How we prepare ourselves (in Belgium) for the mobility of the future: the BMW view…

Recently BMW Group Belux organized a very interesting conference at their Brand Store in Brussels, where Eddy Haesendonck, President & CEO of BMW Belux (here on the right) gave us a status update on the world wide figures and trends of the BMW Group, followed more specifically by the figures and trends in Belgium for BMW Group Belux.

But the focus at this meeting was also on the outlook he presented, namely on how we prepare ourselves for the mobility of the future. This is where we will focus on mostly in this report.

Interesting was also the presentation by Els Ampe, (see first photo)  alderman Public works, Mobility and Dutch speaking matters in Brussels, on the mobility needs of the city of Brussels. More on this in the second part of this report, which we will present soon here too in these columns.

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Continue reading “How we prepare ourselves (in Belgium) for the mobility of the future: the BMW view…”

Quantum leap in Turin: the new generation Fiat 500X gets a new heart…

The redesigned and rejuvenated 500X, Italian’s Crossover bestseller, starts also a new epoch in state-of-the-art petrol engine engineering, with a new generation of so-called “FireFly” engines. This is innovative engine design at its best, and we will very probably see this new generation of engines soon in other models of the FCA group.
The engine was a true revelation for us, but this is not all. The 500X has gained in style and character, has now even more original “Cinquecento” content. It now carries an impressive standard equipment in driving aids and infotainment, and has more style than ever.
Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Continue reading “Quantum leap in Turin: the new generation Fiat 500X gets a new heart…”

We drove the Opel Insignia Grand Sport Exclusive: the fascination of balance

Opel cars have reached a remarkably high level of sheer driving dynamics which make them such a pleasure to drive, and this latest generation of the eye pleasing Insignia range amply proves this point again.

We sat behind the wheel of the 2 liter Diesel version, with not less than 170 HP, coupled to an 8 speed automatic. The perfect combination to make this car a magnificent open road cruiser, with of course ample pulling power in urban situations…

But it is the overall, the well honed balance of this car which impressed us most, its responsiveness, agility and precision, combined with excellent seating comfort, which makes it stand out in its class. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Flowing understatement

We already praised the well proportioned fluent shape of the latest generation Insignia at its presentation, and we liked the very subdued brilliant “Racing Grey” of our test car.

The contours of this Opel are reminiscent of the Opel Monza prototype, and are very well proportioned indeed, looking like a big four dour coupé. Its wheelbase is 92 millimeter longer than the previous generation, which was quite successful, by the way, with about 900,000 units sold, and remember, this Insignia was coined Car of the Year in 2009…

The new Insignia is also lighter, up to 175 kg, which is indeed no small feat. It is 29 millimeter lower but stands firmer on its feet with an 11 mm wider track.

Sporting cabin, breathing sculptured workmanship…

The dashboard is well shaped, and the focus is here on uncluttered practicality. The touchscreen of the Intellilink system masters many functions, and the centre console is divided in three functional zones: infotainment, airco/heating, driving assistance systems, all contributing to a pleasant user experience.

We liked also the round dials with the chromed surroundings, and the instrumentation itself is exemplary too, with nothing less than an oil temperature meter in addition to the water temp gauge, quite useful for the keen Diesel driver who wants to use its powerful engine responsibly.

Our test car sported an overhead display, and it proved to be one of the most readable displays we have come across lately. When we found our ideal seating/driving position behind the wheel, it was right in line with our vision on the road in front of us, and was crystal clear indeed…

Needless to say that one feels right at home in this new Insignia. The seating position is indeed excellent, the seats are comfortable and well sculpted, and will please even the most sporting minded driver when it comes to lateral support. Back and thigh support is also excellent, and indeed, these seats are built to offer comfort for hours on end. The ergonomics are also well studied, and all the controls are easy at hand, and marvelously intuitive. Our test car came with black leather “Siena II” Jet black perforated leather seats, and this added of course extra panache.

Legroom is also abundant at the rear, and the designers have even succeeded in offering larger boot space, now reaching a volume of 490 liter, extendable to 1450 liter with both rear backrests folded back.

