Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Chevy Volt is to be cloned

GM’s clever extended-range electric vehicle known domestically as the Chevrolet Volt will also be pitched at the Euro market wearing Opel Ampera badges. GM has already confirmed the Volt electric car will also be sold in Australia from 2012 wearing Holden badges.

Chev Volt in disguise

The Opel Ampera, with a different bodywork from the Chev Volt will make its debut at the Geneva motor show (March 5 to 15). I would also be hopeful of the Volt being shown at the Bangkok International Motor Show (March 26 to April 6).
The Europe-focused concept retains the five door, four seat configuration of the Volt, but this disguised shot indicates the Opel will be distinguished by a different nose with a grille and headlight treatment that are unique to the car.
For short trips up to 60 km, the Ampera runs only on lithium-ion battery power charged via a standard 230v outlet, and the range is extended via a 1.4 liter four cylinder petrol engine that drives a 53 kW generator which subsequently sends charge to the batteries or the electric motor. The petrol engine does not directly drive the wheels.

Opel Ampera in disguise

GM argues the Ampera will be well suited to the daily driving schedule of most European customers, and points to the statistic that approximately 80 percent of German drivers travel less than 50 km daily.
“With the Ampera, Opel will be the first European automobile manufacturer to provide customers several hundred kilometers of non-stop electric driving,” said GM Europe chief marketing officer Alain Visser.
The Chevy Volt goes on sale in the US next year wearing a sticker price in the region of $US40,000, so it won’t exactly be a high-volume proposition, but it’s shaping up as a significant vehicle nonetheless. Of course, if the price of crude spikes again to $146 per barrel, electric cars will be cheaper in the long run, by a country mile.
Meanwhile, you can expect to see more of the car in the upcoming Hollywood blockbuster Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, in which it plays an autobot character named Jolt.

Autotrivia Quiz


Last week I asked why was a Packard tourer disguised as a police open Lincoln in Chicago, and when? The answer was that it was the car used in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, 14th February 1929. However, I have to say that some authorities say it was a Cadillac, and others that it was a Peerless. As none of us were around at that time, and the cars used in the massacre were chopped up afterwards, I doubt if we will ever know. Interestingly, none of the killers were ever brought to justice.
So to this week. I am sure you are all aware of the Gobron-Brillie and the Delaunay-Belleville, which had four pedals, instead of three. What were the pedals, and why did it need four? To make it easier, some Mercedes models also had the four pedal arrangement.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


The end of the Honda S2000
After 10 years, and multiple awards, the Honda S2000 sports car has been canned by Honda. Another victim of the world economic downturn, and cost-cutting at Honda.
The last ever car rolling off the line at Suzuka, Japan will be in June 2009. Honda UK said, “It was only ever designed as a limited edition to celebrate Honda’s 50th birthday in 1999, and now it’s time to focus on new technologies and the sporty derivatives these can offer.”
The S2000 has always been a driver’s car, hailed for its engaging drive on and off track, both of which are reflected by the numerous awards the car has won. Its 2 liter engine remains one of the highest output per liter and one of the highest revving engines ever made. In recognition of this it has won the International Engine of the Year five times in its lifetime, as well as Auto Express Best Sports Car for three consecutive years plus a whole host of other awards.
Another nail in the coffin of exciting motor cars, I am afraid.

Batteries not included?
Better believe that the future is electric. Despite the current price of oil being down from the ridiculous $146 a barrel a few months ago, the world it seems has become tired of the pimps at the pumps, and is ‘revolting’ against the OPEC oil countries.
Not only is GM well down the electric track (see the item above) but it has also announced that it plans to make its own lithium-ion electric-car battery packs at a new plant in the US from 2010.
GM’s new battery plant will be in Michigan and, while negotiations are still continuing with state and local authorities, the company is confident that facility preparation will begin in the next couple of months, with production tooling to be installed mid-year and output starting in 2010.
Volt prototypes will continue to be tested using lithium-ion battery cells supplied from South Korea by LG Chem (though GM conveniently refers only to an LG subsidiary based in Michigan).
Although GM likes to call the Volt an electric car, it does have a petrol engine that acts as a “range-extender”. When the car’s batteries run down (after about 65 km), the engine fires up and acts as an electric generator for the batteries, rather than driving the wheels directly, as do most previous hybrids, though Dr. Porsche’s original designs of 1902 worked on that principle where the petrol engine was merely a battery re-charger.

