Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Not everyone is feeling the pinch

As the price of crude oil escalated, we have all had to tighten our belts. The increased fuel costs at the pumps have seen the price of gasoline jump around eight baht a liter in the past 12 months. The resulting increase in transport costs has been passed on to the consumer, and particularly for those on a limited income they are really feeling the pinch.
However, as they say, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Surprise, surprise, the jolly green giant Exxon has just recorded the largest profit ever for any US company. A cool $40 billion US. And some of that came from the increase at the pumps.
Another company that just recorded the highest figures for any company in the UK also is doing well, thank you. A paltry $27.6 billion US is sitting nicely with Shell, while rival BP could only struggle to a $19 billion US profit.
In my book, and in that of many people and organizations throughout the world, this is not ‘profits’ - this is profiteering.
On one hand we get fed the ‘end of the world’s oil’ scenario, while we are then ripped off because we are stuck with gasoline transportation societies.
But we are not really in such a cleft stick if we look around. There are alternatives. Diesel, hybrid gasoline/electric and pure electric. Forget hydrogen, trying to get hydrogen to the service stations is about as silly as relying on the good graces of Exxon, Shell, BP, OPEC and all their mates, in bringing the price down.
Out of the possibles, plug-in electric makes the most sense. The electric power grid is already connected your house. Batteries are becoming better, stronger and smaller all the time. Look at your mobile phone if you don’t believe me and remember the massive batteries you used to carry around in a suitcase. You had to go to Thor’s Gym to be strong enough to carry it, but now the whole shooting match fits in your shirt pocket.
General Motors is not a small time player in the automotive scene (even if they have been deposed by Toyota in world sales), and they are also serious about their electric challenger, the Volt. According to their press releases, “GM shows Chevy plug-in concept. Volt runs on electricity, uses gas engine as back-up generator. The Chevrolet Volt, which is driven by electricity alone, uses a small three-cylinder gasoline engine only to recharge its batteries. The batteries can also be charged by plugging into an ordinary electrical outlet.” All sounds pretty good to me!
Returning to the technical side, there are, however, many good reasons to go electric. Electric motors offer more torque - the pulling power a car needs to accelerate - relative to their kilowatt (or horsepower) output than gasoline engines do. Motor racers know that horsepower figures look good in press releases, but it is torque that wins races.
The Volt’s electric motor can produce up to 121 kilowatts, the equivalent of about 161 horsepower. It can produce 320 Newton-meters, or about 236 foot-pounds, of torque. In a sedan car, those are stunning numbers.
In world terms, GM and Siemens VDO are not small specialist manufacturers, but they have committed themselves to following the electric trail. Sell your shares in the oil business and invest in power grids. That is the way technology is heading. And at the same time blow the odd raspberry at friend Exxon who has been capitalizing on your dependence on gasoline, and reaping (raping?) the highest profits in history.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I wrote that the first Autobahn in Germany went from Frankfurt to Darmstadt and was opened in May 1935, but it was not the first modern motorway, which was opened in 1924. I asked what country, and where did it go from? The correct answer was a 21 km autostrada from Milan to Varese in Italy. The first British motorway was the Preston Bypass opened in 1958!
So to this week. And an easy one. Dr. Porsche’s peoples car was one of the success stories of the automotive world, though it was not the Germans who made it so successful. I want to know what was the car’s original name?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


The ultimate boy’s toy is here
BMW Thailand has announced that they are bringing in the ultimate boy-racer’s dream. This is the new BMW M3, complete with V8 up front and everything that the boy-racer could ever want, including three different suspension set-ups at the touch of a button - Fast, Very Fast and Demoniacally Fast. All those with 9.9 million baht in their back pocket are accepted.
Me? The ‘works’ Daihatsu looks more practical at this stage.

Going to the Singapore Grand Prix?
The first night Grand Prix is going to be held in Singapore later this year. However, this is not the first Singapore Grand Prix. Far from it, and in fact, the island state has been host to motor racing for many years. There was a race meeting held on the airstrip at Changi in 1957. The meeting was held in aid of the Soldiers, Sailors Air Force Association, a charitable body helping ex servicemen. It was quite an event for post-war Singapore.

