Sunday, 9 July 2017

Silent, and Now Subtle Too - Greenfleet Scotland 2017 Roundup

Rather embarrassingly, I haven’t managed to write up my roundup from GreenFleet Scotland 2017 at the Royal Highland Centre. The last couple of months have been hectic, with the house move taking up a lot of my time (and energy), meaning things like this have taken a back seat. No excuse, I know, and I’ll try to be more diligent in future.

Anyone looking for more of my witterings, both motoring and otherwise, follow me on Twitter, or check out these articles I’ve produced for the site Supercars.net.


I’m a big fan of what GreenFleet are doing. Their annual events break down the anxieties of electric and hybrid powertrain skeptics by allowing fleet managers and the general public to get up close and hands on with these vehicles, helping to encourage uptake in a fleet sector that put 1.38 million vehicles on UK roads in 2016.

For those who didn’t see last year’s piece, GreenFleet are an organization devoted to increasing the uptake of electric and hybrid powertrain vehicles, mostly focusing on the fleet market.


In an effort to increase awareness of green technology in the wider population, they run their GreenFleet EVOLUTION events annually, traveling up and down the country to spread electric fever.

Previous years, I’ve headed to GreenFleet’s Scottish event at Ingliston on the Saturday, when all and sundry can come along and see for themselves the leaps and bounds progressive powertrain technology has made in the past few years. This year, I was invited on the Friday – normally reserved for fleet vehicle suppliers – giving me greater access to the vehicles on Ingliston’s short test track.

That’s right – at this motor show you not only get to see and sit in the cars, you get to drive them. If you’ve got a license, you can rock up and receive a wristband that gives you access to the keys of virtually all the cars on display.

The most efficient offering from the likes of Kia, Hyundai, BMW, Toyota and Lexus line up alongside the Royal Highland Centre, glinting in the morning sun, with the various key fobs and dongles waiting for drivers to take their pick, before taking the helm of some of the most advanced vehicles on the market.

The most noticeable difference between this years’ show and previous years was the sheer ordinariness of the vehicles on display – previously, all had felt very futuristic, but at the same time some felt almost gimmicky; Renault Twizy case in point.
Toyota's new C-HR - the most unconventional thing at first glance is the rear door handle

I mean there was a share of wacky stuff – Edinburgh College had brought along a teeny electric go kart designed by some of their students, Mini displayed a pre-release model Countryman with their enormous E-badging on the side to indicate its electricalness, and Toyota’s Hydrogen-powered Mirai concept sat motionless once again, looking like a Prius on steroids in a wrap which displayed its veiney innards to the crowds.
The Toyota Mirai "SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT" (yes, I have been watching Rick & Morty)



For the most part, the cars were notable in that they seemed normal. Perhaps it’s partly down to exposure – I used to turn my head and utter a knowing “hmmm” at the sight of every Leaf, Zoe and, eventually, Model S I saw on the road.

Nowadays, manufacturers have started to hide their green tech in more run-of-the-mill models. Half the time at the lights there’s no inkling a car’s a hybrid or electric version of itself until it sets off with that smug whisper that says “0-30 in virtually £0”.

Less practicality, more pace for Edinburgh College's electric kart
Is this the way forward to increase the adoption of such technologies? Sure, the BMW i3’s styling turns heads, and the aforementioned Twizy gets a laugh and everyone wants a go, but when it comes to the daily driver most of us want four-plus seats, a boot, a CD player and a steering wheel. Oh, and actual doors are a bonus too if you can get them.

But ordinariness doesn’t burn a hole in the public psyche. It doesn’t sit deep down, occasionally giving the heartstrings a little tug to remind you how much you want, nay need a particular thing in your life.
With hybrid powertrains in particular making an effort to blend in with the established norm, much of the day was spent looking out for badges like the Kia's (above) or charging socket covers like the BMW's (below)


Increasingly, electric car manufacturers are turning to motorsport to showcase their wares. We’re currently seeing the rise and rise of Formula E, boosted by big manufacturers like Jaguar and Renault announcing their participation, as well as the popularity of features like FanBoost, where Tweets are turned into torque for the most popular drivers, making the audience potential kingmakers in a wheel-to-wheel bout.

