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Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

No Grand Prix this weekend

This is the holiday period for the Grand Prix circus, so the next GP is not until September 2 at the famous Spa circuit. In the meantime it is Playstation or reading books. However, while the drivers might be sunning themselves on beaches all over the world (including Thailand), the development engineers will be drawing up the next upgrades to get them through to the end of the year. With Alonso (Ferrari) at the top of the leader board, McLaren, Red Bull and “Lotus” will be aiming to dethrone the Spaniard as soon as possible.

Airbags for the rear?

The Mercedes S-Class limousines are scheduled to have inflatable rear-seat ‘beltbags’ in the 2013 models. Mercedes has confirmed it will put its innovative inflatable “belt-bag” into production in a high-end luxury model, thought to be the new-generation 2013 S-Class.

Your Benz awaits, Sir.

Since it is difficult, to the point of impossibility to have an air-bag in front of the rear passengers, Mercedes has developed the “belt-bag”. This is worn like a normal seatbelt, but expands to three times its normal width when triggered by crash sensors in the front of the vehicle, which would deploy the airbags in the front.

The wider surface area of the inflated belt helps to reduce the unit loading to the body from the straps by spreading the load and thus reducing chest and collar bone deformation in a severe crash.

The belts are inflated in the same way as an airbag, with an explosive “gas generator” mounted at the top end of the belt, and will be used in conjunction with Mercedes’ active seatbelt buckle that retracts into the seat to reduce the risk of pelvic injury.

The seatbelts in the rear seats of Mercedes cars are already equipped with pre-tensioners and force limiters – features that are usually only found in front seats in most other cars.
It would appear, reading between the lines, that China will get the rear belt-bags first as their press release indicates that the belt-bag was developed with a particular view toward new markets, where the occupancy rate in the rear is as much as 30 percent, making it much higher than in Europe.”

The Chinese statistics would show that in developing markets such as China, there is very high back-seat usage in chauffeur-driven limos and where Mercedes-Benz sells 60 percent of its vehicles.

Anyone for an Aspid GT-21 Invictus?


There is a fairly radical car, built in the UK, called the Ariel Atom with exposed chassis/frame tubes. Very light and goes like the proverbial brown stuff off a shovel, but for sheer off-the-wall craziness, it comes nowhere near Spain’s latest supercar, the Aspid GT-21 Invictus.

Aspid has claimed the GT-21 Invictus to be the first four-seat GT car with an open-wheeled arrangement at the front-end. Aspid chief designer and founder Ignacio Fernández Rodriguez said the company had to retain the open-wheeled characteristics of their concept car, the SuperSport in order to set itself apart from the crowd.

“This presented by far the biggest challenge in terms of packaging the interior volume for the driver and passengers,” he said, “but we’ve successfully achieved this and have therefore maintained our unique visual identity, so the car is perceived as an Aspid the instant it’s seen.” This of course may be so, but uncovered front wheels are just totally impractical, which is why the automotive industry invented “mudguards” about 100 years ago! Note the name, Senor Rodriguez “mud-guards”!

Despite this weird concept and very strange styling, it is again claimed by Aspid that the GT-21 Invictus will return a sub-3.0 second 0-100 km/h time and a top speed of 305 km/h. Another of the claims is that the all-up weight is less than 1,000 kg.

To go with the individual nature of this Aspid company, I was expecting an 11 cylinder radial engine, but no, they have opted for the latest generation Euro 5-compliant 4.4 liter BMW naturally aspirated V8 engine generating 331 kW of power at 8,300 rpm and 440 Nm of torque at 3900 rpm.

The power is transferred through the rear wheels and matched to a dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

More claims include a “new-generation” hybrid technology, which Aspid says will improve performance while cutting fuel use and emissions, but no further details are currently forthcoming.

Underneath the composite bodyshell (with integrated roll cage) sits an all-aluminium double wishbone suspension set up with racing-inspired pushrod dampers that help the car pull a claimed 1.6 g in the corners.

Brakes are huge 400 mm discs all-round to dissipate heat at a faster than usual rate, giving performance that is said to be on par with carbon brakes without needing to be warmed up.

Dimension details are 4447 mm long, 1883 mm wide and 1226 mm high, allowing a 2+2 seating layout coupled with 275 liters boot capacity.

Senor Rodriguez says, “We aim to offer a unique and unforgettable experience when a customer buys one of our sports cars. We believe our factory model and our relationship with each customer will be unique and set a new standard in the market. It will be more like the relationship experienced between a professional race driver and his race engineer and race team.” (In some ways, this car is this century’s remake of the Bugatti Royale. Totally impractical. I have no idea what Senor Rodriguez has been smoking, but he should desist!)

Super tweak for the Go-Faster set

High under-bonnet temperatures can reduce the available horsepower in any engine, so much thought goes into getting the hot air out from the engine bay. (Even my Securitas Retro Racing Escort Mk 1 has a large vent in the middle of the bonnet to expel the hot air.)

Cooling air filter.

