Monday, December 18, 2006

Of the Avanza Owner's Club and What Proton Needs to Do To Survive

Somehow, the past couple of weeks have been extremely hectic. With not much time to voice out my opinion on things concerning the automotive world, it has become obvious that there have been no new articles on my blog for the whole of last week. I have been busy glancing through magazines and recently, an article in the latest issue of a local Malaysian tuning had caught my eye.

I read an article about the Toyota Avanza owner’s club and found out that it is an active club and that the owner’s of this Van were actually spending their time and money researching on how to make this Van corner better. While this is a good thing, they’ve actually went slightly overboard in putting tons of chassis bracing and high end Kayaba shocks in order for the Van to corner better. I wonder whether firstly, they are doing it for the safety of the passengers or secondly, bragging rights within the club or lastly, so that when they take corners, their children, wife, maid and pet dog or cat will be flung left and right as well as up and down while they are doing the chicanes at obscene speeds around shopping complex car parks. I suppose being Malaysian, everything’s possible. If they can fit a Supra twin turbo engine in the Avanza’s big sister the Unser, I suppose soon we’ll see a 20valve Toyota twin cam 1.6 or a TRD/BEAMS Yamaha tuned 2.0 VVTL-I in an Avanza anytime soon. I can hardly wait.

What I’d like to talk about today are the problems faced by Proton. This small insight to why Proton has actually failed and if no changes are made was cooked up at a weekend Teh Tarik session with a friend of mine somewhere in Gombak. I have to thank this chap who drives a Celica with another round of Teh Tarik on my the next time I see him. I’d divide this examination in brief to a few parts.

1. The people in Proton love cars that handle until they are blind.

The simple fact is that you see Proton building cars that can handle and corner very well. However, none of the general Malaysian public bothers with this fact. What they want is actually tons of space. Good examples of these would be the Perodua Myvi and the Toyota Avanza. At the price they are selling these cars, space counts. Young couples who like buying stuff at IKEA love the Myvi. Thirtysomethings with 3 children and a maid love the Avanza. These people don’t want to drive like Senna or Montoya most of the time. If you go to a small town, you see Pakciks and Makciks driving at 60km/h everywhere. These people don’t need handling. What they need is space to carry their tempoyak and ikan kembung from the pasar to their house. They’d like to know that the car is safe and will be able to protect them in an accident, not handling by Lotus. Proton has its marketing and strategy wrong. While being pro-handling is actually good, the well-being of the company and its future should be considered here.

2. The people in Proton are blind until they fail to see what the market wants.

Again we see the Avanza and Myvi come into the picture. Ever since the Waja, Proton have not launched a car, MPV or SUV that the market actually wants. Proton had launched the Juara to almost no success whatsoever. The reason being that while it is good strategy to launch an MPV, the Malaysian public’s perception on MPV is that is cannot, must not and in all that’s holy look like a van. What Malaysians want in an MPV is that it must be car-like in its features. Look at the Naza Ria/Citra as well as the Toyota Unser (while Pig ugly, still has a 2 box shape) and Avanza.

They also came out with the Proton GEN2, Savvy and the Satria Neo. Notice that the best selling new Proton is still the Waja for the simple fact that it has a boot bigger than most cars in its class and it has 4 doors and legroom for basketball players at the rear. With the Gen2, you got not much bootspace and rear headroom. With the Savvy you got not much of everything as it’s a small mini sized car and with the Satria Neo, it’s a 2 door hatch that’s out to capture the single girl or single guy market. Why come out with cars that do not hit the spot? Why come out with niche market cars in a market where niches aren’t that profitable? Note that there are still not that many Savvy or Satria Neos on the road to this day. You see Gen2s on the road as it has 4 doors. Malaysians still can accept a car like this if it has 4 doors.

Proton has totally misread the basic needs of the Malaysian public by not coming out with cars that they actually need. What they want and need are actually 2 different things. By launching 3 hatchbacks in a sedan driven market is actually bad strategic planning actually. Proton needs another sedan, an SUV and a MPV (that doesn’t look like a van) to survive.

3. The people in Proton believe that they do not need to improve on the quality of material they use and only improve on the finishing and producing defect free cars.

This is another strategy gone wrong for Proton. Let’s take the success story of another Korean car that is a success story in Malaysia. The Kia Spectra. This piece of Bantha fodder is actually a car which is even less substantial than the Proton Waja, yet the Malaysian public still rush out and buys it. What Naza Kia has done is listen to what the general populace wants in a family sedan. What the general populace wants is this:

“I want what a Mercedes have. I want Leather Seats, a CD player, ABS, EBD and some semblance of class that Proton cars don’t give me”

And as such, the marketing team in Naza Kia throws in leather seats, a CD player ABS, EBD, rear disc brakes and great marketing advertisements showing class and grandeur from a Kia Spectra. The general populace buys it in droves.

What Proton has done to counter Kia is come out with products that have an interior made from the same plastic as the microwave containers we use for takeout food. There are no leather seats unless you pay for it and only recently decided to offer CD players on most cars. Proton, no one listens to tape nowadays. Are you in league with aftermarket accessory shops? You want more people to go change their players at accessory shops issit?

If the basic Kia Spectra offers ABS, why isn’t Proton offering ABS like what the general populace wants? I think all Protons should have ABS for the simple sake of telling the people who buy cars that Proton cares for the safety of its consumers. The actual fact is that, the Pakciks and Makciks who drive at 60km/h do not really need the ABS as they seldom use the car fast enough for anything to happen. Some even send the car to the workshop because they think that the judder they feel upon heavy braking is a faulty brake system whereas it’s actually the ABS kicking in. These people wouldn’t know how the ABS works but they just like to have it on their car as it gives them bragging rights when they’re exchanging information at the Mamak stall or among relatives at a family reunion. Imagine this scene:

“Wah, Pakcik Abu, new car arrr?”

“Yes, my new Kia Spectra.”

“Nice lah, got leather seats. Must be very comfortable.”

“Ya, summore got CD player, ABS, EBD, 16VALVE SOHC, leather steering wheel 15in Sports Rims and more.”

“FOOOOOOYIOOOOOOOHHHHHHH, so good lah this car, everything also got. I must tell my dad to buy one also”

And a sales phenomenon starts within Pakcik Abu’s family and friends.

This is also the same with the rear disc brakes. Notice with the Honda ES model Civic the 1.7 models came with rear drum brakes. Malaysians were aghast as they thought that drum brakes couldn’t stop anything but a 1950 morris minor. So the latest Civics brought in from CKD packs in Thailand come fully equipped with rear discs. This is what Naza Kia thought of so much earlier and then packaged them in. From a sales and marketing point of view, brilliant. From a cost point of view, not so brilliant. But if it’s what the public wants, so be it. Of course, this fact Proton has countered as all new Protons have rear disc brakes. But it all goes to show how mighty the consumer is.

If Proton wants to at least gain back some of the sales which it has lost, it would need to actually give more than what they currently give. They would need to work on a more tactile interior. The interior would have to be at least a good as a Toyota before people would actually believe that it is better than a Kia. The mountain is really that high as currently, if you took a look at the Gen2 and the Satria Neo, you'd notice that the dashboard is made out of hard plastic that is only fit for cars in the small mini size or budget bracket. Of course, the lack of stupid defects like power window failures should not occur anymore. That is obvious.

Malaysians want space, toys and class. They do not want Lotus to tune the suspension. They want gadgets that they see in Mercedes and BMWs. They want bus sized interiors with the luxuries of a pleasure cruiser. What has been given by Proton are hatchbacks and more hatchbacks and ugly van-like MPVs which no one wants. No wonder people are not buying the latest batch of Protons.

