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Proton Satria Neo Sport

Opinion: in praise of go-faster stripes

Proton Satria Neo Sport

Go-faster stripes: turning the humdrum into a humdinger since the 1960s. Ever since Briggs Cunningham painted a pair of blue lines along the bonnet, roof and rear of his 1951 C-2R Le Mans car, the racing stripe has been synonymous with the quest to go faster.

As an article in the spring 2015 issue of The Shelby American explains, “Cunningham liked the white and blue colour combination. American FIA entries had been painted white, so Cunningham chose to paint his cars that colour. With this paint scheme Cunningham’s cars became instantly recognisable. In fact, in subsequent years twin stripes were referred to as ‘Cunningham stripes’.”

But while the American millionaire blazed a trail for stripes on the track, it was left to designer Peter Brock to champion their use on the road. Having spotted an unfinished custom 1946 Ford Convertible at a used car lot, Brock set about building his dream car. The blue stripes applied to the finished article were a tip of the hat to the Cunningham race cars of the 1950s.

The story continued when Brock – who was working at Shelby American as its designer – was tasked with creating a competition look for the Shelby Mustang GT350, without the use of badges or bespoke body panels. With no budget to play with, Brock kept things simple, using GT40-inspired stripes along the side of the car, with a pair of 10-inch wide ‘Le Mans stripes’ running from the gravel pan at the front to below the bumper at the rear.

Shelby Mustang GT350

Many of the Wimbledon White cars were delivered without the iconic stripes, with dealers fearful of undue attention from the police. Customers prepared to risk a run-in with the law could have the stripes applied at the dealership, presumably all too happy to bask in the glow of a competition-look road car.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, France was waking up to the power of the go-faster stripe. Unveiled at the 1964 Paris Motor Show, the Renault 8 Gordini caught the eye thanks to its Bleu de France paintwork and twin white stripes.

Soon, the lines of paint or decal strips were earning their stripes in accessories catalogues across the world. In the US, go-faster stripes became almost mandatory equipment on the new breed of muscle cars sweeping the nation, with manufacturers aware of their showroom appeal.

American Motors even attempted to leverage some go-faster magic on its ad for one of the country’s cheapest cars, with the press advertisement for the Rambler asking: “Do Rogues really come with rally stripes?” before answering: “No, but with the new engine they drive that way.”

Flash – king of the universe

Here in the UK, if a manufacturer didn’t offer stripes as an option, it was easy to find an aftermarket company that would. The Ford Lotus Cortina was one of the earliest flag-bearers, with its olive green painted flash helping create one of the most memorable styling jobs of the 1960s.

Of note is the fact that, in common with the Shelby GT350, the Lotus Cortina used the ‘less is more’ approach to devastating effect, inspiring countless imitators in the process. The go-faster stripe was a central part of the overall package.

From sports cars to coupes, and more recently hot hatches, the go-faster stripe became a visual clue that a car might be packing a little more punch than it first appeared. And even if it didn’t, there were obvious psychological benefits associated with the upgrade.

The go-faster stripe was a cast-iron guarantee that the Maidstone inner ring road would be turned into the Mulsanne Straight, at least that’s what the driver thought when at the wheel of his or her Mini 1275 GT, Austin Allegro Equipe or Hillman Avenger.

Hillman Avenger Tiger

In fact, the Avenger Tiger featured one of the most exquisitely executed go-faster stripes of the 1970s, with the black decals contrasting beautifully with the Sundance Yellow paintwork, and blending seamlessly into the rear spoiler. Few cars wore their stripes quite as well as the Tiger and Vauxhall Viva Brabham.

In 1980, Goodyear offered free go-faster stripes with a set of Grand Prix-S recessed white letter tyres. “Go faster stripes free with every set of go safer tyres,” proclaimed the advert, although it’s not clear how many people claimed this attractive offer.

From Viper to Sting

Today, the go-faster stripe is still used to good effect by car manufacturers as part of their personalisation packs, although the results aren’t always successful. A set of side stripes on a Fiat 500 would be a good investment at £150, but if you spent cash on stripes for your Nissan Pixo or previous-generation Peugeot 108, you might want to speak to a financial adviser.

As a rule of thumb, the go-faster stripe works best on a car with a close link to motorsport. Which is why the black stripes on the Porsche 911 Carrera T and the white stripes on the Ford GT ‘67 Heritage Edition work so well. It’s authentic, innit.

