Sunday, January 29, 2006

Peter Griffin: Race hotting up for online auto sales

It was in the early 90s, when Nissan Primeras and Toyota Celicas were coveted motor vehicles, that I attended my first car auction.

I went with my brother, a car dealer, to Turners Auctions' massive Penrose warehouse.

It brimmed with fresh imports with letters and numbers scrawled in white marker across their windows. This was the dealer auction, closed to the public. Men stood around impassively, holding oversized chequebooks and, in today's terms, oversized mobile phones as a fleet of cars went under the hammer.

The most hi-tech bit was when the sale price popped up on the big electronic board behind the fast-talking auctioneer.

Now Turners, which must have made a killing during the golden age of the Japanese import, is embracing the internet in a bid to stay competitive. It will soon launch Turners Live, in which the dealer and public auctions are simulcast on the web so you can sit back in the comfort of your home or office and watch the auction via a webcast.

Bids made on the floor at Penrose or any of Turners' other locations will compete with bids placed on the internet. The auctioneer will put all the bids on the big electronic board but many bidders will see them on their computer screens.

Simply let your broadband internet connection keep you in the bidding loop.

We'll have to wait and see what Turners comes up with for the $160,000 it's investing in its web venture, but there's no reason it shouldn't work.

The internet is already home to many car auctions and while my brother still makes monthly pilgrimages to Osaka to kick the tyres of potential imports, many dealers are placing orders for imports with the click of a mouse. The public can buy imports online and cut out the dealers but, for the domestic market, TradeMe has become the major force for online car auctions.

TradeMe general manager Sam Morgan says 40,000 cars were sold through the site's auctions and classifieds last year and he believes there's scope for that to grow "two to three times" this year.

Turners sold 80,000 cars last year but has been around a lot longer than TradeMe.

Morgan says Turners Live is typical of traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses trying to adapt to the internet. He points out that some major dealers who previously sold a lot of cars through Turners are now advertising them on TradeMe.

The competition between the old player and the web incumbent will be fierce.

And Morgan is in no doubt as to why the online auction model works so well for dealers and the public - cost cutting.

"It's not so important in the boom times but you look to knock out cost when there's a crunch,"he says.

There are less trips to Japan for the dealers and lower fees and better access to information for consumers.

And if we're lucky, cheaper cars.

Kerre Woodham: Why rapist should be rewarded

The dirtbag responsible for the abduction and rape of a young Hawke's Bay woman appeared in court last week and for possibly the first time in his sorry life, he did something decent.

He pleaded guilty. It was his first appearance in court since he'd been charged in relation to his abduction of the young woman. Trevor Eagle says he was on P at the time and that he has no clear recollection of the events that took place but he accepts that they are as police and the victim described.

Quite possibly, given the vicious and inhumane acts he performed on the young woman, he chooses not to remember. How any man could live with himself after behaving in such a bestial way is beyond comprehension. Nonetheless, he pleaded guilty and at the earliest possible opportunity. Who knows why he chose to do so?

He may have done so because the evidence was so overwhelming, he knew he was a goner and he just wanted to shave a couple of months off what will inevitably be a very long sentence. Alternatively, he may have been so stricken with remorse for his actions that this is the first step on a long journey back to redemption.

Whatever his reasons, Eagle's early guilty plea has saved the young woman the horrific ordeal of having to testify in court. And for that he should be rewarded.

I know many people believe men like this should be locked up with the key thrown away and that nothing he says or does can possibly mitigate against the damage he has done to this young woman, her family and her friends. But early guilty pleas must be encouraged.

I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like for a woman, or for that matter, a man, to have to relive the most traumatic experience of their lives, while a courtroom full of people, including the perpetrator, looked on like the crowd at the Colosseum. Recounting the experience would be bad enough. But imagine having to be cross-examined by a defence lawyer whose raison d'etre is to undermine you and your credibility.

For many people, it's an experience that would be impossible to endure. No wonder there are many women who refuse to go to the police after a rape.

They would rather live with the pain of the assault and let the offender go free, possibly to rape again, than be exposed in such a public way.

If more crims started owning up early, then their victims can get on with trying to recover a wholelot sooner.

Some people have suggested that there should be no discount for a guilty plea but that a person should have time added to their sentence if they're found guilty after a trial. Or that there be no time off for good behaviour - time is added for bad.

They worry that discounting a sentence for early guilty pleas is sending the wrong message to criminals. I reckon it's sending exactly the right one.

