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BenCee

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  1. BenCee

    Take train got discount?

    I was reading online that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) was considering giving rebates to commuters who travel on the MRT system during non-peak hours, to alleviate the rush hour overcrowding on our public transport system. While I applaud the effort and consideration (could this be their way of making up for the recent MRT breakdowns?), I was thinking to myself, what a ridiculous idea. I mean, come on. Do these people actually think that the public takes public transport during peak hour just to be irritating? Of course not! Public transport (and also the roads) is overcrowded because everybody needs to be at the same place at the same time! It's not like people can decide, "Oh, I want to wake up at 6am in the morning and get into work early", or, "Oh, I want to go to work a bit later today to avoid the jams." Especially those who live quite a distance from their workplaces, they would have already spent quite a considerable amount of time accounting for their long journeys. To ask them to head out even earlier would, frankly, be ridiculous. It's so much more than simply asking people to not take public transport at certain times, and penalising financially those who do have to travel at peak periods. There are so many fundamentals to look at. Flexible working schedules, decentralisation of workplaces, managing the population, maintaining the transport system, etc etc. I just wish these people would not just look at the surface and apply arbitrary monetary incentives, and instead examine the underlying causes and get to the root of the problems.
  2. BenCee

    Track date with Audi

    Track days. An event where petrolheads, young and old alike, are let loose in their cars on a race track, mostly to let off some steam that they can't release in everyday driving. Although I had some track experience earlier this year when Audi invited me for their Sportscar Experience in the R8 V10, I had never been to an open track day (The R8 V10 drive was done in a controlled environment, with instructors on hand to lead). So, when Audi (again. Aren't they nice people?) asked me if I wanted to join them on a track day adventure with the RS5, I certainly couldn't say no. For Singaporeans, the most obvious place to do a track day was Sepang. It was the nearest 'proper' racetrack to us, even though it's a good three hour drive from our sunny island. So, our day began early, as I joined Audi Singapore's Public Relations Manager Lee Nian Tjoe on the drive up North. We set off at around 7am, way too early for a Saturday morning. After clearing Customs at Tuas (which took a while as we had to jostle with the weekend crowd driving up as well), we opened the beans as we pointed the RS5 towards the direction of KL. True to the car's performance ability, it dispatched the journey with little fuss, and we reached our destination in just under three hours. Managing Director of Audi Singapore, Reinhold Carl, joined us after taking a flight from Singapore (which was delayed, meaning the car actually got to KL first. Score!), and once trackside, we parked the RS5 alongside the specially-prepared S4 trackcar that Audi regularly brings up to Sepang for such occasions. After a safety briefing (which was compulsory for all) and an orientation drive (I was a newbie after all), we were finally allowed to go out on our own. I was naturally cautious, but both experienced Audimen (that's a nice term) taught me plenty about track driving, about finding the right lines, braking and acceleration points, and etc. I didn't drive particularly fast, because 1) it was my virgin experience, 2) I was driving an almost $400,000 sports coupe and 3) I'm timid by nature. But it was still fun learning in a car as exciting as an RS5. With its Quattro all-wheel-drive, it was possible for one to overcook the limit and still not be killed (metaphorically of course). The most thrilling part though, was getting to go out on track in both the S4 track car and RS5, with Mr Carl at the wheel and me being passenger. It was then that I was truly shown the difference between an amatuer everyday driver (me) and a true motorsports enthusiast. I now have newfound respect for Mr Carl after laps of riding shotgun with the affable German, who displayed some rather awesome skills at late braking, four-wheel-drifting and sheer bravado. The weather started to open up as our session came to an end, and even though it was short (just about three hours), it was quite an enlightening experience. Given a free track, and enough time and guidance, I suppose I can make a decent fist of a lap at Sepang. But as Mr Carl pointed out during a chat, fitness is also important if one is to really cut it, because driving for hours on a track (especially one like Sepang, where the weather can be unforgiving) is quite taxing on the human body. And if there are other cars on the track, intense concentration is also very important as well, just to avoid crashing. So your mental and physical state has to be on top form to really be a competitive race driver. Looking at myself, I doubt that can really happen. But oh well. At least I had a go.
  3. BenCee

    Saab - Going, going, gone?

