The updated Passat has electronic dampers for a softer ride, but soft sales have ensured SA drivers won’t get to experience it. Picture: SUPPLIED
The updated Passat has electronic dampers for a softer ride, but soft sales have ensured SA drivers won’t get to experience it. Picture: SUPPLIED

SA says cheers to the Passat

Just as the latest Passat is getting ready to have its coming-out party at the Geneva Motor Show in March, Volkswagen (VW) SA has decided to call time on the long-running model range.  

The Passat has been on the local market since June 1974 but VW finally decided to pull the plug after the mid-sized sedan sold only 157 units in 2018. It’s a tough time for sedans in general as modern car buyers increasingly flock to SUVs instead.

It wasn’t always that way, and in its late 1970s heyday the Passat sold 60,000 units over five years. It was discontinued in the mid 1980s and returned in the late 1990s but sales never really took off for the well-equipped but conservatively styled family sedan, with only 10,692 units sold between 1999 and 2018.

What partly sealed the Passat’s fate was the local introduction of the shapely new VW Arteon coupe-sedan in May 2018, which has outsold its more conservative stablemate (though it’s still a niche seller with 211 units sold since launch).

Had VW decided to sell the newly updated Passat being introduced in Europe, it would have opened up local buyers to some savvy new tech from VW, such as electronic dampers to improve ride quality, a Travel Assist partial autonomous driving system, as well as VW’s third-generation Modular Infotainment Matrix with a permanently integrated SIM card.

The latter enables the driver to use a mobile phone as a key to unlock and start the car, store vehicle settings in the cloud, receive improved navigation services with real-time information and have online voice recognition.

Boeing's Autonomous Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) prototype is shown during an inaugural test flight in Manassas, Virginia, US, last month. Picture: SUPPLIED
Boeing's Autonomous Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) prototype is shown during an inaugural test flight in Manassas, Virginia, US, last month. Picture: SUPPLIED

Boeing’s self-flying vehicle takes shape

“The future of mobility — moving goods, moving cargo, moving people — that future is happening now and it’s going to accelerate over the next five years and ramp up even more beyond that,” Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s president, chair and CEO told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland recently.

He was referring to the company’s flying-car prototype, reported to have “hovered briefly in the air” during its inaugural test flight. Fuelled by the revolution in autonomous technology and growing congestion, Boeing’s 9m aircraft — part helicopter, part drone and part fixed-wing plane — could change the face of the aerospace industry within the next decade.

Boeing is competing with Airbus, which is reported to have already conducted flying vehicle test flights involving the Volocopter and drone taxis powered by 18 rotors.

Other firms such as Slovakia’s AeroMobil have experimented with a stretch-limousine concept that can turn into a fixed-wing aircraft. But the growing concept is of vertical take-off and landing, in a bid to revolutionise urban transportation and parcel-delivery services.

Major hurdles to the vision include critical safety and regulatory issues to meld traditional roadway traffic with fleets of flying cars. Boeing is said to be working with a number of corporations to develop a traffic-management system for three-dimensional highways, as well as the regulatory framework in its mission to achieve crafts for two to four passengers with an 80km flying range.  

At age 97 Prince Philip decides it’s time to be permanently chauffeur-driven. Picture: REUTERS
At age 97 Prince Philip decides it’s time to be permanently chauffeur-driven. Picture: REUTERS

Britain’s Prince Philip gives up licence after crash

How old is too old to drive? For Prince Philip, the momentous age arrived at 97, and he’s voluntarily given up his driving licence after crashing his Land Rover in January.

Queen Elizabeth’s husband wasn’t injured in the crash with another car that took place on January 17 close to the royals’ Sandringham residence in the UK. But the other driver, a 28-year-old woman and her 45-year-old passenger were lightly injured when the Duke of Edinburgh pulled into the road in front of them. Her Kia T-boned his Freelander and caused it to flip onto its side.

Though Philip suggested the sun had dazzled him, the crash prompted him to declare that “after careful consideration” his driving days are behind him.

There is no legal age in Britain to stop driving, but drivers over 70 must renew their licences every three years.

One of the prince’s most famous car-based exploits was driving then-US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle to lunch at Windsor Castle during their visit to Britain in 2016, prompting Obama to quip: “I have to say, I have never been driven by a Duke of Edinburgh before, but I can report it was very smooth riding.”