10 AUGUST 2009

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Air France children

AIR FRANCE has decided to auction 380 seats on each of its two inaugural flights on the Airbus A380, operating from Paris to New York on 20 November and from New York to Paris on 21 November 2009.  These will be the first ever scheduled A380 flights across the North Atlantic.  This exclusive auction sale, the terms of which will be presented at a later date, will take place on the internet in October 2009 and will be available to all markets (France, United States and other countries).  The winners will travel on the A380 outbound inaugural flight to New York and return on a commercial flight.  Departures will only take place from Paris and New York.  The profits of this operation will be used to fund three humanitarian projects supported by the Air France Foundation for children in distress which since 1992 has supported over 500 projects in 67 countries. www.airfrance.co.uk

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Barcelona hotel gets ready for opening

W BARCELONA, Starwood’s first of the iconic brand in Europe, has set 1 October for its opening date.  The 473-room beach front property is busy recruiting.  W Hotels is a fast expanding innovative luxury lifestyle brand currently with 29 properties in what it calls the most vibrant destinations around the world.  London is already taking bookings for June 2010 at the former Swiss Centre site in Leicester Square and St Petersburg will open September 2010.  A Manchester property is also planned.  W Hotels are different and are claimed to provide the ultimate in insider access to a world of ‘Wow’.  Now ten years old the brand will triple its footprint by 2011. www.whotels.com/barcelona

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Cathay stays in the black

CATHAY PACIFIC (CX) has reported an overall profit of HK$812m (about £62m) for the six months to 30 June – compared to a HK$760m loss for the same period last year.  The carrier said the good figure was mainly a result of a HK$2.1bn unrealised fuel hedging gain, with CX seeing a 27.1% drop in turnover and an operating loss of HK$765m.  On the passenger side Cathay Pacific witnessed a fall in premium business as many major corporate clients, particularly in the financial sector, either reduced or downgraded travel.  Load factors in the Economy Class cabin were maintained at high levels but a combination of low fares, due to strong competition in the market, and the impact of the stronger dollar reduced revenue.  As a result passenger yield fell by 19.7%.  The number of passengers carried by the Cathay Pacific Group (which includes Dragonair) dropped by 4.2% to 11.9m against a capacity reduction of 2.1%.  The overall passenger load factor fell by 1.5 percentage points to 78.5%.  Cargo demand was very weak with demand down by 15.3%, less however than some competitors. www.cathaypacific.com

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Heathrow runway enquiry

HEATHROW’S proposed third runway could be further delayed after a High Court decision that a hearing examining the scheme should be held in public.  It will take place sometime in the autumn.  This could pave the way for a full judicial review, as requested by the environmental protesters.  The Department for Transport issued a statement saying: “We stand by the decisions made on Heathrow in January,” referring to former Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon’s backing to the expansion.  Airlines say that the new runway is needed “for the good of the nation” and that plans for an airport in the Thames estuary are completely impractical pointing out that most local protesters moved to the airports’ conurbation in the 60 years since Heathrow was established knowing full well it was on their doorstep.  Those opposed include the usual motley collection plus the official Conservative Party. www.baa.com

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Olympic station stays national

STRATFORD INTERNATIONAL, the name of the new railway station in the centre of the Olympic Park complex, seems to be rather like many US airports, rather misnamed.  Whilst it is clearly going to be a fine station what it is not going to be is International.  During the time of the games Eurostar will not be stopping at any if the four platforms of the station and there appears nothing in the planning to indicate the necessary customs and immigration facilities will be introduced for regular Eurostar services.  Passengers will have to go through to St Pancras and then take the Javelin back to Stratford all in all adding about 30 minutes to the journey and perhaps another £10 return cost.  Very adroit travellers might be able to get off at Ebbsfleet and pick up a Southeastern train coming from Dover or Ramsgate but that will cost many more Pounds.  The station is likely to open in July 2010 when the DLR is completed from Woolwich Arsenal and London City Airport. www.southeasternrailway.co.uk