Tesla have also entered the motorsport fray, pledging a one-make Model S P100D GT race series, which is sure to prove a thrilling spectacle, if one that’s easier to nap off that Sunday hangover in front of with the lack of engine roar.
E-Rally's Renault Zoe - rallying, but quieter... (and with more torque)

On a more local level, I spoke to Jean Hay, part of the team at E-Rally, who are contesting several junior rally series in a stripped-out Renault Zoe. If rallying isn’t a thorough test of all of a car’s components, as well as requiring nimble handling and resilient range (none of which are the traditional preserve of electric cars) then I’d like to see what is.

What we’re seeing now is not just a showcase of manufacturer’s products in the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mentality of old. We’re seeing what once was the case in motorsport days of yore – cars on track developing useful technology that’s then trickled back through to road cars.

Think about it; manufacturers are forced to hone their battery technology to take on higher loads and provide longer range, as well as making them as light as possible, in order that they don’t run out of electric puff on the racetrack, showing their brand up against their rivals.

This adds to the desireability of progressive powertrains, with halo projects like BMW’s i8 and the recent raft of electric hypercars from Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren helping to turn the public’s view of electrification from milk float to mega machines.

It’s a proven approach – after all, it’s part of what helped the masses get excited about owning a car in the first place, and I for one am excited to see what the next step for electrification offers – particularly if it means high performance without the fuel bills. I’m looking at you, Renault – hurry up with you Zoe e-sport concept!

GreenFleet’s next event takes place at Elland Road Stadium, Leeds on the 13th July, followed by their next Scottish Event in Dundee on 17th August – get yourself along and behind the wheel of the latest in electric and hybrid tech.


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Interview with Cameron Davies, 2016 DMACK Fiesta ST Rally champion and Contender in the 2017 British Rally Championship

Those of you who follow my social media profiles will have noticed that I recently attended GreenFleet Scotland, a fleet event focused on increasing the uptake of low emission, hybrid and electric powertrains in fleet services and generally increasing awareness and uptake of efforts to make our cars greener.

I’ve a longer post in the works summing up the day and differences to last year’s event, but for now I’ve included – for the first time on McMotors – a bit of audio from the day.

I got chatting to 2016 DMACK Fiesta ST Rally champion Cameron Davies, who’s contesting this year’s British Rally Championship in a Peugeot 208. Cameron was accompanying visitors on their test drives and generally making sure no one did anything really silly in the cars BMW and the other brands had kindly brought along for people to try out on Ingliston’s historic circuit.

In the clip, Cameron and I discuss his racing career so far, how running up mountains helps him prepare for rallying in his Peugeot, and what it's like to wheelspin on a track in 5th gear - as Jack drives a BMW 116d, which doesn't wheelspin in 5th gear, around a dry Ingliston circuit.



The videos Cameron mentions in the clip for the Peugeot 208 Black edition and the 44 years of BMW M cars can be found below.

Peugeot 208 Black Edition.

44 Years of BMW M Cars.

Many thanks to Cameron for talking to me on the day - you can follow his British Rally Championship season on his website and social media accounts below:

http://www.camerondavies.com/

Twitter: @cameron_davies





Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Sunday Drives - American Muscle, Devil's Beef

Spring has sprung! And in a much more wholesome way than we’re used to in Scotland.

This brings the obvious benefit of good weather, but with that sunshine comes a litany of motorbikes, cyclists, horses and sun-seekers with caravans-in-tow out of hibernation and on to the road network.

I don’t have a problem sharing the road with other road users, but many of us who prefer to travel on four wheels know the frustration of hitting the umpteenth mile of 40mph pootling behind a caravan that just won’t yield, while all the bikers zip past astride their insectoid machines.

This past Sunday, however, I was happy to trundle along at a sedate pace, in a fair-weather convoy of a rather different kind. On my jaunt back from visiting family in Dumfriesshire to Edinburgh on one of my favourite stretches of road, I came upon quite a special cavalcade.

Cresting the peak of the rollercoaster strip of the A701, which winds and whips its way around the Devil’s Beef Tub, a Pontiac Trans Am pulled out of the view point lay-by and into my way. Far from a regular sight in these parts, I was even more astounded to see it was following a Shelby GT500 Mustang, with another V8 monster joining the road behind me.

The pace of these cars was gentle to say the least, so I zipped by them and set myself up at a lay-by further up the road to grab some pics and footage, which I have to share today.


After the brief photo-op, I caught up to the convoy once more and sat behind the Corvette C6 for about 20 miles, enjoying the rumble of the combined roughly 2,000 horsepower ahead of me as we wound our way northward.



