Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dearest BMW, Don't Design Garbage and Call Them Niche Cars Will Ya? a.k.a. The BMW X6

I was driving peacefully along the SPRINT highway somewhere in Petaling Jaya when I was passed by the monstrous BMW X6 3.0. This car was recently launched in this country and the driver must have been feeling proud driving that hideous monster up and down the roads of Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur. I seriously cannot understand how BMW came up with such a design brief and issued a go ahead to build this car in the first place. The design brief must have read:

Dear Mr Bangle (then Head of Design, BMW)

This is the Board of Directors writing to you. Hope you are fine. We need you and your 'brilliant' degsign team to come up with a Sports Utility Vehicle that has a sloping tailgate (like a hatchback), 4 doors, square jawed David Coulthard front end, funny lines here, there and everywhere, BMW front grill that is as flaired as nostrils from an angry gorilla and sitting on 20 inch tires.

The reason for this is that recently Mercedes has come up with the CLS and it concerns us. The CLS seems to be taking sales from our M5 and M3. We think the reason for that is that it looks pretty good. We now think that with this new SUV cum Sports Hatchback Coupe we can recover some of the ground lost to the CLS. We reckon that with a car that is a 'niche within a niche' BMW will be able to profit as this is what our customers want. They do not want a CLS i.e a coupe with 4 doors, but they, the ultimate driving customers want an SUV that is sporty.

Yours sincerely
The Board

What is heck's name were thay thinking? It makes no sense. The X6, according to a guy whom I know who rides a bike to work thinks it is a bulldog on wheels. I myself think 'why?'.

What makes BMW think that "I think our X5 customers want a coupe, but still want an SUV at the same time". So to kill a lot of birds with one ugly stone, BMW comes up with a 4 door hatchback that is slightly shorter than an x5 but as high as a Toyota Harrier.

Yes, BMW engineers can make it corner like a hot hatch, because basically it IS one, only ten times the size of one. What's the actual point? If you want to drive fast, buy an M3, buy an M5, buy a Mercedes CLS or buy a Megane R26R (IF YOU REALLY WANT A FAST HATCHBACK). Don't buy a stupid looking, pointless, idiotic, niche car that thinks it can do everything. Furthermore, as an SUV, it cannot even wade though mud. It can't tow a trailer. It can't do most things people buy SUVs for.

BMW hardly makes sense. Ah, Mercedes has tapped into a niche market with the CLS. We'll tap into ANOTHER niche market, they said. Yes, no one has thought of a 4 door coupe on stilts. So they built it.

By then, the X6 passed me by, leaving me with bitter thoughts about the pointlessness of its existence. Then a Proton Gen2 passed by. It then occured to me that the BMW X6 is actually a Gen2 that has been photoshopped with a different grill and lights and its size increased by 1.5times, running on 20inch rims instead of 15in rims and tires. BMW should give royalty to Proton. I'm right, trust me. Look at the pics below and tell me truthfully whether they're the same car or not?

Left: The Proton Gen2 Right: The BMW X6 (or was it the other way round?)

Then again, I may have started a new trend here. We're used to seeing Proton Wiras modded to have tall tires like palm oil estate rally cars, soon we'll see X6 replicas running around Kuala Lumpur. Why buy the X6 if you can make one for yourself cheaply?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Perak: The Lumbering State. Volvo: The Lumbering Brand

There has been lots of rubbish of the political sort being thrown around in the Malaysian state of Perak these past couple of months. The tussle between the two main parties has gone from the removal of the state minister with a new one and a new state speaker to replace the previous one due to the change in state government that happened because a few members of one side jumping ship to the other. Now all this nonsense has got me thinking. What actually has Perak got to offer anyone in the first place with the exception of the people in charge?

Why I am asking such a question is that it usually benefits the people in charge as they can give out grants, land and contracts to their family, friends, cronies and those that they feel deserves it. Of course, this is supposedly done through ‘transparent’ negotiation, application forms, tenders and meetings. But the biggest problem I see in Perak is that irregardless of who’s in charge, the state is one of the slowest developing states in Malaysia.

The whole state seems to be like Taiping (see the pic below). Slow, idyllic, beautiful, a haven to pensioners and a place where we can sit at the market and point to a spot and place a bet with your friends stating: “The rain will come and its first drop with hit that spot at 2.30pm…for 10 Ringgit”.

It honestly is that slow. The traders who sell stuff at the market actually do that. They can and will wager a bet on anything and everything around Taiping as they’ve got nothing better to do with their lives. I should know. I was born and raised in Taiping and I still love Taiping for what it is (due to good food and its heritage actually). I can even predict atmospheric patterns to this day and age.

