Toyota takes the grand prize
What matters most: great product or great dealers?
That’s what I’m pondering in the aftermath of the cars.co.za awards, a COTY-type (Car Of The Year) competition which chooses winners in various categories and also chooses a brand of the year. The former is based on actual testing by a group of motoring journalists (combined with owner input via questionnaire) while the latter is based exclusively on the owner surveys.
The brands which dominate the South African market – Volkswagen and Toyota – dominated the awards too.
Volkswagen won four category prizes, so I’m assuming they have the best products and Toyota was the brand of the year (also winning a category). Toyota seems to take a more holistic approach and the aftersales experience is hugely important. Untroubled ownership is the essence of Toyota and while I don’t own one (and never have) I have experienced this philosophy in action both at a dealer and OE level.
Let’s face it, a Yaris isn’t a match for the very latest Polo (it was barely a match for the previous VW Supermini) and an Auris is not the equal of a Golf but if you want a life partner that’s going to keep on giving, then a Toyota it must be.
In the (albeit short) history of the competition, VW tops the pile with 10 category wins but it has never taken home the Brand award. Toyota has now been Best Brand twice, as has upstart, Suzuki. This is a statistic which should worry local VW executives as this result is determined entirely by market and customer data.
Ultimately, it is interesting that the ownership experience plays such an important role and once the new car thrill has worn off all most people want is a reliable car that is affordable to own, and when something goes wrong, a dealership nearby that doesn’t make you feel like you’re being a nuisance. Interestingly, in no fewer than 5 out of the 13 categories the judges’ favourites did not win, due to the impact of the ownership satisfaction aspect.
This, of course, is not unique to franchised dealers, where it can make or break a brand and applies to all products and most services. At RGMotorsport we don’t sell a brand of car but we’re very aware how the experience at the counter or on the phone affects how people feel about our brand. In that respect, we try to stay ahead of the curve and it isn’t only franchised dealers that pay attention (or not, as the case might be) to customer service.
The Sporty Heart Beats On
Being a petrolhead and not loving Alfa Romeos is a bit of a contradiction in terms.
For us of the older generation, Alfa always has been special. Their overt sportiness is undeniable and even through ups and downs, that remains. A company with a chequered past and hits and misses on a business level, the Milan-based manufacturer mostly delivered the goods when it comes to product. But maybe that needs to be qualified: the styling has almost always been spot on (certainly in the case of every GTV ever), the road manners have been a sheer pleasure and the way they make a driver feel on an emotional level is without peer in mass-market cars. These are sweeping statements of course and there have been exceptions.
But even the big cars – the 164 and the 159 for example – left a driver feeling highly satisfied.
Quality-wise…hmmm, a lot of them have been about as consistent as Donald Trump on Twitter.
Alfa Romeo Cuore Sportivo, a book by Lorenzo Ardizio, includes a foreword by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd. Mason is a passionate car collector and can talk with authority about cars old and new and has also driven many cars in his expansive stable in anger.
In his missive, he makes a comparison between cars and animals and points out that there’s little in common between a leopard in a zoo and one in the real world. True beauty comes in seeing it in action, rather than static, he says.
Alfas are very much like that. They look good static but they look much better on the move! And of course, movement brings with it other sensory pleasure, like sound.
As a teenager I can remember sitting on the cheap seats at Kyalami, with a train of GTVs coming through Crowthorne, multiple 3.0-litre V6s at full chat still a sharp memory. Motorsport has been part of Alfa’s heritage forever though sometimes also a hit and miss affair, from Formula one down. Remarkably, Alfas have only won 10 F1 races.
Nowadays we see Alfa Romeo in F1 via Sauber, an outfit that has had more partners than Liz Taylor. Could 2019 be a significant year for Alfa Rome Sauber F1 with Kimi Raikkonen joining them until the end of 2020? Or is he just slowly winding down into retirement?
Whatever comes to pass on the tracks, there is no doubt that there are still plenty of special Alfa Romeo road cars. Witness the Giulietta, Giulia and the 4C…all three striking, exciting offerings in their segment with a unique flavour. And judging by the number of Alfa customers who make contact with RGMotorsport, there are still plenty of owners who want to make their one more special than the next! There have been special version of all three to come out of the Motorsport workshop at RGM.
That in itself is an endorsement of the brand – people don’t just buy it and feel the job is done. There’s a constant hunger, a need to feel how changes will enhance the performance and overall driving experience still further…it’s a bit like an addiction – but a good one!
FORCE FED - TO GET AHEAD
Good Enough For The Spitfire…
Did you know that the most iconic aircraft of all time (In my humble opinion) was powered by a supercharged engine? It meant that the 27-litre Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 made its rated power of about 1 350 kW (in later versions) at some 5 800 metres above sea level – a useful advantage for a fighter such as the Supermarine Spitfire…
Being supercharged also meant that an intercooler (a liquid-cooled one) was needed, to prevent the compressed air/fuel mixture from becoming too hot, which could lead to uncontrolled ignition and potential engine damage.
Sounds a bit like what RGMotorsport does to ensure high-altitude performance even in Gauteng’s mid-Summer, a combination which can seriously erode the performance of forced induction cars with undersized intercoolers. In fact, it reminds me of a Nissan 200SX I owned, which was a completely different car on cool Winter’s morning and a hot Summer’s afternoon…
Supercharging of car engines was pioneered by Mercedes-Benz in the 1920s, using a Roots-type blower. A Roots-type blower (which is what we opt for on the Mustangs and other V-configuration motors) is actually a pair of interlocking rotors inside an enclosed housing with an intake and outlet. On the straight sixes we usually use a centrifugal supercharger which has the snail-type look normally associated with a turbocharger and uses a similar turbine arrangement to compress the intake gases.
Nevertheless, the difference between a turbocharger and a supercharger is in the fundamental operating principal even though they both use a compressor to increase the density of the intake air. Superchargers use a mechanical linkage – normally a belt - to drive the compressor while a turbo uses spent exhaust gas to spin the compressor. Because a supercharger is operating permanently, there is no delay in accelerating everything to a point at which it can begin to ‘squeeze’ the air before it is sent on its way to the inlet valves…this is the dreaded turbo lag which is followed by a sometimes-unpleasant surge as the boost increases exponentially.
A supercharger, on the other hand, generates boost directly in relation to rpm but the downside is that the mechanical drive absorbs power (while a turbo uses exhaust gas pressure which would otherwise to go waste).
They act of compressing the air generates heat so to enjoy maximum benefits both approaches require some kind of cooling device through which the air passes. Intercoolers in themselves bring a number of challenges in terms of packaging and cost. But if due care isn’t given to this aspect of a forced induction conversion or upgrade, reliability and efficiency will be severely compromised.
As anyone with an interest in cars will know, forced induction is an increasingly common solution to getting impressive power out of a small engine, but the engineering tolerances are high so it isn’t something just anybody can undertake…