Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mass production and a car for the masses: The Perodua Viva 660cc

There was a time when people found it hard to own a decent pair of shoes, or a watch, or a car, or a nice suit but now with the advent of mass production, everyone has to chance of owning one of the items mentioned above. In those days, people had to go to the nearest cobbler in town to repair or buy a new pair of shoes. This would mean walking or riding their horses miles and miles to get there; Only to find that the cobbler was away vacationing in Brussels and would only be back in about 6 months time. The person would be shoeless throughout the 6 month period as the nearest town with another cobbler or shoemaker would be a 2 week ride journey. During that time, his vegetable patch would wither away, his cows would be stolen and his wife and kids sold off to slavery. So he would have to make do with his old pair of shoes with holes in them. Now, with the advent of mass production, he would go to the nearest Bata shop and purchase his new pair of cheap shoes and be happy.

I would consider us as very fortunate that we live in an age where clothing, transport and telecommunication is relatively affordable. Notice that we have clothing as cheap as 5 Ringgit brand new, Cell Phones as cheap as 100 Ringgit brand new and 10,000 Ringgit for a decent used car. We have progressed a long way from not owning anything to everyone owning something useful.

The great thing about mass production is that you can mass produce really useful items quickly and cheaply for everyone to benefit. Of course the bad thing is that it creates something called unnecessary spending which is needed by the factory owners to keep on making money. This then created the reasoning behind having a ‘newly improved model’ every 4 or 5 years (or even less when it comes to cell-phones). You see it in cars and bikes mostly as well as fashion. Trends and fashion dictate what we must have instead of necessity. That is why my wife and I have a combined shoe collection larger than Imelda Marcos at her prime. But that is another story. Today we are going to talk about the cheapest and most sensible way of transport in Malaysia. Owning a Perodua Viva 660cc Manual. Yes, I’ve managed to take a short drive of that car somewhere around Bukit Damansara and the Sri Hartamas area at a time and place that would remain undisclosed in case I drove too fast or too slow.

This car isn’t as small as you think it is. It isn’t like the Kancil which it replaces as it has really decent rear legroom as its length is the same as the larger MyVi except that it is narrower. But, it isn’t as narrow as the Kancil or the Kelisa (which it also replaces) which is a good thing. The memories of me driving a 1st Generation Kancil with another large friend was that of me and him rubbing shoulders and him leaning on me on fast corners. The seats weren’t supportive at all.

Inside: The basic 660cc Viva is pure hard plastic. I suppose paying RM25,000 and a bit more (after discount given) for a car would get you that nowadays. The seats and steering are not adjustable and it is all grey plastic. Very Spartan. However, I must add that the switchgear have quite tactile feel compared to some earlier generation Japanese / Malaysian / Korean cars. I suppose things have improved on that level. There is no power assisted steering for the base model but low speed steering won’t kill you. Acceptable driving position but seats without any lateral support.

Driving it: It understeers. I comes standard on 12 in rims and tires in 145/155 size. Any corner taken over the speed of 35km/h causes it to go into understeer mode. It needs more front end grip which you can get by putting either aftermarket rims and tires which are larger or finding a newly traded in set of 14 in wheels and tires from the 1,000cc model. I’d go down to Klang as often people go there to change tires and rims. However, you may wonder whether putting larger tires may cause extra drag for the minute engine.

The Ride: It rides better than the Kancil as well as the Kelisa. In fact, if you bought the previous generation Saga, this Viva rides better. But the main gripe of this car is that it understeers. This somewhat kills the fun of it compared to the Kelisa. However, what you are getting is a more refined car compared to even the Kelisa. I suppose you can’t win ‘em all.

The engine: It is a 660cc lawnmover engine stuck into a car. The 3 cylinder warble is quite addictive. It does need more poke. 39 or so bhp is merely adequate as my 100kg ‘svelte as a movie star’ frame and a 55+kg friend. You can hear it screaming as soon as it reaches a slight uphill gradient as you have to downshift in expectation of that short hillclimb. The car, if left in say, 3rd gear would just amble slowly up the slope and may irritate other roadusers. It does have a 8,000rpm redline, but why does it have that redline I could not, for the love of eating Lamb Shanks, understand why it does not make any form of power above 6,000rpm. Maybe it needs a free flowing airfilter and an exhaust system to extract all that power. You have such a nice high redline, but you aren’t allowed to exploit it. Motorcycles have an even higher redline if it were a 600cc sportsbike.

If I bought this car, I’d stick on a suspension system to kill the understeer and then work on making the engine breathe. I will be the mosquito that I mentioned earlier, buzzing around with a nice 8,000rpm dentist drill. I would be pretty fun. However, if I was working in a factory, just married with a kid on the way I wouldn’t. I’d just enjoy the fact that I have a nice comfortable car to carry the wife, kid and myself around KL even though I don’t earn a lot and I don’t want to go the 2nd hand route. Isn’t that what basic transport is all about?

