Do you copy that?
Who is SAIC, do I hear you ask? Well, SAIC stands
for Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation which builds the Chery
brand, and right now looks to be the fastest moving car company in the
To back that up, it has just bought around 50
percent of Ssanyong to make Ssanyong, South Korea’s fourth largest
auto manufacturer, a subsidiary of SAIC. That cost them a cool half
Now SAIC is looking as if it has purchased MG
Rover, the troubled British car maker steeped in history, that was
gobbled up by British Leyland, fell into foreign hands, but then cast
off by the Germans, revived by the Brits and now to become a
“chicken chow Chery” MG.
Not only that, but SAIC has now signed a joint
venture with Visionary Vehicles, a US firm headed up by Malcolm
Bricklin (remember the Bricklins?) to provide cheap cars for America
by 2007, at a proposed market price around 30 percent cheaper than any
While all this expansion is going on, the self-same
SAIC is in the courts over copyright infringements. A couple of months
back I mentioned that SAIC was being sued by GM Daewoo for copying the
Daewoo Matiz (built by SAIC and badged as the Chevrolet Spark) and
selling it as their own branded Chery QQ. Which then prompts the
question, what model does SAIC intend to sell to the Americans?
But while still on copyright infringements, it is
not just SAIC that has been photocopying car plans around the Chinese
countryside. ASEAN Autobiz reported in its February edition that Honda
is suing Hebei Xinkai for copying and selling a vehicle called the
SR-V, which just happens to have more than a passing resemblance to
the Honda CR-V. Toyota also claimed it got ‘xeroxed’ by the Geely
group, but unhappily for the Big T, Toyota lost the case when the
Chinese courts in mainland China deliberated on the Chinese
industry’s handling of designs from foreign devils!
Interestingly, last year 46 percent of fake goods
seized by the US Customs were of Chinese origin. In fact, China has
ranked as Number 1 in the copy goods industry for six of the past
seven years! Now there’s a great record!
What is even more disturbing is the report, again
in ASEAN Autobiz, that 40 to 50 percent of China’s auto parts are
duplicates. These include oil filters without filtering elements, fuel
filters without check valves, fuel caps that leak in a roll-over
situation and brake linings made of grass, woodchips or cardboard!
The cheapest parts price may not be the cheapest in the long run.
I was standing in the freezing cold at the
Wakefield Park race circuit in New South Wales, Australia, waiting for
my friend’s wife who was bringing their pick-up over to pick us up.
We waited, getting progressively colder, until my friend yelled out in
exasperation, “What’s the problem?” “I’m waiting for the
worm,” was her reply.
Remember the ‘glow-plug’ systems that were
commonly used to fire up a diesel engine when it was cold? Usually the
need to activate the glow-plug was indicated by a red coil on the
dashboard display, hence my friend’s wife “waiting for the
worm.” Since then, auto diesel engines have become a little more
The development of the diesel engine has been one
of experiment, failure, success, intrigue and possibly murder most
foul. That development is still going on, though the extra-judicial
killings seem to have stopped!
The name ‘diesel’ comes from a Bavarian
engineer, Rudolph Diesel (1858-1913) who developed a theory that
revolutionized the engines of his day. He proposed an engine in which
air was compressed to such a degree that this produced an extreme rise
in temperature in the cylinder. When fuel is injected into the piston
chamber at a critical point with this air, the fuel is ignited by the
high temperature, causing an explosion to force the piston down. On
February 27, 1892, Diesel filed for a patent at the Imperial Patent
Office in Germany. Within a year, he was granted Patent No. 67207 for
a “Working Method and Design for Combustion Engines - a new
efficient, thermal engine.”
Diesel demonstrated his engine at the Exhibition
Fair in Paris, France in 1898, where it used peanut oil - now
considered the “original” bio-diesel. Like many ‘visionaries’
he hoped that his invention would benefit the ordinary man,
particularly the smaller industries and farmers, and stop the
dependence upon the petroleum industry.
Unfortunately Diesel did not live long enough to
see the full force and longevity of his invention. With the First
World War looming on the horizon, Diesel did not agree with the
politics of Germany and was reluctant to see his engine only used by
their Naval fleet. With his political support directed towards France
and Britain, he was on his way to England to arrange for them to use
his engine when he inexplicably disappeared over the side of the ship
in the English Channel. Did he jump? Or was he pushed? We will never
know. All that we do know was that this was an untimely end for an
The largest problem facing the diesel engineers was
the timing of the injection of diesel fuel into the cylinders. Too
early and not enough power was produced, and the fuel poorly burned.
