Automania

Bangkok International Motor Show 2004

Thailand has been in the somewhat strange position of having two motor shows each year in Bangkok recently. Many organizations had shown an interest in being involved, either joining with the longest running show organized by Grand Prix International (24 years continuously), or by putting on their own. This meant that some makes and manufacturers had to either spend money at appear both shows, or favour one or the other. Not a healthy situation at all.

Fortunately this situation has been resolved, with the three major organizations agreeing to co-organize the 25th Bangkok International Motor Show next year. Grand Prix International’s president, Dr. Prachin Eamlumnow announced the historic agreement between his company, the Royal Automobile Association of Thailand (RAAT) and the Thai Automotive Institute (TAI) to hold the motor show next year. It will be on March 26 through to April 4, at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre (BITEC).

Having attended the past six motor shows and seeing the number of exhibitors rise dramatically in that time, I can foresee that BITEC will become too small, unless they can expand their under roof area. Even at present, the auto parts and accessories displays have been held in de-mountable structures in the grounds.


How well does Thailand stack up in the manufacturing stakes?

After all the broo-ha-ha of APEC and shipping the beggars out of Bangkok and giving the pavement vendors new food carts (which they have to pay for later, by the way), Thailand must have looked good for the visiting dignitaries. But in the auto manufacturing business, how good are we in the region?

One of the latest to announce a major investment is FoMoCo during Bill Ford’s recent visit, including a handshake from Dr. Thaksin. Ford is going to pour USD 500 million into the AAT plant in the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate.

The November edition of ASEAN Autobiz had the comparison as their leader and it made interesting numbers. The biggest producer in the ASEAN basin has been Malaysia, with its own (government backed) Proton and the Perodua. The Malaysian Automotive Association has admitted there has been a downturn in the auto sales and the projected figure for 2003 is 420,000 units. Last year they produced 430,000 units.

Thailand, on the other hand is looking at more than 500,000 units this year, and forecasters say that the pre-crash level of 590,000 will be topped next year.

Other countries are Indonesia (340,000), Singapore (93,000) and the Philippines (90,000).

In actual fact, this does not look too good for Malaysia at all. The country has been stalling on the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) agreement, which began this year. Malaysia asked for a two-year period of grace before reducing import duties on imported cars, mainly to protect their own manufacturer (Proton), but the time for stalling is running out. They have announced that next year they are getting ready, and are, wait for it, replacing import duties on foreign cars with new excise duties! A horse by another name! The only difference being that import duties are paid by the importers - and then passed on to the consumer as higher prices. With excise duties, the tax is levied directly on the buyer, to be added to the price of the car, so the government just gets the revenue via a different department!

With the political situation apparently stable in this country, auto manufacturing investment is continuing. One of the latest to announce a major investment is FoMoCo during Bill Ford’s recent visit, including a handshake from Dr. Thaksin. Ford are going to pour USD 500 million into the AAT plant in the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate. This will see the plant that produces Ford and Mazda pick-ups, expanding with new production lines and new vehicles rolling off the assembly lines.

All in all, it looks like a fairly exciting time in the automakers territory. However, let us not forget India and China. India will produce around 900,000 vehicles (that is twice as much as Thailand) and China will probably top 2.5 million. It certainly is not the time to rest on our laurels. We must build vehicles and manufacture spare parts “better” than the others, with higher quality.

APEC and the local auto industry

If you think that APEC was all about clearing the streets and making us look good in the eyes of the participating nations, then you’re more than partially correct. However, it was also used by the local auto industry to show what they could do. For example, did you know that over 200 new vehicles were supplied to the Thai government to be used over APEC?

BMW 7 Series

Audi handed over 21 Audi A6’s, BMW provided 19 armour-plated 7 Series, Ford delivered 25 Ford Escapes and 20 Ford Everests, GM supplied 12 Chevrolet Luminas (imported from Australia where they are badged as Holdens), Toyota handed over the keys to 39 Camrys and 33 HiAce vans, while VW gave away 42 VW Caravelles.

Look for some bargains in the next few months. Anyone for a very slightly used BeeEmm 7 series that can withstand a 15 kg bomb blast and can travel more than 80 kays with its tyres shot out? I have actually seen a couple of these at the BMW plant here, and they look fabulous in black. Wonder if they’ll do a zero deposit, zero interest, payments over 20 years deal? Ah well, you can always dream!


