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Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

The 33rd Bangkok International Motor Show

Our motor show is on again this year from March 28 to April 8.  Once again it is going to be held at the Challenger Hall, Impact Arena, Muang Thong Thani and the organizers are promising a bigger, better show with plenty of new vehicle launches to whet your appetite.

33rd BIMS.

This is the second year of running at the Challenger Halls, and last year it showed that it was more than capable of holding the largest motor show in Thailand.

The Grand Prix International Group, the organizers of the Bangkok International Motor Show realizes the significance of the show to the automotive industry which is trying to recover after having been badly affected by the tsunami in Japan and the floods in Thailand.

Last year’s event was an overwhelming success in the history of the show.  This year, exhibition space has been booked by BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Isuzu, Kia, Lexus, Lotus, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Mitsubishi Motors, Mitsuoka, Nissan, Peugeot, Rolls-Royce, SsangYong, Suzuki, Thairung, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.  One exhibitor from last year which will not be present is Proton, while the parent company sorts out its financial situation, having been bought into by DRB in Malaysia.  Mitsubishi Motor and Suzuki are expected to launch their eco-cars at the event, and Hyundai from Korea will launch their latest model, the Elantra.

The motorcycle ranks will feature Big Bull, BMW, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Modern Bike, Stallions, Suzuki, UDA, Vespa and Yamaha.  2012 is set to be a great year for new bikes and the BIMS is where you’ll be able to throw a leg over the latest and greatest.  From bling cruisers to the latest hi-tech sportsbikes, there’s something for everyone here.  New are Ducati and Harley-Davidson.

Organizers are also preparing a special area for visitors who want to do a test drive.  Last year’s show featured 20 of the leading automotive brands and between them more than 1,000 test drives were taken during the event by enthusiastic show visitors.  Other attractions for the general public include a music corner, automotive auction, photography competition, and a variety of automotive-themed talk shows 

And yes, the “Pretties” yawn*.

The Bangkok International Motor Show continues to show signs of healthy growth and popularity with a roster that promises not only to expand over last years 20 car companies but also to showcase top models.  Concept cars and production cars from Japan, Europe, America, Korea and China are presenting technology right up to the future, signifying that the automotive industry of Thailand is still relevant in the automotive world of SE Asia as well as being important in the world stage.

President of Grand Prix International and chairman of the organizing committee, Dr Prachin Eamlumnow said, “I’m confident that this 33rd Bangkok International Motor Show will endeavor to overturn the fortunes of the Thai automotive industry again and be the gauge of the Thai economy.”

The BIMS runs from 28 March to 8 April 2012 at the Challenger Hall 1-3, Impact Muang Thong Thani - Thailand’s biggest automotive showcase.

China attacks Europe


China, the world’s most populous nation, is not content to just making vehicles for home consumption, but is now entering the European market as European manufacturers.

For example, the Great Wall company has just opened a factory in Bulgaria, and like most Chinese cars they are inexpensive, with models ranging from just over 300,000 THB, drive away.  This company has 10 manufacturing plants in China and is predicting sales of half a million cars overseas per year.

Chery, the largest producer in China now has a plant in Italy, having bought a Fiat plant in Sicily.  Taking a leaf from Toyota and Lexus, or Nissan and Infiniti and Honda and Acura, Geely has its own brand as well, called Qoros.

Geely is another powerful brand in China, and they already have a foot in Europe, having bought Volvo from Ford a couple of years back.  Geely will also sell under its own brand name in the UK, with a mid-sized car selling for 500,000 THB.

Beijing Automotive Industry Holding tried to buy Germany’s Opel, when GM was in the middle of its turmoil and bankruptcy, but GM hung on.  GM also hung on to the now bankrupt SAAB, but there are signs that GM might relent and let SAAB go over the Great Wall of China!

Made in der Black Forest by der Elves

VW Kombi.

Have you noticed the number of old Beetles on the roads these days, plus a fair smattering of Kombi wagons?

I have also seen one genuine Beetle cabriolet (I think they were done by Karmann) and a couple of Karmann Ghia’s.  A couple of years ago I spotted a Kubelwagon and Wiki tells me that the Volkswagen Kübelwagen (short for Kübelsitzwagen, meaning "bucket seat car") was a military vehicle designed by Ferdinand Porsche and built by Volkswagen during World War II for use by the German military (both Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS).  Based heavily on the Volkswagen Beetle, it was prototyped as the Type 62, but eventually became known internally as the Type 82.  It was to the Germans, what the Jeep was to the Allies.