    The news that Saab has declared bankruptcy must have sent a tinge of sadness through any petrolhead's veins. After all, any car lover worth his salt wouldn't like to see a carmaker die, let alone one with the heritage of Saab. The Swedish brand has had a tumultuous year, with more ups and downs than a Taiwanese serial drama. But the latest news unfortunately seems to mark the end of this marque with almost 65 years of history. The sad bit is, it wasn't really Saab's fault in the first place. Most of the damage was done when Saab was under the ownership of General Motors, whose American corporate mismanagement in the 90s and early 2000s left the poor Swedes to soldier on with one main model for over a decade, the 9-5. Then it tried to rectify things by hastily offering rebadged versions of other GM cars, which was a ploy that failed terribly, and further eroded consumer confidence in the brand. By the time GM disposed of Saab in 2009, the brand was already on its last legs, as it struggled to seek new buyers and funding. The new 9-5, launched in 2010, offered a glimmer of hope, but new owners Spyker simply could not cope with the financial burden, and once again, tried to entice investors into the brand. After plenty of to-ing and fro-ing between several parties, Saab looked to have been handed a lifeline when two Chinese companies showed their interest. But just when it looked like sunny days were back again in Trollh
  4. BenCee

    MRT Breakdowns - What should be done?

    Although I don't really take public transport often nowadays due to my job, the recent chain of MRT breakdowns over the past week left me feeling appalled and disgusted. For a country that prides itself on efficiency and having a world-class public transport system, having three major failures in a week when taxi fares were increased is purely and simply unacceptable. What then, should be done to help Singaporeans restore faith in our Mass Rapid Transit rail system, which has seen its credibility sink faster than the Titanic? For all the talk about punishing the operator with fines and getting the CEO to step down, what I feel should be done is something which will truly benefit all commuters. SMRT should be made to lower their fares, as 'punishment' for the failures. This way, commuters win, and SMRT will be sending out a strong message that it is not all about profits, and can greatly reverse its dreadful PR debacle (remember the "Income Opportunity" taxi message?) that has resulted from events from the past week. Of course, there will be cynics who decry that it will never happen, but that doesn't mean that we, the paying public, should just sit around and be bullied into submission when our one and only rail network operator slips up so horrifically. If enough people make enough noise, and some people put those words into action, maybe, just maybe, something will be done about it. Let's just hope that things like these never happen again on our island. I've said my piece and offered my suggestion. What about you guys?
  5. BenCee

