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Nissan invests in production to prepare for electric age

Nissan Leaf.

Yuri Kageyama

Yokohama, Japan (AP) — Nissan is investing 33 billion yen ($303 million) in its flagship auto plant in Japan's Tochigi prefecture in a first rollout of a production system geared toward electric vehicles.

Nissan Motor Co. Executive Vice President Hideyuki Sakamoto said Thursday that manufacturing methods must change because vehicles increasingly have both hybrid and electric engines and new parts for connectivity and artificial intelligence services.

Sakamoto said the production changes, set to be completed next year, use robotics and sensors to decrease physical stress on assembly-line workers. They are tailored for a workforce increasingly manned by senior workers and women.

Among the innovations for Nissan's so-called "intelligent factory" is a powertrain mounting system that allows at least 27 configurations to be installed in one procedure. 

The parts, including the battery for electric vehicles, are put together on one "pallet," or foundation unit, for easier installing into the vehicle.

Another innovation involves programming a worker's craftsmanship into robotics. The moves are so finely tuned in the automated sealing process that the delicate angles and touches of a human worker are duplicated.

The advantage to such a system is that a robot's work is consistent and tireless, maintaining the quality of craftsmanship, according to Nissan.

"The competitiveness of an automaker lies in production, as well as design and technology development," Sakamoto told reporters.

Auto production methods have remained basically the same since the early 1900s. But vehicles are becoming more complex, as driver-support technology, hybrid systems and various kinds of batteries must be fitted in, depending on the vehicle, Sakamoto said.

The production methods will be later rolled out in Nissan's plants in Japan and elsewhere around the world but details are undecided.

Yokohama-based Nissan, which makes the Leaf electric car, March subcompact and Infiniti luxury models, is eager to relay a message of innovation as it battles a serious risk to its reputation amid plunging profits and sales.

Nissan's former Chairman Carlos Ghosn is awaiting trial on various financial misconduct allegations. Nissan has acknowledged failings in its corporate governance.

Its new chief executive is taking office next week. Ghosn's successor Hiroto Saikawa also stepped down, acknowledging financial misconduct.

All other major global automakers are working on smart, connected and electric vehicles. But Nissan has a head start in many of the innovations, especially electric vehicles, thanks largely to Ghosn.

Ghosn says he is innocent and accuses others in Nissan of colluding to get rid of him to block a fuller integration with its alliance partner Renault SA of France.


Hamilton to Ferrari?

 Jerome Pugmire

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton appeared to open the door for a possible future move to Ferrari when he refused to deny meeting with its chairman John Elkann.

Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Saturday that the Mercedes driver has met Elkann twice this year, and that they discussed Hamilton potentially replacing Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari from 2021 onward.

Both four-time champion Vettel and Hamilton have yet to renew contracts expiring at the end of 2020.

Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton was asked after winning Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix — the 11th win of another dominant season and 84th overall — if he did meet Elkann.

"Naturally, everything that happens behind closed doors is always private with whoever it is you end up sitting with," Hamilton said. "For many years, I've never ever sat down and considered other options, because we (Mercedes) have been driving straight ahead, on the same path. We're still on that path, and there's very little that's going to shift it."

Hamilton started to add "But there's no harm in ..." before saying "I know (Mercedes team principal) Toto (Wolff) is also looking at his options, in terms of his future, and only he will know what is best for him."

Hamilton's stint at Mercedes has brought the Silver Arrows unprecedented success.

Under the stewardship of Wolff, he has won five world titles to add to his first with former team McLaren in 2008. But Wolff's future is also undecided, amid reports he could possibly move into another role within Formula One.

"I love where I am, so it's definitely not a quick decision to go and do something else," Hamilton said. "But it's only smart and wise for me to think about what I want, if it is the last stage of my career."

Ferrari's team principal Mattia Binotto called Hamilton "an outstanding driver" on Friday and tantalizingly added "knowing that he's available in 2021 can make us only happy."