The Kombi was first produced in 1950 and became an instant success with the hippy movement in the 60’s, and for Australians going to “do Europe” where there were Kombi’s for sale or exchange in the Earls Court suburb of London.  Kombi’s were not known for performance and zero to 100 kph is quoted as being 1 minute 15 seconds.  100 kph was also its top speed.  I’m sure there are lots of Kombi tales out there.

Ferrari is the hottest brand in China

Ferrari FF (Fully Flamed?)

An almost-new Ferrari FF apparently burst into flames on a motorway in Shanghai, China.  As can be imagined, the photos of the flaming supercar are all over the internet.

According to Chinese news site Wenzhou City News, witnesses saw the Italian supercar driving along when smoke started billowing from under the bonnet.  The driver stopped and jumped out just before the car burst into flames.

Police and fire-fighters were called, but by the time they arrived the car was a write-off.

In China, the FF costs close to $850,000 as it attracts import duties and high taxes, so let’s hope he was insured.

In the past 18 months Ferrari has had a number of its cars spontaneously ignite, particularly with its 458 Italia.  Ferrari issued a recall in September 2010 for the 458, blaming an adhesive in the wheel arches that could ignite in some circumstance.  This is apparently the first fire involving an FF.

Despite the recent spate of embarrassing fires, Ferrari buyers have not been deterred.  Sales were up by 9.5 percent to 7195 units in 2011, while the company's revenue was up by a record 17.3 percent.  Certainly hot results against the poor financial situation of Italy.

The new SVT 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 convertible

2013 Ford Shelby GT500 convertible.

This year’s Chicago Auto Show saw the release of the SVT (Special Vehicle Team) Ford Shelby GT500 convertible for 2013, complete with 650 horses in the Mustang’s corral.

Twenty years ago, the 1993 SVT Mustang Cobra had a 5 liter V8 engine producing 235 horsepower, but the 2013 Shelby GT500 convertible has a 5.8 liter supercharged V8 producing 650 horsepower, which Ford says makes it the most powerful production V8 in the world.

An optional Performance Package, which includes SVT-designed Bilstein electronic dampers, coupled with all-new chassis tuning and new Brembo brake system, sees the 2013 model setting times around the Sebring International Raceway almost 3.5 seconds quicker than the previous models.

To do this, the powertrain has been optimized with a new supercharger, new cross-drilled block and heads, updated camshaft profiles, new carbon fiber driveshaft, and upgraded clutch, transmission and axle.  SVT has also revised nearly every gear to better manage the torque produced by the 5.8 liter V8.

Ride is adjustable between “normal” mode and “sports” mode and the new Bilstein dampers are key to the SVT engineers being able to tune the vehicle more aggressively for the track, while still maintaining comfort for the road.

Ford has not revealed any further performance or pricing details for the Shelby GT500 convertible, but it is due to go on sale later this year.  It will be an instant “classic” which should be put in a time capsule to be opened in 50 years.

Securitas Retro Race Team makes podium in championships

Securitas Retro Mk1 Ford Escort battles with the Germans and the Japanese.

The Securitas Retro Race team finished its first year of competition with two third places in the Thailand Championship series.  The Mk1 Ford Escort ran in both the radial tyre challenge and the slick tyre challenge.

The driver, Dr. Iain Corness, put the amazing result down to the reliability of the car and the team’s consistency in results, beating amongst others a 400 bhp Porsche 944.  “In the entire season, we failed to finish on only two occasions, while the Porsche had a spate of unreliability, and even had to miss one complete race weekend,” he said.

Securitas MD Steve Graham said that the Ford Escort was a very popular car with the spectators, being looked upon as the underdog, punching way above its weight.  It was also a car that many people related to, with a Mk1 Ford Escort featuring in so many peoples lives in the 1970’s.

The 2012 season for the highly competitive Nitto races begins in the first week in May and all competitors are super-tuning their cars for the 2012 championship.  Some of the BMW’s have been altered to a ‘wide body’ configuration like Frank Teeuwin in the B-Quik BMW, as well as some drivers fitting V8 engines, such as Gavin Charlesworth with his EBC E30.  Henk Kiks in the B-Quik Porsche 944 has a new race engine being built in America and if he can get the reliability he wants he will be a threat to the top step of the podium.  Another team to watch will be the Urs Schonenberger team with an E36 BMW to be driven by US driver Bobby Brooks, a Holden V8 to be driven by Urs himself and another Mk1 Ford Escort fitted with a two liter engine to be driven by Valentino, of Valentino’s restaurant fame (next to Foodland, Central Road).

