What did we learn from the Chinese Grand Prix?
Webber on the podium
(Sorry this is a little late, but
because of the Songkran water festivities, I couldn’t make the
deadline for last week’s Automania column.)
Well the first thing we learned was that the Vunderkind Vettel (Red
Bull) can be beaten. Despite a heroic qualifying lap he ended up
running out of fresh tyres and had to accept being passed by Lewis
Hamilton (McLaren) in the final stages of the race. A good win for
the UK’s white hope.
The other drive of the day came from Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber
who was written off by everyone when he did not even manage to get
into the second round of qualifying, ending up starting 18th and
finished third, only a few seconds behind Vettel.
The way the different teams handle the qualifying sessions is
certainly open to question in Red Bull’s pit. They did not leave
themselves enough time to bring Webber in to change to fresh
‘sticky’ rubber, despite seeing that his times were not quick enough
to get into Q2. In fact, this way of leaving everything to the last
minutes with a one-shot do or die effort cannot give consistent
results. Any problems on the track in the dying moments will
inevitably mean the drivers will be unable to make up the time.
“Time” for team managers to think ahead and get one ‘banker lap’ in
The Chump of China had to be Jenson Button (McLaren) who drove into
the Red Bull pit instead of his own. Was he looking to get two fresh
sets of tyres, I wonder?
We also saw that Alonso (Ferrari) and team mate Massa are having a
change of fortunes, with Massa outdriving the Spanish two times
world champion three out of three this year. And while talking of
Ferrari, the car is definitely not in the same ball-park as Red Bull
or McLaren. Heads will roll in the red factory, and the color won’t
just be paint.
The other driver of the day is young di Resta in the Team Poppadum,
again out-qualifying and out-driving his experienced team mate
Adrian Sutil, a driver who was previously held up as a ‘coming man’.
Unless he perks up, he will be a ‘going man’.
Mercedes are climbing back up again, with Rosberg actually leading
the race in the middle section, before being told to conserve fuel.
Schumacher had another poor qualifying, but managed to get into the
points again. Write off Ross Brawn and Co. at your own risk. Podium
finishes are coming for the Mercedes team (or zere vill be heads
rolling in Stuttgart as well as in Maranello).
The (Lotus) Renaults did not do as well as previously, and are
likely to slip back as the bigger teams move forward. They have had
their podiums, I am afraid. The name “Lotus” refers to plants rather
than car companies.
There are those who are criticizing the new Drag Reduction System
(DRS) which allows a slipstreaming car a chance of passing the lead
car. This has resulted in much more passing and repassing, but the
critics say this is “artificial”. I’m sorry, it is the same for
everyone, and the DRS cannot be activated if the second car is more
than one second adrift. So stay ahead. The situation actually
reminds me of Formula Ford tactics, where nobody wants to be the
lead car entering the final lap as you will be slipstreamed and
beaten every time. However, I would like to see a broad yellow line
on the track to show us viewers just where the DRS can be activated.
It is a bit confusing at present.
Again I have to congratulate the Beeb. Great coverage and
commentary, head and shoulders above the others. The loss of Eddie
Jordan was no loss. The next GP is in Turkey in a week’s time. Much
work will have been done on the Red Bull’s KERS, Ferrari will have
been trying to fix the whine from the driver’s seat and Button will
be studying a map of the pit layout.
The new ‘male’ Beetle
Twelve years ago, VW brought out the ‘New Beetle’, which was more of
a design/styling exercise, and really had no common DNA with the
original ‘old’ Beetle. However, the public liked its retro looks and
over one million have been produced, adding to the over 21 million
units of the ‘old’ Beetle.
Sales have started to drop, so VW has produced what they have called
the New Beetle Mk 2, which is touted by VW as being a much more
masculine car. If they can sell that concept to the general public,
then they should double the salaries of the ad-men. It looks so much
like the last version it is difficult to spot them apart.
The testosterone is supposed to come from the larger tail lights and
bi-xenon lights at the front. I am sure you are as underwhelmed as I
am. Or perhaps we are all turning into lady-boys.
So if you can keep your excitement in your underpants, the New
Beetle Mk 2 will be available late 2012 and prices will start at
something below two million baht.