(Aye, the video's quite short, but the soundtrack is like God's own bees gargling warm honey.)

From what I could tell, the convoy ran:
  • Shelby GT500 Mustang
  • Pontiac Trans Am
  • Dodge RAM
  • Pontiac Trans Am
  • Shelby GT500 Mustang
  • Chevrolet Corvette C6
Though if I’ve mistaken any in there, those with a more trained eye feel free to let me know; as I said before American muscle the likes of this is not something often seen in the Moffat hills.

Not really much more to this really, just thought I’d pop in a bit about a nice Sunday drive.

I haven’t been able to find out anything about muscle car owners clubs on a run that Sunday (2nd April 2017), so if anyone knows more this please get in touch on Twitter (@Jack_McMotors) as I’d really like to catch up with the drivers and get to know more about their fabulous machines.




Friday, 24 February 2017

Sun, Sand and, er... Steel Wheels? - Almost a Week in Spain with a Renault Clio 1.5 dCi


Back in October, I got my first taste of continental driving on a short holiday in Spain. Having contacted our rental company in the run up to the trip, we’d been told by email to expect a Nissan Micra or similar – that last part being the roll of the dice in the lucrative “Class C” market at Tony’s rent-a-car. We’re not talking Mercedes here.

On arrival at Malaga airport, we were met by two representatives of Tony’s (one of whom could have filled out the handover form in his sleep if he’d had to) and, speedy paperwork behind us, we were led outside with our bags to a bustling bank of rental pick-up-and-drop-off activity. Here we were introduced to our car for the week. A car, which, in the bleary, dank darkness looked almost Micra-shaped, but was not itself a Micra.
Hey, that cloud looks like a Clio... kind of... if you squint maybe?

Our companion for the week was to be a Renault Clio 1.5 dci in rental-spec blanco, resplendent astride uncovered steel wheels and wearing a few battle scars from previous escapades at the hands of holidaymakers. Far from being downtrodden after a day’s travel I was delighted and practically ripped the odd little key card that Renault persist with for some reason from the poor rental rep’s hand.

Despite its small proportions the Clio easily swallowed our suitcase with room to spare – the real test for its luggage capacity would come later after we discovered the price of wine at Spanish supermarkets and went a bit overboard.

All the essential boxes were ticked as we left the airport: Bluetooth stereo and air-con were included, the latter absolutely vital on a sticky, rainy October night - the rain in Spain falls mainly on the motorway from Malaga airport to the foothills between Monda and Guaro as it turns out, and demisting was required for the whole of the run.
Welcoming, clear dials helped minimise the post-flight stress



Apart from one particularly understeer-ey moment on a very slick and narrow piece of Spanish back road, the Clio proved itself largely unflappable despite the less-than-favourable conditions. In such rain, the last stretch of our journey from Guaro town to our accommodation could have seriously troubled many much larger cars, the rain having turned dusty, rutted farm tracks into a constantly shifting sludge, quicksand with unknown drops on either side which clung to the edge of a thick fog wrapped in olive branches.

But still the Clio soldiered on, and having made it to our casita in the countryside, we went to bed confident it would take anything Spain could throw at it.

The next day brought the not-inconsiderable challenge of a supply run to town. Happily, the rain had stopped and the track back to tarmacked roads had settled. Driving back along the dusty stretch that the night before had appeared to have been constructed along a narrow ridge between two gaping bottomless pits, but in daylight it could easlily have been lifted and miniaturized from a stage on the Australian rally. I was even more impressed at the feat the Clio had managed the night before, and less-than reassured that many of the drops that had loomed out of the fog the previous night turned out to be precisely as perilous as feared.


Back on tarmac the Clio got into its stride, never breaking a sweat despite the 30-degree heat, not acting in a particularly fizzy manner but giving the impression that it would be dependable, in the same way the chair where you keep clothes you’ve worn once but which aren’t dirty yet is dependable. Mash your foot to the floor and the 89bhp, 162 lb-ft 1.5 dCi engine makes a bit more noise but not a lot more speed, though it’s torquey enough not to be troubled by hills or the odd overtake if required. The ruts and sudden drops along our little track made me glad Renault had opted for comfort over sportiness in the Clio, though its responsiveness still managed to get me grinning on the winding minor roads between towns.
 
