Road Impressions BMW X3 xDrive 2.0d

The boys were shooting the breeze, comfortably ensconced in Orca’s Pub & Grill, rehashing the good and bad of the week gone by and celebrating the fact it was Friday, when one mentioned he had heard the fishing was pretty darn good at Port St Johns.

We all nodded as was expected on hearing such news and he went on to say he had a friend who had a friend who owned a cottage and maybe he could call and see if we could use it and it was only 240 km away so we could leave early the next morning and be there in time for some good fishing in the afternoon and maybe even a bit of fishing on Sunday morning before we left to come back home.

The nodding accelerated like an M3 on launch control and then they looked at me. Me, because I was the one with a BMW X3 and that, everyone knew was a whole bunch more comfortable than a clapped out double cab.

Now, when it comes to fishing, I don’t. My wife lets me drink at home.

However, not being one to shy away from a road trip, I nodded like a Toyota ad and early the following morning, loaded with cooler boxes, enough beer to float the Nimitz, the requisite boerewors and chops and a whole bunch of fishing gear, we switched into Steppenwolf mode, got our motor running and headed off down the highway.

My friends are not small but the four-cylinder 1 995 cc diesel engine with eight-speed Steptronic transmission fitted to the X3 just did not even notice the weight. With 140 kW on tap at 4 000 r/min and maximum torque of 400 Nm available from 1 750 r/min, it simply gurgled along quite unphased.

The test unit came with adaptive cruise control fitted, making the more boring sections of the trip heading towards Kokstad a lot less stressful and a whole lot safer considering the notorious N2 in that area is often referred to as ‘Death Alley’.

While the lads waffled on about ‘spoons’ and ‘ties’ and sinker weights, I paid attention to the fuel consumption – in normal mode averaging 5,6 l/100 km and in Sport mode 5,7 l/100 km, both cruising at the requisite 120 km/h and including stop/start traffic or town driving, well village really.

This is now the third generation of the BMW X3 and, while exterior dimensions may be largely unchanged, it has a five-centimetre longer wheelbase, long bonnet and extremely short front overhang so the proportions emphasise the 50:50 distribution of weight between the front and rear axle.

At the front end, the kidney grille treatment and fog lamps feature a hexagonal design for the first time on a BMW X model.

There are three trim variants available and we had the xLine model that has radiator grille and other exterior details in Aluminium satin finish and specifically designed light-alloy wheels

The interior of the new BMW X3 follows BMW tradition and the xLine model features standard-fitted sports seats with cloth/leather upholstery.

The all-wheel drive system at the heart of the X3 is interlinked with the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) meaning the power split between all four wheels can be constantly varied to produce the best possible handling characteristics.

There is a reasonable road to Port St Johns but no, fishing is not a simply a matter of driving to a venue and offloading the gear – it involves driving past the venue to locate an obscure trail through the bush that (hopefully) will end up at a pristine part of the beach where nobody has ever been before.

Fortunately, the dune bush is soft and gentle and leaves the paintwork intact – for the rest, the X3 chugged through the soft sand with nary a misstep or signs of running of breath.

As far as the chassis technology is concerned, the third generation of the BMW X3 continues to rely on a double-joint spring strut axle at the front and a five-link rear axle.

BMW engineers succeeded in bringing about a considerable reduction in unsprung mass by fitting aluminium swivel bearings and lighter tubular anti-roll bars as well as optimising wheel location at the front.

Handling dynamics, straight-line stability and steering feel have all benefited from the uprated axle kinematics and the electric power steering system with Servotronic function.

Roll moment has been redistributed a long way to the rear and the rear bias of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system further increased. Intelligent AWD management allows adjustments to be made as the driving situation demands while still maintaining maximum traction.

To maximise safety, meanwhile, Driving Stability Control (DSC) including anti-lock braking, Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Automatic Differential Brake (ADB-X), Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and Hill Descent Control (HDC) are all standard kit.

