The Car Club
For the past few years car makers have been on a displacement downsizing binge but we haven't minded because they've often compensated by adding forced induction, mainly in the form of a turbocharger or two, or even three.
But what of the supercharger? Few car makers are using it, so does that mean it's not as good as the turbocharger? Well, no because with each form of forced induction there are compromises, and in the case of the supercharger that's efficiency.
There's no doubt that turbochargers are more efficient and the reason for that is clear; they make use of fast moving heated exhaust gases to drive the turbine whereas the supercharger is driven directly from the engine, generally by a belt attached to the crankshaft. That can rob the engine of about one-quarter of its output, but the upside is that engine power improves by about 50 per cent so it's worthwhile overall. But that's also why fuel efficiency with supercharged engines is not exactly a strong point.
On the other hand, because they're operating all the time, throttle response and the added effect of the supercharger is immediately apparent.
Utes are big sellers here, accounting for almost 25 per cent of the new vehicle market.
The Hilux and Ranger are locked in a sales battle for the number one spot, not only in the ute segment but in overall new vehicle sales.
Toyota is only just holding on to the year-to-date ute sales lead by 32 units. It has been the best selling new vehicle in New Zealand for the past three years, easily besting the perennial favourite Kiwi car, the Corolla.
Nissan's Navara is the third best selling ute year to date, which is not bad going for an aging truck. It's to be replaced midway through next year by the new D23; production ends soon but Nissan NZ has enough stock to last through to the D23's launch.
Recently BP released a document that suggested global oil reserves will last for about another five decades at current use rates.
So that means no more oil within the lifetime of our kids. Scary thought? Sure, but we're nothing if not ingenious us humans, even if we are rather slow at overcoming our reliance on oil.
It's a fairly sure thing that in the medium term vehicles with internal combustion engines will become less common while plug-in hybrids will play an increasingly important fleet role. Eventually, as battery technology matures, pure electric vehicles will become viable not just for in city use but also for longer haul journeys.
And all of those things seem to be happening apace; with so many parties now working on battery technology it won't be long before EVs have touring ranges that rival those of existing petrol vehicles.
By 2020, some experts are predicting 10 per cent of the fleet will be pure EVs. Even now, more expensive EVs like Tesla have ranges comparable with conventional cars and more affordable EVs can supposedly run for up to 150km on a charge, depending on how they're driven. In real world use, 100km is probably closer to the mark. Still, given most urban folk drive on average no more than 35km per day, then already the EV range is adequate, provided the battery pack is recharged overnight or every other night.
Motoring journalists are sometimes privileged to attend world launches of special vehicles, most of which they could never afford.
But at the other end of the launch scale, we also get to evaluate entry-level vehicles, like the sub-$20k city cars. This isn't what you'd call a big sector, in any sense, but it is growing and there are now half a dozen or so urban midgets out there, such as the Kia Picanto, Mitsi Mirage, Suzuki Splash and Alto, Barina Spark, and most recently the Skoda Citigo.
Of the established city cars, it's a close run thing between Picanto and Splash, to my mind, but I believe the new Citigo will give them a decent run for their money.
And on that subject the smallest Skoda launches here for $18,900 in five-speed manual format, while the five-speed auto costs an extra grand. We've only driven the manual to date, so cannot really comment on the auto, but it's likely to go reasonably well too since the engine majors (in a small way, naturally) on torque rather than power.
At the recent launch of the new Nissan X-Trail, some journos muttered about the lack of a diesel variant in the line-up but, as Nissan NZ revealed, so few buyers opted for it previously that it wasn't worth offering again.
And with a diesel's price premium, the extra registration, licensing and servicing costs, and the absurdity of road user charges in this country, you have to be covering serious kilometres before a diesel starts making any return on investment.
In more progressive nations where motoring taxation favours vehicles with lower emissions and consumption, diesels still have a more relevant role to play as buyers have an incentive to choose an economical diesel car. But the tightening of legislation around emissions poses a problem for compression ignition technology.
So is diesel a dead duck as some have predicted?
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