The short hop to Coin provided an opportunity to get more acquainted with the little Renault. Most of the surfaces you touch on the interior – steering wheel, door handles, indicator stalks – feel fairly sturdy, and the main controls have a nice weighting to them.

My main gripe inside the car was the gear lever, which is a gawky, shoogly thing that feels out of character with the rest of the car. Some of the shoogliness may have been down to previous patrons of Tony’s being less-than-gentle with their gear changes, but it doesn’t stop the chrome-adorned handle looking near-enough identical to the lever in my mum’s 2003 Peugeot 206. 
I was a fan of the Clio's interior, and its impressive array of equipment, even in basic trim
(Also - note the offending gear knob. I may be overreacting.)

The dials and digital display are clear and bright and offer the driver a useful amount of information (unfortunately all in Spanish in our car, which took some getting used to), and they helped make things a lot easier after disembarking from an unfamiliar airport to drive on the other side of the road in the middle of a rainstorm after very little sleep. Combined with most of the cabin finish and the well-judged controls for the stereo and heating, the Clio goes a long way to shrug off historic ideas of rudimentary French hatches, which rattled and groaned and in my experience often leaked in their cabins; even this most basic model has been bestowed an air of quality. But the gearstick always irked me.

Ok, maybe I am being a bit harsh with the gearstick. In the short week I had with the little car it barely missed a beat, and proved that the toys and trinkets that at one point only adorned luxury German limousines are taking what feels like less and less time to dribble through to even the most basic of French hatchbacks.

On that first trip to Coin and back, it made light of the sun-crispened Spanish tarmac, the suspension dealing very well with constantly shifting and baffling cambers and short overhangs, and the super light steering made the narrow, tightly-packed towns a doddle to navigate.
The Clio had a very accommodating boot, which was lucky...

Even with a boot loaded with all we could possible need for the week (and more than a few bottles of €2 wine over and above that), it made easy work of the farm tracks. It wasn’t even flapped by an unplanned detour first up and then back down one of the steepest slopes I’ve ever come across, engine and brakes never breaking a sweat on an incline that Spiderman would likely have employed his hands to scale. Honestly, it felt as at home on the streets of super-chic Marbella as it did skipping across dusty farmland.

I’m not sure I agree fully with the concept of LED-running lights teamed with bare steelys, but on almost every other point I find it difficult to fault the little Renault. It proved itself as capable as cars twice or even three times its size and price, all with a bleary-eyed beardy Scotsman at the wheel, sitting for the first time on the opposite side of the car.

Would I buy one with my own money? As an economical runabout it did well, and barely any of our holiday Euros went into topping up the tank with diesel (and I promise I dropped it off with as much fuel as I'd picked it up with! 

In honesty, I'd probably be more tempted by a Fiesta in this class to live with everyday, but I'd still be dead chuffed to be handed the key card to a Clio again next time I put my fate in the hands of the airport rental desk. 




Friday, 27 January 2017

A Bit of an Update...


It’s been very quiet here on McMotors – TheScottish Car Blog of late, partly that’s due to my usual lackadaisical attitude, but this time it’s also down to the fact that I’ve been working on another project.

Back in October I started writing for Supercars.net as a contributor. Below are links to some of the pieces I’ve written for them, including most recently their Car of the Year 2016 posts. 

Car of the Year


As a new years resolution I’m working on striking a better balance between this and my other commitments (you know the stuff – job, life, staying fed and watered, breathing...) and my writing here on McMotors.

In the coming days you can expect my first review of 2017 to be posted here (one which admittedly fell on the backburner many months ago) and a bit of insight into the thought process behind my current daily driver. I'll also be keeping this blog updated with links to my writing elsewhere.

In the meantime, keep checking here and Supercars.net for updates – sign up for emails to be the first to know when new posts are published or follow me on Twitter for assorted ramblings and blether - find me @Jack_McMotors or drop me an email at mcmotorscars@gmail.com.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Part of the One Per-Cent - Aston Martin DB7 Zagato

It's not often the chance pops up to get up close with a one-of-100-built piece of automotive history in the metal, never mind the chance for an audience with such a machine.

Yes, the Lamborghini IS striking
Which is why, when I heard Aston Martin Edinburgh had a pre-loved DB AR1 DB7 Zagato in stock, I rushed along, camera in hand to take a peek at this rarity.

