Thursday, April 26, 2012

Riding into the future! On the back of others...

We all eagerly look forward to the various motor shows round the world. We get to see a glimpse of what each manufacturer is developing, what might come to market soon, what kind of new design ethos a brand is developing, etc.

It is all fascinating!

You get the amusing visions of the future, such as Toyota's fish inspired FT-Bh hybrid city car...

You get the ones which are designed to show you what is in the pipeline, such as Landrovers DC100, which  looks like it will end up (after further tweaking) as the replacement for the indefatigable Defender.

Others are showroom ready, such as Range Rovers Evoque convertible...

Then you get the bonkers. Such as Lambourgini's stealth fighter inspired Aventador. Where, just because a regular one might not scare you enough, they lopped the roof off...

Or even more entertaining, the new Sbarro Floper III (I want it just for the name!) A Formula 1 inspired ride where you get to sit next to you loved one and hold hands, whilst blasting down the road getting flies in your teeth!

Then there is the just downright sexy. Like Aston Martin's V12 Zagato.

And best of all, if you visit the Beijing motor show, you get to see all the cars again, from new manufacturers, or the  dreams of some freaky scientists hell-bent on genetically modifying cars to mash them together.

I have commented on this before, where many Chinese car companies are blatantly ripping more established marques styles. And they are STILL at it! Despite many being financially sound, and getting more and more experience all the time, they just cannot let go of the desire to piggyback their brand on the back of the hard work of others! Here are just a few examples...

The new Roewe E50.

Which bears a strong resemblance to Nissan's Leaf, and is also a battery-powered car. Also, it is worth noting Roewe was born from the ashes of Rover, the British marque that died quite some years back.

There is also the Lifan 320, which will NEVER enter the US or UK, and probably wont make it outside China either, due to the less than subtle borrowing of styling cues from...


Moving on to a new sports concept. From Heyue... 

Which looks like the end result of a night of passion in a seedy hotel between a Lambourgini, and Mitsubishi's Lancer.

Or how about this one? Geely, famous for ripping Rolls Royce a few years back, is at it again. Deciding to visit the UK to rip another famous UK marque. This time, with its new concept, the Englon SC7 (Eng? As in England, Eng? and Lon, as in London, Lon?)

Which looks like the mutant love-child from a one night stand between a London taxi, and Bentleys new EXP 9F SUV concept!

However, there is this offering from the Beijing Motor show, a new MG Icon compact SUV concept which is ready to go. It looks very handsome. I hope this actually does well!

Best of all? No copying any other company's style! Why? This was designed in MG's in-house studio. In England.

So, come on China! PLEASE come up with your own ideas! There must be SOMEONE in that 1 billion plus population who is capable of creating a uniquely Chinese style!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Armistice Day

Very soon, it will be November 11th. Armistice Day. A day of remembrance, for those who have fallen in conflict defending those that they loved.

A day during which people wear a poppy to honour their actions, honour their memories, and honour those who continue to serve today, carrying on their legacy. 

The poppy came about from the red flowers found growing on the fields of Flanders. An area soaked in the blood of the fallen during World War 1. During a time of remembrance, the public wear then on lapels. Also, many sports organisations get them stitched onto shirts. 

They have featured on football shirts of teams in Englands Premier League, as well as on England and Australia national team rugby shirts (amongst others).

They have also been stitched on to England's national football teams shirt, and sold to raise money for The Royal British Legion. A charity that raises money to pay for the care of wounded soldiers, as well as helping the families for those soldiers who dont return.

So, last weekend, the FA allowed teams playing in England the right to stitch a poppy on to their shirts.

And England asked for permission to place a poppy on the England shirt for the friendly game against Spain played on November 11, Armistice Day. 

FIFA declined to allow England to do so. It is part of their rules that teams cannot place symbols which are commercial (sponsorship), religious, or political in nature. They said that to allow England would open the doors to further such demands, and end up with symbols on all sorts of shirts, representing all sorts of events.

Whilst FIFA can protest about protecting the neutrality of Football, they are on a hiding to nothing over this. Whatever happens, FIFA looks bad (Not that they do that themselves anyway!).

