Manufacturing is dead in the UK – well it’s not in Crewe!

I had the privilege on Friday of visiting the Bentley factory in Crewe, as a guest of Nick Riley – you can read his great blog here.

bentley_clay_model

I have to say that I was taken aback by the whole experience. I thought Crewe was a place you went through on the train. What I didn’t expect was a factory building some of the best quality cars that money can buy on the entire planet!

Bentley have heritage but suffered badly through recessions. At one point they had just 1500 employees – today that number is 4,000. Unlike the Toyota factory in Burnaston, there are people here. Lots of them. And people who have a passion for what they are building. During our three hour tour we spoke to a few of the teams building the cars – this wasn’t staged – they were genuinely passionate about what they do; they were really keen to show us what they did – and the lengths they go to.

These are expensive cars (think £115,00 upwards) but there is a reason for this. An Bentley Continental takes 100 man hours to build – the Mulsanne takes 600 hours. Virtually everything is hand finished – varnishing the woods is robotically done, but is still hand polished. A steering wheel takes 15 hours to hand stitch!

What was really fascinating was trying to work out the logistics of the production line. On the Continental lone it shifts stations every nine minutes, on the Mulsanne line it is one hour! And at each station the components being added are all logged and computer controlled. Parts which started life together (such as the wood inlays) are sent apart to different build elements, but then come back together for a perfect match.

It was a fantastic experience – and I was seriously impressed. Manufacturing is definitely not dead – and 8,500 lovingly crafted cars a year – is testament to that.

PS My fellow blogger Jackie Sadek will no doubt think that I’m after a freebie. This would be shallow. But true. Please Mr Bentley – can I borrow one for a few weeks?

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A trip down memory lane …

My youngest son Jak must have acquired some petrol-head genes from me. Last week he bought a new car. Not so very new though – rather a 1996 Mini.

When you’re 18 it’s important to have two cars I guess. It’s now more than I have.

I have had a go in it – it has character. The 3 miles to the squash club was great , especially the speed bumps. This is a car without power-steering, airbags, ABS brakes or pretty much any creature comforts. When I passed my test back in the dark ages I shared a mini with my mum for a while, until I gave up £50 for my own mini. It was a white van!

The memories came flooding back, the noise, the lack of comfort. With 63 BHP this is not fast stuff, although you are so close to the ground that it all feels a bit fast. It even has a choke (remember those?)

I love it.

I was then trying to recall my history of cars:

Mini Van – pretty awful – colder on the inside than the out!
1.1 Ford Escort – Banana Yellow and horrendously under-powered.
Austin Allegro (lovingly knows and whistlers or All-Agro) – pretty awful
Vauxhall Astra – white 1.6 – good little car.
Red Ford Escort 1.6xl – quick.
Ford Orion 1.6 – comfort
Rover 1.6efi – superb car – bit temperamental
Ford Scorpion – I was given this to put some miles on, like a hearse!
BMW 3 series – great car!
Mercedes 190e – a wedding car if ever there was one!
BMW 520 – first grown up car
Land Rover Discovery 3.5 – liked petrol stations – 8mpg
Lexus 200 sport – good car – full of toys!
Audi TT – amazing piece of kit
BMW 525d Sport – awful car, BMW took it back after 18 months.
Audi RS4 – the best car I ever owned / am likely to own!
Mercedes 350E AMG soft top – current car, pretty good, waggly in the wet!
Mini Cooper Works – great fun car, a fast roller skate!

And so … what next? I wonder if it should be a Porsche? Or the Audi TTRS+… In fact it just needs to blisteringly quick. The need for speed.

Certainly won’t be a mini – even if it did bring a smile to my face!

Insurance Nightmare Pt.3 (nearly)

At the risk of really allowing Richard Baker to label me a GOM with indelible ink I nearly couldn’t shake off these Insurers I blogged about here and here.

It seems that I really am a major risk. Despite coming clean and telling First Alternative Insurance my life story (buying a second mid-life crisis) car – but keeping my Company one. And having no actual claims for the last 12 years. And limiting the mileage (it’s a weekend play thing). And reading my Brokers letter to them explaining who I was and what a good boy I had been. They didn’t like it at all.

The letter from my Brokers was deemed unacceptable – it was from my employer? No it wasn’t it was from the Broker.

The letter didn’t confirm that I had personally built up a claim free record. Yes it did.

But the killer line – the letter didn’t confirm that I had given up my (works) Insurance three months ago. What? No Insurance on my Company car? I think that might be a small issue.

The first letter said I needed to give them all of this ‘new’ information in the next week. Or they would do unspeakable things to me. For good measure they sent me a second letter to warn me!

I was completely lost with the car Insurance industry; I know that they lose a lot of money each year – but their approach to customers seems completely at odds with other service Industries. They seem to be recovering their costs from honest people. We all know that the major issue for the Industry is the number of cars on the Road without Insurance. And making it difficult to get or prohibitively expensive is not helping?

And then some common sense. I spoke to First Alternative and explained that I was not quite the criminal they thought. They said they would listen back to the tape of my conversation. They called me back and agreed that I had not lied at all and that their agent had got things quite wrong. Ordinarily they wouldn’t insure me (!) but because it was their error they would honour the original quote.

