Are Thai made vehicles good enough?
For many people, there is that nagging worry as to whether a car
made in Thailand is screwed together well enough. Should one stick
to imported vehicles because the quality is better (or perceived to
a winner again.
Many years ago, when BMW first opened their manufacturing plant on
the Eastern Seaboard, I remember the local GM saying that the cars
produced here were not “Thai BMWs”, but BMWs made in Thailand. I
understood immediately what he meant. In fact, in the German BMW’s
audit of the plant, the BMWs made in Thailand were some of the best
in the world, as far as freedom from faults was concerned.
What reminded me of all that were the results of the JD Power Asia
Pacific Thailand Initial Quality Study. In this critical
examination, owners of new vehicles were asked about the quality of
the cars they had bought. The questionnaire covered ride, handling,
braking, features/controls, seats, ventilation and cooling, sound
system, exterior and interior, engine and transmission. The end
result is expressed as the number of problems per 100 vehicles, and
obviously, the lower number of faults the better.
The latest study was carried out on almost 3,500 owners, and covered
49 different vehicles, including cars, pick-ups and utility
vehicles, and spanned 10 different manufacturers.
The industry average, according to the JD Power survey, was 216
problems per 100 vehicles, which was the best figure since 2003, a
14 percent improvement.
And what brand came out on top? Guess! Yes, it was Toyota, top in
all five categories. I actually had an interesting chat with one of
the engineers from a car manufacturing plant here on the Eastern
Seaboard a week ago. He was using the words “perceived quality”, but
I believe the JD Power is much more objective than that, and we are
not looking at subjective results here. Certainly Toyota is
‘perceived’ by the buying public as having reliable vehicles, and
quite honestly, I believe they do!
Even though I personally think that the sample size was a little
small, the results did come out as I imagined, with Toyota Yaris on
top of Honda Jazz in one class, Corolla Altis followed by Mitsubishi
Lancer and Honda Civic in another and the Hilux variants on top of
the various pick-up based segments such as single and double-cab and
So the answer to the question as to local quality, the answer is
yes, Thai made vehicles are certainly well made.
What the Germans thought of the 2006 F1 season
I was very fortunate in being given a translation from the
German Auto, Motor und Sport magazine done by local expat resident Peter Wehrli.
I was interested to see if the German press could be objective and unbiased,
considering “their man” Michael Schumacher did not win the hoped for 8th world
The item began with “Alonso is the old and new champion. There was no happy
ending. When the curtain fell, Michael Schumacher was only second. And yet, his
last performance once again proved his extraordinary class. Schumi drove the
race of his life as if he emphatically wanted to show everybody, for one final
time, what we’ll be missing without him.” I certainly have no complaints with
that wrap up. Schumi did show that he was still the master.
The report also stated correctly that Alonso won his second title not least
because he committed fewer errors than his rival. Again, totally correct.
“Schumi crashed in Melbourne and Budapest, paid the parking fine in Monte Carlo
and wasted valuable time by sliding out in Istanbul.” Spot on.
The report was also objective in discussing BMW’s year, stating that generally
points were beyond their reach. It also stated that you did not have to be
clairvoyant to see that BMW is pinning its faith on the Pole Kubica, and not on
the German Heidfeld.
The Auto, Motor und Sport articled finished with a prediction for 2007. “Ferrari
consoles itself with Raikkonen, McLaren with Alonso. Only Renault cannot
adequately fill the gap. The movement of musical chairs within the upper echelon
provides a chance for the B-teams. If Honda, Toyota, BMW and Red Bull cannot
capitalize on that unique opportunity in 2007, then they probably never will.”
Hear, hear! (Thank you again Peter Wehrli for a unique insight.)
Last week was an easy one. I mentioned the Swedish Volvo
P1800 as being one of those iconic cars, but it was not made in Sweden. I asked
where was it made? It was made in the UK in the Jensen factory!
So to this week. Which five cylinder diesel engined experimental record breaking
car was originally built with a four chamber Wankel style rotary engine?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email
Electric Hub Motors heralding another revolution?
I firmly believe that the cars of the future will be
electric. Forget the hybrid gasoline/electric combination, the future will not
only be electric, but the cars will be powered by rechargeable batteries that
you plug in overnight into the three pin system in your garage. Just like your
current mobile phone.
