Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Some news


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.


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.