And we can’t overlook the impact of the Dodge Viper, which introduced a new generation to the joys of the stripe. Without it, we might not have seen the likes of the Proton Satria Neo Sport and the Vauxhall Corsa Sting.

Clearly, the go-faster stripe can give a car ideas above its station, but on balance it’s a force for good. It says more positive things about you than a sticker for a local commercial radio station, which serves only to tell the world that you enjoy your music being interrupted by hyperactive DJs and your weather forecasts bookended by ads for double glazing firms.

Some would argue that there hasn’t been a car built that can’t be improved by a set of black steel wheels, but is the same true of the go-faster stripe? Ladies and gentlemen, we present the following evidence to spark some debate…

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Diesel bans in city centres

Opinion: should city diesel bans mean a comeback for LPG?

Diesel bans in city centresAlan Bradley is one half of The Motoring Podcast. His first column for Motoring Research tackles the tricky issue of banning diesels in city centres.

The idea of starting a new column the week of the Geneva Motor Show would fill most motoring news commentators with fear. The weeks before Geneva are traditionally a fallow period, a time of meandering sentences and, for us podcasters, speaking slowly.

This year, however, it’s the German Federal Administrative Court that has helped us fill minutes and column inches by granting the cities of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf the right to prohibit older, more polluting vehicles from entering at certain times. ‘Older, higher polluting’ is read as ‘diesel’ by many of us, and that’s how it’s intended. According to the court, restricting older vehicles in specified areas of the cities is “generally permissible” as a method of countering localised pollution.

As the court ruling stands, these limitations apply to pre-Euro 5 diesel vehicles, a regulatory tier that can into force in September 2009. These, again according to the ruling, have to be permitted “free passage” until Euro 5 is 10 years old, when the prohibited zones will be no doubt be revised to include newer models in a quest to reverse the increasing nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels in city centres.

Diesel sales down

Volkswagen scandal

Stories like this, coming as they do off the back of the Volkswagen-triggered ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, continue to confuse and deter new car buyers in the UK and across Europe. Month after month, we discuss the continued decline in diesel registrations on The Motoring Podcast News Show and the buyer uncertainty over regulation and taxation that’s causing it. As an example, for January, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reported 25.6% fewer diesel-powered cars registered compared with 2017.

This change brings its challenges. While cities have their NOx levels measured and monitored, countries are more interested in their overall carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Indeed, the German government opposes the court’s decision. As petrol engines emit less NOx but more CO2 than their well-maintained diesel equivalents, we can already see an increase in the average CO2 emissions of newly-registered UK cars.

So, I hear you cry, what’s the answer to this? Well, as is ever the case, a complex problem has many potential complex solutions. Electricity is a viable alternative, of course, but while tailpipe emissions are zero, its cleanliness depends on how it’s generated. There’s also hydrogen, an energy source that combines the benefits of electric vehicles with the fast filling of conventional fuels, but lacks a consistent infrastructure.

Leaning towards LPG

LPG filling station

This thinking leads me towards LPG: a forgotten fuel that’s locally available across the UK and that can power existing internal combustion engines with minimal modification. Could the time be right for an LPG hybrid? It’s highly unlikely that’s in any manufacturer’s product mix, but it will be interesting to see and hear the car manufacturers, particularly the German brands, explain how they see solutions to this complex issue. We’ll find out at Geneva.

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crossovers

Opinion: crossovers are big, but they aren’t clever

 

It’s ten years since the launch of the Nissan Qashqai – widely considered to be the world’s first crossover.

Sure, the Qashqai wasn’t really the first crossover to grace the tarmac driveways of suburbia – you can credit Nissan’s marketing team for its part in this common misconception – but it did shake things up a little. And by little, I mean a lot.

Other carmakers had tried to convince Mr and Mrs Family that there was a crossover-shaped hole in their lives, but it wasn’t until the first Qashqai rolled off the Sunderland production line in December 2006 that this new segment finally took hold.

Simply by being the first out of the blocks, the Nissan Qashqai was able to steal a march over its competitors, quickly becoming the brand generic for what became known as a crossover. Three years later, Nissan gave birth to a smaller sibling in the shape of the Juke and the rest, as they say, is history.

