Automania

Hungarian GP this weekend

Will Raikkonen make it this time? Will he start at the front this time? Will we see a good scrap between him and Alonso and Montoya? Will BAR make it to the front this time? The answers to all these questions this weekend.

Apart from the Renaults and the McLarens and BARs, there appears to be nobody else in the hunt. Ferrari are going backwards at a great rate, BMW Williams look as if BeeEmm have given up and Williams is just at sea. Red Bull had a great run at the beginning of the season, but a lack of development in the car is now starting to become apparent. Toyota? Much better than last year, but still not able to consistently race at the front. Sauber? Forget it. Jordan? A joke. And Minardi? Has anyone actually seen a Minardi recently?

As a racing venue, Hungary has a long history, with its first GP run in 1906, and regular events in Budapest since 1926. Built with state backing, and laid out in a natural amphitheatre, the Hungaroring opened in 1986 and attracted an estimated 200,000 spectators.

Raikkonen

Though the event was well organized, and the hosts very appreciative, it was felt that the 2.494 mile Hungaroring had been laid out more in the style of a twisty street circuit rather than a bespoke road track. There were few opportunities for overtaking, though things were eased from 1989 when a tight corner was by-passed and the lap distance became 2.466 miles.

However, it remains a circuit that is not high on any of the drivers’ lists, unless you are after a piece of quick action behind the pits, as the Hungarian government actually erected (nice word in the sex scene) some mobile brothels a couple of years ago. I think they are still in use today!

The racing begins (I think) at 7 p.m. but check your local TV feed.


Should we all buy economizers?

With the price of crude oil spiraling, partly as a result of the decreased production from the Iraq oil fields (thanks George), and the rest by conniving in the cartels, people are beginning to look at fuel efficient vehicles. This is not being done to save the planet’s natural resources, I should add, but to save the individual drivers pocket resources! In the past six months the cost of fuel at my local pumps has gone from around 18 baht/litre to now around 24 baht/litre. Where is the end? (How long is a piece of string?) Just for interest, gasoline is now over 33 baht/litre in Australia.

Peugeot 407

Down-Under, the economizers are certainly seeing a sales boom, including the gasoline/electric vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrid, which are initially more expensive, but much cheaper to run. These vehicles seeing sales up between 17 and 78 percent!

Here are the top fuel misers. Some are not available in this country, but the economy figures are quite startling.

Toyota Prius hybrid (4.4 litres per 100 km)
Smart Fortwo (4.8)
Peugeot 307 diesel (4.9)
Daihatsu Charade (5.0)
Honda Civic Hybrid (5.2)
Volkswagen Golf diesel (5.5)
Smart Forfour (5.6)
Honda Jazz (5.7)
Hyundai Getz (5.7)
Audi A3 diesel (5.9)
Peugeot 407 diesel (5.9)
Citroen C5 diesel (6.5)
Mercedes-Benz E270 diesel (7.1)

From that list there are a few available in this country, and it would be worthwhile having a look, if you are in the market for a new car. The Honda Civic Hybrid is 1.7 million, the Honda Jazz around 600,000, the Citroen C5 at 2.1 million, Peugeot 407 diesel about 2.6 million and the Mercedes about 5.6 million baht. At the consumption levels quoted above, you should be able to drive to Bangkok from Pattaya for around 100 baht.

A brief word about European diesels is called for here. Gone are the clunking, smelly diesels, remembered without fondness in the ubiquitous ‘song taews’ of Thailand. The European diesels are smartly revving engines, fuel efficient, powerful, and economical. To be quite frank, with the escalating gasoline prices at our pumps, the diesel variants make more and more sense every day. The performance is equivalent to the gasoline powered models, but running costs are way down by comparison.

The diesel engines are much more fuel efficient, going much further on a tank than do the gasoline engined cars. Why all the manufacturers are not offering their Euro-diesels, I do not know.

BMW is a prime example, with a top-notch 2 litre diesel for their 3-Series, but it does not get released here. However, Volvo have seen the light, and are now offering a diesel in their S80. It is significant that diesels are ordered in around 70 percent of the European new vehicles these days.