Another set-back for electric vehicles

Electric Roadster.

I spoke with an oil exploration engineer and asked him directly if we are really running out of oil.  “Yes, definitely!” was his initial response, but later in the conversation admitted that perhaps the real situation was that we were running out of the oil that could be extracted at a reasonable price.  It seems that new oil field deposits are too deep or too difficult or too expensive - currently.

In 2010 the “Future of Electric Vehicles” conference took place in San Jose, California.  This was an all-inclusive look at EVs, incorporating all forms of electric vehicles - land, water, and air, and covered new emerging technologies.

At the conference it was pointed out that cars make up only about half the market for EVs, even though Nissan and Tesla produce the initial mainstream EVs.  The rest of the EV market covers two-wheelers such as scooters and e-bikes constituting a significant portion of the other half.

It was predicted that about 5 to 18 percent of cars will be pure electric or hybrid by 2020.

It was also admitted that some aspects of the EV technology were not new, such as Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s ‘in-wheel’ electric motors (and the battery charge being continually topped up by an on-board internal combustion engine).

Honda Insight - or out of sight?

The conference agreed that practical electric cars are going to remain small in size for years to come as the batteries required to power a larger vehicle will simply be too large and heavy.

However, this prediction is not necessarily shared by everyone, with the battery technology revolution turning out smaller, lighter and more powerful batteries every day.  One only has to hearken back to the batteries needed for the first mobile phones which required a suitcase and the carrier to have gone to Thor’s gymnasium, and then compare them to the iPhone battery of today.

The public’s range fear is a real one, and the opinion was expressed that electric cars will require some sort of range-extending capability before they will ever achieve mainstream acceptance.  This is undoubtedly true, with ranges generally under 100 km, making them city commuters only, other than notable examples such as the Tesla roadster.

Range and charging time were the subjects of a research, and of those respondents who were likely to buy an EV, two thirds expected a range between 500 and 650 km.

Acceptable charge times for 70 percent of the group likely to buy expected times between four to eight hours, but almost all would pay a premium to enjoy faster recharging times.

Batteries have high energy density but they must be greatly oversized in today’s hybrid vehicles to avoid deep discharges.  Battery-only hybrids also require a powerful internal combustion engine for hill climbing and acceleration.

Despite all the touted advances in the development of practical electric cars, would you actually buy one?  Zpryme Research and Consulting recently conducted a web-based survey of 1,046 men and women across the U.S., asking how they felt about various aspects of buying an EV.

Only 8.5 percent of respondents said they were very likely to buy an EV within the next two years, although 28.7 percent considered themselves ‘somewhat’ likely.  Of the remaining somewhat or very unlikely respondents, 25.8 percent said they were ‘somewhat’ likely to buy an EV in the next five years.

The main consideration regarding purchase of an EV would be the price of the vehicle, according to 66.8 percent of those surveyed, with fuel savings coming in as the number two reason, at 50.4 percent.  Of those who indicated they were likely to purchase an EV (the 8.5 percent), 64 percent of those (that is around 5 percent of the total) said that environmental concerns were very important to them.  Of those that were very or somewhat unlikely to buy, only 32.4 percent of them were very concerned about the environment.

Whilst this article deals with road-going transport, there is also research being done to see if electric power could be used in airplanes.  Model aircraft are already flying on battery power, so the possibility to power small passenger planes will next be looked at.

NASA’s Ames Research Center, spoke on the limitations of heavy batteries in electric planes.  Smaller aircraft would be the ones best suited to pure-electric propulsion, as batteries large enough to power bigger aircraft would simply be too heavy.

However, trying to look at the results of the future directions and unfolding technology, does show that whilst EV’s are here, it is still a very small percentage of people who would actually take the plunge and buy one this year or next.  Most appear to agree that EV’s are the way to go, but are happy to wait and see what ensues in the next decade.

Would YOU buy an all-electric vehicle?  The last word comes from Car and Driver.  This magazine is noted as one of the better motoring magazines in the world.  A C&D report is generally very factual, and when they reported on their long-term, 64,000 km test of the Honda Insight they wrote, “Some things get better with age.  This is not one of those things,” you know their testing panel was not impressed.

They went on, “….even with the additional output of the electric motor the Insight is slow ... and it got slower in 0-100 km acceleration times with age.”  They would obviously not be clamoring to buy an EV.

Picking a pick-up

New Ford Ranger.

Dual-cab pick-ups account for nearly one in 10 new-car sales in Australia.  A staggering 100,000 vehicles last year, of which the majority come from Thailand.

