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WAJ, Diesels, BMW, Radio Talk, Infiniti and Some Rants and Raves in This Month's Letter from Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
The Auto Channel
European Bureau Chief

Well, the great debate about global warming is-if you pardon the pun-is certainly getting hotter. Bob Lutz, the World’s Number one petrol head and No 2 within General Motors is accusing the media of global warming hysteria and suggesting that what governments-and the general public demand simply cannot be met. I’ve known and admired Bob the best part of 40 years but that is a load of bollocks.

Manufacturers said that safety belts cannot be made, airbags cannot be made, the public won’t except either, engines won’t run without lead in the gas/petrol and, here we are with all the above safely installed and working satisfactorily unless you are a dickhead and don’t buckle up like the guy in New Jersey the other day.

By the way look at greener than green Toyota. Prius doing 60 miles per gallon-in their dreams and in their advertising only. They tell me that it isn’t their fault that the EPA came up with these figures, in 2008 these figures will drop by about 18%. Still, let’s be fair- my wife’s Prius does 42 miles on regular gas, a far cry from 19.1 in her previous BMW.

I am co-hosting a radio show these days and we have some great guests every Saturday morning. You might like to listen in- the station is KNEW and all you have to do is tap into your computer, hit the stream button and you’re there. The title of the Show is The Automotive Journal, the invention of a great guy by the name of Doc Lane. Larger than life and huge fun.

Recently we’ve had the motoring editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, the lady from GM in charge of their electric car development, people from Volvo, Ford, Mini, Honda, BMW and Mercedes to name but a few.

Every Saturday morning between 11-12 California time.

The cars I‘ve been driving lately have been an interesting bunch. The Volvo S80 was just as solid and elegant as it was at the launch last fall in Las Vegas, the 4.4 liter Yamaha engine is a gem but I still think that Volvo should consider bringing in their excellent diesel engine which is a big hit in Europe.

Yes folks, you’d better get used to it- diesel is the new “ in” word. In 2008 you’ll see fast, quiet, economical BMWs and also several diesels from Mercedes. Honda and Nissan are also entering the diesel scene which makes a great deal of sense. No more blue smoke, in fact without the badge on the back few people will ever guess that you are driving a diesel.

The Infiniti G35 Sport looked very pretty from the outside and pretty depressive on the inside. It also had one of the most annoying faults I’ve ever come across, namely a reflection from the dash. Whoever signed this car off for production obviously worked in a dark room, unaware of the fact that mercifully the Sun tends to shine in California.

The engine was, if anything, too powerful for the car, the 6 speed box was OK rather than brilliant and all in all I wasn’t sorry to see the car go.

It has nothing to do with money or brand of automobile, a year ago I drove the Audi 3 and could not stop smiling, it was simply great. Nissan make some fine cars, this tarted-up Infiniti is not one of them. Get one of the new Nissan hybrids. You’ll have fun and you’ll save a fortune on the purchase price and on the gas bill.

The BMW 328i convertible was neither one nor the other. It tried to be all things to all people but it didn’t quite come off. Does it go? Of course. BMW’s 3.0 liter DOHC 24 valve inline six-cylinder engine is a gem but the versatility of the car itself calls for very careful planning.

The hardtop is fine when it is up and fine when it is down, except that there is virtually no room even for shopping in the latter case. It is also very, very expensive at over 49 thousand dollars. There are other, more practical BMWs to be had for a lot less.

Hyundai’s little Elantra looks pretty and it is pretty good for around 16 thousand dollars. It wouldn’t be my first choice in an accident but assuming that one manages to avoid SUVs it is very comfortable, quite peppy and surprisingly well-equipped for the price.

Under new head honcho Steve Wilhite the Korean company is about to launch some very serious competitors in the 30 thousand plus region much to the chagrin of the established brands.

May of course is also the time of the Western Automotive Journalists’ test day on the road and also at the Laguna Seca test track.

Most of it was sponsored by our very own Auto Channeltm and certainly head honcho Marc Rauch and my good friend Mark Fulmer did a very fine job promoting us. The cars were fine, the weather was fine after a wet start and a good time was had by all.

I am just sad that a lot of manufacturers sent their office boys to represent them, consequently intelligent conversation was limited to the few who bothered to turn up.

That’s it for this month. Thanks for TACh’n