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Sleeping at airports

TRAVELLERS who have a requirement to sleep at an airport now have their own website.  And in the tradition of these sites it has undertaken a survey.  The results are pretty predictable with Paris Charles de Gaulle voted the absolute worst, followed by Sheremetyevo in Moscow, which one passenger called "hell on earth".  Dirty floors, filthy restrooms and biting insects were among the biggest complaints of the 6,200 travellers who took part in the poll.  And the best are the ones that usually top the poll when the airport awards are given out.  Changi was first, followed by Seoul's Incheon and Amsterdam's Schiphol.  In the third and fourth worst spots were New York JFK and Los Angeles LAX, while India's Delhi airport completed the worst list. www.sleepinginairports.com

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WTTC joins tax chorus

WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) in the person of Jean-Claude Baumgarten, President, has joined the chorus of organisations and companies around the world protesting at the tax impositions regarding aviation by the UK government.  “We believe the overall APD system should be scrapped," he said. "The APD acts as a distortion to free trade and this will ultimately work against the Millennium Development Goals by crippling regions most in need of travel and tourism to run and support their economies.”  The increased APD, which is being implemented in two stages, from November 2009 and November 2010, and which primarily penalises long haul travellers, will mean a 112% rise in departure tax on a flight to Australia from the end of 2010. www.wttc.org

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HAPPY TALK: Complete summer madness

 

Some more senior members of the airline business may remember Brian Walters as Lufthansa London Sales Manager in the glory days when most airlines had offices in or near Bond Street.  In his semi-retirement Brian, now a bubbling 75, is these days better known as an aviation journalist who has in recent years covered most of the world’s flying shows.  We don’t’ know what got into him, perhaps it was the lack of sun and something exciting to do but he has now taken up wing walking.  Not even for charity.  Just for fun.  The aircraft is a Boeing type 75 Stearman built in 1941 and younger that Brian. The editorial team at AERBT will not be following suit.

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COMMENT: Lord of the trains

These days we don’t have a Minster for Aviation, just Lord Adonis, Baron Adonis of Camden Town, of clearly high intellect but little knowledge of the airline industry and what it means to Britain.

In a previous life Andrew Adonis was an Oxford Don and sometime journalist with both the Financial Times and The Observer.  Adonis served time in Tony Blair’s Policy Unit and is known to be a bit of a railway buff.  He has been described as a mini Mandelson, all charm but yet haughty.  And just like Mandelson he sits in the protected world of the House of Lords.

Since his appointment Adonis has been very visible, clearly having leant the value of being seen around during his stint in Downing Street. 

The airline industry has very quickly forgotten about his predecessor Geoff Hoon. 

It is amazing to think that since Alistair Darling’s long tenure (May 2002 – May 2006) there have been no less than four holders of the position, Douglas Alexander, Ruth Kelly, Hoon and now Adonis.  In fact since this government came to power 12 Ministers have stumbled along yet we have had only two Chancellors (or two Prime Minsters if you like) which says a lot for the whole attitude of the administration towards aviation. 

With the House of Commons away on their extended summer holiday Andrew Adonis has chosen The Guardian to expound on his policies towards the railways, and by innuendo aviation.  Trains are the way ahead with (subsidised) high speed lines spreading their tentacles all around the country according to the Peer.  Compare what is being done in France and Spain he says quietly forgetting that we live in a compact island with enormous planning restrictions and a lack of money.  No debate from Lord Adonis, he just pontificates.  

Flying Matters, the pro-aviation lobby group, summed up the airline industry’s feelings which have also been articulated by others.  "The idea that you could get rid of all domestic plane travel and use high speed rail is pie in the sky," a spokesman said.    The distinguished Adam Smith Institute calls it a terrible idea.

The problem for Lord Adonis is not just the trains.  Aviation is being attacked with regard to APD (Air Passenger Duty) set to double over the next 16 months.  He will say it is nothing to do with him but the Treasury.  But is he representing at Cabinet level all who need air travel or looking after the railway lobby?  An even more vital question is why aviation is not represented by a dedicated Minister?  “No taxation without representation” – that was the call of the 13 British Colonies in 1776.  They chucked the government out.  Adonis might be in for a short tenure.

