CAP’s manufacturer relationships manager, scours the globe for the week’s insider fleet intelligence.
Went to the LDV Maxus factory on the outskirts of Birmingham with our forecast manager for commercial vehicles, Ken Brown, who worked there up until two years ago.
It’s a good number of years since I last visited the plant, too. The exterior of the building has not changed – it is still very Victorian schoolhouse – and the factory is steeped in history.
Originally a World War One ordnance factory belonging to Vickers, it was then taken over by William Morris in the late 1920s and then built military vehicles, mines and the Horsa glider.
The interior and new processes were, in Ken’s words, a “shock” to him, and to me.
Things have changed beyond recognition, and it is all thanks to Russian owner GAZ, which bought the company last year.
The paint shop is state-of-the-art, too.
It builds 78 vehicles per day, with many more sent in kit-form to other countries in crates.
We went into the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department where a number of vehicles were being finished by hand in a variety of guises, including mobile post offices, police vans, ambulances, drop-sides and tippers.
The line also now produces vehicles that previously had to go its SVO department, which improves quality and decreases build time.
An interesting day, where we saw flat pieces of steel at one end and a variety of finished vehicles at the other.
Down to Watford to see the Peugeot Bipper – a new concept from the manufacturer, and using shared parts and design with Citroën and Fiat.
The Bipper measures 3.86 metres long – shorter than a Peugeot 207 – but has a 610kg payload with a 2.5 cubic metre loadspace.
It can carry goods that are 1.5 metres long but this increases to 2.5 metres with the passenger seat folded flat.
There will be two models available when it goes on sale on June 1: Urban and Urban Plus, with a choice of two engines: 1.4 HDi 70bhp with CO2 emissions of 119g/km, and a 1.4-litre 75bhp petrol. Prices are expected to start from around £8,000.
Down to Jerez in Spain to drive the new BMW 1 Series Convertible, the fourth variant in the family following on from the five and three-door hatchbacks, and the Coupé.
The Convertible is BMW’s first compact soft-top for more than 30 years. But it has certainly been worth the wait.
It oozes quality, has a good choice of engines and a fantastic roof system which goes up or down in 22 seconds while travelling at up to 31mph.
We drove a 125i on a variety of roads and there was no body roll or shake and, more importantly, not one single squeak or rattle.
I spoke to Kevin Rice, head of design for the 1 Series project, and he told me that it was always going to be a cloth-top – there was no intention of having a tin-top.
BMW expects to sell around 3,800 per year, with the 118i being the best seller, taking 35% of sales.
The BMW will soon be joined by another premium compact soft-top, the Audi A3 – like buses, you wait for ages, then two come along at the same time.