"I think it's the first compliment I've had from Ferrari in 13 years ... Thank you. I'll take it," Hamilton said Saturday after clinching a record-extending 88th pole position. "It's taken all these years for them to recognize me. I'm grateful ... It's positive. I think it's never a waste of time to ever be nice to someone."

The 34-year-old British driver added: "(Ferrari is) a team I've always appreciated. To earn the respect from them is obviously very high up."

Wolff was asked after Sunday's race how he rates Hamilton's chances of staying.

"I would rate it at 75 percent," he said. "There is a 25 percent chance that we are not in control of. So we'll see how the next months pan out."

Wolff has not yet begun talks with Hamilton over a new contract, although previous negotiations were also kept fairly low-key and casual.

"We haven't given ourselves a date," Wolff said. "Come back at the end of January, February, define a schedule on when we want to discuss it."

Wolff experienced uncertainty before when Nico Rosberg stunned Mercedes by retiring from F1 after beating Hamilton to the 2016 title.

"When Nico decided to quit, my initial reaction was actually the opportunity provided to us, and I think the choice with Valtteri (Bottas) proved to be the right choice," Wolff said. "So I still very much hope that our relationship continues. But I'm not entirely in control of that. If one important member breaks out, that certainly provides risk and opportunity at the same time."

Hamilton reportedly earns more than $50 million a year at Mercedes. But Ferrari might be prepared to beat that, especially since the Italian manufacturer has not won the drivers' title since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 and the constructors' title in 2006.

Wolff said he and Hamilton have "talked very openly" about Ferrari's grand stature within F1, and he understands the temptation for Hamilton to end his outstanding career in the famed red of Ferrari.

"There will be components such as financial incentives that will play a role ... I still think a driver of that level will always know that he can make an impact on a team," Wolff said. "When he left McLaren to Mercedes, it was said that it wasn't the right move, and it proved to be right (move). So I don't think I want to make a mistake of underestimating Ferrari's potential."


Have the American owners made for a better spectacle?

With Americans now owning the once noble sport of F1, we expected some changes to spice up the Grands Prix. One failure was the MC introducing the drivers a la boxing at Madison Square Garden, for example “Looowisss Hamilto-o-o-on”.

But that is just the start. Liberty Media (AKA the owners) will be introducing more sizzle, but without the sausages because they can cost money. The grid girls were scrapped and we didn’t even get a bunch of the cheerleaders in exchange, with the short skirts and pom-poms as eye candy, all to provide a better “show” for the spectators. Instead we had grid kids which hasn’t worked, so let’s try something else. We have to face the fact that F1 is no longer a sporting competition, it is a “show”, complete with purple pom-poms (or green ones for British drivers and silver for Germans). And have you noticed, the grid girls are reappearing because the circuits want them?

Bring back the grid girls.

As the spectator numbers for F1 have fallen, the bikes are taking over. MotoGP is on the ascendancy. And it is easy to see why. There are 20 riders putting their life on the line in a harsh environment. People know them by name and number, Valentino Rossi number 46, Marc Marquez number 93. They are within the distance for gloves to be thrown, and become treasured keep-sakes for young boys, the next wave of dedicated spectators.

What does F1 do? Makes the drivers untouchable, imagining that they are thought of as gods. Sorry, but they have clay feet. The spectators will go to MotoGP. Sorry, not “will go” – they are already going.

Back in the days when JC played for Bethlehem United, I signed my first motor racing contract. In that document was the proviso that after each race, I was to wait with the car in the pits for 30 minutes to answer questions and sign autographs.

OK, so it wasn’t F1, but it was motor racing such as that when 40,000 people set off to watch cars competing at Oran Park they were told on the radio to turn round as the traffic tail back was just too long. Motor racing was very popular – way back then. Can those days be recreated? I believe it would be possible, but it won’t happen. The step backward is just too great. Television and advertising rule the roost. The FIA has let all this happen (don’t blame Bernie), far too preoccupied with stewards penalties and grid spots if you change your engine, and avoiding the real problems.

Red Bull’s Verstappen and Ferrari’s Leclerc are very ‘marketable’ items but the environment they race in is too restrictive to hold the attention of the spectators. We need some more gladiators, and maybe a pride of lions? Or just bring back the grid girls.