Next month his Lordship will speak to the Aviation Club at the Institute of Directors.  Assuming he is still around (the last guest of the club was fired while he was actually addressing the members), he is likely to be coldly received.  And unlike a previous Minister he cannot duck out of the appointment claiming the Division Bells are ringing.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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American Airlines increases luggage charges

AMERICAN AIRLINES is increasing its charges for checking a first or second bag.  The increases apply to domestic travel tickets purchased on or after 14 August, for travel within the United States and US Territories such as Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.  The changes also apply to travellers on American’s regional affiliate, American Eagle, as well as AmericanConnection flights.  For tickets purchased on or after the effective date, the charge for the first checked bag is $20 and the charge for a second checked bag is $30, up from $15 and $25 respectively.  American’s checked bag charges to and from Canada are not changing as yet.  The baggage fees are not applied to international services nor members of various executive card schemes. www.aa.com

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Barclaycard Commercial business travel survey

BARCLAYCARD COMMERCIAL has published another of its business travel surveys, the results of which show that greater focus on managing environmental impacts in an effort to drive down business travel costs does not appear to be working.  People are more concerned with their business situation than the environment.  Of the 15% of business travellers who anticipated travelling less this year, three out of five respondents (57%) will be doing this in response to declining business or cost issues and only 1% as a result of a company environmental policy.  An overwhelming 64% of business travellers do not think air travel should be restricted to help protect the environment. www.barclaycardbusiness.co.uk

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First Holiday Inn to open in the Maldives

MALÉ, the tiny, literally sea level capital of the Maldives, will see the opening of its first international-class hotel on 1 September.  The 117-room Holiday Inn, at 15 storeys towers over the city and offers an unrivalled view of the harbour and beyond.  It is just a five-minute speedboat ride from the international airport.  Full conference facilities are provided rooms and Grand Ballroom has space for 180 banquet style or 240 for a reception.  The hotel has a rooftop swimming pool. There are two restaurants. www.holidayinn.com

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Kingfisher to Bangkok

KINGFISHER AIRLINES is to launch a daily service between Calcutta and Bangkok using a 174-seat single class Airbus A320.  Flight time will be around 2hr 45min.  The brewery-backed carrier faces competition on the route from the established Air India (two-class), Air India Express (one-class), Thai International (two-class), and Jet Airways (three-class).  The airline has ambitious plans for Bangkok and expects shortly to announce a similar Bangkok operation from Mumbai and Delhi. www.flykingfisher.com

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Oneworld moves at Heathrow

ONEWORLD has confirmed that its final Heathrow terminal switch will occur on 29 October with the start of the winter airline season.  On that day all Qantas services will move into T3 and also British Airways operations to Bangkok, Singapore and Sydney.  Finnair and Iberia moved into the terminal earlier this year, along with a number of British Airways' short haul routes.  Already based in Terminal 3 are oneworld shedule carriers – American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Royal Jordanain.  Terminal 3 has been given a multi-million dollar up-grade to bring its customer facilities up to a similar standard to those offered at T5, including a new British Airways lounge facility, whose First suite will open when its Sydney flights move. www.oneworldalliance.com

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Summertime train story

VIRGIN TRAINS has combined with Statesman Rail to introduce “a summertime experience of the romance of the railways past and present”.  Passengers are able enjoy the contrasts of modern 125-mph tilting trains and vintage steam locomotives on the busy West Coast Main Line.  The steam-hauled train will travel from Lancaster and Preston to Appleby and Carlisle via the scenic Settle and Carlisle railway, operating every Wednesday until 9 September.  Due to demand an additional service on Wednesday 23 September has been added to the timetable.  The Pendolino used on the return journey are fully air-conditioned and have power points to enable passengers to charge electrical gadgets.  Most trains are Wi-Fi enabled and have enhanced mobile phone reception.  Alternatively, if you would prefer some restful time there is a quiet coach on all trains. www.golakes.co.uk

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ON TOUR: St Petersburg to Moscow on the inland waterways

 

St Petersburg to Moscow (and visa versa) on the inland waterways of Russia continues to be popular in spite of the difficulties placed in the way by the country’s bureaucracy.  It is a great holiday, an eye opener, and, up to a point, a very relaxing way of seeing literally the inside of Russia. 