This was not what I had expected, but hats off to them – they admitted their mistake and stood by their original position. It was painful getting to this point, but at least I don’t have to join the merry-go-round again!

Car Insurance for young people – run by Alton Towers?

My youngest son is 17 and is learning to drive.

quite expensive to insure I guess...

Although the cost of lessons hasn’t gone up significantly over the years (£20 per hour), the Insurance Premiums surely have.

There is a suggestion that:

* 1 in 5 drivers are involved in a crash during their first year on the road
* male drivers aged under 21 are 10 times more likely to have a car accident than male drivers aged 35 or over
* young drivers have a higher proportion of crashes at night than older drivers
* 1 in 8 British drivers are under 25, but a quarter of drivers who die in traffic collisions are in this age group
* In 2007, 40% of passengers killed or seriously injured – meaning lost limbs, paralysis, brain injury and other life-changing injuries – were in a car driven by a young driver

Quotes for my son added to our second car policy ranged from around £1,900 to over £9,000 (on a car worth around £3,500…). The £9,000 was ‘ASDA price!’

But then there was a quote from Quinn Direct – and Irish Company for £961.

As my late father always told me, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is…”

And how true.

Firstly, the Irish Financial Regulator has appointed an Administrator of the business and their website says: “…the Financial Regulator has separately directed Quinn Insurance Limited to cease writing new business in the UK. Existing UK policyholders will not be affected by this decision as existing policies will remain valid. Customers can make claims in the normal way.”. Interesting that Confused.com show them as the best value! Their own web site does say that they have re-entered the market, but the Financial Regulator in Ireland makes no mention of this?

Secondly, if you change my sons status from being a ‘learner’ to holding a Full Uk Licence, the premium increases a little … to £3,700! The argument goes that they are not a high risk whilst you are driving with them…

For a few minutes I thought that Alton Towers had entered the Car Insurance market!

Then there was a flash of brilliance from my wife – Provisional Marmalade – £250 for three months! And a stand-alone policy. Brilliant! She found this through Martin Lewis’ web site.

How much damage by the ash?

The stories yesterday about the Icelandic Ash cloud caught my eye.

It made me sneeze and the car stop?

I felt sorry for all of those passengers stranded at airports as the whole of the UK airspace was closed down. Iceland’s volcanic ash was enough to suggest that airplane engines could be affected. This is due to the ash being primarily made up of silica – a form of glass. It would potentially tear the engines apart.

I think it might have affected me personally.

Firstly, I drove from Derby to Birmingham and sneezed all the way; Could this have been a reaction to the ash? Had it got past my pollen filter in the car. Was I allergic to volcanoes? It certainly hurt – and made the journey hard.

Secondly, this morning my car ground to a halt on the way to work. Could this have been the very same ash? Had it permeated the engine and brought it to a stop?

There are dark forces at work all around us. I was suspicious.

OK, I might be stretching the point a bit – in fact I had hay fever yesterday and I ran out of petrol this morning! Neither day were ‘good’ on the ‘goodness’ scale!

But I think to avoid the embarrassment of running out of petrol I am running with the ash story… As always, I am keeping this quiet!

Cars and compromises?

Most people who know me realise that my current car is quite important to me. It is my ‘mid-life’ crisis car and goes fast and drinks petrol at an astonishing rate. Last week the £78 petrol bill was consumed in just 168 miles. Short journeys might be fast – but they are expensive. This ignores the tax – which is £604 per month as a benefit in kind.

Nissan GTR - dream car, nightmare tax


I have also ignored the green credentials of the car – which are around zero. Or just below.

Sadly the car is reaching the end of its (leased) life and I need to contemplate a replacement. This is not easy!

I am very lucky in that I can choose pretty much any car within reason.

Performance is important – but super-cars tend to have very high CO2 emissions and thus attract lots of tax for The Treasury. Low carbon emission cars tend to have performance times measured in minutes not seconds! Maybe except the Tesla – but you need a second mortgage for that.

Yesterday I started looking around. I visited a number of dealerships.

I carry some prejudices – good and bad. Nottingham Audi have been superb over the last three years – the staff are friendly and helpful. Nottingham BMW (same ownership) were appalling during the ownership of my last car. Mercedes I similarly struggle with – the level of arrogance in the main dealership is palpable – my wife has an A Class and we now have it serviced privately by the excellent MBNottingham.

Image is quite important in my business but the Jaguar leaves me feeling I need a pipe and smoking jacket – maybe this is unfair. But a Porsche definitely places you in a certain category – especially as the golf clubs need to occupy the front seat!

Which leaves a limited number of cars in reality. We found ourselves at Lexus. I had a Lexus IS200 sport back in 1999 – and loved it. I think I might surprise all of my colleagues (and some of my family) by actually looking at a Hybrid – but the RX450h does offer quite a lot. The level of luxury is high. But the emissions are low resulting in a tax bill monthly of around £260 – a massive £340 saving on what I pay now! But if I am honest the real attractions to this car are the ‘toys’ – Mark Levinson sound system, keyless entry, air suspension and very cool lighting….

And the compromise? Performance. Audi 0-60 = 4.6 secs; Lexus 7.8 secs. So, I will have to find an extra 3 seconds from somewhere!

I don’t have to make the decision immediately – but it looks like I may become a reluctant tree-hugger yet. Or will I?