In basic terms, defining a crossover is relatively simple. Combine hatchback dynamics and running costs with the practicality and high driving position of an SUV and, hey presto, a crossover is born.

But it’s not as straightforward as that. Many crossovers offer the option of four-wheel drive, taking them perilously close to what we would – in simpler times – have called an SUV. Actually, scrub that, we’d have called them a 4×4.

This blurring of the lines has resulted in SUVs becoming the dominant sector in Europe, with its market share growing from 19.8% to 22.5% in 2015. The star players: Renault Captur (small SUV), Nissan Qashqai (compact SUV), Volvo XC60 (mid-size SUV) and BMW X5 (large SUV).

The upward trend is set to continue, with JATO Dynamics reporting that SUVs and Vans were the only segments to grow their sales across the five big European markets in October 2016. Meanwhile, MPVs, city cars and medium saloons appear to be spiralling into the abyss.

Soon, the roads will be littered with these odd looking cars with equally odd sounding names. Estate cars, saloons, even hatchbacks will be confined to the history books as carmakers seek to quench our thirst for these high-riding hatchbacks.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal. We feel safer when perched high above the road, with a commanding view over the traffic ahead. No longer the preserve of the Range Rover driver, today you too can feel imperious at the wheel, and you need not remortgage the Victorian semi to be able to fund the experience.

But answer me this: what happens when we’re all driving crossovers and SUVs? The commanding driving position will simply give you an elevated view of the equally tall car in front of you. You’ll need a six-wheeled Mercedes-AMG if you want to stay a cut above the rest.

6x6

Terror awaits in the retail shopping centre car park, too. According to a recent study, the average parking space is 4.8m long and 2.4m wide, which is too small for some large SUVs.

Our love of obese cars is being blamed by the increase in the number of car park accidents, which now account for a whopping 30% of all prangs in the UK.

In response, NCP told The Times that it intends to increase the size of its parking bays, as it recognises “that vehicles are growing in size, especially SUVs”. Good news? Perhaps not.

Something will have to give. At best, there will be fewer spaces to choose from, which might lead to more incidents of parking rage (if parking rage actually exists). At worst, parking operators will be encouraged to increase prices as it minimises the prospect of lost revenue from fewer bays.

And when you emerge from the shops, armed with bags for life packed with expensive gear you probably didn’t need, you’ll find the crossover isn’t quite as practical as you would have hoped. The Nissan Qashqai – Britain’s favourite crossover – offers 430 litres of boot space.

Not bad, you might think, especially when you consider the fact that the Ford Focus hatchback offers a paltry 316 litres of shopping capacity. But that’s not the end of the story.

Back in the day, motorists who demanded a little more practicality bought an estate car. And the Ford Focus estate offers 476 litres of boot space – 46 litres more than the Qashqai. It’s narrower, too, so you’ll have no problems exiting your car in a modern slim-size parking bay.

Not only that, the Focus will be better to drive and doesn’t have the appearance of a Tonka toy making its way out of Mothercare. And don’t get me started on the behaviour of some crossover drivers.

Ever since Nissan promoted the original Qashqai as “more tough” and “urbanproof”, some drivers have had the mistaken belief that they can charge about the streets as if they were pushing a Matchbox toy car along the living room floor.

Confession time: as my colleagues have told me, I have an “unconventional taste in cars” and have never been one to “follow the herd”.

I’m acutely aware that my tastes are of the acquired kind. I found love in a hopeless place (Nissan Pulsar 190) and would choose a Suzuki Swift Sport over any of the current breed of mega-horsepower hot hatches.

It’s just that I steadfastly refuse to accept that a crossover offers any tangible benefit over a decent estate car. I’d take a Subaru Outback, Audi Allroad or Volvo XC70 over any of the current breed of crossovers.

And don’t think for one minute that I’m not a fan of proper SUVs. Proper, authentic 4x4s remain joyous machines and I can certainly see the appeal of a Toyota Land Cruiser or Land Rover Discovery. If had to choose one car for the rest of my life, I’d have no hesitation in asking for a Volvo XC90 T8.

Does this make me a hypocrite? I don’t think so. There’s no mixed messaging with a proper SUV – it does exactly what it says in the brochure. Conversely, an extra large two-wheel drive hatchback with a styling bypass offers some of the looks with none of the talents.

