Automania

Carmakers join attack on SARS. (Really?)

Spotted the following item on the SARS saga in Automotive News this week, which naturally took my attention. According to the item, General Motors China has donated cash and goods valued at over 2.6 million yuan, or about $314,000 at current exchange rates, to the China Charity Federation in Beijing to help the fight. The donation includes $120,000 in cash, which will help fund the education of children of medical workers who have died fighting SARS.

The donation also includes five Chevrolet Blazer SUVs built at Jinbei GM Automotive Co., owned half by GM and half by First Auto Works-Jinbei Automotive Co. The vehicles will be used by medical workers involved in the anti-SARS campaign. In addition, Shanghai GM Automotive Co., jointly owned with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., recently donated 10 Buick GL8 wagons to help the anti-SARS campaign in Shanghai.

Nissan Motor Co. has donated $180,000 to the Chinese government for anti-SARS efforts. About $120,000 will go to China’s ministry of health and $60,000 to the Beijing municipal government. Zhengzhou Nissan Automobile Co., Nissan’s affiliate in China, also is donating four Paladin SUVs and a bus, valued at $156,000, to local governments to aid in the battle. Delphi China Holding Co. and its 10 ventures in China have donated $120,000 to the Red Cross Society of Shanghai and have encouraged local staff to make personal donations.

I have no idea what prompted all this “generosity” seven months after the outbreak started, but I really wonder just how much of the money donated will actually get to the areas that it might be needed in, and how much will fall through the cracks in the plaster and end up in some Chinese official’s bank accounts? But then, I always was an old cynic.


Spanish fly (sorry, can’t help myself some days!)

The nice folk at Yontrakit Automobiles, the local SEAT distributors sent me this pic. Unfortunately the words were in ‘wriggle writing’, but I gleaned enough that this was their Spanish GT championship leading SEAT Toledo GT. What attracted me was the 20 plus vehicles behind the SEAT. Directly behind the Toledo is a Dodge Viper, there’s more than a handful of Ferrari’s and Porsche’s in there too. If only we could get fields like that over here. Ah well, we can always dream.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week to stop the webcrawlers, I published another picture of a car to identify. This photograph was taken at an international motor show in the 1930’s and I asked what car it was? It was indeed the Maybach, all 12 cylinders and the biggest car exhibited at the International Automobile Show in Berlin in 1933.

Since a few of my readers expressed ignorance of the marque, a little about Maybach will not go astray. The ‘father’ of the cars was Wilhelm Maybach, who as a young man was taken under the wing of Gottlieb Daimler (yes, the DaimlerChrysler Daimler). Wilhelm’s son, Karl Maybach began to produce cars under the family name in 1919, with the development model being built on a Mercedes chassis. They produced 1,800 Maybach’s between 1921 and 1940, but they too were casualties of WWII. The name was revived in last year, with the new behemoth displayed at the Geneva Motor Show. The Daimler connection is still there - the car being built by Mercedes at their Sindelfingen plant and they can produce up to 1,500 Maybachs each year. Benz have produced this car to be the epitome of motoring snobbery. I doubt if they’d even take our phone call, but if you were the head of a telecoms firm in Thailand, I would suggest they’d send a plane to get you!

Each car is individually tailored to your own requirements. The electronics are such that Peter Hausserman, DaimlerChrysler’s director of telematics, said that his company’s Maybach luxury car showed just how intricate this could be. “The Maybach rear-seat entertainment system is the most complex system we have ever developed,” he says. “Then we have to incorporate very special needs of customers, since each system is more or less customer-adapted.”

So to this week. Which well-known GP race car had a Maybach engine? And who was the driver? And what has all that to do with ex-world Champ Aussie Alan Jones?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!


European GP this weekend at Nurburgring

Oh if it were only the original Nurburgring! That would really sort out the men from the boys. However, even on the ‘new’ de-tox’d circuit, at least the circus is back in Europe and we can watch the race at sensible hours. I believe that will be 7 p.m. our time - but as always, check your local TV feed for the correct time.

