Blog: Dave LeggettIntegrity – you have it or you don’t

Dave Leggett | 19 July 2007

Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change if someone who became Home Secretary in the British Government started off on Day 1 with a speech that goes something like this:

“It is indeed an honour to serve in the Government as Home Secretary and I am keenly aware of the need to ensure that all citizens of this country can live happy, peaceful and prosperous lives.

“But let’s get a few things about me personally out of the way first.

“I did smoke cannabis regularly when I was younger and I have to say I enjoyed it very much indeed – it was a repeated experience, after all. Alcohol is my drug of choice these days and I do occasionally get drunk and sing in karaoke bars. I gamble every day on the horses to the extent that Ladbrokes send me a thank you Christmas hamper every year.

“My favourite colour is blue, I own a great big polluting SUV and I believe all religions are a great big bowl of wrong. 

“Now, can we please get down to business…”

The thing is, people make mistakes. We don’t expect them to be perfect even if the standards set are high. When it comes to politicians, we certainly expect high standards from those holding positions of high office (we don’t want a crackhead or habitual thief running the country, I suppose), but what we really hate is lies and hypocrisy.

“I smoked cannabis just a few times and I didn’t really like it,” reeks of the usual reluctance to properly come clean (and why now for Jacqui Smith, because a newspaper has a story perhaps?). Bill Clinton’s ‘I didn’t inhale’ remark was plainly ridiculous and simply reinforced his slippery and less than honest image.

Yes, former deputy PM John Prescott did come over as more than a little idiotic at times, but he was a hero in my book for punching that guy who splashed an egg on him during an election campaign a few years ago. Wonderful footage. He messed up a bit in his private life perhaps, but you always had the feeling that he was the real deal and not the sanitised product of spin-doctors.

And it’s the same with cars. I might be labouring this point a little here, but a brand and its products can be rated on something like an ‘integrity scale’. Subjective, of course, but it can take account of factors like perceived value-for-money, hyperbole in advertising, perceived product quality, the aftersales networks, residuals, where the cars are made...

Brands that might be high scorers on the integrity scale: Ford (outside NA), Vauxhall (Astra worked wonders), BMW (just keeps making great cars), Saab (unloved and neglected child that is hanging in there, against the odds; BioPower a decent initiative), Volvo (big contrast with Saab in terms of parent’s more indulgent attitude, but parents are now having to offload; safety-first with IKEA understatement and good designs under Horbury), Fiat (now, not five years ago; a real phoenix job thanks to a sharp guy from Canada), Nissan (Sun-der-land equals quality); Jaguar (it’s in here, has to be); Land Rover (should be in ‘low’ based on quality but a firm still bashing out the Defender and that came up with the Range Rover in 1970 gets my vote); Audi (keeps doing the biz on product and marketing – balanced and tasteful, understated; quiet achiever); Skoda (if anything, under promises and over delivers; and new Fabia comes with Mary Poppins, too); Tata (becoming increasingly clear that this is a brand for the future founded on some extremely laudable principles – might actually be a good home for J-LR); Chevrolet (Korean and yet not Korean)

Mid-range: Ford NA (getting better, but that perception gap takes some closing); GM brands in US (Lutz has got the products better, but the suspicion about GM culture remains); Toyota (relentless, robotic almost – but are hybrids all they’re cracked up to be?); Renault (some smart stuff going on and Logan is clever strategically, but how well built are Renaults? Is that flip-open bonnet on old Clios a pointer?); Mercedes-Benz (quality back up there, but a few people had very bad experiences in recent history); Peugeot (the drive not as much of an edge as it once was, but still a decent mid-market performer); Lexus (it’s moving up, but in the US there’s a rebadged Camry and are the products still a little bland to look at? No, you can’t buy heritage/class and is a hybrid luxo-barge offering token environmentalism for the rich?)

Low-range: Chinese brands (might well be unfair pending proper arrival on world stage, but ‘Made in China’ has been getting an appallingly bad press lately); Citroen (you get what you pay for and it’s just a cheapo brand these days, short on flair); Hyundai-Kia (look, that is really just based on Korean business ethics, not the cars – who said this was totally fair? – but are they growing too fast, again?); Volkswagen (not worth the price premium, Phaeton’s a folly and while everyone else is taking some pain, VW uses its scale to protect overpaid jobs in Germany); Porsche (wildly successful licence to print money, but some dodgy dealings involving VW patriarch, Piech; Cayenne is about as cynical as it gets); Seat (no, they’re not quite Alfas, are they? - pity); Ssangyong (look at the Rodius – it’s serious, apparently); Hummer and Cadillac (mainly for bling merchants)

The above is just a bit of fun and off the top of my head in terms of some of the subjective perception factors that might go into such an index. Before anyone takes offence, it’s illustrative only.

Incidentally, I gave the Saab 9-3 a decent workout yesterday (kept the speed down as I figured the lettering on the sides might invite unwanted attention) and it runs pretty well on regular unleaded. I’ve got the 1.8t model (actually 2-litre capacity - the 1.8 refers to max power output at 175PS; just a pity I can’t fill it with E85, which delivers 17% more max power and 10% more torque than when running on petrol). The 9-3 interior is nice. Getting back to the brand image thing, I always recall those old Saab ads with the Viggen fighter planes when I climb into a Saab.

And the instruments always seem particularly clear, well thought out, the sitting position ergonomically very sound in Saabs through the ages (even if the car itself may have been on a creaking generic GM platform). I have read conflicting things about the ride and handling on the 9-3, but I thought it was very good. 

One small thing, but it was one of those ‘surprise and delight’ elements, like door hinges that aren't the usual. The Saab’s cupholder is the best I’ve ever experienced. Hard to explain, but there’s a complex looking arrangement that is slightly counter intuitive in terms of how you stow it back in the dash. But it’s very simple, solid and secure in operation. Is a cupholder a small thing though? Probably not, actually.

I’m getting severely tempted to look for an excuse to drive to Norwich and fill it up with plant food. ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ is the title of a popular book about the use and misuse of apostrophes. Someone at Saab has come up with a play on that term to describe its flex-cars: eats leaves – and shoots. I quite liked that one.


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