More Doggy Doo in the American auto scene
It really looks like the house(s) of cards are tumbling down
in the US. With volume sellers GM and Ford cutting back, all their suppliers are
also feeling the pinch. Delphi, a major GM supplier, was the first to seek
bankruptcy protection last year, and now Dana Corporation is doing the same.
Auto News in the US reports that Dana, the 100 year old
company that supplied parts to the Model T, the World War II-vintage Jeep and
the classic London taxicab has sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in New
The filing ended several weeks of speculation about the
deteriorating financial condition of the axle, driveshaft and heavy components
manufacturer based in Toledo, Ohio.
Dana supplies components for a significant number of
platforms at Ford Motor Co. and GM. About 25 percent of Dana’s business in
2004 was with Ford, according to Dana’s annual report. Another 11 percent of
its business was with GM that year.
CEO Mike Burns, who took Dana’s helm in March 2004 after a
34 year career at GM, has been restructuring the company for the last few
months, but Dana’s stock has continued to slump. Burns said last week that the
company was in negotiations with its bankers and hoped to reach an agreement on
new lines of credit in two weeks. Dana missed a USD 21 million bond interest
payment on March 1.
Dana has been beset by multiple challenges in recent months,
including a federal accounting probe, declining business from Ford and GM and
higher raw material costs. The company posted a USD 1.23 billion loss through
the first nine months of 2005 with all but USD 20 million of the loss stemmed
from one-time charges and write-downs.
Without new lines of credit, the Chapter 11 filing was
inevitable for the company, analysts said. “Failure to obtain a new (credit
line) facility would lead to default and likely bankruptcy,” S&P analyst
Daniel DiSenso wrote in his report. Both S&P and Moody’s Investors Service
downgraded Dana’s credit ratings for the second time in a week last week.
The missed interest payment prompted the second major
sell-off of Dana stock in five trading days. Shares in the company were down 44
percent, in massive trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Dana, which employs about 45,000 people globally, would be
the third-largest automotive bankruptcy case in history, based on total assets,
behind Delphi and Federal-Mogul Corp. Dana ranks No. 15 on the Automotive News
list of the top 100 global suppliers with worldwide original-equipment
automotive parts sales of USD 9.06 billion in 2004. It listed USD 7.88 billion
in assets on Sept. 30, 2005.
F1 fuel can make a fool out of you!
Many years ago, I was racing a “production” Isuzu Gemini
sedan and was back to running 97 octane pump fuel. The compression ratio of the
engine was not high enough to warrant thinking about anything else, but when the
Formula 1 circus came to Adelaide, for the Australian Grand Prix, I wondered if
here was a source of “instant” horsepower.
After the GP weekend, somehow, a drum of the special F1 fuel
was left behind by the Williams team, and made its way to Brisbane, 2000 km
away, where I was waiting. This fuel was really special, very much more
efficient thermodynamically than 97 octane, or even 115 Avgas.
Taking Gemini to the rolling road dynamometer we tipped in
the F1 fuel and looked at the horsepower numbers. Instant horsepower, and big
grins all round. The weekend would be very successful, we predicted.
We rolled out for practice, and I could feel the extra urge
immediately. However, the extra urge only lasted three laps. The crew set about
working out why it stopped, and it turned out that the fuel was not getting to
the engine. But why not? There was plenty in the tank, and so we began to take
out each fuel line looking for the blockage.
It was then we found that the F1 fuel was eating the inside
of the standard fuel lines, making gummy deposits all the way along the hoses.
F1 cars, of course, do not run rubber/neoprene fuel lines, like production Isuzu
We had outsmarted ourselves, but at least we did find a good
use for the F1 fuel. It was the greatest way to get the BBQ coals burning. After
dousing in F1 fuel, you tossed a match at the BBQ from about 20 paces away.
Whooompa, and the BBQ was ready! Fuel technology wins again.
Last week I asked what cars had four reverse gear speeds?
(And the answer is not Italian!). The correct answer was Delage, Delahaye,
Salmson and Voisin. These cars had the Cotal electric selection gearbox, and a
forward or reverse lever on the floor. This gave four forwards or four reverses!
There was also the Maybach (which had eight forward gears as well) and the
Messerschmitt (Thank you Peter Eades for the info on the bubble car).
So to this week. Take a look at these fine machines. What is
it, and what is it based on?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct
answer to email [email protected] Good luck!
Will it be Renault again this year?
In pre-season testing, the Renault has looked very strong and
again almost bullet-proof. As was shown last year, reliability wins races, and
However, it is a different ball game in 2006, and this could
change the order. To start with, current world champion Fernando Alonso will be
going the McLaren at the end of the year, so will not be Renault’s favorite
son in 2006. Having made the decision to move, without telling Flavio Briatore,
the Renault team boss, was a very silly (and immature) move in my books. There
is also the query as to whether Renault are prepared to tip in the millions of
dollars needed to stay at the top, while the parent manufacturer is not doing
all that well.
There is also the fact that Michelin, Renault’s supplier,
is pulling out at the end of the year. Do you think that they will continue to
pour millions of dollars into tyre development in 2006? I doubt it.
This year it also looks as if there will be three other teams
at the top of the league. Honda has a strong pairing with Button and Barichello,
but this could come undone if both of them start tripping over their own
ego’s. Button has done more than 100 races and is still waiting to win, while
Barichello needs to justify leaving Ferrari, where he was always going to be
Number 2, to try and be Number 1.
Ferrari will also be there. 2005 was such a disaster after
being unbeatable for many seasons, that they will be trying even harder in 2006.
They have the driver in Michael Schumacher, they have a happy Number 2 in Massa
(who is probably just a seat warmer for Valentino Rossi in 2007) and they have
the infrastructure and mental ability to win races.
McLaren look like they have the pace again – but will they
suffer from the unreliability which lost them the 2005 championships? Make no
mistake, Renault did not “win” in 2005 – McLaren-Mercedes “lost” the
championship in 2005. However, Raikkonen is hungry and although Mercedes have
improved since Raikkonen’s outburst in January where he said, “the biggest
part of the problem is the engine,” the Finn is still cautious about his
chances in Sakhir. “We have had a productive couple of days in Valencia this
week, we had some good pace with the car and I set the fastest time,” he said.
“But testing is very different to being on the race track. I am now looking
forward to getting back behind the wheel in Bahrain and driving the car in a
competitive environment to see where we really are performance-wise.”
And that really says it all. Until the cars get to Bahrain,
it is still a matter of conjecture, as to who is the quickest. However, please
do not put your money on Yuji Ide in the (not so) Super Aguri. At last count he
was seven seconds off the pace. I really doubt whether he should be there at
all, while his team leader is super-crunch Sato, and is also another driver with
no chance of winning anything, other than a wall.