Hitting the road with a clutch of summer specials

Marques sometimes quietly launch cars when much of the automotive world is on holiday. We pick up a few

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 August, 2016, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 August, 2016, 10:05pm

Like other business sectors, the automobile industry switches into low gear during the summer holiday season, but several marques have sneaked in new models and deals this month. On August 10, Mercedes-Benz reminded bankers how its Sprinter vans can be customised into useful mobile sub-branches for transactions and meetings.

Goppingen Savings Bank uses a red Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 316 CDI to extend services to its largely local clientele, about 50km east of the German city of Stuttgart. Custom made with bullet-proofing, CCTV, and a GPS-tracked and alarmed “exclusive bank body” by Mercedes-Benz VanPartner Berger Fahrzeugbau, the van has the “real punch” of a 163-horsepower, four-cylinder diesel engine, and handles well”, says its mobile cashier Joachim Beck.

The van has Adaptive ESP, “the most innovative dynamic handling control system in its class” and on an oldie-friendly motorhome chassis that is 205mm lower than a standard Sprinter’s, the marque adds. The latest bank Sprinter also has roof-satellite links to its main branch, a staff washroom, and a lithium-battery that is charged overnight to provide generator-free office power.

Such van technology seems timely in the light of the KPMG 2016 Hong Kong Banking survey, which last month revealed how local institutions had a “difficult” 2015, as their “costs remain the main lever for profitability”.

Mercedes-Benz’s latest Sprinter technology might therefore tempt some Hong Kong banks and brokerages to cut more branches and instead deploy more service-replenishing vans, like their recession-hit Western counterparts. Britain’s NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, “have shut 380 branches in the past two years” and routed 39 vans to “642 communities”, according to thisismoney.co.uk.

Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong also revealed how Standard Chartered Bank has used a Sprinter as a mobile branch since last November. “The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has been utilised by different government departments and public sections [in Hong Kong] for many years,” says marque spokesman Samson Leung. “Unlike other commercial vehicles in the market, the 5.5-tonne Sprinter can be fitted with a special-purpose body to suit different customers.”

Volvo Hong Kong launched the V60 Polestar estate (HK$799,800) and S60 Polestar saloon (HK$749,800) at its renovated Gloucester Road showroom this month. Polestar is the marque’s tuning arm and both cars have a 367hp four-cylinder engine with turbo and supercharger promising 470Nm of torque, 100km/h in less than five seconds, and a top speed of 250km/h. The V60 Polestar looks sleek in cyan, and a modified version became a World Touring Car Championship safety car in April.

Audi Hong Kong this month revealed it was shipping in 30 more units of the A3 Sportback e-tron, with pre-orders on the batch starting from HK$399,900. The 204hp hybrid has a combined range of 940km and a top speed of 222km/h on 17-inch wheels. Its electric range is 130km/h and petrol consumption is 1.7 litres per 100km, the marque says. Critics might question the need for hybrids, in increasingly electric-friendly, tiny Hong Kong, but “range anxiety” is perfectly normal as plug-ins take hold, and the A3 Sportback e-tron can get you home on petrol if you forget to recharge for commutes.

Nissan seems in overdrive in Rio, where it has supplied 4,200 cars transporting 10,000 participants in seven models at the 2016 Summer Olympics. This month it launched the two prototypes, the Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered prototype, which can run for “over 600km” on bioethanol electric power. Based on the plug-in Nissan e-NV200, the SOFC runs on 100 per cent ethanol or ethanol-blended water and offers EV operating costs “but with the driving range of a [petrol]-engine vehicle”, says Nissan, which makes more than 60 models under the Nissan, Infiniti and Datsun brands.

Nissan also presented its BladeGlider, an electric sports car with an aerodynamically narrow front, open roof and showy rear-hinged dihedral doors. Its 1+2 seat configuration offers more legroom and rear-view cameras behind the front wheels replace door mirrors. The 1,300kg model can reach 100km/h in under five seconds and top at 190km/h with 707Nm of torque, thanks to a 130kW motor on each rear wheel and the power of a high performance five-module lithium-ion 220kW (268hp) battery.

Talking of plug-ins, Volkswagen’s BUDD-e won the Concept Truck category for light commercial vehicles at the August 2 North American Concept Vehicle of the Year Awards, which were ultimately won by the Buick Avista in Plymouth, Michigan. The BUDD-e toured the mainland in June, but wowed geeks at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with a drive range of up to 533km, large displays and voice, touch and gesture controls.

On August 10, Range Rover revealed its most powerful model, the 550hp SVAutobiography Dynamic, will be sold in Britain in the last quarter of this year. The plush supercharged five-litre V8 is packed with the marque’s latest advanced driver assistance systems, and is expected to belt out 680Nm of torque and hit 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and top at 224km/h via a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.

Models range from the TDV6 Vogue for a staring price of £76,350 (HK$764,103) to the SVAutobiography Dynamic, from £132,800, and are identified by Graphite Atlas side vents, “Range Rover” name, grille and front bumper accents, red brake calipers and Brembo technology.