Upon arrival at the Leven Car Company's dealership on Bankhead drive, Edinburgh, I was greeted by the showroom host, Joe (@jk.automotive on instagram, give him a follow!), who took me round the range of high-end metal and carbon fibre they had in stock.

Alongside an opulent selection of Rolls Royces sat a very special collection of three Ferraris - spectacular enough to warrant their own website - for sale only as a complete set. Stunningly matched in spec, the 360 Challenge Stradale, 430 Scuderia and 458 Speciale span the last three generations of mid-engined performance-leaning Ferraris - stripped out and as ready for the racetrack as any road.
The trio of Italian racehorses share a stable
This end looks noisy
If you've got your heart set on this stunning set of Italian exotica, better get saving those bottle caps - Joe didn't have an exact price for the trio but says that the offer that takes them home is likely to be in the region of one million pounds.

I'm not normally a fan of personalised number plates, but this one...
Following my introduction to the Ferraris, Joe led me through to the main Aston Martin showroom, where I found the Zag currently takes pride of place amid a plethora of Vanquishes, DB9s and Rapides. Understandably, the keys to this pristine machine are kept locked safely away, so there was no chance of me gracing its plush leather seats with my cut-price jeans.

This car is one of only 99 DB7 Zagatos offered to the public back in 2003 (a 100th example was produced and kept by Aston Martin), the design having been first unveiled at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Aston Martin have worked with the Italian coachbuilders Zagato on several models, with the two iconic companies first collaborating in the '60s on the DB4 Zagato racing car.


The Zagato trademark double bubble roof - not included on Zag' Volante models
The two marque's teamwork has returned to the fore of late, with a convertible version of the Vanquish Zagato being unveiled shortly after all 99 of the coupe version sold out almost immediately after the concept was revealed.


Thursday, 4 August 2016

What Range Anxiety? EV Adventurers take on Longest Challenge Yet

Rarely are electric cars brought up in conversation without the phrase "range anxiety" following close behind. Two EV enthusiasts have come a long way to silently leaving that old stigma behind.

Chris Ramsey of Plug In Adventures has a history of breaking new ground for electric vehicles on Scottish soil, becoming the first person to complete the North Coast 500 in a electric car whilst racking up fuel costs of absolutely zilch thanks to his frugal choice of powertrain.

Earlier this summer, Chris teamed up with co-driver, Terry Mohammed of BMM Energy Solutions, a firm who specialise in electric vehicle charging points, for a somewhat more ambitious journey. Together, they decided to push the electric car boundaries even further.
BMW i3 electric car with range extender petrol engine parked in front of Edinburgh castle
The BMW i3 at the start line on Castle Esplanade. Massed bands just out of shot.

In a BMW i3 kindly loaned by Eastern BMW in Edinburgh (the very same car I tested back in June no less), the pair set off from Castle Esplanade for Monte Carlo, in a 2551 mile round trip beyond anything either had ever tried.

Whilst the trip south through the UK was nothing new for the pair, across the channel was a different story. "The charging infrastructure in the UK is extremely reliable, but on the continent was a bit of an unknown for me." explained Chris, who's no stranger to planning his ambitious journeys around charging stations.

Despite initial trepadation, and following a few hiccups after disembarking the Eurostar at the opposite terminal to the only charging point, Chris said the pair had little trouble once across the Channel "the drive through France was stunning, and the charge points worked perfectly."

A BMW i3 electric car with range extender petrol engine parked in front of Monaco casino
The car, named "Monte" by the pair, wasn't allowed in the casino to gamble.
Upon reaching Monte Carlo, time was short as Chris and Terry had been invited to join BMW in London at the Formula E race the very next day, meaning they only had time for one quick zap through the famous tunnel on the Monaco F1 circuit before having to turn around and head back to the UK.

Thanks to their agreement to stick to the i3's 80-mile electric-only range, all 2,551 miles from Edinburgh to Monte Carlo, on to London and then back to Edinburgh were covered without a drop of petrol, and with total charging costs of only 55 Euros.

In France, the charging network is maintained by Sodetrel Mobilité, run by EDF, and charging costs €1.50 for a 20-minute fast charge. Enough time for a quick rest on such an epic journey, but staying within the car's electric-only range meant stopping more than 30 times to plug in, all of which combines to make it even more impressive that the pair made the voyage in just 60 hours.
Turns out you can spec your yacht to match your i3's paint scheme... who knew?