Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Motorcycle helmets

At a committee meeting of the local Automotive Focus Group, the subject of the wearing (or lack of it) of motorcycle helmets came up. It was agreed that despite the fact that there was legislation, and the occasional policemen on street corners, the road toll was just horrendous. Statistics taken from the recent Songkran period showed that over 80 percent of fatal road accidents involved motorcycles. And the medical statistics would show that the main cause of a motorcyclist’s death is by landing on the unprotected head.

Plastic (useless) helmet

Undoubtedly many of the motorcycle helmets (even when worn correctly and done up) are about as effective as wearing an ice cream bucket on your head. But for around B. 200, I don’t think you can expect much better.
There are some half-decent helmets for sale, but without wearing them on the head but instead keeping them in the basket on the front of the motorcycle to be lifted out at traffic lights, this defeats the whole object of the exercise.
The Automotive Focus Group will now have this issue on its agenda and is looking for information from any companies that have successfully tackled this problem in its employees.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what was the Glas S1004 of 1962 famous for? The answer was it was the first car to have a toothed cog belt to drive the overhead cams. Commonplace these days, but not then. By the way, first correct answer in came from Mo Bertrand.
So to this week. Two speed rear axles are common in trucks, but not so common in cars. Voisin had them in 1928 and Auburn had them in 1932, but two speed rear axles were used even before then. They were used in 1909 in a British car. What was it? Clue - the name became well known in a British racing car in the early 1960’s.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email auto [email protected]
Good luck!


Different fuels producing problems?
I received an email from a Jerry Zaft who I suspect lives in Europe, who wrote, “Are you aware of the massive problems diesel car owners in Europe are having, with massive repair bills and early dual mass clutch failures ... so much that now auto experts are telling people to not buy cars with diesel until they are redesigned.”

All-electric Chevvy Volt

I have to say I have not heard of these problems, but then of course we are not in Europe and most passenger cars in Thailand are not diesel. However, it would not surprise me if there were clutch problems associated with diesel engines, because of the increased torque, compared to petrol engines.
However, where is Thailand heading fuelwise? The information coming from the government departments is very confusing at best, and contradictory at worst. We have had the push towards diesel, because diesels go about twice as far per liter, compared to petrol - but the cost of diesel is also going through the roof.
We have also been exhorted to run E 10 (10 percent ethanol) in our cars instead of 100 percent petrol, and now E 20. The reason is to reduce our dependence on ‘foreign’ oil and we can get the ethanol from crops grown in this country. The concept is simple, but the ramifications are not. We are looking at a world rice shortage, caused in part by traditional crop fields being used to now grow palm oil. And can we really grow enough palm oil or whatever to supply an ethanol fuel?
And E 20 is not enough, according to the government, what about using E 85? Since the auto industry here is just starting to produce E 20 compatible engines, where are we going to get E 85 engines? Volvo’s lovely little C30 coupe is probably the only one I know of in Thailand at present. There is another problem with ethanol based fuel is that ethanol is not as efficient liter for liter as petrol, so even if the fuel appears cheaper at the pumps, it does not go as far as gasoline, thus bringing up the cost to run the car.
Another department is pushing LPG and CNG, both fuels that can be used in existing engines, and much cheaper. However, long term studies are not as optimistic with several taxi drivers saying that their engine repair bills are increasing using gas, rather than petrol. More problems.
There is also the commitment that the government got from the manufacturers to produce the eco-cars, and these have to be able to use less than 5 liters of fuel per 100 km. I feel sorry for the manufacturers with such a bewildering array of fuel concepts being promoted.
There is also something else to consider - Mr Big Oil is currently enjoying the greatest profits it has ever had, with the increase in crude oil price, and the subsequent hijack at the pumps. So Big Oil does not want to see the prices go down. But wait, there’s more! Government taxes per liter are even more than Mr Big Oil’s profit per liter, so governments are raking in the tax dollars as well, and don’t want the status quo to change.
So now where? The most obvious direction at present is to all-electric power, with the research going into the rechargeable batteries problem. Honestly, you can forget hybrids, they are an interim step, and that is all. Too expensive for the mass market as it will take you years to recoup the initial cost from just fuel savings. And please don’t mention the Toyota Prius. If this were the best thing since sliced bread, why is Toyota not converting all their range into hybrids? There is no sign of a hybrid Vios or Yaris or Corolla, and there never will be.
Returning to the batteries, remember the first mobile phones? You carried the battery in a suitcase. Now the whole thing fits in your shirt pocket. That technological progress is continuing.
What is more, there are electric cars being built right now, which will go 160 kays on one charge and recharge overnight from domestic power points. So why is the government not pushing these motors for their public transport if nothing else? Simply because they don’t get huge taxes from the output of your home electric socket, and Big Oil gets nothing at all, but Big Oil has the ear of governments. So there’s your vicious circle, and we, the consumers, are being used as pawns.
Me? Cynical? Never!