Granted, a two-wheel drive crossover will be cheaper to run than a four-wheel drive SUV, but if efficiency tops your list of priorities, you can buy an even more practical diesel estate. It’ll be nicer to drive, easier to park and won’t give you the look of someone who has given up on life.

And while you might point to the raft of cutting edge technologies found in a modern crossover, I’d simply say they are also available in superminis, hatchbacks and saloons.

What we’ve got is a me-too culture in which crossovers have become the dominant force. It’s a little like the dawn of the hatchback, which led to the nation falling out of love with conventional family saloons.

But these hatchbacks used the same footprint as the cars they replaced and offered genuine ingenuity in terms of packaging. A modern crossover has got nothing on say the Renault 16.

No, the ingenuity of the crossover lies in the selling of a lifestyle. A crossover is positioned as the only car that can handle our active and hectic lives – other cars are simply not up to the task.

Our supposed need for more crossovers has resulted in carmakers building some of the most lacklustre and unappealing cars in recent memory. Do we really want our children’s memory of childhood blighted by trips to the seaside in a Ford EcoSport or Vauxhall Mokka?

ecosport

And wouldn’t it be nice to see an end to the countless Qashqai references rolled out in the motoring press? ‘Qashqai killer’, ‘Qashqai rival’, ‘The car to beat the Qashqai’… enough already.

I’m prepared to accept my irrational dislike (not hatred) of crossovers puts me in a minority, and I’m fully aware that this ramble is dangerously close to becoming a rant. But for some balance, allow me to say this: clever crossovers do exist.

The Citroen C4 Cactus is a good case in point, offering something different in a crowded sector. I also like the influence it has had on the new C3, which stands a good chance of giving Citroen a much needed shot in the arm.

The Skoda Yeti, whilst long in the tooth, remains a fun and genuinely compelling proposition, even if I still haven’t forgiven the Czechs for doing away with its unique face. And, yes, the Nissan Qashqai is annoyingly competent in just about every area.

All I ask is that you look beyond the hype and marketing messages to see if there’s a better alternative to a crossover.

And if you – like many other motorists – haven’t got the foggiest idea what a crossover is, simply look across the fence at what your neighbour is driving. Then buy something totally different.

Opinion: should SUVs have reversing cameras fitted as standard?

Opinion: should SUVs have reversing cameras fitted as standard?

Opinion: should SUVs have reversing cameras fitted as standard?

The amount of safety kit fitted to modern cars is ever-increasing. From the legally-required stability control and seat belts to the more advanced collision avoidance and lane guidance systems, most of us take it for granted these days.

But there’s one feature which is only ever seen as a ‘nice to have’: the reversing camera.

Our long-term Mitsubishi Outlander is equipped with a 360-degree surround-view camera system as standard. It’s clever – but it’s only available on higher-spec models.

I recently realised I’d be really nervous reversing a car of that size, with its huge blind spots, without a camera. Yes, you could argue that I’ve simply got too used to the Outlander’s rear-view camera and we managed for years reversing cars fitted without sensors, never mind an actual camera.

But cars are getting bigger and as they’re being increasingly packed with safety kit, they’re getting harder to see out of. Gone are the thin window pillars of old.

You could be the most alert, safety-conscious driver in the world. But if there’s a small child standing behind the (silent) Mitsubishi Outlander when it’s reversing, if it’s not fitted with a camera, you haven’t got a chance.

Even on the expensive (and huge) Audi Q7, you have to spend an extra £500 for a reversing camera on lower-spec models.

I do wonder if more should be done to encourage rear-view cameras fitted as standard on certain vehicles. Or am I pandering to the nanny state?

Opinion: Ecotricity’s £5 charging fee could be a huge blow for electric cars

Opinion: Ecotricity’s £6 charging fee could be a huge blow for electric cars

Opinion: Ecotricity’s £5 charging fee could be a huge blow for electric cars

Between January and March 2016, 11,755 new ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) were registered in the UK – an increase of 31% over the same period in 2015, and 508% on two years previous.

These figures were released last week as part of a report by the Department for Transport looking into attitudes towards electric vehicles. But that’s about as far as the good news for EV manufacturers goes.

While sales are on the up, public perception of electric cars is seemingly stuck in 2013. More than half (55%) of drivers surveyed by the government revealed they hadn’t even considered a plug-in vehicle. A further 16% have and decided against it, while just 5% said they’d think about an electric car in the future.

