Sunday, June 24, 2018

Loflyt Review: Holden Calais Tourer V6 AWD


Mick McWilliams

25 June 2018

The V6 Country Cat stays true for key parts, exceeds some and forgets the others. 
A mixed bag of hissing and claws. All yours for 47k.

Find out what Holden has to offer for the EOFY sales. 7 Year Warranty is a pretty damn fine carrot! HOLDEN.COM.AU/offers


Loflyt Review: Holden Calais Turbo Diesel Liftback


Mick McWilliams

21 June 2018

There's no question that the most difficult phase of Holdens transition to a full imported line up, is the replacement for the locally built Commodore. Not only has the Commodore been the star top seller for the brand, and the stalwart defender of the traditional Aussie performance car. It has also been the perceived ball and chain around their ankle, tying the brand to bogan culture. So, do they break the shackles, or feed the animal?

In case you don't know me, here are my credentials: 3-on-the-tree 202 HQ Kingswood, 3.8 VNII Commodore Executive sedan, 3.8 VPII Executive wagon, 3.8 VXII Executive sedan, 3.6 VZ Executive wagon, 3.6 VEII SV6 Sportwagon, 3.6 VFII SV6 Sportwagon.

I've been driving big Holdens since I first got my learners permit in the early 90's. I'm not even from a Holden family (My parents have owned everything from a combi to a Kia). Something about a 6-cylinder rwd Australian just felt right. Does a quarter of a century on the road, in the drivers seat (and owners seat) of each major platform since 1989, place me in good stead to ordain this new car as a worthy replacement?


I can only tell you if it does what I want it to do... 


The very strength of the Commodore brand is the diversity of it's capability. The sheer scope of configurations, in any other country, would have been broad enough to feed an entire brand. A work ute, a long wheel base Corvette you can sleep in the back of, a fleet favoured wagon geared towards field service support, a high powered mile eater, a first responder and a family car are just some of the general definitions of the shrunken final iteration of the Commodore family.  Prior to that, there was the one-tonner, the styleside dual cab, the AWD V8 SUV and more.

Did I mention the Caprice? A long wheel based version that was the darling of the livery/limo fleet including duty as the commonwealth car of choice. And let's not delve into the history of HDT and HSV, or we'll be here all day.

The dominance remained local, but the reputation was international. In America, claims of an affordable M5 in the Pontiac G8 (and aborted G8ST), and Chevrolet SS were loud enough to warrant adoption in NASCAR. Though it was merely a cosmetic honour, how many other foreign made cars have ever worn that badge? 

Paradoxically in the middle east, even though the V8 Supercar series raced there as Chevrolets, the bowtie is debadged and replaced with the Lion and Stone by local enthusiasts.

That's a pretty comprehensive list, backed up by on and off decades of leading the sales charts in Australia. This all adds up to hundreds of thousands of precedents creating different expectations over the life of a pretty remarkable reign. 

Great Expectations

So let's see what is on offer here. A diesel, front wheel drive lift back... It doesn't exactly pluck at the heart strings. None of those characteristics have even appeared in the aforementioned history (aside from the SSX VY concept liftback but that doesn't really count) Visually, it's a nice looking car but not particularly dramatic or polarising. There's no muscular stance or overt character. Instead there is a balance of form which uses sleek lines to shade the truth that this Commodore drives backwards. It is fine enough in details to evoke a European vibe, mainly due to the Koreans and Japanese becoming more adventurous. 

Looking from the front, the grille provides some family continuity with the Euro Astra (unsurprisingly as it hails from the same GM German arm). The Calais looks like the more grown up sibling and the conservative wheel design is similarly mature in aesthetic.

It looks as much like a VFII as the VE looked like the VZ, only this time, the successor looks slimmer than the superseded. But it doesn't look like a Commodore.

The Road to Success

The Calais arrived to fill impossibly big shoes, but it doesn't shy away from it's duty. While it can't possibly beat it's chest like a roaring LS3, the 125kW 2.0 turbo diesel does deliver a healthy dose of toque. Eight-speeds dealing out 400nm at 1750-2500RPM is just what the doctor ordered for hauling ass across our wide brown land. Not only did I enjoy the oomph, but with a sub 5L/100km (49 USMPG) performance in the economy stakes, I could disappear into the hills for a lot longer. And when I got there, the ride and handling all of a sudden started to feel a lot more like home. Only better.