One of the motoring columnists down-under compared the one tonne pick-ups available in Australia, with the Toyota HiLux (Vigo), Ford Ranger, Mazda BT 50, Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara looked at.  Also in the mix was the VW Amarok, a vehicle we do not get in Thailand.

The Toyota has been one of the best selling vehicles in Australia many times.  Last year, the HiLux Vigo was the third-highest selling vehicle and the highest-selling pick-up with a lead of 14,449 units.

However, the testers reported that some aspects of the vehicle were starting to show their age.  “The 3.0 liter turbo diesel engine has not changed for years and is the least powerful here.  Against this competition it feels outdated: it is loud inside the cabin and feels as though it is struggling most on steep sections.  The simple four-speed auto, however, is honest and shifts well enough.”

The Mitsubishi Triton was marked down as getting long in the tooth as well.  Their testers also felt, “The drive experience also feels behind the times; a bouncy ride was described by several testers as ‘agricultural’, shuddering over smaller lumps and bounding loosely over bigger bumps.  It feels the least stable of the six, with heavy, inconsistent steering and some body roll through corners.”

So to the Aussie’s opinion on the Nissan Navara.  “On the road, the Navara handles corners well, its steering direct and nicely weighted.  The ride is generally good but the larger wheels and thinner tyres mean even minor bumps transmit into the cabin, particularly through the tray.  It also has a mammoth 13.3 meter turning circle, which makes parking and tighter turns a challenge.”

The final two in the comparison test were the Ford Ranger and the Mazda BT50.  Sisters under the skin and gaining in popularity in Thailand every day.  The Australian opinion was, “As with the Ford, the BT-50's engine and transmission are strong selling points.  It shares the same five-cylinder diesel engine and six-speed automatic, which work well together.  Again, the transmission is smooth whether laden or empty but, as with the Ranger, it can dither slightly at times.  It matches the Ranger, too, for fuel use at 9.2 L/100 km.

“Driving the two back-to-back, it is hard to pick the difference, although the Mazda's engine seems slightly noisier.  The steering responds predictably, has good weight to it and corners with certainty.  However, our test car's ride was more unsettled - fidgeting over small bumps and bucking over bigger ones - presumably due to chunkier tyres.”

Will the Australian opinion be reflected in sales here?  It will be difficult for the Ford/Mazda pair to unseat Toyota, but after the public look carefully at the pick-up offerings at the upcoming Bangkok International Motor Show, the gap could be smaller.

Who’s for a FF Ferrari?

Ferrari FF with AWD.

Just like the Ferguson FF or the Jenson FF, Ferrari have come up with their own all-wheel-drive supercar.  Those with a lot of money may apply for one.

The way they get the AWD unique, patented 4RM all-wheel-drive setup that dispenses with a transfer case and center differential in favor of distributing drive from both ends of the engine’s crankshaft.  In addition, the FF can carry up to 800 liters of luggage with the rear seats folded or 450 liters with the seats up and two adults in the back.

Ferrari claim the AWD really does work, and it is not a gimmick.  It usable on dirt roads, although even with its adaptive suspension with magnetically-controlled dampers, being primarily a supercar, the FF unlikely to be the most comfortable way to travel on Thailand’s up-country roads.

The 4RM AWD setup is claimed to weigh 50 percent less than a conventional AWD system.  The FF sends power to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle transmission, which helps the car achieve a 53 percent rearwards weight distribution, despite being front-engined.

The engine is Ferrari’s first direct-injection V12 engine, of 6262 cc capacity and develops 485 kW of power at 8000 rpm and 683 Nm of torque at 6000 rpm - with 500 Nm available from 1000rpm.

The performance figures are zero to 100 km/h in 3.7 seconds on the way to a 335 km/h top speed.  Fuel consumption is given as 15.4 liters per 100 kilometers helped by the introduction of idle-stop and energy-saving intelligent controls for the fan, fuel pump and air-conditioning compressor.  However, if you can afford the millions this car will cost in this country, does the owner really care?  I doubt it.

With the supercar niche market fairly full these days, and competitive, the Ferrari FF buyer in Australia gets an inclusive seven years of free scheduled servicing program, meaning the first FF customers will not have to pay for a service until 2019.

Henry Ford really was a man with vision

Can you imagine a car factory that was 2.5 km wide and 1.6 km long?  Henry Ford built one long before WWII.  It had 93 buildings housing almost 200 km of conveyors.  This was Ford’s Rouge River plant.

