Most of the cars that AutoSpeed tests are provided free of charge by the car manufacturer or importer. In each state a dealer is given the task of looking after the press cars, with this process orchestrated by the PR department of the manufacturer or importer – they tell the dealer that a particular journalist is to pick up a car on a certain date. The cars are owned by the manufacturer or importer (not the dealer) but the dealer maintains them.
In the case of Peugeot, the importer is Sime Darby Automobiles Australia Pty Ltd, trading as Peugeot Automobiles Australia. Mathew McAuley is that company’s Public and Customer Relations Manager. In my home state of Queensland, the press car dealer is City Peugeot.
With the increasing public interest in diesels, I thought it was time we at AutoSpeed drove some more cars equipped with these engines so I contacted Peugeot to arrange some press cars. They duly made available a 407 HDi and then, subsequently, a 307 HDi. I picked up the 407 HDi from City Peugeot (or actually, from that company’s pre-delivery centre) and drove off for the week.
In 1999 we tested a 406 HDi on a South Australian country drive and raved about that car’s fuel economy and long distance prowess. Seven years later – now with a wife, 20 month old toddler and living just inland from the Gold Coast – I decide to do something similar. So we loaded the car up with baby seat, pram - and all the other gear that’s now an apparent necessity - and headed off. We intended being away two nights and pointed the Peugeot’s very reclined windscreen towards Toowoomba. We arrived there at lunchtime and then headed northwards to Kingaroy.
The roads we traversed are absolutely typical of Australia – a stretch of freeway, good four lane road, then two lane bitumen with bumps and dips and patches. And the 407 HDi wagon simply didn’t impress. (You’ll read why in a moment.) In fact, the car was so irritating that we decided to stay away only one night, on the second day driving from Kingaroy to the Sunshine Coast and then back home to the Gold Coast.
The rest of the week flew past and then it was time to return the car – a 100km drive. I was running late that morning so after removing the baby seat and oddments that still remained from the trip, I had time only to sweep out some crumbs by hand and then return the car.
It’s always interesting returning a press car because the dealer’s salesman will often ask: “How was it?” Normally, there’s a mix of good and bad points that can be made but in the case of the 407 HDi, the points I strongly made to the young salesman were all negative. As part of that discussion I physically showed him many of the car’s deficiencies to which he replied something along the lines of: “We’re so close to the cars that we don’t see a lot of these points.”
As I left I said with a slightly ironic grin: “Good luck selling these things!”
Late that afternoon, the following email arrived from Mathew McAuley, Public and Customer Relations Manager, Peugeot Automobiles Australia.
I am sorry to say that the 407 you recently returned is not in a condition that we find acceptable.
The car has been damaged as you can see from the photos attached, and while we expect you to treat the car as your own, this courtesy does not extend quite as far as you obviously expect it to.
No doubt you didn't like the car judging by your comments to the staff at City Peugeot, but you may like to keep in mind that just about every motoring journalist in Australia has had very good things to say about the car. And as the 407 is one of the most popular European cars in its segment, we are indeed having plenty of luck selling these things.
It is clearly no longer in our interests to provide you with access to our press fleet given the treatment you have shown our cars over a period of time.
Public and Customer Relations Manager
Sime Darby Automobiles Australia Pty Ltd
t/as Peugeot Automobiles Australia
ABN 26 000 426 282
The attached photos were:
A detached rubber strip along the bottom edge of the front bumper...
..and some marks around where the baby seat had been mounted...
.. a mark left by – I suspect – a tiny spill from a drink consumed on the trip...
...and a scrape under a corner of the bumper/undertray.
This is my emailed reply:
I am disappointed that you have chosen to take this step.
With regard to the condition of the car, I am prepared to accept the scrape on the underside of the front bumper is of my doing - I don't recall that occurring but in any long country Australian drive on secondary roads (just under 800 km) such an outcome is certainly possible. The slightly misplaced under-bumper strip I noticed as soon as I reached home after picking up the car. However, that in itself is a 100km drive - including bumpy country roads - so again that may have occurred while I had the car.
As I may have caused these defects, I am happy to pay to have them remedied.
However, the mark around the gearshift indicator and the mark on the back seat (where a baby seat had been installed) will both wipe off with a damp cloth. I apologize that I did not clean the car prior to its return.
With regard to your comment about other journalists' views of the car, I cannot comment on their observations. However, I can list some of the negatives I found in the car. I am quite happy to publish in the review a specific Peugeot response to each of these points:
More subjectively, I'd also suggest the following:
- The ride is poor
- The handling lacks the fluid understeer/oversteer balance that in the past Peugeots were known for
- In some situations the NVH is inferior to diesel competitors
I think that the car's good points include the equipment level provided at the price, the steering (especially the feel around centre), the aerodynamic stability, the auto headlights, the excellent crash test results, and the matching of the transmission and engine.