Ferrari’s troubles deepen at Brazilian GP

Sao Paulo (AP) — Ferrari hoped the Brazilian Grand Prix would bring some relief after poor performances and even accusations of cheating from opponents.

Instead, the Formula 1 team ended the weekend with a collision involving its two drivers as they fought for only fourth place at Interlagos.

Sebastian Vettel looked strong starting from second in Sunday’s race. Charles Leclerc, who began from 14th position because of an engine penalty, jumped to sixth in only 11 laps in Sao Paulo.

It was too good to last.

The two Ferrari drivers faced off on Lap 66 after a safety car restart, and contact between the cars gave Vettel a right-rear puncture, while Leclerc had a broken suspension. Both failed to finish.

“It is very disappointing for the team,” Vettel said after the race.

Leclerc said he wanted to see footage of the crash before reaching any conclusions. “It was a great race before that. But we can’t draw anything positive from this race,” he said.

Their exit allowed Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the winner in Brazil, to jump to third place in the driver’s championship. He is 11 points ahead of fourth-place Leclerc with only the Abu Dhabi GP on Dec. 1 to go. Vettel is 30 points behind Verstappen and cannot claim a top three spot any longer.

Ferrari will also finish the season far behind Mercedes in the constructors championship.

Earlier this month at the United States GP, Leclerc finished almost a minute behind race winner Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes. Vettel retired early.

After that race, Verstappen suggested that Ferrari had been “cheating”. The Red Bull driver said on Dutch TV that the Italian team’s performance dipped at Austin because of a FIA directive on fuel flow systems.

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto said the directive had no impact on the team’s engine.

After the Brazilian GP Binotto said "both of them (Vettel and Leclerc) have got at least a small percentage of responsibility" for the clash.

"At the end, they were free to fight," Binotto said.


Automaker Daimler to save $1.54B by cutting manager posts

Berlin (AP) — German automaker Daimler says it plans to slash costs 1.4 billion euros ($1.54 billion) by cutting every tenth managerial position and other austerity measures.

CEO Ola Kallenius told reporters in London on Thursday that the EU’s stricter specifications on carbon dioxide emissions and the transition to more electric vehicles are putting the squeeze on the Stuttgart-based company’s bottom line.

The cuts at the manufacturer of Mercedes vehicles are to come over the next three years, the dpa news agency reported.

Kallenius told reporters in a conference call that Daimler was also being hurt in the trade war between China and the United States, with new duties being placed on U.S.-built cars that are exported to China.

He says Daimler remains “fully committed” to invest and grow in both countries.

(At Daimler, an optimist is someone who takes their sandwiches for lunch.)


Is it time to retire?

Being one of a handful of race drivers who are still racing in their 70’s, some of my readers may find my exploits interesting. (If not, just move to the next item.)

My love affair with motor cars began when I was 11 and was taken to spectate at a race meeting at the Charterhall circuit in Scotland. It was at that circuit I first saw Jimmy Clark and Jacky Stewart, members of the Border Revers team. Clark was later killed in a racing accident and Wee Jackie long retired but willing to express an opinion.

As a schoolboy I saved any information I could find about the cars of that era. I begged the tobacconist to give me the advertising photo behind his counter of Mike Hawthorn complete with bow tie, smoking a cigarette for Craven A.

Scrapbooks with cut-outs of the latest cars, like the Phase 1 Standard Vanguard and the 1953 Morris Oxford (which later became the Hindustan Ambassador Mk III). Weekends would see me hanging around the motorbike repair shop and my nose could pick up the heady smell of Castrol R from 59 meters.

But I was not a good spectator. I wanted to race.

By the time I was accepted into medical school the die was already rolled. Medical student by day and mechanic at night and petrol pump attendant weekends. Getting the grease off my hands before morning clinics was always a huge problem.

