Welcome to my new motoring column.
Whilst many readers will be familiar with my motorsports career, I should explain that I've been involved in the broader motor industry world all my working life.
I'm proudly Irish by birth, but I started work at the age of 18 at a small specialist car manufacturer in the UK by the name of Panther Westwinds, later The Panther Car Company.
It was at Panther that I learned not only the basics of car building, but it also gave me a grounding in the commercial realities of running a small business in a volatile world. The turbulence of an oil crisis at the end of the 1970s, together with interest rate movements that make today's look like a walk in the park, combined to put Panther into receivership and then emerge under Korean ownership.
Those times taught me much, both positive and negative, that I could later parlay into the foundations of my own car sales business in 1986, based in the heart of London and dealing with buying and selling prestige cars around the world, with the emphasis very much on Asia.
I've subsequently sold tens of thousands of cars across approximately thirty different, predominantly right hand drive (as per Australia and the UK), countries.
I've also personally owned a huge spread of cars from Ferraris to Minis.
And now, in semi retirement, I continue to take a very keen interest in the motor industry around the world and the general motoring scene. Hence, I thought it would be fun to collaborate with the Torquecafe crew and try to add some alternative thoughts and angles to the ever changing motoring landscape that we find ourselves in today.
I am as passionate about cars and bikes in general as I am about motor sports. Hopefully that comes across in my columns. As with the Speedcafe column, I don't expect everyone to agree with what I have to say (in fact that would be downright boring), but I do hope to be entertaining and thought provoking from time to time.
As I write, I'm in the very western part of France as part of a month's holiday in Europe and this morning I drove to the local cafe in a 1980s Renault R4. Time to Google….
Forty years ago the R4 and the Citroen 2CV were the mainstays of rural life in this part of the world. Small, economical, comfortable and very slow! But a huge amount of fun.
Driving the Renault this morning only served to remind me of my long held belief that the average car today is, rather like me, too big, too heavy and therefore too inefficient in so many ways.
It's easy to design and build a heavy car. Designing and building a light and efficient car is challenging but surely is ultimately more satisfying?
Given that so much of our daily motoring is conducted within a small radius of home, smaller cars just make so much sense most of the time. They take up less space, consume less energy (in whatever form that is delivered), are easier to park, use fewer resources whilst being manufactured etc, etc.
And, importantly to me, a small car is often a light car and a light car generally handles better. One of my favourites over the last thirty years has been the original Lotus Elise. Lightness, simplicity and no intrusive technical aids combined to make the car superb to drive.
Of course, improved safety levels are a part of the general increase in vehicle weight recently. But this doesn't mean that we all need to be driving SUVs. It is astonishing to me that so many people are prepared to regularly pay 30+% more in fuel costs to drive a small or medium sized SUV over the equivalent hatchback that probably shares the same platform.
Consumers often kid themselves that SUVs are safer than the average car. The increased weight of an SUV, combined with an inevitably higher centre of gravity, reduces the dynamic capabilities of the vast majority of them. Whilst folk may feel more secure in a higher riding vehicle, most such vehicles are simply less stable in emergency situations than a conventional hatchback or wagon.
Here in rural France, there are far more smaller cars than in Australia. The death rate per million people is approximately the same as Australia, so it's hard to make a case for SUVs on safety grounds based on that especially given French traffic density is inevitability higher with a much larger population.
Should we have another fuel crisis at some point with substantial increases in fuel costs, I suspect that many of the small and medium sized SUVs will become liabilities. Furthermore, prolonged increases in fuel prices in real terms would undoubtedly lead to manufacturers returning to producing more efficient cars.
Maybe we'll all end up driving smaller cars again in the years to come, whether they're electric or internal combustion engine powered. Small doesn't have to mean boring, take the Toyota GR Yaris as a great example.
Pass the fromage s'il vous plait.