Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What did we learn from the Spanish Grand Prix?

Well firstly, despite the fact that F1 race cars are supposed to be the epitome of engineering excellence and cost millions of dollars to build, they are less reliable than my Pattaya Mail pool Daihatsu Mira. Toyota parked one of theirs with mechanical maladies, BMW one, Red Bull one, Toro Rosso one, Ferrari one, then add on accidents two and high speed punctures which destroyed another Toro Rosso. Eight out of 22 isn’t too good really. Pity the Mira isn’t eligible.

Lewis Hamilton
We also saw that all the hype about Lewis Hamilton isn’t hype.
It is reality! Consistently faster than his World Champ team mate all weekend, and deservedly now leads the 2007 championships. Even with McLaren-Mercedes fuelling Alonso light, he could not make any real inroads into the lead Hamilton had built up over him. The Spaniard had a long face at the end of the race and his post-race press comments were taken from pages 4, 7 and 11 of the standard excuse book.
Ferrari had an electrical problem and Raikkonen parked his early, had a shower and went home. His ‘team spirit’ will have been noted by Jean Todt, and his performance has shown that he is no Michael Schumacher. He can be replaced.
There will be some interrogations going on at BMW this week. Wheel nuts coming off are just not acceptable in an EffWun team these days. Dr Mario Theissen vill haf ze culprit doing hard labor sweeping the floors in Munich for the rest of his natural life. However, Robert Kubica did get 4th place by a nose!
And how about Super Aguri? I used to call them (Not so Super) Aguri, but I have to eat my words now. Takumo Sato kept it on the island, didn’t hit anyone and scored a championship point for his team, whilst the ‘parent’ Honda Racing wallowed around behind him. Well done Takumo. And I won’t say anything more about Honda, other than the fact that running into your team mate is really not on! There will be restrictions on the amount of rice Jenson Button is allowed this week. Mr Honda will not be pleased.
Alexander Wurz continues to go from bad to wurz. 18th on the grid after qualifying would not have impressed Sir Frank Williams, a man who is known to consider the driver as the weakest link in the equation. He’s certainly got his weak link there. Alexander may not even last the year with Williams F1.
The next Grand Prix is in Monaco on May 27. Hamilton has never been beaten in Monaco in the previous formulae he has driven. Can he do it in F1? Of course he can. I predict Hamilton will get pole position. He has no fear, he has good car control and he has enough mental maturity to handle anything that is thrown at him. He will be a world champion. Even if not this year, he will the next.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what was the first racing car to have disc brakes? Clue: it also had 4WD. This was the rear-engined 4WD Miller of 1938, built for the Indianapolis 500. Incidentally, a Miller was the first 4WD race car to compete against Grand Prix cars and that was 1934 and that was the Tripoli Grand Prix and the Avusrennen Formula Libre race. It was driven by American Peter de Paolo. So there!
So to this week. Which F1 car broke down in its debut race and spectators tossed coins into the cockpit in derision? Clue, think green.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!

Blow your doors off!

Ford Shelby GT500 Super Snake.

Shelby and Ford have joined forces again to produce a mega-muscle car with one simple goal: “to blow the doors off most anything on the planet.” They are claiming up to 725 horsepower from the Super Snake, which is over a hundred more than the top-of-the line Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorino.
The “Super Snake” coupes include enhancements to the Ford Shelby GT500’s handling, styling and power; tuning options will range from a warranted 600 HP V8 to over 725 HP (unwarranted). Only a limited number of Super Snakes will be built per model year at the Shelby Automobiles facility in Las Vegas beginning in late 2007.
I want one!

Is the auto industry hiding its lemons?
Satisfaction with one’s new car is important for every buyer. After all, a new car is the fourth most expensive item you will ever buy, after the wife, the children’s education and the house! (Don’t write in! It’s a joke!) Even in Thailand, we have had enraged owners smashing windscreens with sledgehammers and recently someone else held a funeral service for their vehicle. However, the lady stopped short of its cremation!

Nissan Tiida
So how do you know if the lemon you just bought is just a ‘bad’ car built on a collectively hung-over Monday, or just a typical example of a run of typically ‘bad’ cars? The answer is surveys, done on large numbers of vehicles, and carried out with transparency and lack of bias. JD Power carry out a survey in the USA, to do just this. Manufacturer A should not be doing a critique on Manufacturer B, for example!
It has just come to the light of public knowledge that there is an AC Nielsen survey commissioned regularly in Australia by the manufacturers, but this had been kept from the general public – the people who buy their cars. According to my source, the top 10 brands in Australia - which together make up almost 85 percent of the market - all pay for the service, which is believed to cost each of them about $250,000 a year. Prestige brands, with the notable exception of Mercedes-Benz, subscribe to a separate survey that doesn’t include quality figures.