Driving a Commodore has always been a challenge. Depending on the platform, there are always considerations that need to be made, like the touch throttle response of the VN in the rain, or the wallowy body roll of the early VTs (actually most of them). One common thread they had is the ability to steer with the throttle. Make no mistake. That quality is gone. 

For better or for worse, the ability for things to go pear shaped has been significantly reduced. The result is a concise and swift cornering experience, sans threat of imminent death.   

It's an upgrade in safety, but a downgrade in character. The achieved level of satisfaction? Well, that's down to your own expectations. I rate it as more competent, but less thrilling. 

Practical Makes Perfect

The family car aspect of the Commodore has always been important to me since, well, when I had a family. Each new kid has been picked up in a new Commodore. Each one has enabled the carrying of every manner of contraption, from the bouncer thingies to the double decker jogging prams. Since owning the VZ, we have been able to fit three baby seats wide, and 75 nappies deep. The Calais lift back loses a few points here as the roof line in the second row is a little cramped. It's contemporary in its width when compared to mid $40k SUVs but being lower, access is not as easy. 

It does get a win, however, as soon as you open the liftback. One issue with wagons is that you can't reach whatever you pack in first, which is invariably the my little pony colouring book that you need. This new configuration allows you to reach the entire luggage area with ease, and a huge area it is too. Loading it up is easy.

Sizeable Matters

Being in the top 95th percentile of largeness, I consider accommodation to be of pretty high importance. I fit into the Calais like a hotdog fits in a bun: comfortable but snug. The high centre console gives a cockpit type feel and the design of the dash adds to the cosseting. Jumping from my own VFII into the ZB it almost felt invasive, claiming space that was previously mine. After a few days though it felt more like the cabin controls and form were complimentary. Familiarity meant that closeness provided easier access to controls. The seat needed more girth (or I needed less), but ergonomically everything functioned logically, aside from the upside down wiper controls. It's on the correct side, but you push down for a single swipe, up for intermittent and variable speeds.

The only other notable size problem is where to stick your phone. My Xperia XZ Premium is too big to sit in the console when you plug in the usb cable for Android Auto (a must to use Google Maps for reliable navigation). There's no plan B for phone storage despite a purpose built wireless charging slot which is too scrawny if you use a phone cover. Similarly, if there are two people in the car with a phone...

Technically Correct

The Calais packs a decent feature pack, including the AEB collision alert and lane keeping assist. The MyLink setup is the fancier red and black "premium" version which looks far more attractive than the base model blue and grey. GPS is included but frustratingly doesn't respond to traffic conditions, giving false indications of arrival times when you are up to your eyeballs in the morning grind. Halogen lights let down the team from an aesthetic perspective but performance wise are decently bright. 

Multi function options are well managed through the steering controls, and easily observed on the central display. There are quite a number of personalisations available for lights, and alerts that are worth exploring. 

Auto parking is as good as ever and possibly more important because the view out of the liftback is pretty ordinary. Nonetheless it's deceptively easy to park, though maybe that's because I have been parking behemoths since day dot.

Of course remote start is a valuable feature, particularly as we head into winter. Nothing beats getting the car toasty warm before you arrive.

What's In A Name

This a bit of a cop out, but I can't tell you if they should have used the Commodore name on this rebadged Opel Insignia or not. The balance of what it does versus what it doesn't depends on the value you place on each capability. It's not a brash bellowing battleship, nor a drag strip warrior. It's not a work ute, or a skid pig. But it is a good value family car that provides enough space an comfort to conquer the shopping centre or the red centre. 

Just to make sure I wasn't dazzled by the shiny badge in my biased eyes, I put my father in law in the drivers seat. When you can put a smile on a farmers face, you're doing alright.

Finally, after decades of local dominance, the Commodore must, and can, compete on merit alone. A vegemite sandwich made with gruyere and Roggenmischbrot, it tastes familiar but it's no Hanenburger. Only you can decide if you like the taste. Just don't be afraid to take a bite because it's not your fathers/mothers/aunts/grand mothers/sisters/brothers Commodore.

The Hits:
Diesel economy is outstanding
$44k price tag is good value
Holden has matched industry best 7 Year unlimited KM warranty
Corners like I hoped it would
Classier than the VF
Family friendly second row

The Misses:
It drives backwards
Space saver spare
Roofline in second row is too low and too narrow

Of course this isn't the end of the story. We've barely scratched the surface of Holdens new tac. But we will. Stay tuned.

