Ghost recalls, ‘terrorist cars’ and other motor news

CMC’s cup runneth over?

Anyone with half an eye on the motoring industry must be aware that something is seriously amiss at Cooper Motors. It first came to my notice through the Daily Nation (naturally).

The affair went thus: Mr William (better known as Bill) Lay, former paterfamilias at General Motors and a man I first heard of when he lectured Junior Achievement students at Kenya High School several years back (don’t ask, I’m a creature of vast resources and far-reaching talents) mailed shareholders, “snitching” on the outgoing chair and the powers that were, accusing them of misappropriating funds off the books and stashing them offshore to a tune in the vicinity of a quarter billion shillings. Abnormal pay hikes were on the menu too.

At the same time, former chairman Peter Muthoka, through his other company, Andy Forwarders, had allegedly made half a billion shillings off CMC through overcharging for its services, thereby earning more than the entire company which made a profit of Sh400 million.

That is a tidy sum, in whatever currency, if you ask me. And that is the point at which this whole mess became my choice scandal of the month.

I will not delve further into the matter just yet, mostly because somebody else already has (and still is).

And also because at this stage it is hard to separate fact from fabrication and constructive evidence from conjecture and as such it is dangerously easy to talk oneself into a lawsuit — not a good thing especially if the litigant may be having more than half a billion silver coins at his disposal.

But from what I have gathered, the entire saga takes a juicy twist involving immigration, denied entry permits, and some good ol’ dirty politics. Stay tuned for developments.


GM and the Chevrolet Cruze

Switching lanes from Bill Lay’s current haunt to his former one, and this time round on a positive key.

Now cars like the Nissan Tiida and Toyota Corolla have cause for alarm as General Motors release their newest pet into the wilds that are Kenya roads. It is called the Chevrolet Cruze. Moving on…


Rolls-Royce Ghost faces a recall

If there were any two terms that were unlikely bedfellows in the same sentence it would be “Rolls-Royce” and “recall”, unless they were separated by negative connectors/conjunctions or whatever.

But no, pinch yourself if you think you are reading this wrong and kick yourself if you thought marrying BMW technology with good ol’ English charm and elegance would be the automotive Holy Grail: it is happening.

The Ghost, also fondly referred to as the “Baby Rolls”, has fallen victim to that most terrible of automotive plagues: the massive recall. Do not blame the brand.

Once upon a time, when Rolls-Royce was still independent and derived profit from slinging jet engines onto passenger aircraft, they had a “Terms and Conditions Apply” clause in their motor vehicle sales agreement, the terms being that you will not under any circumstances be shown by the company how to open the bonnet and the conditions being you will not open it even if you found out how to do it.

The reason? Passersby will see the car with the engine lid agape and might assume something was wrong with it.

That is how fastidious the company was. Until it was bought by BMW.

We will go ahead and assume that German technology is the knees of the bee on Planet Car, where some of us live.

So it was only natural that the finest engines in the world would find their way under the bonnets of the finest cars in the world.

The pinnacle of this arrangement was the Roll-Royce Phantom, in its various (two, actually) iterations.

We live in a world driven by the root of all evil (the love of money), so the bean counters over at BMW thought it would be a wise move to create a poverty-spec Rolls.

Since it would be “pocket friendly”, development costs had to be cut for profit to be realised.

The easiest way was to simply reskin an existing car (in this case the BMW 7 Series) with Rolls-Royce bodywork and Rolls-Royce interior trimmings — sort of like a lady in an expensive Gucci evening gown but underneath is the hard, muscled (albeit very well-toned) body of a female decathlete.

Those who cannot see under the frock do not know any better, so everybody is happy. That is the thinking behind the Ghost.

Cheaper and smaller than a Phantom, it is meant for those who cannot afford real Phantoms but would not want to be seen in a German saloon (too typical). Clever. That is the brief, business-oriented history of the Rolls-Royce Ghost. But the timing of its release could not have been worse.

BMW has recently announced a serious problem in their 8- and 12-cylinder engines.

The auxiliary water pump fastened onto them is showing a tendency to overheat and as such could be the instigator of unforeseen under-bonnet conflagrations, or in simple English, it could cause an engine fire.

The real problem lies with a circuit board that controls operation of a dedicated water pump meant to cool the turbocharger after the car has been shut off.

The board has the potential to overheat the pump, causing fire. If the problem arises, the driver would be most likely warned by a light in the instrumental panel.

We need those engines back, says BMW. If you drive any of the following cars with a V8 or a V12 engine, 32,000 of them, take note: 5 Series, 5 Series Gran Turismo, 7 Series, X5 or X6. Oh, and lest we forget, we might also need back the “other” 7 Series, the Rolls Royce Ghost. It does have a BMW V12 powerplant, you know.

None of the 1,900 Ghosts worldwide has been reported to suffer a problem just yet, but about 600 of them have so far been recalled.

So now the next time an American rapper broadcasts “I’m on fire”, he might not be bragging about his ongoing success, he could really be in need of help from the emergency services.


Toyota, terror, tort

I have already said that it is very simple to box oneself into a legal wrangle through careless declarations. Well, here is someone who did. And it cost him $7.5 million.

News clips of war-torn, terror-stricken, democratically-unsound countries share one thing in common: they almost always star a Toyota pickup, or three, even five. Anyone seen that J70 pickup doing a wheelie while overloaded during Gaddafi’s ouster recently?

In the spirit of competition (or maybe he thought it was funny, I don’t know) an American car salesman thought to point out the connection between his Iranian rival’s nationality, the problems back home, and the Toyota pickup’s role in all that. It did not end well for him.

Shawn Esfahani was born in Tehran (a Shawn from Iran? I know Shahs, but Shawn?) and owns Eastern Shore Toyota in the state of Alabama.

Bob Tyler Toyota is his cross-border competitor over in Pensacola, Florida. Word got to Shawn that Tyler’s workforce was referring to his outfit as “Middle Eastern Shore Toyota”, or “Taliban Toyota” and was alleging that not only does he support terrorists financially using his business, he also launders their money.

“I can’t believe you are buying from that terrorist. He is from Iraq, and he is funnelling money back to his family and other terrorists. I have a brother over there, and what you’re doing is helping kill my brother.” Those are words spoken to a visiting couple by a Bob Tyler salesperson.

An enraged Esfahani found his way to a courtroom and said only $28 million will restore his offended sensibilities.

In the ensuing trial, both entities accused each other of engaging in underhandedness to boost their failing businesses, and after a three-hour deliberation, jolly Shawn had been awarded $7.5 million.

Good for him.


Toyota does not seem to mind the popularity of their pickups among unsavoury clients.

A spokesman even went ahead to say that the Taliban, like any normal farmer, businessman or contractor, looks for “the same qualities as any truck buyer: durability and reliability.’’ Not everyone shares these sentiments, though.

Strangely enough, Taliban fighters have been seen getting maple leaf tattoos. The maple leaf can be found on flags that brand Canadian built Hilux pickups, and the tattoos are in honour of their favourite workhorse (besides the AK-47).

Also, there was a war between Chad and Libya so dominated by Toyota pickups, it is still called the Toyota War.

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