Ford Ranger
The figures confirm similar surveys overseas, which have shown that US and European built cars largely lag behind Korean and Japanese cars on quality. They also reinforce the results of a recent Roy Morgan Research survey on customer satisfaction for nine of the country’s biggest brands, in which Holden, Mitsubishi and Ford were ranked in the bottom three places. But in addition to measuring actual vehicle faults the AC Nielsen survey also measures customer satisfaction and their perception of quality. In this regard, the survey shows that while fault levels may be higher than expected, this does not mean customers are unhappy. And that shows why PR departments are so important in the auto industry!
Now the really interesting thing about this survey was that all the manufacturers had a buddy deal going on, that nobody would use the survey to finger anyone else! One manufacturer said, “‘It’s not for me to comment on other manufacturers’ quality but from our point of view we are continuing to move in the right direction in this area. We have seen improvement in recent years. Beyond that level of detail, the figures are confidential,” he said. Toyota Australia’s sales and marketing boss, David Buttner, agreed. He said the AC Nielsen New Car Buyers Survey was, from its inception, designed to be “a research tool and not a sales and marketing tool”.
“We have no problem with our results but this is really a research tool and given that there is a manufacturers’ agreement across the board we would not break ranks. That’s just not cricket,” he said, and everyone knows just how sacred cricket is in Australia! Buttner said the company shares the figures with its dealers, staff and its manufacturing facilities to improve quality and customer satisfaction.
The Australian survey challenges the thinking that the country where a vehicle is built determines its quality level. You know the old concept that if it’s made in Europe, especially Germany, then it is the best quality. If it’s made in Asia, the quality is doubtful. Its results showed Australian-built vehicles had more faults in comparison to their Japanese rivals - but then so did the European-built vehicles, such as the Ford Fiesta and Holden Vectra and prestige brand Volkswagen.
On a company-wide basis, Mazda topped the New Car Buyer Survey, followed by Suzuki, Honda and Nissan (tied), then Toyota. Volkswagen and Renault were placed just above Ford and Holden who were equal last.
The top performer in the light class was the Japanese-built Mazda2, with 82 percent of cars fault-free. Two other Japanese cars, the Mitsubishi Colt and Toyota Yaris, were ranked second and third, with 81percent and 75 percent respectively of cars fault-free. The Korean-made Accent recorded a score of 72 percent, while the Thai-built Honda Jazz scored 67 percent. The two European-built vehicles in the survey, the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta, fared the worst, with scores of 49 and 57 percent respectively
The story is similar in the small-car segment, where the Japanese-built Nissan Tiida came out on top, with a score of 79 percent (Tiida production has since shifted to Thailand), followed by Korea’s Hyundai Elantra (74) and Japan’s Mazda3 (73).
Volkswagens brought up the rear, with half of all Beetle owners and two out of five Golf owners experiencing problems. The Ford Focus, which is built in Europe and South Africa, scored just 55 (our Focus comes from the Philippines), while Holden’s Korean built Viva scored 57.
In the US, the data from the JD Power survey mirrors that of the Australian AC Neilsen survey, with Japanese cars performing significantly better than most luxury European marques. Porsche tops the latest JD Power survey, which ranks Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz below the industry average - and behind Ford, General Motors and Chrysler - on initial quality. Lexus ranked second in the survey, followed by Hyundai, Toyota and Jaguar. Audi finished 18th,Volvo 21st, Mercedes-Benz 25th, BMW 27th, Mini 30th, Saab 32nd and Volkswagen 35th. The American JD Power survey is based on survey responses by more than 60,000 new-car buyers.
Meanwhile, in the UK, it was Toyota, Toyota, Toyota, winning five of the top tem awards in their JD Power survey. The Toyota Prius hybrid family car won its fourth consecutive International Engine of the Year Award for the engine with the best fuel economy, and today it finished equal top of the 2007 JD Power and Associates customer satisfaction study. The independent study of thousands of UK motorists saw the Prius place equal first, alongside the Lexus IS, another Toyota group model. Lexus brand also took out its seventh consecutive Gold Award for customer satisfaction.
The RX Lexus was placed fourth overall, making it by far the highest-rated SUV, 20 points clear of its closest rival. Three other Toyota models ranked in the top 10 individual model rankings (the Avensis and Corolla tied for eighth place and Yaris came in tenth.
It may also be of interest that Thai built vehicles generally score well in world surveys. The Fords, Chevrolets, Hondas, Mitsubishis and Toyotas that are exported to other countries from Thailand are known as quality products. Well done, the local manufacturers!