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‘Mad Panic’ As Luxury Car Buyers Race To Beat New Tax

Luxury car dealers in Melbourne enjoyed an unnaturally stellar June following a soft year as car buyers race to buy before new taxes come into effect on Monday. Today is officially the last chance Victorian car buyers can avoid a potentially significant rise in the on-road cost of registering their cars thanks to a surprise new State Government tax announced in May’s State Budget.

Car dealers, already suffering from lackluster sales in light of Federal Election distractions and economic uncertainty, have had to manage customer frustration particularly among those who’ll face the unexpected cost on cars ordered, in some cases, months ago. There’s been “a mad panic this month” in the Melbourne showrooms of high-end car dealers as customers sought to beat the tax, according to Bobby Zagame, managing director of one of Victoria’s most prestigious automotive retailing businesses, the Zagame Group.

“It’s brought forward a lot of people,” Zagame says, saying brands such as Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Ferrari and Aston Martin have seen a particularly large uptick in sales. “It’s been great, but it’s only one month in a year,” he says. “The next three months are going to be tough.”

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Sales at Audi, considered a more accurate barometer of the average consumer, have continued to suffer already waning figures. “Customers are saying it’s not fair, that they’re not happy but they’ll have to accept and adjust,” he says. It might encourage some to register their cars interstate. From Monday, the car stamp duty levy is set to rise on a sliding scale from 5 per cent to up to 9 per cent on vehicles valued from $100,001. Under the changes, cars valued between $100,000 and $150,000 will face duty of $14 per $200 of market value ($7000), while vehicles worth more than that will face an additional $18 per $200 of market value ($9000). This is on top of 10 per cent GST and the federal government’s 33 per cent Luxury Car Tax (LCT) already charged on every dollar above $66,331. A $500,000 car is now expected to cost buyers an extra $19,000.

‘With [Victorian] infrastructure-cost blowouts and revenue down from property stamp duty, they have to find the money somewhere.’

Announcing the changes at the end of May, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas angered car industry players and consumers by suggesting those able to afford “luxury” vehicles are “not going to be particularly fazed by a slight increase in the rate of vehicle duty”. The Australian Automotive Dealer Association (AADA) has sought legal advice and considered High Court action to test the constitutionality of super-luxury stamp duties imposed by state governments. One view is that the taxes could be viewed as an excise and, as such, should be the province of Canberra under the constitution. Others in the industry are concerned about the obvious risk of the “contagion” effect of the tax being introduced in other states. Queensland had already moved first, lifting its registration tax by 2 per cent last year, while similar efforts to introduce the tax failed in NSW.

An AADA spokesman says after in weighing up the costs of legal action, the organisation is likely to take more of “an advocacy approach” to the issue by commissioning research on the new tax and its application to determine its likely effect on sales. Zagame described the move as a “straight money grab” from a soft target. “With [Victorian] infrastructure-cost blowouts and revenue down from property stamp duty, they have to find the money somewhere,” he says.

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Music auction hits a bum note

THE Companion is an enthusiastic if somewhat unskilled guitarist. He’s noodled around on various instruments for decades, never really progressing past a reasonable level of competence as a rhythm guitarist. But in the same way that my driving is probably pretty average and yet I idolise certain professional racing drivers, so does The Companion, as a pretty average guitarist, idolise some of the best players in the world.

Top of the list are Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani, David Gilmour, John Mayer (somewhat unfathomably), and a guy called Steve Rothery who’s in a band called Marillion, of whom no-one I know other than The Companion has ever heard.

(Somewhat tragically, several years ago, a call went out to Marillion fans in Sydney to gather at the Opera House to record a message to send to the band to convince them to tour Australia. As many as two dozen people turned up.)

Imagine The Companion’s anticipation, then, when Gilmour – of Pink Floyd fame – announced he was planning to sell 120-odd of his guitars. He could scarcely contain himself. Before we’d had a chance to even discuss it, The Companion had set up an account with the auction house, Christie’s, and was moving money between bank accounts to get enough in one place so he could have a tilt.

