SMMT NORTH – A motoring press driving day par excellence!
Three working days in the motoring calendar are hosted especially for the media, reports Iain Robertson, the main one taking place at Millbrook, another in south-west England and SMMT North at Wetherby, the latter of which he attends faithfully.
As the organising and administrative body dedicated to the UK motor industry, the SMMT, or Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, is not merely a practical resource centre for motoring scribes and both radio and audio-visual companies but is also the industry’s main governmental lobbyist. While SMMT North is a fairly recent innovation for the organisation, having been initiated only seven years ago, an ever-growing number of motoring media exponents supports what is the best networking day for them in the calendar.
Although there were some notable brands, such as Audi, Seat and Skoda, that did not indulge in the day-trip north of Watford Gap, Wetherby Racecourse provided its usual location practicality, with a great selection of roads nearby. For many of the visitors, this opportunity provided a first chance to see the latest DS7 (unsurprisingly an SUV), a reported £1m value concept that heralds the arrival of the company’s first unique model (as opposed to being almost entirely Citroen-biased). If the production cars are as technologically focused as the show car, which attracted huge interest, it should succeed at putting DS more securely on the brand map.
Recently revised, the new Dacia Duster highlighted the budget brand’s enhanced quality, while Fiat was also enabling first drives of its Professional Fullback pickup truck in 2.4-litre 180bhp form. Needless to say, every ‘boy racer’ wanted to grab a few miles in either of the hottest Honda Civic Type-Rs that were available, although the utterly gorgeous Lexus LC500 coupe was seldom short of booked drives. Range Rover offered a pair of Velar models in 2.0 (standard) and 3.0-litre turbo-diesel Sport (R-Dynamic) forms, although a lack of fast-charge facilities at the racecourse meant that both of the Kia plug-in hybrids (Optima Sportswagon and Niro PHEV) could only demonstrate part of their array of electricity-fed talents.
While ‘EVs’ and hybrids were much in evidence (Mini Countryman plug-in, smart fortwo, Suzukis Swift and Ignis), the public clamour for SUVs was abundantly clear, as many of the attending manufacturers had brought along 4×4 variants (Vauxhall Insignia Tourer, Volvo XC60, Ssangyong Korando, MG GS, Subarus Forester and WRX STi and the new Renault Koleos).
My own driving sessions were carried out in the latest and eminently conventional Ford Fiesta, the luxurious Volkswagen Arteon hatchback and the long-awaited Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV. You will be able to read separate test reports on these vehicles in due course.
During the event, the Northern Group of Motoring Writers presented Suzuki GB with their 2017 Car of the Year Award, a replica brass miner’s lamp (known as the ‘Arthur’ for reasons best understood by the mining community) and a bottle of Taittinger’s finest, for the latest Suzuki Ignis, a model that has been achieving positive responses not just from the motor-noting community but, more importantly, from the consumer. The 1.2-litre Ignis equipped with mild hybrid technology (SHVS) highlights that a small capacity engine need not be lacking in available on-road urge, allied to excellent fuel economy and 4×4 capabilities.
Despite the most positive stance taken by the SMMT and its attending members at the event, there was no mention of a motoring future under ‘Brexit’, which might see large duties becoming payable by the consumer for future imported models, unless an appropriate trade deal is struck. It was also clear that ‘assisted technology’, mostly of a semi-autonomous nature, is very much the developmental ‘new normal’ for the entire industry, although ‘driver’s cars’ are still very much in evidence.
The upwards movement of registered vehicles on UK roads may have flat-lined a little in recent months, from having been a continual positive growth graph, since the economic collapse of 2008, but exports from the several car, commercial and automotive manufacturing businesses based here remain on a high, as do employment levels.