But that was not where the ‘vision’ came stopped with size.  There were ore docks, steel furnaces, coke ovens, rolling mills, glass furnaces and plate-glass rollers.  Buildings included a tire-making plant, stamping plant, engine casting plant, frame and assembly plant, transmission plant, radiator plant, tool and die plant, and, at one time, even a paper mill.  A massive power plant produced enough electricity to light a city the size of nearby Detroit, and a soybean conversion plant turned soybeans into plastic auto parts.

This was a plant that produced its own steel, with iron ore going in one end, and complete cars out the other.  One new car rolled off the line every 49 seconds.  Each day, workers smelted more than 1,500 tons of iron and made 500 tons of glass.  At its peak in the 1930s, it employed more than 100,000 people.  The plant had its own fire department, a police force, a fully staffed hospital and a maintenance crew of 5,000 people.

The Rouge soon became the destination of massive Ford lake freighters filled with iron ore, coal, and limestone.  The first coke oven battery went into operation in 1919, while blast furnaces were added in 1920 and 1922.  Iron from the furnaces was transported directly to the foundry where it was poured into molds to make engine blocks, cylinder heads, intake and exhaust manifolds, and other automotive parts.  The foundry covered 30 acres and was, at its inception, the largest on earth.  In 1926 steelmaking furnaces and rolling mills were added.  Eventually, the Rouge produced virtually every Model T component, but assembly of the Model T remained at Highland Park.

“Self-sufficiency” is a phrase used these days, and Henry Ford’s dream was to own, operate and control all the resources required in automobile production.  True self-sufficiency.  I don’t think anyone has got closer.

New BMW 5 Series with six engines

BMW 5 Series.

BMW are going all-out with their choice of engines in the new 5 Series.  Four petrol and two diesel means the BMW driver has almost unlimited choices.

A couple of new engines are the TwinPower four-cylinder - also seen in the X1, Z4, 1 Series and new 3 Series - is now available in two states of tune in the 5 Series range, with a 135 kW version powering the 520i and a 180 kW version fitted to the 528i.

The new BMW 520i is also cheaper than the previous 5 Series petrol price leader, the six-cylinder 528i.  The new re-engined 528i, which replaces the 3.0 liter normally aspirated inline petrol six is also much more frugal (14 percent improvement in consumption figures).

BMW also claims that the new model is 0.4 seconds faster to 100 km/h, at 6.3 seconds.  Even the new 520i hits 100 km/h in a claimed eight seconds.

However, the best fuel consumption figures in the 5 Series is the upgraded diesel 520d returning 4.7 L/100 km - very close to eco-car figures in a full size sedan.

Turbocharging is the way to go, says BMW with both the 520i and 528i engines with a twin-scroll turbocharger with Valvetronic variable valve control and double VANOS camshaft control, with the 520i producing 135 kW of power between 5000 and 6250 rpm and 270 Nm of torque from just 1250 rpm to 4000 rpm. The new 520i comes with an idle-stop function, plus dynamic driving control, EcoPro economy driving mode, 17 inch alloy wheels, ‘Business’ satellite-navigation, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control with braking function, USB audio interface, Bluetooth, climate-control, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, a through-loading system and anti-dazzle interior mirror.  That is a very well equipped car.

Both new four-cylinder petrol engines come as part of a 2012 refresh for the 5 Series.  While the 520d brings better fuel efficiency, the 535d’s six-cylinder 3.0-liter TwinPower variable-turbo diesel engine delivers an extra 10 kW of peak power at 230 kW while cutting fuel consumption by eight percent.

With the advent of Audi A6, the Lexus GS 250 as well as the Mercedes-Benz 250 CGI Avantgarde in this class, it will be very interesting to see which marque will get the buyer’s attention in Thailand, though BMW and Mercedes-Benz are the favorites out of that four.

A special offer for kart racers

The Bira Kart people have just released their Bira Club Card which has enormous benefits for kart racers, from Cadet to Pro to VIP. The cost for the card is ridiculously cheap, and if you are a karter I do suggest you contact the Bira Kart office directly, or email [email protected].

Special Offer for Kart racers.

Italy assists Chrysler

Dodge Viper.

While Italy teeters on the brink of insolvency, it has taken an Italian to get Chrysler back on its feet again.  Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat, and now also the CEO of Chrysler, has brought the previously failing once big name back into the black.

Chrysler was so far in the red that it required US government loans to keep going, and had not posted a profit since 1997.  Now it has apparently turned the corner and has shown a healthy profit of $183 million for the 2011 year.

Marchionne is confident that Chrysler will increase market share during 2012 and is talking numbers like $1.5 billion profit.  That is a very healthy profit.

