Automania

Italian GP at Monza this weekend

Like many other circuits, Monza has not been a single layout, but a series of more than a dozen layouts which have ranged in length from 1.482 miles to 6.214 miles. The circuit was opened in the Monza Royal Park, near Milan, in 1922 and featured bankings, though these were demolished in 1939. The bankings which featured in some races, 1955-69, were new structures built on the format of the original. Bankings were used for the Italian GP in 1955, ’56, ’60 and ’61, and were last used for racing of any form in 1969 when the concrete became in need of substantial resurfacing and rebuilding.
The 1971 Italian GP holds the record for the fastest-ever Formula One race but, emphatically, that is not the same as saying the fastest race for Grand Prix cars. That honour remains in the possession of the 1937 Avusrennen.
After 1971, the circuit underwent some revisions to discourage slipstreaming and to lower the average lap speed. Chicanes were added in 1976 and, in 1994, the second Lesmo Bend was tightened and the Curve Grande was re-profiled.
With the Alonso-Schumacher fight in full swing, it should be an important GP for both of them. I will be watching from my perch at Jameson’s Irish Pub (Soi AR, next to Nova Park) and the racing commences at 7 p.m., but check your local TV feed to be sure. We watch the South African feed which has no adverts and better commentators.


2007 F1 calendar

The FIA has published the 2007 Formula 1 calendar. The San Marino and European Grands Prix have been dropped, while Belgium returns, making for a 17 race schedule. So pencil these into your 2007 diary, but remember that there can be some late changes!
The San Marino and European races were this year staged in Italy (Imola) and Germany (Nurburgring) respectively - both countries that also have their own Grand Prix, and have been dropped. The German round is now expected to alternate between Hockenheim and the Nurburgring, but the four week gap in the calendar between Bahrain and Spain will doubtless lead to speculation that San Marino could yet be reinstated.
The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne returns to its traditional role of season opener after moving to round three this year to avoid a clash with the Commonwealth Games. Meanwhile, the Japanese round will move from Suzuka to Fuji, the circuit which staged the country’s first Grand Prix back in 1976.
There are five sets of back-to-back races on the 2007 calendar: Malaysia and Bahrain in April; Canada and the US in June; France and Britain in July; Italy and Belgium in September; and China and Japan in September/October.
The full line-up is as follows:
Australia, March 18
Malaysia, April 08
Bahrain, April 15
Spain, May 13
Monaco, May 27
Canada, June 10
United States, June 17
France, July 01
United Kingdom, July 08
Germany, July 22
Hungary, August 05
Turkey, August 26
Italy, September 09
Belgium, September 16
China, September 30
Japan, October 07
Brazil, October 21


Always follow the money

I have written before that you will find some of the best auto stories in the financial pages of newspapers, not in the auto columns (other than this one, of course).
This week came the report that Nissan is advancing its fortunes in China, by advancing the money so the Chinese buyer can get a Nissan in his garage. In fact, Nissan are so sure of the Chinese market they believe that 10 percent of their sales will come through their own finance arm.
This concept is nothing new, FoMoCo having used their finance arm Ford Credit for decades. Even in China, Nissan are only playing catch-up, as both Volkswagen and Toyota are offering ‘factory’ finance.
Nissan’s corporate VP Joji Tagawa said, “Instead of cutting prices, for example, we can offer lower interest rates on loans to attract customers.” This marketing ploy is well understood by Toyota, who has been offering very, very low interest rates on loans on new vehicles in this country too.
While currently most Chinese customers pay cash for their new cars, market analysts predict that this will change, with Nissan looking at 10-15 percent by the year 2010. By comparison, around 50 percent of new car buyers in the US use finance to get into the new models. With Nissan selling 297,000 vehicles in China last year (double the number from the previous year) this is obviously a market that nobody can ignore.
The financial gurus claim that Nissan will need at least 10 percent of sales going through their finance arm to make it viable. However, the Japanese are good at the “long game”, and I am sure they will wait.


Natter Nosh and Noggin

The monthly car enthusiasts meeting will be at Jameson’s Irish Pub on Soi AR next to the Nova Park development. The car (and bike) enthusiasts meet on the second Monday of the month, so this time it is Monday (September 11) at Jameson’s at 7 p.m. This is a totally informal meeting of like minded souls to discuss their pet motoring (and motorcycling) loves and hates. Bring along any magazines, photos of old vehicles, old girlfriends or the latest Lamborghini for us all to drive


Hyundai – the big mover

Hyundai Genus

Poor little Hyundai, which once marketed a small range of sad vehicles in this country, is going to surprise us all. As part of its plan to sell five million vehicles annually and become one of the world’s five top-selling car-makers by 2010 (Hyundai has jumped Nissan to claim sixth behind General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler following an 11.6 percent jump in global sales in 2005 to 3,715,096 units), it remains committed to producing two all-new models every year.
The brand may have been thought of as moribund in Thailand with United Auto Sales Thailand, the previous holder of the brand name, being out of the action for many years, but here is a new player, Hyundai Motor Thailand (HMT) ready to market the offerings from the Korean manufacturer. HMT is owned by Sojitz Corp, a Japanese parts manufacturer with interests in China, Thailand and India.
While Thailand sales might be zero, the rest of the world has been soaking up the 3.7 million units, with many going to the US and others to Europe and Australia.
Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) plans to sell more than 50,000 vehicles for the first time in 2006 - a five percent increase on 2005 figures and well up on its 2003 tally of just over 30,000 vehicles. Year-to-date, HMCA sales are up two percent despite a three percent slide in total Australian vehicles sales so far in 2006.