The high ground clearance of 204 millimetres helps to ensure unhindered progress through the sand to the declared ‘ideal’ fishing spot. Why, I have no idea since nobody caught a thing and the only danger came from a rapidly depleting cooler box – including the water for the designated driver.

The approach angle (25,7°) and departure angle (22,6°) of the new BMW X3 together with its breakover angle of 19,4° create plenty of margin for negotiating steep sections or crests. Moreover, with a fording depth of 500 millimetres, the BMW X3 can tackle water crossings with ease as well – something suggested by one of the lads and quickly turned down, since the tide was coming in rapidly.

In addition to the iDrive Controller fitted as standard, specifying the Navigation system Professional opens up the possibility of touchscreen and gesture control – functions that have so far been exclusive to the current BMW 7 Series and new BMW 5 Series.

In addition to the adaptive cruise control the test unit was fitted with steering and lane control assistant, and Lane Keep Assist with side collision protection – all part of the optional Driving Assistant Plus safety package.

I am not a huge fan of either, considering the state of some of our roads and the appalling driving of many of their occupants, meaning the systems are hectically active and become rather intrusive.

So, lack of fish notwithstanding, the fishing trip provided good grounds (pardon the pun) to enjoy the new X3 but I cannot wait to get home….because then I can have a beer.

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Confidence remains

Confidence in the South African auto industry remains high with ongoing major investment projects in both plant and people – despite the concerns some have raised about ‘alternative’ facilities being opened in other African countries.

BMW Group South Africa  has put its best foot forward with the opening of its news R73-million Plant Rosslyn Training Academy able to host 300 apprentices a year.

In 1978, exactly 40 years ago, BMW Group South Africa opened its first training centre at BMW Plant Rosslyn. Development and empowerment of workers for the automotive and manufacturing sectors has been a focus ever since. Even in this pre-democracy era, the company was ahead of the times in training learners irrespective of their ethnic background.

Since then 2 000 people have been employed by BMW Plant Rosslyn, after successfully being trained at the Training Academy.

Tim Abbott, CEO BMW Group South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, says: “Global automotive production stands on the brink of momentous change with an increased focus on digitalisation and electrification. The workforce of tomorrow needs to keep pace with these trends. At BMW Group South Africa we are investing in the skills of the future.”

The facility focuses on both theoretical knowledge and practical application. Modern manufacturing skills such as robot programming, Advanced Computer Numerical Control (CNC) simulation and training on electric vehicles have been included in the new Academy.

An accredited Trade Test Centre has been incorporated into the building, allowing learners to achieve their trade qualification in-house. This functionality will also be extended to the public in the course of 2018.

Minister, Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize (Department of Higher Education and Training) adds:  “In June 2017, Cabinet approved the Human Resource Development Strategy towards 2030. One of the strategy programs talks to the skills that are produced based on the partnerships that can be encouraged within the country.  The country can only achieve this if companies such as BMW continue to encourage Work integrated Learning. Students from the TVET colleges will benefit immensely with such partnerships.”

The Training Academy will continue to provide skills development for existing BMW Group South Africa employees and managers. This includes training on the advanced technologies that will be used in the production of the new BMW X3, which will kick off within a couple of months.

In addition, the following programmes will be offered for external applicants:

Learnerships:

  • Mechatronics
  • Autotronics

Trades:

  • Millwright
  • Electrician
  • Fitter
  • Fitter and turner
  • Motor mechanic
  • Spray painter
  • Panel beater

Rwanda a go for VWSA

Volkswagen South Africa’s previously announced plans for an operation in Rwanda kicked into high gear in the capital, Kigali, today with the formal registration of the company Volkswagen Mobility Solutions Rwanda.

This means the roll out of Volkswagen’s integrated automotive mobility solution, a first for the Volkswagen Group, under the auspices of Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA), which is responsible for the Sub Saharan African Region.

Thomas Schaefer, Chairman and Managing Director of Volkswagen Group South Africa, says: “In December 2016 Volkswagen signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to conduct a detailed study to develop a business case for Volkswagen to introduce an integrated automotive mobility concept in Rwanda, which would be a first for Volkswagen worldwide.