A breakdown on what should Proton do in order to survive:

1. Market on safety, luxury and space. People at this price range do not want “handling by Lotus.” But want a cheap Mercedes knockoff.

2. Make MPVs, SUVs and Sedans instead of launching 3 hatchbacks in a row.

3. Improve the tactile feel of the cabin. Give top notch plastics.

4. Install the latest safety features at whatever cost as Malaysians like to brag about what they have in their car.

5. Have a proper strategic planning team in place. Find out where Proton needs to go from here on. Proton is never going to be a Ferrari who formed his company with the need to maintain his racing team. And as such, Proton has to know what t wants to be. It needs to be a volume seller. It needs to make safe, reliable, spacious, luxurious and stylish cars within a price range. It needs to be the next Toyota. That’s the company it should benchmark. There are no excuses. Benchmark the best global manufacturer and you can’t go wrong.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tech Focus: Would the noise from a car make you buy it? I would.

I’ve decided to work harder today (and hopefully for the rest of my career). The reason being that recently, a Brabus versioned SL 55 AMG zipped by on the opposite side of the road and the driver basically let it rip. The sound emanating from the tailpipes or engine was absolutely mind blowing extra loud BRRAAAAAAAPPPPPPPPPP.

It is exactly a cross between a NASCAR V8 and a World War II fighter plane. I suppose the engineers at AMG must have conveniently forgot about drive-by noise regulations when they designed this engine and exhaust system. I suppose when you can afford one of these, you wouldn’t be bothered about neighbours complaining that your car is noisy and disturbs their 6 month old baby’s nap. You’d just buy over the whole surrounding neighbourhood or buy a 10,000 acre estate somewhere in Sungai Buloh. The police won’t even bother you unlike the time when you once owned a Proton Saga with a hundred Ringgit ‘meriam buluh’ muffler. And as such, you can make the SL55 wail in graceful abandon, without a care in the world.

Some cars produce noise that’s irritating and outright loud without an ounce of character in them. Some produce a sound as if the Angels had come down from Heaven and blessed the engine and its exhaust pipes with their harps. Some produce a sound as if a gigantic beast had awoke and now wants to eat everything it its path. However, it is usually the first case that happens to be in abundance around here instead of the second and third situation. We get the sound of mosquitos and the sound of a hollow tin can rattling around in most cars. The mosquito like sound usually comes from a Perodua Kancil with a RM95 muffler from the shops proclaiming ‘murah, tarak tipu punya’. You pay el-cheapo money for this crappy irritating sound. And it does not make a 3 cylinder Kancil engine sound like half a Porsche 911 flat 6. This is because we all know that in order to get a decent sounding car, (or a decent handling car, or a decently characterful car etc. etc) you’d have to pay through your bleeding nose for something like that if you want it brand new.

The thing that limits the ownership of a soulful sounding car in Malaysia is the same as the ownership of any soulful looking or a neat handling car. The reason is that these cars usually cost a whole lot more than those anodyne cars you see everywhere. It is also because manufacturers who sell basic low end cars are too busy working out numbers on how to milk as much profit from them rather than spend money on developing interesting handling, loads of power, a decent driving position or even the tuning the exhaust system or intake system of a car to make it sound nicer. But sometimes, it is advancement that makes an engine quieter.

We shall look at good sounding affordable cars in this article. The problem of cost also limits most mass produced cars to having a 4 cylinder in line engine. An in-line 4 is very cost effective when it comes to piston displacement and the power it produces. With the correct camshaft profiles, correct intake and exhaust as well as ignition and camshaft timing an in-line 4 could produce an efficient 100bhp per 1000cc. We take note of the Mitsubishi MIVEC and the Honda VTEC engines for this. The power outputs these engines make are astounding. But, I’ve experienced that a correctly tuned VTEC or i-VTEC engine from the year 2006 will not sound like the step-up VTECs from 1990. You won’t feel a rush or a change in induction like in those days as it’s more linear nowadays. Less character you may say, but there are no gaps in the powerband like before. There is less of a blood curling howl in the latest DC5 Integra than in an early DA6 Integra. I suppose it’s when everything is balanced out it goes quiet. It may however still have a somewhat unique shriek due to the fact that the Honda Twin Cam VTEC revs to at least 8,500rpm where most cars find it a struggle to reach 6,500rpm. The extra 2,000rpm or so makes a lot of difference when it comes to induction roar and exhaust note.

Some may say that it isn’t the way to make a car sound good but these people have forgotten the induction roar of those old 4 cylinder cars running 2 or more carburettors. Honda once in the late 60s came out with their S800 which ran 4 Mikuni carbs and a 9,500rpm redline. As such, one of the pleasures of owning a high revving Honda or Mitsubishi would be gunning the engine right up to the redline, knowing that you are one of the few with engines (in cars) that can howl and shriek like a Pontianak with some belacan shoved up her arse. However, you need at least RM195,000 to fork out for a Jap unregistered reconditioned Integra DC5 for the pleasure (if one can still be found that is). Of course second hand EG series Civics from 1992-1996 could be bought, but they aren’t worth paying up to RM35,000.00 for one and hard to get financing also.

However, note that with the Yamaha designed Toyota VVTL-i 1.8liter engine found in the Celica or the MRS you won’t find any outrageous noises anywhere. Being a Toyota engine, it performs like a grown up engine should. Quietly doing its job with a very, very normal twin cam noise. Nice, but not as good as you’d expect. Somehow, you’d buy the car to enjoy driving it. Sound is secondary to a Toyota. In fact, you’ve never once heard anyone say that they bought a Toyota for the sound.

Now we come to flat 4s, a rare sort of configuration once used on Lancias and Alfas as well as the VW Beetle. Only Subaru carries on with this configuration nowadays. Porsches are 6 cylinders and BMW makes 2 cylinder boxers for their bikes. If you noticed the newer Subaru Imprezas are pretty thrummy instead of burbly due to the fact that it has equal length manifolds which balance the pulses of the exhaust gasses. In the early days, you get Imprezas with manifolds having very unequal lengths from each bank of cylinders. This causes the exhaust pulses to be unbalanced and therefore a burble as nice as a V8 engine. With each improvement, the Subaru EJ series comes closer to being as interesting as a workmanlike drone of a Mitsubishi 4G63 engine, a classic in its own right, but a very electrical appliance sort of drone when it comes to making noise.

However, at this moment, there still is a semblance of character in its exhaust note compared to other 4 cylinder cars. The Subaru Impreza/Forester and the in some ways the Subaru Legacy are the only 4 cylinder cars that sound different and good nowadays. No one utilises flat 4s anymore. I suppose it does cost more to produce with separate cylinder banks and all, but the price for maintaining this kind of engine makes it worthwhile as it makes it have a dozen times more soul than the run of the mill in-line 4s. Expect to pay RM115, 000.00 for a recently new Subaru Impreza WRX bug eye from 2000-2001. This version still has a very single beat sound compared to the later models as with the 2004 revision (applied E onwards) the manifolds are of equal length.

The next affordable type of engine that produces decent noise would be the Alfa Romeo 4 cylinder in-line engines, with its twin spark cylinder heads and variable cam timing. This covers both the newer JTS engines as well as the earlier fully Alfa Twin Spark ones. The Alfa trademark is a very throaty growl. The Italian engineers/designers seem to have perfected the art of making everything they touch from the look of the car to the sound of the car seem just nice. However, the only problem of owning an Alfa is that you may be afraid of driving it due to the fact that something may break and cost a bomb while you’re driving it. This puts a spanner to the cogs to most people’s plans of buying one. Even if they do buy one, they hardly take it out of Kuala Lumpur and hit the B-roads. Some don’t even leave their neighbourhood in the first place. One Alfa I’d suggest anyone to buy is the one my cousin bought, a 147 1.6 Twin Spark manual from 2001. It doesn’t have the selespeed gearbox, therefore you won’t die a pauper trying to maintain it. It’s been pretty reliable throughout the one year my cousin has owned his and it still looks great. The market price for a 1.6 is around RM60,000.00.

