Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

China outsells the US in January

With the downturn in car sales in the US, as the credit facilities to purchase a new car dried up, China overtook the US for the first time. In the first month of this year, the US sales were 657,000 units (the lowest monthly sales in 26 years), whilst China sold 790,000 vehicles.

Chery QQ
However, it won’t be the last time! Elaine Kurtenbach of Associated Press predicted that it was a trend that could make China into the world’s largest auto market this year. “This is the first time in history that China has passed the United States in monthly sales,” Mike DiGiovanni, General Motors Corp.’s executive director of global market and industry analysis, has admitted.
The predictions for sales in 2009 has China at 10.7 million and the US at 9.6 million. However, commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses make up a larger proportion of China’s vehicle market than in the US, causing some people to say comparing such statistics is misleading.
But China, with its 1.3 billion people, was bound to catch up with the U.S., population 300 million, sooner or later, and the latest trends suggest it may be sooner than expected due to the drastic contraction in the American auto market.
In a strange quirk, General Motors is one of China’s biggest automakers, with billions of dollars invested in joint ventures and a record 1.09 million vehicles sold in 2008, up 6 percent from 2007.
Struggling GM has been counting on the growth in China, which passed up Japan in 2006 to become the world’s second-largest vehicle market, thanks to strong sales to the country’s fast-growing middle class.
Beijing has moved aggressively to prop up the industry it has nurtured over the past two decades. Last month the government announced it was halving the tax on purchases of cars with engines less than 1.6 liters to 5 percent, until the end of the year. It is spending US$730 million on subsidies to farmers replacing their three-wheeled vehicles or outdated trucks with small 1.3 liter or less vehicles.
“Sales rebounded last month due to the vehicle purchase tax cut,” said Gao Zhiyuan, a salesman at Shanghai Automobile Industry Hudong Sales Co., a Volkswagen dealership. “Customers feel it’s a good chance to buy a car for less since the tax cut is temporary. Also, with lower gasoline prices people are less worried about fuel costs,” Gao said.
Strong demand for smaller cars is helping both domestic and foreign-brand automakers. South Korean manufacturer Hyundai Motor Co. reported its China sales rose 35 percent in January from a year earlier, to 43,000 vehicles.
With the Chinese manufacturers now beginning exports of their cheaper range of vehicles, you can expect an influx over the next couple of years. It is interesting to note that Yontrakit, who already have the Naza vehicles (Chinese assembled in Malaysia), are importing Chery and some other Chinese brands, and I would expect to see these at the Bangkok International Motor Show which runs from March 26 through to April 6.
With China also being first with an all electric production vehicle (the BYD - Build Your Dream) and GM putting back the release of the Chevrolet Volt, you can expect China to be attacking the market on all fronts.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I stated that retractable headlights were first offered in 1936. I asked, on what car, and how were they actuated? The correct answer was the 1936 810 model Cord and the headlamps were operated manually with winding handles on the dash, one on each side.
So to this week. Which car company was first with the key start?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Happy Birthday Mini! 50 this year!
The (original) Mini, the British motoring icon turns 50 this year, and throughout 2009 tens of thousands of Mini fanatics will be celebrating in style.

Original Mini

From massive events attracting enthusiasts from all over the world, to gatherings of the like-minded at the local pub, or a few friends giving it a quick blast along their favorite stretch of twisty road, ‘Mini 50’ parties will be celebrated all through 2009.
Released for sale in August 1959, the Mini was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis as a cheap, economical car for ordinary people. When champion Formula One constructor, John Cooper, gave the engine a few race-inspired tweaks, the Mini jumped effortlessly from the high street to the racetrack.
In the following years it became class-bending style icon of the swinging sixties, driven by movie stars, pop stars and royalty, as well as ordinary people throughout the world.
By the end of the decade it was a movie star itself, with a starring role (alongside Michael Caine) in one of the most unforgettable car chases of all time in ‘The Italian Job’.
The classic Mini stayed in production for more than 40 years, the last cars rolling off the production line in 2000. The team that started production never realized that this little car would touch the hearts of so many and conquer the world with its sporting heritage, celebrity status, and downright fun-to-drive and pleasure-to-own experience. But the thing that has made the car what it is today is the passion that is given to the car from its owners. These are the people, along with the many clubs, that will keep the Mini buzzing around our roads for many decades to come. At the Bang Saen six hour race in November last year there was an old Mini, with two drivers 20 years older than their car, who were just enjoying being there, and driving their classic.
Long live the classic Mini, and its drivers.