The original Nurburgring was built in the Eifel Mountains in Northern Germany in an attempt to attract tourists. It first hosted the German GP in 1927 when the full 17.58 mile circuit was used, but from 1929 only the 14.17 mile Nordschleife (North Loop), with its 176 corners, was used for the German GP.

During the 1960s, the circuit received increasing criticism which resulted in an S bend being built at the end of the long finishing straight to slow the cars as they passed the pits. By 1970, the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association had demanded a list of improvements which called for the ironing out of bumps, the felling of thousands of trees to create run-off areas, the installation of Armco barriers, a better surface and the re-profiling of some corners. Following a serious accident to Niki Lauda in 1976, it was deemed too dangerous and in 1984 the new 2.882 mile circuit, a modern autodrome with little character, was constructed close to the original track. It is a pale shadow of the former circuit, which still exists today and is used for Touring Car races. Drivers who still compete there speak in terms of awe of what is possibly the most demanding circuit ever constructed. The public can also have a fang around the famous Nordschleife by paying a few euros, and I can personally assure you that it is worth it, if you have the opportunity.


So what did we learn from the Canadian GP?

While once more the TV race callers whipped themselves into a frenzy of excitement, it didn’t do the same for me. The reason the four cars at the finish were line astern was because they couldn’t pass each other! Once Michael Schumacher in the Fazza got through to the lead at the pit stop, there was nothing Ralf S or Montoya in the BMW Williamses could do about it. They were joined by Alonso’s Renault, who had caught them with about five laps to go at around one second a lap, but once he was on the back of the high-speed train, there was nothing he could do either.

Justin Wilson

Ralph Firman

Talking about BMW Williams, Ralf Schumacher has decided to extract the digit, and at the high speed power Gilles Villeneuve circuit of Montreal, he showed a decided flash of brilliance in qualifying to snare pole position. Wunderkid Raikkonen hung his McLaren on the wall again in Qualifying, the second time this year. Ron Dennis would not have been happy, while his running mate, David Coulthard put in another lack-lustre performance.

Again at the Canadian GP, the quickest off the mark on the first lap was Justin Wilson in the Minardi. He manages to leap-frog his way from the bum-end through to the middle of the field every race, bringing words of wonder from the telly-bletherers, but we never get to see it. Surely there must have been one camera to record all this? I was moaning about this to the well-known motoring scribe Dr. Mike Lawrence in the UK who wrote back, “Remember when Alonso was with Minardi? We never saw him until the Spanish GP when the Spanish director highlighted a local hero. There he was like a terrier snapping at the heels of a Benetton when he should have been nowhere near a Benetton. Nobody who saw that will be surprised by his performances this year. When will we see Justin? Don’t hold your breath.”

What else did Canada teach us? Once more I lament the reliability of the current crop of F1 machines. The world’s most expensive motor vehicles appear to have exploding hand grenades for engines. Less than half the field staggered through to the end. For 10 million dollars an engine, you’d want a little more reliability! Surely? Probably what should be done is to give everyone of the F1 teams a supply of Toyota Corolla engines to use instead. They’d only need one per season. Certainly cut costs!

What else did we learn? Well, Rooby Baby Barichello is still proving quite conclusively that he is definitely Number Two material at Ferrari. Likewise Ralph Firman at Jordan and Pizzonia at Jaguar are not covering themselves in glory. There are probably better drivers out there in the lower formulae and I hope we get to see new fresh ‘talent’ in 2004.


Pick-ups continue to pick up

Vehicle sales in Thailand continue to improve, with the one-tonners leading the way. Sales of around 400,000 units are expected by the end of the year, but analysts are saying that production will be around 700,000 units by the end of 2006.

Ford Ranger

Fuelling these buoyant figures is the fact that domestic sales of pick-ups rose by almost one third so far this year over the same period last year. This comes after another record setting year in 2002.

With AFTA around the corner, many of the major manufacturers have plumped for Thailand to be the manufacturing base for the Asian basin, including Toyota, Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Ford/Mazda. Much of the output is directly destined for export, including Europe and Australia. For example, Toyota indicates it will spend 30 billion baht to raise its local annual output of pick-ups and MPV’s to 200,000 a year by this time next year. Ford Sales Thailand also reports an increase with its Ranger pick-up series, up 14% in the past two years.