Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Will the Chinese buy out their JV partners?

The Chinese auto industry has been involved with major players from the West in joint ventures (JVs) to produce cars from the ranges of major manufacturers such as GM, Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW. Some of these JVs are now 10 years old, and have been advantageous for what was China’s fledgling auto manufacturing industry. The deal was simple - we give you access to the burgeoning Chinese market, and you give us access to your technology. In theory, a win-win situation. But like in all things in life, some are more winning than others!

Chinese Rover - Roewe 750

The hard pill for the western automakers to swallow is that their Chinese JV partners are now strong enough to challenge cars made under license with their own Chinese brands. An example is the Chinese Buick LaCrosse which is assembled by Shanghai Auto Industrial Corporation (SAIC), which just also happens to produce its own vehicle called the Roewe 750, made after SAIC acquired the plans from the UK MG Rover group. Similar sized cars coming out of the same factory, but the Chinese Roewe is US$7,000 cheaper than its Chinese-American rival.
The reason that China has become so important is the rate of growth in the auto industry in that country. The marketplace grew 35 percent last year, making it the fastest growth in major countries. Some pundits are predicting that by 2010, China will pass the US as the top market for cars and trucks in the world.
The Chinese are coming. And by the time they are ready to hit the world automotive market, their cars will be not just good value, they will be inherently good cars. This will still take a few years, as the Chinese products will have to be engineered to pass all the European/US design rules. But it will happen, and you will see Chinese car dealerships in Thailand by 2010.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that hill climbing is a very specialized sport, in which one cannot make any mistakes, as you are racing against the clock, rather than other competitors. The first driver to be killed in practice for a hill climb was in 1900. The first driver to be killed during a hill climb was in 1903, and both were at the same venue. I asked what was this course? The clue was Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs! The course was La Turbie and Wilhelm Bauer was killed there in practice in 1900. Three years later, Count Eliot Zborowski, father of the creator of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs was killed during the hill climb when he crashed his Mercedes on the first of April (and it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke either).
So to this week. Cars in movies. Everyone remembers The Saint and Roger Moore’s Volvo P 1800, and the string of Aston Martins run by a succession of James Bonds. However, Toyota also built a car for a James Bond movie released in 1967. What was it?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] Good luck!

Another Thai 24 hour in August
The third running of the Thailand 24 Hour Race will be held at the Birakart Speedway, just outside Pattaya, from 16-19 August 2007. Following the popularity of the previous 24 hour events, organizer Christian Gilles has already received over 20 entries for the one this coming August.
The race is based on the “Arrive and Drive” concept and has attracted Karting aficionados from all around the world. Not having to arrange freight for karts is a boon, as well as there being no hassles with scrutineering, with the organizers supplying 30 identical karts for the event and you draw a lucky number to get your particular kart. All the overseas teams have to do is to get their drivers here. Even Karting licenses are arranged for the entrants at Birakart, on the spot, for 100 baht.
Christian Gilles has indicated there are only nine entries left to be filled, at the time of going to press, but spaces were filling rapidly. The “Arrive and Drive” entry fee covers the use of one of the 30 identical karts, all the fluids, petrol, oil, etc., and spare parts, kart repairs and maintenance.
There is one official practice day of four hours for all teams (Thursday August 16). The package also includes medical assistance during the race, trophies for the winning teams and numerous cash and other prizes, adjustable foam seat set (adaptable on the standard one), and one private pit area for each team, with 3 beds.
Each team shall have a minimum of four drivers and a maximum of eight. Each driver must do at least 90 minutes. The drivers should be at least 15 years old on August 16, 2007, but drivers between 13-15 years old may be allowed to start after a driving test is undertaken. A duly signed parental authorization to participate is also required for the youngsters.
It is a case of first in - first served, and entries close on July 31, 2007. Entry fees are 209,000 baht per team, but early booking (deadline June 30, 2007) is 189,000 baht per team.
Further information can be obtained from the website or email [email protected]
I just wonder if there would be enough interest to field a ‘masters’ team? Suggested age 45 and up. If there are enough of us ‘masters’, I’ll contact Christian and book us a kart!