Hyundai Genus rear

Just three months after releasing all-new versions of its Santa Fe medium 4WD and light-sized Accent sedan and (three-door) hatch, Hyundai last month launched its all-new Elantra sedan.
The US-oriented Elantra sedan will be followed by German-designed five-door (FD) wagon and hatch body derivatives next year (the latter will form the basis of Hyundai’s 2007 WRCar), followed in 2008 by a folding metal-roofed coupe-convertible.
Hyundai says it expects the bigger new Elantra to have little impact on sales of Hyundai’s new medium sedan launched last September (Sonata is currently being tested by Victoria Police as part of what could become a lucrative fleet deal for HMCA), let alone its new-generation larger offering, the Grandeur flagship launched in February.
Next cab off the Hyundai rank will be the Santa Fe CRDi variant, which the company says will be one of the first soft-roader diesels available here. Available in New Zealand since May and on sale in Europe and the US since early this year, the 1823 kg CRDi is powered by a 110 kW 335 Nm common-rail SOHC 2.2 liter four cylinder variable geometry turbo-diesel that returns a claimed EU average fuel consumption of 7.3 L/100 km.
The new Elantra sedan and oil-burning Santa Fe, HMCA says could attract up to 30 percent of all Santa Fe sales at the expense of some petrol model sales.
Their Tiburon (of which there are a few examples running around Thailand) has been given a skin change, and was shown in China last month and will go on sale in 2007.
Finally, for now, Hyundai’s luxury-oriented medium-large crossover 4WD - codenamed EN, based on the Genus concept from Geneva in March and recently approved for production under the name Veracruz – could be the first model to be sold under Hyundai’s long-mooted, but yet-to-be-announced luxury brand.
The likelihood of a Lexus-style luxury division to match Toyota gained weight two weeks ago when Hyundai officially announced it has no plans to buy Ford’s up-market Jaguar brand - and again last week at the local Elantra launch, where senior HMCA officials talked freely about the concept.
“EN could be the beginning of our new luxury brand,” said HMCA sales and marketing director Theo van Doore, who has driven the Veracruz but admits the US-targeted model is not yet approved for right-hand-drive production.
“Hyundai is developing the concept of a new luxury brand – a little bit like Lexus. I don’t know what the strategy will be, but given the success of Lexus in the US you can understand its significance. We’re a brand that’s on the cusp. We spend a lot of money on R&D but we’re very careful how we do it,” van Doore said in Australia.

Hyundai Tiburon

Officially, the Veracruz (named after the Mexican state) will be the ninth model to join Hyundai’s US range for 2007 and will be targeted at luxury SUVs like the Lexus RX350, Honda Pilot (MDX), Nissan Murano and forthcoming models like Mazda’s CX-7 and Subaru’s Tribeca.
Veracruz will also feature a six-speed automatic transmission, standard ESC stability control and standard side and side curtain airbags, and is claimed to offer more cargo space than the upcoming Mercedes-Benz GL-class.
A new 4.6 liter DOHC 32 valve V8, first revealed in Hyundai’s Neos-3 Tokyo show car, is also on the cards for the Veracruz - and could also power a BH-codenamed rear-drive luxury sedan, which may replace the current (front-drive) Equus sedan sold in overseas markets and will be targeted at the likes of Lexus’ GS and BMW’s 5 Series.
As you can see, with nine models available in the US, covering everything from small vehicles, right through to luxury models, Hyundai has aggressive marketing plans. That Sojitz Corp should then be making a stake in Thailand is not surprising.
The following is a list of new Hyundai models slated for release:
HD Elantra sedan redesign October 2006
CM Santa Fe CRDi turbo-diesel variant October 2006
Tiburon coupe facelift February 2007
FD Elantra five-door hatch Mid-2007
FD Elantra five-door wagon Mid-2007
MC Accent SR turbo hatch variant 2007
FD Elantra coupe-convertible 2008
EN Veracruz crossover 2009
BH luxury sedan 2010
A few years ago, you would have laughed if someone said Hyundai would be in the world’s top 10 by 2006. It is now sixth and selling more than Nissan. Put your hand up now for a Hyundai dealership. It’s the coming brand. Believe me!


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned the new Camaro, and said to think back to the first Z28 Camaros. What was it that identified the Z28 over the more humble Camaros? The answer was the duck-tail spoiler on the rear boot lid (or ‘trunk’ if you like).
So to this week. Which British car company began as a piston manufacturer?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!