After this the only car that sounds decent for around RM100,000 would be a Proton Perdana with its V6 engine. But you won’t want to pay 100k for a car that’s been in production for so long and when there’s gearbox problems cropping up, and a flooded second hand market of Perdanas. You wouldn’t want one anyway. But a V6 sounds good nonetheless. And if you want one, get a recently used one from the year 2004-2005. It’ll sell for around RM60-80,000. But the thing is, you may need a few thousand more fixing up the gearbox if the previous owner hadn’t experienced the gearbox problem first. It’s a catch 22 situation with this car.

There are other cars that have a vocal engine, but you will be looking at cars that are second hand if you want them cheap. 6cylinder BMW 3 series E36s and E46s as well as the 5 series (all of them at the age where things start to go wrong and cost BMW money to fix), the 5 cylinder Fiat Coupes (with tons of problems to go with it), certain old Nissans with the RB20, 25 or 26 engines, the newer VQ series V6 from Nissans in the Cefiros (fwd and dull to drive).

The thing is, cost is always the constraint, and if cost wasn’t a constraint, the top 5 list of current production cars to have just because of the noise they make would be as follows (I shall limit to the cars that I have had the pleasure of hearing them sing):

1. Mercedes Benz SL55 AMG

2. Ferrari F430

3. Bentley Continental GT/GTC

4. BMW M5

5. Range Rover Sport (basically that would make the new Jaguar XK coupes sound fantastic and its cousin the Aston Vantage which utilises the same engine as desirable)

So, should we choose a car to own for the noise that it makes? I suppose some cars like the SL55 AMG would make me say yes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Another Activity To Waste Your Precious Sunday Away

It has been a while since my last article but I have got valid reasons for not posting anything.

1. Watching the complete Second Season of Battlestar Galactica on DVD. (all 20+ episodes in a week);

2. Watching Casino Royale. Pretty good I must say. However, not like what you’d expect but close to the Bond that Mr. Fleming pictured him to behave and act;

3. Preparing stuff for my company’s display at a certain Defence Exhibition in Indonesia as any merchant of these kind of stuff would do;

4. Discussed World politics and also the current Administration of Pak Lah with a Dutchman friend of mine; and

5. Went to a car auction.

This of course brings me to the topic of the APAC Sunday Auction for Automobiles which I attended last Sunday. Big business this auctions. You get individual sellers, companies, government bodies and banks auctioning off vehicles and you get individual buyers and also used car salesmen buying up cars for their own use or for resale. What impressed me the most is that here, you can have RM2,500.00 and be lucky to drive off in a 1988 Proton Saga (but sometimes you need a battery to get the car started or worse). How about a 1993 Isuzu Trooper 4 door (ex-Telekom Malaysia)? RM6,500.00. You get all the cred of a farmer or a contractor instead of an el-cheapo Proton Saga owner who collects scrap metal for a living cum small time crook. The engine of the trooper sounded pretty smooth as it drove by.

How about a 1996 Alfa Romeo 155 1.8 for RM18,000.00? I suppose you wouldn’t want Alfa related headaches but for RM18,000, why not? A Proton Gen2 1.6 registered in 2005 for RM33,000 would also be good. It costs RM50,000.00+ when new. A friend of mine said that he’d go to the auction and buy one when it drops to RM10,000.00 as it’s a fun car to drive and he’d love a fun car to drive it to the market and back.

If you want to start carting large stuff around or start your own pasar malam business, you have ex-Telekom Toyota Liteaces, Perodua Rusas and also the odd Proton Juara. RM6,500.00 gets you a nicely worn but mechanically sound Toyota Liteace and if you want a post 2000 van, the Juara is there although when it first came out and cost RM40K+, no one in his or her right mind would buy one because it looked downright silly and ugly. Didn’t stop my friend’s dad from buying one as it could be bought for a measly RM16,000.00 to be used as a carrier for their foodcourt stall business. Pretty good when something has a purpose instead of lugging around only people which some MPV owners fail to do.

There are cars that don’t get buyers. One such example is a Citroen C5. The reserve was set at RM40,000.00. But who would want to own pain and suffering? It’ll be like owning the Titanic knowing that it cost you a bomb and then 5 minutes later sinks in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Another example, not surprisingly are 3 units of Government utilised Proton Perdana from 1999. The opening price was RM30,000.00. No one wanted one. Not even the second hand dealers. I suppose the dreaded gearbox problems kept buyers away.

I was there at 10.50am on Sunday and stayed on till 1pm. The auction still had about 40 more cars to go and there was a nice Fiat Coupe waiting somewhere. But I don’t think it got a buyer. A nice place to waste your Sunday away unless you work somewhere around here that is.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Can't the person who blew up the Mongolian Model think of a better way to hide the evidence? And the Naza Suria.

The headlines of most newspapers these past few days are about some political/strategic/defense analyst together with 3 policemen being involved in the murder of an exotic looking Mongolian model, who purportedly had an affair with this analyst, the cause of death was a couple of bullets in the model's head and then, trying to cover up the crime by blowing her up with C4 explosives.

The moral of this story is not about someone who did a bad thing and got caught and deserves punishment. But, someone who did a bad thing, and didn’t know how to cover it up properly. It’s like watching an action movie, where the person who got killed, usually the baddie, gets stabbed, then shot, poisoned, then gets thrown out of a building. Why do you need to kill a person so many times for him to die? Or if you want to dispose of the evidence, other means are easier. Like stuffing the corpse in a barrel, filling it full of cement and dumping it in the middle of the straits of Malacca. Not nuking some bushes or trees together with a Monglian model near a densely populated area like Puncak Alam, Shah Alam.

Now the question is not whether the analyst really did such an act or did not do such an act in the first place, but why a learned man would stoop so low and end up in such turmoil. If this person, who graduated with distinction at some glorious English College, associated with tons of professional bodies, written tons of stuff, advised ministers, planned strategy and who knows what other crowning achievements, manage to be silly enough to be embroiled in tabloid fodder like this. I think that somehow, the leaders of the nation who’s being paying him visits and asking him for advice have been played like a fiddle by this guy. I mean, if he is part of this mess, or in the first place had a messy affair which led to the model being pregnant and so forth, his advice on world affairs, politics, defense and strategic planning would be actually rubbish. He however would be good at giving advice on how to have an affair with someone or tips on extra-marital sex or ways on how to bed an exotic Mongolian model. The reason being, if he were anything good on strategic planning, he wouldn’t be in remand in the first place. Or he was thinking with his loins instead of his brain.

I suppose all of us do that most of the time. You see an object of beauty and it’s not your brain that registers first. It could be your brain, but the loins actually sends impulses soaring and you (if you are a guy) may get a hard-on, if the object of beauty is a girl; or in the case of a guy in a Fiat Punto HGT in Desa Sri Hartamas last Saturday night, other guys.

If it’s a car, it would surely be some Pininfarina designed Ferrari or Maserati, a Mercedes CLS, a Jaguar E-type and so forth. But being civilised men, would you kill for a woman or would you kill a woman because you were stupid to get caught by the affair you started in the first place? Would you kill for a Ferrari Enzo? Of course that is even more unlikely.

Somehow events like this tell me that we actually have not so clever people telling other not so clever people how to run the country. It’s like the blind leading the blind. I suppose we Malaysians are a tolerant lot, we don’t like coups, we don’t like change to an extent and we just like to be left alone to enjoy our teh tarik. Unlike the Americans recently, they had their Congressional Elections and showed the current ruling party the actual sentiments of the people. We don’t like to rock the boat, and as such, the boat sinks slowly. Something like Proton; on a much larger scale.

