A rubbish tip trip leads to classifieds hunting; get moving if you want an Audi TT; Lotus boss sets out Chinese joint venture
Steve Cropley Autocar
29 April 2015

SATURDAY - There I was at the local tip dropping off another Berlingo-load when an elegant-looking lady rumbled in and parked beside me in her top-down, early to mid-2000s Mercedes-Benz SL600. 

She stepped briskly 
out, dropped off several well-trussed bags of upmarket rubbish and drove away, all in the time it took to ditch the latest litter of cardboard boxes that breed in our barn.

So enticing was this Merc’s shape and sound that I had to rush home and discover what they cost. Pistonheads soon revealed that they sit £2000 either side of £14,000, depending on age and history. 

Of course, you’ve got to cope with the costly road tax, insurance and servicing and not be scared of 90k odo readings – but what superior motoring these fine cars offer at a supermini price.

MONDAY - If you want an Audi TT, you’d better get your skates on. Glass’s guide trade experts reckon the TT coupé was the car that spent least time on dealer forecourts in March before finding a buyer. 

Which is good news for a three-year TT owner changing his car, too, because dealers will view his swapper as prime stock. Interesting how directly this info translates to our Autocar experience. On our fleet is a TT 2.0 TFSI quattro S line ‘owned’ by Mr Chief Photographer Papior. It’s hardly ever in the car park because someone has always bagged it. Drive the car and you instantly know why.

TUESDAY - Can’t believe the behaviour of the Volkswagen Group’s top men, who have allowed an internecine battle between Ferdinand Piech, head of the founding family, and Martin Winterkorn, ‘group car guy in chief’, to go public.

Germany’s big bosses normally like things at the very top to be opaque, so arguments never come to light, let alone run on and on like this one. It’s a bit like the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury taking swings at one another 
on a street corner.

Latest seems to be that 78-year-old Piech has lost the battle with soon-to-be-68-year-old Winterkorn, but since Piech appears still to control his family’s 51% stake in the group, I’ll bet this isn’t the end of the story. Strikes me that given their combined age of 146, it’s probably time for this pair to make way for a couple of the well-qualified 50-something group striplings waiting in the wings.

WEDNESDAY - To Hethel for a meeting with CEO Jean-Marc Gales to flesh out the fascinating story of Lotus’s new Chinese joint venture. Just the notion of a new Lotus SUV is enough to stop the traffic.

The fact that the car will sell in serious volume from a new factory in the world’s biggest market, opening the strong likelihood that it’ll feed complex and pricey under-skin components (wiring looms, infotainment, heating and ventilation bits) back to next-generation sports cars is downright fascinating.

In case you didn’t know, this is exactly how Porsche did it; the company launched the big-volume Cayenne in 2002 and then used the economies of scale to feed better-hidden bits to its fast cars. Seems to have worked quite well.

FRIDAY - Chauffeur-driven from the office in the morning to one of those nice event hotels in Surrey, first to hobnob with Seat’s UK bosses (bidding for their eighth successive sales record) and then to drive away in a Leon ST Cupra 280, a high-performance estate that strikes me as a wonderful option for the dog-loving family owner addicted to performance.

We’ve already clocked the five-door version at 5.9sec from 0-60mph, which used to be Porsche territory, and when the Cupra’s potent engine is mated to VW’s six-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox (now superbly developed for near-instant changes and crisp kickdown) you get one of the easiest cars to drive on the road. Hard to resist.

And another thing...

Lotus chief Jean-Marc Gales is fast becoming one of my all-time heroes for the way he mixes logic and solid achievement with huge aspiration. At last, Hethel’s best stories are not all in the past.   