Crucially, those stats are ‘not significantly different to those in 2014 and 2015’. So, despite Government-led incentives, an increased amount of plug-in vehicles on the market and the ongoing bad publicity for diesels, we’re apparently no more likely to buy an electric car.

The biggest electric car turn-off cited by members of the public were concerns around recharging (45%) – such as the availability of public charge points – and the distance travelled on one charge (40%).

There’s a lot of PR work to be done, then, to convince members of the public that you don’t need to be an ‘early adopter’ to drive an EV – and you can realistically use them on a daily basis without being left stranded with an empty battery.

Organisations such as Go Ultra Low are working hard to promote EVs (did you know, for example, that the average UK driver travels just 25 miles a day – meaning they could go a whole week between charges?).

But that good work has been dealt a huge blow by Ecotricity – the firm responsible for 300 rapid chargers at service stations across the UK motorway network.

The firm, which holds a monopoly on motorway EV chargers, has announced it will charge £6 for a 30 minute top up from today. Previously it was free (and, breaking news, this itself is a 20% increase on Ecotricity’s announcement last week that it would charge £5 for a 20-minute fast-charge: Ecotricity founder Dale Vince made the announcement this lunchtime on BBC Radio 4 You and Yours).

What does Ecotricity’s £6 charge mean for EV drivers?

What does Ecotricity’s £5 charge mean for EV drivers?

To put that into context, the driver of a 24kWh Nissan Leaf will be able to cover roughly 100 miles from a £6 30 minute Ecotricity charge. That’s roughly the same distance a careful driver of a diesel Volkswagen Golf will be able to travel on £6 worth of fuel – and they won’t have to hang around for 30 minutes waiting to fill up.

While previously electric car drivers have had the luxury of being able to travel across the UK, stopping every 100 miles or so to recharge for free, they’ll now have to pay £6 each time. That’s almost as expensive as running as combustion-engined car with added inconvenience.

Then there’s plug-in hybrids. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has enjoyed huge success in recent years, continually topping the charts as number one best-selling plug-in vehicle. We’re currently running one as a long-term test car – and when it’s charged, it’s great.

But that charge doesn’t last long (Mitsubishi quotes an official electric-only range of up to 32 miles). And that means you’ll save less than a fiver by stopping to charge on a long journey – so, by the time you’ve paid Ecotricity and bought a cup of coffee in the services, you’ll be left out of pocket compared to driving straight past the services. And under petrol power, without charging, the Outlander’s fuel economy is… well, as you’d expect for a heavy, petrol SUV.

We asked Mitsubishi UK’s managing director Lance Bradley what he thought of the charge. He had this to say:

That second tweet raises an interesting point. Most people would accept that Ecotricity has to charge for the service it provides. It’s a company, after all, and there are quite significant costs associated with installing rapid chargers at motorway service stations. But how much would people be happy to pay?

We ran a quick online poll on our Twitter account over the weekend. 68% of those who voted said they’d happily pay £1-2 every time they used a rapid chargers – while a further 10% would pay £3-4. But no one thought the £5 charge was fair.

We have yet to go back to them to get their thoughts on the increased-by-20% £6 charge.

Is it really the end of the road for EVs?

Is it really the end of the road for EVs?

There are two sides to the argument, of course. Some point out that, in fact, with so many of us only using our cars for short journeys, rapid electric car chargers are only there for rare occasions.

One of the people on that side of the fence is LeasePlan UK’s account director Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as GreenFleet EV Champion, Judith Eadie. She points out that people are increasingly used to paying more for a ‘rapid’ service – think paying more Amazon Prime next day delivery, for example, or for EasyJet’s speeding boarding.

She said: “As technology advances, we expect to see vehicles directing drivers to free-of-charge charge-points as well as rapid chargeable charges should they need to use them.”

Just like week, Milton Keynes, one of the UK cities award a Go Ultra Low City status, announced it had designated 15,000 free parking spaces to electric vehicles.

Eadie added: “The Green Parking Permit is just one part of a £40 million funding pot to encourage exciting and innovative ideas that will encourage drivers to choose an electric vehicle. While drivers may be concerned with range anxiety, they can be assured that infrastructure and attitude is changing to support and encourage the uptake of electric vehicles.”