Formidable chassis and drivetrain

Average test consumption was merely 5.9 liter/100 km… 

The 2 liter CDTI 170 HP Turbo Diesel makes itself well noticed when cold, and emits some vibrations when idling, but as soon as the unit warms up, things get a lot smoother, and the start/stop function will prevent any further undue vibrations at the urban traffic light.

It is ideally mated to an 8 speed automatic and here its excellent torque characteristics come into play. It develops lots of it: 400 Nm between 1750 and 2500 rpm, and this translates into brilliant accelerations, enhancing the impression of agility of this Insignia, further underlined by its excellent chassis and suspension.

The Insignia is a fast car, both on paper and in practice. 0 to 100 km/h is absolved in 8,9 seconds, and the top speed is 223 km/h. But, as we said, it offers first and foremost potent acceleration power in intermediate speeds, and can therefore be called a true Gran Turismo. The efficiency of a Diesel comes of course clearly into play here, and the consumption on high speed autobahn or motorway runs with this slippery Insignia is something hitherto unseen in petrol engines.

Average consumption according to the ECE cycle is merely 5,5 liters, with CO2 emissions boiling down to 145 g/km. Suffice also to say here that the Diesel is totally imperceptible and vibrationless at these high cruising speeds.

Our average test consumption was a good 5,9 liter/100 km, which is impressive indeed, considering that we drove this Insignia with spirit to say the least. Just look at the accompanying photo.

Driving is believing, so they say, and this is certainly true for the Insignia. Its suspension set up is masterfully done, striking an ideal balance between comfort, precision, agility. The steering sensitivity adds to the driving pleasure, being electronically assisted and speed sensitive.

The Insignia even informs you about the quality of your oil… 

We did not miss the four-wheel drive, which is optionally available, together with torque vectoring, but then our test was mostly done with fair late summer weather accompanying us. We look forward to test one of these versions in more wet conditions soon…

Infotainment and driver’s assistance

Of course, the Insignia pilot disposes of all the necessary driving aids we find nowadays in cars in this category, going from Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist to Rear Cross Traffic Alert. We already mentioned the Head Up Display, and the Opel OnStar service, helping you 24/24 and providing an automatic response in case of accident or when the car is being stolen. A new “Personal Assistent” is now also provided, which you can ask to book a hotel room or find a parking space…

Last but not least, night driving safety is also enhanced by the Intellilux LED matrix headlamps with not less than 32 LED segments, which results in even more precise lighting patterns. When you put on high beam mode, the bends are also better illuminated. A special led spot will then also throw a light beam to a distance of 400 meters.

One last word of appreciation is due for the excellent finish and workmanship which we found in this Insignia, which displayed excellent build quality throughout.

 

Conclusion

The Insignia impressed us already at its presentation, but now we are even more convinced of the superb dynamic qualities of this four door coupé, offering spaciousness, excellent finish, appealing styling, and last but not least what every Opel driver cherishes greatly: value for money, reliability and longevity, with on top of it all excellent economy, certainly with this Diesel version.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

Orotempo 2018: what to watch for… us car enthusiasts!

We visited on September 3rd the Horology and Jewelry fair Orotempo at the hall 3 of Brussels Expo, and it proved a very interesting venue, as this show has become the epicenter of everything and everybody that matters in the Belgian watch- and jewelry sector.

The Orotempo Media Manager Pascal Dewulf walked with us around the show, and commented that they further optimized the layout of the show and the many stands to, put everything more into the spotlight. Orotempo continues to put forward a vertical product mix, which means there is something for every budget. In this edition, the core activity of the jewelry business is put into focus: offer high quality products together with an impeccable service, as well online (webshop) as offline (at the jewelry store).

Indeed, we suggest you get acquainted with the online e-commerce platform Orotempo.be. It is also a welcome asset for the jewelry stores to expand their activity into an omnichannel strategy.

