Dear Mr Baraza,
To begin with, thank you for the useful insights you give us every Wednesday.
I’ve just been wondering why the old, carburettor engine Nissan Urvan is still being sold, when the makes being imported as second-hand have a more modern looking shape?
Is it just old stock being cleared out or is might there be an advantage in the old make? I work at a state agency and have noticed many government bodies are buying brand new models of this “old model”.
(Thanks to the Internet and Google, I have attached pictures of the two types I am referring to).
There is an advantage of the older models staying in production, and that is ruggedness. Older cars were built simpler and stronger and are thus more likely to survive demanding conditions that government vehicles have to endure every now and then, such as bad driving habits by uncaring drivers and access to remote, poorly networked locations.
Once in a while a manufacturer builds a vehicle of such toughness that it proves a hard act to follow, especially when the constantly changing emissions regulations and safety standards keep getting more and more stringent in turn forcing the builders to compromise on certain qualities. The result is, in markets less strict about these things (read Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East and South America), certain models that are obsolete in places like Europe or the US continue production long after the vehicle has been officially “discontinued”.
Good examples are the Peugeot 504 and the second-generation Mitsubishi Pajero. The 504 went out of production in 1984 but for certain markets it continued being assembled in kit form for several years afterwards. China built it until 1997. We built it until 2004 (!) with the Nigerians eking another year out of its lifespan. The Pajero ended production in 1999 but China, India and Colombia are still making and selling it. Last I checked so were we (at least as of two years ago). Another example is the Volkswagen Golf Mk. I. It was updated (Mk. II) in 1982 but stayed in production until 1993. However, South Africa kept making the Mk I Golf under the guise Golf Citi/Citi Golf all the way up to 2009, where an attempt to stay fresh and hip saw VW adopt the name “Citi.com” (due to the internet bubble that rocked the world during the millennium turnover).
The reasons behind the continued production are simple: the vehicles are cheap to build, cheap to buy, cheap to maintain and were conceived when planned obsolescence was a concept yet to be discovered by the greedy, scheming capitalists running car companies.
What is planned obsolescence, you may ask?
Have you heard nostalgic old men lament the flimsiness of today’s cars? Have you noticed that the cars currently on the road are either from 3 decades ago (or before) or the last decade but nothing in between? There is an explanation for this.
Once upon a time car manufacturers built cars as they should have been built: tough and able to withstand the test of time. There was a good advantage to this: vehicles that lasted longer attracted more buyers and gained good reputations to help boost sales in future (Toyota Hilux, anyone?), until the accountants in those companies realised there might be no future if they kept making cars too well. You see, if you build a car that lasts forever, then that means whoever bought that car will never have to buy another one, ever. The car might last so long that the person may hand it over to his/her children, who will also never have to buy a car, and those children will in turn hand the car over to… you see where this is going. The manufacturers were slowly locking themselves out of their own market.
The biggest sufferer of this was Porsche AG of Germany. Their Golden Era (1960-1990) cars were so well built anybody that bought a Porsche never had a need to buy another one. Sales started dwindling owing to the satisfaction their clients had with the cars they had. Things got so bad that Porsche was on the brink of going defunct (they actually came dangerously close to closing shop in the ‘90s). The answer? Built-in obsolescence.
Manufacturers are now making their cars deliberately flimsy so that you will buy others in the foreseeable future. They also make launch models just a little bit worse than they should so that they can corner the market with constant “updates” that allows them to leap-frog the competition every time the competition gets the drop on them with a better product. Cars start to fail expensively after about 15 years or 300,000km of service (by which time they could be in second or third owner territory), leading to these vehicles being grounded and thus creating space for new ones. The launch models are also getting refreshed every two years or so with horsepower jumps, slightly improved economy, facelifts and spec updates so that the original buyers ditch their first buys for the “improved” latter version. The worst culprit was the BMW E46: launch versions were good (BMWs are good), but the facelifted version showed BMW might have pranked customers with the slightly troublesome and iffy original (which was initially seen as good). Porsche itself took the concept too seriously and came up with the 996 generation cars which were so terrible they almost landed Porsche in the drink, again. Porsche went from building superb vehicles to slanging the half-hearted results of tin-pot efforts. Their customers were livid. Interesting tales, these.
While built-in obsolescence is a thing in Europe and the US, it doesn’t go down well with us around here. A car designed to work for exactly 15 years on Japan’s Shutoko Highway will not last 15 years when subjected to Outer Ring Road (Nissan Wingroad, please take a bow). This is the reason why some cars stay in production well past their due date: we need rugged vehicles, not cars that are deliberately designed to crumble.
I drive up country to Meru at least once every month and cannot help but notice that miraa vehicles are exclusively Toyota Hilux models. One of my friends in this business alleged that they’ve tried all other pick up brands with little success although the Land Cruiser J70 was also used for a while. In fact, one brand failed (no need to disclose specifics) to reach Nairobi. No prize for guessing which pick up brand went on the rescue mission!
Is the Toyota Hilux superior in build quality compared to other pick up models such as Navara, Amarock, D-Max, L200, Ranger? What makes the Hilux better than all these other brands?
Yes, the Hilux is actually superior to these other brands, but superior where it matters. The Navara is more comfortable and better specced, the Amarok is more economical, the DMAX is more rugged, the Ranger drives better, while the L200 is close to plain hopeless… but nobody ever bought a pickup because of creature comforts or how well it handles. A pickup is a commercial vehicle meant to WORK, and work the Hilux does unerringly. Its reputation does not hurt it either; the Hilux has been described as indestructible, a desirable trait in any workhorse, and Toyota even went ahead and launched a spec version of the Hilux that they named “Invincible”.