Which brings us to my opinion on Naza’s overlapping 1.1liter cars. Recently Naza launched their rebadged version of the Kia Picanto. This car is one compact car which made waves when it was launched in UK. It did so many things so well that Autocar magazine rated it as good as the European Car of the Year, the Fiat Panda. I like this car in that the plastics used are of a quality rarely seen in small cheap Korean cars, or all Protons including their latest offerings. I know that the Picanto can corner well. Once I was on the interchange from Jalan Duta/Damansara towards Jalan Lake Gardens, a Picanto went past me doing around 80-90km/h on the bends. It looked utterly composed from behind. However, being a fully imported Kia, it costs quite a lot for a 1.1 liter car. I suppose this is why Naza, who is the importers of Kia and the assemblers of rebadged Kia MPVs decided to sell the Picanto as a Naza Suria (approx. RM44,000).

However, doesn’t Naza already have the Naza Sutera (the pic to the left) as their 1.1liter car? Talk about trying to get a bigger slice of your own cake. I know that the Sutera is based on a Chinese car (the Hafei Lobo), with lower build quality and a much cheaper price (approx. RM36,000). But somehow, this would still eat into its own market share instead of the market share of others. Somehow the corporate wheels at Naza want to just grab the market share, have a monopoly and the consumers get confused with choice. I suppose the Malaysian ‘local manufacturer’ scene is as confusing as clever people in Malaysia who do not so clever stuff.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Top 5 Brand New Cars You Should Not Buy With Your Own Money

Last night while eating a home made club sandwich(which tasted really good), a thought came to me. What we wear or own is an extension of a person’s personality. It shows the first impression of a person, kind of like a watch. If you see a person who doesn’t wear a watch, you can somewhat tell that he does not treat time as something important. From an un-audited point of view, which even though isn’t audited by some accounting firm with a name that sounds somewhat like Fisher Price Water Fowl, I’ve noticed that most people who don’t wear watches don’t keep appointments very well. They make 'Janji Melayu' or Malay Timing appointments look very punctual and think that their handphone can double as their watch. However, the thing is, they still ask people around them the time. Less than 200grams on the wrist will not kill you.

A cheap watch however shows you at least want to know what time it is, but it also shows that you are a cheapskate. A Seiko or a Tissot would mean you have a chance at being a person with some watch sense and anything more expensive than that means you’ve basically the means to afford a lot of good things in life. However if you buy a current model Tag Heuer, you’re ensuring that they have enough money to pay for Tag’s marketing campaign. As a quartz Tag Heuer 200m diver’s watch can cost as much as a automatic Tissot 300m Diver’s watch for the same price. Somehow you could say the same about cars, some may be cheap because they are cheap, but some are expensive because you are paying for the badge in the first place. BMWs are in the latter category and the Ultimate Driving Machine is seldom bought by someone who actually drives for the fun of it here in Malaysia.

BMW 3series’ are the Ultimate Yuppie Machine. The Ultimate Poser’s Machine. The Ultimate Chick Magnet Machine. BMWs are all these and more. BMW 3series’ are mostly driven by men who work for a multi-national company, have the latest PDA phones, have their Ralph Lauren Polo t-shirts (preferably with the latest big horse logo on it) with their collars lifted up, hang out with their latest laptops at some Coffee Bistro as they prefer to WI-FI rather than talk to each other at a coffee shop and think that they know everything. However, I actually know everything and I tell you that they don’t drive their BMWs the way it should be driven. As such, if you are a car enthusiast, don’t be seen in a BMW 3 series in Malaysia. People will think you’re one of those people who are the stereotypical poser and show off. It’s like the auntie you see at a kenduri with all the jewellery, pointing left and right trying to show off the 200 gold bangles on both wrists and arms. It’s like the friend of yours who ‘inadvertently’ flicks like wrist trying to show of like new Five Thousand Ringgit Omega watch when you already have 5 or 6 nicer watches lying around in your house and couldn’t be bothered about them one bit. All of this brings me to my current list of things.

The Top 5 Brand New Cars You Should Not Buy With Your Own Money

5. Proton Satria Neo

If you’re shorter than 5feet 6inches, then this should not be on this list. But since I’m taller than that, this car makes it on this list. This is one car that the enterior space and packaging utterly disappoints anyone who needs a proper hatchback. No head room, no rear leg room, no boot compared to the earlier model. Where’s the improvement? Going backwards is left to time travellers on TV.

4. BMW 318i

Do I need to say more? It’s basically saddled with an image issue and coupled to a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder, what’s so ultimate about that?

3. Kia Spectra

Are you so much against the Malaysian car that you have to buy one of these? They are Korean, with as good/bad a build quality as a Proton. Their spare parts are not cheap and cost as much as a Japanese car, their handling is actually worse than a Proton Waja. If you want cheap, buy a Proton, it’s a waste just to spend an extra RM10,000.00 on a badge which is actually in the eyes of a motoring enthusiast as bad owning a Proton.

2. Perodua Kancil

Why? It is the cheapest brand new car you can buy on the market. But that’s the whole reason. The driving position is for small people again, too hard seats, no under thigh support, bumpy, noisy, scary to drive fast, unsafe in a crash with anything bigger than a mountain bike. Save up and buy the next car up the line, the Kelisa.

1. Honda City Tadpole

Look at it (see pic). That’s not a car. It’s a tadpole on stilts. Why can’t you have more taste and buy a Toyota Vios. What’s wrong with the people that bought it. It’s ugly. It’s like in the first place you wouldn’t want to date the girl with pimples, a gap in her teeth, thin as a pole or fat as a South African Water Buffalo and then end up marrying her.

Special mention.

The BMW 1 series. Somehow this is the ultimate badge machine. You buy this car purely for the badge as it looks so much like a fat man has sat on it and then got up and left it like that. Look at the crease line connecting the front and rear wheelarches at the base of the doors to see what I mean. Buy a Mini Cooper S for the same amount of money even though it’s a Front Wheel Driver.

There you have it. Note that I’ve left out MPVs and SUVs because they are not cars. They are MPVs and SUVs, simple as that.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Some news

INOKOM GETZ

INOKOM has just launched their version of the Hyundai Getz and as such, it’s at least RM15k cheaper than the Hyundai version at around RM58, 000. What you get however is like the Naza Peugeot Bestari; A good car which is cheaper than the imported version at the same standards. However, we also should note that these cars are actually on their last legs of production with their parent manufacturers and it only strengthens the point that we Malaysians get saddled with something a little behind the current trend. I suppose it’s still something good as we get variety at a cheaper price. But I don't like this car. It does not look like Hyundai spent enough time actually designing the car in the first place. It looks like a European design from a generation ago (circa mid90s). A better execution of this super mini segment cars still come from Europe (206, Punto) and Japan (Jazz, Sirion/Boon/Paseo/MYvi, Yaris etc). They look better balanced looking. Spend a bit more (the Naza 206 or a Toyota Yaris) or a bit less (Perodua Myvi) for something with more balanced looks.

