In the name of stability control

If you think that all the electronic advancements in skid control, ‘swervability’ and such were purely the province of the engineers, then think again. The engineers, in conjunction with the electronic wallahs come up with all these advances, but it is the ad-men who have to interest the prospective customers in these gizmos.

Try this list for size -

Ford Motor Co.: AdvanceTrac

General Motors: StabiliTrak

BMW AG: Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)

DaimlerChrysler AG: Electronic Stability Program (ESP)

Honda Motor Corp.: Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA)

Nissan Motor Co.: Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC)

Toyota Motor Corp.: Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)

So the next question is - are they all the same? Does some small company in the Black Forest in Europe or Detroit (or heaven forbid - China) make these things? In answer to that - no, they are control systems designed and built by the manufacturers, or through some company licensed by the manufacturers. “There are 22 names out there,” Bill Kozyra, CEO of Continental Teves N.A., says. “It’s difficult enough for consumers to understand what the technology is.” Right on, Bill!

To try and make it easier for the consumer, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) soon will recommend one name for the industry: electronic stability control, or ESC. The group often recommends standard names for technology such as antilock brakes. Manufacturers universally used the term “ABS” because it was adopted before they had time to create brand names for it, SAE spokesman Steve Yaeger says.

Not so with stability control. Each manufacturer considers its version of the technology unique and thinks it has too much brand pulling power to drop its own name. However, this is currently not the case, as all the stability control mechanisms are optional (costly) extras, other than on a few premium brands. The customers are not buying, no matter what it is called. Four years after stability control’s introduction in the United States, the adoption rate is about 10 percent, Continental Teves says. With the customer unsure of the benefits vis-เ-vis the price, they can use whatever acronyms they like. The spin doctors will have to do a better job than just coming up with a catchy set of initials.

Sauber and its drivers

I was recently able to interview Sauber F1 drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Nick Heidfeld, and undoubtedly both were nice guys, but without any real ego. I asked both of them who they thought was the best driver in Formula 1 and I was amazed by their answers. Both totally ducked the question with words like, “I don’t believe I should judge the others.” See Arr Ay Pee!

Felipe Massa

I really expected them to say, “Me, of course, and after me Michael Schumacher’s not bad.” You see, I believe that all top sportsmen need a sizable ego. In fact, a damn big one as they need 100% faith in their own ability to be the ‘best’ or else they won’t make it to the top.

While I like Heinz-Harry as a person, I think the lack of a 110% ego has stopped him achieving what he might have done. Heidfeld on the other hand came across as fairly colourless, and I doubt if his F1 career will go further.

In some ways, it was rather ironic, with both of these guys being dropped for the 2004 season. Drivers for Sauber next year are Giancarlo Fisichella, coming over from Jordan, and (at the time of writing this) the other seat will most probably be taken by Felipe Massa, returning after a year as test driver with Ferrari. Hopefully with a little more maturity and more miles under his belt, Massa will have a better year with Sauber this time than he had a couple of years back. Here’s what happened to Massa, on his way up the ladder.

Felipe Massa began his racing career in karts at the age of nine, competing in national and international championships for seven years. He won the Italian and European Formula Renault championship in 2000, before progressing to the Formula 3000 Euro-Series for the following year. He won the championship after winning six of the eight races, and was soon behind the wheel of the Sauber C20 at Mugello.

Having impressed the Swiss team with his feedback and speed, Massa was signed for the 2001 season, and the twenty year old made his F1 debut as partner to Nick (now unemployed) Heidfeld.

Depending on how you looked at it, Felipe Massa was either the biggest revelation of 2002 or the biggest disappointment. Ever since Kimi Raikkonen, another Sauber discovery, came into F1, there has been concern within the sport that some of the youngsters coming in haven’t served the correct ‘apprenticeship’. Certainly, some of Felipe’s performances in 2002 aided their argument.