On the show, we ran into some very interesting stands and distributors, such as d-design Denemarken. We were very kindly received on the stand of this Dutch distributor (www.dsigndenemarken.nl) by Mme Annika, who guided us professionally through the range of jewelry brands this well established firm represents: Trollbeads, Rabinovitch, Spirit Icons. All three Danish jewelry firms which have iconic products which appeal to the young at heart. The aim of d-design Denemarken is to work professionally with jewelry stores/sellers and provide an excellent service. Considering the professional approach we enjoyed at our visit we firmly believe they succeed… When Christmas approaches, and you would like to surprise your (female) co-driver, we will present you some interesting items out of their iconic and timeless range…

Bracelets are also very much “en vogue” for the modern man and driver, and therefore a visit on the show to II-Gemini was a must. They offer natural stone bracelets, and we are now proudly wearing one in blue Sodalite. Sodalite is a rather rare mineral, light, relatively hard yet fragile, and is named after its sodium content. Sodalite was first described in 1811 for the occurrence in its type locality in the Ilimaussaq complex, Narsaq, West Greenland. Deposits of fine material are found in Bancroft, Ontario, and Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec, in Canada. Further in Litchfield, Maine, and Magnet Cove, Arkansas, in the US. The Ice River complex, near Golden, British Columbia, also contains sodalite. Wearing the stone enhances your self-esteem and confidence… and would protect you from negative energy in today’s world. We gladly wear it now every day!

II Gemini (website www.gemini-bracelets.com) offers bracelets in different ranges and many natural stones. “Modern men are now looking for authenticity, and this is what we offer”, commented regio manager for Belgium and the Netherlands, Michael Lemmens. (See photo above).

As we said, the emphasis on the show is not only on watches, but also on jewelry. We encountered a reputable family firm with a three generation long tradition in the business, Scaldis, which makes (diamond) jewelry of its own design, and which also distributes fine Italian jewelry under the brand name Grace.

We were also attracted by the square design of the David Daper watches, so much that we decided to purchase one for ourselves. We ordered it through the Orotempo.be site, and we are keen to see it delivered soon to our home address.

 

One purely Belgian designed and manufactured brand is KRNS, distributed by Cetronic Benelux & Verbatco, and we liked KRNS very much one of their latest designs, of which we present you here one in gold plated finish.

This firm also distributes amongst others clocks and batteries, and before Christmas, we will certainly come back on this…

Another reputable jewelry firm is the Amsterdam based Buddhatobuddha, and they are about to launch a new range of men’s silver bracelets, of which more in our columns in the month before Christmas, but we were also impressed by the new “Refined” collection, of which we show you here a photo below.

A sporting encounter…

At the stand of Sunrise Watch World we met managing director Giacomo Scudieri, who presented to us a watch brand which will fascinate the sporting driver, named “Scuderia”.

We will tell you more about these watches in a next article, and there you will also read more about this kind man, Giacomo Scudieri, who was… national Italian Rally champion in ’83 and in ’81, on a 3 liter Porsche Group 4 or 3,3 liter Group B respectively. So stay tuned!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

 

A veil is lifted on the new Kia ProCeed…

Kia shows us now a teaser photo of the rear end of its new ProCeed, which follows the design blueprint laid down by the 2017 Kia Proceed Concept. Designed, developed and engineered exclusively for Europe, it represents an interesting proposition in the mid-size family car segment.

The new Kia ProCeed will be revealed at an event on 13 September, and make its public debut at the 2018 Mondial de l’Auto in Paris on 2 October…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Renault ARKANA show car unveiled in Moscow

At the 2018 Moscow International Auto Salon, Renault unveiled the ARKANA show car as a world premiere, a coupé-crossover announcing a new global vehicle.

According to Laurens Van den Acker – Senior Vice President, Corporate Design of Groupe Renault – is the ARKANA show car a distinctive coupé-crossover, making a striking balance between the elegance of a Sedan and the powerful stance of an SUV. He continued: “We have dialed in specific Renault cues, with a strong design, strength and sensuality with a French touch”

Laurens Van den Acker unveils the Arkana…

Judging from the photos, Laurens Van den Acker and his design team have succeeded. This new production vehicle will be produced and marketed in different countries throughout the world, beginning with Russia in 2019. Renault ARKANA will be later manufactured and sold in Asia and other regions, with this same unique design but adapted also to local customers’ expectations.

