Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Honda Insight revamped

Honda has revamped their hybrid Insight, which is to be released next month at the Detroit Motor Show.

2009 Honda Insight

Honda claim that this new Insight is an affordable family hybrid and the photo shows how the new five-passenger, five-door Insight will look when it goes on sale in the 2009. This is much more acceptable to the mainstream buying public than the previous rather quirky styling.
A leader in the development of cleaner, more fuel-efficient mobility products, Honda introduced to the market the first mass produced low-emission gasoline vehicles; America’s first commercially produced gas-electric hybrid car and the world’s first EPA-certified hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX. In 2007, Honda was named “greenest automaker” by the Union of Concerned Scientists for the fourth straight time.
Honda aims to sell 200,000 Insights globally, per year. The hatchback will be the first of a new family of Honda hybrids, followed by a production version of the CR-Z concept sports car, and a Jazz hybrid.
However, just because there may be a Jazz hybrid for the UK, does not mean that there will be one here, even though Thailand manufactures the Jazz model for export. For example, the VTEC engine Jazz available here is not offered in the UK, it having the 1.4 liter cooking engine over there.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what was the first Indian-built car, and what was it identical to? It was the Hindusthan Ten of 1946 and was identical to the Series M 10 hp Morris. Hindusthan became noteworthy when they produced the Hindusthan Ambassador which was the 1953 Morris Oxford, which can still be bought today. Very popular in white with Indian politicians.
So to this week. Which famous marque began by building tractors from war surplus Morris, Ford and GM bits and pieces?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


The US Big Three crisis
GM, Ford and Chrysler top management are going to the American government with caps in hand, begging on the street corners like the alien women and children on the Bangkok over-bridges. They are now even driving to the capitol instead of taking the corporate Lear jets. Next week they will be walking there with their cut lunches while wearing their kids’ schoolbags. They are even promising to work for $1 a year, which, after their previous multimillion dollar salaries is a real come-down. Should we feel sorry for them?

Oldsmobile Toronado

Quite frankly, I do not. Even $1 a year is more salary than will be earned by the thousands of line workers who have lost their jobs through the same top management’s poor business decisions. Blind Freddie could see that the American public did not want the big gas guzzlers, but were buying the small fuel efficient Japanese vehicles.
But no, the Big 3 top management said that they should continue the gas guzzlers, because of the high dollar profit per unit, and then spent much time and resources trying to convince and cajole the American public to continue buying the product they did not really want, by offering financial incentives, discounts, cash-back and all the other marketing ploys.
All that ‘head in the sand’ thinking by the top management was rewarded by them giving themselves huge bonuses, while at the same time planning redundancies on the shop floor. Economically wrong, and ethically wrong as well.
Of course, in many ways the Big 3 now have the American government over a barrel. “If you don’t give us the money we are asking for, we will be forced to close and thousands of workers will be drawing unemployment benefits, which will cost the country more than the few billions we are asking for.”
The Big 3 are important, however. They have given the world some wonderful classic vehicles such as the Oldsmobile Toronado, the Pontiac GTO, the Ford Mustang, the Dodge Viper and many more, all the way back to the Curved Dash Oldsmobile of 1901. When they start building more vehicles that the American public wants, they will return to their previous position as leaders, not beggars. GM has the Volt. Keep going Bob Lutz, and I am glad I’m not Barack Obama.

But Honda pulls the (non-electric plug)
It was a shocked motor racing fraternity that was informed last Friday that Honda were withdrawing from the F1 circus. Immediately! The team was told that if no buyer came along in the next three months, then it would all be shut down. Lock, stock and barrel.
The inference from all this is now staring the FIA in the face - has F1 become so expensive that it is unsustainable? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Honda is now the third team in the last couple of years to pull out.