The turn-around has been effected by redesigning the Jeep range and adding vehicles with Fiat origins, so that it will have small and mid-size cars to sell in that market, as well as the Dodge Ram pick-up, a new Viper and an electric Fiat 500.

2012 has started off very well with the company showing a 44 percent rise in US sales in January, well above market predictions.

Mazda posts a loss


Despite producing a very popular range of passenger vehicles and the new BT50 pick-up, Mazda (Japan) has posted almost one billion dollar loss in the three months up to December 2011.  This is in contrast to the positive figures in 2010.

With Mazda’s fortunes dependent upon a strong export market, the company blamed the strong yen against international currencies as reducing its sales potential.  In Europe the Mazda sales fell by 14 percent, with Mazda ascribing some of the loss as being due to the floods in Thailand, as the company suffered from smaller production volumes.

However, just as Thailand will bounce back, so will Mazda.  The new Mazda3 is a particularly good motor car, and I believe will bring the company back to positive figures again.

How ‘Green’ will we get?

It appears that every manufacturer is touting just how ‘green’ they are, with Hybrids on the lot today and EV’s just around the corner tomorrow.  But is that concept one which reflects reality?  Or is it some sort of hype to boost sales of these models, when their variants with internal combustion engines are cheaper?

The study ‘Drive Green 2020: More Hope than Reality’ concludes global hybrid and EV demand is likely to account for only a small proportion of total vehicle sales over the next decade, despite multi-billion-dollar investments and fast-paced development in the car industry, according to global marketing information company JD Power and Associates who commissioned the research.

JD Power’s research postulates that hybrids and EVs combined will account for just 7.3 percent - or 5.2 million units - of the 70.9 million passenger vehicles forecast to be sold in 2020.  In other words, 92 percent of new vehicles at the end of the next decade will still be gasoline/diesel powered.  So much for the oil supply dwindling.  JD Power’s study obviously does not feel we will be forced into driving EVs.

Dealing in ‘futures’ is at best a risky business, and some automakers who have placed their bets on the end of oil as we know it, have commenced development of EVs.  Nissan-Renault, for example, is expecting EVs alone to account for around 10 percent of total vehicle sales by the end of the decade - while JD Power estimate only 1.8 percent.  But even if we accept Nissan-Renault’s figures, that still leaves 90 percent conventional gasoline/diesel power.

All-electric Nissan Leaf.

The German manufacturers, who have a finger in many options including hydrogen power as well as EVs, stand to benefit from their government’s ‘national electro-mobility plan’ put forward in August this year that calls for a million electric cars on German roads by 2020, and more than five million by 2030.

BMW also believes EVs will account for between five and 15 percent of the new vehicle market by 2020, while Volkswagen expects electric vehicles will be three percent of its sales by 2020 - which should be well in excess of 300,000 units.

There is another factor which must now be taken into account - the new internal combustion engines are much more frugal and in fact are as good as, if not better than, most hybrids.

While past auto shows have been stocked with petrol-electric hybrids and SUVs, slow hybrid sales have brought a dose of reality.  Automakers are realizing they can give buyers what they want and avoid the expense of electric motors and batteries by building smaller cars and getting better fuel economy from traditional petrol engines.  In fact, Hybrid sales slowed last year to 2.2 percent of U.S. sales, from 2.4 percent in 2010.  Those figures would not encourage a prospective customer to go hybrid.

A chief executive of the retail chain AutoNation Inc., said that 75 percent of customers come into his showrooms and want to talk about hybrids, but only about 2.5 percent of AutoNation sales are hybrids.

However, the last word comes from Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC, said the skepticism over electric cars and plug-in hybrids “is well-justified.”  He added, “If anyone thinks they will meet future EPA rules solely with internal combustion engines, they are smoking an illegal substance.”

Just over a month to go for the start of the 2012 F1 season

First race of the year is in Australia. March 18.  All the pre-season testing means absolutely nothing until the GP.  At the test sessions, you have no idea as to what fuel levels are being run, and even how many experimental bits are being used (that may not pass scrutineering).

The pre-season also brings all the commentators out, predicting such wonderful ideas as Kimi Raikkonen winning for “Lotus” (nee Renault), and Jarno Trulli being replaced at Caterham (nee Team Lotus).  Two big questions are “Will this be Michael Schumacher’s last stand?” and “Will he win another GP before he retires?”  Really, that all depends upon how good will the car be that Mercedes will give him.  Schumacher still has bags full of talent (look at the way he gets to the finals of the Race of Champions each year), and if he has the goods will do the job.