The latest developments in Lithium-ion (L-ion) batteries are showing that the
concept of electric cars is far from finished. It was also evident that whilst
there are some new technologies around the corner, at this stage, most of the
development seems to be in refining old techniques.
We should look at a little history of electric power for passenger vehicles. The
leading manufacturer of electric vehicles in the world, at the end of the 19th
century, was the Baker Motor Vehicle Company, started by Walter C. Baker in
1898. Indeed, the company still stands as the largest producer of electric
vehicles in history, despite ceasing business in 1916. This shows that we have
not really been furthering the concept since 1916, by which time we had fallen
in love with the gasoline engine, to the virtual exclusion of other power
However, the manufacturers themselves are now also looking at hub motors for
direct propulsion. A couple of years ago, General Motors demonstrated a
low-tech, high performance technology that the automaker believes could improve
vehicle acceleration, traction and maneuverability, and enhance the performance
of hybrid electric vehicles. This was through the use of electric hub motors.
While GM stated that although electric wheel hub motors have been used before on
bicycles, golf carts and lawn mowers, one of their top engineers said the motors
could provide enhanced performance on passenger vehicles. “You get the economy
of a four-cylinder engine with the performance of a six,” said Jim Nagashima,
who was manager of the advance development group at GM’s Advance Technology
Center in Torrance, California. “Icy, snowy conditions can be sensed immediately
and all the torque could be put onto one wheel,” Nagashima said in an interview.
The use of wheel hub motors could become a cheaper, lighter substitute for the
electric motors now used in today’s hybrid vehicles, Nagashima said.
Of course, GM is not the only manufacturer looking at this technology. Toyota
displayed their Fine N concept vehicle at the Bangkok Show last year too, which
was designed around fuel cells providing electric power for four wheel hub
Another manufacturer to come up with a vehicle using this wheel hub motor
concept is Mitsubishi, who believe that the fuel crisis will stimulate electric
technology. The Mitsubishi MIEV has four high-efficiency direct-drive motors
inside its 20 inch wheels, each producing 50 kW of power and 518 Nm torque
adding to maximum output of 200 kW (270 bhp). And because this drive system
allows precise regulation of power at each individual wheel, it opens the door
to creating a vehicle dynamics control system in its ultimate evolutionary form.
The MIEV is a proposal for next generation electric vehicles that utilizes the
environmental technology Mitsubishi has been developing over the years. The
in-wheel hub motors and the lithium-ion battery system, which is located under
the floor to reduce the center of gravity, propels the Lancer Evolution MIEV
from zero to 100 km/h in less than eight seconds and up to a maximum speed of
180 km/h. Performance figures that place the MIEV in the middle of passenger car
The foremost feature of the in-wheel hub motor is that it allows drive torque
and braking force to be regulated with high precision on an individual wheel
basis without requiring transmission, drive shafts, differential gears or other
complex and heavy components. Housing the drive system in the wheels also gives
greater freedom in designing the layout. The space-saving benefits of the
in-wheel motor also offer exciting possibilities in terms of body design.
The major shortcoming of the EV to date has been its limited cruising range.
This is now well on the way to being overcome with recent improvements in
battery performance. MIEV uses the lithium-ion storage cell for its main power
source, this offering advantages in terms of energy density and life over other
types of secondary or rechargeable battery.
So from many points of view, environmental, functional and breaking the
dependence on fossil fuels, the in-wheel hub motors look as if they present a
very tempting solution to many problems.
What must not be forgotten, however, is that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche was the first
to come out with electric hub motors, with the electricity generator being
driven by a gasoline engine mounted on the chassis. This was in the
Lohner-Porsche of 1902, a mere 104 years ago. The first hybrid!
It seems as though the (electric) wheel has now gone full circle!
Four Hour race at Bira in January
Pizza Company Vios Team.
Yes, it has been confirmed that there will be a Four Hour
endurance race at the Bira circuit on the January 6/7 weekend. There will be two
main classes with Honda Civics and Toyota Vios/Yaris production cars, though
there are some additional freedoms being allowed, such as rear discs and
non-standard ECUs. So there will be classes and sub-classes in each category.
Each car must have a minimum of three drivers, and only one can be an “A Grade”
driver per car.
I have a personal interest in this event, having been invited to join the Pizza
Company race team for the event. The Pizza Company team has done well all year
in the restricted Vios class and the regular drivers include the ex Thailand
GoKart champion Thomas Raldorf, Norwegian Martin Stuvic and Australian Paul
More on this event next week.