Why the query about relaxing?  In order to get the most out of the trip one needs to be active and make the most of the stopovers along the 685-mile journey between the two great cities taking six nights.  The package includes three further nights at each end, adding to the community spirit of the whole trip and saving a great deal on hotel bills.

It is during the dark hours, and they are not that dark in the popular tourist season from May to September, that your ship cruises through 18 locks and the world’s largest fresh water lake.  The trip is tiring but most rewarding.  You don’t go direct.  Your ships diverts in Lake Onega to Kizha Island, famous for its wooden architecture and near Moscow to the ancient city of Yaroslavl on the Volga.

AERBT chose Viking River Cruises for the cruise, experts and very experienced with the problems of dealing with the Russians.  They even sort out the visas and using British Airways make your welcome to the city of Peter the Great very easy and relaxing.  At the other end there is not a rush to get off the ship (unlike deep sea cruising) and lunch is provided before departure if your flight is in the afternoon.  Likewise a morning arrival.

 The whole trip is a fully inclusive arrangement including most of the off ship tours, a visit to the ballet, and some enthralling musical entertainment.  Also part of the package are talks on the places visited, a Russian speaking course (not attempted) and a series of lectures on the Romanovs, communism and its fall, and the Russia of Gorbachev and Putin.  The aftermath of the fall of the Tsar is called the “Civil War” and WWII as “The Great Patriotic War”.

If you are used to big ship cruising Viking is in some ways a culture shock, but a pleasant one.  The ships used on this particular journey hold around 210 people and have about 106 crew.  The cabins are smaller than deep sea vessels, usually with showers, and just as well equipped.  Balconies would not fit in but large windows are provided.  The two spacious suites on board are worthy of any cruise liner and have jetted hot tubs. There is a doctor on board but no hairdressers or spa. 

Everyone dresses casual all the time and the busy schedule does not allow for wallowing under treatment.  There is a shop on board for essentials, a library, a small boutique and two lounges with a resident pianist, in this case a graduate from a conservatoire, very proficient in Tchaikovsky and jazz. 

Our ship was the Viking Kirov, one three ships used on the St Petersburg to Moscow programme and completely remodelled for the 2009 season.  Reputed to cost US$6m the work was handled by a Russian shipyard, unlike the previous year when sister ship Surkov was upgraded in Finland.  Essentially the 35-year old vessel, originally build in East Germany, was gutted.  Although looking somewhat severe externally once inside it is as modern as can be with full air conditioning, a comprehensive video and film presentation unit and very nicely presented bars and dining room.  All the cabins have internet facilities, flat screen TVs, fridge and safe. There is an elevator too.  English speaking Filipinos supply the resturant service which is on par with say Princess or NCL.  Quality mostly western style food.


After three days in St Petersburg the Neva River emerged at daybreak into Lake Ladoga, freshwater and 124 miles long and 75 miles wide, the home of salmon and sturgeon, the source of Russia’s famous caviar. 

Next up the Svir River linking the lakes of Ladoga and Onega 140 miles of pine forest that provide cover for bear, elk and lynx.  A curious lunchtime stopover was the village of Mandrogy, a sort of crossover between a purpose-built outlet store and a typical Russian riverside village.  It rained somewhat.

And on into Lake Onega and a diversion far to the north brought us to the little island of Kizhi, now a museum and the home of the Transfiguration Cathedral built in 1714 and restored.  No nails are used at all. There is also a farmhouse, again in wood, an interesting example of how people lived and worked in a harsh environment 100 years ago.

If you though that the Panama Canal consumed lives nobody knows how may people perished during the construction of the Volga – Baltic waterway in the late 1930s during the Stalinist era.  Probably tens of thousands.  Whilst there had been water links between Russia’s greatest cities from 1825 they were less than reliable  Stalin was determined to make the waterways a commercial artery no matter the cost.  Huge timber, fuel and coal barges still plough their way. 