“Our studies are complete and we believe we have a business case that will work and we are now ready to commence with the implementation of our plans for Rwanda. In short after today there is no going back, we are now fully committed to implementing our unique integrated automotive mobility solution in Rwanda together with Rwandans.”

VWSA chose Rwanda as the country in Africa to study the feasibility of an integrated automotive mobility solution for the following reasons:-

  • There is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption
  • There is dynamic economic growth of some 7% per annum
  • There is a young and tech savvy population
  • Rwanda is a leader in innovation and technology
  • Volkswagen have received strong support for our plans from Government and had great cooperation and support from the RDB
  • There is a real need for modern mobility solutions
  • Kigali is spearheading the smart city agenda

Volkswagen will adopt a phased approach in the implementation of the integrated automotive mobility solution and the first phase will focus on:

  • Establishing a local Mobility Services company
  • Oversee the establishment of a Volkswagen manufacturing and sales entity
  • Set up a vehicle assembly operation
  • Establish a sales and service structure
  • Set up a training centre
  • Offer the new mobility solution

“The production facility will have an initial annual installed capacity of up to 5 000 units, with 2018 being our start-up year. The Volkswagen product portfolio will initially include the Hatchback Polo, the Passat, a sedan and possibly the Teramont, a large SUV,” says Schaefer.

Volkswagen will run the production and retail operations, which will include the importation of other Volkswagen models to be sold on the Rwandan market.

The current business plan assumes employment of between 500 and 1 000 people in Kigali in phase one for Mobility Solutions admin, production, training, sales and service and the drivers..

A Rwandan software development start-up company Awesomity Lab has been appointed to develop the mobility App. Volkswagen is also in negotiation with other potential Rwandan suppliers.

The first service to be offered will be community car sharing, which will launch in quarter two, with around 150 vehicles in service within a few months. This will be followed by a ride hailing service with some initial 150 vehicles planned in the medium term still in 2018.

In 2019 public car sharing with some initial 250 cars planned will be launched and this will be followed by a shuttle service and lastly a peer to peer car sharing service is envisaged.  These numbers are based on assumed market demand, as such an innovative integrated mobility solution is a first for the automotive industry.

All the mobility services will be accessed by the custom developed App through which all bookings and payment will be made. Services will also be able to be booked online or via a hotline to cater for people who do not have a smartphone.

Some US $20-million (R246-million) will be spent in Rwanda by VWSA during phase one of the integrated automotive mobility solutions.

“We are delighted with the progress that has been made since we signed the MOU with Volkswagen in 2016. We are ready to partner with Volkswagen as they implement their integrated automotive mobility solutions as well as vehicle assembly operation in Rwanda.

“Our country is determined to become the leading innovator in Africa.  This project is in line with Rwanda’s policies to protect the environment, create jobs, and reduce our trade deficit. We are confident that this partnership will help create countless opportunities for young Rwandans not only in terms of employment but also in terms of skills transfer,” says Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the RDB.

Slight improvement

For the first time in four years total vehicle sales in South Africa for the year have gone up with 2017 showing a 1,8% percent improvement over 2016.

The new vehicle industry ended 2017 on a positive note, according to the annual sales data from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa).  Despite December 2017’s year-on-year sales declining 2,4%, the year-to-date new car sales for 2017 still grew 1,8%. In total, 557 586 new vehicles were sold in South Africa during 2017.

“The new vehicle market’s positive performance for the last year was almost exactly in line with our forecast of 1.74% growth,” says Rudolf Mahoney, Head of Brand and Communications, WesBank. “This can be attributed to the Rand being resilient in the face of volatility and the South African economy performing better than anticipated. However, the economy is still underperforming and faces a long road to recovery.”

In the second half of 2017, OEMs were able to stave off price increases as the Rand firmed against foreign currencies. This allowed manufacturers to pass value back to consumers through very attractive marketing incentives when purchasing new vehicles.

