Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Spanish GP this weekend

Catalunya Circuit, Spain

So should we pray for rain again? It seems that rain is the savior of F1, so yes, on the knees and ask for celestial sprinkles.

This is the fifth GP in the 2010 series, and there are certainly no firm favorites at this time. Young Vettel in the Red Bull can be blisteringly fast, but has only one win. Nico Rosberg is currently in second place. By virtue of keeping his nose (and front wing) out of trouble.

Spain has a long history in GP racing, and the Catalunya circuit (aka Montmelo) was built just 20 km from Barcelona. It was actually the fourth circuit in, or near, Barcelona, which has some claim to being Spain’s capital of motor racing.

The Circuit Catalunya was opened in 1991, the 5 km circuit was quick and had both a wide range of corners and excellent facilities and viewing points. A temporary chicane was built at ‘Nissan’ (a very shallow curve) in 1994, but for 1995, ‘Nissan’ was straightened reducing the length of a lap to the 5 km length.

The race will be at 7 p.m. our time for what we all pray is a rain affected race!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked which driver repaired his broken chassis with wood from his hotel furniture in the Paris-Vienna race, finishing 12th with no clutch, no exhaust pipe and only one gear? Clue: 1902. It was British racer Charles Jarrott (1877-1944), whose motto was “Always finish!”

And so to this week. Which driver, who set a world land speed record was addicted to Fair Isle pullovers?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!

Renault-Nissan cuddles up to Daimler

The auto industry has always been incestuous and now Renault-Nissan and Daimler have joined forces in swap deal to cut product costs.

Ghosn and Zetsche

According to the overseas news, Renault’s next-generation Twingo city car and Daimler’s Smart will share a new common platform under a far-reaching strategic alliance signed by Renault-Nissan and Daimler AG that will also extend to swapping engines and collaboration on commercial vehicle development.

As part of the agreement, the automotive giants will each acquire a “symbolic” 3.1 percent cross-ownership of each other under a share-swap arrangement announced jointly by Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche and Renault-Nissan Alliance chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn in Brussels.

The cooperation - to be overseen by a 12-person board with equal representation from the three brands - is designed to slash development costs by up to €4 billion ($A5.75b) by 2015, as well as optimize production efficiency and cut C02 emissions, by sharing platforms, powertrains and parts sourcing.

Mercedes-Benz four and six-cylinder engines will be on offer to Renault-Nissan, while Benz will get three and four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines in return.

Among the engine deals already revealed are Mercedes-Benz engines for Nissan’s luxury Infiniti range, and a Renault-Nissan diesel engine for the Mercedes Vito van.

As well, the two groups will co-develop both diesel and petrol engines for the joint 2012 Twingo/Smart vehicle, which will be built jointly by Renault and Daimler - the two-door version at Renault’s Slovenian plant and the four-door at Smart’s Hambach factory in France.

Commercial vehicle co-operation will include a new entry-level van for Mercedes-Benz from 2012, based on a Renault design.

The alliance is expected to spawn new technical joint ventures between Nissan, Renault and Daimler in future when each company deems it advantageous.

Daimler’s Zetsche was at pains to distance the new alliance from Daimler’s ill-fated joint venture with Chrysler, saying, “We start on earth this time and stay there.”

Zetsche ran Chrysler for five years from 2000. When he took over the top job at Daimler in 2006, he promptly set about selling off the American company to venture capitalists Cerberus Capital Management in 2007. And we’ve all seen what a great “merger of equals” that was, and went steadily downhill from there and now run by Fiat.

However, this time, the deal is said (once again) to be one of equals, each company milking each others’ strengths for improved vehicles and production efficiencies.

“Our skills complement each other very well,” Zetsche said. “Right away, we are strengthening our competitiveness in the small and compact car segment and are reducing our CO2 footprint - both on a long-tern basis.”

Ghosn said Renault and Nissan knew how to work successfully in a collaborative partnership. “This experience is extremely valuable in today’s and even more in tomorrow’s global auto industry.”

The Infiniti G sports car - currently powered by a choice of Nissan four-cylinder and 3.7-litre V6 engines - is set to get a Mercedes engine in its next generation.

Renault-Nissan already has a range of strategic ventures with Dong Feng in China, Mahindra in India and AvtoVAZ in Russia, among others.

Likewise, Daimler has done deals with a number of companies, including Chinese electric vehicle leader BYD and American electric sportscar pioneer Tesla.

Daimler’s rival BMW has a similar technical arrangement with PSA Peugeot Citroen, sharing design and production of powertrains - including the four-cylinder engine under the bonnet of Mini, Peugeot and Citroen small cars.

Volkswagen also recently signed an arrangement with Japan’s Suzuki.

Renault owns 44 percent of Nissan, which in turn owns 15 percent of Renault. Between them, they employ 350,000 people with revenues of €86.5 billion last year.

By comparison, Daimler AG employs a workforce of 256,000 and generated €78.9 billion in 2009 revenue.