‘It’s another world out there, when an individual can pay more for a guitar than the vast majority of the planet’s population will pay for a house.’

I know how he felt. Many’s the time I’ve seen an auction of classic cars advertised and experienced that momentary flutter in my stomach when I imagine how I might feel behind the wheel of a classic de Tomaso or Bertone or Aston Martin or Bentley. And who was I to tell him it was a waste of money to buy a guitar he’d only be able to play to a rudimentary level when, over the years, I’ve almost literally lost count of how much I’ve spent buying and selling cars. He’s no David Gilmour but I’m hardly Susie Wolff.

So the auction kicked off at 1am Sydney time – an hour later than advertised – and the first instrument under the hammer was a 1966 Fender Stratocaster with an estimated price of $US10,000 to $US15,000 ($14,400 to $21,600). Within seconds the bidding had rocketed past the estimate and continued on a trajectory like the rev counter on an F12tdf, until it topped out at $US423,000. That’s $610,000 in our money.

It’s an aberration, The Companion averred. First item up – there’s some muscle-flexing going on in the auction room. Things will settle down. The second instrument was a 1969 Martin D-35 acoustic guitar. Price estimate: $US10,000 to $20,000. Eventual sale price: $US1.095 million ($1.58 million).

I was watching from across the room and the look on The Companion’s face as these instruments sprinted out of his price range was like the look on a child’s face when someone pops their party balloon: shock, anger, grief and then, finally, resignation.

Time and time again the same routine occurred: a frisson on anticipation, brutally and rapidly crushed. The Companion retired to bed, defeated and disillusioned. At the end of the day – it was almost, literally a day, because it was still going when we woke the next morning – the auction had raised $US21.5 million ($31 million).

Gilmour’s famous Black Stratocaster, which he apparently played on Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, Wish You Were Here and The Wall – including “the world’s best guitar solo, on Comfortably Numb”, the Companion assured me – as well as at the most recent reunion of the Classic Pink Floyd line-up in 2005, sold for $US3.975 million ($5.7 million).

It’s another world out there, when an individual can pay more for a guitar than the vast majority of the planet’s population will pay for a house.

The buyer was some US sports-franchise owner, which The Companion tells me means he has more money than sense, no interest in the instruments as objets d’art, no concern for the history and stories of the instruments or the music they made, is undoubtedly tone-deaf and probably can’t play more than Smoke on the Water. Apparently this is one of the worst insults you can hurl at a guitar player.

As I write, the Companion is upstairs with his guitar plugged in and turned up loud, trying to find his way through the chord progression of some extraordinary prog-rock anthem, probably Marillion. So I’m going out for a drive. And just like The Companion is up there imagining what it’s like to be on stage as Steve Rothery or David Gilmour, I’ll be out there imagining what it’s like to be behind the wheel as Michele Mouton or Susie Wolff.

Each to his – and her – own.

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Mercedes-AMG GT3 To Feed Customers’ Need For Speed

Customer racing programs have become de rigueur among the most luxurious of global car marques. McLaren, Ferrari, Bentley, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Porsche, Audi and BMW are all in the mix, offering customers with the will – and the wallet – to buy into a slice of motor sport action. Not-so-fancy but still impressive Nissan is in play, as well, with its monstrously powerful GTR.

The programs give race enthusiasts the chance to get behind the wheel in their brand of choice and compete internationally as a motor sport rookie, an ambitious racer or skilled GT specialist. Support from the car companies – apart from selling these people their not-inexpensive cars – ranges from driver training, logistics, even track side pit-crew duty offering mechanical and technical backup.

But the Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing program – which began in 2010 – caught Madam Wheel’s eye overnight with the visually impressive release of its latest GT3. Revealed online ahead of its public debut at this weekend’s 24-hour race at Germany’s Nürburgring, the new GT3 is displayed in gritty detail in what looks like a decommissioned industrial factory.The road-worthy Mercedes-AMG GT is already a beautiful car, but the GT3 Sprint specification seen here takes things to a different level.

‘That leering face would be a frightening sight to behold approaching at speed from behind.’