Too late and a similar problem emerged.
at the size of the man standing on the crankshaft!
The 1920’s brought a new injection pump design
from the Robert Bosch company, allowing the metering of fuel as it
entered the engine without the need of pressurized air to propel the
fuel mixture into the cylinder. This was a marked improvement.
The diesel engine was now small enough to be
adapted for automotive use. 1923-1924 saw the first trucks built and
shown at the Berlin Motor Fair. In 1936, Mercedes Benz built the first
commercially produced automobile with a diesel engine - the Type 260D.
On the other side of the Atlantic, engineers were
also refining the diesel process, with Clessie L Cummins, a
mechanic-inventor who began by looking at the instability created by
the fuel delivery system and developed a single disk system that
measured the fuel injected.
It was also during the 1920’s that diesel engines
began to use fossil fuel residue created during the refining to
produce gasoline, rather than a biomass based fuel. The petroleum
industries were growing and establishing themselves during this
period. Their cut-throat business tactics and the financial clout of
the oil industry greatly influenced the development of all engines and
machinery, and one side effect was to relegate bio-diesel, as a fuel,
to the historical rubbish bin until ‘rediscovered’ a few years
ago, during one of the recurrent oil crises.
However, passenger vehicles were still not using
diesel engines to any great degree. Even in Europe, where they
originated, they were considered slow, noisy and dirty. It needed
something to give diesel engine technology a boost. That boost was
supplied by OPEC, the Middle Eastern organization controlling the
majority of the world’s oil. Crude oil supplies were reduced,
causing spiraling upward price of fuel oil and a fuel crisis. This was
1973, and again in 1978.
The buying public began to panic and diesel fuel
became popular again, being more efficient and economical and the
public began buying diesel engined automobiles. These automobiles
accounted for 85 percent of Peugeot’s sales, 70 percent of Mercedes
Benz’s sales, 58 percent of Isuzu’s sales, 50 percent of
Volkswagen’s sales, plus a good portion of Audis, Volvos and Datsuns
during the 1970’s. For the first time, an American manufacturer
(General Motors) also began producing an automobile with a diesel
engine. However, when fuel supplies returned to normal, the fickle
general public also returned to the gas-guzzlers, but all this is
starting to change.
One reason for the shift towards diesel engines is
the technology that has allowed diesel engines to become clean, quiet
and increasingly powerful. Much of this relates to the fuel delivery
system, the previous Achilles heel of the diesel engine. The new
technology is called the Common Rail Direct Injection.
All functions in a modern engine are controlled by
the ECM communicating with an elaborate set of sensors measuring
everything from R.P.M. to engine coolant and oil temperatures and even
position in the crankshaft rotation. (Glow plugs are rarely used
today, so my mate’s wife will have a very long wait for the
‘worm’ these days!) The ECM senses ambient air temperature and
retards the timing of the engine in cold weather so the injector
sprays the fuel at a later time. The air in the cylinder is compressed
more, creating more heat, which aids in starting.
Common Rail systems are now the standard, and the
business to supply these systems to the manufacturers is also highly
sought after, being a growing market. Denso Corporation has announced
that it will supply its high-pressure diesel Common Rail fuel system
to Ford of Europe, who will be using vehicles equipped with the system
starting this year. Denso Manufacturing Hungary also supplies Toyota
Motor Corporation and Isuzu Motors operations in Europe, and supplies
Nissan Europe with units built in Japan. Denso says its system reduces
diesel emissions and noise even at low speeds and has cleared Euro IV
emissions regulations. However, Denso are only number four in the
Common Rail suppliers after Robert Bosch GmbH, Siemens VDO Automotive
Corp. and Delphi Corp.
But the forte of the diesel engine is still in the
massive power plants used in ocean going vessels, and as an example is
the enormity of the Wartsila-Sulzer RTA96-C turbo-charged two-stroke
diesel engine which is the most powerful and most efficient
prime-mover in the world today. The Aioi Works of Japan builds these
engines available in 6 through 14 cylinder versions.
Here are some specifications of the 14 cylinder
Total engine weight: 2,300 tons (the crankshaft
alone weighs 300 tons)
Length: 89 feet
Height: 44 feet
Maximum power: 108,920 BHP at 102 rpm
Maximum torque: 5,608,312 lb/ft at 102rpm
That is an engine producing more than 100,000 BHP!
Now that’s something that Rudolph Diesel would be proud of!