TOYOTA CAMRY

Finally being able to view the latest Toyota Camry and I find it to be younger looking than the previous generation version and pretty sleek looking (in a latest merc S-Class kinda way with some of the BMW chief designer Chris Bungle’s touches here and there). It’ll sell well here in Malaysia. It will still capture the hearts and minds of the average Malaysian Uncle, but will also somewhat do the same to the 30somethings also. I can imagine this car with 18 inch wheels and looking cool, not looking like someone hijacked an unclemobile and slapped on big wheels and trying its very best to look cool. This is not the U.S. of A., where people think its cool driving stupid large Cadillacs with bling wheels. Another car for the Yoda age group people bought by young idiotic rap artists and drug dealers trying to look cool in an uncle car. I mean, Americans don’t have taste. Look at the latest Honda Accord arselift. They had an American focus group tell Honda that the rear lights of the original one wasn’t good looking. This was teh same with Maserati when they redesigned the 3200gt and called it the Gransport - from beautiful boomerang like rear LED lights, they went for a stupid 4th Gen Honda Prelude style lights - which coincidently looks somewhat triangular, also like the Accords. American Focus groups will eventually have all tail lights in triangles if this continues.

While the shape grows on you after a while, there shouldn't be a need for things to look good after a period of time. Its like you'd allow yourself to like that shocking pink shirt you first hated and then liking it later on. It's shocking pink for God's sake!

In short, you have my permission to buy the new Camry. As it does not make you look like an uncle. Unless you are an uncle in the first place.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The New Uncle Car, Sex and Violence and the Reasonably Priced New Car that I Own and You Can't Own Even If You Tried

Very recently Toyota launched the new Camry. A car somehow specifically designed for uncles and people who feel that they belong in the ‘uncle’ category. This category is basically filled with middle aged managers, grandfathers, slow people and also people who think that this car is suitable to be driven by a 30 year old as it exudes a sense of prestige and style. What I think is that this car is for uncles and aunts. There is nothing this car exudes other than the image of your 50 year old uncle who is slightly balding, slightly pot bellied, needs reading glasses and with hair growing out of his ears and nostrils.

The new Camry (see pic) however looks much nicer and with this would knock the average age of Camry owners down a few notches (to around 40 instead of 45 years of age) as it looks very Lexus-like and pretty smart looking with touches of BMW somewhere in its design. Copycat. But the thing about the Toyota Camry is that they always look good in the pictures, but what you might see in real life is usually quite conservative and dumpy looking and as such I'll reserve my actual comments when I see this car on the road.

This is because Toyota is a very conservative company that has actually stopped building sports cars. Right now I cannot think of one sports car which they still make as the production of the Celica and the MR2 (or MRS) has since ceased. In short, they’ve gone from conservative to downright boring in a period of only one year. Toyotas have basically captured the hearts and souls of sensible, dreary people i.e boring people with their exceptional build quality.

It got me thinking that people in the world buy cars because they have to travel from A to B and have exactly no choice in what they have to buy. In the ideal world, we’d all be driving Mercedes CLS’ or BMW M5s. But in the real world, we have to drive Proton Wajas, Toyota Vios’, Avanzas (note – a followup from the last article about Avanzas – if you highlight the VAN from aVANza, it spells like what it really is.) and Corollas, Honda Tadpoles and Naza Rias. All of these cars were basically bought using the words, budget and practicality. What people should add to their list of priorities is sex and/or violence when buying a car as this is the basic instinct in man. Clarkson once said that Sex and violence actually sums it all when you buy a Ferrari or any supercar. You get a nice sexy/beautiful body and the brutal and violent acceleration and handling all coupled into one car. So in the real world, how can such priorities make you choose a decent car then?

With the words; Budget and Practicality coupled to words Sex and Violence we should therefore choose the 3 best things out of 4 as realistically we can't have them all. This is the real world challenge then; for a reasonably priced and practical car, coupled with either sexy or brutal personae thrown in for good measure.

Most Protons are out of the picture as they have the either lacking in practicality or lacking in either sex or violence. The Waja is a shopping trolley, wheres the sex or violence in that? The Gen2 has a bad driving position and no rear headroom, so its not practical. The Satria Neo has a really ridiculously bad driving position so its totally not practical (unless you're a hobbit or a dwarf). The Perdana is ancient, Ursula Andress in Dr. No. was sexy, but she’s 760years old now. You wouldn't bed someone as old as Yoda would you? Same goes to the Wira and Saga.

Toyotas? At the reasonable price range we’re looking at the Vios and the Altis. Putting Mr. Pitt and Miss Spears in the adverts may have made the cars look chic for a while but buying either car won’t get you in bed with either one. They’re pretty good but pretty conservative.

Nissan? The Sentra. Nissan will not let you poke Stephanie Chai after you buy it.

Suzuki? The Swift. Yes, its sexy (from a MINI point of view), its on a budget and its pretty practical as a town car. It should be on your list of reasonably priced cars in Malaysia.

Honda? The City Tadpole on Stilts will make you look years nerdier than you actually are. The Civic 1.8 is as fantastic as a family sedan can get. Its practical, on a budget (if your budget is around RM115k that is) and looks fabulous. It can be pretty violent (in a family man sense) in the performance department as it has 140bhp to play around with.

Kia/Naza. Look at the Bestari 206, it has a good looking body, it is reasonably priced (sub RM80K) and is pretty practical for a town car. The other models are merely rubbish.

Ford. The 1.8 Focus at around RM115K has some qualities that we should look at. Practical, Reasonably Priced but it still looks conservative compared to the Honda Civic. That in itself sways away buyers by the dozen.

Actually the car that I bought should be on this list. The Subaru Impreza 1.6ts, but its not available in the brand new market anymore as the local importers can’t seem to sell Subarus fast enough to justify them importing more in quickly enough. This is sad news but its reality. Why do I say this? It isn’t cheap for a 1.6liter car, but its still less than RM120K, has 4 doors and a boot for practicality, and with the All Wheel Drive offers fantastic handling but seriously lacking in power (which I’ve countered with several mods I will one day divulge in here). It looks brutal (not sexy) with the rear wing, Side skirts, heavily blistered wheel arches and creases. No other sub RM120K car comes close to its handling, and brutal looks (hence the 'violence' portion to the equation). Yet it still keeps that practicality. Check out the pic for reference.

One other point on why you should try this car is that while it is slow, and is one of those cars that require momentum for you to drive it fast and actually rewards you even more than some cars that would smother your mistakes with its power. With this car, if you make no mistakes, it is absolutely rewarding to drive as you know its you making the car flow at ridiculously fast speeds through winding roads and high speed bends. This is also where the handling isn’t corrupted by the All Wheel Drive, it will dance around corners and its natural balance is not corrupted by too much power which sometimes cars suffer from when they do have tons of power. If you’re a driver, it is better than any front wheel drive around. Find me a brand new sub RM120K rear wheel drive car or a 4wd car at this price range?

Yes, yes it sounds like I’m justifying my purchase for this car. The faults in this car are that it isn’t as spacious as a Honda Civic (which is the current best sub RM120K new car by a mile right now) and that the gearbox is pretty crappy. But the advantages outweigh the faults by a mile. But note that you can’t buy this car brand new in Malaysia for now even if you had the cash ready in your pocket. Unless you can find one nearly new one being advertised in Motor Trader. That is till the official distributors decide to import this again. I’m lucky. Of course not as lucky as owning an Impreza WRX STi, but for a fraction of the price you get all of the handling, ride and practicality, minus the horsepower (which you and I know is so easy to procure a little bit more than usual in a very not very catalytic converter/not enviromentally bothered country like Malaysia). And that is what we should all aim for. Something to have fun with while paying for the car instalments in the first place. Leave the uncle cars to the uncles. Stop thinking conservatively. Live a little!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Of Timor Leste, about the Fiat 131 and A Comparison of Different Eras.























