The ‘international’ sedan car series in SE Asia is the
Asian Touring Car Series (ATCS), which kicked off the 2003 season at
Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit on June 7 and 8 as part of the Asian
Festival of Speed (AFOS). The FIA-sanctioned series has a new tyre supplier this
year - BF Goodrich Tires.
Marsh Ford Focus (photo courtesy of InSports Images)
As would be imagined, Japanese manufacturers dominate the
entries, with Honda Integras and Civics making up the majority of the grid.
However, the high percentage of Japanese cars may not necessarily equate to
guaranteed dominance of the series this season. Professional touring car outfit
GR Asia has entered two of the Ford Focus ST170 machines which made their debut
at the Macau Grand Prix Guia Race last year when Briton Simon Harrison won both
legs of the ATCS and took fifth overall.
GR Asia team boss Tim Huxley said, “We are delighted to be
taking part in Asia’s premier racing series, and as the only European cars
entered, look forward to providing both variety and stiff competition to the
traditional Japanese manufacturers.”
The cars are engineered by UK’s Paul Ridgway, who designed
and built the Focus Super Production car and has been behind numerous race wins
in the UK, Europe and Asia. Ridgway is combining the ATCS campaign with a hectic
racing schedule in the UK.
GR Asia has two new drivers for the 2003 season, both of whom
are well known on the Asian racing scene. New Zealander Nick Thomas has been an
enthusiastic supporter of AFOS, competing in the AF2000 single seater series.
Briton Matthew Marsh has enjoyed success both in Europe and the Asia Pacific
Region, including a 5th place and class win at the Bathurst 24 hour race in
Australia last year. Most recently, Marsh finished in 4th place in the opening
round of the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia in March in his very first outing behind
the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.
The perils of vehicle
production in strange lands
In recent years there has been a veritable stampede of
western manufacturers ‘defecting’ to the East as China began opening its
doors to foreign investment. While there were those in the auto industry that
were running in headlong, there were auto-watchers muttering about the lemming
principle. They may have been right, if China’s draft auto industry policy is
ratified by their lawmakers.
The new draft auto-industry policy requires that Chinese
companies be technology-independent and account for 50% of the total market by
2010. The limits of foreign ownership of joint ventures is to be 50% only, and
parts makers are to export 40% of local production.
The realities of the draft, which began circulating among
industry executives late last month, are that 50% of all vehicle sales in China
must come from domestic companies that own 100% of the vehicle’s technology,
by 2010. If enacted, the provision could force foreign manufacturers to turn
their technology and patents over to their local (Chinese) partners as a
condition for remaining in business. Now that is something that would have the
western world custodians of intellectual property looking very worried.
China has long made it clear that technology transfer is one
reason for allowing foreign joint ventures to occur in the first place.
Companies that already have automotive joint ventures in China, such as General
Motors and Volkswagen AG, have built plants that tapped into their worldwide
technological expertise, but sharing the technology and giving it away are two
Now if you think that the draft really only affects the big
boys, think again. Another provision of the draft policy specifies that any
foreign company taking a 10% stake or larger in a Chinese company must share
R&D and production and sales know-how with the Chinese partner.
Contrary to the Thailand experience, the new draft also says
that any automotive venture must be at least 50% owned by a local partner,
effectively ruling out the possibility of a wholly owned foreign auto
manufacturing venture in China.
In a masterful piece of understatement, an un-named foreign
auto executive said, “It doesn’t allow foreign automakers to have much of a
role.” Not quite true, it allows the role for the foreign manufacturers to be
that of the “givers” while China says, “Thank you velly much!”
In the lead up to China joining the WTO, they managed to
obtain an exemption from rules that ban such limits on foreign investment.
However, automakers had hoped that China eventually would relent and allow
foreign companies to have complete ownership and control over their Chinese
operations, as can occur in other countries.
Many have warned that getting into bed with China might be
exciting initially, but she may not make a very good wife in the long run. These
draft regulations would make that look very prophetic.
BF Goodrich - a strong heritage
BF Goodrich Tires has enjoyed a long history of technical
innovations and racing firsts. They invented the tubeless tyre, and were the
first to introduce carbon black to improve tyre strength and durability.
Targeted at the younger generation motoring enthusiast, the
brand has continued to reinforce its heritage in motorsports through consistent
wins at such prestigious races as Paris-Dakar and the Baja. BF Goodrich Tires
also clinched a victory in its first foray into the Japan Grand Touring Car
Championships in 2002, and is the official tyre sponsor of the Asian Touring Car