All this is part of Groupe Renault’s “Drive the Future” strategic plan, by which it intends to step up the pace of international growth, expanding its product range to increase sales volumes up to 5 million units by 2022. ARKANA will play a key role in achieving this goal.

You might be interested to know that Groupe Renault claimed almost one-third of the Russian market in 2017 (448,270 vehicle sold / 28% market share). Russia today ranks as Groupe Renault’s number two market and is set to become the group’s leading market by the end of plan…

For the time being, just have a look at the photos…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

We drove the Fiat 124 Spider “S-Design” : dreams are made of this…

It is an evergreen wish for everyone who ever sat behind the wheel of a car: driving an open two-seater on gorgeous summer roads. The dynamic PR people of FCA Belgium made our dreams come true, when they offered us to test their pristine white 124 Fiat Spider, which now comes in a new “S-Design” version of the already totally iconic 124 Spider, which saw life two years ago at the fiftieth birthday of the original. This gem marries the very best of both worlds: the zeal of perfection and workmanship so typical for the orient when it comes to building this car, combining it with the panache and passion of Italian designers in shaping the contours and curves, last but not least adding to it the sheer genius of the engineers making the heart of a car: its engine. The result is an open two-seater car which is nothing less than stunning, offering incomparable driving pleasure in its class, and leaving you with a timeless iconic classic, which you can pass on to future generations…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Even more zest and panache…

This “S-Design” version has been presented on the latest Geneva Salon, and emphasizes still more the excellent “Gran Turismo” qualities of the 124 Spider.

The “Lusso” version became an extra Mopar® treatment. The roll bar, screen surroundings and the side mirror bodies have a smooth, polished finish, and the car is also shod with special 17 inch alloy wheels of very smart design, which adds an extra purposeful sportiness to this spider. On the rear end shines a three-colored logo, there is a sporty red striping running across the sides of the 124. The seating position has also been moved somewhat closer to the rear axle, and the contours of the dashboard are accentuated with clearly visible stitching.

A thoroughbred heart

Of course we expected quite a lot form the thoroughbred four cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet of this 124 Spider, and indeed it certainly delivered. Remember, Ferrari and Maserati blood is running through the veins of the Fiat group, and this certainly shows in the behavior and power delivery of this 140 hp 1368 cc unit.

Pushing the starting knob will already embalm your ears in a thoroughbred growl, and even at low revs – when driving away from cold – it lets you hear its noble pedigree. It sports sequential fuel injection, Fiat’s unique Multi-Air valve system, and a turbo running at up to 2.49 bar pressure.

When the engine has warmed up, it emits a beautiful staccato when you rev it, and this it certainly does. The engine pulls nicely at low revs, let there be no mistake, and the ample torque lets you potter through dense urban traffic at anything between 1500 and 2000 rpm, which delivers very nice urban consumption figures, which in practice boil down to around 8 liters/100 km.

But of course the real fun starts when you floor the throttle at let the engine breath beyond 4000 rpm. Marvelous accelerations in the gears really warm your sporting heart, and the slick gearbox with short and fast gearchange throws adds to the pleasure. This is superb sporting driving in the truly classic sense, and we thoroughly love it.

Under full power, the 124 Spider is of course a quite fast performer. 0 to 100 km/h is reached in merely 7.5 seconds, top speed is a good 215 km/h. Remember, this car is 1050 kg light.

But the bare figures don’t tell the whole story. It is how the whole car behaves when you drive it with spirit which brings the true magic into the driving experience. And here the chassis and suspension designers have done a fantastic job, and this is certainly an aspect where the collaboration between Mazda and Fiat has paid off. This is one of the finest handling cars we have come across in this class, and compared to any car for that matter. It steers with precision and without any perceptible roll, it just eats corners, gives ample feedback when you drive it close to the adhesion limit, is utterly stable and predictable. It awakens the better driver in you, and lets you rediscover what sporting driving is all about.