Lets look at the rules. So, we cannot place commercial logo's on a shirt (other than kit manufacturer). Well, the Royal British Legion is a charity. Religious logos. Royal British Legion looks after injured soldiers and their families, no matter what religion. Political logos. Well, they will take donations from any political hue! And politicians of all colours wear poppies. So, it aint political.

Is it England specific? No. The Scots and Welsh also wear poppies (its a British thing). The poppy is not exclusive to The UK, either. Poppies play a (small) part in Veterans day in the US. Poppies are also worn in New Zealand, Australia, as well as many other Commonwealth nations. The Poppy factory in London exports all over the world.

I understand FIFA's fear, that this could open the door to all sorts of claims, but surely, given that Armistice day (and related) is a multi-national thing, there is space to allow it. Maybe even allow every nation to have 1 day to honour something. Just one. 

Besides, FIFA place patches on shirts to promote their own campaigns. Such as the "Fair Play" campaign, as well as UEFA's "Respect" campaign.

Why not allow nations to Respect those who gave their all for the rest of us?

Friday, October 21, 2011


Warning: Some images are not that pleasant.

OK. So, after bitter fighting since February, Libya is now finally free of Gaddafi and his tyrannical rule. How? Well, he is dead. The NTC forces finally found him in his home city of Sirte, and now the guy has met a very ignoble end. Dragged from a drain pipe, rambling, and probably close to insane. 

There is a lot of confusion over how he met his end. Was he executed? Was he killed in a crossfire? Or was he "mercifully" killed by his bodyguard to spare him the humility of being captured? The truth may very well never come out. 

After all, history is written by the victors.

So, the man who wanted to lead the Arab world, and failed. The man who became an international pariah, and managed to fashion himself as a leader of Africa. And was named as "King of Kings" by African tribal leaders.

The man who famously hated flying, and pitched his tent rather than stay in a hotel. The man who had an amazingly flamboyant style. Switching between multicultural tribal robes, and ever more flamboyant military garb he designed.

A man who said he was not the leader of Libya, despite concentrating power in his hands. A man surrounded by a personal bodyguard of hand-picked beautiful ladies (who WHERE his bodyguard, not eye candy!) 

A man who, with his family, raped and pillaged his nation.

The debate now rages on about whether he should have stood trial for his crimes. Well, for me, it is a pointless argument. He was arrested, with blood pouring from his head, and in the confusion he later died. How he died should be the matter of an investigation. 

How he died will probably never be revealed. 

Should he have stood trial? In my view, yes. He should. However, if he where to be put on trial in Libya it would have been nothing more than a show-trial. Libya after all has NO judicial system to speak of, since the previous system was designed to be subservient to Gaddafi himself! 

In reality, he should have been sent to the ICC (International Criminal Court). A venue where he would have been tried in relative impartiality. However, the ICC process would have ground on and taken YEARS for any resolution. And given Gaddafi's predilection for rambling, it could have taken EVEN longer!

As it is, given his 42 year rule, and the preponderance of evidence against the guy, he would have ended up guilty at the ICC. He DEFINITELY would have ended up guilty if tried in Libya, and most likely dead. What has happened to him has essentially circumvented the process that would have ended in the same outcome.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Big machines that go fast!

OK, so Britain is looking at building the High Speed 2 line initially to run from London to Birmingham. But what about the rolling stock that is to go ON the line? Well, that is going to be the next big debate. Britain really does not have the ability to build these trains itself. Indeed, with the awarding of a contract to Siemens for the expansion of British rail rolling stock, Britain's last main train building factory is being significantly downsized!

So, where are we going to get the new stuff from, if we cant do it ourselves? Well, there are basically 4 countries touting their services in order to win the bid. France, Germany, Japan, and China. So, which one should Britain go for?

Well, lets have a look at the railways involved. However, this is going to be totally un-scientific!

Lets start with China. Its first alphabetically.

China has nearly 10,000 km of high speed line, with 3,500 being rated for services in excess of 330kph. A lot of this has sprung up within the last 10 years of construction, with the first line being opened in 2007. China enjoys ridership 290,540,000 people a year. 

However, this year was the year of the Crash.China's breakneck charge into high speed rail has cast a dim light on the network itself, with worries of sub-standard quality control, corruption, and poor design. Indeed, most of the technology involved is essentially re-engineered German or Japanese technology. Some might say, re-engineered poorly. 

