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Letter from Europe II
Andrew Frankl - European Bureau Chief

Mercedes E-class.


Jaguar: Total luxury!


Grand Prix: F1 Racing

Some internet stocks may have fallen 99% or have disappeared completely but the world's auto industry marches on relentlessly. Jurgen-or should I say Houdini-Schrempp managed to escape the chop at DaimlerChrysler and has acquired some new friends of late. Well, in view of the fact that in the first quarter of 2001 the company had an operating loss of 3.3 billion dollars Schrempp certainly needed all the friends and then some. The people representing the unions at Chrysler have been making very positive statements, the shares have stopped falling( hovering around 50 dollars), the redundancies seem to be proceeding without a strike. What they need now is for people in America to start buying the relaunched Jeep Liberty and Durango as well as the rest of the range. In the meantime Mercedes just marches on making lots and lots of money. In 100 years is really has become one of the all-time great brands capable of surviving almost anything. The A class rolls, the press laughs, the car is fixed and sells in droves. The Le Mans car does a triple salchow with a toe loop-in other words a bloody great crash- in front of millions of TV spectators- and the brand still marches on. Nothing, but nothing seems to be able to halt the three-pointed star.

Having driven a couple of their cars recently I can quite understand. The E320 is the quintessential senior executive car. Well built, solid, reliable, understated in a way. Over the years there have been some subtle changes-all for the better. The Sport version I've been driving lately goes like smoke and the neat little touches such as the mirrors tilting downwards to assist reversing are very welcome. I am still trying to conquer the navigation system, so far without too much success.

The 4matic E320 arrived just too late to take it up the mountains but I am sure it would have coped without any trouble. I am told that the recently stretched A class is on its way to the United States, it will be an interesting exercise. Certainly in view of rocketing fuel prices it would be welcome by those for whom the impending 3 dollars per gallon would just about break the camel's back.

One competitor DaimlerChrysler can't afford to ignore any longer is Jaguar. The Cat-if we forget about their rather modest performances on the race track-is about to make several huge leaps. They are in the middle of launching the X type and I will of course be reporting on it in due course. It is aimed fairly and squarely at the BMW 3 series and the new Mercedes C class. In addition they are working on a face-lift for the hugely successful S type which we will see later on in 2001, most likely at the Frankfurt Motorshow. 2002 will see various derivatives of the X type, an estate/station wagon and probably a diesel engine as well. How times and engines have changed...who would have thought that one day there would be a diesel Jag..! I was talking to Dr. Reitzle the other day-probably the brightest auto executive I've ever met- and he was telling me about the increased use of aluminum by Jaguar. The new F type for instance will use an aluminum space frame. Interestingly enough the company is helped in making the new sports car by the legendary Italian firm of Pininfarina. The venerable XJ8 will be replaced in 2003, it too will have an alloy body. The new XK8 is also due 2003, the coupe will also be featuring an alloy body. Clearly the good Doctor is very keen on weight reduction and rightly so.

Having spent some time recently in the XKR Silverstone and the XK8 I can see his point. The cars are great but could do with a lighter body. Maybe I am not a very good driver but every time I considered taking either of these cars to the limit a little bell started ringing telling me that once I lost traction I would not get it back due partly to my incompetence and partly to the weight of the cars.

The Silverstone attracted a great deal of interest in and around San Francisco. The exterior changes have been fairly subtle but to my amazement lots of people noticed them. Mind you, 20 inch wheels do stand out... and those really in the know will have appreciated the Pirelli P Zero tires as well .The Brembo brakes provided prodigious stopping, all in all it was a great experience. Having said that, bearing in mind the difference in price, for most Jaguar XK lovers the "basic" (if you pardon the expression) 244 horsepower car would be perfectly adequate. Not to mention the very considerable price differential- nearly 30 thousand dollars! The convertible which I drove is on sale for 74 thousand dollars while the Silverstone is 96.. One could get a very decent second car on the change!

Mistakes-just silly ones really. The cupholders are a complete joke and cannot be used-full stop. I challenge anyone to place two cups into the designated holders and move the lever from P to D or across the antiquated J gate to second. Clearly an afterthought which will be modified at some stage. The aforementioned J gate is OK I suppose but in comparison with rivals it is way past its sell by date. As I had the two cars back to back it was quite clear that there was something dramatically wrong with the handbrakes. Firstly the positioning which one can get used to, but more importantly the total lack of retardation unless pulled up all the way requiring more strength than many owners have. Once more I cannot imagine that it will be with us much longer.

Silly mistakes aside these are two grand tourers in the classic definition of the term. Breakfast in London, dinner in Monte Carlo in total comfort and with ample room for luggage and two sets of golf clubs. If you pardon the pun and have the money- don't leave home without it.

Changing the subject, you may have heard that Bernie Ecclestone, czar of Grand Prix racing is selling 75% of his company to a German TV company by the name of Kirch. This outfit specializes in pay per view TV and the great fear is that in spite of all its promises that is what will happen. Well, if I were Kirch I would proceed with caution because the car manufacturers who are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Formula One have stated publicly that if Kirch deviate from the deal they will be off, doing their own series. Some clever clogs near to the heart of F1 laughed at the idea but he who laughs last.. Nobody but nobody should take Fiat (Ferrari), Ford (Jaguar) DaimlerChrylser, Renault and BMW too lightly. All these companies have lots of money, lots of engineers, wind tunnels, the latest, most sophisticated computers and the various suspension and other parts that the teams are buying from various small British suppliers would be just as readily available for anyone else with money. If push came to shove I reckon we could have a new Formula up and running within two years of falling out with Kirch. The only stabilizing factor in the whole equation is the presence of Bernie Ecclestone. He agreed to stay on for another five years and as long as he is around everything will be fine. Will he be followed by the proverbial deluge? For the millions of enthusiasts all over the world I hope not.


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