It is in our humble opinion also one of the crucial reasons why this car is being designed and built, and will be with us forever, in whatever (propulsion) version. It will always be with us, in roughly the same chassis and external dimensions, with the same handling characteristics, so much is certain.

The superb engineering and ingenuity which went into chassis also translates into the way it behaves on the road: even on the worst Belgian pavés, not the slightest rattle or judder will upset you, the car feels rock solid throughout.

All this is not at the expense of suspension comfort. This 124 Spider will not surprise you with any harshness, and even on well-worn secondary roads, you and your passenger never feel uncomfortable. True Gran Turismo qualities therefore for this 124 Spider? You bet… Long distance driving doesn’t cost your life and limbs at the pump either. Reasonably high top gearing, a small frontal surface area and an efficient engine all sees to that. The manufacturer quotes 8.5 liter for urban, 5.1 for extra urban and 6.4 liter for motorway consumption. (EU NEDC figures). CO2 emissions are quoted at 148 g/km.

A lot depends of course on your driving style, and here we kick an open door, we know…

An Ideal driving position

As long as you are not the very tallest amongst us, this 124 Spider will fit you like a glove. The very lay-out of this car does not allow you a very wide range in height adjustment, as it is limited by the tallness of the canvas top, with also the cabin platform and transverse sills limiting   fore and aft movement, but it is good to know that the steering wheel can be adjusted both vertically and horizontally over quite a wide range.

As said, an ideal seating position is soon found, with all the handles and knobs sitting snugly at your fingertips. Instrumentation and dashboard layout are virtually identical to the Mazda MX-5, and are a well-honed fit. The same can be said for the knobs and functions on the steering wheel, which took very little to get used to again, as we took the MX-5 earlier this year on an extended (wintery) early spring tour.

It is all very well thought out. On this “S-Design” version, we were even more spoilt in the sound department. The 124 came here with a Bose sound system, and indeed, if you would ever (hard to imagine…) get tired of the superb engine sound, this system has also everything in store to soothe your ears.

Surprisingly practical

One would think intuitively that a two-seater Spider is not your best mount for everyday use, but this 124 proved us again totally wrong, as did the MX5 by the way. Driving it with the top down even for the shortest stretch is perfectly possible, as the canvas top flicks down in one single arm movement, and it needs only a gentle push from your wrist to klick the canvas hood into place behind your head. A large handle above the central glove box between the seat backrests will unlock the canvas top out of its open position, and in one swoop with your right arm you pull the canvas hood back over your head in the closed position. Easy rider: it just needs the slightest form of training, and you perform this open and close routine like a movie star…

To assure an excellent cabin climate in all circumstances, the S-Design version has automatic air-conditioning.

The boot space seems rather small on paper with a good 140 liter, but it is in practice eminently useable, as it is rather deep and boxy. It takes easily two large bags, and this is enough for him and her for a fortnightly trip.

There is no visible storage room in the cabin, understandably as this is an open car, but as said there is a lockable storage bin between the seat backrests.

Safety has of course not been forgotten, as the S-Design comes with four airbags, and there is a zest of luxury with leather seats and a leather covered steering wheel.

Conclusion

If you want to experience car driving in its purest, timelessly classic sense to the full, then this Fiat 124 Spider has to be your mount. In this respect, nothing comes even close in its (price) class. But it is not only the way it drives, it is also the way it looks, which has stolen our heart. Well proportioned, its beauty will not diminish with age, just as its iconic predecessor.

On top of all that, it is incredibly well made and finished, rolling off the same production line as the MX-5, and it has an absolute jewel of an engine, which will you let cherish this car even more. This car belongs on your driveway or (apartment) garage, to be enjoyed throughout your motoring life, and – if you are a bit careful with it- to pass it on to future generation(s)…

 

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

A genial Fiat engine designer turned French: Walter Becchia

He was born in Casale Monferrato, in the Italian Piemonte region, and soon developed a keen interest in anything mechanic, with his main interest being engines. Soon enough, he was enrolled by Fiat and his first major feat was to develop the racing engine for the Fiat 804. In 1922, he was spotted by Louis Coatalen, technical director of Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq

In those roaring twenties, many automotive brands were rising and falling, and one of them was Talbot, resulting from the consortium Clément-Talbot, born out of the merger of the British businesses of Adolphe Clément and the count Schrewsbury and Talbot.