Singapore GP program

The first Grand Prix in Singapore was held in 1961. It was called the Malaysian Grand Prix and the name was changed to the Singapore Grand Prix from 1966 after Singapore attained its independence in 1965.
The circuit was a road course, just like the 2008 course will be, and the first Grand Prix in 1961 was won by Ian Barnwell in an Aston Martin DB3S while the first Singapore Grand Prix of post independence Singapore (also run to Formula Libre rules) saw Lee Han Seng win in a Lotus 22 Lotus-Ford, and the final race in the series was won by Aussie Vern Schuppan in a March-Ford in 1973.
The event was discontinued after 1973 for a variety of reasons, including an increase in traffic and the consequent inconvenience of having to close roads for the event, and fatal accidents during the 1972 and 1973 races were producing a public outcry.

Singapore GP map

Against that background, we now have another Singapore Grand Prix, this time for the FIA’s F1 circus. The new GP is scheduled to take place on September 28, 2008. As spelled out a few months ago, the timing of the night event means it can be broadcast at a convenient time for European TV audiences. According to the F1 Singapore Grand Prix website, the start time of the race will be 8 p.m. local time.
The new street circuit is 5.067 kilometers long running through the Marina Bay area. The design proposal includes powerful lighting systems that will replicate daylight conditions and the most stringent safety protocols will be applied to ensure driver and spectator safety. Testing has already been carried out, and apparently the floodlighting will be much stronger that that used to light night cricket, for example.
Grandstand seating and hospitality areas lining the track will be able to accommodate more than 80,000 spectators, while a permanent pit area with deluxe paddock facilities will be built adjacent to the existing Singapore Flyer complex. A new 1.2 km road that forms the eastern section of the circuit will also be constructed alongside the pit building. Organizers hope that this will be the Monaco of Asia - and at night!
It is expected that the F1 cars will get up to around 300 kph on the straights and along Raffles Boulevard, where there is another prime overtaking opportunity, before braking hard through Turns 7 and 8 and heading towards the historic and cultural landmarks along St Andrew’s Road and Fullerton Road. Turn 14 will undoubtedly see some of the most exciting action as the cars race across the 97 year old Anderson Bridge and braking to an expected minimum corner speed of 80 km per hour.
So a new era will be coming to the Singapore Grand Prix, as well as night racing for the fans. Having competed at night myself, it definitely adds a new dimension to motor sport, and there will be a new name on top of Vern Schuppan after September 28.
Previous winners of the Singapore Grand Prix
1973 Vern Schuppan March 722-Hart
1972 Max Stewart Mildren Waggott
1971 Graeme Lawrence Brabham BT29
1970 Graeme Lawrence Ferrari Dino 246
1969 Graeme Lawrence McLaren M4A
1968 Garrie Cooper Elfin 600-Ford
1967 Rodney Seow Merlyn
1966 Lee Han Seng Lotus 22

Big investment for AAT
The Auto Alliance Thailand (AAT), the 50/50 joint venture between Ford and Mazda is moving ahead with the plant expansion necessary for the forthcoming B-Car production to be based here. Over one billion dollars was used in the initial start-up for the AAT plant and the expansion will see another $500 million investment for the partners.

Mazda 2

Up till now, the AAT production has been mainly Ford and Mazda pick-ups, of which 80 percent has been for export. The Thai-Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) has stimulated exports to Down-under, and much of the export production has been going to Ford in Australia.
The B-Car is not to be confused with the on again - off again - on again ‘ecocar’ production, of which Toyota and Nissan are front runners, already having suitable platforms in Japan.
Word is already out that the new Mazda 2 (already released in Japan and Australia) will be the Mazda production car to be produced at the AAT. The new (yet to be named) Ford variant on the Mazda 2 platform will also be produced at the AAT facility. The platform is a Mazda design, but the body units will be quite separate between the Ford and Mazda B-Cars. Most scribes are forecasting that the Ford variant will be based on the Ford Verve, a small car concept shown at the Detroit auto show this year.
The dedicated assembly lines for the new B-Cars will be finished this year, and production will roll out at the end of 2009 (Mazda 2) and the beginning of 2010 (Ford). The Mazda 2 has been getting rave reviews in the international motoring press and there will be many waiting for the first models to roll out. The engine choices will be both gasoline (and expect them to be E20 compliant) and diesel (Ford Euro-diesels being the most popular engine in Europe), while the body styles will be both four and five doors. Unfortunately the racy little two door will not be produced here.