Doing up tired old cars (like a 1949 Austin A40 and a 1953 Ford V8 Customline and a couple of semi-wrecked MG TC’s) and in 1965 some lucky deals saw me in the local sports car yard trading in my second 1953 Ford Customline (the first Cusso tripped one night and we put the good interior of the first one into the second one) and traded it on a 1955 MGA 1500 with a slipping clutch. The car yard threw in a new clutch plate in a box in the deal, and by that evening I had it installed. By the weekend it was at the Lowood race circuit. That was March 1965. I was still a starving medical student and the helmet was borrowed, the race suit was a short sleeved shirt with my name embroidered on it, shorts, long socks and slip-on shoes. The excitement, noise and fumes were better than any of today’s naughty substances. MGA and I came 3rd in class and won $5. I was going to frame the cheque, but I cashed it as I needed the money!

 MGA and its first race.

MGA and I entered everything I could but it was shoestring racing. Tyres? No Dunlop Racing for me, until I scored some very secondhand ones by chance. The top racer of the day had a Dunlop tyre contract and he would pass his racing tyres to a friend when they were half worn. From there they went through another two friends until they were finished and then I scored what was left. Even 99 percent worn out I was delighted. “Free” tyres.

At one meeting I ran out of my freebies but spotted that one of the car trailers had the same size tyres. Within five minutes the required tyre was on the MGA, and the trailer was on blocks. Five minutes after the race was over the tyre was back and fitted on the trailer.

The circuit at Lowood had a long straight and I was doing everything I could to get the magic “ton”. Slipping down in the seat to keep my helmet out of the wind I was reading the instruments as the 100 mph arrived, but suddenly the engine started to misfire. Backing off suddenly, I found I was sitting in the middle of a bonfire. Sheets of flame were running up the bonnet as I looked for a fire marshal in the officials. Spotting one with a large fire extinguisher I drove off the circuit and headed towards him. Getting closer he opened his extinguisher and began to spray me! “Not me – the car!” I screamed and then found my long socks were on fire!

What had happened was that a fuel line fitting at the carburetor had come loose, spraying petrol all over the exhaust pipe. MGA’s have wooden floors, and it was alight too!

That evening and into the small hours we cut new floors and reassembled the fuel lines. I got some new socks and we raced again the next day.

It was now 1966 and I sat my exams and qualified overseas and then spent two years between Gibraltar and England. That was worth a book on its own but one story will be enough. It was right when Gib was having a referendum to determine whether it would stay British (with London paying the bills) or revert to being Spanish and having to find the money themselves. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out which way the vote went. 99 percent voted to stay with the UK. Anyway during all the referendum fever, I was called to the Casualty department to look at the wife of the Gibraltar Minister for Tourism. “What can I do for you, Madam? I asked. She replied, “You speeky Spanee. Me no speeky Englee!”

There’s lots more if you are interested.


And the Fugly award goes to …

Spotted this horror in the hospital car park. I have never seen anything more deserving of the Fugly award than this. It looked Japanese but what? I wondered if it could be a Kei (under 660 cc) car. Eventually, an old racing mate from Australia and now living in Japan, identified it as a “Will” made by Toyota on the Vitz platform. Toyota should be ashamed, and the following is from the Toyota web.

Fugly front and rear.

 The WiLL Vi is a compact car, produced from 2000 to 2001, with distinctive styling combining elements of many cars. The WiLL Vi was designed by the then newly formed Virtual Venture Company, headed by Jim Shimizu. The unique-appearing rear window had earlier appeared on the Mazda Carol, the Ford Anglia (1959–1968), and the Citroen Ami. The "neo-retro" look represented a period in Japan where vehicles took on the styling of historic vehicles from the 1950s and 1960s, such as the Nissan Be-1, Nissan Figaro, Nissan Pao, the Toyota Origin, the Subaru Vivio, and the Mitsubishi Minica.

The car was equipped with MacPherson struts for the front wheels and a torsion beam axle for the rear wheels. The car was painted in a number of pastel colors, and the plastic wheel covers resemble sand dollars. One of the few options was a canvas sliding roof, and the vehicle was installed with bench seats for both front and rear passengers, with the gearshift installed on the dashboard.

Sales were disappointing. I wonder why.

