As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on what’s happened in the world of motoring.
There was plenty to grab the headlines for enthusiasts but motoring stories went further than that this year.
One 2015 story had the car industry making international headlines when Volkswagen was caught cheating official exhaust emissions tests. The company had been building a programme into its cars’ engine computers that enabled them to give false readings in emissions tests.
The device could tell when certain diesel-powered cars were undergoing emissions testing. It then told the engine computer to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions to a legal level. When the cars were on the road, it returned those emissions to unacceptable.
Millions of cars that used VW diesel engines worldwide were affected, 1.2m of them in the UK, with Audi, SEAT and Skoda also affected. The fall-out has been messy. There have been lawsuits and VW has had to come up with a fix to enable its engines to return legal NOx emissions while on the road. It’s expected to cost the company billions of pounds to fix people’s cars and billions more in compensation.
More importantly for VW, which has aspirations to become the world’s biggest car maker, its UK sales fell by 20% in the wake of the scandal.
Top Gear goes out with a bang
In March this year, the popular Top Gear TV series imploded after a ‘fracas’ between Jeremy Clarkson and a producer. The presenter was suspended from the BBC and his contract was subsequently not renewed.
Fellow presenters Richard Hammond and James May and executive producer Andy Wilman then left the show too.
The Beeb is planning to reinvent the popular programme with Chris Evans as the main presenter. Clarkson, Hammond, May and Wilman have reunited to produce an all-new car show for Amazon Prime and its video streaming service.
Driverless cars power ahead
2015 was the year when the autonomous or driverless car really seemed to accelerate into the fast lane. The British Government revealed that it was investing heavily in the technology to enable the UK to be at the forefront of driverless car development.
Despite the advances, there are still plenty of questions that need answering about driverless cars
Test cars are expected to be on our roads in January 2016 but we’re still some way behind the US. Google claims its driverless cars have racked up more than 300,000 miles.
Despite the advances, there are still plenty of questions that need answering, such as who is responsible if a driverless car is involved in an accident. Volvo is the first carmaker to say it will accept all liability, but lawyers argue it’s not as straightforward as that.
Paperwork problems: driving licence changes for 2015
The paper counterpart to the driving licence was abolished this year. The idea was that it could be out of date as soon as it was issued. By putting everything online, it cuts down on paperwork for the DVLA and theoretically ensures whoever needs to access your licence details – hire car companies for example ‑ has the most current information.
However, having to set up a code to allow third parties to access your driving licence was a tricky sell to drivers, particularly as the system came in just before the summer holidays. All in all it wasn’t a stellar year for the DVLA. Its new online MOT site crashed, causing problems for traders. And the online MOT history website was taken down for weeks while the DVLA built a replacement. Then there were the increasing numbers of drivers being wrongly fined for not having road tax, a legacy of 2014’s decision to abolish the familiar windscreen-mounted tax disc.
And the best new cars of 2015 were…
As ever, there were some fantastic cars launched in 2015. Our favourites? For sheer out-there looks it had to be the Ford GT. As beautiful as any exotic Italian brand, the GT is a stunner from any angle. And then there was the Ferrari 488 GTB. In a radical departure, it was turbo charged. But it looked the part and was just as special to drive as anything that’s gone before it.
And for ‘normal’ car buyers? It has to be the Mazda MX-5. The small roadster has always been a back-to-basics kind of car but Mazda took the latest generation model a step further: it’s smaller, lighter, and even better handling than anything that’s gone before it.
For family car buyers, Ford’s new S-Max took some beating. And Land Rover’s Discovery Sport and reinvented Volvo XC90 have proved smash hits in the hugely popular SUV category.