Let’s talk about Ford. We all know Ford, makers of the F150, the Figo, Fiesta, Focus and the Fusion (alliterative labels, huh?), which are probably cars you’ve never heard of if you don’t visit motoring sites on the internet.
More familiar to most Kenyans would be the Ranger pickup and the Everest SUV; two cars that have on numerous occasions been compared to Toyotas by Car Clinic inquisitors: the Hilux and the Prado respectively.
Note: the Everest is a more suitable rival for the Fortuner than the Prado, just in case you are wondering.
For some reason, Ford will not give me their cars to drive, even after filling my email inbox with promises of selling the Mustang locally. Where is that V8 Mustang, Ford?
Now let’s talk about Australia, geographically famous for being far away from any other point on the planet, existing in isolation in the southern hemisphere; but also famous geographically for having The Great Barrier Reef and the Outback, from which
Subaru borrowed a name for one of its models. The terrain in Australia as defined by the Outback is…challenging, to put it in one word.
Cars here have to be built tough, with performance variants of saloon cars sporting beefed up suspensions and being easily capable of topping half a million kilometers before needing engine rebuilds.
It therefore follows that there are not many car manufacturers who have set up shop in The Land Down Under; there are only two to be exact. One of them is Ford. The other is General Motors, who, incidentally, also do not seem to want me in any of their cars. I wonder why.
Now, let’s talk about a man called Peter Barnwell. He is probably one of the first people I would befriend if I moved to Australia. Like me, he reviews cars for a living in a leading news agency, but unlike me, Ford actually gives him some of those cars.
One of the cars in question was the 2015 Ford Everest SUV; a handsome little brute of an off-roader with a nose grafted straight off the latest 200 Series Toyota Landcruiser. Who copied who?
So now this is the setup: there is a car whose manufacturer’s slogan is “Built Tough”; being driven by a motoring hack who is built tough (as we will shortly find out) in a country that demands its cars to actually be built tough. What do you think happened?
THERE WAS A FIRE, THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED.
Three days into Barnwell’s test drive, a warning light about low levels of AdBlue (an anti-pollution additive for modern diesel engines) came up, threatening to shut down the engine in 750km and counting.
The following day, the car phone went on the fritz and kept rebooting itself; then there was a battery warning. Barnwell parked the car, only to discover he could not unlock it. He eventually gained access via the driver’s door, but the rest remained as
clammed up as a politician’s fists outside of an election year. It took two tries to turn over the engine, and once on the road, the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree, proclaiming the unavailability of cruise control and “other functions” that went unspecified.
The screen then went blank, the engine cut out and our Aussie hack found himself powered by his own momentum over a distance of about 300 metres, where sheer happenstance and good fortune had placed a bus stop into which he “drove”. Then all hell broke loose.
Flames shot out from under the bonnet, forcing our hero to bolt like a rabbit. The flames became explosions and “flaming shrapnel” rained everywhere, sending Barnwell into a safe zone called “behind a tree”.
The resultant photos from that caper call for a strong stomach if you are a Ford employee, I kid you not. In the spirit of alliteration, can I now say “Ford Fallujah” or is it too soon for that?
Apparently, this wasn’t an isolated incident in Australia. There are two similar instances that may or may not be related: a 2012 Ranger XLT caught fire while parked a few weeks ago, while yet another Ranger XLT contracted a poltergeist and accelerated by itself to about 145km/h from a gentle cruise, before stopping after the transmission was forced into neutral. It too was on fire by the time the owner made his escape.
This is not just snarky shade from a disgruntled writer carping about the recent lack of borrowed demonstrators in his driveway. There might be an actual cause for concern. Statistics quote around 100,000 vehicles in Australia with that same drivetrain which dates back to 2011, though thus far, there are only 1000 of the 2015 Ford Falluj…sorry, Ford Everests, running on Aussie roads. It may be too soon to shout out “Recall!” but Ford Australia was investigating the incident, and they seemed to have a ready answer at the time of writing this:
“The issue arose due to the incorrect installation of a replacement battery post-production and our investigations to date have not found any other vehicles to have been subject to the same issue,” quoth Ford.
“The new design on the battery fuse link for Everest and higher spec Ranger models means it is not common with the prior model Ranger and Everest. All of the data collected during the exhaustive investigation to date indicates this is a situation which is not systemic to Everest and Ranger.”
Fair enough. Care to tell us what they did wrong changing the battery so that other Ranger/Everest owners don’t braai themselves in their own cars? My thesis is that there was probably a short circuit across the battery terminals, though reading more on the
subject reveals that internal battery damage or poor battery quality could produce the same result. We wouldn’t want another Ford-Firestone folly or flame-up (the alliterations literally write themselves today), would we? As for the other two Ranger XLT fire events, Ford asked the owners to follow things up with their insurance companies. Blegh!
