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Thursday, 30 May 2013

A "low-carbon, city-chic, frankly muscular, sassy but not vulgar" Aussie car?

The battle of the big Aussie sixes continues, despite the fact that Ford announced just under a week ago that the Falcon would not be manufactured after 2016. The day before that announcement there was a story in the Australian about the new VF Commodore. Holden spruiked the car's set of additions including rear parking sensors and a blind-spot warning sensor. A couple of days ago there was a clandestine photo in one of the broadsheets of Ford's might-be replacement for the Falcon. Today there's a story about Holden's proving track near Melbourne. This on-going story is background noise for Australian men, and it begs the question: if these models are made for Aussie men, and they're not selling, it must mean Aussie women are making the decisions about what car to buy for the family.

So it's timely that Elizabeth Farrelly, one Fairfax columnist, has written about her effort to choose a new car for herself. Apart from shrewdly noting that all the people on the saleyard flat are blokes - where are all the women car salespeople? - Farrelly outlines the kinds of attributes she wants in a car.
Sensible be damned. I want a snappy bod, an eager drive, a flattering interior, an edible acoustic. I want it low-carbon, city-chic, frankly muscular, sassy but not vulgar, with an opening roof and a hint of Rilke or Eames. I want it affordable. Oh, and yes, did I mention that? I want it to go. Is that so hard?
But there's more.
The reason I need a car at all - at least my rationale - is I'm planning some country trips, and this is not a continent to do by public transport. So I want a car that can shoulder the load and foot it with the kelpies, as well as zip around the Hood.
She plans road trips and plumps for a VW Tiguan, which comes in a range of models including a 1.4-litre 118kW petrol engine, a  2.0-litre 103kW diesel engine, a 2.0-litre 132kW petrol engine, and a 2.0-litre 155kW petrol engine.

(The number of litres shown for an engine refers to the displacement; the amount of air-fuel mix that is moved with each up-down action of the total of the cylinders. Displacement correlates with the fuel-efficiency of the engine; a smaller displacement will - all other things being equal - use less fuel. The abbreviation "kW" stands for "kilowatt", and indicates the amount of energy, or power, that the engine can produce. A wise buyer will want the smallest possible displacement for the energy rating required.)

If I were Farrelly, given her list of "wants", I'd be going for one of the more powerful petrol Tiguan models. Because when you're intending to overtake a couple of slow semi-trailers on an uphill curve in the rain with a side-wind gusting to 30 knots you want something that can do it easily and without puffing. Of course, a seasoned country-road driver might prefer the 3.0-litre 185kW unit in the new VF Commodore or else the 3.5-litre 200kW unit in the Toyota Aurion. There's a world of difference in terms of performance (what blokes routinely call "grunt") between a 2.0-litre engine and a 3.0-litre one.

But are these big Aussie sixes "low-carbon, city-chic, frankly muscular, sassy but not vulgar"? Well, they're not low-carbon compared to smaller-displacement models but they're a lot more low-carbon than similar models manufactured, say, 10 years ago. Yes, they're muscular, but aren't they a bit vulgar too? Are they city-chic? Holden continues to place vehicles in super-car competitions, so going for the bogan petrol-head demographic. Which is frankly vulgar (sorry, chaps) rather than sassy. Middle Australia doesn't give a toss about those races, and wants a reliable car with good resale value; women like Farrelly also want a whole slew of other things as well, as we can see.

I sense that Holden cannot shrug off the cashed up bogan rep that currently hangs heavily on the Commodore. Unless it does, it'll never shift enough of the VF to counter the slide the brand has experienced in the past decade as Japanese automakers continue to gain market share.

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