The Shanghai Auto Show in
The largest auto market in the world is
now China, passing the USA. Established auto manufacturers are
scrambling to get joint ventures ratified in China, and even GM who
was trying to sue for the total knock-off of their small car has
kissed and made up and now firmly into bed with SAIC.
But whilst we have been rather scornful of the Chinese auto products
(as we did with the Japanese a few decades ago and the Koreans two
decades ago), ignore the signs at your own peril. The Chinese are
now producing vehicles for every marketplace, at a price to sell,
with a quality that is much improved. The Chinese auto industry has
been looking at what sells in the world marketplace and is bringing
forth alternatives to, for example, the Toyota Corolla and the
Cheery Chery, whose initial toe in the marketplace was the Chery QQ,
has brought out the Chery J3, which will be available in 2012, and
several thousands of baht cheaper than the New Beetle Mk 2, or the
Corolla or the Mazda3. Add to that vehicle, the Great Wall C50 and
you are looking at the challengers to Toyota and Mazda from 2012.
The J3 will become Chery’s third passenger car in Australia and is
called the J3 - to avoid upsetting Audi with its own A3. We are also
very likely to get this model in Thailand to run alongside the QQ.
The J3 is available in both sedan and hatchback body styles, with
the latter close in size to Volkswagen’s Golf. Both are powered by a
1.6 liter dual variable valve timing engine with 93 kW and 160 Nm of
torque, connected with a CVT auto.
Great Wall C50.
Great Wall’s C50 is similar in size and obviously aimed at the
Corolla market. This is a closely fought segment of the marketplace,
but has the largest potential, and if the price is right… Have you
had a look at the number of Tata dropside utes (pick-ups) around
town these days? India will be the next to invade. You have been
How is our auto industry doing?
According to the latest figures, it is
doing very well, with sources quoting almost 14 percent year on year
increase, with just over 172,000 units last month, and the Q1
figures are a staggering 22.5 percent. Vehicles for export were also
up, other than to places in turmoil such as the Middle East.
The bulk of the increase in domestic consumption vehicles was for A
segment cars with engines below 1,500 cc. Passenger car figures were
up by 43 percent for Q1. Of course the Bangkok International Motor
Show in March/April did assist, with manufacturers getting ready to
capitalize on the added interest that the show brings to the
Unfortunately, Q2 will show the knock-on effect caused by the
Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March. Although the local content
of Thai built vehicles is very high, there are still some parts that
are imported from Japan, and with the projected hold-up from drops
in Japanese manufacturing, stocks may be limited during the second
But if you really want some figures to sit you back on your heels,
Ford reported a 257 percent increase in February year in year.
Fiesta alone made up 1,270 units, with the outgoing Ranger pick-up
improved 66 percent year on year. The Focus sales were also up 29
percent. As in the US, Ford seems to have lifted its game and the
future should be a Fiesta. While the new Ranger shown at the Bangkok
International Motor Show is awaited!
Who sold the most at the Bangkok International Motor Show?
Each year there is competition
between the various manufacturers as to who can get the greatest
number of cars out the door. Having a new model, such as the Honda
Brio, does help generate interest and then sales. There are also
many inducements offered by the manufacturers to stimulate purchases
during the show.
The attendance figures for the show were 1.9 million people through
the doors, and other interesting figures included 193 exhibitors and
34,369 booking sales.
The big mover, as usual, was
Toyota and some of the figures quoted are very interesting, as can
be seen by the table:
In the pick-up section, Isuzu is still top dog with almost 3,000
sales, with the other pick-up manufacturers such as Nissan, Mazda,
Mitsubishi, Chevrolet and Ford with sedans as well as pick-ups in
their overall figures.
Proton outsold Mercedes-Benz, which is to be expected with the price
differential, but Proton also outsold Hyundai, Chery and Suzuki, all
with similar offerings.
Way down in the sales figures was Mini, selling as many as Wuling.
There’s a message there somewhere, but BMW won’t get it.
Nissan 370Z wows the Down-Under
There are a few Nissan 370Zs floating around
Thailand, but with our Draconian import duties, you would be lucky
to see any. Down-Under they do not have such barriers to owning such
vehicles and the 370Z comes in at around 2.4 million baht on a sheer
currency exchange figure. For that sort of money you would be lucky
to get a Mini in this country, I am afraid.
