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Monday, December 29, 2003
Australian industry

During a previous visit to Australia, I learned that the local automobile industry is bigger than agriculture. This means that Australia makes more money from vehicle manufacturing than from wool, sheep, meat, and milk products combined. With this sort of pedigree, I thought it would be interesting to tell you a bit about my experience in relation to local automobile engineering.

Firstly, many of the TV advertisements for cars offer 'free air'. But air is usually free unless one is using breathing apparatus in a smoky or submarine environment. This puzzled me for a bit until I theorised that 'air' must be Aussie shorthand for 'air-conditioning'. Some of the Australian pieces of shorthand ('this arvo' for 'this afternoon', for example) I find acceptable but 'air' instead of 'air-conditioning' is pretty dismal. In the same vein, during one of my extremely rare difficult moments, I am inclined to take issue with manufacturers who sell vehicles with 'climate control'. One day, suitably fortified (with counsel's opinion, perhaps), I will ask during a demonstration drive 'OK, now make it rain.' And if the demonstrator pedantically points out that ‘climate control’ is not ‘weather control’, my response will be ‘OK, lets have a permanent Mediterranean climate (in the UK)’. Manufacturers who pervert the English language by calling 'air-conditioning' 'climate control' should be prosecuted. So too should heating & ventilating companies that style themselves 'environmental engineers'. The trade descriptions act should be used with vigour against such sweepingly misleading claims.

But, in the eating, how is the Australian pudding? The metaphor is particularly apt because my current (not currant) Australian-built vehicle is something of a pudding. It is a lump of gas-guzzling metal that has very few endearing features. First of all, it has a 3.5 litre engine. 'What does it do to the litre?' I asked the hire company manager. 'Sneer, sir,' she replied. And sneer it does too. Why on earth would anyone want to put a lump as big as that into a vehicle where the maximum speed limit is, within my purview, 110 kph? Often, it is much lower.

The vehicle concerned is a Mitsubishi Magna Verana (it should be 'Verucca') Awd. Could the 'Awd' bit be something to do with 'shock & awe'? Quite likely, I'm afraid, when it comes to trips to the petrol pump, especially the 'shock' bit. The car handles so badly - like custard on a lump of jelly - that one can see no purpose in its permanent four wheel drive, except to further deplete the World's energy resources. And it isn't particularly comfortable, either.

So is there any redeeming feature? No, but there are two useful gadgets to help one deal with the speed-limit-crazed Australian police. The first is a speed alarm that can be set to any speed. It bleeps when you exceed a pre-determined speed, most usefully set about two kph above the local speed limit. The second - cruise control - provides an additional defence against the pigs: you can set it exactly to the local limit. However, there is a down side to cruise control: as the handbook so niftily points out, using cruise control does not optimise one's petrol consumption; it noticeably spoils it further.

It looks as though I am stuck with this pretty appalling monster for the duration of my visit. I had intended to refer to it henceforth as 'the Verucca' because it's a pain somewhere but not in the foot (in the wallet, more likely). However, for once Microsoft's spellchecker came in handy, highlighting 'Verana', suggesting it might be 'Veranda'. How prescient! I don't know many spellcheckers that can spell, let alone drive a veranda but I think, for once, that I approve of the choice. 'Veranda' it is and that's being very charitable. Or should it really be verandah? See what I said about spellcheckers.

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