Find out what Holden has to offer for the EOFY sales. 7 Year Warranty is a pretty damn fine carrot! HOLDEN.COM.AU/offers


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Loflyt Review: That Korean Sting

Hyper Bold

Michael McWilliams

18 May 2018

There are few cars that have been hyped as hard as the Kia Stinger, but there's a reason for the hype. This isn't just a change in presence for Kia. It's a much need injection of sport into a portion of the market consumed by SUVs. 

The accessible performance sedan lives (again).

I know I'm not alone in the feeling that something died with the passing of Australian manufacturing. The Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore were the last pockets of resistance against the incessant global appetite for high riding practicality. But those corporate battles for passion over the power of increased profitability were lost. The doors are closed, if not the wounds.

The Kia Stinger does not replace either of those cars. Nor does it out BMW a BMW (for what that's worth these days). The Stinger presents a watermark example of what a modern RWD sport sedan should be. Rigid, powerful, demonstrably fast in a straight line, and a measured dose of mongrel through the corners.

The example I drove was the 330 Si in Deep Chroma Blue. For 56k AUD you get the twin turbo inter-cooled G6DP 3.3 directed injected V6, which cranks out 272kw@6000rpm and an ass shoving 510nm from 1300 (yes, you read that right)- 4500 rpm. Stamp your boot onto that throttle and you instantly recognise (and are thankful for) the need to have 255/35/R19 rubber keeping the rear axle in line. As Russel says, "At my signal, unleash hell". And so ensues the sprint to 100, done and dusted in 5 seconds, though I doubt anyones assertion that they relented there... 
You can roll out the guns for as long as your courage allows, but you quickly exceed the point were you should be looking over your shoulder. There's a good chance that you'll be steering somewhat with your right foot, and a good chance that you'll want to do it again. 
225/40s up front are ably assisted by brembos, to help return everyone back to reality.

Let's not pretend that the Kia isn't a fine looking piece of gear, but it's clear that the motor is the star of the show. Spectators coo at the exterior, passengers giggle nervously, and eventually laugh out loud at the performance. 

Comfort wise the 330 Si manages to present a decently premium cabin, with supportive seats and a thumping sound system. There's enough room for four adults, though the rear seat will feel compromised for some.  Up front, the driver is treated to a nice sized wheel and low set driving position. The brushed silver look on black almost manages an art deco vibe, though the screen sitting proud of the dash seems more like a forced brand design addition than something integral to the product.

The liftback design constantly feels like a surprise because it's kind of new here... well, since the demise of the Telstar TX5. Okay so maybe it's just uncommon for me. Either way, the practicality is clear when it comes to loading shopping in the back. It means the whole luggage space is usable and you don't have to bend down to reach the back corner. Add in the standard Kia 7 year unlimited km warranty, and the practicality is right up there with anything from the SUV kult.

This car isn't about practicalities though. It's aiming for passion. That means creating an environment for the front row, which feels special, and allows them to be a little selfish. The Stinger does well in this department, by making the controls purposeful and easy to access prior to departure. Pilot assist tools are on the right hand side behind the wheel, with ESP program and shifter selection on the left.

The Shifter is well shaped for the hand, and the starter button has the solid aluminum reassurance that you are starting a machine, rather than turning on a stereo.  The whole thing feels like you are slotted in the breach ready to fire. There is a sense though, that you are programming for launch.

When you've made your selections, checked your mirrors and warned your passenger, you can keep both hands on the wheel, and use the paddle shifters to stoke the fires. This steel-springed version doesn't rely on electrickery to get you around a corner. It's limited in compliance which demands the driver take note and care of the road surface. Not harsh, but an ever present firmness as a reminder that, yes, you can take that corner.

If you are keen on sport, it's best to adjust the drive mode accordingly, because default/comfort mode is for numpties. Sport is a much more appropriate intent, and the Stinger responds with more squirt at better angles. Slotted behind the long bonnet, it feels pendulum like when you push those big rears but could do with more sharpness up front. You can't stand on the nose and tip. It's more like stand on the brembos and swing.  

It's no great stretch to imagine falling in love with this car. Dreamy good looks, prodigious torque and seating position that immerses the driver, all add up to a winning package. 

Prices start from $46,990 for the 200S, and stretch up to $60,000 AUD for the 330 GT. That seems a little sharp compared to out going local performance sedan prices, but those horses have bolted. 

In its own right, the Stinger is a car that car people can fall in love with as a daily. And just as importantly, it can get non-car people to fall in love with driving gain... now, about that third pedal...