Toyota is the world’s new number one
Toyota is now the undisputed world leader, after knocking at the door for a couple of years, after it displaced Ford in the number 2 slot. It officially became the global best seller as General Motors 2008 figures slumped with the general auto industry crash in America, following the financial debacle.
The official GM sales total last year was 8.356 million vehicles, while the Toyota tally was 8.972. This result ends 71 years at the top for GM, which had been the leader ever since it overtook Ford during the depths of the Great Depression.
It has all been downhill for the US auto industry. GM’s sales figures were down 10.8 percent from its 2007 result of 9.37 million, and at home in the USA its result was down 21.1 percent to 3.56 million.
Under normal circumstances, you would have expected Toyota to be trumpeting this from the rooftops, but it is a much subdued Toyota at the top. It has recorded its first downturn in 10 years, as it also heads towards the first trading loss in company history. Toyota has already shut 10 of its 11 factories in Japan, and all its other plants are on slowdowns, or temporary closures.
For those with an interest in the stock market, the poor showings in the auto sector is reflected in share prices. GM shares fell 14 cents, or 4.1 percent, to US$3.36 in the US, while Toyota’s US. shares rose 80 cents, or 1.2 percent, to US$66.68. Toyota is number 1 everywhere.

Has F1 priced itself out of the market?
With the news that the Royal Bank of Scotland is asking for a bail-out from the British government, what is going to happen to the sponsorship it has provided to Williams F1?

KERS unit

With the news that the ING Dutch bank is asking for a hand-out from the Dutch government, what is going to happen to the sponsorship it has provided to Renault F1?
You don’t need a degree in higher maths to work out that the annual budget is going to be decreased for both of those teams. And, if you look further, there will be many other sponsors tightening the drawstrings on the money wallets. That includes the manufacturers in manufacturer teams such as BMW.
We had ‘shock, horror’ headlines in the media before Xmas 2008 screaming that Honda had withdrawn from Formula 1. Which it had, time frame immediately. As I write this, nobody has stepped up with a concrete plan of a takeover. We’ve had lots of media smoke and mirrors, but nothing yet in the way of rebranding. Times are tough.
Much is being made of ‘cost cutting’ by the FIA and the teams, but whilst they have limited testing and said that engines have to last longer, they have on the other hand introduced the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) which will cost an arm and three legs to design, test, retest and make work. The KERS is expected to take off around 0.3 of a second per lap when it is used for the seven seconds before it is exhausted, but it is still in the very experimental phase. The very expensive experimental phase, and that certainly does not go with cost-cutting.
In reality, F1 is not sustainable, and in fact has been unsustainable for years. It has inflated its value to potential sponsors, who now no longer have cash reserves they can throw about, and to F1 in particular. The simple business model of income and expenses has been in the red for years, when you take away ‘false’ income from sponsors. Any dip in sponsorship exposes the real situation. And that is what we have now.
So, is this the end of F1? Is this the end of motor sport? No it is not, but it is the end of unbridled spending.
I am old enough to remember motor racing before sponsorship was allowed on the cars, before Lotus painted their cars red, white and gold, having received backing from Gold Leaf cigarettes in 1968. Motor racing was alive and well in 1966, with many teams and many different engines used. These included the Europeans Ferrari, Lotus, Cooper, BRM, the American Eagle, the Australian Repco-Brabham, the NZ McLaren-Ford and Honda (yes, the same Honda as has just pulled out - again). The engines ranged from four cylinders to V12, to H16 and included turbocharged engines, rotary Wankels and even turbines. Engineers enjoyed experimentation, and diversity was the result.
No, with tighter budgets, we might see some diversity again, if the FIA leaves the formula alone. Let us hope so, for all our sakes, in Europe and Asia.