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.
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
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.
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!