With only 4 years of operation, China has already had a deadly smash up.

Should Britain buy Chinese? Well, it would probably work out cheaper, but we are dealing with massive machines travelling at stupid speeds. Somewhat different from a kids plastic toy. China's railways are unproven, and this smash casts a pall over it. I'd put them well down the list.

Next up, France. 

The French introduced its first high speed rail way back in the 60's, not long after Japan. And, like Japan, runs its TGV on dedicated lines. France's network is nearly 2000km long, and has 93 million people a year. 

Now, The TGV does enjoy an excellent record, 3 derailments, with no major incidents, and no fatalities.

Should Britain buy French? Well, they are our neighbours, and we already use French built rolling stock, with the Eurostar services running from London through the Channel Tunnel. It is a tried technology, and France has had a lot of success exporting it round the world, with TGV based rolling stock in use in Spain and Korea, to name but 2.

However, they ARE French.

Next up, Germany.

They kind of got in to the game a bit late, with the first services running in the early 90's. Also, the ICE network is not totally dedicated to ICE services. It is in some cases, mixed. The network enjoys a ridership of just over 77 million, and has seen 10 incidents. None resulting in fatalities, and caused by things on the line. Ranging from cars and trucks, to sheep.

However, Germany did have the Eschede disaster, when an ICE service derailed resulting in significant loss of life, caused by a wheel suffering from fatigue and cracking. All ICE wheels have since been re-designed, and replaced.

So, should we buy German? Why not? It is tried and tested, with only the one incident. The Germans also got on with finding the fault, and re-designing that part that failed. Also, the trains have enjoyed success overseas, in use in Spain, Russia, and China. 

Finally, Japan.

The home of the high speed rail service. The first service running from Tokyo to Osaka way back in the early 1960's. Japan has a network of about 2,400km of track, and just over 353,000,000 people riding the Shinkansen services. As for safety, Japan has the best record. 1 incident which resulted in a derailment, with the Chuetsu earthquake tipping a train off the rails. No fatalities. Otherwise, that's it.

So, what about Japanese? I'd say this has to be the favourite. Best safety record, excellent reliability (puncuality is measured in seconds!), AND most importantly for the NIMBY's in Britain, the Japanese have spent ages researching tunnel design and train design to get their trains as quiet as possible. Something that is as important in Japan as it is in the UK, given that both are island nations with dense populations. Granted, it would mean buying Japanese ducks, rather than the more sleek-looking French and German counterparts, but given that most people will only get a fleeting glimpse as it whistles past, or are sat inside, its not such a big deal!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Are we proud to be British?

Canadians can let their hair down, and go nuts during Canada Day. Their nations birthday. People dress up largely in red, with a bit of white thrown in. something Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge took to heart and selected a lovely white dress with a red maple leaf inspired hat during her outings during the Canada Day celebrations she and her husband where involved in during their visit to Canada.

America shuts down and dresses up in red white and blue for Americas birthday on the 4th of July. Independence Day. Parades, fireworks, and flag waving galore.

The French also have their Bastille Day, a day to be proud to be French (not that they need an excuse!)

But what about Britain? There is no national day for Britain. It is a very difficult thing to define. For me, as an Englishman, Britishness is hard to define. England is the largest constituent nation in the UK, and has often seen Englishness confused with Britishness. Rightly, this has seen a lot of resentment in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

This has seen a rise in the Celtic nations in their search for their own identities. Now, the Welsh get their Leeks and dress up on St Davids Day.

The Irish have St Patricks Day. Though a lot of it has been driven by the fact that the Americans very nearly stole it from the Irish!

And the Scots deep fry the proverbials out of everything on St Andrews Day! OK, a bit of a stereotype! But again, there is active encouragement to push Scottishness.

In England, St Georges Day is popular...

But is NOT actively encouraged. Many councils refuse to fund parades for fear of "extremism." Indeed, the TUC according to someone I heard on the BBC, really dont want any mention of "England" at their main conference.

Gordon Brown, as PM, wanted to have a British Day. And I agree. But can we HAVE a British day?

I think we can, but the problem is, we need to work out what it means to be British. To be British is confused and amorphous. It is my belief that the only way to sort it all out is to sort out the current imbalances that are existent already in the UK.

