SAIC the big mover

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 world.

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 billion USD.


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 comparable vehicles.

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.

Diesel’s new technology for old problems

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.

Diesel’s original engine

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 user friendly!

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 engineering genius.

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.

Look 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 version:-

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!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned that rear view mirrors become compulsory on racing cars in 1925. I asked why were they not compulsory before? The reason was that up till then they had riding mechanics to look out for them, but they were dispensed with for the 1925 season.

So to this week. Which manufacturer put two of his own engines in a motorcycle to break the land speed record set four years earlier by a motorcycle with one of his engines?

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

Good luck!