WesBank’s data for 2017 also reflected the continued shift back to the new vehicle market, especially when measuring demand through the number of vehicle finance applications received. Demand for new vehicles rose 6,4% in December, while demand for used vehicles slowed 0,2%. Overall, demand for new vehicles grew 3% in 2017, while demand for used vehicles declined 1,5%.

Since the introduction of the Polo and Polo Vivo in 2010, Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA) has been passenger market leader every year. The Volkswagen Group ended the year with 80 308  sales giving VWSA a total market share of 21,8%, with the Volkswagen brand achieving 18,9% share in a run out year of its volume models.

“The Polo Vivo and Polo remained the first and second best-selling passenger cars in 2017, which is also for the seventh consecutive year – this is an incredible achievement for the Volkswagen brand considering that we effectively ran out of supply in December of the key models which is illustrated by the unusually low 14,8% market share we achieved in December,” says VWSA Chairman and Managing Director Thomas Schaefer.

“I am delighted by the performance of both the Volkswagen and Audi brands in 2017 and know that we will do even better in 2018”,

Volkswagen will be launching the new Polo later this month which will be followed by the Polo Vivo still in this quarter.

According to Naamsa, export sales recorded a decline in December, 2017 and at 17 374 units reflected a fall of 1 333 vehicles or 7,1% compared to the 18 707 vehicles exported during December, 2016.  This was largely attributable to the effect of model run out and new model introduction of the new VW Polo range in 2018.

Annual aggregate annual industry sales by sector, since 2014, were as follows –

 

Sector

 

2014 2015 2016 2017 2017 / 2016

% Change

Cars 438 938 412 478 361 264 368 068 +1.9%
Light Commercials 173 492 174 701 159 283 163 346 +2.6%
Medium Commercials 10 780 10 394 8 315 7 785 -6.4%
Heavy Trucks,  Buses 20 534 20 075 18 685 18 387 -1.6%
Total Vehicles 643 744 617 648 547 547 557 586 1.8%

Source:  Lightstone Auto, NAAMSA

Whilst the modest improvement was welcome, the figures should be seen in the context of industry sales 11 years ago when the domestic market recorded an all-time high sales number of 714 314 units of which the new car market had represented 481 558 vehicles.

2017 Vehicle exports represented the third highest annual Industry export figure on record and total vehicle exports at 329 053 units were down on the 344 820 vehicles exported in 2016 – a decline of 15 767 units or a fall of 4,6%.

2017 Industry export sales data, compared to previous years, were as follows –

  2015 2016 2017 2017 / 2016

% Change

Cars 229 723 238 547 221 928 -7.0%
Light Commercials 103 000 105 219 106 126 +0.9%
Trucks & Buses 1 124 1 054 999 -5.2%
Total Exports 333 847 344 820 329 053 -4.6%

Source:  Lightstone Auto, NAAMSA

South African financial markets have reacted positively to the outcome of the December, 2017 ANC elective conference.  However, economic and fiscal policy uncertainty, political challenges, the risk of further credit rating downgrades and increasing geo-political tensions make forecasting difficult.

On the positive side, several recent economic indicators support the view the South African economy is performing better than anticipated despite low levels of business and consumer confidence.  Barring a further credit rating downgrade, an improvement in economic growth from about 1,0% in 2017 to around 1,9% in 2018 remains possible and this would lend support to new vehicle sales in the domestic market.

The substantial improvement in the Reserve Bank’s leading indicator of economic activity heralds improved economic prospects. Also on an encouraging note, the positive global economic environment – with International Monetary Fund projections of 3,7% global expansion – will lend support to industry export sales.

Faster economic growth remains an imperative to address South Africa’s socio-economic challenges and to take pressure off strained public finances and overburdened taxpayers.  In this context, concerted steps are needed by Business, Government and Labour to create a more investor-friendly environment as a means of boosting growth.