The car’s low and lean lines, flared side skirts and enormous rear wing combine to deliver a car which looks poised, balanced and athletic with a wicked personality. That leering face would be a frightening sight to behold approaching at speed from behind. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 is powered by a 6.3-litre V8 naturally aspirated engine which the company hopes will be enough to see it outdo teams frequently on the podium from Audi and Porsche.

For the rest of the year, the car will be put through what Mercedes-AMG describes as a comprehensive development program to test and enhance the car’s durability and endurance capabilities. Customer deliveries will begin towards the end of 2019, with the price of the Sprint specification featured here published as €399,000 ($A655,925). Customer cars will hit the race circuits next year – fittingly, the 10th anniversary of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing.

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I’ll do it later: why we procrastinate

RECENTLY I read that the root cause of procrastination for many people is, in actual fact, perfectionism. So the theory goes, people put off starting a task for fear of not being able to complete it absolutely perfectly. At first this made me laugh. But then I thought, yes, there’s something in this.

It made sense. When I think about starting to do something, I immediately think of absolutely every last element of the entire job, and how many of those elements have to go just right for the whole job to be completed properly. It’s instantly overwhelming, and it makes it extremely difficult to know where to start. And not knowing where to start seems to me to be a reason to not start at all. Then you end up in a situation with a deadline in three days’ time, sleepless nights, and a mounting sense of dread and hopelessness.

Anyway, I was just starting to feel better about why I can always find something to do other than the thing I’m supposed to do, when – for reasons I am still not completely sure about, but I suspect were rooted in self-justification – I decided to google “perfectionism” and “procrastination”. Big mistake. The second search result was an article from Psychology Today, by a chap named Piers Steel.

Apart from the fact that Piers Steel is precisely the sort of name you’d want your psychologist to have, the article was deeply disturbing. Does perfectionism really cause perfectionism?

“Lots of people think so,” Piers wrote.

“It’s a neat theory you’ll often hear repeated around the water cooler. There’s just one problem with it: it’s wrong. Research shows that perfectionists actually procrastinate less than other people, not more.” Thanks Piers.

‘Chronic procrastinators often can be paralysed by indecision. The usual sign that it’s happening [to a friend of mine] is when she disappears from social media for more than 48 hours.’

So naturally I raised the question with my own psychologist. And she told me that Piers is right. My procrastination problem isn’t due to perfectionism at all, it’s down mostly to impulsiveness. That’s deeply counter-intuitive, but it means I have a tendency to veer off into doing easier or more pleasurable tasks, instead of doing the important or pressing ones. I do what is pleasurable right now, instead of doing the difficult thing now to avoid discomfort and to enjoy pleasure later.

She pointed me towards a survey I could do online which, as if to prove her point, I started as soon as I got home but then found I had to create an online account to complete it, so I put it off until later and watched something on Netflix instead. And I still haven’t done the survey.

But my therapist did try to assure me I do not have too much to worry about, despite the stress that stems from my procrastination problem. Chronic procrastinators often can be paralysed by indecision, and while I often find it a difficult hurdle to clear, I’m not yet at that stage. It does happen to someone I know, so I understand the implications, and it is a serious issue. Luckily, she has friends who know all about it and can help when it gets particularly bad. The usual sign that it’s happening is when she disappears from social media for more than 48 hours.

The question for procrastinators is why the anxiety that often accompanies the condition isn’t more of a spur to action – you know, actually doing something about it, in a timely manner, to avoid the stress and anxiety that inevitably results. That’s something I have not yet got to the bottom of, but I’m working on it. Who knows, someday I might get around to writing about it.

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Crackdown On Tyre Safety For Snow-Goers

Regular visitors to the Australian ski fields may be familiar with how easily things can come unstuck for traffic in icy conditions. Last year, was a particularly busy season for emergency services at Mt Buller, in the Victoria Alps, where crews were regularly called on to perform dangerous recoveries of wayward buses and cars. As a result, Mt Buller Resort Management has for the first time this year issued an edict requiring all seasonal car-pass permit holders to have their vehicles fitted with “tyres suitable for use in an extreme alpine environment”.

