Vol. X No.8 - April 2 - April 17, 2011



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Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

More on the Motor Show

If you are thinking of going up to Bangkok to see the 32nd International Motor Show this weekend, don’t go. It finished on April 6. However, I have some notes on the cars and printed some in last week’s Automania column, and here are some more…
Let’s get the “pretties” out of the way first. Unfortunately these have become an integral part of motor shows (not just here). Every stand has half a dozen young women decked out in some ridiculous costume, some with even more ridiculous hats.

Silly Pretties

Learning specifications parrot fashion, you get a brief description of the car, from someone who wouldn’t know a camshaft from a carburetor. A complete waste of time and money, in my book. If I want to take photos of some girl’s legs I can do that easily on Walking Street and that’s just the start of the relationship! No, let’s have an engineer on the stand, able to speak with authority on the vehicles. Wiesmann, for example, had a multi-lingual engineer, able to discuss the concept behind the cars and the mechanical specifications. Such a refreshing change.

The ‘Retro’ Wiesmann MF5

Probably the most noteworthy vehicle was the new Honda eco-car which impressed me with the room inside. Even with the driver’s seat racked right back, there was still knee-room for an adult expat in the rear. The interior was simple, but easy to understand. Rotary knobs/dials are so much better than repetitively pushing electronic buttons (and let’s not get into the dreadful BMW iDrive). It is up against the Nissan March, and is marginally more expensive, but many people will like the corporate “Honda” face, rather than the Nissan’s ‘bubble car’ look, last seen on the Mazda 131 of around 15 years ago.

 Honda Brio

While on the eco-cars, Mitsubishi displayed their Concept Global Small vehicle, the one on display being the concept car previously displayed in Geneva. Despite looking very similar to the Ford Festiva, this is an interesting vehicle, but unfortunately will not be available in any numbers until 2012. It will be produced locally at the Nissan Laem Chabang facility.

Concept Global Small

Every year I have to mention Wuling. Cheap and from China, but you can have a new one in your driveway for peanuts. There was a new, funky, electric car from Wuling as well and priced at 280,000 baht. A bit like a tarted up golf cart, but a very inexpensive way to show you are a ‘greenie’ at heart.

Electric Wuling

Lexus has really lost the plot. The new CT 200H can only be described as ugly. The rear is pure Nissan Tiida, which would never win a beauty contest, and the front plain. For a ‘brand’ that was supposed to be the showcase of Toyota’s excellence, it is now failing miserably. Toyota has lost the ‘exclusivity’ it has tried to produce with the Lexus name and it has descended into being a rebodied Toyota, I am afraid.
One of the smoothest looking cars at the show was the VW Scirocco. About 2.6 million baht is the only drawback, but it is a much nicer car (and cheaper) than the BMW 1 Series or any of the Mini variants, but more expensive than the Volvo C30 at 1.9 million.

VW Scirocco

The other Chinese brand was Chery, who showed a mid-sized cross-over for around 850,000 baht, which looked to be well engineered and not too ‘plasticky’ in the interior. The Chery QQ appeared to have had a face-lift, but remains the inexpensive four door cheapy made from discarded soft drink cans.

Porsche had a 911 Carrera S on their stand, yours for 15.6 million baht. I am totally unable to justify the price, but having owned a 911 and raced a couple of Carrera’s I would shell out for one, if I had the readies, which I don’t. Also on the Porsche stand was the Panamera, which still looks like a fat pig, even though it is a well engineered Porsche with four doors.


F1 scrutineering - the ‘real’ situation

Following the exclusion of the two Sauber cars at the Australian GP for wing irregularities, I asked a Formula 1 scrutineer just what was the procedure at race meetings. The answer which I have placed here is very interesting.

“Not all cars are checked at the track before they race. The weigh station (which also has the templates for height width and wing measurements, etc,) is open for the teams to use at all times.
“During Practice there is no real scrutiny but that changes at the start of qualifying. All vehicles are then considered to be in Parc Ferme and in race condition. From here though, the testing is ad hoc and at the whim of the FIA officials. After each qualifying session, various cars are selected for testing and have the templates run over them. At the end of qualifying all of the top 10 cars are tested with several getting the royal treatment.

“After the race the top three get the serious treatment and then the rest of the point winners get a less serious going over but a going over all the same. From there all of the remaining cars running get a run over the station and this is where illegalities (height, width, weight, etc.) should show up as the cars can’t be touched after the race until released by the FIA.

“The scrutineers jobs are mainly to look after the vehicles during Parc Ferme (this also means going out on the start line with the cars) to ensure no parts are changed or adjustments are made that are not on the ‘allowed list’ during the Parc Ferme period.”

The factor that stands out for me is the fact that the really serious testing is done ‘after’ the race. Surely it would be better to have this done ‘before’ the race, and stop similar situations like the Sauber one.


What did we learn from the Australian Grand Prix?

Well, the first thing we learned was that the Hispania Racing Team was truly dreadful. How any team wishing to be part of Formula 1 can appear at the first meeting of the year with two cars that had never turned a wheel is inexcusable. Fortunately, neither car met the 107 percent rule and were non-starters. This is not a team of minnows to be pitied, but a team of incompetents to be laughed out of the paddock.