The Good:
Performance, comfort, technology and all that toooorrrqquue;
Looks superb
Same outstanding 7 year unlimited KM warranty

The Bad:
A little narrow in the second row, middle seat is raised;
Price kind of.... but not really;
Sticky outy screen looks a bit awks
More front end pointiness please (but similarity may come with more seat time...) 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Small Victories

Small Victories

Review: Hyundai i30 o'clock

08 March 18

Michael McWilliams

Is this the model to bring Hyundai another fistful of trophies?
...well it didn't win COTY, perhaps it's enough to win hearts and minds.

The first time I drove an i30, I wasn't very impressed. It was a GD series ActiveX spec which relied on mediocre looking alloys supplementing a few trinkets in order to move some low priced units.

There's was no shock and awe, but it left me nodding, with my internal monologue settling on a score of "that's ok. Not too bad". Straight after, I jumped into the base model 7 spd DCT turbo diesel. It was silver with wheel covers and not a fancy piece of tech in sight.

Nonetheless, it immediately elevated my opinion to "ooh, they really know what they are doing".

The 7 speed DCT had it's niggles (as all DSGs do), but there was a clear sense that the level of control across that front axle was robust. And the fuel economy blew my socks off, returning 4.2l/100kms (56USMPG) on my daily run to Brisbane.

Third time around the buoy, was the 2.0 Direct injected SR. A little bit gruff, a little bit noisy and excitedly pointy, the last iteration of the i30 GD5 Series II was the last time I drove a normally aspirated 4 cyl that still felt like it wanted to play around the top end.

It was a strong run for the GD series. There were months breaking 5000 units, and it has no doubt created another generation, not just ready to buy again, but to recommend the Korean brand to their friends and family.

Next Generation

The new PD series though, that is something else. This is the start of the era when people stop saying "that's nice for a Korean car" and start wondering why they are paying so much for the competition.

The new i30 has a diverse range on offer, with the poise and technology to hold it in good stead against most competitors. These are the cars which create an expectation for future Hyundai products.

Active Improvements

The entry model i30 is now called the "Go" which you can slide in under the 20k mark, but it's an arbitrary limbo, so stick your neck out and try the Active. I first got my hands on a white auto, and to be honest, it was a little underwhelming to look at. That's because the biggest money has been spent on the way it drives.

Gone is the entry level 1.8 MPI of the previous generation. In its place is a modest tuned 2.0 direct injected petrol unit backed by a traditional 6 speed automatic. The pairing makes light work of most regular duties, and can be encouraged to push on when there's a break in the traffic.

Comfort is quite good but for some reason the head rest seems more pronounced than others. It makes the cabin feel like you're sitting very upright. As a result, the dash, with the straight up and down touch screen feels a bit too close for comfort.

The base model wheel was also rather plasticky, matching with other interior plastics, which detract from the overall feel of the cabin, but not the driving experience. 

Nonetheless, I had zero problems operating the GPS (standard in the Active!) and Android Auto, though I am desperate for the day when Android Auto and Apple Car Play go wireless (this year allegedly). The touch screen is ample, and controls are intuitive. 


Size wise the Hyundai has remained a compact option. The interior fits my family just, but all preferred the Tucson that we drove over Christmas (no surprise there).

The dimensions though, do make the i30 a great city option. Maneuverability is excellent, and the traditional style auto is well matched to urban life. I even preferred the higher profile tyres which are pothole proof (virtually) meaning dodgy roads are not really of concern.

The whole package elevates the new i30 to a very comfortable spot in the market. Best of all, even this base model drives well enough that regular humans will feel the difference, and hopefully appreciate how a decent car feels to drive.

Active Wear

The headline for the SR model is the 1.6 direct injected turbo. It's pulls hard enough to make you want to back off, and corners like you need to lift. There's no great roar or noise so you end up going faster than intended. 

I had a few moments where I was reminding myself of the old adage: a superior pilot uses superior judgment to avoid situations that require superior skill. 

BYO courage. I ignored my advice.

The DCT gearbox swaps cogs fast enough for fangio and for the most part, will pick them before you do. While the front isn't as pointy as I like, it was probably due to the higher entry speed afforded by the hairdryer whistling away beneath the bonnet.

It remains composed on most occasions though I'd appreciate a little more untidiness. 


Of course the SR I drove was packed to the gunwales with everything from Lane Keeping Assist, Emergency Automatic Braking and the devils cruise control (Radar Cruise). That means the SR pilot can pay even less attention to the road than ever before. Conditions permitting, the car keeps you on the straight and narrow. There are caveats with that which I shall cover in a vid, so subscribe here-> (Yube LOFYT).

