Chinese GP this weekend
Ying Tong Iddle I Po, as Neddy Seagoon was oft to
say, but the final GP of the 2006 season is this weekend. The Chinese
GP arrives and the only map I have managed to find shows that the
circuit designed by Messrs. Tilke and Wahl is very twisting. Last
year’s race showed it did allow plenty of room (or opportunities)
for passing, and we were pleasantly surprised to see much passing and
repassing, the one aspect of F1 that has been missing for too long.
However, since the Shanghai circuit cost 250 million dollars to
construct, this is just a little out of the reach of most countries or
The circuit architects Hermann Tilke and Peter Wahl
are reported as saying, “The 5.4 kilometre racing track is shaped
like the Chinese character ‘shang’, which stands for ‘high’ or
‘above’. Other symbols represented in the architecture originate
from Chinese history, such as the team buildings arranged like
pavilions in a lake to resemble the ancient Yuyan-Garden in Shanghai.
Here, nature and technology are carefully used to create harmony
between the elements.” (That should have put at least another few
million dollars on the price!)
The race will start (I think) at 1 p.m. on Sunday,
but as always, check your own TV feed, as I would not like to be held
responsible of you miss the start!
The final race of the season in China should be interesting, even
if just because Renault (and Flavio Briatore) wants both the drivers
and the manufacturers trophies. Ron Dennis of McLaren has other ideas!
By the way, it is also interesting that Raikkonen has won more GPs
this year than Alonso. Alonso didn’t win the world championship -
Raikkonen lost it!
Always follow the money!
Never neglect reading the financial pages of a newspaper. You
will find some interesting motoring reading there, almost every day. The latest
to be aired was the announcement that Toyota will buy an 8.7 percent stake in
fellow Japanese automaker Fuji Heavy Industries. The interest here is that the
8.7 percent is coming from GM which is divesting itself of some of its shares in
Fuji, the maker of Subaru.
It is not so long ago that GM were assembling the Zafira,
badged as a Subaru Travik, for export to Japan. The times have changed somewhat.
GM, which owned 20 percent of Fuji Heavy, has been struggling
recently, with financial houses downgrading GM bonds in light of the fact that
the American auto industry is in disarray (not just GM) and the automaker is
lumbered with huge pension and health care liabilities and has to address
domestic sales going down, especially with the current oil prices.
GM will sell its remaining 11.4 percent stake in Fuji Heavy,
so if you want to get in on the ground floor, now’s the time!
Getting back to Toyota, the Japanese giant will buy 68
million shares in Fuji Heavy and the two companies will study opportunities for
tie-ups in research and development as well as production, Fuji Heavy said.
Fuji Heavy also said in the report that it would end a
joint-development project with GM’s Saab brand and would book a 5 billion yen
($43.73 million) special loss in the current business year.
However, despite revising and special losses, Fuji Heavy
still expects to make a 12 billion Yen profit for the year.
GM also owns 20 percent of Suzuki Motor Corp. and about 8
percent of Isuzu, while Toyota has ties with Daihatsu and Hino Motors.
Currently, by the number of cars produced, Toyota is the world’s number
two, but when you look at profitability, Toyota is the clear world leader. There
is a message there, which America and Europe have yet to address. Grand welfare
schemes may attract the workers, but if the company cannot afford the pension
schemes in the long run, there is a serious accounting deficit to be met.
Last week I mentioned cars that fly, a common enough concept
in science-fiction books and even featured in the cartoon TV series called
“The Jetsons” in 1962. However, the auto bizz was already thinking about
flying cars in 1935 when the U.S. Bureau of Commerce’s Experimental Division
Section awarded a contract to a manufacturer to build one. The car had a single
propeller and rotor blades for flight. The gear could be folded back over the
fuselage to accommodate ground movement. Two passengers could sit side by side,
and there was a small baggage storage area behind the seats. For road use, the
90 bhp engine was connected to the tail wheel by a shaft that was put in gear
when the propeller was disengaged. Testing began in 1936 and continued until the
company dissolved in the mid-1960s. The question was, what was the name of this
flying car? It was the Pitcairn AC 35. Thanks for all the efforts that came in
on this one, from all over the world.