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Comments
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29 April 2015
Steve, have to agree with you that the R230 SL's look good value...been tempted myself so I have been down the same research route as you.
There are issues with them of course, not least leaking hardtops causing havoc with electrics, and SL55 AMG's are best avoided despite their obvious attractions because of extortionate parts prices. But a really good one could be worth a punt.
I wouldn't bother with a V12, the V8 is plenty quick enough and arguably sweeter sounding.
The previous model R129 is a favourite of mine too, beautifully made and 'hewn from rock'- but astonishingly I am told that certain parts are becoming scarce through lack of support from Stuttgart! This shocked me as in the past M-B seem to have supported cars stretching well back, and the R129 is recent history (89-02)

29 April 2015
The story that Porsche HAD to build SUVs to survive was their excuse to sell their soul -- and everyone seems to have bought into the lie. From the 993-type 911 on, Porsche's sports cars have been highly profitable IN THEIR OWN RIGHT. Yes, the SUVs and sedans have been profitable -- Porsche made more money than they would have if they had stuck to sports cars. But that is a very different story than the "our survival depended on it" one that they tell. Oh, and that claim that they pour all those SUV profits into sports cars and that's why the sports cars are so great? Come on! Some of it probably, but there is no doubt that they pour a massive amount of that money into more SUVs (and sedans). Now here goes Lotus. So very sad.

29 April 2015
Why's it sad?

Porsche still make the 911, Boxter and Cayman. None have suffered in the slightest from them also making the Cayenne, Panamera and Macan.

Likewise it is unlikely that the Elise, Exige and Evora will suffer from Lotus making a sporty crossover.

29 April 2015
Sporky, regarding Porsche, let's just say I disagree. Would the "old" Porsche have used electric power steering to save a fraction of a hp at the huge expense of feel (and apparently with a view toward such non-enthusiast "features" like autonomous parking -- yuck)? No. And yes, the difference in feedback is abundantly clear, sadly. For me, Porsche is nothing like as special as it used to be. I was a Porsche fanatic for most of my life, and I've had 911s for more than 20 years. I've had my current 993 for 15 years. I have little interest in Porsche anymore -- the magic is gone. It used to be that a standard 911 was about the best driver's car available. Now, IMO, one has to go to the GT models -- at far greater cost -- to get that experience. The standard cars are now designed to appeal to a far wider audience, and to me, they are nowhere near as special -- or as enjoyable to drive (especially at anything close to semi-sane speeds) -- as they used to be. Yes, they've made a lot of money, and gained a lot of buyers, but they've lost me as a customer. Oh, and that great expansionist business plan is the same one that ultimately led to them trying to swallow VW -- and getting eaten themselves. Brilliant...

30 April 2015
Maybe you have lost interest in porsche because there are far better cars out there, and that list is growing, I am sure that you would not say no to a 918, or a new 911, not many would, I would, i have never liked Porsche cars, ever, but that does not stop me for admiring that they contribute more profits to the VW pot than all the other brands bar Audi..... As for the comments on Porsche trying to buy VW, well, they actually hold more shares than any other entity, hence why VW had to buy them out first.

Porsche had, yes HAD to modernise, and reduce CO2 and offer hybrids etc, it is just how todays motoring world has become, and for that fact, you will see more of the same and with a new 8th model line coming, and a rumoured 9th small sports saloon, in the same vein as the VW CC, Porsche are doing what it ahs to to make sure that it succeeds.

It is a shame that peoples comments make them out to be daft, because i am sure that they are not, if a company does not expand, modernise and go where the market is, then they will wither and die, Rover and SAAB to name just two, You might not like what they are doing, but the 100,000 customers per year differ, 10 million facebook fans and more will all disagree with you.

30 April 2015
Jonboy, read what I wrote and you'll see that I never said Porsche was "daft." I said that, for me, the magic of Porsche has been lost and that I no longer want to own their products. I wouldn't throw a 918 out of my garage, but it's not what I'd choose to spend that much money on if I had it. However, in 2009 I seriously considered a new 997 (among other things,) and I bought a V8 Vantage instead. I looked again when the 991 cam out, and it simply didn't make me want it. I kept the Aston, which continues to give me a wonderful ownership experience. To compare Porsche to SAAB or Rover is really rather stretching things, don't you think??? My point is simply that Porsche's story about HAVING to build SUVs is simply untrue, as demonstrated by the high profitability of their sports cars once they started paying attention to costs -- from the 993 on, the sports cars been very profitable on their own. The SUVs have made them still MORE money, and obviously they are a business and can certainly choose to maximize their profits. But they didn't NEED to do it to survive -- that's just the story they told to make building SUVs palatable to those who believe that story. The fact remains that their strategy to take over the world cost them the very independence that their "necessary" SUVs were supposed to ensure.

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