Race and rally engineers constantly struggle to manage air intake temperatures, particularly in production-based competition cars such the British Touring Cars category. The increased heat generated and the restrictions on modifications lead to the air intake temperatures rising with a noticeable drop in power.
Now leading air filter manufacturer Pipercross believes it has solved the issue on its flagship C7000 filtration unit thanks to the use of a ceramic coating from Zircotec.
“One of the biggest issues in any engine bay is heat,” says Luke Tibble, development and motorsport manager at Pipercross. “For the air intake, it is imperative that cold, dense air is getting to the engine so it can perform at its best.” The solution was to isolate its C7000 filter unit, a product used by half of the BTCC grid as well as Time Attack, British Drift Championship and track day enthusiasts, from heat with a high performance Zircotec ceramic coating. “In previous years we tried carbon fibre, PPE and a range of heat shields, each offering some benefit,” adds Tibble. “As a motorsports company we constantly are looking for better solutions that provide more performance. It was this research that led us to Zircotec.”

Zircotec already provides a range of thermal management solutions to motorsport protecting both driver and car from the effects of heat but applying the coating to an air filter housing was novel. “The C7000 is a closed filtration unit with an aluminium housing,” says Ziroctec’s sales director Peter Whyman. “We are able to plasma spray the housing to prevent heat soaking into the filter itself. As the ceramic coating can lower surface temperatures by 30 percent, it offers a significant reduction in air temperature inside the unit.”

According to Pipercross, having the C7000 unit coated has already resulted in delighted customers in the BTCC and other series. “Zircotec’s ThermoHold® based coating has contributed to keeping intake temperatures down on the cars, ultimately providing more power,” concludes Tibble.

After seeing the effect it’s coating offers in terms lowering air intake temperatures, Zircotec is keen to investigate other uses where its durable, lightweight, thin (just 300 microns) coating could be used to offer performance advantages in other applications. “Any application that requires cooler air intakes could benefit from using a Zircotec coating,” concludes Whyman.

In Thailand, with the high ambient temperatures, this Zircotec application could provide quite an advantage. A certain Mk1 Escort is seriously looking at the possibilities.

EVs in the news again

Renault Leaf.

Bangkok is going to have some electric vehicle (EV) recharging stations. The Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA) unveiled Thailand’s first EV charging station for the public, with a total of 10 stations expected to be launched by the end of this year.

According to MEA Governor Atorn Sinsawat, the agency supports the use of environmentally-friendly electric cars, as the vehicles run on clean energy. The first EV station is now open for use at the MEA’s headquarters, with nine more to be built before the end of December. Members of the public can use the station’s services for free until July 31, 2013.

The agency also plans to order 20 electric cars for its own use within the next four years. This is good, as I do not know of too many EV’s running along Sukhumvit at present to use their free top up charge!

However, is the push for EV’s just a passing fad and Bangkok is leaping on the wagon a little too late? Are EV’s something that will again go on the back burner when it becomes obvious we won’t run out of oil?

One interesting group in the manufacturers is the Renault Nissan Alliance, led by Carlos Ghosn. This was founded in 1999, and its objective is to rank among the world’s top three vehicle manufacturers in terms of quality, technology and profitability. And the Renault Leaf EV technology is now available through your friendly Renault Nissan dealer (as long as there is a recharging station around the corner).

Carlos Ghosn, President and CEO of Renault and President and CEO of Nissan said, “To reconcile the demand for individual mobility with the preservation of the environment and high cost of oil, the Renault Nissan Alliance is committed to the development of “zero-emission” vehicles (ZEV).”

The ZEV concept was not just an American movement, as in November 2008, UPS announced an order of twelve electric vehicles from Modec, the manufacturer of the world’s first purpose-built zero-emission van. Six vehicles were introduced into UPS’s UK fleet in February 2009. The remaining six were in operation in Germany.

Modec vehicles were designed around a large, removable battery cassette. Two battery capacities were available; offering 160 km range or a 100 km range, on a single overnight charge. However, this was Utopia, as Modec went bust last year. The world is still not convinced that “clean energy” is top priority.

Interestingly, globally, the UPS people have been utilizing alternative fuel vehicles for more than 70 years. It currently operates the transportation industry’s largest private fleet of alternative fuel vehicles. UPS’s use of alternative fuel vehicles dates back to the 1930’s with electric vehicles in New York City, and today the company uses alternative fuel vehicles in Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, the UK and the US. But this alternative fuel position didn’t stop Modec going to the wall.

Our Mitsubishi Mirage an econo-hit in Japan

Our Mitsu Mirage.

Our Thai Mitsubishi Mirage has gone on sale in Japan returning fuel consumption as low as 3.7 liters per 100 km on the Japanese JC08 test cycle, for the smallest engine version.
In Japan, even the larger engines Mirage where it goes without fuel-saving idle-stop technology and aerodynamic enhancements, results in a higher Japanese fuel consumption figure of 4.3 L/100 km, but even that is frugal.