Other niceties include a better quality, and rather colourful trim, including orange seat belts (yes I liked them!). The memory drivers seat was upside every which way adjustable and heated and cooled. I had no real trouble getting comfortable, but was often distracted by the moon roof, which I kept staring up through, just because I could.  

The Full Quid

The range starts at 19,990 for the Go 6M 2.0DI petrol, but for a measly $995 clams you're into the Active spec. Diesel is a $2500 option on either and yes, they can both come with a manual (huzzah! thank you at least for the choice!), or $2700 for the diesel auto option as it is an upgrade to the DCT. 

There are a plethora of additional combinations, numbering 14 in total when you include the shiny new N Performance GTI/WRX/CivicTypeR  competitor, topping out at $40k. There's even a cushy Elite diesel for those who would rather sip and coast, than point and shoot.

For me though, the sweet spot lies with the SR 1.6T 6M, at a rather agreeable $26k. You miss out on the fancy roof, but it will still drive like you shouldn't, whenever you want to. 

Chicken Dinner

The change from the GD to PD series was not only a generational leap for the i30, it was almost a segment jump. In my humble opinion, it doesn't really matter if the i30 wins Australia's most popular car, COTY, Australia's Best Car, or whatever other gong is being thrown around. 

What the i30 is really winning is credibility, and that pays off well after the dust has settled in the trophy cabinet. 

Disclosure: Hyundai loaned me these vehicles each with a tank of fuel. I used it all and then some :-P

Check out more on Instagram: #I30Oclock

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

To the Grand Canyon and Back Again


I took a trip down to L'America to trade some drinks for a pint of gold. Apparently I wasn't very good at discerning lyrics when I was a kid, but this song formed in my mind what the hell America was really about. Could it be true? Could L'America change my luck? Could it teach me how to... find myself?

I'm betting there is not a corner on this earth that has not been influenced by film, or music, or the politics of America. Such is its influence that people from all corners of the globe see fit to comment on its behaviour as if they had some stake it.

The biggest problem is, with 300,000,000+ souls in the US, you are bound to have some ...controversial spokespersons, whether you want them or not.  That which is preached loudest from the tower, defines those who dwell within, and L'Americas greatest export is preaching. Even worse, most of the stories the rest of the world gets about America, if it's not about picking fights with Kim Jong Un, are the kind of news stories that are played after the weather. For example, elevator footage of Jay-Z getting his ass kicked by his sister in law, or, some kid almost getting hit by a car in the local quicky-mart by a run-away weiner mobile replica.

Accordingly, America wears a kind of stigma: You're noisy, opinionated, rude, pushy, self righteous, crass, deluded and ignorant of anything outside your own border.

All of the above is a stereotype of course, and Australia has one too. Ours is slightly less insulting than the American one, but includes more beers and homicidal animals.

I'm happy to say that stereotypes only last up until the point you test them. More often than not, your first attempt at proof will fail.

Similarly, when I picked up the 2017 Buick Lacrosse premium with my mum [mom] and my son, I had a stereotype in my head which failed the moment I tested it.

First Impressions

I've seen plenty of press shots of course (which I instantly disliked), but face to face the front of the Lacrosse has a very cohesive presence. Everything looks like you would expect. Tastefully proportioned and jeweled active headlamps, straddle a grille adorned with a well presented tri-colour [color] badge. The chrome touches are restrained but present, as are the fog lamps and a fantastic Forest Metallic finish. That paint!

In profile the Lacrosse appears elongated thanks to a pronounced nose, but panning around reveals those classic American coke bottle hips, once again displaying its wares without having to shout about it. The big wheels were familiar, similar in design to the top spec Astra, though the Buick danced on 20 inch hoops. 245/40R20 Bridgestone Potenzas to be precise.

From a visual standpoint, again the Lacrosse managed to hit the extremity without appearing gauche. Only the portholes left me a little cold, but I understand the demands of tradition (another trait of America that will play out later).

Overall the Lacrosse comes across as a clean presentation with a good quality feel. I'll leave a question mark over the tail lights though. They appear unfinished. In this spec, in that colour, as a truck driving tweeker mentioned as he bounced past at a service station; "that's a full bodied automobile".

The Lounge

The trunk had no trouble taking luggage for two adults and one kid. If I had bought the whole family, I'm betting a SUV (or gasp, a wagon) would have been more appropriate. Bonus points for the storage under the centre console and a big centre bin.

