Wednesday, 21 October 2009

What price exclusivity?

So the production LF-A's just been shown at Tokyo. Plenty of stats to admire though the one I find most interesting (a sticking point for most); £330,000. And yet Toyota will still lose money on each if R&D costs are factored in.

Now why, I hear you ask, did they artificially limit the production run to 500. When they could have let the market absorb as many as it cared to and in turn, potentially given them back a bit more of the money they invested.

Simple: there are some for whom the very fact the that there'll only ever be 500 will be a selling point.

I asked a friend of mine once what car they guessed I'd have when I was a little bit older and I wasn't a debt-ridden student. Though they didn't name a specific car, they suggested it'd be something a little left-field. I agree with them.

I've always been taken in by the idea of owning a VW Phaeton or a Renault Vel Satis. Cars that were essentially sound propositions but suffered for people feeling they cost more than their badges were worth.

The same prejudice will be a handicap for the LF-A [and the Hyundai Equus], however much they may be statements from their respective manufacturers. From Hyundai that they can make cars every bit as good as BMW and Mercedes, and Lexus, that they can manufacture a car that can comfortably duel Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

I don't think having something could be made more satisfying purely by not many other people having it. Far more smugness-inducing to have spotted a gem that slipped under everyone else's noses.

So I would probably buy the LF-A, if I had the money, but the extra cash I'd fork out would be to demonstrate 'individuality' in my consumerism, though not, unlike some, just to secure 'exclusivity'.

Monday, 5 October 2009

What's in a unit?

I didn't learn very much about Engineering during my 3 years studying it at University but I did learn enough to be quite critical of figures when they are presented to me. I learnt that, how you choose to measure something can have a huge effect on the facts you can back up using said measurements.

McLaren claim that their M838T is the most 'efficient' series-production internal combustion engine because it happens to produce less CO2 per horsepower than any other internal combustion road car engine.

They neglect to mention that there are literally over a thousand other ways to measure the efficiency of an IC engine. No doubt they chose that metric because it paints their M838T in the best light. They could have told us for example, a figure we all understand like its mpg figure.

The scenario reminds me of a few years ago when digital camera manufacturers were in the business of quoting the megapixels their cameras were capable of shooting as if it was the be-all and end-all of camera performance. Compare a photo from a 8.0MP phone camera to an old 3.2MP SLR for example and you can clearly see how megapixels only tell half the story.

I do admire the P11 project as I think you can gather from the post immediately preceeding this one, but I wish McLaren didn't resort to such shady tactics to promote their product. That they quoted statistics we're used to and let us make our own minds up rather than manipulate the facts.

Anyone else noticed they didn't publish a final mass for the MP4-12C but still found time to make a big song and dance about their 'amazingly light' 80kg CFRP tub?

The MP4-12C - A quizmaster's boon

It is not going on sale before 2012 and it is out of reach for most given it'll cost about the same as a 3-bed semi- in 'the North', but the McLaren MP4-12C deserves column space in 2010 for the sheer technological endeavour it embodies.

After the £600,000 F1 of 1992 and the £300,000 SLR that has just ceased production, the new car can almost be said to represent McLaren's descent into the 'mainstream' retailing at around £125-£175,000. Make no mistake though, this British supercar is anything but humdrum. The painstaking approach employed by its designers in creating it, is breathtaking.
Those from outside of the walls of the space-age "Technology Centre" in Woking where McLaren are based, may not have not heard of 'the 5% rule', but it goes thus: The engineers scrutinised every single component that makes up the car, and polished off and trimmed every last bit of weight they possibly could. Then after they finished, they revisited each component and magicked up another 5% reduction in weight .
The 'C' in MP4-12C indicates 'carbon fibre', a material used to make the chassis weigh less than Jonny Wilkinson.  The brakes are not made from carbon like they are in most other supercars because the engineers found a way to make them using steel whilst still saving 8kg. 

Virtually all road cars (and incidentally, most houses) use copper wire in their electronic systems but McLaren used aluminium, yet again because it represents a more weight-conscious approach. This saved 5kg. The structure behind the dash was made from magnesium instead of steel to save another 4kg and to top it all off McLaren built their own engine and gearbox from the ground up when they could just done what most upstarts do and bought a drivetrain off the shelf. All of this to achieve "efficient performance" to put it in their parlance.
I understand I might be beginning to sound somewhat fanatical so to achieve some balance, I think it's worth pointing out where the MP4-12C leaves blots on its copy paper; it looks a bit plain.

Especially next to the Audi R8, Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo and Mercedes SLS. That said, the non-controversial looks may mean time treats its better. Its aformentioned predecessor the F1, for example, still looks fresh despite first being presented to the world in 1992.
MP4-12C will be judged on more fronts than just looks though and given the praise lavished on Ferrari's 458 Italia by those who have driven it, it's going to have to impress on many. Ron Dennis has had no qualms about publicly singling out Ferrari as their benchmark. This comes as no surprise because in motorsport they say, "To be the best, you have to beat the best". And it is in motorsport where these two great companies and their long-standing rivalry was born.
McLaren and Ferrari have traded blows at the front of the Formula 1 pack since the 1980s. In fact, between 1998 and 2008, they took all of the Formula 1 manufacturers' world titles that were on offer, bar two (stolen by Renault in 2005 & 2006). So McLaren trying to take Ferrari's mantle in the road car space isn't so much picking a fight as moving it to another arena. Only logical then for McLaren to go to so much effort to find top form with the MP4-12C and I for one wish McLaren succeed in their endeavour.
Especially because of the refreshing daring and ambition that is on display in a way that just isn't common anymore in the increasingly corporate (neutered!) world we live in. That and the potential that they might start a return to greatness for the British car industry.