Toyota Corolla performance models overseas

With Toyota Motor having won the Thailand Touring Car Championships with Natavud and ‘Pete’ with the local Corolla Altis, time might be right for our local Toyota to add a high performance Corolla to the range. By the way, Toyota list 52 models that you can buy in this country, from Vios to Crown. That’s how you take over the marketplace - a model for everyone’s needs.

At the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in America, Toyota decided to shrug off the middle-aged image for the Corolla and displayed the Corolla XRS. This was approved last year, said Don Esmond, Toyota Division general manager, at the show. “We’ve wanted to get into the Honda Civic Si market,” Esmond said. Three years ago, there were no Toyotas at the SEMA high performance show. Now they have four. “We’re getting our foot in the door,” said Esmond.

The Corolla XRS is powered by the same 1.8-liter Yamaha engine that is in the top model Celica delivering 173 hp and 127 pounds-feet of torque. However, for the sedan, the engine has been altered to provide more mid-range torque. The increased power over the standard 1.8 litre (136 hp) is delivered to the road through a 6 speed gearbox.

In keeping with the performance angle, Toyota uses a sport-tuned suspension with heavier springs and shocks that lower the vehicle by half an inch. Sixteen-inch wheels and Michelin performance tires are standard.

Toyota hopes to sell 5,000 Corolla XRS units a year. All will be built at Toyota’s plant in Cambridge, Ontario. Prices have not been set, but Esmond said the XRS will cost about $2,500 more than the top end Corolla model which sells at USD 15,265, including freight. That will make the performance Corolla (over there) cheaper than the 1.6 litre Bangers taxi model over here!


Bill Ford’s crystal ball sees future of hybrids and hydrogen

In 25 years, as many as 75 percent of light vehicles produced could be hybrids with the rest powered by hydrogen, according to FoMoCo number one, Bill Ford.

DaimlerChrysler looks as if they agree, with their latest showing at the Tokyo Motor Show. This was a concept vehicle called the F500 Mind, the big four-door fastback being billed as mobile research laboratory housing technological advancements that are expected to filter though into standard Mercedes-Benz models in coming years, including an advanced hybrid drive system that uses both diesel power and yes, electric propulsion. Power hails from the same 184kW 4.0-litre V8 common rail diesel engine used in the European market S Class 400 CDI along with a 50kW electric motor. It’s Dr. Porsche’s Lohner-Porsche all over again.

The way of the future is to use electrical power even more than just now. Other features in the vehicles of the future can be adapted and handled better by electricity, and this includes brakes and steering. “X-by-wire” is certainly here and is being refined. Going back to the F500 Mind, it uses electric operated accelerator and brake pedals to free up valuable interior space.

Bill Ford’s other horse in the race (and it looks like he’s backing both of them) is hydrogen power. “The next big event for this industry is going to be the creation of a hydrogen economy,” he said. “The transition from where we are today to a hydrogen economy is going to be a huge national and international issue that is going to require coordination with governments as well as fuel providers and ourselves in a scale that we have never seen before.”


DaimlerChrysler cuts the top off the PT Cruiser

With Chrysler seeing a dwindling market, the parent body in the US is trying very hard to revitalize the image of their products. The best way is new ones, and the Chrysler group says fresh products will jump-start its turnaround plan. There are nine products which will arrive in the US showrooms by the end of 2004, reports Automotive News.

PT Cruiser Convertible

The first of these is the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible. Chrysler expects to sell as many as 20,000 annually. The convertible will be offered with a standard 2.4 liter four cylinder turbocharged engine generating 180 hp and a 220 hp version will be optional.

Another wild machine is the Viper engined Ram pickup that will arrive in showrooms in January. The V10 Viper engine would have enough torque to pull City Hall through town. An amazing ‘grunty’ power plant.

Jeep is being bolstered by another variant of the Jeep Wrangler, called the 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. This is a stretched version of the Wrangler, if you want to take the entire family, and the buffalo into the bushlands and goes to dealerships next year in the US. Don’t hold your breath here.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I wrote about “Hybrid” power plants that are all the rage these days, being put forward as the “new” technology. However, this idea of petrol/electric vehicles is not at all new. It was first demonstrated in 1902, and the designer raced a car with it and won. I asked who was he? It was Dr. Ferdinand Porsche with his Lohner-Porsche in 1902. Electric motors in the hubs were used, with the power coming from a gasoline driven generator.

So to this week. In 1978 you could buy a couple of diesel engined Jeeps. Who made them? Clue - it was not an American company, but they were called “Jeep” and that was embossed along the side of the engine cover.

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

Good luck!