Do the decent thing - even if it's just the one time in your life - and that will be taken into account when the judge considers the sentence.

Kerre Woodham: Whale vomit brings smell of money for Aussie beachcombers

As you're walking along the beach, making the most of your long weekend, keep your eyes on the sand, not the sea, and you could be thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars richer.
An Australian family taking a stroll on one of their west coast beaches has won the equivalent of beachcombers' Lotto with their discovery of a huge chunk of whale vomit. Who'd have thought that a big lump of solidified chuck could have been the pivot upon which a family's fortunes would turn? But it's true.

Whale vomit is otherwise known as ambergris. It's a highly-prized commodity and has been since hundreds of years before Christ. It was used in the manufacture of perfumes and still is in the flasher ones. Hence its going rate of $30-$90 a gram.

It's the result of sperm whales expelling the food they can't digest, mainly squid beaks.

Apparently the sound a whale makes when it hurls can be heard for miles and is something quite spectacular.

I reckon any Eastern Suburbs under-21 player after a big night out could give a sperm whale a run for its money but I bow to the superior knowledge of the marine biologists.

Whale puke is lighter than water and floats around the ocean. The sun and sea gradually clean it, leaving a sweet-smelling substance that may eventually float on to a beach near you. Plenty of New Zealanders know all about ambergris and supplement their incomes nicely, thanks to the contents of whale stomachs.

Some enterprising beachcombers have even trained their dogs to sniff it out. There's a website you can visit that will explain what ambergris looks like, where you can find it and how to sell it - go to www.ambergris.co.nz and it's got all the details.

But be warned - as the website explains, ambergris looks a lot like dried dog poo, so make sure you've got the right mammal and the right excreta from the right end. Happy hunting.

eborah Coddington: Brash too young for the pasture

Parliament can pass laws forcing people to be nice to each other, but happily you just can't regulate thought. Professionally, we are not allowed to be sexist or racist, and we cannot discriminate on the basis of age.

But of course that doesn't stop anyone. "Heard the one about the Irishman, Englishman, Maori elder and the beauty queen?" is racist, sexist, ageist and lookist all rolled into one bad joke. The Human Rights Commission would have a field day.

So why no outrage at the recent fuss over Don Brash's age? There's much speculation over whether the Leader of the Opposition, just turned 65, will last the distance. He'll be 68 in 2008 and he's fond of pointing out that Sir Winston Churchill was prime minister twice in his 70s, Charles de Gaulle was president of France until he was in his late-70s, and Ronald Reagan served two terms as US president from the age of 70.

Ah yes, say the New Zealand critics, but remember that election shot of Don Brash creakily climbing into a racing car? Doesn't that prove he's past it?

On the contrary. If anything, it proves when you're tall with long legs it's damn-near impossible to clamber in and out of anything smaller than a Holden Belmont. That's why dignified people never drive silly little cars.

Anyway, what's this obsession with youth audiences, youth voters, youth consumers? And why is it that pursuing youth seems to equate with dumbing down? TVNZ is so obsessed with pursuing the young demographic it dumped Judy Bailey, with her unfailing professionalism, gravitas and experience.

Political parties thrill with pleasure when adolescents turn up at their conferences, eager to sign up and stuff envelopes, hold meetings, write letters to the paper. "Run!" I wanted to shout at them. "Go get a life. Fall over and skin your knees. Get stuffed up, learn from it, come back when you know how it feels to wonder where the next cheque's coming from; when you've experienced not wanting to get out of bed again - ever!"

Of course political parties must prepare for the future when the old fuddy-duddies will go to that great House of Representatives in the sky. They need foot soldiers, waiting to take over and command, but putting people out to pasture just because they've hit the magic age of 65 is insane.

Don Brash did an extraordinary thing last year when he was 64. After only three years as an MP he brought the National Party back from the brink of oblivion. It was an incredible success, not least because he was up against the toughest competition any opposition leader has perhaps ever had to face - the formidable Prime Minister Helen Clark. I doubt any of his younger front-benchers, tipped to take over as leader, would have delivered as good a result.

The reality is that a person's age, in itself, is irrelevant. Youth is surely not so stupid it will mindlessly support a product just because the leader is wrinkle-free and lithe of limb. Helen Clark's 53, my age, but she enjoys support from voters young enough to be her children who love Labour's message. Most of my own children wouldn't be seen dead with me when I fronted up to political meetings because they of their hate for Act policies.