You have macro imbalances which the Celtic home nations bang on about, with England being the dominant nation. And you have micro imbalances, which piss off the English, with the Barnet Formula granting Scots far more in council funding, and Welsh and Scots being able to impact on English only matters.

How can we sort all this. For one, we need the government to actually allow people in England ENJOY St Georges Day without being made to feel like it is some dirty thing (Jack Straw suggested that there is something inherently dark about "Englishness."). Allowing England to be English in a proud AND positive way would allow people to reclaim it from the nutters. This would make it positive, and begin to ease a little of the resentment.

On a macro level, we need to sort out the imbalances. By REALLY sorting out devolution it allows each home nation the chance to sort out their own topics and work together on UK-wide issues. I have talked about this sort of thing here. Also, the high speed line would allow areas outside London to be able to push for companies to relocate outside London whilst having easy access to the rest of the nation. 

On a micro level, we need devolution across ALL home nations. This would then stop the farcical situation of the vote for tuition fees. This was an issue under Tony Blairs Labour government where it was essentially an English only issue. Labours English MP's mostly voted for it after being whipped (not literally! It means that Labours "heavies" instructed their MP's which way to vote "or else.")

However, the opposition voted against it, many English Labour MP's rebelled and voted against, and in the end, the motion was carried after Labour got its Scottish MP's to vote in favour. This proved hugely controversial because this law was in no way going to impact on their constituents. With education being a devolved topic. 

It is my belief that we need to scrap the current system. Get rid of the vast numbers of MP's and replace it with a 2 tier system. At 1 level we need each nation to have its own parliament. This would allow each nation to control its own specific areas and prevent dominance by one or another of the home nations. 

On top of that, a smaller British parliament This would debate purely British issues. It would also allow you to get rid of the over representation that exists in the current system. As it stands, for the English, 1 English vote counts for far less given that each of the other home nations are over - represented with MP's for their population size. Also, the imbalance exists because a Scot has the right to vote on MSP's who debate on purely Scottish topics, as well as voting for an MP, who can impact (only in a small way, but the fact is they CAN) on English only topics. This means that the English are under represented. I know that if the English MP's band together, the other home nations dont get a look in, but democracy is about the right of the individual to choose, and I have less choice, and less of a voice!

Also, my idea would be for the British parliament would be for the constituencies to ignore national boundaries. This would allow the boundaries to be drawn to be perfectly equal. There is no need for the constituents to worry about whether their MBP (Member of British Parliament) was born in Scotland or England, as they would only be able to work on British matters. The constituents "English" or "Scottish" or "Welsh" concerns would be dealt with by their "English" or "Scottish" MSP/MEP. 

If there was a proper balancing of the parliamentary system and of powers across the UK, with all nations being equal, then it would allow each nations people to settle on their own national identity. It would also help England sort out its own identity. If England was allowed to forge its own identity in the UK, then that would then give the home nations the chance to work together and forge a new idea of what it means to be British.

It works in sports, we have England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland in the rugby, who band together to form the British Lions who tour every 4 years.

Also, in the Commonwealth games we compete as the home nations, which works OK for us.

But at the Olympics, we combine as Team GB. To great success, indeed, in the cycling Britain is one of the top nations, and at the Beijing Olympics, Britain basically kicked everyone else. The team is made up of mostly English riders (there ARE more of us!) but it also includes exceptional talents from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Indeed, the number one rider is Sir Chris Hoy, from Scotland, and during the team pursuit, the team was made up of 2 English, 1 Welsh, and 1 Belgian (OK, Bradley Wiggins was born there, but raised in London!).

the problem we have in the UK is that we just dont have a national day to be proud to be British. also, we are a little uncomfortable with it as there is no real description of what it is to be British. This has allowed the extremists a chance to create their own definition of what it is to be British, and the rest of us are not comfortable with it. 

Without a national day, it leaves us with the Olympics, and the occasional big day such as the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. But these days are sporadic, and not fixtures on the calendar.

If there was true equality between the home nations it would ease a lot of the tensions that exist. If we could be comfortable with what it is to be uniquely Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish (though that could be tricky!), then we would be able to seek out those things that combine us together to make us British.

THEN we could be uniquely proud to be British.