    BMW 1-Series Driving Experience

    I have to admit, I have never actually been on a driving road trip up North before in my (admittedly short) life. So when BMW offered us the chance to drive its new baby, the 1-Series, up to Kuala Lumpur, I was understandably a bit excited. I mean, city driving in Singapore is one thing. But long distance driving on the highways are a different kettle of fish altogether. The day began at BMW's showroom at Alexandra Road. Us journalists, not quite used to early mornings, dragged ourselves to Performance Motors, where we were given a briefing and breakfast to prep us for the trip. After the run-through, we were finally introduced to the fleet of eight 1-Series cars, neatly split into four each of the 116i Urban Line (in blue) and 118i Sport Line (Red) And then we were off... We aimed towards the Tuas Second Link, and before long, we had cleared Immigration, and were now on Malaysian soil. The convoy made its way through Skudai and Pedas/Linggi, with the first part of the trip consisting of mostly highway driving. This enabled us to experience the true efficiency of the new 1-Series, in its Eco Pro mode, designed to maximise BMW's EfficientDynamics philosophy. After about three hours of driving, the group stopped over at Port Dickson for lunch, to fuel up the hungry human tanks. The cars though were barely at half tank, with more than enough to complete the second part of the trip. After lunch, the convoy continued on its way, but this time, the 'Dynamic' part of BMW's EfficientDynamics were put to the test. The route from Port Dickson to Kuala Lumpur was driven through those notorious single lane Malaysian back roads, and in those challenging narrow winding corners, the 1-Series acquited itself well, tackling nearly everything that was thrown its way (including the usual tropical torrential shower, and a rather rude dump truck). We arrived at our hotel in KL in the evening, ready for a nice rest and dinner, and to give both us and the cars the chance to recharge and top up before the journey back. The drive back was similar, with the route in reverse, and just like that, my first long distance driving trip in Malaysia was done. I must say, it was quite an experience. Driving for such a long time over mostly monotonous roads requires quite a lot of concentration. But at the same time, it allows you to really stretch your machines, something which you can't really do in tiny Singapore. Would I do it again? Most definitely. But one thing I learnt is that preparation is vital. It's almost like running a marathon. You can't just decide to go do it. You have to plan and prepare for it. As for the 1-Series, I came away impressed. Driving wise, it coped well with the conditions, and in the corners, it actually felt a bit fun. I guess that's the BMW Experience for you. Special thanks to BMW Asia for the trip and pictures.
  6. Bugatti will showcase three special editions of its Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport at the Dubai International Motor Show. They say that money does not necessarily buy you taste. I'll leave you guys to judge based on these special edition Veyrons. This yellow one in particular looks rather, too bright, I must say. This blue and orange one is slightly better, although the interior is still a bit garish. This green one though, comes across as quite tasteful actually, in my opinion. What do you think?
  7. [extract] Online insurance company, DirectAsia.com, is issuing a challenge to motorists to find a cheaper quote on their car insurance elsewhere. Singapore's online insurer is so sure safe drivers won't find a better deal that they‟re promising to reimburse
  8. BenCee

    sgCarMart's Car of the Year 2011

    sgCarMart's Car of the Year is back for 2011, and it's bigger and better than ever with many more prizes to be won! This year, the contest has expanded to 21 categories. There are 17 main categories to cater for the huge plethora of new cars launched in the past year or so, as well as four special categories to recognise unique achievements, such as design, technological features and environmental-friendliness. There is also not one, not two, but THREE contests to enter, with prizes such as a MacBook Air, Ipod Nanos, GPS systems, In-Car Cameras, petrol vouchers and many many more! sgCarMart is going all out to reach out to voters this year, and aside from voting on the specially set-up COTY 2011 microsite, the public can also go to sgCarMart's Facebook page for more details and prizes. It promises to be an exciting contest, so vote now!
  9. BenCee

    ERP revised. Yay or nay?

    The Land Transport Authority (LTA) recently announced some good news with regards to Electronic Road Pricing rates recently. Firstly, the much derided night time ERP on the Northbound CTE has been abolished. From now on, the ERP gantry on the Northbound CTE before the Pan Island Expressway will operate until 8pm, like every other ERP gantry, instead of the ridiculous 10.30pm. And now, there is joy for those who take the same expressway Southbound towards town in the morning, as the LTA has announced reduced rates for the gantry before Braddell Road in the morning, going down from $2 to $1 between 8 and 9am. But is this really good news? On the surface, yes it is. I mean, any breaks that drivers get when it comes to cutting down driving costs has to be savoured and cherished, because they don't exactly come often. But there has been doubts raised already with regards to the reduction in ERP rates, especially in the evening. Some people forsee a return to congestion during that time, as motorists flood the CTE once again once the gantry has been turned off after 8pm. But others argue that it is their perogative as to whether they want to be stuck in a jam when going home anyway. Personally, it doesn't affect me directly as I don't travel on that particular route often, but I think it's yet another example of the Government's indecisiveness when it comes to traffic control. It appears that Singapore wants to go back to the days where cars are prohibitively expensive, but usage costs are reduced. Whether this will actually work to reduce congestion remains to be seen, especially with our island's population now nearly reaching double of what it was during the last time this happened (namely the 1990s). But it's certainly going to be interesting to see how the Government deals with Singapore's transport problems in the next few years ahead.
  10. BenCee