However, you have to look back at 2011 and 2010 and you can confidently expect Red Bull to be up there, along with McLaren and Ferrari.  Their drivers are good enough to find the limits of the machines, and professional enough to deliver all year long.

With 20 races on the calendar, though I believe we will only see 18 as Bahrain is unlikely, and either Korea or Valencia will withdraw.  All in all, it should be an interesting year.

Who will pick up our youngsters?

Sandy Stuvik.

A couple of years back, Ferrari selected an 11 year old Canadian karter to join their driver academy.  The program, which was set up at the end of 2009, was devised by the Italian team to find and support talented young drivers from around the world, with the eventual aim of helping them into Formula One racing.  Since he was only 11, I think Alonso has to look over his shoulder just yet, but you can see where all this is heading!

Another youngster who got picked up very early in his motorsport career was Lewis Hamilton.  With McLaren backing him (and paying much of the bills) Hamilton burst upon the F1 scene, frightening Alonso who thought that this rookie team mate was just an upstart and was eventually beaten by the youngster.  Hamilton missed the world championship in his rookie year by one point, and then went on to claim it on his second season.

How did all this happen?  At the age of ten, Hamilton approached McLaren team principal Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards ceremony in December 1995 and told him, “I want to race for you one day...I want to race for McLaren.”  Less than three years later, he was signed by McLaren and Mercedes-Benz to their Young Driver Support Program.

After winning the British Formula Renault, Formula Three Euroseries, and GP2 championships on his way up the racing career ladder, he became a McLaren F1 driver for 2007, making his Formula 1 debut 12 years after his initial encounter with Dennis.  He has stated he wants to stay with the McLaren team for the rest of his F1 career.  I would imagine McLaren has a vice-like grip on his tender bits, as well as a watertight contract!

BMW have also involved with nurturing young talent through the Formula BMW series.  This was a junior racing formula for single seater cars.  It is positioned at the bottom of the motorsport career ladder alongside the longer established Formula Ford category.  Like Formula Ford, it is intended to function as the young kart racing graduate's first experience of car racing.

The new formula was created by BMW Motorsport in 2001, with the first of its championships being inaugurated in Germany in 2002.  Selected competitors from each series meet in the World Final at the end of each season, with the promise of a Formula One test for the winner.

One notable winner was Nico Rosberg, now driving alongside Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes GP F1 team.

In Thailand there is a young Thai/Norwegian Sandy Nicholas Stuvik, now 16 years of age and rapidly becoming too old if he cannot get sufficient help soon.  Like Hamilton, he has been a winner in karts and won the Formula Renault Asia, but the costs, even in these lower formulae are very high.  He is a proven winner and now needs someone to pick him up.  Ferrari already have their youngster.  Who will take on this young talent?  I sincerely hope Thailand will look after its own.  Go to and meet this talented young lad.

Are you ready for a PIH?

Toyota NS4.

Toyota wants you to be ready for a PIH, as at the North American International Auto Show Toyota revealed the NS4 - an advanced plug-in hybrid (PIH) concept vehicle.  The NS4 is Toyota’s vision for future mobility, with a focus on next generation connectivity and safety.  A big ask to wrap into one vehicle, but you’ve got to hand it to Toyota, they gave it a go.

Jim Lentz, president and chief executive officer of Toyota Motor Sales US (Inc.) said, “In this digital age, cars are becoming another spoke in the wheel of our electronic connectivity.  NS4 demonstrates Toyota’s take on the human connection to the car with technology that considers both emotional and rational relationships, person-to-car and car-to-society.”

NS4 has an advanced power train features a hybrid plug-in system of light weight with improved overall fuel economy, better acceleration and longer all-electric range, while maintaining a short charge time.  The question is, has Toyota found the holy grail?

Vehicles have become another communication hub in the consumer’s lifestyle, and are the third-fastest growing technological device, behind smartphones and tablets.  (However, I don’t think the Thai government will be giving us all an NS4.)  Toyota has formed special alliances with technology leaders such as Microsoft, Intel and Salesforce to explore the creation of seamless vehicle interfaces with emerging technologies.

The NS4 concept’s human-machine interface (HMI) is centered around a multi-touch screen with the look and feel of a smartphone.  The simple, intuitive operation conveys information quickly while minimizing distractions and maximizing driver awareness.  The multimedia and vehicle-controls enhancement will also direct air conditioning, audio, battery-charge and navigation functions.  The HMI system is even capable of “learning” driver preferences to anticipate driver responses in specific environments and situations.  This all worries me a little.  Think BMW iDrive where you go through drop-down menu after menu looking for some way to turn on the A/C.