The full 99.99 percent
Received an interesting fax from local enthusiast Peter Wehrli the other day. Full of snippets like Adrian Newey left school when he was 16, and is now a highly respected aerodynamic specialist. To me, this shows that talent will out, just like Dr Porsche in the 1930’s, who was another who did not complete formal schooling as a teenager.
Peter also said that the modern F1 car has around 80,000 parts and even assuming that 99.99 percent of these parts work perfectly, that still leaves eight parts that can fail and make the car a non-finisher. When you think about it, it’s amazing they finish at all!

Bikes in Bangkok Part 2
Last week I featured Alan Coates’ report on some of the bikes on show at the Bangkok International Motor Show. This is the second half.

T-United hybrid motorcycle
CBR 1000RR Fireblade. The popular Fireblade has been uprated in capacity in the last year to 1000 cc. Power is now 170 bhp at 11,250 rpm with a compression ratio of 11.9:1. Front and rear suspensions are both fully adjustable. Layout is conventional 4 cylinders across the frame with six speed gearbox and fuel injection. The ‘blade’ is marketed as having not only established a new standard for competitive performance, but also for day-in and day-out riding. This ‘useability’ is intended to give riders greater confidence to go faster on track and makes for an element of ease and comfort on roads or even the daily commute
Fusion 250 Scooter. Definitely the most comfortable scooter on show. 250 cc 4-stroke engine with continuously variable transmission. At more than 2.25 metres overall length it won’t cope with Pattaya or Chiang Mai traffic as easy as a step through, but can accommodate all of the family in comfort.

Honda Fusion

650 Xmoto - Urban. Agile handling thanks to compact geometry and 17-inch wheels, zero surplus weight giving faster acceleration out of the bend, drifting is not a problem: if you want to explore the limits of this bike, make sure you know your own first! There is a quality finish to this machine, from the cockpit to the rear - featuring premium components such as the upside-down forks or the eye-catching - and very light - cast wheels. The single cylinder engine is quick yet economical, with 53 bhp and 60 Nm of torque and a catalytic converter ensuring the engine meets the stringent EU-3 emissions laws. Optional extras include ABS.
K1200 S - Sport. The hottest machine BMW Motorrad engineers have ever produced for the road. The highly-tuned 4-cylinder 16V engine impressively demonstrates the state of the art in engine technology producing167 bhp to give a zero to 100 km/h in 2.8 seconds and 130 Nm for 60 to140 km/h in 7.1 seconds. A low center of gravity gives excellent cornering ability. Performance is supported by a chassis which is unique in series production motorcycle design, with the BMW Motorrad Duolever at the front and BMW Motorrad Paralever at the rear. Optional extras include ABS and ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment at the handlebar); motorcycles are entering the high tech’ world enjoyed by some ‘cars.

BMW 1200 GT

K1200 GT - Tourer. The K 1200 GT has a state-of-the-art motorcycle engine for the touring bike market with 155 bhp and 130 Nm. The unique chassis features BMW’s Duolever suspension and ESA (optional) with ABS and electronic brake wear indicator as standard. Also fitted as original equipment is anti-theft protection and heated seats. Such features as automatic cruise control and an on-board computer with oil level display or xenon lights are available as optional extras. There is considerable storage space and excellent wind and weather protection. This BMW gives the rider and passenger comfortable long-distance travel.
T-United Hybrid
This Chinese company is due to start manufacturing their small capacity (60cc) hybrids in Thailand before the end of the year. The unique construction of this little step-through has a 350 watt electric motor driving the front wheel and a 60 cc petrol engine driving the rear wheel. There are three modes of operation, switchable on the handlebar. Mode one is an electric only start, power to the front from three 12v batteries under the foot well. Mode two is petrol only driving the rear, start is by electric starter or manual kick. The third mode is electric start switching seamlessly, automatically to petrol drive at about 22 kph. This is a very interesting and promising development in motorcycle technology. The young lady looked fairly interesting too. And remember, this motorcycle is Chinese!