NAAMSA anticipates further modest improvement in domestic new vehicle sales during 2018 as well as further growth in vehicle exports and industry production numbers.

The outlook for 2018 in terms of Industry domestic vehicle sales by sector

 

Sector

 

2015 2016 2017 2018 Projected
Cars 412 478 361 264 368 068 375 000
Light Commercials 174 701 159 283 163 346 170 000
Medium Commercials 10 394 8 315 7 785 8 000
Heavy, Extra Heavy, Commercials, Buses 20 075 18 685 18 387 19 000
Total Vehicles 617 648 547 547 557 586 572 000

 

 

Wasted hours

Cape Town is South Africa’s most congested city and number 48 on the world rankings with Johannesburg number 70 in the world – and South Africans are wasting an extra 119 travel hours a year on the roads.

According to TomTom Telematics research, South Africa is reported to have an average congestion level of 27%, resulting in 14,8 lost business days a year. This will come as no surprise to business owners and fleet managers who lose time and money to traffic jams daily.

Cape Town is once again the country’s most congested city,and the 5% congestion increase experienced over the 2016 period resulted in 163 extra travel hours a year – that’s 20,3 business days lost to traffic and congestion. Johannesburg, ranked 70 in the world, saw a 3% increase resulting in 141 extra hours a year, or 17,6 business days.

The report found Monday morning from 7am to 8am is the worst time to travel in five of the six most congested South African cities, although if you live in Bloemfontein, Tuesday mornings between 7am and 8am see the heaviest traffic. Cape Town experienced the most significant evening traffic, with congestion levels peaking from Tuesday to Friday.

East London, Pretoria, Durban and Bloemfontein have all seen an increase in congestion, according to the new report, with commuters losing out on between 8,5 (Bloemfontein) and 15,3 (Pretoria) extra business days a year.

Justin Manson, Business Development Manager at TomTom Telematics South Africa, says, “Traffic congestion is a reality we all have to face, and it will not be going away anytime soon. Businesses that rely on a mobile workforce are impacted most negatively by congestion.

“In most cases the impact relates to loss of billable hours, fuel wastage, overtime paid, a negative impact on customer service, and of course the frustration and irritability that congestion causes the drivers.”

“It is imperative any business with a mobile workforce, whether this entails deliveries, sales, maintenance, merchandising, etc, make use of a telematics solution that will keep drivers out of traffic congestion,” says Manson.

“The benefits are massive, less time spent in traffic means better customer service, more billable hours, less overtime and wasted fuel, and just as important – a less stressed mobile workforce.

“Knowing and understanding traffic patterns and congestion peaks will also help office staff to plan and dispatch drivers more efficiently.”

An effective telematics solution, such as Webfleet, helps fleet drivers avoid the most heavily congested routes. Real-time data gathered from thousands of devices across the country ensures drivers and fleet managers are able to plan the most cost- and fuel-efficient routes, avoid congestion and major traffic incidents, re-route quickly when necessary, and manage realistic ETAs.

This results in time, fuel and cost savings, as well as an increase in service delivery efficiency, despite the ever-increasing congestion facing drivers today.

The TomTom Traffic Index can also help fleet managers plan routes and times that avoid the heaviest congestion – a win for drivers and business.

South Africa’s’s Top 6 Most Congested Cities

City Congestion Level Extra Travel Per Year (Hours)
Cape Town 35% 163
Johannesburg 30% 141
East London 29% 121
Pretoria 26% 123
Durban 22% 100
Bloemfontein 18% 68

 

 

 

New thinking, really!

SEOUL, Korea– Hyundai is changing. Actually, the change is well under way. Moving from a new automaker bent on building sales in export markets, Hyundai has evolved its thinking to being qualitative rather than quantitative and is no longer chasing a goal of being the biggest car maker in the world – just the best loved.

Enshrined within its current ‘tag line’ of ‘New Thinking. New Possibilities.’ is a broad spectrum of directional shifts not limited only to the cars being produced by the company, but also to the way in which the cars are being manufactured.

