Automania

Hungarian GP this weekend

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. 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.


New Mercedes E class is coming

New E class

A new Benz E Class is coming, though you probably won’t immediately spot the difference. After making only minor modifications to the vehicle’s exterior but 2,000 parts changes, Mercedes-Benz is banking on the freshened 2007 E class to increase sales, worldwide, but especially in America.
According to Automotive News, mid-cycle changes include major engine, performance and safety upgrades. In the US, the new model Mercedes will be more expensive, with the E350model up by $500, to $51,275, including shipping, despite the addition of what it says are $2,750 in features. Those include the Pre-Safe system, which anticipates crashes by rolling up windows, tightening belts and adjusting seat backs.
A diesel E320 BlueTec will cost $52,325, including shipping, when it goes on sale in mid-October, when low sulfur fuel is available, but expect to pay around 4 million baht in this country.
Mercedes-Benz has launched the E class sport model at no extra charge. It has a chrome grille with black inserts; 18 inch, 10-spoke wheels; a lowered sport suspension; and cross-drilled front disc brakes.
Mercedes-Benz wants to lure buyers who prefer sportier cars - a strategy that worked in the C class when a sport model was introduced in January 2003, says Bernard Glaser, general manager of product management for Mercedes-Benz USA LLC in Montvale, N.J. Glaser says Mercedes-Benz is making the shift to sportier models because of the invasion of Asian makes and Cadillac into what was traditionally the marketplace for the Europeans. These newcomers include the Lexus GS, Infiniti M, Acura RL (Honda) and Cadillac STS. Glaser admitted, “None of them were serious competitors before. It has made life difficult for us.”
Mercedes-Benz wants to attract buyers from those brands and give C class sport version owners a step up, Glaser says, “Internally, C sport people can move up. Right now they have nowhere to go.” With the C class sport being almost the same price as the standard E class, a sports E does make model sense. Glaser says Mercedes-Benz is confident the new E sport model will make significant sales gains because of what’s happened with the C class. He would not make specific sales predictions, but indicated that the previous model had peak US sales of about 55,000 units in 2004. (When you consider that total M-B production for March this year in China was around 8,000 units and in Thailand 500 units, you can see why we have to wait for new models to come here; however, I would expect that the right hand drive new E class would be given its world debut at the Bangkok International Motor Show.)


There’s no money in Malaysia?

An expensive day

Our Down-Under correspondent John Weinthal, now occasionally domiciled in KL, sent the photo of a cavalcade of three car transporters, each carrying six AMG SL55s, which turned into the Sepang F1 circuit last weekend. AMG do not indulge in expensive track days like this, if they did not think there would be 18 orders at the end. I am assured that if John Weinthal had the readies, he would have gladly signed; however, since his budget would almost go as far as buying the transport drivers a cup of tea, he returned without an AMG.


Autotrivia Quiz
Last week I mentioned the Land Speed Records. The John Cobb Railton in 1938 employed ice cooling. Another two record breakers used this method before then, rather than radiators. I asked what were they? The answer was the Stutz Black Hawk in 1928 (which killed driver Frank Lockhart) and Kaye Don’s Silver Bullet in 1929.
So to this week. What was the first British make to win a Grand Prix? Clue, the driver was also the first British driver to win a GP.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Chinese car production
If you think that Thailand is leading the Asian motoring revolution, then I have some very bad news for you. In the first six months of this year, China produced 1.3 million motor vehicles, with many of them being home-grown such as the Changfeng Liebao, the Great Wall Hover or the Chery Tiggo or the FAW Xiali. And the Xiali is the top selling car in China, with 93,800 going to new homes in the first six months of this year. That was more than double the figures for Toyota Corolla, for example.
China Business Weekly also stated that Chinese motorcycle manufacturers, such as the Lifan group, are diversifying into motor cars, having seen the transition in the fortunes of another motorcycle company that went the four wheeled way – Honda. In fact, today the revenue from Honda two wheeled sales are just one ninth of its revenue from the auto business, claims China Business News.
Lifan, who are fairly late entrants into the motor vehicle sales, will knock out 80,000 units this year, with export orders going to Africa. By 2008, they intend to be producing 150,000 units a year.
Called the Lifan520 this new compact sedan is powered by a 4-cylinder 1.6 liter petrol engine supplied by Tritec of Brazil. It is apparently the same engine as found in the Mini Cooper and the Chery Fengyun. It is sold in China for under USD 10,000, but the export models will be around USD 14,000 (under 600,000 baht).


Hybrids drive your dollar even further than before
The hybrid technology which is being used by both Toyota and Honda makes them currently the leaders in the fuel miser stakes, but private enterprise has further developed the electric side of the Prius Hybrid vehicle.
What has been done is to increase the range of the vehicle using the electric motor, by installing the very latest technology battery. This can be charged up by the owner overnight, and since the vehicle can then use the electric side more than the internal combustion (petrol) side, the distance traveled per liter of fuel is reported to be in the range of 60 km per liter, whilst a standard Toyota Prius Hybrid returns around 20 km per liter. When you consider that an average 2 liter petrol engined vehicle will return around 10 km per liter, this new technology would cut your fuel bill by 5/6ths. That is not to be sneezed at. The modification will cost around USD 12,000, and the fuel savings should return that sum very quickly.
Whilst this ‘after-market’ modification may void warranty, Toyota themselves have admitted they are also looking at increasing the distance that can be traveled with electric power alone. “We are currently in the R&D phase and have made significant progress with the project, but until we are confident of the product, no release date will be set,” said Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight.
 


Daimler and Chrysler to share engines
DaimlerChrysler AG plans to invest about $2 billion in a new global family of V6 engines. This is the beginning of the end for Chrysler, in my book, as Mercedes-Benz technology will swamp the home-grown American automobile company.
The ‘modular’ engines will begin appearing at the end of the decade. The project, known internally as Phoenix, will build the V6s at three Chrysler engine plants in the United States, as well as at a Mercedes factory in Germany.
“We are working on a new family which can operate on a modular base,” DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche said in a recent interview. The program will reduce DaimlerChrysler’s V-6 engines “to one family instead of five,” Zetsche said.
Chrysler spokesman Mike Aberlich said the company is still completing some “business plan issues” on the program. He said those issues should be resolved within a few months; however, the cost figures came from the United Auto Workers union sources who claimed that DaimlerChrysler is investing a total of $2 billion in the three American engine plants.
When the two firms announced the amalgamation a few years ago, the Chrysler side denied that it was the junior partner. I predict that within 10 years Chrysler will be without an identity. I hope I am wrong, as Chrysler has a wonderful history, but so did Austin, Morris and MG.


Biodiesel gets the nod in Munich
For Munich Airport’s ground services fleet, biodiesel will be part of the fuel mix of the future. With the launch of this project, FMG, the airport operating company, aims to substantially increase the use of renewable energy sources at Munich Airport. Already the site of a hydrogen fueling station for some years now, and with the world’s largest photoelectric generating facility on an airport terminal roof, the airport has long been a trailblazer in testing and utilizing renewable energy technologies.
Munich Airport CEO, Dr. Michael Kerkloh, says the airport is an ideal setting for presenting modern technologies, “By making biodiesel an important fuel for our airport equipment, we are clearly signaling our belief in regenerative energies. Munich Airport, which welcomes a large international audience every day, is the perfect setting for showcasing convincing concepts for a sustainable energy supply.”
Considering that Rudolf Diesel’s first engine ran on biodiesel (peanut oil), it has only taken 100 odd years for the concept to really be developed.