doing.

“There’s only one question that needs to be answered: can we finally reach our cost targets? We are not there yet. We are close but not there.”

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‘Futuristic’ cars powered by voice controls steal the show at CES in Las Vegas

Futuristic cars powered by voice controls that can read passenger emotions and drive themselves drew the biggest crowds on the first day of CES.

The technology trade show in Las Vegas opened its doors for the first time on Thursday, with around 170,000 visitors expected across four days.

Many flocked to car giant Toyota’s booth to see the firm’s Concept-i car, which instead of buttons and screens is interacted with using voice. The built-in virtual assistant Yui uses artificial intelligence to measure emotions based on passenger responses and alters the car’s settings according, Toyota says.

Start-up Faraday Future also publicly showcased their first production car, an electric vehicle it says is capable of reaching 60mph in less than 2.4 seconds.

Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota unveils the new Toyota Concept-i concept car, designed to learn about its driver is unveiled during the Toyota press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota unveils the new Toyota Concept-i concept car, designed to learn about its driver is unveiled during the Toyota press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The car also has autonomous features and can park itself.

However only 300 of the FF91, which the firm says will challenge Tesla, have so far been announced as going into production.

There were also concept cars on show from less traditional sources, as appliance firm Bosch presented a car it says could become the “third living space” alongside home and work.

The concept includes voice and facial recognition software to personalise the car, as well as driverless capabilities and an internet connection to enable passengers to carry out other tasks safely.

Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota unveils the new Toyota Concept-i concept car, designed to learn about its driver is unveiled during the Toyota press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota unveils the new Toyota Concept-i concept car, designed to learn about its driver is unveiled during the Toyota press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Corning, a company that specialises in glass production – notably the Gorilla Glass used on some smartphones – also had a concept car on display.

The car had been fitted with Gorilla Glass windows and sunroof and windscreen, which Corning says reduces the car’s weight by up to 30%, improving braking and fuel efficiency.

The windscreen also had augmented reality capabilities and could be used to display relevant information.

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Sorting out World Car vote, electric chat, Octavia surge, opening windows, Haiti rally

Bentley Bentayga
Bentley Bentayga

I’m in the middle of voting for the World Car of the Year awards and I’m struggling a bit with the overall winner.

The finalists for that overall title are the Audi A5, Q2 and Q5 – yes three from the German maker, Fiat 124 Spyder, Honda Civic, Jaguar F-PACE, Mazda CX-9, Skoda Kodiaq, Toyota C-HR and Volkswagen Tiguan.

The World Luxury car is easier but I’m not saying a word yet: Bentley Bentayga, BMW 5-Series, Genesis G90, Mercedes E-Class and Volvo S90/V90.

The World Performance car will come from the Aston Martin DB11, Audi R8 Spyder, Honda/Acura NSX, McLaren 570s and Porsche Boxster Cayman.

The new Urban Car category includes the BMW i3 (94 Ah), Citroen C3, Ford KA+, Smart Cabriolet and Suzuki Ignis.

And the World Green Car will emerge from the Hyundai Ioniq, Tesla Model X, Toyota Prius Prime, Chevrolet Bolt and Honda Clarity Fuel-Cell.

Finally there is the World Design Car of the Year: The Audi A5, Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet, Mazda CX-9, Jaguar F-PACE, Toyota C-HR.

I’ll let you know how I voted as soon as the winners are announced but I’d love a bit of feedback on what single car you would pick for the overall award (

* Fair dues to Alan Nolan of the SIMI. We were talking about electric cars last week at the SIMI quarterly review. I think he summed up our current predicament in a couple of sentences: “The only place where you will get a big take-up of electric cars is Dublin. But as long as Dublin County Council stays ‘negative’ there will be the current haphazard system.”

* Volkswagen are being sued by the first major German customer over the diesel scandal. The fish distributor company Deutsche See claims its fleet of Volkswagens were bought on the promise they were the most environmentally friendly option.

* BMW Motorrad is to introduce its new 2017 models to the Irish public for the first time at the Carole Nash Irish Motorbike and Scooter Show at the RDS (from March 3-5). There will be three new versions of the hugely popular GS.

* SsangYong says it has designed the world’s first touch-window system. It would allow you to open and close windows simply by touching them.

Expect to see the technology before the end of the year.

It’s not the first time this technology has been mooted but SsangYong seem nearer to market with theirs.

* Skoda are pushing hard. They have increased peak power and torque on their rebadged Octavia vRS 245 (245bhp) which replaces the 230 (and before that the 220). It will come in hatch and estate. Look forward to that.

* Toyota and Suzuki have agreed to start serious discussions about collaborating in environmentally friendly technologies, safety systems, information etc.

* Best of luck to former championship rally driver Ronnie Foreman as he plans a ‘Rally for Haiti’ fund-raiser for Haven around Ireland (April 3-7).

Ronnie is coming out of retirement to do so.

He will start in Lisburn, take in Belfast, Derry, Donegal, Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Cork, Kilkenny, Swords, Dublin and finish back in Belfast.

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