So, no, Ecotricity’s extortionate £6 charge for a 30 minute charge shouldn’t kill the electric car market. They still make sense for a lot of people. But, when we broke the story last week, someone on Twitter pointed out: “[it’s] far too early in the introduction of EVs and PHEVs to start giving people reasons not to bother.”

And that hits the nail on the head. While numbers of electric cars on our roads are increasing, they’re still a long way off being mainstream. The public perception of the electric car is it’s too expensive, too inconvenient – and now, unless you do all your miles within a short radius of home, too costly to run.

Will we see a downturn in EV sales? Time will tell.

Blog: should carmakers have done more to prevent a Brexit?

Opinion: should carmakers have done more to prevent a Brexit?

Blog: should carmakers have done more to prevent a Brexit?

It’s a historical turn of events that has divided the country: the UK has voted in favour of a so-called ‘Brexit’ of the European Union.

The markets have reacted, with the pound plunging to its lowest level against the dollar since the mid 1980s. No one really knows what the future holds for the UK – but there’s one thing that’s guaranteed, global car manufacturers who produce cars here are going to be disappointed.


More on Brexit from Motoring Research:

The Telegraph: What would Brexit mean for motorists and the UK car industry?

RAC: What the EU referendum means for drivers?


Japanese manufacturer Toyota produces cars at its site in Burnaston, Derbyshire, and warned this week that “if the UK leaves the EU, we think it unlikely that the UK can keep the current trading arrangements.”

It added this would mean paying duties on cars – as much as 10%, leading to huge losses to Toyota, or more expensive cars for customers.

Nissan meanwhile, with its huge Sunderland plant (where around half a million cars are built a year), went as far as taking legal action against Vote Leave for using its logo in its material. And other manufacturers, including Vauxhall, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover, all voiced support for the Remain campaign.

Industry body SMMT also backed staying in the EU – no surprise, as 80% of cars built in Britain are exported, contributing £15.5 billion a year annually to the UK economy.

SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes, said a Remain vote would continue the automotive industry’s success, “rather than jeopardise it by increasing costs, making our trading relationships uncertain and creating new barriers to our single biggest and most important market, Europe.”

So where did it go wrong? Seemingly at around 1am this morning when Sunderland was one of the first areas to reveal the results of local polls – with Leave taking the lead with 61% of the votes. That’s in an area where around 7,000 people are employed directly in car manufacturing by Nissan, a manufacturer which has strongly backed remaining in the EU.

The people of Derby, home to Toyota’s UK factory, also backed Brexit – with 57% voting Leave, despite the firm directly employing nearly 4,000 workers in the area. And 56% of people supported the Leave campaign in Solihull, home of Land Rover.

The SMMT has been quick to react. Mike Hawes said: “The British public has chosen a new future out of Europe. Government must now maintain economic stability and secure a deal with the EU which safeguards UK automotive interests. This includes securing tariff-free access to European and other global markets, ensuring we can recruit talent from the EU and the rest of the world and making the UK the most competitive place in Europe for automotive investment.”

We don’t know what will happen now. Manufacturers aren’t going to suddenly close down their huge British plants are move production elsewhere – but there could, and will be, significant consequences for car making in the UK.

It raises the question: should car manufacturers have done more? Many wrote to workers, making it clear where they stood. But should they have spelt out the consequences of backing Boris Johnson et al? Or would that have been undemocratic?

Opinion: we need more motorway cameras

Opinion: we need more motorway cameras

Opinion: we need more motorway cameras

This morning we revealed that there are 27% fewer dedicated traffic police on our roads compared to just five years ago. That’s a worrying stat. Especially if you drive around the M25 regularly.

You see, while there are cameras everywhere along the M25, ready for sniping that person who strays up to 60mph when the 50mph signs are displaying on the gantries, there is so much poor driving that the police aren’t there to see.

It’s interesting to look at the police areas in which the M25 passes, and how traffic officer numbers have fluctuated over the years.

As of 31 March 2015, Kent has 94 traffic officers (a drop of 44 compared to 2010), Surrey has 94 (down by 6), Thames Valley 204 (down by 24), Hertfordshire 91 (down by 48) and Essex 148 (down by 109 compared to 2010, but up by 72 compared to 2014).

The general theme is that you’re considerably less likely to see a liveried 3 Series patrolling London’s orbital motorway than just five years ago.