This may change though. Read up on my response above, on the topic of built-in obsolescence, and it may explain why newer versions of Hilux may not be as tough as their predecessors.
I have noticed quite a number of vehicles on Kenyan roads not bearing front licence plates. However, the rear licence plates are mounted. Is this legal?
Mwaura Wa Ngundi
No, it is actually illegal. It might look cool but the traffic department will give you grief for it when they stop you at a road-block.
Thanks for the work you do to enlighten us about general motoring. I had an experience on the June 15 which left me wondering.
I boarded a night bus to Kisumu which took off at exactly 11 pm. I can’t say what time we got to Kisumu because that may victimise the driver. The time we took beat a previous record set by a bus I had taken before by about 20 minutes.
The bus which was of the Scania make was literally flying and what baffled me was the number of buses from similar companies we flew past. It was only while driving uphill at Salgaa that one of the other busses managed to overtake us. We eventually caught up with it at Kericho.So my question is;
- What have they(GM) done to the engine to make it bully the stubborn Scanias even uphill?
- What has made the engine so quiet?
- What did they do to the rear suspensions? We even managed to sleep despite being on the back seat.
- What is your take on this bus on the long term and why do I see Scaniasdriven with their bonnets open?
- A brief comment on Hino vs Isuzu(same capacities).
- They made the engine smaller then turbocharged and intercooled the living daylights out of it. The original 6RB1 engine of the old MV118 was a massive 13,760cc and only good for around 230-240hp. The MV123 (which I believe is what you boarded) has a smaller 9800cc 6SD1-T unit, but more powerful: 270hp and 980Nm of torque. The smaller engine is lighter, revvier and more advanced, plus the presence of a turbo and intercooler give it greater capabilities previously unseen on Isuzu buses.
- Back in 2010, I discussed in-depth the vast improvements that turbocharging affords diesel engines, and one of those improvements is reducing engine-related NVH. Turbodiesel engines, for some reason, are a lot smoother and quieter than their naturally aspirated counterparts. To this, add the reduced engine capacity (smaller volumes of exhaust gases exploding in the cylinders and fewer surfaces rubbing against each other) and technological advancement, especially in the field of material science, and you have your answer.
- Installment of softer leaf springs does the trick. Simple as that
- The MV123 is… an untapped talent, for lack of a better description. In one of my past lives I was closely involved with them, back when they were still new in the market, and they proved to be a worthy alternative to the then monarch of the highways, the Scania F94 HB. Unfortunately, poor driver training and little knowledge of maintenance of turbocharged engines led to many of them failing long before they redeemed themselves economically and they started earning an undeserved reputation as slightly ephemeral, high-maintenance garage queens.
By the time the drivers got the proper education, Scania had released a new bus, the F330 HB which was insanely powerful and had no rivals at all as far as performance and reliability went.
Sales of the Isuzu slowly picked, though, until the latest Scania bus hit the street: the ample-nosed F310 HB. It is not as quick as the F330, and the Isuzu is cheaper (somewhat). Also, the euphoria surrounding Scania was slowly ebbing when it was realised that the F310 may have dropped the ball as far as Scania products go; there was the suspicion that with 310hp compared to the F330’s 330hp, the newer bus was a step backwards (never mind that the F94 also had 310hp). When the speed governor issue came to the fore, rumours abounded that the government-mandated digital kit was incompatible with Scania’s overly complex engine management system (not entirely true), reliability seemed to be flagging* and this is where we come to your second part of this question: driving with the bonnet open.
(*None of these foibles have prevented the F310HB from reaching sales levels that rivals can only dream about. The bus has sold like nothing before it, and easily one third of all the full-size buses on the road right now are F310s)
Very many F310s drive around with open bonnets. The obvious surmise is that the maneuver is related to cooling. My first guess, following discussions on this matter with several other bus pundits on social media, was that the turbocharged DC9 engine may have a design flaw that restricts air flow around itself.
Highly boosted engines do tend to have issues with cooling, and the Scania is producing 1550Nm from only 9000cc, which means it must be running on some high boost (turbocompound). However, not ALL F310s drove with their bonnets open, which led to my second guess: perhaps local fabricators were to blame, designing and building bus bodies which restrict air flow into the engine bay and thus create cooling difficulties. This may be a more likely explanation because of all the F310 buses I have spotted with foreign-sourced bodies (Gemilang, Marco Polo etc), NONE of them had their bonnets open. And imported bus bodies do undergo more rigorous test regimes than our own local mash-ups do.
There is another theory: the Scania F310HB may have a weak water pump incapable of providing enough flow rate to cool the engine. There is ample evidence of this: I know of one particular bus that has eaten through several water pumps in the two years it has been in service. That is a red flag. Also, the buses driving with their bonnets open only operate on the western circuit, where it is hilly, heavily populated and festooned with speed bumps on narrow roads, plus the buses carry more people and more luggage. Constant low gear operations and endless hill-climbs with heavy loads are a perfect recipe for overheating: the eastern ones don’t seem to suffer this affliction since they enjoy more flat, open roads with fewer loads.
Perhaps it is time I came up with a list of questions and paid another visit to Scania EA (former Kenya Grange Vehicles), eh?