Big Brother is watching you

Australia uses new technology to catch drivers on phones

Australia (AP) — An Australian state is attempting to persuade people to put down their smartphones while driving by rolling out cameras to prosecute distracted motorists.

New South Wales Roads Minister Andrew Constance said Monday that Australia's most populous state is the first jurisdiction in the world to use such technology to punish drivers distracted by social media, text messages or phone calls.

Road safety experts are alarmed at the growing prevalence of accidents involving drivers using smartphones on New South Wales roads. Experts say drivers who illegally use phones increase their chances of an accident four-fold.

"There is no doubt drink-driving as far as I'm concerned is on a par with mobile phone use, and that's why we want everyone to be aware that you're going to get busted doing this anytime, anywhere," Constance told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

 Car phone.

The government intends to roll out 45 Mobile Phone Detection Cameras across the state by December, he said.

In fact, each unit contains two cameras. One camera photographs a car's registration plate and a second high-set lens looks down through the windscreen and can see what drivers are doing with their hands.

A six-month trial of two fixed cameras this year checked 8.5 million vehicles and detected more than 100,000 drivers with their hands on phones, including one driver who was using a phone and iPad simultaneously. Another driver had a passenger steer while they both held phones, the government said.

The units use artificial intelligence to exclude drivers who are not touching their phones. Photos that show suspected illegal behavior are referred for verification by human eyes before an infringement notice is sent to the vehicle's registered owner along with a 344 Australian dollar ($232) fine. Some cameras will be permanently fixed on roadsides and others will be placed on trailers and moved around the state.

The government wants to expand the program to 135 million checks a year by 2023. New South Wales has 5.2 million registered vehicles.

National Roads and Motorists' Association spokesman Peter Khoury, a leading advocate for road users, accused the government of using stealth to crack down on illegal phone use. While the association supported tougher action against drivers distracted by phones, it wanted signs warning motorists that phone detection cameras were operating in an area, as happens with speed cameras in the state.

Government modeling found that the phone detection cameras could prevent 100 fatal and serious injuries over five years.

The annual state road toll in New South Wales fell by 35 deaths to 354 last year.

Police said more than 16,500 drivers had been fined for illegally using phones so far this year.

Drivers are allowed to use phones in hands-free cradles and through Bluetooth. But it is illegal to touch a phone while driving except to pass it to a passenger. The ban even applies to drivers who are stationary at red lights or stuck in traffic jams.

Constance said his government was relaxing the law to allow drivers to legally pay with their phones at restaurant drive-throughs.

(Comment: Constable Plod can now look through your windows, hoping to catch a driver scratching his genitals. I’m sure they could make a case to show that just chatting to one’s passenger is far too dangerous and safety sealed boxes would be installed in all cars from now on. Particularly when you read that even touching your phone while stationary at a red light is a heinous crime. The only problem now is how to convert the crime into baht that is understood by the BIB.)


The days of the motoring enthusiast are gone

If you are an enthusiast, and you must be if you read this column, you will have already looked into what the future has in store for you (and me).

Digital technology is lining up to take your car away from you, and replacing it with a ‘virtual’ car which can ‘talk’ to other cars, and without a human driver, to take you to your required destination.

The motive power will be electric, with some world governments already banning the internal combustion engine because it is a health hazard. Petrol stations will be supplanted by electric battery rechargers. Switched on entrepreneurs will have coffee stalls to keep you amused while the 20 minute recharge takes place.

What will happen to the petrol cars? Some out of the way stations will keep a small quantity of petrol, at a price, and you will only be allowed to drive your Aston Martin on alternate Sundays.

Oh, you wanted diesel fuel? Sorry but they were banned a decade ago after the Wolfsburg debacle (thank you VW). Something to do with keeping the planet clean. Mind you, the mounds of spent batteries will be a new kind of rubbish.

Now for all these digital electronic masterpieces to work, you will learn to rely on the car’s GPS. How many times has your computer crashed? There’s one of those inside all the cars of the future, and they will crash too. Let’s hope it isn’t on the Bangkok highway. Where is the GPS when you need it?