So what’s the solution? More traffic cops, obviously. But as cuts mean that’s unlikely to happen in the near future, I have another idea. Why not turn all those average speed cameras into lane-hogging cameras?

Lane-hogging is a huge issue on the M25. It probably accounts for something like 154% of congestion (figure might not be entirely accurate). Traffic officers are now able to dish out on-the-spot fines for those showing poor lane discipline, but they’re not there to do so.

So, how difficult could it be to use those cameras to catch lane-hoggers? As I was sat in traffic on the M25, I was giving this thought. Simply, they could read number plates of cars passing through in each lane, and any vehicle that repeatedly passes under cameras in the same lane could be flagged up.

Obviously it can’t be that simple. What about if there’s heavy traffic, where it just isn’t possible or practical to move between lanes? This is 2016… it can’t be that difficult for cameras to cleverly work out whether the inside lanes are clear enough for cars to move over.

Alternatively, they could just be used to snipe motorists continually passing under middle lane cameras at speeds above 60mph – in which case the motorway should be clear enough to move over occasionally.

Sure, some people won’t support the idea of more cameras. But anything that stops middle-lane morons clogging up the M25 is fine with me. What do you think?

Blog: is 4am Fred the best driver in the world?

Blog: is 4am Fred the best driver in the world?

Blog: is 4am Fred the best driver in the world?

Occasionally I have reason to drive in the early hours of the morning. And when I do, I’m often amazed at the driving standards of the few cars that are on the roads. So much so, that I amused myself on today’s early morning Shropshire to Hertfordshire drive by coming up with exactly why this might be the case – along with a case study of the typical driver on the roads at that time.

Meet 4am Fred. 4am Fred works shifts, and has to rely on his 20-year-old Peugeot 106 to get him to work at all hours of the day. If it fails, he gets his wages docked, so he maintains it meticulously.

But he also knows the twisty B5063 inside out, and can cover this Shropshire B-road faster than any enthusiastic sports car driver. That’s not to say he’s reckless – he can spot a shaded area hiding black ice a mile off, having learnt his lesson as a 17-year-old 4am Fred. But he isn’t scared of driving the little 13-inch steelies off his faithful Peugeot when conditions allow.

A few perfectly-timed roundabouts allow 4am Fred enough time when he gets to work to make a brew and grab a Mars Bar from the vending machine. But he’s not reckless – at this time of morning, it’d be easy to get the attention of a lurking undercover cop car for 4am Fred. He just won’t brake for a roundabout unless he absolutely has to.

When he gets to the motorway, 4am Fred understands the hierarchy. As much as he wants to get to work as fast as possible, he realises the BMWs and Audis in the outside lane have more power than his humble 106. He keeps left whenever possible, pulling out to overtake slow-moving traffic while giving extra room for half-asleep lorry drivers. It’s impossible for 4am Fred to forget how vulnerable he is in the tiny Peugeot.

Again, he knows the motorway perfectly having pounded it every day for years. He’s in the inside lane for the uphill section – his Peugeot is the 1.1-litre, producing just 61hp. But for the downhill section heading towards the industrial estate where he works, he’s in the outside lane chasing the clock.

The best thing about 4am Fred is that he’s not alone. In the early hours of every morning, ordinary people go about their everyday business in everyday cars, driving without hesitation, selfishness and aggression. It’s a sight to behold, and one everyone should experience. But don’t hang around, or you’ll make 4am Fred miss his brew.

Blog: Can a turbocharged Porsche 911 Carrera S be fun… driven slowly?

Blog: can a turbocharged Porsche 911 Carrera S be fun… driven slowly?

Blog: Can a turbocharged Porsche 911 Carrera S be fun… driven slowly?

We’ve had one of those new-fangled turbocharged 911s in on test for the last week. It’s a car that just had to happen, but that didn’t stop purists showing their disapproval when it was announced in September. It was the Cayenne all over again – or, even worse, switching from air- to water-cooling.

I knew that Porsche wouldn’t mess it up. I don’t make a habit of gushing over manufacturers, but it’s true that Porsche – in recent years, especially – consistently gets things so right. The Macan? So much more than a rebodied Audi Q5. The 918 Spyder? Arguably the most technically advanced of the hypercar trio. The 718 Boxster? We’ll see, but my hopes are high.