Becchia designed the  iconic T120 short wheelbase Talbot-Lago “Baby Sport” 

This brand Talbot had a British arm in London, and a French one in Suresnes. The Talbots built in Suresnes were sold as Darracqs on the British market.

The French division Talbot Suresnes was then led by two young talented engine designers, Vincenzo Bertarione and Walter Becchia, and they created in 1923 the 1500 Talbot 4 cylinder, followed by the 8 cylinder in line 1,5 liter engine in 1926.

The same Talbot-Lago T120 seen from the rear… 

While Becchia stayed at Talbot, he would concentrate on combustion technology, and he developed further the design the use of hemispherical combustion chambers with the valves angled in V, actuated through overhead camshafts. In this design work, he was actually inspired by the pioneering constructions and designs of… Belgian car builder Pipe(!).

The upcoming regime of Mussolini was not to the liking of Walter Becchia, and in 1926 he decided to become a French citizen. He continued to work at Talbot, also when the firm had been bought by the venetian engineer Antonio Lago, with the reorganized company continuing as Talbot-Lago.

The Talbot-Lago T 150 C which was built from 1937 to 1939 remains one of the most stunning automobiles ever… 

He became legendary as an engineer, capable of creating and designing an engine in detail within just a few days. In 1935, he designed the iconic T120 short wheelbase Talbot-Lago “Baby Sport” and of course his engine designs were even more famous. The V16 engines, both in 3 litre and 1,5 litre form, are from his hand.

 

The designer of the 2 CV engine…

In 1939, Citroën was eying to his design talents for good reason: Pierre Boulanger and his team were working on the development of the revolutionary “Bauhaus” principle 2CV, the minimalist people’s car. He hesitated for two years, and in 1941 finally took the decision to join them, and to succeed engine designer Maurice Sainturat, who had retired. His first major feat was to fully redesign the engine of the prototype, and rebuild it from scratch. The Citroën engineers and designers had used motorcycle engines for their prototypes, and history has it that Walter Becchia was inspired by the twin cylinder boxer BMW R12 owned by Citroën stylist Flaminio Bertoni. The result is known to all: the iconic and famous air cooled two cylinder boxer engine of the 2 CV.

Sainturat had drawn the outlines for a 375-cc twin-cylinder engine before he retired, and Becchia used this as the basis for his own design. Becchia first switched Sainturat’s design from water cooling to air cooling, with an eye on saving both weight and complexity. He added a fourth gear to the integrated transmission that Boulanger had first designed for the car. Becchia took things a step further, adopting light alloy for the engine block, making it very light.

This was one of the most important postwar engines that anyone developed, anywhere. It took Becchia all of a week to get it done.

A thoroughly modern engine, which it remains right until this day. Of course, without electronically controlled fuel injection, it could not meet the emission standards from the ‘90s, and that was the end of this formidable engine.

Becchia and the Citroën DS…

When designing the DS, Michel Lefebvre and his team originally aimed at building a flat six, which would be mounted ahead of the front axle. Walter Becchia built both an air and water cooled 1,8 liter six cylinder boxer engine. With the air cooled version, Becchia and his assistant, Corner, ran into cooling problems with the middle cylinders, and the engine also made simply too much noise, certainly when cold, with the whine of the fan certainly not helping things. The laws of physics cannot be escaped: everyone knows for example that an early Porsche 911 is not a very silent, albeit melodious machine either…

The water cooled flat six 1.8 litre engtine designed by Becchia never made it into production: too noisy, too expensive and developing insufficient power … 

The problem that the water-cooled six cylinders was not developed further for the DS is mainly the cost. For these reasons, the block of the Traction four cylinder was retained, with Walter Becchia and his assistant Poillot coming up in very short time (some speak of as little as eight days) with a new cylinder head to be fitted on the old block. The design of the cylinder head was based on the same principles Becchia had used at Talbot: pushrods operating the inlet and exhaust valves inclined under a V angle to give hemispherical crossflow combustion chambers.