Mirages fitted with idle-stop are claimed to be the most economical non-hybrid petrol cars available in Japan and qualify for the Japanese government’s “eco-car” tax breaks, as it does in Thailand.

Japanese market Mirages use a 1.0 liter three-cylinder petrol engine producing 51 kW of power at 6000 rpm and 86 Nm of torque at 5000 rpm, and are sold exclusively with an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT).

The variant here has the 1.2 liter three-cylinder producing 57 kW at 6000 rpm and 100 Nm at 4000 rpm, with CVT.

The good fuel consumption figures reflect the weight of less than 900 kg and claimed drag coefficient of 0.27.

The Mirage has been a sales success and more than 33,000 orders have been taken since the books opened on March 28 this year.

In Japan, more than 5000 Mirages have already pre-ordered since June 26 and Mitsubishi has set a sales target of 30,000 units for its domestic market by the end of its fiscal year ending on March 31 next year.

Do you know where your car is. Right now?

Wouldn’t it be great if someone stole your car, but you could hit a “kill switch” and make it stop right where it is. Right now! Well, that technology is with us, right now.
I spent an interesting hour with Rob Scarr at Securitas to see the latest developments in GPS trackers, and came away amazed at the technology, and quite frankly, amazed at how inexpensive it is.

Securitas vehicle tracker.

Today’s trackers provide ‘real-time’ vehicle tracking and history which is so detailed it will take your breath away. The very small device (and it really is a black box) will return information such as going over the pre-set speed limits, time sitting idling, collisions and towing. All this is available through GPRS/GSM data-loggers.

All the above is in addition to giving an accurate position of where the car is to within five meters, and you can even see it on Google Earth/Google map. You can erect ‘geo-fences’ which will automatically let you know if the vehicle strays outside from where it should be.
Of course the “kill switch” feature, by which you can cut the car’s ignition circuit will also make stealing your car far more difficult. With one of these, your stolen car won’t even get to the Cambodian border!

Despite the fact that most new vehicles have burglar alarms, have you ever seen anybody do anything about a car parked at the side of the road with the flashers and horn going? Even when it is being winched onto a slide-on truck!

With the costs of vehicles these days ranging from 500,000 baht for a cheapie, up to several millions of baht for luxury cars, simply having insurance does not get your car back, but a tracker can. The Securitas tracker costs 795 baht + VAT per month on a three year contract, complete with free fitting, monitoring and reporting. I reckon that’s a bargain.

If you want to know more, contact Rob Scarr at Securitas Thailand, 081 377 0122 or email [email protected]

Ground Control to Major Tom

Ford S-Max.

Ford Motor Company has begun real-world testing of future technologies as part of a research program aimed at advancing car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication on European roads. Benefits from this research will eventually be seen in the Ford Global Cars of the future.

“Car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications represent the next major advancements in vehicle safety,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president, Ford Research and Innovation. “Ford is committed to further real-world testing here and around the world with the goal of implementation in the foreseeable future.”

Ford is contributing 20 specially equipped S-MAX models to a 120 vehicle fleet being used to test 20 experimental driver assistance technologies as part of the four-year research project “Safe Intelligent Mobility - Testfield Germany” or more simply known as simTD. The project’s goal is to better understand the potential for car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication technologies to improve traffic safety and personal mobility.

Experts believe roads could be made safer and traffic congestion reduced by using mobile communications technology to integrate vehicles with each other and with transport infrastructure. Engineers from Ford’s European Research Centre in Aachen, Germany and simTD research project partners have up to now tested the developmental technologies in a controlled environment. The technologies will now be tested on public roads in and around Frankfurt in real-world driving conditions.

Technologies being tested as part of the simTD research project include:
Electronic Brake Light, which delivers a message from the vehicle in front to a following vehicle if an emergency braking procedure is carried out, even if the incident occurs out-of-sight, for example around a bend in the road. Ford is leading the development and integration of this application Obstacle Warning system, which enables a vehicle to inform other road users of the presence, position and type of potentially hazardous obstacles on the road.

Traffic Sign Assistant, which remains in continuous contact with traffic management centers to access up-to-date information on variable speed limits, temporary restrictions and diversions, as well as providing details of current and approaching permanent regulations, such as fixed speed limits and right of way.

Public Traffic Management, provides exact traffic prognosis based on comprehensive information. This includes identifying likely traffic scenarios and their impact at the point in the journey when they are encountered rather than at the point of departure. In-car internet access, which, for example, can enable the driver to reserve and pay for parking en-route.
“The vehicles will cover thousands of kilometers in test drives and evaluations to gather valuable research data from every-day driving scenarios,” said Christian Ress, technical expert, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.

The increasing use of car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure technology is part of Ford’s “Blueprint for Mobility,” which was outlined by Executive Chairman Bill Ford during his keynote address at the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February. The “Blueprint for Mobility” details the company’s early thinking on how to tackle the issues of mobility in an increasingly crowded and urbanized planet between now and 2025.