I reiterate: I am willing to pay to have the scrape repaired and I welcome a Peugeot response to the points 1-11 listed above.
It is your prerogative to provide or not provide cars for tests as you wish. However, I am pleased to continue to work as an utterly independent journalist who is prepared to call the shots exactly as I see them, highlighting the good and bad points of cars that I drive and then drawing an overall conclusion from them. I think that impartiality and bluntness show very clearly in the nine new car tests we have previously done on Peugeots:
These include tests that were very favourable and others that were unfavourable.
You are right: I didn't much like the 407 HDi wagon; the points listed above show clearly my justifications for that opinion. On the other hand, I thought the original Peugeot 206 GTi a very good car indeed; similarly, the reasons for that judgment are clearly outlined in that story.
To imply that all models from a car company are wonderful is to defy rationality: no one in their right mind would suggest that all the products of any company in the world are without fault, or in fact are even of equal merit. In fact, in the case of the 407 HDi, one can be quite certain that subsequent updates will be billed as having improvements over this car: how can that be the case if this car is in fact without negatives?
My job is to critically assess the cars that I drive and express that opinion without fear or favour.
Make Up Your Own Mind
We’ve covered the deficiencies of the 407 HDi wagon in our test (see Peugeot 407 HDi Touring ) but in case you missed that, here they are again:
The front pillars....
...and the sensor for the auto windscreen wipers.
The LCD screen normally...
...and what it looks like when you’re wearing polarising sunglasses. (This photo was actually taken through a pair of sunglasses with the screen unchanged from the above pic.) In addition to the trip computer, this screen is also used for the climate control and audio system.
The increments on the oil temperature gauge (try to work out by eye what they mean!)...
...the passenger side electric window switch that can’t be reached ...
...and a real world result of using the lift-up rear blinds. (This happened to my wife on the trip and I pulled over to take this photograph immediately after it occurred.)
...the glovebox (complete with its big black box)....
...and the rear space with child seat in place. In fact, I wish I’d taken a pic of an adult sitting in there with the front seats set for adults.
You’ll have to take my word for the weird (and very driver distracting) lag in the action of the fan speed control knob, but you can see for yourself the lack of an air-conditioning on/off button. Instead you need to enter a menu structure to turn off the air con – almost impossible for the driver to achieve without taking multiple glances away from the road. (Not to mention completely impossible if the driver is wearing polarising sunglasses and so can’t read the LCD...)
With regard to fuel economy, in 1999 we pushed the manual transmission 406 HDi sedan quite hard. That drive was also conducted on typical Australian roads, from main highway to secondary road bumpy bitumen. Over 1030 kilometres we averaged an astonishingly good 5.9 litres/100km – see The Parsimonious Peugeot.
In the drive of the 407 HDi 6-speed auto wagon, where I pedalled far more gently over similar types of roads, we averaged 6.6 litres/100, or 12 per cent worse fuel economy than the 406. Peugeot list the city fuel consumption of the 407 diesel wagon as 10.1 litres/100km; in 1999 in the 406 we achieved 6.7 litres/100 in city conditions – some 33 per cent better. Whichever way you play it, it seems unambiguous that the 407 diesel gets poorer fuel economy than its predecessor.
And, given that the absolute dominant reason that people in Australia buy diesel engine cars is fuel economy, that’s a major negative.
The ride and handling of the 407 HDi wagon were also disappointing. In the weeks before the 407 I had a number of Mitsubishi 380 press cars – both with and without sports suspension. The 380 is a slightly larger front-wheel drive that’s quite a lot cheaper than the 407. The 380 with standard suspension rode better than the 407 and handled better, despite not having stability control. The sports suspension 380 had a similar ride to the 407 but handled far better. (In fact with its fantastic throttle control of the oversteer/understeer balance, the sports suspension 5-speed manual 380 is actually reminiscent of old Peugeot handling philosophy...) I haven’t driven a BF Falcon on my local roads (I’ve only driven them interstate) but I believe the Falcon rides much better than the Peugeot. The VZ Commodore wagon I tested locally definitely rode better than the Peugeot and had very impressive handling – on a dry road, at least.
Once – say back in 1999 with the 406 – such ride and handling comparisons of the Peugeot with locally manufactured cars would have been laughable. Simply, the old Peugeot suspension characteristics of a fluid ride mixed with great handling have been lost.
So, interior design, ride and handling, fuel economy – all have major negatives.