Becchia designed further milestones at Citroën. In the ‘60s, Walter Becchia would still design a 3 liter V6 engine, but alas, also that engine never went into production. He kept working of course also on the CX, the SM’s, retiring only in 1968 at the age of 76!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

 

We drove the Fiat 500 L: your perfect travel companion

The stylish 500 L in front of the Amphitheatre in Nîmes…

We were always quite charmed by the clever rounded shape and styling of the Fiat 500 L. Its curves and lines are drawn by Italian designers which have an uncanny genial talent to hit those ideal, timeless proportions. Indeed, this compact people carrier will still hit the tune of the times within say, fifteen or twenty years. It came to us this time with a restyled front end, clad in charming Donatello bronze metallic and a black gleaming roof which sported a large glass panorama ceiling. We took it on an extensive continental tour through France, and it filled our car loving hearts with joy, every meter we drove it…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Continue reading “We drove the Fiat 500 L: your perfect travel companion”

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne: A genial automotive manager has passed away…

 

He was born in Chieti, on the Italian Adriatic coast, as the son of a carabiniere or state police officer, on June 17, 1952. His father was a wise man, with a keen sense of money and savings, and he had invested enough to retire early. He decided to give his family a bright future in Canada. When young Sergio was 14, they moved across the ocean to Toronto.

His studies gave him a broad view…

Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of FCA, was not altogether a pure “auto” person, rather on the contrary. This prepared him to become an outstanding manager. Just look at what he studied. He started at the University of Toronto with philosophy, earned himself a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Windsor, in Ontario, and finally obtained a law degree in 1983 at the Osgoode Hall of York University. He began his career as … a tax specialist.

Luca De Meo, CEO Fiat Automobiles, and Sergio Marchionne, then CEO Fiat Group Automobiles, with the Fiat 500 (2007)

Broad business experience made him an ideal crisis manager…

This keen sense for numbers and figures made him the ideal manager to work out successful turnarounds and save companies from the brink. He moved to a metals trading firm and was also very successful in a trade services company. A broad experience in trading and business together with an excellent mastery of English, French and Italian gave him many possibilities, and having forged himself an enviable reputation of a crisis manager, he was spotted by the Agnelli family, seen as the right person on the right place to save the ailing Fiat company. The fact that he had a broad non-automotive experience was rather seen as an asset. He was appointed CEO of Fiat in 2004, and started with the necessary reforms to lighten the debt burden as soon as possible. He knew soon enough about the existing deal between G.M. and Fiat, and first tried to force G.M. into purchasing Fiat. General Motors had other plans, so Marchionne obtained 2 billion USD in compensation from G.M. to allow them to step out of the alliance. Money he put to good use to rejuvenate the model range, with the 500 being the all-time star.

Mike Manley and Sergio Marchionne with the new Jeep Renegade (09/2014)

A second success with Chrysler/Jeep…

Marchionne knew that automakers with global ambitions also need to have a solid base in the US market, and amidst the 2008 crisis he made clear to the US Treasury that he would be prepared to take control of Chrysler and revive it using the excellent state of the art Fiat group technology he had at his disposal.

He also knew very well that the Chrysler creditors and unions were putting hard pressure on the US Treasury, so he decided to up the ante to the beleaguered US government to ask them to hand over Chrysler to him… for free.

He succeeded, and the good results are known to everybody. Especially the dramatic turnaround of Jeep made the FCA Group now a profitable giant.

He was planning to retire in 2019, but fate has decided otherwise, as a result of unexpected complications after a shoulder surgery on July 5.

Fate has it too that his last official public appearance on last June 26, was to hand over in Rome at a ceremony in the grounds of the Carabinieri High Command, in the presence of Commander-in-Chief Giovanni Nistri, the liveried Jeep Wrangler.(see the accompanying photo).

He is succeeded by Mike Manley, (see photo above),  the head of Fiat Chrysler’s North America operations and its Jeep and Ram truck brands.

Hans Knol ten Bensel