Nonetheless, I jumped in the wrong [left] hand side and sunk into the beige leather drivers seat. It may have been the fact that we'd just flown 14 hours from Brisbane to LAX, but the seat felt goldilocks good. Presentation of the rest of the interior was intuitive, as was operation of the MyLink/Intellilink system. The woody trim looked pretty grandpa spec but not enough to annoy.

A few adjustments of the all electric seat had me in the best spot I could achieve, but there was the imposition of the A-pillar. Maybe it was simply because normally I'm closer to the other A-pillar, but generally speaking, the Lacrosse has quite a swept back roof line. In time, my concern faded in to an after thought.

There was no such complaints from my passengers. Mum was comfortable enough and my son had already passed out in the capacious rear seat. This was, after all, the first time he'd flown through time and arrived three hours earlier than he departed. He also only slept for 20 minutes for the whole flight.

The 1 hour 20 minute trip from LAX to our hotel in Anaheim was uneventful, that is, if you weren't part of the accident that created the crawling though well mannered jam of traffic.

Road Manners

The funny thing about LA is just how flat it is, and conversely how awful the roads are. Seriously, some parts of the highways in and around LA were so rough, in Australia we would use them as warnings that you are coming to an intersection and needed to stop. The frequency of expansion joints was no doubt accentuated by the 20 inch wheels and low profile rubber which translated to quite a bit of road noise. It's not quite as bad as some of Australias coarse chip bitumen, but even with the active dampers set to comfort, I was reaching for the excellent Bose stereo...

The true test would come when we finally headed towards Arizona and the biggest (literally and figuratively) icon that America has to offer: the Grand Canyon. Our only timeline was to be back in LA to catch a cruise ship in eight days time. That meant we just put Grand Canyon Village into the GPS and hit go. I'll leave the details of the first four days in LA to a story later told, but let me just say that we did both Disneyland Parks in two days.

Blasting east into the desert toward the Grand Canyon was like shedding a saccharine cocoon.

Just as we left the outskirts, we touched base with some other icons, such as an hour in Walmart, but it was the hills and landscape that truly made me feel like I was on an American road trip. Well that and the over-sized tourist trap concrete dinosaur towering over a defunct roadside restaurant, not to mention the dishwater that America swears is coffee. But the rawness of the terrain was something new.

It was becoming clear that Kingman would be our first stop, so when reception would allow, mum jumped onto the Buicks internal 4G Wifi network with her ipad to search for hotels. I hadn't mentioned wifi to my son yet as he was happy scary passing motorists on the highway with his Walmart approved halloween mask.

As we hit some way point on the GPS and started heading North, it was clear we were becoming more secluded. We paused and got out to stretch our legs at an intersection somewhere that I don't quite recall, and only one solitary vehicle passed us by. A sense of liberation washed over me and the fairy floss [cotton candy] encased deep-fried sensation of Disneyland had passed.

I had miles of open road ahead of me, and a willing 310 HP V6 American sedan seemingly built exactly for this purpose.

Statutory Limitations

As with driving in any new country, your capacity for risk analysis doesn't change. Judging of speed, handling and exploitation of what you have under the bonnet (and the right foot) all meet with the same driver. What does change is law enforcement. In Australia, if you are caught by the Police exceeding the speed limit by say 10 miles an hour, that's a couple of hundred dollars down the toilet. If you are caught doing that more than 4 times in 5 years, that's your license gone. Meanwhile in the desert, everyone (noting the infrequency we actually encountered people) is doing 80-90 mph, where it's posted at ~65.

We sat on 70 when mum was awake and between 80-90... when she wasn't. However, her slumber (and therefore my comfort) has disturbed when we wafted across a country sweeper with something less than absolute confidence. With the Lacrosse active dampers set to comfort, the sedan doesn't give me the feedback I am used to. Neither the tiller, nor the seat really keep you up to date, and as with any vehicle where comfort is the priority, driver inputs can often require more corrections.

I dialled up the dampers to sport, which allowed more road noise in to accompany the increased confidence. It mustn't have been too much of an imposition, because mum went back to sleep, and I went back to chasing the now fading horizon.

Once again the environment evolved as the sun went down. Surrounding hills changed colours and shapes until they become silhouettes and blended into a single mass, contrasting against the now properly lit country night sky. Dead ahead, the projector headlights are on the straight and narrow illuminating afar, but still not enough to see the end of the road. To either side, you can see the pale blue of the star light on the plant pocked desert sand. Straight up, through the panoramic sunroof, is a depth of stars that warrants inspection. But I am on a mission... dinner. So it's right foot pushed a little harder. The Lacrosse is flying just a little above cruising speed. I get the sense that this is where it does it's best work.