I also wonder why the Thai government is not encouraging the manufacturers to bring in diesels? Seems a logical move, but in the 12 point economy and energy saving manifesto that was released, the government actually wants to stop diesel engines in passenger cars. Why? Beats me.

The overseas experience is quite remarkable, the way the econocars are taking over. According to Toyota Australia spokesman Peter Griffin, the company was unable to keep up with demand for the Prius hybrid, which has the electric motor as well as a conventional gasoline engine. “We sell every Prius that comes into the country and we could sell more if they were available,” Griffin said in the Australian press.

He continued, “The car is more expensive to buy but the current petrol price is certainly helping us. We’re sure we’ll see the number of hybrid cars over time increase. It’s no longer experimental technology.”

It is also significant to note that in Australia, the country that has always gone for the big cars, small car sales are up 16 percent, whilst the larger cars are down 10 percent. There is a message here for both buyers and manufacturers. (I think I’ll keep the Daihatsu Mira for another year!)


Chopsticks at the ready? The Chinese invasion has started.

China’s cheery Chery is already being assembled in Malaysia, and will be here soon. With the Thai government in confab with the Malaysian one to jointly develop auto industries, it will not be long before we see them arriving on Thai soil. Last year, Chery exported 6,000 vehicles to Malaysia and Iran. They also have a contract to supply 250,000 vehicles to Visonary Vehicles in the US by 2007.

Geely

Geely Automotive Holdings, another of the Chinese players, is also negotiating with the Malaysians to assemble their range of vehicles. It is projected that Geely will start production (assembly of semi-knocked down units) by September this year.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I said that in 1918, there were only two makes of cars built in America with right hand drive. I asked what were they? They were Pierce Arrow and the American built Fiats.

So to this week. Which F1 champion started work in a garage when he was 10, his father was a house painter, and did not start motor racing until he was 23?

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

Good luck!

A couple of weeks back I asked about the first US Jeeps and Bobby Joe came back with this very detailed piece with an interesting item at the end. “Hundreds of companies competed for the original vehicle request. Three final companies were considered for the “first” Jeep bid by the US government were the Jim Dunn company, Ford company and Willys company. The first contract for the Jeep was awarded to Jim Dunn for his Bantam model. The Bantam proposal was lower than the others and this company received an order to produce 70 Model 60 or MKII. That famous, first, U.S. Army contract was awarded to American Bantam back in the summer of 1940.

The first Jeep Specs: 45 hp. Continental engine, weight 2050 lbs., wheelbase 79 in., 3 speed syncromesh Warner T84 gearbox with floor mounted shift lever. A total of 2675 units were built in 1941. The name “Jeep” was applied to all three of the jeep type vehicles produced in 1940 - 41. Our favourite vehicle was named after Eugene the Jeep. Eugene was a character out of the comic strip Popeye. Eugene was a small, impish, cat like character. He could walk through walls, walk on ceilings, appear out of nowhere. Soldiers were so impressed with the new vehicle’s go-anywhere, do-anything capabilities, they were reminded of the character; and so dubbed the new vehicle a Jeep.”

I also mentioned the Bandag Bullet in this column a little while back. Well, it is still setting records and is the world’s fastest diesel-powered vehicle when it averaged 186 km/h across the 1 km track in Bundaberg Queensland, Australia last week, bettering the old mark by more than 30km/h. The eight ton truck was doing 215 km/h at the end of the measured kilometer.


Now it’s Hybrid motorcycles!

Thailand’s rather progressive (and aggressive) motorcycle company Tigar Motorsales plans to have its hybrid Tiger motorcycle on sale next year. A prototype was seen at the Bangkok International Motor Show and according to company spokesman MD Piti Manomaipaibul the motorcycle, while still in the development phase, is progressing well and they have begun registering patents on the designs.

The new motorcycle should come on to the market next year with a projected cost between 40,000-50,000 baht. Which motorcycle taxi rider will be the first to take advantage of the fuel sparing technology, I wonder? It certainly won’t be in Chiang Mai, where they are still trying to get red buses off the road and municipal buses on them!