The safety side looks a reasonable approach by Toyota.  The NS4 features their latest safety system developments, the whole alphabet full, including next generation pre-collision system (PCS), adaptive driving beam (ADB) headlights, and blind spot monitor (BSM).  PCS features lane departure and pedestrian collision avoidance technologies designed to predict collisions under certain circumstances and help avoid them.  The system uses millimeter-wave radar and stereo cameras mounted on the front of the vehicle to detect and react to lane departure, pedestrians, and other vehicles.  In the event of a potential collision, the system seeks to avoid other vehicles, road-side obstructions, and pedestrians by applying the brakes and manipulating steering.

Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) headlights help to prevent blinding glare to oncoming drivers and pedestrians.  Using a camera mounted behind the front grille and partial shielding inside the headlights, this feature allows drivers to maintain near-high beam illumination to improve night visibility.

Using sub-millimeter wave radar, the Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) detects a vehicle in the adjacent lane and visually alerts the driver using visual indicators placed in the upper dash.

Four new glass technologies are integrated into the windscreen, front and rear windows to improve driver visibility, fuel economy and electric driving mode mileage efficiency:

Rain-resistant ‘hydrophobic’ coating - Fluorine coated glass causes rain drops to form into semispherical shapes for improved visibility and rain drop elimination.  'Anti-fog' coating - high performance resin material with anti-fogging characteristics and increased durability.  High ultraviolet (UV) absorbing inner-layer - removes 99 percent of harmful UVA and UVB rays and Anti-solar film with radio-wave transparency - reduces the internal vehicle temperature and improves electronic device functionality.

Inner and outer rear view mirrors have been replaced with cameras that provide the driver with a panoramic view to the rear.  The rear-view camera displays images on a dashboard-mounted screen, and provides the driver with a much wider field of vision when compared to a traditional rear view mirror.

How much of all this technology will become commonplace in the next five years is probably anybody’s guess.  But it is coming, Toyota said so!

Electric Beetles


Volkswagen has unveiled its two-seater E-Bugster concept also at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  Being an “e” (electric vehicle), it has an 85 kW electric motor which can see the E-Bugster from 0 to 100 km/h in a fairly leisurely 11 seconds.  However, the 28.3 kWh battery is good for an impressive range of at least 177 km while it also claims that the battery can be completely recharged in a mere 35 minutes.

The kinetic energy recover system (KERS) charges the battery whenever the driver steps off the accelerator (provided the car's in motion), and more when under braking.

This fast-charge capability comes courtesy of the Combined Charging System which makes possible charging from single-phase AC sources (i.e. your domestic mains), provided an industry standard for plugs and sockets can be nailed down.  "Ultra-fast" charging would be possible at dedicated DC charging stations.

The E-Bugster is the same length as the standard Beetle, but with a width of 1,838 mm it is some 30 mm wider.  It is also 90 mm lower than a standard Beetle, standing at 1,400 mm high.

When the driver presses the Start button the interior is bathed in white light, then blue light.  It starts with a light pulse in the instrument cluster, from where the light emanates in a millimeter-wide strip, coursing into the doors and around the air nozzles.

LED running lights surround the central air intake at the front of the E-Bugster, with reflectors doing the job to the rear.  Twenty inch alloy wheels as opposed to the 18 inch alloys of the Beetle.

However, remember that this vehicle, like the Toyota NS4 remains a concept.  Will we see an electric Beetle?  Simple answer is “Yes”, but not yet.

Liuzzi looking for loot

Sometime F1 driver Liuzzi, who has been going steadily backwards, feels that his driving is first class, it is just that he cannot bring money to a team.  “At the moment the team has been clear to me; it’s a difficult period in terms of money so they are trying hard to find sponsors to be able to run me as per the contract.  But in the case that they are struggling then they might be forced to look for a driver that brings money.”

There are a number of drivers currently on the grid who appear to have secured their places through financial clout rather than racing talent and the 30 year old Liuzzi admits that this is cause for frustration.

“If you've got a big sponsor behind you then you are an F1 driver and that’s not the way it should be from my point of view,” he said.

“There may be some people that think differently, but F1 is the top of the sport and should be full of talent that have got the results during their career and have been kicking ass since they were kids, not people that just have the money.  I’m sick of it being like this at the moment, but I have to just accept it and hopefully I will get another chance.”

Unfortunately for Liuzzi, whilst I agree that F1 should have the top talent, the truth of the matter is that he himself is not top talent.