Long Term Relationship

The next day we travelled along route 66 and ran into some awfully tacky tourism. Route 66 is an icon on its own, though I doubt many realise [realize] the reality of it until they arrive. It's a long and at times winding road, which in a land yacht from 1959 would be a pretty taxing affair. Folks must have arrived at their destination in desperate need of sustenance. Cracking the lid off an ice cold Coke would truly have been a relief. In a modern car like the Lacrosse, motorists need to lured in by overt signage and attribution to days gone by. Mostly it was overdone and some towns were more desperate than others. There is the danger of lost romance, but you just need to remind yourself, it's about the road, not the never-ending line of shot glasses that are technically the same as the ones you see in the next town, just with a different name on them.

I needed encouragement to pull over. In all honesty I probably could have driven 75% more each day than we did. It was more to do with passenger comfort (read: boredom) which defined where we bedded each night, until we hit the Grand Canyon.

What an amazing sight....whelp, get back in the car. Let's do some more touring. :D

Okay it didn't quite pan out that way, but I think you are getting my point. I never tired of the Lacrosse. In fact as my familiarity grew , the more drawn I became. If the Grand Canyon wasn't so grand, we probably would have only stayed for the afternoon, such was my eagerness to get back behind the wheel. We actually came back the next day, then stopped in at the West Rim on the way to Vegas. (again, see more of this in a later story)

Stereo A-Typical

In the end I spent 10 days with the Lacrosse and 21 days in just that little south west corner of the US. What did I learn? Y'all like to say y'all, but more than that, y'all have a clear expectation about how everything should be, then execute the shit out of that thing until it's bigger than anyone else could possibly imagine or sustain. The same goes for the adherence to societal conventions. Crossing the street needs to be performed in accordance with the counter that says how long you can take, lest you experience the wrath of thy horn. There are burgers everywhere and franchises are distributed like street lights: one on every corner. And they all basically make the same thing.

There is nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as you are looking for something that's already on the menu. My mum asked for a cup of tea at Universal Studios and the server had to call for assistance!

Australia is on a similar tangent, but with less resources, we end up weeding offerings down to the lowest common denominator. The Lacrosse inadvertently is the personification of this concept. It is executed as well as a mid-large size V6 Buick sedan could be expected to be executed. It dots all the 'i's and crosses all the 't's, achieving standards but not pushing any of them. It's a solid car that wont set the world on fire.

Ultimately though,I measure the success of a product by its ability to enable the driver to achieve their objective, irrespective of whether that objective is daily commuting or transiting the South West corner of a desert.
The Lacrosse kicked all the goals I aimed it at, with a well mannered growl under the boot, and a comfortable suite to relax in during the LA crawl. It drank a little more than a Turbo 4 or a hybrid, sitting around 8.7 L/100kms [27USMPG] but it tickled my preference for normally aspirated conveyance.

It's not the kind of car to move markets, but it is the type of car to attract traditionalists. And it was the type of car which showed me that sticking to the script allows you enough time to... find yourself, on the remote highways of America. Despite the sedan market rapidly getting crushed by the #SUVKULT, the Lacrosse was the perfect weapon for the job.

Its clean execution of what a US highway road tripper should be, is just part of the reason why I already want to go back.

P.S. Big thanks to Buick and Michael Accardi for sorting out a little piece of America to come with us on our holiday.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Take Your Medicine

If they had cancer and I had the cure in a pill, they still wouldn’t eat it.

This was the response a colleague gave me on my inquiry with respect to his presentation at a trade show. The cure he was talking about is a concept that reliability professionals have been relying on for decades: Reliability Centred Maintenance (RCM).

However, most frustratingly for my colleague, attendees were listening but were totally unwilling to take their medicine.

Reliability Centred Maintenance is the conceptual framework that allows maintenance managers to create the most cost effective maintenance strategy for their operating environment.
It is the same concept employed across the world that has resulted in exponential improvements in air travel safety.

For the record, here are the seven RCM questions:
1.       What does it do (determine expected performance for operating environment)?
2.       How can the asset fail (define modes of failure, such as reduced braking ability or reduced output)?
3.       What causes the failure (define causes such as heat, friction, short circuit, crack)?
4.       What happens when the asset fails (brakes can’t stop, tank leaks etc.)?
5.       What are the consequences of each failure (safety/production risks)?
6.       How can we predict or prevent failure (maintenance monitoring or actions)?
7.       If you can’t be proactive, what else can be done?

