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IAIN ROBERTSON

 

All major industrial and commercial organisations need a ‘governing body’ to maintain balance and control, writes Iain Robertson, while providing a lobbying and liaison facility to ensure that a positive approach to legislation is provided.

 

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The UK motor industry is served by The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd (SMMT). Every motor-related business in the UK, whether from the PR and marketing aspects, manufacturing, sales, or motor dealers, is affected by the actions of the SMMT and, whether they are members or not, the body’s role in shaping key environmental policies and supporting core initiatives is central to its consumer-focused ethos.

 

Three times every year, at Millbrook (a ‘secret’ automotive test facility in Bedfordshire) and at locations in the Bristol and Wetherby areas, the SMMT Test Days take place, to the benefit of motoring scribes and accredited journalists. While the larger Millbrook event attracts a greater number of attendees (mainly because of its proximity to London) of both media and manufacturers, it is the more parochial venues in the north and south-west of England that underscore their immense value to writers based in the regions away from the Capital.

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This autumn, Wetherby Racecourse hosted 29 car companies and 56 new models for around 120 mixed speciality journalists. A great many of the cars have been featured on these pages before but the event always provides an opportunity to sample models that might have slipped through the net, while also presenting one of the most practical networking days in the calendar. Prior notification of what would be available meant that I was able to target several models, including the all-new Hyundai Tucson and the latest specification Ford Galaxy S-Max.

 

However, one of the more important new models was sadly not available to test drive. The Infiniti Q30 on display was the only pre-production example presently in the country, therefore, perhaps Infiniti was justified in having it as a static display only. Infiniti, despite it being the equivalent of Lexus to Toyota, in Nissan terms, remains a small but important player. A brand new plant has been constructed for this UK-built model, adjacent to the much-praised and immensely successful Nissan car factory at Sunderland.

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While intended sales figures remain a closely guarded secret at this stage, it is clear that UK plc will benefit from a large percentage of exports from the new plant, which will help to put Infiniti on a more secure, ‘British-built’ platform here. The Q30 is a stylish and up-market compact hatchback, boasting many high quality details, both inside and out. With an engine range commencing at just 1.5-litres capacity (the same engine/transmission unit as fitted to a number of existing Renault and Nissan models) and a range-topper of 2.2-litres displacement (as it happens, a Merc engine), it will be a competitor to the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Audi A3 and the BMW 1-Series, and will be priced accordingly.

 

Having mentioned the latest Hyundai Tucson, I feel it is worth highlighting that the South Korean brand (along with sister act, Kia) is continuing to make a major impression on our market. While many entrants in the compact SUV/Crossover sector look like ‘photo-fits’, Hyundai has managed to gift its combatant a very stylish and uniquely impressive visage, with a deep front grille and a consumer-appealing colour and trim range. A brief drive suggests that the 1.7-litre turbo-diesel SE model will satisfy on the performance front, while also returning moderate frugality and low operating costs. A more comprehensive test will follow soon.

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On the MPV hand, the up-to-seven-seats Ford S-Max now benefits from vastly improved interior switchgear (reduced in number, thanks to more advanced touch-screen electronics), while retaining its sportier stance, despite its enormous practicality. Powered by a 177bhp turbo-diesel engine, it delivers sprightly performance, allied to premium quality refinements. Again, a more concentrated test session will follow soon.

 

My first sighting of the latest Skoda Octavia vRS 230, complete with its enhanced specification that includes sat-nav and a showstopping set of alloy wheels, proved interesting, although I feel that Skoda needs to take stock of its rapidly increasing prices in a very competitive market. Although not ‘new’, the Maserati Ghibli S and its bigger brother, the Quattroporte diesel, added some exotic attraction, supported by the latest Jaguar F-Type Convertible in manual form, complete with vibrant twin-pipe exhaust system. For lovers of high-velocity subtlety, Mercedes-Benz also made its latest C63 AMG saloon available, while the Lexus RC-F Carbon 5.0-litre sports saloon added excitement.

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Inevitably, the more run-of-the-mill MG3 and MG6 caught some imaginations, while the latest Dacia Duster SUV traded in a similar value-for-money vein. PSA Group was out in force, with the Citroen C4 Cactus, C4 hatchback, DS3 and DS5, with Peugeot’s latest 208GTi presenting visual intrigue in its Matt Black paint finish. Mini brought the latest five-door version of its far-from-mini compact model, while Renault showed its Kadjar crossover, featured here just a few weeks ago, along with the latest 217bhp Clio Renaultsport. There was a lot to see and to drive.

 

Inevitably, the main topic of conversation (or gossip) centred on the recent VW Group CO2 emissions ‘scandal’ and Audi, Volkswagen and Seat, as well as Porsche, were notable by their absence from the event, even though Skoda put on a brave face for the Group. The broader consensus is that Volkswagen has been unfairly finger-pointed and that the silence from all of its rivals is deafeningly loud, although BMW was very quick to announce that it is not embroiled in anything even remotely similar. With the recent news that the EU knew of VW’s ‘defeat technology’ for the past five years, I feel confident that we have not heard the last of this issue and that several governments will be implicated in the misdeeds in coming weeks and months, as the consumer media bulldozer continues its unrelenting progress.

 

Conclusion:   The SMMT has performed its customary high-quality services for the UK motor industry once again at Wetherby and I should like to acknowledge one of its stalwart performers, Mrs Janet Wilkinson MBE, who has endured over 40 years as its Communications Manager. She will be sorely missed, when she retires before the end of 2015 and I can recall her presence from my earliest days in the industry. Yet, I am sure that the body will continue to provide its sterling services on-going, as I look forwards to next year’s SMMT Test Day.

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About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).