This would have been just another story from a land far, far away; but it isn’t. The power unit in the 2015 Falluj…sorry, Everest, is Ford’s global market Ranger mill since 2011 when the T6 came out: the 3.2 litre 5-cylinder Duratorq turbocharged and
intercooled diesel engine, good for around 198hp and 470Nm of torque. That is the same engine some of you are being pulled around by at the moment, and very soon we will be getting the new car here, with the same mill; if it hasn’t already landed.
Don’t jump out and stare suspiciously at your car just yet, fire extinguisher in hand, Ranger drivers. Ford are right, there is no discernible pattern to be seen here.
These are only three occurrences out of the tens of thousands of Duratorq powerplants chugging their way across the admittedly kiln-like Outback. The 2015 Fallujah is still very new in the market, so it could be a design flaw with the new car in particular
and not the 5-cylinder engine schematic in general; or it could even be that Barnwell’s battery was installed by an incompetent oaf who almost killed him. We have nothing to worry about yet; unless the oaf moves here after I move to Australia.
Keep driving those Rangers and Everests, people. The Ranger currently ranks highest in the double-cab pickup hierarchy in Australia, and if there is anything Australians know how to do well, it is to wring the necks of 4WD cars to within an inch of their
Take that, Toyota. I wonder why we don’t import more Australian cars. Those things would last forever on these shores. Ford, I have a fire extinguisher primed and ready for action in case of anything. Feel free to invite me for a road test.
THE CHINESE WANT YOU TO BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING
Readers of self-help books must have come across several exhortations about the power of positive thinking, and the Chinese, bless them, have proved that there actually exists such a thing. Whether or not it improves your outlook of life is still a matter of conjecture and a pot of gold for writers of self-help books; but what is beyond debate is that this power could possibly drive your car in the foreseeable future.
The Chinese have invented a vehicle that is driven purely by your own mental effort.
To keep things simple, because the details are mind-boggling, this is how the system works: the driver’s brain signals from an electroencephalogram (EEG machine: those in the medical industry should be familiar with this equipment) are read via a set of 16
sensors by a car-control device which then translates those signals into input; making the car accelerate, brake, turn and other basic functions necessary to keep things moving.
It’s not just hypothetical. The Chinese have successfully demonstrated this technology at its current stage whereby a driver was able to drive forward, stop, reverse and lock/unlock the doors simply by thinking about it.
Some obviously elaborate computer software is responsible for the translation of those EEG signals.
They say this technology opens new horizons for the physically challenged. I say fantastic. They also say this psychological connection “deepens” one’s bond with one’s car. I say yeah…no.
There is nothing to bond one with one’s car as much as rowing a 5-speed manual transmission in a lonely bypass at 5am on a Sunday morning, or exploring the outer limits of whatever performance envelope comes with a 1500cc 4-cylinder, watching the
rev needle dance, feeling the engine thrum through the accelerator pedal and the brakes grabbing via the brake pedal, or the biting point making the clutch pedal quiver ever so slightly as you downshift at high revs while trying to heel-and-toe.
Listen here Chinese people, if I want to connect with my car on an emotional level, I will drive the hell out of it with the radio off.
I will not allow it to access my brain; I have trust issues with artificial intelligence.
While the Chinese efforts still wallow in the admittedly fruitful developmental stage, Hyundai will do you one better. They will sell you an actual car that damn near drives itself.
The latest Genesis G90 is “all but autonomous”, so they claim. This is accessible by ticking the checkbox marked “Smart Sense Package” on your options list when speccing your G90.
The package combines active cruise control and Lane-Keep Assist (which prevents your car from straying outside its lane on a motorway), plus “Highway Driving Assistance”, which looks like just another form of active cruise control.
A plethora of other forms of tech means the car will also adjust the headlamp beams, brake for pedestrians as well as accelerate, stop and steer for you from the cruise control and lane assist systems…basically drive itself.
Or you could just get a driver.
*Note 1: This option is limited to the Korean market for now, so local lazy drivers may have to wait a while before succumbing to the sin of sloth behind the wheel.
*Note 2: Genesis is apparently an upmarket Hyundai offshoot, just like Lexus is to Toyota and Infiniti is to Nissan.
SPEAKING OF NISSAN…
If you are not enamored by the very complex Y62 Nissan Patrol that I reviewed a couple of weeks back, fear no evil; for thou art in a world where the Republic of South Africa continues the assembly of the boxy (and quite handsome) Y61 model.
The only engine option quoted is the 3.0 turbodiesel, alongside (or in line with, to be more accurate) a 5-speed manual transmission; a drivetrain setup I found inappropriate for this car.
Big and heavy, the 3.0 does struggle a bit lugging that mastodon around, but pundits of the old school who believe the automation of vehicle systems (as discussed above) is the work of Satan, can now breathe easy.
Now, to convince Nissan to let me have a Y61 Patrol for a weekend..