In the hands of a trained practitioner, these questions can optimise the maintenance strategies of an entire organisation, and ensure that you renew/replenish critical components before they fail. Additionally, through a proactive education campaign, this can ensure that maintenance managers also understand the consequence of running their equipment too hard.

Two of the primary upshots are, less unplanned maintenance due to reduced failures, and, reduced downtime due to predicted appropriate spares holdings and service scheduling.

They all sound like positives right? Sure, but as any good professional knows, every function has a cost. The cost of RCM is primarily incurred when investing in the right resources and people to help your organisation.

In line with the hopes and dreams of managers that want something for nothing, the cost of handing an RCM book to your maintenance manager and assuring them that “he/she’s got this” is far, far, lower than getting a consultant in to do the job for them.

Unfortunately, initial cost is only one side of the equation. The truth of the matter is that you WILL NOT get the same value out of your investment, from someone trying to learn and implement RCM principles from scratch.

As I learned during my short tenure with an Asset Management consultancy, mature practitioners don’t need to recite the seven questions. The logic behind the questions becomes instinctive, and once you have that instinct, the road to optimisation is the only logical path.

And therein lies the problem for my colleague (being that he was overtly mature). What was logic for him may as well have been written in binary for the audience. They could only see the cost, which can be a very bitter pill to swallow.   

The benefit of getting the right people to optimise maintenance will be seen, not only in plant uptime and availability, but in the culture of your maintenance organisation. This is a long term benefit that continues to pay dividends long after the initial investment has been repaid many times over.

Of course the consequence of the third option (doing nothing) is death so…... 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Long Road to Redemption

On instagram (@LoflytKULTURE) I recently asked what it will take for potential customers to forgive Holden for what ever trespasses they have perpetrated, and judge the products on their merit. It’s an interesting question because their road to ill repute is different to that of other brands. At the turn of the century Holden where the second most trusted brand in the country.
Let’s take Hyundai for example. They have been in the country for 31 years, and are now in a position where they are the third most popular brand in the country. In fact, they are the most popular brand in Australia which doesn’t have a light commercial truck (read pick up or ute).
I have many stories about people who have sworn off the South Korean manufacturer thanks to unreliable products that have come apart in owners hands.
Most recently, however, I saw a middle aged guy looking at an i20 for sale on the side of the road.
"Nothing remarkable about that" I hear you say.
I concur, but parked next to it was his i30, a few years old but in good condition.
Is it too much to assume that he is considering the i20 for his son/daughters first car?

Of course, this isn’t limited to Hyundai. Every manufacturer needs to earn their chops. That includes a period of self-improvement which often requires a domestic product acquiring the functional demands of foreign markets.
I’ve recently spent a great deal of time behind the wheel of many South Korean products, and each one draws me a little closer to that point where I no longer regard them as a second choice.
Rather, I now have the Kia Sorento as a lead runner in my families quest to replace our much loved Holden Commodore wagon. More on that another day, but 5 years ago, they didn’t even feature as a third string option.
So what has changed to allow the Sorento a look in? Why do I consider the Elantra GT a worthy daily commuter? Why did I recommend a co-worker look at an Optima GT?
Was it marketing? Well I just searched my brain for a memorable Kia ad…. still searching……”we’re living in the back of the carrr” (nope that’s the catchy earworm Mitsubishi ad).

It must be the product then. Having driven the Sorento extensively, I can’t say it’s a match for the Commodore wagon, but as with the other Kia products, it has the basics right.
So perhaps it's not the product... well, not just the product.
The reality is that all of those things make up a brands reputation. When you back it up with a segment leading warranty, just like Hyundai (5 years) and Kia (7 years), the result is trust.
That is what the Koreans are earning, year after year.
Equally, that is what Holden has lost recently, as they allowed older generation Korean products to die on their vine/lots.
I've driven the new Astra, and it is very good. The RS has an amazing amount of technology, drives like a Holden should, delivers exceptional economy, and even manages to provide a solid amount of value despite immigrating all the way from Europe.
But that is not enough. More new product, better marketing and longer warranty, is the only way Holden is going to earn back the consumers trust, and claw their way back to the top.
Oh, and time. There are no shortcuts on the road to redemption.
See more Korean Stuff here: #KOREADRIVEN
See more of the Astra here: #INSTASTRALOGIC