Twenty Questions

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SUBJECT: Edmund King
OCCUPATION: President of the Automobile Association

What is your greatest achievement? Helping Max Mosley, the Department for Transport and others get the first Euro NCAP crash tests off the ground in the face of opposition from car manufacturers. NCAP has saved lives.

What is your biggest regret? Not learning to play a musical instrument.

Whose work in the industry today do you admire most and why? Richard Woods did a great job as FIA spin doctor. I like to think I taught him all he knows (he worked for me) but I didn’t.

Who inspired you to join the industry and why? As a kid in the ’60s1 lived next door but one to Colin Chapman. My brother and I hung out with his kids and he flew us to a couple of GPs.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Living in California I found many American habits annoying. One day a good friend said: “If you don’t like it Ed, f*** off.” Since then, I’ve let annoying things go over my head.

What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in the next 12 months? Trying to get to the Monaco Grand Prix.

What car do you drive for fun? Any I can get hold off. Last week it was a new Ford Mondeo at an AA DriveTech track day.

When did you last go for a drive for the sake of it, and where? Christmas. I had a Toyota Landcruiser on loan and I drove across the Clifton Bridge in Bristol, just to look for snow.

What’s the best moment you’ve had in a car? Driving a Rolls-Royce Ghost up the hill at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.

What was your first car? ’68 Mini Traveller.

Did you pass your test first time? Yes, but I struggled when I had to retake it in California.

How will most cars be powered in 30 years time? Hybrid.

It’s your last drive. One car, one road. Which and where? Jaguar E-type V12 along the Pacific Coast Highway.

What music do you play in the car? New Order, Radiohead, Stiff Little Fingers, Coldplay.

What’s the best book on cars/car people you’ve read? On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

Should there be more or fewer fixed camera sites on our roads? The same amount but located in the right places.

What should the national speed limit be? 80mph on motorways, but enforced.

What does the AA do when EV-driving members run out of battery power? We are developing fast-charge units but currently transport EV to the national grid.

What should be the Government’s policy on fuel duty? Abandon the fuel duty increase in April and introduce a fuel duty stabiliser.

What’s the one thing you’d do to improve the lot of the British motorist? Co-ordinate roadworks but still fill in potholes.

*

And that reminds me…
It’s not all glamour being a motoring journalist, even when you’re whisked off to Hawaii
Car launches should be simple affairs. All you need do is fly somewhere with quiet roads (hardly anyone launches cars in the UK because they get crashed by foreign journos), drive the car, talk to some engineers, fly home. How hard can it be? Very, apparently. Tales of terrible launches are standard fodder for travel-weary hacks. General Motors once thought the centre of Hamburg would be a good place to put its cars through their paces, while Fiat plotted a test route along a dual carriageway.

I’ve been to launches where there were no cars to drive because the manufacturer failed to realise one group would arrive before the previous one departed. Or they provided too few cars. When Alfa Romeo launched the 156 in Lisbon it flew over 1000 journalists and I doubt there was a car between 10 of us. Not a few of us got food poisoning on the plane home, too.

Volvo held an outdoor press conference at 2am without realising none of us could see to make notes. Another, this time for Porsche, saw us listening to an interpreter translating a presentation given in German. Nothing odd there, save the fact that every person in the room was British, including the engineer giving the talk.

But this is nothing compared to the launch of the current Mazda MX-5. If I say it was in Hawaii, you’ll not pity me. Yes, it took three flights and 28 hours to get there, but hey, it’s Hawaii. What they failed to mention was that the bit I went to is a densely-populated dump with bad traffic and the greatest concentration of police this side of Scotland Yard. Nor did they flag up that we’d get 90 minutes in the car (45 to drive it) because there weren’t enough to go round. So that was 56 hours on the hoof for less that one at the wheel, on crap roads too heavy with traffic and police to get a feel for the car.

Motoring journalists are often blessed with the most privileged of experiences. That was not one of them.

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