Volkswagen bullish
Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest car maker, said its 2008 profit rose 15 percent and it expected to gain market share during the current global automotive sector crisis.
A VW statement said 2008 net profit came to 4.75 billion euros as sales rose 4.5 percent to a record 113.8 billion euros with operating profit up 3.0 percent to 6.3 billion euros.
“We met our target and surpassed our record results for 2007 even though conditions were tougher,” chairman Martin Winterkorn said.
“The current year remains extremely difficult for the entire automotive industry,” Winterkorn warned. “Our target is to fare better than the overall market.”
Undoubtedly, VW’s strong market presence in China has helped boost the 2008 bottom line, with the Polo and the Bora both selling well.

BMW Sauber’s season in numbers
Formula 1 is being battered every day with costs. It takes hundreds of millions of dollars to get a team on the grid, but much of the expense is not related to the outright speed or performance of the race cars. For example, the team ate 100 kg of fruit per Grand Prix weekend last year.

2009 BMW Sauber

For flyaway Grands Prix, the team dispatches some 32 tonnes of air freight. That includes three chassis (two cars plus a spare chassis), six to eight engines, three to five sets of spare parts, 160 wheel rims, 100 radio sets, headphones, tools, computers and the pit garage equipment. Everything is packed into four ‘igloos’ (huge containers) from Hinwil, one igloo from Munich, two lower-deck containers and two ten-foot pallets from Hinwil and one from Munich.
Now here’s an area where BMW could save some costs. Seven trucks transport the team’s hospitality unit within Europe, four of which form an integral part of its sophisticated construction.
The hospitality unit, which takes twelve men 36 hours to erect, has 37 plasma screens running. 40 kilometres of cables are laid for the power and network supply.
The kitchen is kept busy feeding and watering team members and guests: in 2008 average consumption per Grand Prix weekend amounted to 140 kg of meat, 100 kg of fish, 100 kg of fruit, 90 kg of vegetables, 40 kg of cheese, 1,000 eggs, 1,800 bread rolls plus 2,500 litres of water and soft drinks.
That does not include all the alcohol consumed by the B list ‘celebrities’ and assorted hangers-on at the Grands Prix.

Porsche Carrera Cup Asia
While F1 is in trouble, it seems as though the Porsche Cup Asia is going from strength to strength, with reigning, former and potential champions joining with new faces for one of the most exciting race calendars in the series’ history of seven years.
Reigning Class A Champion Darryl O’Young of Hong Kong is back, with a mission to clinch an unprecedented third Porsche Carrera Cup Asia title with Team Jebsen.
However, an intense battle is on the cards between 2006 and 2008 champion O’Young, against 2007 champion Tim Sugden of GruppeM Racing, and 2008 title runner-up Christian Menzel of Team StarChase.
China, which is fast becoming a major market for expensive motor cars has intense rivalry between the China Porsche dealerships, with Team Jebsen, which has Porsche Centres in Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Beijing, defending their title from Team StarChase of Nanjing, GruppeM Racing of Qingdao, and Team Kangshun of Wuhan, which is again fielding Singapore’s Ringo Chong.
China is now the third largest market for Porsche, with 7,615 cars sold there last year.
New faces this year includes Rodolfo Avila of Macau. The 22 year old began his career in karts, before going on to clinch the Asian and China Formula Renault Challenge titles. He competed in first Asian and then British Formula 3, and International Formula Masters, before making a successful switch to sportscars last year.
Jeffrey Lee of Chinese Taipei will contest his first full Porsche Carrera Cup Asia this season, having joined the series after the opening rounds last year. Lee, racing with PTRS Motorsport, is another driver who started out in single seaters, competing in Formula 2000 Asia, Formula 3 Australia and Formula V6 Asia.
The 2009 Porsche Carrera Cup Asia begins in April, with the opening races held as part of the 2009 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit.
In May, the series returns to Beijing’s Goldenport Circuit for an entire weekend dedicated to Porsche.
June’s round will be held at Southern China’s Zhuhai International Circuit, and in July, the series will be part of the Asian Festival of Speed weekend at Indonesia’s Sentul International Circuit.
This year, Porsche Asia Pacific will once again partner SC Global Developments for the unique floodlit event at the 2009 Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix on September 27.
Returning to China for the penultimate meeting of 2009, the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia will run at the Shanghai International Circuit in October, before the final rounds in November, the venue for which will be announced at a later date.

Porsche Cup racing