Now the newest country on Earth is Timor Leste. It was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century and upon the Portuguese leaving, it was then invaded by Indonesia in 1975, which occupied it until 1999. Following the United Nations sponsored act of self-determination in 1999, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory, which achieved full independence on 20th May 2002, becoming the first new country of the 21st century. There, one fact for all of you to digest while I cook up an opinion about something as it has been a slow week in the automobile scene as far as I am concerned.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Corny District Council Signboards and The New 1.5liter Toyota Avanza


It’s a Monday, and last weekend I had to take a trip up north to visit my Grandmother who wasn’t feeling too well. Upon exiting the North-South Highway at the Kamunting exit we hit the trunk road and headed onwards to Bagan Serai in Perak. Bagan Serai is a small town about half an hour’s drive from Taiping and is surprisingly bustling with activity. I suppose even small towns now are centres of activity due to the fact that there are more people around nowadays. It used to be a sort of sleepy hollow where people retire to and basically wait for their time to come. But things have changed, as even smaller towns like this are now hives of activity. I suppose if you wanted total silence at 8.00pm, you’d have to go to an even smaller place off the road generally travelled by people. The thing with Bagan Serai is that it’s located on the main road connecting Ipoh, Taiping and Penang. And if you are aware, lots of people nowadays try to use these main roads instead of paying money to use the tolled North-South Highway. Tolls cost a bomb these days, not to mention petrol.

Now on the point of money being spent, on the way to Bagan Serai, I happened to come across a sign board put up either by the local district council or by the district office of the Works Ministry stating this.

Selamat Pulang Anak Rantau

Upon translating this it would mean “Welcome Home Travelling Son” or as close as I could be bothered to translate.

Honestly, this signboard looks exactly like any traffic warning sign and isn’t a banner or a big billboard or anything of that sort. It surprised me that someone in the district council felt that it was pretty logical or that it was worth every penny of taxpayers’ money to put up a signboard like that. There were other signboards that made sense, like “Drive carefully so you end up safely at your destination and don’t die” but this one is actually wasteful. Of course local councils like spending their annual budget as if they don’t spend it all they may get a smaller budget next year. But do they have to be so wasteful?

On the subject of travelling back to one’s hometown for the festive season, Toyota have launched the Toyota Avanza 1.5 MPV. Now the people at Toyota have decided to listen to those sorry souls who bought the Avanza in the first place and put a larger engine in it. It was only available in Malaysia with a 1.3liter engine before. This is a good thing to those who intend to buy the Avanza in the first place for its versatility and good value but felt it was underpowered. These people will now rush to the nearest Toyota showroom and have a look at the new 1.5liter Avanza. However I am slightly worried.

With the old one, you see the Avanza drivers actually pull over when you flash your headlights to overtake as they know that their pathetic 1.3liter MPV does not have the power hog the fast lane of the North-South Highway. However, soon with the new and enhanced 1.5liter Avanza, we shall see hogging like we’ve seen before. Hogging usually being done by the popular Toyota Unser (now replaced by the better looking Innova) and the also popular Naza/Kia Ria/Carnival. So instead of being irritated by 2 kinds of MPV, we have to add another one to this list of hoggers.

Why do I say this? Its for the simple fact that the Daihatsu derived, newly developed 3SZ-VE engine, which makes 107hp (80kW) at 6,000rpm and 141Nm of torque at 4,400rpm adds around 21 Newton meters of torque and 15 horsepower over the 1.3 engine. This in turn will enable more people with their wife, 4 children, maid and luggage to try hog the North-South Highway at speeds of around 120km/h and think that they’re fast enough to stay there. What they’re actually doing is being a danger to other road users if they think their Avanza is designed to cruise the highways at those speeds. The problem with Malaysian MPV drivers and also 4X4 and SUV drivers is that they think they are still driving cars. They are not.

The Avanza MPV was designed by Toyota especially as a BUDGET vehicle for the Indonesian market. There it is produced as a 1.0liter and a 1.3liter and that alone is proof that the Avanza is made down to a price. It will offer ride comfort to a price and it will not be able to handle even like a Vios. It’s a fact that most Malaysian Avanza owners will not realise this as they think it’s like any other car. Now the specification of the Avanza’s suspension is that it has McPherson Struts in Front and something called the 4 link coil spring and lateral rod at the rear. Sounds pretty much like a beam axle type suspension made to sound sophisticated by the marketing people of Toyota. This axle setup will work, but it’s no performance setup and coupled with the tallish body of the Avanza does not do wonders towards body control. It’ll work wonders as a people carrier but exceed the limits, it’s pretty dangerous coupled to the tall and skinny looking body of the Avanza. This is something Malaysian Avanza owners do not realise when they drive the darn thing. It’s a dangerous act putting a bigger engine into the Avanza even though customers want it.

While I’m at it, I do believe UMW Toyota can do something about the way it looks. Can’t it look like a mini Estima or a Wish or something like that? The problem again is that the Avanza was designed with the Indonesian market in question and it looks like a cut sized Unser or Kijang. It’s high and long play suspension was meant for terrible Indonesian roads and for it to be able to wade through flood waters. As such, it looks dumpy; like it’s on a set of stilts. Of course the problem is that somehow Malaysians do not realise this and will keep on buying it. I suppose it being a Toyota and there is a ring of quality and good value of money to it. But it shouldn’t be the case. So if you happen to hear your friend or relative wanting to put his money on the Avanza, do tell him to buy the 1.3liter version, and save us all the pain and suffering of queuing behind an Avanza 1.5, thinking that he’s driving a safe, powerful vehicle that’s able to keep up with the cut and thrust of speeding up and down the North-South Highway. We’ll be so grateful for this gesture of kindness. And dammit Toyota, sometimes you shouldn't listen to your customers.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Festive Songs, Globalization and Benchmarking


As we move even closer towards the Hari Raya, we tend to hear all the traditional Hari Raya songs being played in every shopping mall around the city. It’s actually one of those times which drive me crazy. I mean how much of the same song can you take during any given festive season? For Christmas, we hear all Christmas songs, the Chinese New Year we hear the same New Year songs year in and year out. It’s like we as human beings have reached a plateau when it comes to Festive songs. No one seems to be able to make a new classic festive song. It’s either we’re at the pinnacle of festive song making or that we couldn’t be bothered to do so since the old ones are sufficient. What people would do is get P.Diddy to sing a Christmas song instead of Engelbert Humperdinkledoodle to sing it or Siti Nurhaliza to sing a Raya song instead of Fauziah Ahmad Daud or something like that.

It’s like Rolex. What they’ve done to the 70 year old Rolex Oyster watches is that every few years spruce it up a little by rounding off an edge or two. What I suppose the automotive design equivalent would be the Porsche 911. They’ve not decided to change anything but just rearrange the design of the car a little year after year. It’s somewhat like the new mini very recently launched by BMW-Mini. Mini claim that they’ve changed a million parts but looking at the photos from the press releases you can’t seem to find something really different from the old one. I suppose if it ain’t broke, why fix it. Look at the picture in this posting, what's new about the new Mini? I can't seem to tell at all.

I suppose that with those two automotive icons and the watch, humankind has decided that they have reached a pinnacle of design that cannot be altered in a drastic way. And with that statement I would have to agree that a Mini or a 911 would never look good (or bad depending on your point of view) if they tried making it look totally different from what it looks today.

It can be said that Globalisation will in turn assimilate us all into Borgs by making us conform to a global standard. Teenagers around the world want to be like American teenagers for apparently no reason at all other than being cool. The Television and the Internet play such a big role in shaping the world into what it is today. I seriously wonder whether the Sarong will be worn by anyone at home in about 20 years time. Even I myself would only wear the sarong for prayers occasionally and after that it’s folded away somewhere. We all feel more comfortable in shorts rather than a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist.