Actually the main problem with Perak is that it is a state in between Penang and Selangor (or more accurately, the Klang Valley). Development is concentrated in the two states and all trade centers around these two growth areas. The spillover of the development in Penang is towards Kedah, from Sungai Petani to Kulim and in Selangor, most of the development has gone towards Negeri Sembilan towards the Nilai district. It seems that Perak has not been able to gain any spillover from actual manufacturing and even in tourism; things do not seem that colourful. The only thrill I get in Perak is passing Jelapang toll to the North towards Taiping, where it passes through slightly ‘mountainous’ terrain. The North South Highway at that stretch is at its highest, with a nice long tunnel to listen to the exhaust note bounce off of it and nice uphill and downhill dual carriageways for you to enjoy sweeping corners as well as tight bends. It might un-nerve some drivers, but I enjoy that stretch tremendously.

Perak has Pangkor Island and Lumut as seaside resort locations. Maxwell Hill (Bukit Larut) as its hillside resort, and Taiping (including Pasir Salak) as its heritage site. But not much development or promotion has been actually done to make these sites. Of course there would be environMENTALists that would like to see the state under-developed so that places like Maxwell Hill be pristine and undisturbed. But heck, I love Maxwell Hill, but the only way to reach that place is by the government Land Rovers or if you enjoy hiking, a good 5-6 hour trek upwards. The last and only time I trekked up Maxwell Hill I was 15. If I went trekking again, I’d probably give up after the first 50 feet uphill. If I carried on any further, I’d suffer from breathing difficulties. Okay, no vehicle pollution for the hill. Could someone install a cable car service then? Not some flimsy cable car like the one in Langkawi, 1 piece of wire with one hook holding the cabin up to a wire isn’t what I call a safe way of travel. As a friend said, “if you had a choice between sky-diving and scuba diving, always choose scuba diving ‘cause your head may survive a scuba dive over a sky dive without a properly opening parachute”.

Pangkor can be another Langkawi if someone as visionary as our Tun Mahathir came along and decided that we need another Langkawi and pushed any development like crazy. We have Lumut as the Corte D’Azur and say, Pangkor as an Island paradise close to it. That would be fabulous. But notice that the roads leading to Lumut ain’t a fantastic highway to make travel easy. No one actually has done a proper development plan for the state of Perak and someone should do so soon. What? You want me to come up with one instead of complaining? Who says I don’t have a plan? I’m not getting paid for it so it’s staying in my brilliant brain for the moment. Of course, neither I’m being paid to maintain this blog but that’s a different matter isn’t it?

Perak is slightly stuck in a time warp, where time moves slowly compared to the two other states. It is not 1875, 1975 or even 1995. It’s 2009, and Perak needs a big push and therefore could the state government, whoever is in charge please buck up, set aside differences, move forward and stop all this nonsense. Is that actually so much to ask?

If Perak were a car it’ll be a Volvo 240. Years ago around 1875 when tin was being mined, rubber beginning to be planted and when Ngee Hin fought Hai San. It was a happening place to live. Nowadays, it’s basically the same car being driven around by a pensioner who happens to live in Taiping in the year 2009. Or if the pensioner used his EPF money draw out, he’d buy a used 1995 850GLT and think,

“Damn, that’s progress!This 850 is a mighty fine car.”

But he failed to note that the year is 2009 and the 850 is already a decade and a half old and car dynamics and basically progress has changed for the better. And that's how modern Perak is, in my opinion.

Things have moved on and even Volvo has moved on with their current S80 (right). With their IKEA styled center dash and modern, dare I say it Honda like looks and very acceptable ride and handling. However good a 240 is in ferrying people around, it’s too laid back. Yes there are twin turbo Supra engined 240s around which are actually fun and hilarious to drive. But ol’ Grandpa Abdullah still wouldn’t run fast with the latest pair of Addidas or after a heart transplant. You wouldn’t want to try out corner even a Satria GTI in one if you get what I mean.

As for Volvo, it too needs a bigger push. As good as the new S80 is, I still don't see anyone thinking about buying it. It still needs more image makeovers here in Malaysia (and maybe the world). No one actually really stops to think about buying a Volvo. Seriously. Unless he's looking for an estate like the V50. For RM250k+, most would buy the smaller Mercedes c200 or even the BMW 320. More dynamic Volvos please? or more race exposure to bring in the younger crowd (like what they did in the 1990s in the BTCC with their outrageous Volvo 850 wagons).

But I’d leave Taiping as it is. Those in the know would understand

The 240. Nice car, great Memories. But things have moved on a bit. Use one now in stock form and you'll be called 'Granpa' even if you're only 30 years old.

The 850. In R form, pretty fast box. I remember seeing one which really went for it on the then newly completed SPRINT highway in Petaling Jaya sometime in 1999 going like stink. Awesome shoebox! Great if you could find 850T5-R. Fab sounding 5 cylinder and turbo grunt to go.