In the past, permit holders had to state on their application that they were using appropriate tyres. Now they have to prove it, by presenting their vehicles for inspection at an affiliated tyre specialist.Tyre’s offering the safest handling will be those marked with the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake. Mt Buller will also accept tyres marked M+S or those of the All-Terrain variety. Highway Terrain or Mud Terrain tyres won’t make the grade, Mt Buller says.

Anyone who’s driven in US or European snowfields might be familiar with studded snow tyres, which have metal studs inserted in the tread to improve grip on ice. While they are the most efficient to make cars start and stop on the least-friendly road surfaces, they’re not legal in Australia.

“On roads that aren’t covered with ice, they can increase braking distance, road noise and wear,” says the product and sales manager with Michelin Tyres Australia, Peter Heatley. “They’re prohibited in many countries including Australia because they damage road surfaces.”

‘They’re seeing more and more cars in the Mt Buller Village that can’t stop because they have the wrong tyres.’

Unstudded winter tyres still meet challenging winter driving conditions by delivering snow and ice traction at low ambient temperatures (below seven degrees Celsius), Heatley says. “These tyres feature pliable tread compounds molded into purposeful tread designs that trade some handling in dry and wet conditions to deliver excellent snow and ice traction,” he says.

The design of the tyres’ wide, deep grooves and irregular surfaces with sharp edges enable them to more effectively cut through slush and packed snow and grip the road.

Importantly, having snow tyres won’t preclude anyone from having to carry tyre chains. They’re compulsory in every vehicle regardless of what tyres are fitted because they provide even better traction in snow and on ice. The Australian regulations around snow tyres and chains can be seen here. Ski resorts usually provide daily updates on their wheel-chain status like this one from Mt Buller, which also has a series of helpful videos showing how to fit the main diamond and ladder chains. Snow “socks”, another “chain” format used offshore, are not allowed in Australia.

Chains are limited by a vehicle’s tyres, and owners should refer to their owner’s manual to get across the correct tyre for the job. Madam Wheels swapped out her road tyres for the winter variety she bought last year. The “strip-and-fit” process cost $180 (which clearly had a “Toorak tax” priced in. We’ve since found another supplier who will do the same job for $30 a wheel, so we’ll be going there to reverse the process when the season is over).

Some drivers may choose to buy their winter tyres on rims, figuring the cost of going through that process twice a year for the five-year reasonable life of a winter tyre isn’t worth the hassle. Not only can it be quicker and cheaper to swap wheels on and off a car, it also removes the risk of damage to the inside edge of the tyre if it’s being pried on and off potentially expensive rims by an inexperienced technician. This is something to keep in mind given a set of 19” Nokian snow tyres for a Land Rover Discovery costs around $2000. The same tyres in 21” for a Porsche Cayenne are closer to $3000.

The Nokian snow tyre, from Finland, is distributed in Australia through Melbourne-based Roof Carrier Systems. A ring-around of some of the big tyre manufacturers such as Michelin, Bridgestone and Goodyear reveals that none of them bring a snow tyre into Australia. The market’s not big enough to justify the spend or effort, their spokespeople say. Richard Townley, of Roof Carrier Systems, has been selling snow chains since he started the business 35 years ago, and started importing Nokian snow tyres in 2004.

He has an intimate understanding of the safety issues around tyres in the snow, and says the move to ensure snow-going cars are wearing the correct winter tyres is important – particularly in a place like Mt Buller. “Buller is unique in that it’s like a gated community, with a lot of cars and a lot of pedestrians walking on or across roads,” Townley says. “They’re seeing more and more cars in the village that can’t stop because they have the wrong tyres.” Not all snow tyres are created equal, however, Townley says, and the certification process will go some way to sorting out the good, bad and ugly.

Roof Carrier Systems certified about 100 cars in the past week, the details of which will form part of a database documenting which cars are using what tyres in the Alps. Townley says the database will be useful in identifying which tyres really stack up in the conditions as well as providing local police with facts and figures to work with in future.