Towns and churches followed, each with its idiosyncrasies and stories to tell.  Seemingly busy markets with plenty of fresh vegetables from all over the world.  The odd Jaguar spotted and the latest Mercedes, BMW and inevitable Toyota.  Friendly coffee shops and smiling people. The Rybinsk Reservoir, man-made, flooded by Stalin, with the church towers still pointing skyward above the waterline.  700 villages were lost.  A quick tour off the ship to Goritzy, a sleepy village and a fortified monastery visit.  A huge complex will a cell for each monk.  Russia of today is gradually rebuilding all these historical links.

Another diversion this time Yaroslavl, part of the “Golden Ring” of provincial cities protecting Moscow and since the middle of the 19th century on the Trans Siberian railway line to the Urals and Vladivostok.  There are supposed to be 170 churches in the city and they are just completing another one.  Icons galore.

Uglich is the last call before Moscow the town dating back one thousand years and popular as a retreat.  There was the visit to the inevitable church but the history of the place is fascinating.  Here was exiled the last, and seventh, wife of Ivan the Terrible, and here died in mysterious circumstances their son Dimitre soon after the Tsar’s own death.  Puskin tells the story in Boris Godunov.

And so up the Moscow Canal for the inevitable captain’s diner on the night before arrival and three days of sightseeing. 

Which way.  Northbound or Southbound.  It matters little.  It is a fine and fascinating trip. www.vikingrivercruises.com

 

Also see ON TOUR: St Petersburg

And ON TOUR: Moscow

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A350 XWB test barrel

AIRBUS has completed the second CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic) fuselage demonstrator for the A350 XWB which is designed to be very close to the production units.  The barrel measures 18m in length and more than six metres in diameter.  Its three sections reflect the actual A350 XWB fuselage and is a very obvious demonstration of the progress being made on the new aircraft.  As recently reported in AERBT Airbus has a target first flight in 2012 and a 15-month flight test programme is envisaged.  To date 493 orders have been announced from 31 customers. www.airbus.com

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Arik Airlines in move

ARIK AIRLINES, the Nigerian carrier which introduced a daily Heathrow – Lagos service just before Christmas will move from its present T2 Heathrow home to T4 on 17 November.  The airline operates an Airbus A340-500 on the route with a plane originally built for Kingfisher but never delivered.  Arik will offer the use of a Business Class lounge at the terminal, which has just completed a £100m refurbishment.  The airline says that flights are going very well with good figures for July and a buoyant August is expected.  Virgin Nigeria no longer flies the route. www.arikair.com

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British Airways offers free flights

BRITISH AIRWAYS surprisingly carried 1% more passengers in July than the same month a year ago.  The airline, which last week reported its first ever Q1 loss and said it saw no signs of an industry recovery, improved its load factor 3.1% to 84.6%.  However premium passenger traffic fell 11%, not as much as the 17% in the previous month, but a serious decline.  In the face of these figures the airline has introduced "Face to Face", a long term campaign to boost economic growth in the United States by offering 1,000 American business people the opportunity to travel overseas on BA flights to conduct face-to-face meetings with their business partners.  This is the US version of the Backing Britain campaign that the airline launched earlier this year. www.ba.com

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Gulf Air

SAMER MAJALI, the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain, Gulf Air, has taken up his position.  Mr Manali replaces Born Naf, the Swiss dismissed whilst he was in London offering a discourse to the members of the Aviation Club.  Mr Manali brings with him an impressive CV, his last executive appointment as President and Chief Executive Officer at Royal Jordanian where under his leadership the airline was transformed into a highly successful and profitable business.  An aeronautical engineering graduate, Mr Majali also earned a Master's in Air Transport Management from the Cranfield Institute of Technology (UK) and is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (UK).  Mr Majali was also the Chairman of the Board of Governors for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) from June 2008 till June 2009 and is currently a Member of the Executive Committee of Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO). www.gulfair.com

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Lufthansa service improvements