The new 370Z is claimed by Nissan to be Australia’s best-selling
two-seater sports car, and it just got better with additional
equipment alongside minor safety and cosmetic improvements.
These include Nissan’s “next generation” audio and navigation
system, which the company claims has more functionality and
features, including a touch screen display, USB and Bluetooth
connectivity, 9.3GB hard drive and reversing camera.
The Coupe variant also gets a luggage-bay cargo blind for hiding
valuables from prying eyes, while the Roadster gets climate
controlled seats that cool or heat the cushions.
In March, the 370Z sold 140 units which represents a 22 percent
market share. On annual figures from last year, the Z’s yearly sales
of 264 units put it equal second alongside the Mercedes CLC-class,
behind the fugly BMW 1 Series. (Have Australians no taste these
Now is this thing ‘cool’ or
“He’d fly through the air with the greatest of
That daring young man on the flying trapeze.”
And that was written in 1867, but now we don’t even need the trapeze
with a New Zealand company behind an ambitious aeronautical project
called the Martin Jetpack, a strap-on personal flying machine, now
in the final stages of development, with the first machines to be
dispatched for solo flights by the end of the year.
Military agencies, border control and rescue organizations in the US
will be the first to use the $75,000 personal flying device.
Inventor Glenn Martin predicts it will be just 18 months before
other wealthy enthusiasts get their delivery.
The jetpack resembles two leaf blowers welded with a two liter,
jet-powered engine that can reach 100 km/h at heights of up to 50
meters, and it carries enough fuel for 30 minutes of flight.
It is categorized as a microlight so it has many restrictions on its
use and cannot be taken into the city centers; however, there are
hopes that this classification this may change under US law.
Martin’s machine, lauded as Time magazine’s most anticipated
invention last year, has been more than three decades in the making.
The Christchurch man began tinkering with the concept in the 1970s,
inspired by the limited success of the US Bell Rocket Belt, which
stayed airborne for just 26 seconds before crashing.
It was designed to be the “simplest aircraft in the world,” said
inventor Martin, and “as Newton said, for every action there is an
equal and opposite reaction. So when you shoot lots of air down very
fast you go up and you’re flying.”
According to Martin, it is safe (or as safe as anything that flies
can be, I suppose) and they look for safety in design, operations,
through pilot training and have incorporated structural design and
emergency systems that minimize the impact of an accident. The
Martin Jetpack’s extensive safety features include a rapid deploying
parachute, roll cage structure and shock absorbing undercarriage.
An unmanned remote-controlled (UAV) version is well advanced in its
development with field trials expected to begin in the second
quarter of 2011.
Sandy Stuvik’s 2011 calendar
The Royal Automobile Association of Thailand (RAAT) and Sport
Authority of Thailand (SAT) have officially announced their support
for 15 year old Sandy Stuvik as the Thai Athlete Representative for
competing in Formula Renault Eurocup 2011.
Stuvik suited up and ready to represent Thailand
The young Thai racer, who last year became the youngest Asian
Formula Renault Champion ever, was invited to race by many teams in
Europe, but he has settled on the Danish team Keo Racing for the
2011 season. Sandy said, “Eurocup will be a tough challenge for me,
considering all the young talented drivers from around the world
competing in this series. I have so many things to learn for this
year. Everything is quite new for me. It is my first time to
experience all tracks. Even it is still formula Renault, but the
engine and the gear are totally different. The engine and car body
are bigger than last year and it is paddle shift gears, the same as
in Formula 1, with electronically managed downshifts. I will do try
my best to learn and adjust myself as quick as I can. I know I will
likely start the season in the lower half of the grid, but are
determined to get into the top half as soon as possible. I would
like thank all my sponsors: Singha Corporation, The Pizza Company,
Dacon Inspection Services, RAAT and SAT.”
Fortunately, Sandy has a few years up his sleeve to graduate through
the ranks, so 2011 will not be a ‘make it or break it’ year.
The first race of the season was 16-17 April 2011 at the Motorland
Circuit in Spain followed by Spa Francorchamps, then Nürburgring,
Hungaroring, Silverstone, Paul Ricard, before ending back in Spain
at Catalunya Circuit in October.
Racing drivers who have graduated from Formula Renault Eurocup and
are now in Formula 1 include Pedro de la Rosa, Felipe Massa and