Notice that everyone in the car industry benchmarks, say for example, Mercedes Benz S-class, as the height of luxury car design and equipment. Almost all notable equipment such as Airbags, driving sensors and so forth was introduced by the S-class series over the years. After a few years, all car manufacturers follow suit by adding what was first equipped in the S-class. Soon all cars will be benchmarked by a certain standard or two. Every car will either look or feel German whether we like it or not. While its scary, it may happen as most manufacturer and management gurus throw the word ‘benchmark’ left, right and centre and everyone seems to agree to it. We’re soon going to see Germanic TVRs, Caterhams, Toyotas (look at Lexus), Ferraris (the Horror!) Protons (which actually is a good thing as they seem to think that the everlasting Proton Saga and Wira are pinnacles of Malaysian Engineering and should be kept forever!) and so forth. All because we have been made to believe on the miracles of Benchmarking the best in the Industry. As such, we may lose individual character of the cars we drive. And it's sad to even think about it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Police decides to lower speed limit on federal and trunk roads for the Festive Season

Honestly, it's not going to make a difference. We'll all be going at 5 mph instead of the lower speed limit of say for example, 70km/h in a 90km/h zone. Why? All roads are going to be jam packed with people. The lorries and heavy vehicles will be banned from using the highways 2 days before Deepavali and 2 days after Hari Raya. They'll all be using the trunk roads then, and will in turn cause traffic there to move slower than a snail going downhill. The problem remains the same.

What actually needs to be done is spend more money widening the North South Highway to 4 lanes either way. Then while they're at it, build the Coastal Highway as quickly as they can. As we all know, the more the better. All these stop gap measures are just stop gap measures. They don't actually solve the actual problem of too little road for too many people. Money shouldn't be an issue, the welfare of the people who have to suffer every festive season should be priority.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Light Rail Transit

Last Sunday I decided to take the family out for a ride on the Light Rail Transit (LRT) from Kelana Jaya to Suria KLCC for a bit of window shopping. The whole reason such a trip came about was due to the fact my 2 and a half year old daughter hadn’t been on a train before and it was the easiest example of a train to hop on with such short notice. Being a 2 year old, she enjoyed it. Being a 34 year old, it didn’t matter much at all whether I was in a train or not.

But, it got me thinking about trains overall. I was born in Taiping, Perak. A small town that is in the Malaysian history books for a lot of firsts. Taiping was the first capital of the state. It was also the place where the first railway tracks were laid, 1885, and it connected Taiping with Port Weld (now due to some beauracrats it’s now named Kuala Sepetang). It's main purpose was to send the tin mined around Taiping to the port and it was along this track where an elephant decided to try out how strong his skull was by ramming head on into a locomotive. It caused the first derailment in Malaya and also the first real death partly caused by trains (obviously the elephant died and had no insurance whatsoever).

Now trains in those days were big old steel steam engines and they smelt of water vapour, steam and soot. I suppose if you wore white, you might be covered in soot if the wind blew the smoke from the steam engine’s chimney and travel in them took slightly longer than watching your 2 year old girl reach 4. But one thing it had was character or a soul if you see things in Jeremy Clarkson’s view. I was lucky to have had the opportunity in the mid 1980s to ride a steam engine in Taiping for the Malaysian Railway’s 100th Anniversary and it was an experience to remember.

The steam engine spews smoke, steam, soot and made chug-chug sounds while moving. It had more curves and crannies than most modern trains. A cylinder for the engine mated to a box for the engineer’s cabin. A coal car for carrying their coal which these trains burn as fuel. Now how romantic would travelling through the countryside by train be?

Coming back to the LRT. It is a characterless object that is used to transport people from one destination to another. There is nothing romantic about it at all, unless someone actually proposed to his or her partner inside an LRT, the scale of the LRT being romantic is negative 5 million.

But I like it. I like it for the fact that when I drive, I know that there are less people commuting on the road; therefore, there is less stress for me during my commute to and from the work place. I like it for the fact that it’s an engineering achievement made during the time of our former Prime Minister. He believed in its purpose for existing and if it weren’t for his commitment and vision, Kuala Lumpur will be in a constant jam throughout the day. Lots of critics at one time condemned this project as a failure, but look who’s laughing now? It’s the person who pushed the project through in the first place. Because it’s actually useful to the general public and monetary wise, it is actually breaking even these days. The only reasons one should hate taking the LRT is that there are pickpockets and some people do not use deodorant at all and smell worse than a rotting elephant.

This is one example of how a soulless, characterless machine assists men throughout their daily lives. But when it comes to cars, you should buy one with some character, and not because you want to get from A to B. Why should you buy something with character? You’re paying for it with your hard earned money for God’s sake. It’s not paid by someone else. That’s the biggest reason to do so.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Ramadan has come, and I'm a Hibernating Bear

The Fasting Month, Ramadhan, is here and as a Muslim, I’m doing what most Muslims do during the fasting month. No, not eat in some secluded area afraid I’ll be spotted eating. But I’ve been fasting. Yes, not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. If you think that I’m going to connect something about motoring to Fasting with an introduction like this you are wrong. I don’t have the energy, due to a lack of normal food and water intake, the processing power in my grey matter has slowed down to a crawl. The logic of move less and to think less equals to no calories but the bare minimum to be burnt. So I get to survive another fasting day. I’m like a hibernating bear, or a zombie depending on your point of view.

Actually it’s not as bad as it sounds this fasting. You actually get to lose some of those pounds from the waist that seems to stick like super glue no matter what you do once you hit a certain age. Usually I get to lose about 2 to 3 kilograms of what ever it is you lose every fasting month. It’s like a reward for the ‘suffering’ you have to go through; aside from the reward that Hari Raya Aidilfitri happens at the end of it.

Now the main problem of motoring in the city during Ramadhan is the traffic in the evenings. Somehow everyone has decided to reach home or wherever they intend to go by 7.00pm. They all want to leave their offices, drive to the nearest Ramadhan food market or pasar Ramadhan as we call it (this is where lots of individuals temporarily open shop and sell all sorts of pastries, fried food and so forth throughout the month), proceed to buy almost every sort of tart or fried chicken they can see and then fight their way back to their homes and families.

I’ve got a secret to share. I’ve stopped frequenting these Ramadan food thingies. It is plain to see that most who open up shop don’t bloody know how to actually cook. Almost nothing there tastes good as they’re mostly cooking for mega profit. Those who buy from a bad stall rarely frequent it again but there’s so many people everyday that they’ll make millions during their month of selling chicken feed food. Every one of the stalls will make millions. Furthermore, if you’d ever notice the prices, they are even more expensive than some ‘mamak’ restaurants, especially if you buy those nasi tomato, nasi minyak etc. They slaughter you silly. The main problem is when most people fast, they tend to be hungry and then when they see a large selection of rubbish, I mean food, they wish to buy everything. Let me give you a tip for Ramadan food market shopping. Go there only once every fasting month and then don’t bother.

The second issue I have with these food markets is that Muslims suddenly become very unIslamic in their parking. Why I say that is because they double park, triple park and obstruct all traffic just because their stomach is growling. This isn’t the purpose for fasting. Nothing about tolerance and good behaviour is said at a pasar Ramadan as it’s every man and his stomach for themselves. I suppose since they are fasting, they can’t walk 10 steps without collapsing, and so they block the whole road for a bag of ridiculously bad food. If the food were good in the first place, those people that you blocked wouldn’t have mind. It’s pathetic.