LUFTHANSA is expanding its online services.  Not only can customers make flight bookings online, they can now obtain any necessary ticket refunds on the Internet up to a day before a flight.  The Lufthansa website now also offers various payment options. In addition to the existing options of payment by credit card or online direct debiting of their bank account, customers can enjoy more flexibility by using the innovative PayPal payment system.  Another innovation is that customers now receive an automated pre-flight email three days prior to their flight containing trip details as well as further information.  This includes airport maps and check-in times as well as data on their destinations, such as weather updates, the time zone or public holidays at their destination.  Additionally, a link enables them to check in online as well as obtain information about baggage regulations and entry formalities. www.lufthansa.com

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Ryanair check-in chaos

RYANAIR found itself yet again the subject of passenger wrath during the first weekend in August, traditionally one of the busiest of the year, when it failed to open nearly enough check-in desks at Stansted Airport.  It is getting the reputation as the "World's unfriendliest airline". With 255 flights only 11 desks were available.  And in what is fast becoming a tradition with airlines someone else was blamed, this time their handling agent Swissport whose staff found it hard going.  Unlike, typically BA, these people do not get any airline perks.  Ryanair offers very few landside staff to sort out problems.  The host of BBC Question Time, David Dimbleby, was among the travellers and will no doubt be raising the matter on TV upon his return. www.ryanair.com

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VLJ's at Oxford

 

OXFORD AIRPORT is to be the venue of the third annual VLJ (Very Light Jet) conference set for 24-25 September.  Organised by MIU Events, this year’s event will combine an opportunity to see some of the latest entry level jets available and provide an important forum to discuss the issues facing this industry – from the operator, OEM, airport, legal, insurance, broker, financier and regulator’s perspective.  The event is being supported by the Air Taxi Association – Europe.  Since the last VLJ Europe event (Barcelona 2008) the market has changed dramatically with economies collapsing worldwide and overall VLJ deliveries and production has slowed across the board.  Since then Eclipse has collapsed, there is uncertainty about Adam Aircraft but Embraer has certificated the Phenom. www.miuevents.com

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

IN BRIEF followed by this month’s road test, SEAT’S executive class bargain


THE VEHICLE SCRAPPAGE SCHEME:  Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) for July show 21% of the total 157,149 new car registrations were as a result of the scrapping incentive scheme, giving a much-needed boost to the UK motor industry.  In the commercial vehicle sector, 499 vans were registered under the plan, accounting for 1.5% of the total scrappage registrations and 3.6% of overall van registrations in July.

AUDI: A new low emission fuel efficient 1.6 TDI diesel engine has been introduced by Audi for its A3, A3 Sportback and A3 Cabriolet models priced from £17,485 to £20,645.  Replacing the 1.9 TDI units, the new engine is claimed to return up to 68.9 mpg with the help of start-stop technology and to emit as little 109g/km.

HPI: The motor trade secure buying agency advise buyers of used cars to insist on paying by cheque as crooks don’t like to be traced when dealing in stolen cars.  The organisation also suggests that one should always buy from the registered keeper’s address and beware of deals that are for less than 70% of the market value.  HPI provide a checking system for buyers that can cover buyers up to £30,000. Details on www.hpicheck.com

ROLLS-ROYCE: The new Rolls-Royce Ghost, due to debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September will have 563 bhp, be capable of reaching 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and will have a top speed of 155 mph.

PEUGEOT: An ultra clean version of the Peugeot 207 will launch in October.  Called the 207 Economique is will have emissions of only 99g/km from its 1.6-litre 90 bhp HDI diesel engine.  Price will be £12,995 on the road.

HUMBERSIDE POLICE:  The North East force  have taken delivery of a Lexus IS-F in order to make life more difficult than ever for those looking to travel to the region to commit crime.  Specially trained officers spent 12 months evaluating a number of high performance vehicles that are set to replace the current Subarus which have proved highly successful in enabling the Roads Crime Section to target organized criminals in the area.  Following a stringent evaluation process the decision was taken to purchase the Lexus IS-F after the vehicle proved to be exceptionally capable of remaining stable in high speed operational policing environments, despite carrying the extra weight provided by the £30,000 worth of on-board computers and communications equipment. 