So, whatever the nameplate on your next car, it was probably made in Brazil, with the engine from Hungary, seats from Lichtenstein and designed by some yak repairer in Krygistan. I’m afraid brand loyalty these days is probably very much misplaced.

More motorcycles from the Motor Show

Motorcycle correspondent Alan Coates continues on from last week with his review of the Bangkok International Motor Show.

Kawasaki: Absent this year was their massive tourer, the 1400 GTR and the versatile Versys. Also missing was the newly released 800cc version of the Fazer.

V900 Kwaka

V900 Vulcan Custom & Classic: Kawasaki was the only manufacturer to show a cruiser ‘bike, and chose the smaller engine option. They displayed their VN900 v-twin in two guises, the Custom, (with matt paint finish) and the Classic. Power output is 37 kw at 5,700 rpm hauling 278 kg of bike. The high torque (78 Nm) is appropriate for the riding style that goes with a cruiser.

ER-6N: A number of versions of this excellent all-rounder were displayed, including a Ninja. For a regular around town and weekend trips the ER-6N is hard to beat for practicality and ease of use.

Ninja ZX-10R: With a huge 138.3 kw at 12,500 rpm in a package weighing in at 208 kg this top of the range sports bike is no slouch. However, it does lose out in the handling arena when compared to Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 and Yamaha’s R1, both on show here.

Ninja ZX-6R: It is every boy racer’s dream, to rev the guts out of this middleweight screamer from Kawasaki. Equally at home on the street or the track this bike oozes performance (94.1 kW at 14,000 rpm and weighing only 191 kg). Ride one if you can.

Mini Super Sport: These 125 cc little bikes with fat tyres remind me of the original paddock bike, the Honda Monkey. They are popular with all ages both around town and for off-road general use. Kawasaki also showed an example fully loaded with specialist trick parts.

Hyabusa monster

P-Bike: Three basic types of ‘bike from the Chinese and Thai manufacturers were presented. These were Tiger Retro step thru’s looking like early versions of the Honda Cub, the Stallion Mini Solo akin to the Kawasaki Super Mini paddock style machine and Ryuka scooters.

Piaggio MP3: This three wheeler (twin front wheels) has been around for some time and has a reputation for stability and sharp cornering. The 125 cc SOHC model presented however was the hybrid version, having 11 kw from the petrol engine and 2.6 kw from the electric motor. Four modes of operation are possible, two hybrid and two electric, including reverse. Will it catch on? Who knows?

Vespa: This looked unchanged from the exterior from decades ago, but on the inside three capacity engines are available from 150 cc, through 250 cc to 300 cc. With prices starting at 99,000 baht and going up to 325,000 baht I can’t see these denting any of the major’s sales figures.

Suzuki: Suzuki’s show comprised, in the main, their larger engine machines but no cruisers.

Hyabusa GSXR1300: No less than three examples were on display in various colors. This model is arguably the quickest of any of the super sports on the market with a power output of 145 kW but a kerb weight of 260 kg.

GSX-R1000: A new, more over square, compact engine together with a shorter wheelbase updates the GSX-R1000 for 2010 (weight 203 kg) to give improved performance and agility it is claimed.

1250SA Bandit: This is the mini-faired version of the long running Bandit. A fully faired and a full luggage version are also available. The Bandit enjoys a reputation for an unburstable engine as well as being very good value for money if you are prepared to live with its dated engine and chassis.

Valentino Rossi clone

Yamaha M1 MotoGP: Pride of place on the stand were clones of Valentino Rossi (46) and Jorge Lorenzo (99) MotoGP ‘bikes.

YZF-R1: The YZF-R1 is similar in engine and chassis configuration to their M1 MotoGP motorcycle. The short-stroke engine has a crossplane crankshaft that delivers uneven firing intervals (133.9 kW at 12,500 rpm and weight 206 kg). They say that this gives linear power delivery allowing the rider to better control the power. As with others, the chassis is as short as possible with longer swinging arm for agility and stability.

YZF-R6: This is the 600 cc version it’s bigger brother. Ultimate handling, cornering, braking etc follow from race development onto the road. The engine is ultra high revving (91 kW at 14,500 rpm and weighing in at 189 kg) with chip controlled throttle. Not the bike for around town, more circuit dedicated.

FJR1300A: Equipped with a low-maintenance shaft drive, the 1,298cc inline 4-cylinder engine produces 105.5 kW at 8,000 rpm. With its adjustable windscreen, handlebars and seat - as well as heated grips and a 25-litre fuel tank this gets my vote as the best real tourer at the show.

FZ1 Fazer: The FZ1 Fazer has a detuned version of the R1 based 998cc in-line 4-cylinder engine (110.3 kW at 10,500 rpm). With a weight of 220 kg performance is lively if not awesome. This is a versatile machine for those longer work journeys and shorter tours. It lies somewhere in between sports and tourer without the cons of those extremes.