But what would Peugeot representative Mathew McAuley have to say about my email? Well, you can read that for yourself.
I am not seeking reimbursement for the damage, it was a courtesy to let you know it had occurred.
Obviously we would expect damage to be pointed out to us when the car is returned or preferably when it actually occurs. As you would appreciate we often have tight turn around on press cars, and as such as much notice as possible is required in order to take steps to honor ongoing bookings. I also reiterate that while we expect cars to be used during the week long loan, we also expect them to be returned in a reasonable condition.
I dont [sic] think I questioned or referred to your right to make an independent assessment of the cars you drive. That is a given, but I do believe you have been particularly hard on our product, and while I respect your right to do so I do not have to like it.
I have no interest in responding to your list of negatives, or positives in fact of the car. Other than to say some is [sic] fair comment, but most I disagree with - and just for interests sake my company car which I live with day in and day out with a family of 5 is usually a 407 diesel Touring.
You have a booking for the 307 Touring HDi for June 22 to 29 which we will fulfill, however I would seek an undertaking that the vehicle will be well cared for.
So, one day “It is clearly no longer in our interests to provide you with access to our press fleet” yet a few days later access will be granted to a previously booked press car.
One day a very strong implication that withdrawal of press cars is being premised around negative published tests and my comments to the salesman (the trivial damage to the car is clearly a red herring), to a few days later an acknowledgement of my right to make and publish an independent assessment.
A car company “that has no interest” in responding to specific, listed criticisms of one of their models but then says an unspecified number are “fair comment” - does the latter mean Mr McAuley agrees with them?
Then there’s the throwaway line from Mr McAuley that he drives a 407 diesel wagon – but there’s no mention of the enormous vested interest he has in driving a Peugeot product. One of the salesmen at City Peugeot drives a Peugeot 307 and another drives a Peugeot 406. When the latter salesman previously sold Land Rovers, he told me he drove a Land Rover. Hell, what a surprise.
I will treat the 307 HDi as I have the many dozens of press cars I have driven in the last fifteen years: that is, using the car as widely and industriously as possible for the week in which I have it while at the same time taking of it greater care than I would one of my own vehicles.
However, I am rather confused. You stated in a previous email that: “It is clearly no longer in our interests to provide you with access to our press fleet given the treatment you have shown our cars over a period of time”. Without any discussion ever having previously occurred with regard to vehicle damage, I could only assume that “the treatment you have shown our cars over a period of time” referred to previously published negative road tests.
If this is not the case, and I have offered to pay for any damage that you have found on the 407 HDi, I an unsure of what the problem is.
On that basis, in addition to the 307 HDi, I’d like to request access to the 407 HDi twin turbo V6 that City Peugeot has told me is now available in Brisbane as a press car.
Back came the response:
The Coupe is a low volume car for us and is only available for a limited time on my fleet.
Unfortunately this will preclude me from making it available to you, as due to the buyer profile I am only targeting specific outlets given the time frame I am working with.
At this point I thought we may as well quit beating around the bush:
Can you specifically state what the situation is with regard to Peugeot press cars being made available to me in the future?
And back came PR gobblygook:
That, as always, is to be determined on a case by case basis.
If we have a new model and we feel that a loan is appropriate for your outlets then we will be in touch.
As Public and Customer Relations Manager for Peugeot Automobiles Australia, Mathew McAuley’s job revolves around generating positive public perceptions of Peugeots. City Peugeot’s reason for existence is to profitably sell Peugeots. Clearly, both have a vested interest in seeing the production of media road tests that endorse the vehicles with which they are commercially involved.
On the other hand, it is of no benefit to me whether a road test is positive or negative – I have absolutely no financial interest in the tone of the assessment.
Minor damage of road test vehicles – windscreen stone chips, small under-bumper scrapes, parking door dings – is common. More major damage is certainly not unknown – fact, while we at AutoSpeed have never done so, many a car has been written-off during a road test. Never in my experience have press cars been withdrawn from a journalist for these reasons alone.
Perhaps then you’d like to draw your own conclusions as to why “It is clearly no longer in our interests to provide you with access to our press fleet given the treatment you have shown our cars over a period of time” – and why this then subsequently got watered-down to the availability of Peugeot press cars being “...determined on a case by case basis” .... which you can be sure means the same thing.
At the moment Peugeot has lost its way, producing cars with clear and obvious design deficiencies and not progressing in the manner that the debut of the HDi diesel would have led one to expect. But perhaps the new 207 will be the car to re-establish Peugeot’s credibility? I’ve been driving cars for long enough to know that could easily be the case – or, alternatively, the new model could be a stinker.
But here at AutoSpeed I don’t think we’ll be finding that out for quite a while...