Last week I asked who was the first non-Italian driver to win the ‘proper’ 1000
km Mille Miglia? The answer was the German Rudolf Caracciola (despite an Italian
sounding name) in 1931 driving a Mercedes-Benz. The next ‘foreign’ driver to win
was Stirling Moss in 1955 in another Mercedes-Benz, the 300 SLR. A German crewed
BMW won the race in 1940, but this was a closed circuit event and not the
‘proper’ Mille Miglia. First correct answer in was Mo Bertrand. Well done Mo.
So to this week. Archie Scott-Brown was a driver of incredible courage,
competing at the top level with only one usable arm. There was another driver,
an American, who won championships on both dirt and asphalt with one hand and a
hook. What was his name?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email
Introducing vroom-vroom to hybrids
Do you remember when you used to put a piece of plastic on the front
forks of your bicycle so that it made a ‘vroom’ noise with the spokes as you
pedaled along? Well, Lotus have seized on our childhood technology and adapted
it to electrically driven cars!
Full electric and hybrids have a slight problem in the fact that they are
veritably without noise when running along. This means that pedestrians are
unable to hear and anticipate, so drivers will have to carry special polish to
wipe the nasty smears off the front of their cars before they go home.
Lotus call it their “safe and sound hybrid technology” which simulates the
traditional noise of an internal combustion engine. Stealthy hybrids and
electric cars have come in for criticism from groups representing the blind and
partially sighted, concerned that the low hum of the vehicles puts those with
imperfect sight at greater risk of being hit on the roads. Some are almost
silent at slow speeds.
Clive Wood, transport policy officer at the Guide Dogs for the Blind
Association, said, “Blind and partially sighted people use the noise of oncoming
traffic as a cue for when it is safe to cross a road. If a quiet hybrid electric
vehicle is approaching, then they will no longer have this cue and are
immediately put at risk.”
One US study found electric and hybrid cars moving slowly had to be 40 percent
closer to pedestrians than conventional vehicles before their location could be
detected. They have no noisy pistons, internal explosions or fan belts which
cause the roar we associate with the traditional car engine. Hybrids pose the
same basic problem. At low speeds, the electric motor takes over, making them
Lotus has already put the system into a Toyota Prius, one of the most popular
hybrid cars on the market, with over one million of them whistling noiselessly
past. The device kicks in automatically to produce an artificial engine noise
when the hybrid car runs on its electric motor. When the car’s combustion engine
takes over, sensors fitted to the engine and suspension turn off the sound.
The engine noise is produced by a waterproof loudspeaker positioned next to the
car’s radiator, making it appear as if the sound is coming from under the
bonnet. The system produces a noise of the pitch and frequency designed to help
pedestrians identify the car’s speed and distance, says Lotus.
It is claimed that Lotus adapted the system from technology previously developed
to block outside noise from the inside of its cars; however, you and I know it
came from our bicycles.
Mike Kimberley, chief executive of Group Lotus said, “The increased acceptance
of greener vehicles such as hybrid and electric vehicles is to be encouraged;
they have an important role in improving fuel economy and reducing emissions.
Our technology increases pedestrian safety, while retaining the car’s
Lotus hopes that manufacturers of electric and hybrid cars will adopt the
technology, which it says can also be retro-fitted at a very reasonable price.
After all, how much did it cost us with one piece of plastic poking out between
the wheel spokes!
Nissan has indicated its intention of being at the forefront of
electric power technology, stating that they will release an all-electric
vehicle in 2010. This looks like being a race between GM and Nissan, as both
have said that their electric vehicles will be in the showrooms in 2010, but
don’t stand hopefully outside their new car showrooms on Sukhumvit Road. It
will be a while before we get them in Thailand.
Nissan has already developed two prototypes, developed under the ‘Nissan GT
2012’ business plan. Nissan wants to be thought of as leaders in the ZEV
(zero-emission vehicle) market and their technology will allow them to release
the ZEV cars in 2010 and subsequently launch it globally in 2012.
Nissan is using advanced lithium-ion batteries (similar in principle to the
types used in laptops) and the all-electric EV-02 features a front-wheel drive
layout, but its propulsion is provided by a newly developed 80 kW motor and
The laminated compact lithium-ion batteries are installed under the floor - an
arrangement that means not having to sacrifice either cabin or cargo space,
according to Nissan. Nissan’s lightweight compact lithium-ion batteries use
unique laminated cells. Power output is improved by 1.5 times while battery
volume is reduced by more than half compared with conventional cylindrical
Although Honda and Toyota are better known for their hybrids, Nissan has long
experience in electric-powered vehicle development, commencing with its first EV
‘Tama Electric Vehicle’ way back in 1947.
Nissan also claims to have introduced the auto industry’s first application of
lithium-ion batteries in the Prairie Joy EV in 1996, followed by the
ultra-compact Hypermini electric vehicle, released in 2000.
There is no doubt in my mind that the future is plug-in rechargeable electric
power. We have made batteries for mobile phones that fit in our pockets,
remembering that just a decade or so ago they were so heavy you needed weight
lifting training to carry one. Electric power also frees us from the tyranny of
the oil producers and refiners, which has to be a step in the right direction.
The new Jaguar XF range has been released, believed to be the car
to revive Jaguar’s flagging fortunes. However, with Jaguar having been
bought from Ford by India’s Tata Motors, there has now been enough money to
put jam on the table, as well as bread and butter.
Some pundits have described the new XF as the “best looking and most daring
Jaguar sedan in many years, conveying a lithe, low presence that is both modern
and elegant.” For my money, it looks a little too much like everything else,
particularly the Lexus, rather than being a break-through Jaguar styling
There are four engines for the XF models. A 2.7 liter diesel V6 and 3.0 liter
petrol V6, a 4.2 liter petrol V8 and the 4.2 liter supercharged V8.
Standard gear, includes leather upholstery, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control,
six-speed auto, keyless starting, powered front seats with driver memory, power
steering column adjustment, an electric parking brake, cruise control with speed
limiter, six-CD audio, Bluetooth and aux and USB interfaces. About the same as
everyone else, when you break it down. After all, sat-nav has been around for 10
years, driver memory electric front seats for about 20 years, cruise control for
30 years and leather seats for 70 years.
For Jaguar’s sake, I hope it is a huge hit, but it has some very stiff
competition from the Mercedes E500, BMW 550 and the Lexus GS 450H. However, if
the vindaloo can keep the price down, there will be a market, albeit very