As the only motor manufacturer in the world with its own steel plant, the changes – much linked to ensuring environmental concerns are met – are evident in the costly, but effective fully enclosed raw material preparation facilities where the iron ore (10% of which is imported from South Africa) is processed before going to the furnace. Enclosed in massive geodesic domes, the pollution from dust is drastically reduced during the crushing process.

The steel factory also recycles all water, generates its own electricity and has its own sewage plant, converting human waste into industrial use water for the cooling processes as thousands of tons of iron ore is converted into the rolled and sheet steel gobbled up by the manufacturing plants within Korea at Ulsan, Asan and Jeonju.

As a point of reference – the Ulsan plant is the largest single auto plant in the world and produced 1,5-million cars last year.

Total investment in the plant came to $9,48-billion and the new blast furnace due to come on line shortly will increase total steel production from all centres (Dangjin, Pohung and Incheon) to 24-million tons a year.

“We work ceaselessly for customer satisfaction and will open new roads with new initiatives. Hyundai Motor Company will stand at the forefront of the global motor industry,” says Chairman and CEO Chung Mong-Koo.

“New ideas create new values. We will respond to the fast-changing international management environment by constructing a system for organic cooperation between production factory and sales headquarters in each country worldwide, strengthening quality management and expanding research and development in eco-friendly vehicles.”

Hyundai Motor Company was established in 1967 and a year later signed a licensing agreement for the CKD assembly of the Ford Cortina. In 1974 the Turin Motor Show hosted the launch of the Pony, Hyundai’s first proprietary car. In 1986 it entered the US market with the Excel and launched the first generation Grandeur (Azera) in Korea, followed by Sonata two years later.

The company’s first in-house engine was launched in 1991 and the same year it developed the electric Sonata. In 1996 the Asan plant came on stream, the Tiburon was launched and in 1998 it acquired Kia Motors leading to the formation of Hyundai Motor Group in 2000. In 2002 the Irvine, USA, design and technical centre opened followed in 2003 by one in Russelsheim, Germany. In 2008 the Tau engine was launched along with the Genesis, a second plant in India and in 2010 it achieved more than 5% of global market share.

A new plant is under construction in Brazil and, while consideration for a South African facility is not on the cards, it certainly is not off the list of future possibilities. Hyundai in South Africa is distributed by Hyundai South Africa, part of the AMH Group, but Hyundai has distributor agreements in all African countries with a small SKD plant in Egypt.

Hyundai’s growing spread of vehicle offerings from passenger cars through SUV, MPV and commercials (including its own specialist luxury brand, Equus) face tough competition in a world gripped by eco-fever where more for less is paramount, safety and low emissions absolutes.
Hyundai has established R&D centres at various places around the world, but this does not stop the ongoing work at Namyang, which features a 70-kilometre test track, 34 types of road and 71 different road surfaces from undertaking extensive new product development, engine design and safety testing.

The Namyang facility includes a complete production facility where vehicles can be built from scratch, tested and sometimes destroyed in the massive crash test facility where I witnessed a brand new Azera take on a 50 km/h side-impact.

On site is a huge wind tunnel along with rain/snow/heat chambers, acoustic testing and electronic interference testing and laboratories for the development of new in-car systems, infotainment and safety items.

Part of this includes development of hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles – some of which Hyundai has already released into world markets with the infrastructure capable of sustaining them and, should South Africa move towards making recharging facilities available, it would also become a consideration for Hyundai South Africa.

“South Africa is an important market for Hyundai even though it currently accounts for only around 1% of our global sales,” says William Lee, Executive Vice-President of Overseas Sales. “We see the market in South Africa growing and Hyundai wants to be a big part of that.”

For South Africa, managing director Alan Ross is confident Hyundai can increase its footprint during 2012 providing world demand (and Hyundai is expecting to sell more than 4-million units this year) does not limit stock availability to our market.

“There were some stock issues last year and we could certainly have sold more,” he says.