This unseemly rush to herd people into retirement the moment they hit their 60s is unsettling. I predict ambitious National MPs who want a change of leader will play the age card to replace Brash. And as Brash himself works to present his party as a government in waiting, Labour will crank up the pot-stirring machine, taunting National with stale jokes about decrepit leaders who should have been gone by last year's lunchtime.

I know how Brash feels. Experience no longer seems to count. Just last week departing Nine to Noon host Linda Clark, in the Listener, sounded off about why she's "over" journalism. It's a "job you do best when you're 20-something" apparently. At 30-plus we no longer see "issues in black and white" and "it becomes so much more complicated".

She's right. Most of us who've once been polarised do reach an age where we like to think around an issue, toss it over, seek conflicting opinions before we come to a conclusion. Even then, on major issues such as solo parent welfare beneficiaries, I still don't know if there's a magic bullet.

As I sat around our newsroom last week I realised with a shock I am older than even the editor of this publication. My reporter colleagues are my children's ages. In fact, going on Linda Clark's recommendation, not just me but my eldest daughter should retire from journalism as well.

I am old. I remember the Wine Box inquiry; Erebus; regulation black telephones; carless days; unable to afford new clothes for our kids because of import licensing.

Don Brash remembers past aberrations too. Like me, he was young once. Young and foolish.

But we also remember our generation's mistakes - youth are yet to repeat theirs.

Matt McCarten: Hubbard's push for tolls is electoral suicide

Well, Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard is proving why self-made business entrepreneurs don't necessarily make good politicians.

After a closed meeting with Manukau's Barry Curtis and Waitakere's Bob Harvey, he volunteered to pop down to Wellington to lobby the Government to allow the three mayors to impose road tolls.

Hubbard's City Vision and Hobson Action allies on the Auckland City Council must have put their heads in their hands.

Curtis and Harvey aren't standing next time anyway, so they don't have to face the music in the unlikely event the Government agrees to their request. These two are wily enough not to do the dirty work themselves.

The other two main players, North Shore Mayor George Wood and regional council chairman Mike Lee, aren't having a bar of it.

As a businessman, Hubbard would see the business case, in that the Government is not putting enough money into building roads.

An experienced politician sees the obvious, which is to lobby the Labour Government to give back more of the petrol tax Aucklanders already pay. The Government keeps two-thirds of this money.

Hubbard should be reminding Prime Minister Helen Clark that Auckland saved Labour's butt in the last election and this is the bill.

Trying to sell the idea of road tolls in Auckland is electoral suicide. John Banks must be smirking. After the Queen Sttree culling backdown, I wonderif Hubbard has anyone in histeam who knows anything about public relations.

He can't blame Bruce Hucker any more because Hucker agreed to maintain a low profile so he wouldn't overshadow the mayor.

Hucker, if Hubbard had consulted him, would never have allowed this lone ranger mission on road tolls. But Hubbard's decision to go to Wellington to lobby for a further tax that falls mainly on the poor is electoral suicide.

One city councillor, Eden-Albert's Cathy Casey, attacked Hubbard's decision to act unilaterally before his council had made a decision.

Casey pointed out the bleeding obvious that most of the workers had no choice but to commute to the city each day for their jobs, or students to city campuses.

They would be hit worst by Hubbard's brainwave.

Aucklanders work 90 minutes on average each shift just to cover their transport costs getting to work. The average Auckland household already spends nearly 20 per cent of their income on transport.

What's Hubbard proposing? Surely he's not saying these commuting workers can afford to live in the city?

That is unless, of course, he is suggesting minimum wage workers pool their meagre earnings and three or four are squeezed into those one-room slum apartments.

Regional councillor Robyn Hughes, who stood on the Residents' Action Movement (Ram) ticket last election, believes that as roads take up over a quarter of our city's area, we don't need any more.

She believes you have to get Aucklanders wanting to use public transport. The solution is much easier than we think. She argues that for a fraction of the cost of building roads, we could offer free public transport in Auckland.

The bus drivers' union says that if they didn't have to take fares, the trips would be a third faster.

At the moment, Auckland households average nearly two cars each. Ram advocates that a large number of households would flick the second car if they didn't have to pay for public transport and therefore no more roads would need to be built.

At the very least, Hubbard might make better use of his time lobbying Clark for more subsidies for public transport, rather than devising ways to get the poor to pay for unworkable solutions.

Auckland, it seems, might be making one-term mayors a habit.