    BMW Xperience 2011 in Delhi, India

    BMW recently sent a few local journalists to Delhi for the BMW Xperience 2011, which was organised by BMW India to showcase its xDrive all-wheel-drive technology in a rugged environment. Having already experienced the wonders of BMW's xDrive technology as a passenger at the BMW Innovations Xpo back in September, it was time for us to take the wheel and try it ourselves on real, off-road conditions. We arrived at the event venue, which was set up in the typical slick BMW style. The off-road circuit was impressive as well. We were told that it was an abandoned construction site for a shopping mall, and BMW 'borrowed' the plot of land for the event. A series of menacing challenges awaited us. When we were finally allowed to go out on the circuit, we were given a choice of BMW X3, X5 or X6 models. There were plenty of opportunities to go round in all the cars. The hill-climb looked daunting, but the xDrive-equipped cars tackled it with no sweat. An in-car shot down the hill. Leading onto the 'water bed'. This sand bed obstacle near the end looked innocuous enough, but it was actually very tricky. But overall, the cars all managed to pull through, and proved once again the strength of the BMW xDrive system. It was most certainly an interesting experience, and it's nice to know that BMW's xDrive can easily get you out in sticky situations, should you need to. Special thanks to BMW once again for the trip to India.
  11. BenCee

    Driving in India

    I recently got back from a working trip to India, and I must say, for someone who has not been to India before, it truly was an eye-opener. If you are used to the orderly and efficient system that is Singapore, it is most definitely a shock to the system once you've experienced Indian traffic. (For the record, I got the picture above from the Internet. I was too shell-shocked during my trip to take any photos of Indian traffic myself) For one, Indians never slow down. NEVER. They blast through intersections and zoom out of side roads without any care for other traffic. The prevailing attitude seems to be, "Others be damned, I'm going and that's that." Yet somehow, amazingly, nobody gets into an accident. It appears that they are all prepared for someone to appear from nowhere, and are ready for evasive action. (Although, having said that, the number of cars you see with damaged body panels indicate that there is a fair share of contact in Indian traffic). On the highways, lane discipline is non-existent. Every conceivable space on the road is occupied, and you'll find yourself squeezed between other cars, motorbikes, tuk tuks, buses and whatever forms of transport they use there. The gaps they leave you are incredibly fine. Nobody uses their wing mirrors either. They actually fold their mirrors in to avoid getting them knocked off. Talk about unnecessary. Horns and high beams are common usage items, and the rule seems to be bigger is boss. Which I supposed helped a bit in the 7-Series that we were in. Good luck to you though if you find yourself in a Tata Nano, or worse, one of those flimsy three-wheeled tuk tuks that serve as taxis in Delhi. And if you're a pedestrian trying to cross the road, you'd better have balls made of solid, cast iron steel. It really is something that has to be experienced in person, and honestly, after a trip to India, you'll appreciate Singapore's traffic conditions much better, despite our supposed flaws. Be thankful the next time you come across someone who makes you mad on the roads. It could be worse, you know.
  12. BenCee

    Circle Line is now complete, but...