I seriously suggest those driving home to just go home straight or go to the nearest restaurant rather than frequent places like these. And if you do get home straight from work, I believe that when I travel from Ampang to Petaling Jaya everyday I won’t have to suffer so much as there may be less traffic on the road. And it looks like I have connected this article to something about motoring after all.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The evergreen piece of petrified wood - The Proton Saga


There is no such thing as a waste in modifying any old car. For example, there are lots of older cars being done up to ridiculously high specs in Australia, and also the UK. Note the cars you see in most Aussie tuner magazines, we get ancient Mazda RX3s with an obscene amount of power coming out of their rebuilt and transplanted 13b rotaries, the old Mitsubishi Lancer 1800gsr turbos from the early 1980s and old school Datsuns. They’re still around and have loyal fans.
And about the Malaysian older modified car scene? Does my opening statement hold true? Lets take the evergreen piece of petrified wood; the Proton Saga ( pic above). It has been around in various guises since 1985 when it was first launched. Based on the Mitsubishi Lancer Fiore it was, in 1985 fairly modern and brought in higher taxes for CKD and CBU vehicles. It was the death blow to those who wanted to buy Ford Escorts and Fiats as their family car. Those who wanted cheap European cars would never be able to do so anymore from that day onwards till the present. It was a decent way for a developing country to start car manufacturing. But the only problem was they didn’t know how to stop producing this car. It’s still around! I can also put the blame equally on the management of Proton and the general public as the general public are the ones still buying this car. Proton is just complying with market forces. But for Heaven's sake, its 2006!
Proton Saga as a modified ride to feel proud of? The problem with the Proton Saga is that it isn’t collectable.There are too many of them running around in various guises and facelifts. It does not have any ‘WOW’ factor at all. It is as close as any other car can be to the Nissan Sunny as it is possible (especially the pre-Iswara models). Cheap and cheerless. It has basically been around since the days of Princess Hang Li Po and was also present when Malaysia gained its independence from the British. It needs to be shot and killed. It needs a proper hanging. It needs Darth Vader to use the Force and hurl it into the Sun. It needs a viking burial. Burn them all and send them drifting on a burning pyre somewhere in the South China Sea.
However, there are lots of upgrade parts for this car as it’s been around for awhile and replacement parts are dirt cheap, from various sources. So is the Saga a worthy candidate for wasting your hard earned cash? No. The reason for this resounding ‘No’ comes out from the fact that is it isn’t a nice car to drive around. While you can throw in a 220bhp engine in this car, it won’t/ can’t be made to handle at all. It is safe to say that 125bhp is a good figure for the chassis and not an ounce more. The biggest problem of the Saga is the rear suspension.
The Saga rear suspension comes with trailing arms connected to a very short anti-roll bar. There is no actual lateral (sideways) support for these arms, hence under hard cornering; there is a tendency for all Sagas to really get out of shape during a corner. The Trailing arms have a benefit as they have some ‘give’ by adding a little passive rear steer, but the drawback is that at higher speeds the ‘give’ crosses over to the ‘give way’ point and all hell breaks loose. While it is front wheel drive, the rear suspension is extremely important in keeping the whole car planted. Note that this is the reason most manufacturers ended up using more complicated suspensions to control all of this. In a Saga, it is so possible to have lift off oversteer, highspeed oversteer (try about 150km/h doing a long sweeping corner in a Saga and feel the rear trying to beat its front). You will actually never learn proper car control in the Saga and this is the biggest drawback of owning this car.
Other problems include lack of suspension travel, bad standard geometry and a lack of refinement. You can try minimising all of this by using good tires (14in seems to be the best in terms of braking, handling and comfort), proper Coilover suspension system (changing to ‘Cap Ayam’ springs alone would not do for a Saga) and lots of chassis bracings and P.U. bushes to get the suspension to work properly. However, the downside to all of this is the ride....or lack of it. In short, you still get so little for so much money spent. If you have a Saga, and intend to start modding it seriously, don’t. Spend the money on a new paintjob, a set of rims and a set of coilovers. Not a Ringgit more.
All in all, it is a scary car to drive at its limits. I even remember being sideways in a track prepared Saga driven by a friend at the old Batu Tiga Track on the back straight, it suddenly decided to lose its tail at around 160km/h for nearly no apparent reason at all.
When I get around to it, I’ll write about older cars (circa late 1980, early1990) for those who want to try modding on a budget. These cars are altogether more sensible than doing up a Saga.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Proton WajaLUTION and WiraLUTIONs. Give their owners a big hand.....in their you know where!

Now lets be honest. 99% of Proton owners in Malaysia within the age group of 18 to 45 wish that their Protons were Mitsubishis. Those that bought the Wira realised that these were copies of the Lancer and promptly went to converting the exterior to Lancers with the exception of the rear end which they couldn’t as the cost and legal wrangles that would arise from this isn’t worth it. Those that bought the Waja were even more confused. There really isn’t a twin of this car in the Mitsubishi lineup. What these people were doing is basically their own thing.

The Waja is based on the chassis of the mid1990s Mitsubishi Charisma with a lengthened wheelbase to 2600mm making it on par with the ’00 onwards Lancer Cedia chassis. But we Malaysians, thinking that there is a similarity to the Lancer Evo VII series decided to graft on EVO VII bumpers and rear wing, fibreglassing over the boot area and mounting the plate number elsewhere, putting Mitsubishi emblems here and there, thinking that their Waja is a Lancer Evolution. They are seriously wrong.

It bothers me (only very slightly) when I think of how silly they are. How can they drive around in their Wajas thinking they have an Evolution VII? Where do these people live? How come none of my relatives or friends drive funny Wajas like this? Are they from another dimension suddenly popping up on Malaysian roads to give people like me a good laugh? I suppose they could be living in some cave somewhere and no one actually knows them. They may not have any friends in the first place. Maybe that’s why my friends and I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting a Wajalution owner in person. Maybe I have friends who in fact knows a few of these people but are embarrassed to admit knwing people like them. In fact, recently a friend forwarded me some pictures of a Waja complete with Evo arches and fenders, lights front and rear and it completely amazed me that someone was willing to commit his bank account into an act of atrocity like that. If I met the owner, I’d ask him “why?” and then proceed to lecture him about taste and good sense. Wajas are Wajas, they do not make Lancer Evolutions even if you went to the nearest bodykit specialist and paid him a bomb. If I was a Waja owner, I’d covert my Waja to a BTCC lookalike Waja. That has better pedigree.

Now, at the time of writing, I happened to open up my email to find; a Waja using a Version 9 Impreza nose. It looks like soon no brand will be spared from the ever-innovative Malaysian Waja owners. We may see a B.M.Waja M3 soon at this rate. Or would a Waja Levin Trueno tickle your fancy? I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to graft on some pop up lights, seal the rear doors and bolt on a rear hatch to achieve your Drift King dreams.

On another note, there is another trend to hit owners of Proton Wiras. I am supportive if they just change the whole front end to look like a Lancer Evo I-III. But we now have this stupid trend of using big balloon tires, rally mudflaps and raised ride heights on their strictly ROAD DRIVEN WIRA. What are you guys trying to do eh? You’re trying to make a rally replica? Note that balloon tires, increased suspension height and mudflaps are common in gravel/dirt specification rally cars. Haven’t you heard of tarmac specification? You should have big 17-18in rims with a lowered ride suspension. Why do you want to drive around on stilts? The Wira on its stock ride height is already rolling around and will have lift off oversteer at high speeds on the 1.5l and below ( due to a lack of a rear anti roll bar) and you guys want to raise it up higher than usual. What is wrong with you people? You want off road clearance you buy a 4x4 jeep thingy. If you want a rally look to your car, understand that there is such a thing as tarmac spec. In short, I hope this stupid trend goes away soon.

Now if any of you readers want a solution or two to the above mentioned problems aside from taking out a mallet and trashing these cars, you would know that it actually is very simple. Educate thyself before coming out with funny trends that make your car silly. Why don’t you make the car corner better, be more refined, and be faster rather than waste time making your Proton into something its not? (Especially to those with Wajas as, I REPEAT – THERE IS NOTHING SIMILAR BETWEEN YOUR CAR AND A MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO VII-IX AT ALL) It’ll be a more rewarding thing to do to your Proton.

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