We also learned that it was possible for a Lada to make the podium and for a rookie to do the entire race with only one stop for tyres, as opposed to the multiple stops of everyone else. We also learned that the highly complex and technical Drag Reduction System (DRS) which was going to give the chasing car 12 km/h increase in top speed, and thus promote passing, did not work. Forget all the theoretical stuff. The movable wing did not work. Period.

While Vettel in the Red Bull was the master class of the entire weekend and fully deserved his win, the real heroes were Petrov in the “Lotus” Renault/Lada, claiming third spot on the podium and Sergio Perez, the Sauber Rookie who came in seventh and only used one set of tyres. How? Wasn’t he told that the Pirelli’s turn into jelly after 15 laps? Well, that’s what they all said (except Perez).

But before Perez had time to celebrate his result, the FIA stepped in and declared both Saubers had illegal rear wings! Now these cars are subjected to scrutiny before they go to race - and apparently were legal, but somehow, after the race they contravene the regulations. These regulations cover size and placement of the wings, easy enough to check, so how did the FIA let Sauber race an “illegal” car and then find infringements afterwards? The stewarding in Formula 1 has always been a joke. Sauber has indicated it will appeal the decision. Good.

While Vettel ran away with the race, it is interesting to look at the fastest laps during the race. Massa and Alonso (Ferrari) were the quickest cars, followed by Webber (Red Bull) and Vettel, followed by Button (McLaren), Perez (Sauber) and Petrov in the “Lotus” Renault. And just by the way, Perez set his fastest time on lap 39, well past the so-called life of the tyres. Another good theory blown away.

Hamilton, in the lead McLaren, had a good race, never letting up, and deserved his second place, as did the Russian Petrov deserve his third. For a driver who was in danger of being dropped after last year, the Australian GP was a great turn-around.
Mark Webber, hoping to please the locals, turned in a very disappointing performance. Almost a second slower than his team mate in qualifying, and finished the race 38 seconds adrift. The Australian’s fans, of which there are many, will be hoping he has a better result in the next GP in Malaysia. If he wants to drive for Red Bull next year he must improve.
As for the rest? Nowhere.


Mutterings from the Bangkok International Motor Show

What is the most important item to take to the 32nd Bangkok International Motor Show? A good stout pair of walking shoes! The new venue in the Challenger Hall of the Impact Arena is huge, and the exhibitors' booths correspondingly larger. Undoubtedly the best motor show ever staged in Thailand.

A new name to the Bangkok International Motor Show is Wiesmann, a bespoke manufacturer of incredibly fast sportscars, spoiled for me by the matt paintwork, but the pseudo retro look is very appealing. The Wiesmann brothers were enthusiasts of the British sports cars of the 50's and 60's, so when they started building their own cars, it was natural that they would use the period in their own design.

From the rear, the car is Austin Healey 3000, whilst from the front it is unashamedly Jaguar XK 120. However, that is where the retro finishes. The car is built on BMW underpinnings, using the V8 of the M3 or the V10 of the M5. In the lightweight body/chassis this results in stunning performance. The BMW donor does not include the unloved iDrive, so the Wiesmann remains a sheer performance sports car.

The interior is totally encased in leather, and while the red interior on display was rather fetching, the other car with the blue interior did not appeal too much. Local distribution is being handled by Bhiyute Chiemprasert, who also has Brabus and 9ff (Porsche derivative). If you have between 12.5 and 14.9 million baht drop him an email on [email protected]

Wiesmann

For me, the show was not so much about new eco-cars such as the Honda Brio, no matter how important they are, but more about some of the off-the-wall items seen this year. Take the Brabus "tank" for example, or what I named the "Bra Bus". Huge housebrick styled Mercedes GL with astonishing performance with zero too 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds. The best or perhaps the worst of both worlds!

Bra BUS

But if you wanted the worst, go no further than the Mitsuoko stand. Take a sick bag with you - you will need it.

OMG!

Ssanyong did shoot their sstylist and the new Korando looks as good as most others in the small soft-roaders, but the old Actyon is not saved by two go-faster stripes on the bonnet, I am afraid.

New Ssanyong Korando

No! No! No!

BMW displayed their Mini brand in semi-darkness, a ploy to disguise just how porcine and oversized the Mini has become. The four door version is so far removed from Sir Alec Issigonis' concept that it does not deserve the name 'Mini' any more. Such a shame that this icon of the British motor industry should end up in this way. The main BMW stand was full of the range being offered by BeeEmm, including the fugly 1 Series and the over-inflated X6.
General Motors, for once in its life at the motor show, presented an interesting and informative display with some history from its beginnings in 1911 (yes, 100 years of GM) and examples of their pickups from a 1926, to 1956, to 1960 and now the latest Colorado, which looks a very handsome unit.

New Chevrolet Colorado

Arch rivals Ford presented the new Ford Ranger, designed in Australia and to be manufactured here. The vehicle on display was, however, a mock-up (and I believe is the same one shown in Australia last year). The Colorado will steal a march on the Ranger, being available long before the 2012 season, in which the Ford becomes readily available.

New Ford Ranger

The just released Honda Brio eco-car generated much interest, with a base price of 399,000 baht, but with a few options was soon 505,000 baht. The interior was remarkably roomy, and even with the driver’s seat in the rear position to cater for farang legs, there was still adequate knee room for the rear seat passengers.

New Honda Brio

More on the motor show next week, with some comments on the ridiculous “Pretties” and their even more ridiculous get-ups. Remember it is at the Challenger Hall at the Impact Arena and closes April 6.



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