My Earth Nightmare

Third? Yes, first there was David Richard’s Prodrive team which pulled out even before they got to the grid, followed by Super Aguri (which was the Honda B team, running Honda engines) and now Honda itself.
Undoubtedly 2008 was the last ditch for Honda. After hiring Ross Brawn as their team principal, the ex-Ferrari guru, the man who masterminded seven world titles for Michael Schumacher, to then come ninth in the championship would be a bitter pill for the Japanese. Loss of face isn’t in it! Financially, the F1 team eats up around 10 billion baht of Honda’s money each year. And to come ninth?
And will there be more? The indicators would seem to point in that downwards direction. Williams F1 is not flush with cash, and one of its main sponsors, the Royal Bank of Scotland, has its hand out to the UK government. Can it justify spending money on F1 while looking for taxpayer donations? Even big spender Toyota is reportedly trimming its huge F1 budget.
With the world’s motor industry going through its greatest crash in decades, will F1 crash with it? Watch this space.
The 2009 Formula 1 season begins on March 29 in Australia. Provided there is a full grid, and provided that the Australian city of Melbourne is prepared to lose even more money for the honor and glory of just having a F1 race - currently the race fee is $35 million, and despite some fanciful accounting Melbourne has never made a profit.

Despite a recent decrease in the price of crude oil from the bank account busting $150 a barrel, don’t for one minute think it is going to stay down. No, the nice chaps from OPEC are already working on decreasing supply, so that the price will go up caused by the natural demand for the product. After all there are all the seven star hotels in the desert to be built from the proceeds, and other such monstrosities as a fully air-conditioned snow skiing mountain built beside the seven star hotels. The pimps at the pumps have not finished with you yet!


The best reply is electric vehicles, and I noticed with interest the reports that Hawaii is going all out to be fully electric by 2012. GM has also displayed the Chev Volt (and let’s hope that GM will still be around to build it in 2009).
The push into electric vehicles (EV) is becoming stronger, and the technology may be further down the road than many people imagine. The TH!NK City electric vehicle is manufactured by Norwegian electric vehicle (EV) pioneers TH!NK, a company with 17 years experience in EVs, and the new TH!NK City is a modern urban car, with zero emissions, low cost of ownership and silent running, and does not incur the same taxes as internal combustion vehicles.
The body of the TH!NK city is made of recyclable ABS plastic, which is designed to resist dents and scratches accumulated in city driving. It has a top speed of 100 kph, and accelerates from zero to 80 kph in 16 seconds.
The TH!NK city is designed to meet strict safety requirements. Equipped with ABS brakes, airbags and three-point safety belts with pretensioners, it meets all European requirements.
TH!NK is also moving aggressively into Europe. The Norwegian capital city of Oslo ranks highest when it comes to EV incentives, largely driven by significant purchase tax benefits, no annual road tax, the permission for EVs to use bus and taxi lanes, access to free inner-city parking and the exemption from all road toll fees; however, London is also rated highly.
Announcing TH!NK’s EU roll-out plan, CEO Richard Canny commented, “Due to high demand for our vehicles and our finite production capacity in 2009 we want to make sure that we concentrate our sales on the European cities that have the most potential - not just in terms of sales volumes, but the cities where our customers will receive the maximum benefit. And since EVs are a unique solution for congested urban environments, we will take a city-by-city approach rather than a pan-European or country-by-country approach.” Of course, some of this is PR speak, as currently TH!NK does not have the production capacity to flood the EV market.
Commenting on the exact number of vehicles available in 2009, Canny explained that TH!NK is working quickly to move toward reaching full production capacity of 10,000 units per year at its Aurskog, Norway assembly plant, but added that sales volumes in the first half of 2009 will likely be limited by some capacity constraints.
The TH!NK people even have an EV Friendliness Index, examining the attractiveness of cities, in the context of buyer benefits, in three broad categories:
1. EV Purchase incentives - the available rebates, tax incentives or other purchase incentives available at the city, state or national government level, including reductions in annual tax charges. This includes measures available for individual purchasers, as well as those available for fleet and car sharing customers.
2. EV Usage measures - includes actions which make it more attractive to use an electric car, including:
a. Availability of free charging in both public and private sector locations
b. Freedom from congestion charges or road use tolls
c. Free on-street and off-street parking for EVs and preferred parking locations
d. Ability to use bus, taxi and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on city and surrounding area roads
e. Customer discounts on electricity
3. EV impact - includes the environmental and air pollution benefits of using an electric vehicle, including the use of energy from renewable sources at the city level.
Somehow, I am not sure that Bangkok would score too well on that list!