to this week. (Fingers poised over the Google button, and away we go!) A French
car company decided to expand beyond its national boundaries and opened up a new
factory in 1906. This venture was not successful and three years later it was
taken over, and started producing cars using foreign designs and a line of
credit from several banks. This was again not successful, so the principal
creditor called in a railway engineer to run the manufacturing business. He
turned out some very creditable designs (nothing like a railway engine), and
although still somewhat financially shaky, the company still exists today. The
question is - what was the name of the railway engineer?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
What did we learn from the Japanese GP?
firstly we (and Takuma Sato) learned that nobody is going to put up with driving
such as he displayed in the GP. The end result of his kamikaze on Trulli was
that he was excluded from the results. He has already been dropped in favour of
Barichello at BAR next year (but rebranded as Honda) and I think he will find it
very difficult to get a seat anywhere. I certainly would not be offering him
The second crasher, Jacques Villeneuve, claimed he was
innocent after pushing Montoya off and into the wall. The stewards didn’t see
it that way either, and Villeneuve was awarded a 25 second penalty for his
driving efforts. Will Villeneuve still be on the grid in 2006, in the Sauber, to
be rebranded as a BMW? Again, I certainly would not be offering him a chance,
not even behind a supermarket trolley.
Despite the very biased and parochial nature of the British
commentators, Button did drive well, but not as well as Webber or Coulthard, for
my money. Webber had almost his best race of the year, and his seat will be
confirmed for 2006 at Williams. Likewise, Coulthard showed that he still has the
speed, the need and the desire.
Raikkonen did a sterling job to win, from 17th on the grid, and I think I
(almost) saw the faintest flicker of a smile from him on the podium.
What happened to our cheap ECO car?
After years of debate, the government finally killed off the
ECO (sometimes called ACEs car) project. This was an auto project to be
fulfilled by Thailand’s auto manufacturers, which was for a small, fuel
efficient car no more than 1.63 meters wide and 3.6 meters long and to retail
for less than 350,000 baht.
The idea was that this would stimulate the auto-economy in
this country, in the same way that the one-tonne pick-ups did, but it seems the
thinking was flawed, right from the outset. While the marketplace wanted
one-tonners, it was not so receptive towards mini-cars. The auto manufacturers
also did not like the specifications being handed down to them, with a “do it
our way, or don’t join the game” approach from government. The carrot being
offered was special excise tax, but it was not enough. The manufacturers looked
and also decided there was not enough ‘fat’ in the deal to make it
So by mutual agreement, the ECO car was killed off.
A brief look at vehicle production figures also tells the
story. Passenger car production numbers have contracted in the past 12 months,
going down almost 13 percent. In the same period the one-tonne pick-up figures
have grown by almost one third year on year. In fact, the vehicle industry
growth has been such that industry watchers are predicting that the one million
vehicle mark will be exceeded this year. And that is in the face of the
ever-upwards oil prices which get reflected daily at the pumps. (By the way,
local motorcycle production is expected to pass 3.2 million units as well.)
If you are interested in passenger car numbers, Toyota is outselling Honda
2:1 with more than 50 percent market share. After Honda, all the other
manufacturers are looking at single digit numbers. Getting back to ECO project,
with numbers like those, why would Toyota even bother?
Why are pick-ups relatively so cheap?
The answer is simple - it is because of differential
government rake-off, AKA “excise tax”. Did you know that even after recently
re-adjusting the tax scales, passenger cars are taxed between 30-50 percent?
Under 2 litres is the cheapest at the 30 percent level, while passenger cars
developing more than 220 BHP or in engine size greater than 3 litres attract the
maximum 50 percent impost.
Now look at pick-ups. A ‘standard’ pick-up attracts three
percent duty, a double cab gets 12 percent, while the PPV’s (passenger pick-up
vehicles) are at 20 percent. No wonder these vehicles represent good value in
However, there is an interesting segment waiting to be
exploited, and that is the energy-saving vehicles. Hybrids get 10 percent tax,
while Natural Gas Vehicles (NGV) or those burning 20 percent ethanol (E20 fuel,
as opposed to the Gasohol 95 which is here already) are taxed at 20 percent.
Ford Motor Company was ready to step in with their new E20 compatible Ford
Focus, but the government has had a late rethink and delayed the excise tax
reduction till 2009, claiming that there is no E20 fuel refined or produced