    The MRT Circle Line opened fully on 8 October, promising to bring even greater convenience to residents in the south-west, where the latest connection serves. However, it appears that even with the new MRT line, it just isn't enough to cope. OK, we have to put it into context. The Straits Times attributes the crowds to unexpected demand when the stations first opened. However, the point still stands that, depsite all the efforts, Singapore's public transport is still unable to keep up with the rapidly rising population. It puts commuters in a bind, because it feels like Singaporeans are being increasingly squeezed out, whether on the roads or on public transport. A thread has popped up on MyCarForum, sparked by a letter to The Straits Times (again) from a commuter who claimed to have sold his car when the Circle Line opened. And it raised an interesting question: Do you think our public transport is good enough to replace private transport for most people as of yet? It most certainly is an interesting topic for debate and discussion.
  13. And so, the LTA has announced the news that we were all expecting. The annual vehicle growth rate will be lowered from the current 1.5% to 1.0% in 2012, and then to 0.5% in 2013 and 2014. It's a topic that has been discussed previously, but the full implications of the reduction will only be known once it comes into force next year. However, LTA claims that it is unlikely to have a huge impact on COE supply (hence prices) when the measures kick in, as it expects a rise in vehicle deregistration during this period, hence balancing out the cut in growth. Whether this will pan out to be the case, remains to be seen. But it's encouraging that Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has been listening to feedback, and considering all viewpoints before announcing any drastic implementations, as can be seen here. Let's hope that Singapore's transport system can finally move on to become world class, whether it be public or private transport.
  14. BenCee

    Less cars on the road?

    By now, you would have read the news that the Government is planning to reduce the vehicle population growth of Singapore. And of course, you would have known the potential implications this will have on car (and COE) prices in Singapore. It's a topic as old as the COE system itself, but it's still one that rages on regardless. I don't begrudge the Government for doing what it is doing, because let's face it, Singapore is a small country. We cannot accomodate that many cars on our roads. But it's the fickle indecision of the Government that bugs me. What do they really want to curb, ownership or usage? I wish they would make up their minds and set the true agenda, so that we can all be clear what the situation is and adapt accordingly. I personally am for curbing usage. Let people own cars, but make them think twice about driving. One way to do this is to make it inconvenient to drive into town. Not just expensive, but inconvenient and troublesome. I mean, if you are going to encounter closed roads and trouble finding (cheap) parking, wouldn't you seriously reconsider driving into the CBD? And thus cars will be free for use around the surburbs on the weekends or during off-peak hours for family or social activities. Of course, the public transport system to and from town has to be vastly improved from the current situation for this to work, so the onus is on the relevant Government bodies to think about how they want to go about implementing this effectively, if they do consider it. I'm sure people have their own opinions, so I'll be happy to hear them.
  15. BenCee

    The end of a busy week

    The end of the Singapore Grand Prix also marks the end of a very hectic week for all in the automotive and media industry. Over the past couple of weeks, we have been swamped, with numerous events and press conferences to attend in the lead up to the big race here. While some might be sad after the night race, I'm sure more than a few others would breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the crazy schedule that we have to contend with lately. Over here at sgCarMart, we are no less busy, with the unprecedented number of events stretching our resources to the limits. And, being short of manpower, we had to sacrifice a few of these as we simply could not split ourselves into multiple parts to be at various places at the same time. Nevertheless, we endeavoured to bring our readers as much as we can, to the best of our ability. We were there, for example, to catch Michael Schumacher's first public appearance in Singapore. Then we caught up with David Coulthard, and some of the Red Bull Racing team, at the Infiniti Dynamic Drive event at Changi. We also dropped by the TechArt Party by Autovox, where Force India driver Adrian Sutil made an appearance, unfortunately too late for us to take a photo. But there were lovely Porsches around nonetheless. As the race weekend neared, the events started to ramp up, and we were lucky enough to visit The Podium Lounge at the Ritz Carlton just before the race, thanks to Aston Martin. Finally, one day before the race, we managed to catch Lotus-Renault GP's press conference, with the team consisting of Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna, test driver Fairuz Fauzy, team principal Eric Boullier, and Lotus chief Dany Bahar. And of course, the race itself. Obviously we didn't manage to catch every single event, because as mentioned, we only have so many of us, but still, all in all, it was an exhilarating experience. A bit like a roller coaster ride actually. Or an F1 race.
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