Basically the Brazilian, though talented, was just a little too wild getting into all manner of incidents, many of them unnecessary. At one race he spun so many times that he admitted to giving himself a headache. As the season went on it was clear that he was getting on the nerves of his rivals, his team-mate, and more importantly his boss. Therefore it wasn’t too surprising when Sauber decided to drop him in favour of Heinz-Harald (now also unemployed) Frentzen for 2003.

Sauber was keen to retain Felipe as test driver but the Brazilian wanted to race. As the number of vacant seats diminished it looked as though the Brazilian was out of luck, then suddenly he was being linked with the second seat at Jordan. However, just as it seemed the deal was done, it all fell through and Ralph Firman took the final ‘free’ seat.

Twenty-four-hours before Ferrari was due to launch its 2003 contender, the Italian team revealed it had signed Felipe as test driver. That’s how fortunes can change in F1. Undoubtedly Massa has done better at Ferrari than he would have done, running around at the back of the field in a yellow Jordan. Anyway, the red race suit looks better!

King/Extended Cab pick-ups, Aussie style

The extended cab chassis pick-up has been in Thailand for a few years, but this style of vehicle is only now becoming known down-under. The Australians of course have their own way of looking at things, and our down-under correspondent, John Weinthal has just spent a week doing the “crew-cab” experience, while pretending he is taking the workers to the next job site! The vehicle in question is produced by General Motors and sold as the Holden Crewman SSV8. Here are the words from Weinthal.

“Holden recently launched the longest vehicle ever to bear its name - the unique four-door, five seater sedan-based Crewman. This vehicle redefines the combination car and ute (pick-up) class, previously owned by Japanese designs, although most are Taiwanese-built these days. These include Holden’s own Rodeo, the Nissan Navara, Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi Triton and the Ford and Mazda clones - the Courier and B Series.

“Crewman is the most versatile sedan-ute combo so far. It is a veritable car and ute in one. Crewman comes either as an auto only 152kW six cylinder in Base and S specs, or as a look-at-me SSV8 with the lusty 225kW Gen 111 engine with either a four-speed auto or six-speed manual gears.

“Holden is adding these unique Australian models to its expanding range of rebadged imports like the Japanese Jackaroo, Rodeo and Cruze, Euro Astra and Vectra, Zafira from Thailand and the occasional Yank such as the ill-fated Mexican-made Suburban.

“Crewman is an undoubtedly clever device. It is a genuine first which will surely find a steady stream of buyers. As a work vehicle Crewman is best in its six cylinder Base and S variants, for these have claimed one tonne payloads. The independently rear suspended V8SS has only a 750kg payload.

“Prices run from AUD 32,490 through AUD 38,740 for the auto-only sixes to the SS’s AUD 46,140 - be it auto or manual. (1.25 million baht at straight currency conversion rates.)

“As I said at the start, until now tradesman, farmers and others requiring four-door five seater comfort with open load carrying capacity had to go Japanese. These overtly workhorse carryalls will continue to attract many, especially those requiring genuine tough-going four-wheel-drive.”

(Thank you, John, and it is interesting to see that the world is catching up with Thailand, though there are many more reasons to buy a pick-up here, more than just practicality, and much of that is to do with tariff and taxes, Dr. Iain.)

Autotrivia Quiz

Two weeks ago I asked about the famous 1928 supercharged Mercedes 38/250 which was known as the SSK. What did the K stand for? Should have been easy for all the German readers, but you’ll have to be quick to beat MacAlan Thompson and his web-crawling spiders! It was also made easier by the fact that I forgot to put this section in last week, so you had two weeks to get the answer! The correct answer was that it stood for “kurz” (short), not for “kompressor” (supercharged).

So to this week. And perhaps we could call it “Dem’s is da brakes!” Four wheel brakes are not new, in fact the first servo assisted four wheel brakes were fitted to the Type H6 Hispano-Suiza in 1919. However, these were not hydraulic. Hydraulic four wheel brakes were pioneered by Duesenberg in the Model A of 1921, but it was 1924 before they were fitted to a mass-production vehicle - the Chrysler 70. In 1925, four wheel hydraulic brakes were fitted to two British marques. I want to know their names. What were they?

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

Good luck!