Of course the legal side of digital motoring will spawn a new style of lawyer. When your driverless car hits another driverless car, who is to blame? However, when driverless car A hits human being B, protracted legal cases will ensue as A and B wish to sue each other. Insurance companies will go close to ruling the world.

Ride sharing is being held up for us, as the way to go. Cuts down fuel costs, be that battery, hydrogen or nuclear nuggets. But ride sharing can only work if the other passengers are going the same way too. The alternative is walking. Make sure you have some sturdy walking shoes.

And motor sport? The FIA has already stacked the F1 deck, by putting its money on every horse in the race – notably Formula E. As F1 becomes an anachronism, come in Formula E, the FIA is ready to give you top billing.

Formula E.

 Lewis Hamilton’s 6th WDC

So Lewis Hamilton is today’s poster boy in the UK. However, one of Australia’s automotive commentators is Will Hagon who injected some sanity over all the hype surrounding Lewis Hamilton’s sixth World Drivers Championship. Will’s words of wisdom are worth reading.

“Poor old Juan Manuel Fangio, his remarkable records and achievements oft forgotten by those not lucky enough to be across one of the finest drivers and people ever to adorn grand prix racing.

“The Maestro' was five years older when he started his GP career than Hamilton is now.

Lewis Hamilton’s 6th WDC.

 “No one has matched Fangio's start win record, 24 of 51 - 47 percent wins, in an era when around a third of drivers died in crashes.

“He wasn't bad in qualifying either, in an era when drivers had more in qualifying either, in an era when drivers had more influence on their cars' speed than with today's electronically assisted cars.

“In days when grids were straight lines, not staggered as today, and they alternated 3, 2, 3 and helped promote close racing.

“But I digress. Will Hamilton get his 7th WDC? In the petrol age, yes. In the electric age, no. He is destined to sit at the top of the tree with Michael Schumacher and listen as the E racers whizz by. No more fumes like Castrol R or barking exhausts. All will be sacrificed to get the planet clean. And to that I say, Fat Chance.”


Hypermiling – a forgotten sport?

A dictionary entry for Hypermiling states that it is the act of driving using techniques that maximize fuel economy. Those who practice these techniques are referred to as “hypermilers” (or perhaps greenies?)

Hypermiling is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as the attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s vehicle and one’s driving techniques. In fact, in 2008, the word Hypermiling was selected as the best new word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Hypermiling, which can be practiced in any vehicle regardless of its fuel economy, had gained in popularity as a result of the rise in gasoline prices during the 2000s. While common techniques can be carried out by average motorists making minor changes in their driving habits, many Hypermilers use more advanced techniques, some of which are illegal in most if not all jurisdictions.

Hypermiling has come under fire from several quarters due to claims of dangerous or unlawful behavior by some Hypermilers. As a result, the Hypermiling Safety Foundation was formed in August 2008 to promote a safety and public awareness program, advocating legal fuel-saving techniques.

In some places, Hypermiling contests have been held to see who can get the highest mpg on a selected course.

A Maximum Fuel Economy contest was held in Elkhart, Indiana, a few years ago where “world records” for the Honda Insight (213 miles per US gallon (1.10 L/100 km; 256 mpg-imp) round trip), Toyota Prius (136 miles per US gallon (1.73 L/100 km; 163 mpg-imp) round trip) and the Ford Escape Hybrid (76 miles per US gallon (3.1 L/100 km; 91 mpg-imp) mpg round trip) were achieved, albeit having been achieved while rolling through all stop signs and having the vehicle tires inflated well beyond recommended specifications! The record for the most miles achieved out of a single tank of gas, with 2,254 miles (3,627 km) from the 13.7 US gallons (52 l; 11.4 imp gal) tank of a 2006 Honda Insight, represents an average of 164.53 miles per US gallon (1.4296 L/100 km; 197.59 mpg-imp) for the entire distance.

Now all that sounds terribly new and “green” and is the sort of fodder that the global warming people love to seize upon, to show their commitment to saving the planet. I am afraid I am with GM’s Bob Lutz who stated that “Global warming is a crock of sh*t.” And have you noticed they now call it ‘Climate Change’ so they are backing both horses in the race – heating or cooling! And to show my true callous nature, if Bob and I are wrong we’ll both be dead long before Bangkok disappears beneath the rising seas, so it isn’t our problem!

