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Ferrari wins a race, Toyota's double-cab obsession... Best and worst of March 2017

2017-03-31 12:21

CONGRATS, OPEL! The Opel Astra has been named the 2017 South African Car of the Year. Image: MotorPress

Lance Branquinho

Cape Town - With March coming to an end, Wheels24 columnist Lance Branquinho takes a look at the five top stories of the month.

Lamborghini has claimed a ridiculous Nurburgring time which no one believed; BMW has announced more non-sedans planned and Ferrari finally won an F1 race!

Here is his top five moments:

1 Lamborghini doesn’t lie

Nürburgring lap records are the most arbitrary, but also overquoted, performance comparison in contemporary motoring. Forget about engine outputs, elapsed acceleration times or kerb weights. All we bother about nowadays are ‘Ring times.

This despite the lack of any standardisation, which is curious, for the Nürburgring located in that geography which is most particular about standardisation: Germany.

That said, when Lamborghini revealed, earlier this month, that its new Huracán Performante had lapped the ‘Ring in 06min52, nobody believed them.

WATCH: Lamborghini teases Huracan Performante at the Nürburgring

“Impossible. The footage has been sped-up.” Consensus was that despite the Huracán Performante in question having on-board footage to validate its claim, Lamborghini was somehow cheating. Race engineers were quietly observing, knowing that top speed on a circuit is an equal, and at times subservient, to cornering speeds.

Featuring the most advanced active aerodynamics of any current road car, the Huracán Performante, although 40kW down on power compared to its Aventador V12 sibling, was a lot less skittish under braking - and vastly quicker through all the ‘Ring’s 154 curves. After releasing exact telemetry, Lamborghini was vindicated.

2 SUVs for all of us

With March being financial year-end for most automotive companies, many media briefings were held - reviewing the past year’s sales, and outlining prospects. 

For people with driving licences and an allergy to public transport, the message was clear: buy a mountain bike, Labrador or start practicing water sports. Why? Because SUVs. There will be a great many more of them soon. In fact, the possibility is real, that in future there will be very few four-door cars - at all. They’ll all have a lift back.

READ: Here's how much the 2017 Audi Q2 costs in SA

BMW’s committed that its future product portfolio, consisting of a fleet of electric vehicles, relies heavily on the subsidisation yield from those handsome profits earned on current SUV and crossover sales. And that means many more non-sedan product-lines from the ‘Werke. 

It’s not only BMW, but Audi too. Ingolstadt predicts that 50% of its global sales will be SUVs in future. And that’s not a medium time horizon future, but a rather imminent one. Own an RS4 or RS6 sedan? We’d buy a dehumidifying for the garage, a nice car blanket, and park either of those. They will be worth a lot of money a decade and a half from now.

3 Ferrari won an F1 race

The world’s most scandalous, glamorous and (still) loudest sport had its opening round in the world’s most boring country: Australia. 

What was expected to be an AMG Mercedes one-two, with the remainder of the grid finishing nearly a lap down, turned into quite a race. Predictably, McLaren was terrible, the pink Force Indias scored points for pride and the speeds were, well, stupefying.

READ: Vettel masters Hamilton to win Australian GP

Ferrari’s Sebestian Vettel won, which is something he used to do a lot, but hasn’t of late. Most impressive was the blinding speed of the 2017 cars, with their strange aero evolutions and enormous tyres. Cornering speeds were generating side loads of up to 8G, straining both drivers and components. 

Consider that the Australian GP is hosted at a street circuit, which is slow and devoid of natural flow, the prospect of seeing these 2017 cars, casually described by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff as ‘monsters’, race on faster circuits, is a particularly appealing one.

4 Toyota has a double-cab toy obsession

The Toyota Hilux. When you list vehicles, which are serious about what they do, it’s near the top of any ranking. Not a toy, then. Well, that’s the perception – at least.

Toyota, it would appear, feel rather differently about Hilux. For them the 2017 marketing strategy is Hilux as a toy. This might grate most Hilux owners who farm, mine, build and kerb-park with them every day, but we don’t think anyone should take offence.

READ: The Ultimate Toy(ota) - Check out this Tonka Hilux bakkie

First of Toyota’s Hilux ‘toy’ marketing ploys for this year, has been a magnificently original video campaign by Toyota UK, featuring a contemporary Hilux in workhorse scenarios with Tamiya Hilux RC bakkies. A team of 15 of these mini bakkies even managed to pull the full-size Hilux at one point.

The second Toyota ‘toy’ scenario, sources from Down Under, where Toyota Australia commissioned a one-off promotional Hilux. A very yellow one, with every conceivable custom 4x4 accessory the most ardent Safari agent could imagine.

Built as an ode to Tonka toy trucks, with that specific aesthetic in mind, the Hilux Tonka concept rides with the impervious authority of something with nearly 430mm of ground clearance and portal axles.

Toyota. They sure aren’t kidding around about their, well, toys.

5 Erstwhile GMSA brand wins Car of the Year

Awkwardness is amplified by an award. After decades of considering, ignoring, then reconsider, GM finally sold its ailing German brand Opel in March.

The sale of Opel to the French PSA Group will grate German national sentiment, but for South African motor industry types, it laced the 2017 Car of the Year award with a sticky coat of irony.

READ: A worthy winner? Opel Astra takes 2017 Car of the Year crown

With Opel winning the title, it’s Astra being crowns South African Car of the Year, GMSA staff are in a particularly delicate situation: how do you leverage the marketing mana of a COTY win, for a brand you are set to divorce? Not easy. At all. Figuring that one out.

Can’t imagine it will please dealers either, having a Car of the Year on inventory for ordering, but unable to commit to customer for how much longer that will be the case.

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