Last week I mentioned that the first overland trip from the UK to Australia by
car left London 19 October 1927 and finished in Sydney 15 July 1928.
I asked who was it, and what car did he drive? The answer was Francis Birtles,
driving a 14 hp Bean. I think he should have been locked up, but his legacy is
very impressive! The Bean was three years old before he started on the trip and
was a four cylinder right hand drive two-seater with a long engine cowling and
boat tail. It had a low two-panel glass windscreen. The side covers of the
engine cowling are missing and there is a large diameter exhaust pipe without
muffler running along the left side of the vehicle. It has a full steel channel
chassis, which has been drilled for lightness, leaf sprung suspension, and four
wheel drum brakes.
So to this week. What did the radiator badge of the Packard look like?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email
Is it now Ta-Ta for Jaguar?
I think everyone in the auto industry must wake up thinking “What did
I do to deserve this?” One of those is Ratan Tata the head of the Indian Tata
Twelve months ago, Tata bought Jaguar/Land Rover (JLR) from Ford for something
over one billion sterling but rather than dip into the piggy bank, such as you
and I have to do, took out loans in April 2008, most of which is due to be
repaid to financiers in June, as well as payments due to suppliers and general
With the credit crunch that has beset the world, poor old Ratan Tata has found
he is going to come up short. Very short. As new owner Tata has admitted he
could not have bought JLR at a worse time and that the Tata group is now short
Tata has applied to the British government, but has not had the response he
wanted. “It’s not a bailout,” he told The Sunday Times. “I would like to see the
British government playing only one role. It controls the banks, and all I seek
is the facilitation to provide access to credit on commercial terms. We’re
responsible for the fortunes of the company, but this is a bone-dry situation in
terms of access to credit. Nobody can operate on that basis unless you have
large cash balances, which we don’t.”
JLR had been expected to receive government support in return for developing
more efficient fuel-saving technology, but those programs - along with new
models such as an E-Type revival - are now under threat, along with the
company’s 15,000 workers.
However, one program already too advanced to be threatened is the long-awaited
new XJ saloon, which was largely developed under Ford and will be revealed in
July before going on sale at the end of this year.
Marchionne the magician?
It is not so long ago that Fiat was all about poorly made motor
cars that bred rust before they left the factory floor. However, all that
has changed and the new Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne has changed
all that. With one stroke of his magic wand he seems to have turned Fiat
into a financial powerhouse, and it seems there is no stopping him.
Marchionne is now attempting to take over General Motors’ Opel subsidiary and
other parts of GM so he can create a global industry leader second only to
Toyota in annual production.
Success with the Opel unit would create a multinational group with extensive
production operations in Europe (Fiat, Opel and Saab) and the US (Chrysler). He
is also keen to wrap in GM’s South African and South American operations,
although GM does not want to relinquish South America, as this is one of the GM
overseas plants that actually makes money!
Marchionne believes this expanded Fiat/Chrysler/Opel group would be able produce
around six million cars and light commercial vehicles a year, which he thinks
will be the threshold for a viable mass producer in coming years.
Marchionne, who has confirmed he will head the combined group once Chrysler
comes out of bankruptcy proceedings, is convinced that combining Fiat/Chrysler
with the Opel/Vauxhall business would be the best result for the struggling GM
subsidiary, which would be sub-economic on its own in coming years.
“I am offering the German government a car business that will effectively be
debt-free and I will take on Opel’s liabilities, including pensions,” Marchionne
declared after presenting his plan to the German government this month. However,
in the same breath, the magician said that he needed up to 7 billion euro in
loan guarantees to cover GM Europe’s unfunded pension liabilities and debts.
Those with long memories will remember that eight years ago, GM was attempting
to buy a controlling interest in Fiat. How the mighty have fallen.
Pandemic claims five million lives!
No, this is not about Swine flu, this is about road deaths. In
the new report by the Commission for Global Road Safety launched in Rome
last month, it calls for governments in all countries to combat the world’s
fastest growing public health emergency. This is not the swine flu pandemic
but global road deaths.
If all governments committed to a road safety ‘Decade of Action,’ five
million lives and 50 million serious injuries would be prevented. A
coordinated UN action plan for road safety is urgently needed with road
crashes set to become the leading cause of disability and premature death
for children aged 5-14 across developing countries by 2015.
F1 Ferrari driver Felipe Massa was present at the report launch in Rome to
highlight the hidden epidemic of road traffic injuries and to urge UN action
on road safety.
The statistics are not pretty. Road crashes already kill more people in the
developing world than malaria, at an economic cost of up to $100 billion a
year, equivalent to all overseas aid from OECD countries.
More than one million people are killed on the roads of developing countries
every year, and tens of millions are injured, a toll set to double by 2030.
Road crashes are already the leading global cause of death for young people
Interim targets and strategies should be established to promote 100 percent
helmet and seat belt use in every country by 2020, together with other road
safety interventions. That would certainly save lives in Thailand. You only
have to look at the carnage every year called Songkran, with 80 percent of
fatalities in the national total coming from motorcycles and failure to wear
a proper helmet.
Felipe endorsed the proposals, saying, “We must do more to tackle road
traffic injuries, the biggest killer of young people around the world. By
promoting seat belt and helmet use, enforcing drink driving and speeding
(legislation), and improving road and vehicle design we can really make a
difference. I am pleased to support the Make Roads Safe campaign and the
call for a Decade of Action for road safety.”