* Many thanks to the owner of the car who I’m sad to say lost his Toyota Celica recently to desperate scumbags who steal cars for a living. May the person/s who stole that car one day gets struck down by lightning or flattened by a falling meteorite. And NO...he did not buy the Viva after losing the car. You think he's crazy? Nobody in his right mind would switch cars like that!

Friday, April 04, 2008

New Layout and a Test Drive: 2008 Suzuki Swift 1.5

As you can now see, I've finally learnt more about making this blog looking better than it was before. It has taken me a few months to actually decide on whether I should make such a change or not. Mainly as I was a little too preoccupied with other matters like raising a kid, drinking Earl Grey tea at home or going shopping with the missus. I think this new format does wonders to the outlook of this site and if I was a little less lazy, it would have been done sooner!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

How to bring down an Institution to its knees within a period of 5 years

Recently Malaysia concluded its general elections. The opposition managed to take 5 states, and did not allow the Ruling Coalition its two thirds majority. Everyone was shocked. Some cried, some died and some basically rejoiced. However, everyone of us became an unpaid political analyst; giving our opinions freely at coffeeshops, fast food restaurants, hotel lobbies, over the telephone and so forth. Times are a changin' as Dylan once wrote and so are most Malaysians. The biggest outcome was that Malaysians were indeed willing and unafraid to make changes. I suppose that as a nation gets more developed, things like this happen. What's there to be afraid of? In America, the supposed Land of the Free, Burgers and Fries things like this have been happening for ages. The Republicans and Democrats swap ruling that country every other term or so. The country hasn't burnt to the ground or suffered. With that statement, the big wheel will still keep on turning irregardless of who's behind the wheel.

We also noticed that somehow the people in power seem to have a tough time letting go or taking responsibility of such a bad showing at the elections. I mean, if you were a CEO of a public listed company which had RM100million worth of sales in each 14 states and areas over a period of 30 years, and suddenly you had close to zero sales in 5 states, 50% sales in some states and a drop in the states that never had a drop at all; what would the board of directors to do you? They would assuredly feed you to the sharks. Which is what the Ruling Coalition did not do to their General. Amazing. I suppose they still believe in the Hang Tuah theory of blindly following the ruler's arse even to certain doom. I think we need more Hang Jebats around, seriously.

Anyway, with people seemingly wanting the establishment or institution ruined, including by those in power we must note that the main reason for this is:

a lack of commitment by the number 1 guy (slow decision making andpictures of him sleeping or supposedly " deep thought" give everyone the wrong idea no matter what reason is given and stories of him being late to official and unofficial functions give this reason more ammunition,
listening to the wrong advisors (Oxford graduates that seem to be into self preservation tend to give bad advice),
advisors not giving proper advise - usually for self preservation and benefit (usually guys who want to maintain as Ministers to reap in the profits),
blindly going ahead with projects that the public does not want or have protested (lots of unnecessary hills and trees bulldozed amid protests; and
basically ignoring the person on the street by increasing every basic necessity within a span of 3 years.

Any establishment or institution is bound to come crashing if you follow the above all within a short periood of 5 years from the date of comming into power.

Now if you remember, even Mercedes Benz did this to its own self and suffered dearly. They did the following:

Did a cost cutting exercise because some smart alec executive read all the car reviews which basically said that Mercedes Benz were over engineered cars especially the W124 series and the W140 series of cars which until this day seems to last without any worries or hassles to their owners. The cars after that, especially the 2000 onwards C-class suffered with failing electrics and so forth. Of course these were corrected when the next facelift arrived. However the problem hit the whole range of Mercedes cars and the company suffered in terms of sales and warranty claims due to this. Sometimes you can't cost cut what's most important to you.

They bought Chrysler. Why bother with an American car company? There is no benefit whatsoever. Chrysler would benefit from Mercedes technology but what could Chrysler offer? Outdated engines and chassis? Even the Dodge Viper had a pushrod 1950s style truck engine. Volume Sales? They are last among the three American car producers. They realised this and only last year sold off all shares. I mean here in Malaysia, what Chrysler vehicle have you seen recently? The Jeep Cherokee? It was a rubbish vehicle compared to the equivalent Toyota Land Cruiser or even a Land Rover Defender.

I suppose every large organisation needs a shakeup once in a while. I just hope that the people in the Ruling Coalition decide on things soon. Like giving someone the boot as soon as possible. It's not logical for anyone to be sitting in power after such a shocking round of defeats; even if you're still in control, or are they still in control in the first place?

However, the great thing about cars compared to politics is that you can correct the problems quickly. I mean look at Mercedes of today. It has got every sort of car for every kind of people. No one, not even BMW or even AUDI has a line up as comprehensive and as sublime as Mercedes. If you think I am lying I shall give you examples. If you are into a sporty sort of car, they have their AMG cars, if you're a captain of the industry they have their S-class and their Maybach. If you are just a manager you can buy the C-class or E-class. If you're not so rich or think that RM250K is too much money for just a car, a 1992 E230 would still garner you the respect at most hotel lobbies unlike a 1995 E34 bmw 520i. Somehow, Mercedes Benz age gracefully unlike other cars. This is why a Mercedes is an icon. You just can't beat joining an establishment or an institution like that.