Chinese auto sales down 6.3 percent in September

Beijing (AP) — China's auto sales sank 6.3 percent in September from a year earlier and purchases of electric cars tumbled 34.2 percent at a time when the industry is spending heavily to meet government sales quotas for the technology, an industry group reported Monday.

The global industry's biggest market is on track to contract for second year, dragged down by weak consumer demand in the face of a tariff war with Washington and cooling economic growth.

Sales of sedans, SUVs and minivans in the global industry's biggest market fell to 1.9 million, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry group. Total sales, including trucks and buses, retreated 5.2 percent to 2.3 million.

Demand has suffered from consumer jitters over a trade war with Washington and slowing economic growth.

The industry has been reporting negative growth every month since June 2018.

Sales of electric cars fell to 80,000 units, hurt by a decline in government subsidies that helped to make China the biggest market for electrics.

Brands are spending heavily to meet government sales quotas. Beijing is shifting the burden to automakers by requiring them to earn credits for selling electrics without subsidies. That raises the cost to buyers.

For the first nine months of the year, auto sales were off 11.7 percent at 15.2 million.

In the same period, electric car sales were up 20.8 percent over a year earlier at 872,000. That reflected strong first-half demand before government subsidies were cut.

Sales of SUVs, previously a bright spot for the industry, were off 9.3 percent from a year earlier in the first nine months of the year. It gave no figure for total sales.

Sales by Chinese brands were off 9.8 percent at 727,000.

(There is a world-wide depression, with China, America and even Thailand’s production figures dipping year on year. All sorts of reasons have been put forward, but governmental involvement is one of the main ones. Subsidies stimulate buying, but then by removing the subsidy there will be a slump in sales. It is only a few years ago that the Thai government promoted the first car owners deal. A spike in sales figures resulted, repossessions followed and total manufacturing numbers also nose-dived. There is a lesson here, but reversing the trend is very difficult.)


F1 McLaren team lining up at the pumps

Rio De Janeiro (AP) — Brazil's government says the state-controlled oil company has ended a nearly $200 million advertising agreement with Formula One team McLaren that had been criticized by President Jair Bolsonaro.

The Economy Ministry announced the cancellation, saying the five-year deal that took effect this year was "unjustifiable."

Brazil suffered a devastating recession in 2015 and 2016 that sent unemployment surging. Since then, growth has averaged just over 1 percent annually and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects growth below 1 percent this year.

Bolsonaro took office in January and announced in May that his government was seeking a way to cancel the contract.


"Such matters are commercially confidential and therefore we are not able to comment further at this time," a McLaren spokesman said.

The Brazilian government said Petrobras has a new focus on expanding production.

(Whilst McLaren has been doing better on the track than expected this season, there’s none of the F1 teams that can give $200 million worth of value. Even if Petrobras were giving away free petrol and a plastic toy.)


Physics be damned 

I was taught that everything on this earth could be explained by using simple physics. I was given tommy twaddle.

A few years ago I looked at Lucas fuel pumps and how to get them going again with a bit of physical abuse. But another bit of engineering that defies physical laws lies in the universal joints in the propeller shaft. A kind of metal X with case-hardened caps filled with rollers. Despite all the greasing in the world, these things would always seize up, and you had to pull it all apart. Remember those days?

The owners manual made it look easy. (Those were the days when the manufacturer actually allowed you to touch the car. These days your warranty would become null and void and you would probably be subjected to some kind of exquisite electro-torture. Tomorrow you will be shot if you open the bonnet.) But back to the manual, plus pix of some chap in a dust coat. “Tap the yoke lightly and the bearing will appear” was what the good book says. Not one solitary word as what to do when the bearings didn’t appear – and they never did.

No, the tapping physical law does not exist. You have to get the biggest cold chisel you can and split the casing, and by the time you have thoroughly butchered it, then the bearing will appear – in bits. “Tap the yoke lightly” indeed! Physics be damned!