When the first drive reports started to come in, it was clear that turbocharging the entry-level 911s hadn’t diluted them in any way. They could hit 62mph 0.2 seconds quicker than before, with the Carrera S being the first entry-level 911 to reach 62mph in less than 4.0 seconds.

Our own Richard Aucock concluded that, “The engine, despite our worries, still delivers 911 character and sounds more charismatic than we expected.” It would have been ruinous for Porsche to mess up the 911, and it’s clear that they haven’t.

Blog: Can a turbocharged Porsche 911 Carrera S be fun… driven slowly?

Driving the new turbo 911 Carrera S on UK roads confirmed that. To my ears, the flat-six engine sounds just as delightful as before, while the extra performance makes me want to kneel down and praise the lord of turbocharged engines.

There has to be a ‘but’, though. And it’s not something that’s new to the latest 911. It’s something that’s plagued every 911 I’ve driven – a gripe that, should I flex my right foot for more than a few tenths of a second, my licence could be taken from me. A concern that the average British B-road just isn’t wide enough for a 911, plus a tractor that’s suddenly appeared coming in the opposite direction. A nag that, actually, I’d be having more fun in a Cayman.

Last night, I finished work and decided to go for a drive. The 911 was being taken away first thing this morning, so it would have been rude not to. But I live in the South East, where roads are busier than Beijing. And Storm Imogen was giving the UK a bashing, so it was wet, trees were falling and other motorists were tip-toeing around as if exceeding 40mph could result in a fiery death.

This would normally be annoying. But I wasn’t in the mood for blatting around like a demented dog on heat. Instead, I tuned into 6Music and went with the flow. To nowhere in particular.

Most of the time I was well below the speed limit. Sure, if the road opened up, I’d accelerate up towards 60mph with slightly more gusto than Mr Rep would manage in a diesel Audi, but it wasn’t anywhere near pushing the Porsche’s abilities. Yet it was enjoyable.

I’m usually a PDK convert (that’s a whole different blog post), but working through the seven-speed manual ’box of ‘our’ 911 was not only a pleasingly analogue experience (even at low speeds), but also one that I fear I’ll be telling my kids about in years to come.

With the Sport button engaged it blips the throttle on downshifts, while the engine is just ridiculously tractable. Can’t be bothered dropping down from fifth to accelerate out of that 30mph limit? No problem, the 911 will do it, with torque spread flat from 1,700rpm. And it’ll sound good – especially if you press the button to open the flaps in the sports exhaust.

I’d argue that feeling special at lower speeds is actually something at which Porsche excels. Part of it comes from the interior – you sit low, with Porsche crest proudly sitting on the wheel in front of you, and the 3.0-litre flat-six burbling behind you. As great as something like a BMW M5 is, a 911 has a feel-good factor that hot versions of mainstream cars can’t match.

Am I convinced that the 911 makes more sense than a smaller, cheaper Cayman if you’re out for a blat on UK roads? No. But do you have to be on the Autobahn to have fun in a turbocharged 911? It helps, but perhaps not…

Blog: I don’t want to see pictures of car crashes on Twitter

Blog: I don’t want to see pictures of car crashes on Twitter

Blog: I don’t want to see pictures of car crashes on Twitter

It’s an increasingly common scenario. Emergency services attend a serious car crash, and while there they snap a picture that gets posted on Twitter. That picture is then picked up by local and national media who use what little information they have to write a story.

I’ve wondered a few times how I’d feel, if I found out a friend or relation had been involved in an accident through Twitter. Morally, surely it’s wise to leave it a period of time before posting pictures of cars involved in crashes online?

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance was involved in a serious crash. He was rushed into intensive care but, I’m pleased to say, is now at home and making a good recovery.

His car, bright yellow and very distinctive, was almost unrecognisable. But, it turns out, family members including his wife, did recognise it – after it was tweeted by the local newspaper. They found out via social media before emergency services were able to tell them face-to-face.

This must happen all the time. Emergency services do an excellent job, and it must be challenging picking up the mangled remains from crashes such as this, but I’m not sure why it’s increasingly common to see pictures like this on Twitter. Maybe it’s to shock people into driving more sensibly or not driving under the influence of alcohol, but surely it’d be better to at least give it some time before posting them?

Maybe I’m being too sensitive. But I don’t want to see pictures of crashed cars on my Twitter feed – especially when family members are yet to find out.