SEAT Exeo 2.0TDI CR SE

Executive Class Bargain

Not so many years ago SEAT produced a competent saloon model called the Toledo, it reminded me of a BMW 3 Series and actually received praise from a former BMW executive colleague.  As a regular driver in Spain I saw a lot of those Teledos obviously being used by business drivers and when the car was replaced by the more family orientated Toledo hatch back I commented that Spain’s business executives had been left high and dry.

So the arrival of the SEAT Exeo must be just what executive car users, primarily in Spain but I suggest probably throughout Europe were waiting for, especially in these more stringent times.

This new executive class offering comes with good credentials, the basis is the previous Audi A4 but seriously reworked to take advantage of the Volkswagen Group’s recently introduced common rail diesel engines and to enhance the handling and ride qualities as well as a new nose job to meet the NCAP pedestrian safety tests.

Launched in the UK this spring, the Exeo took just 18 months to create, a notable feat that involved moving the ‘old’ Audi A4 production line to the ultra modern SEAT factory just outside Barcelona.

Currently the range is based on a pair of 2.0-litre diesel engines rated at 141 and 168 bhp and a 2.0 petrol unit delivering 198 bhp.  Future plans include a less potent entry level diesel unit due soon plus a Sport Tourer version.  A CVT automatic transmission is planned as an option on the petrol version in place of the across range manual 6-speed manual unit.

Tested here is the 141 bhp SE diesel powered version which sits approximately in the middle of the seven-car line-up and comes with an impressive standard of trim and equipment in what is close to an Audi in most respects but with a price tag that benefits from short cut development and the strong component buying power of the Volkswagen empire.

The SEAT has a good chance of attracting those company car buyers who are given a budget and told to make the most of it.

Visually it has modern looks (let’s face it the old Audi A4 only came out eight years ago and was refreshed less than five years ago) and is sized I would say close to a BMW 3-Series yet will take five adults providing those in the rear seats are none too lanky or are the uncomplaining type.  Boot capacity and the size of aperture could prove critical – roll on the Sport Wagon!

Internally there is a ring of quality about the cabin and no wonder as it is virtually a straight lift from Audi which means a battery of metal rimmed air vents, clear no-nonsense instrumentation and strategically located switch gear.  There is an air of substance about the interior, making me feel that in one action SEAT has made a great leap forward in the quality saloon sector.

The driving position is comfortable with good support and lateral location, bags of adjustment and is complemented by well above average driver visibility.

I have always praised the driving characteristics of the Audi A4 though I respect the views of colleagues who complained that it was a bit unsettled.

Well, SEAT’s team has further developed the fully independent suspension system in two directions – a firmer one for the Sport model and a more compliant one for the other models including this SE.  I would say that if they have done a good job, the handling easy but with sufficient character to satisfy those who enjoy their drive and also those who want to achieve long journeys with minimal effort.  The ride reasonably well insulated and stability is also a strong point, aided by an electronic Stability Programme.

Add to that a braking system aided by both ABS and EBA that one soon takes for granted plus a positive changing six-speed gearbox with cruise control (now necessary for all those tediously long speed limited road works!) and the verdict is a very satisfying car.

So far so good but what does this engine deliver?  For a start it is a lot quieter than the Pumpe Duse engines used for so long by the Volkswagen family and also a lot smoother.  There’s great flexibility with the confines of diesel engine speeds and sufficient power to provide a top speed of 133 mph (according to SEAT) with 60 mph possible from rest at around nine seconds.  Importantly the engine power and gearbox work well together to an extent that it is easy to forget this is a diesel car.

Equipped to the dictates of the modern business life, the SEAT Exeo is an agile car that seems just the job for those that have to do a job.  Welcome back to the junior executive class SEAT!

Main Rivals: Renault Laguna 2.0 TDCI Dynamique 150 Expression £18,815,
Citroen C5 2.0 HDI SX £18,595

STAR RATINGS

Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 8
Noise 9
Economy 9
Ride and Comfort 9
Accommodation 8
Styling 8
Brakes 9
Finish 8
TOTAL: 86%

From £18,345 on the road.

 

 

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