The Road Toll – again and again and again

I try to shy away from contentious subjects in this column, as it was designed to be a lighthearted look at things motoring, but sometimes a lighthearted look may not be appropriate. For the nation’s road toll, this is one of those times. Try 66 deaths per day for a start. And Thailand having the second highest road toll in the world.

What prompted me on this line of thought was the fact I was passed on the freeway by a very young schoolboy motorcycle rider and pillion passenger, complete with no crash helmet on either of them.

For those who have not been to Pattaya recently, you will find that Beach Road now has pedestrian traffic lights every 200 meters. However, unfortunately all these do is to instill a false sense of security for those on foot.

Now when we look at the road toll, what were prime factors?

1. 75 percent of those killed are between 15-60 years.

2. 75 percent of the people killed are male.

3. 80 percent were riding motorcycles.

4. 85 percent had no crash helmet.

5. More than 50 percent of those injured had blood alcohol levels above the legal limit of 0.05. (Figures for blood alcohol levels of those killed are notoriously under-reported to avoid police/insurance problems.)

Count the heads and helmets.

 So what has been done? Even way back in 2001 the BBC reported that the Thai government was considering cutting short the country’s main holiday to reduce the number of traffic accidents and discourage Thais from going abroad. That is like saying they will ban all motorcycles from the road over holiday weekends. Impractical and would be rejected by the population.

In December 2010, the Thaksin University in Songkhla published a treatise in their website claiming 12,000 Thai people per year are killed, or 33 per day and doubling during the Songkran festival and New Year’s Day. The item went on to say that, “There are three major causes of road accidents in Thailand they are driver’s behaviors, mechanical failure, and road conditions.”

This idea that mechanical failures are prime factors has also been seized upon by governments, with a government spokesman saying that about 50,000 vocational students were to be sent to checkpoints and car maintenance spots across the country last year to provide vehicle inspection services over the New Year break.

It does not need a Mensa IQ score to see that diverting attention to vehicle maintenance is not going to change the road toll, but driver behavior and alcohol are related and have a direct effect on the total number of people killed.

However, the greatest numbers should be attacked as the first priority. 75 percent of fatalities come from motorcycles. If it were possible to prevent these, you would have lowered the death toll by 75 percent, but that is Utopian and not possible. But – if you could get the 85 percent who were not wearing helmets to wear a helmet of a decent standard then you would produce an immediate lowering of the annual toll.

This is not Utopian. The legislation regarding the wearing of helmets is already law – if this was policed properly, and it is not difficult to spot a motorcycle rider not wearing a helmet, then you would see a dramatic fall in the numbers.

Of course, I have stated it needs helmets “of a decent standard”. Again, this is not difficult. Apply US Snell or the British Standard to all new helmets sold in Thailand. Give the shops six months to clear the old stock and thereafter only helmets meeting the standards are allowed to be sold. This is also not difficult to police – a walk down the supermarket shelves will soon show whether the helmets have the certification.

The salient figures are already there, the legislation is already there. The members of the Think Tank committees can finish their morning coffee and go home.

But this is Thailand.


The ideal car for Pattaya?

The WaterCar Panther is probably the coolest amphibian and it’s surprisingly fast. Billed as the Fastest Amphibious Car in the World and is available for order so if you need a new car it might just be the ideal car for you but it costs about USD 135,000 in the US. Now add on freight and duty and you are probably looking at six million baht (very rough guess). However, you can drive it across the Pacific Ocean, I suppose, and at least you can put off getting a boat if you buy a panther.

The Panther website has a caution: The Panther is currently offered in two states of completion, Turnkey Minus and Complete Custom. Please note the Complete Custom version may be a challenge or impossible to license and register for street use in some states (and in Thailand). In those American states the Panther must be purchased as a Turnkey Minus and licensed as a specially constructed vehicle if used on the highway. There is federal legislation for low production vehicle manufacturers that will make the registration of Complete Custom models much easier. Check your local registration requirements before you order, and in Thailand, don’t make your hopes too high.

 WaterCar Panther.

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