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Update November 2017

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Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Update Saturday, Nov. 18 - Nov. 24, 2017

Honda re-invents the 60’s

Honda Sports EV.

The Tokyo show had its usual line-up of futuristic designs. Honda somehow fell back into the 60’s with its Sport EV, a sporty looking car which would not have been out of place at a prom in 1966. However, no cigar!

Two months ago, Honda released the Urban EV which foretold the direction Honda is taking with a fully EV line-up. Both cars have the circular ringed headlights set into the grille, and no fancy strip lighting which is almost de rigueur these days.

The Tokyo concept also uses the same platform as the Urban EV; however, Honda is yet to disclose details on powertrain output or range, other than mentioning it will “include a high-density, lightweight battery pack, integrated heat management and the evolution of energy transfer functions.”

Other design cues are borrowed from the Urban EV concept, including slimline cameras in place of door mirrors, black bonnet (just how 60’s is that?), cream exterior color and the black sill stripe with glowing blue element.

It will most likely use Honda’s Power Management EV charging system, which can distribute charge between a vehicle, domestic residence and the power grid as a fully integrated energy transfer system.

Honda has also called the powertrain a “highly responsive electric power unit”, boasting “powerful, smooth acceleration … with serene quietness”.

However, some 2018 directions could be seen in Honda’s latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology, in the form of the Honda Automated Network Assistant, which communicates between driver and car.

Where do these cars sit in the global scheme of things? Given its small dimensions, the Sports EV could be seen as a possible precursor to a new-generation model such as the diminutive Japan-only S660 (Kei cars) or discontinued S2000 convertible.

Using electric technology in sports-focused vehicles is a familiar exercise for Honda given its current range-topping model, the NSX supercar that teams a twin-turbo V6 to three different electric motors for a combined output of 427 kW/646 Nm.

Honda has confirmed that the Urban EV concept will reach production by 2020, making the prospect of a Sports variant being sold alongside it quite likely.

Nissan sees 2025 as saturation point for EV’s

Nissan Leaf EV.

Nissan believes electric vehicles will become mainstream by 2025. By then you will have only two main choices at the dealership – EV or ICE (Internal combustion engine).

The company (Nissan/Renault) was first to market with a mass-produced electric vehicle, the Leaf, in 2010, and while it carries the title of world’s best-selling EV – with more than 250,000 units sold as at December 2016 – it remains a niche model by volume on the world stage.

Asked in Tokyo this week when would EVs become the dominant force in the automotive market, Nissan Motor Company vice-president of global product strategy Ivan Espinosa said there were a number of factors to consider.

“One thing is the regulatory costs of conventional technology today is gradually going up and it will keep getting worse and worse as we go,” he said.

“With that said, at the same time we see a lot of governments pushing to get cleaner environments, cleaner cities, more stringent regulatory hurdles. The electric technology is one of the solutions to do that. One of the things is the cost of the technology is relatively high and it has to do mainly with battery cost.

“As this evolves and as the technology matures – it is in its young age – we can expect the cost to go down. And as the cost goes down and the conventional technology keeps going up, you will start seeing this shift. And we believe the shift will happen quickly.”

Nissan Motor Company chief planning officer Philippe Klein added that the tipping point for EVs to become more affordable and therefore more popular with consumers will take place by around 2025.

“And at the same time (will be) the continuous decrease of the cost of the electric vehicle technology. This decrease, we start to see the benefit of it.” Mr Klein said there are realistic applications for EV technology and relevant markets will adopt the technology at a different pace.

“But for a lot of vehicles commuting every day, it is going to become an obvious technology, so that is going to trigger the pace of the deployment.”

“The other thing we are noticing changing very fast is customer interest in EVs is growing. It is because people are getting into the technology and experiencing the technology more and more,” he said.

“When we launched the Leaf, we had great feedback from customers buying the car because the drive experience is very different. Because the ‘fun to drive’ (experience) you get with the car is amazing and a completely different experience.”

Nissan Motor Company executive vice-president for global marketing and sales, zero-emission vehicles and the battery business, Daniele Schillaci, reiterated that EVs would be the same price as internal combustion cars by about 2025, and acknowledged that while government incentives help EV take-up, it is the technology itself that appeals most to consumers.

“People are just so impressed by the technology. And if you have incentives of course it is better, but if you don’t have, if you connect with the technology at least you will consider that technology.”

Here’s your next Mazda3

Mazda Kai Concept.

 The Tokyo Show did have some interesting concept cars, and some which herald the next model. Manufacturers often slide prospective new models in to see whether the public are excited, and more importantly, would they buy it.

The new Mazda Kai concept, which points to the styling of its next-generation Mazda3 small car, was called the New-generation SkyActiv-X Mazda3 hatchback Kai concept.

The 3 is the best-selling Mazda small car, the new generation of which is expected to reach production in 2019.

Billed as the “ideal combustion-engine-powered car” by Mazda Motor Corporation (MMC) president and CEO Masamachi Kogai, the Kai concept is built on the Japanese brand’s new SkyActiv-Vehicle Architecture and is powered by its pioneering SkyActiv-X spark-less compression-ignition engine.

“This compact hatchback concept embodies everything Mazda is aiming for in its next generation of models,” Mr Kogai said at the Kai’s unveiling in Tokyo.

Yasutake Tsuchida, the designer said, “What we intended with this introduction of this car is that we wanted to imbue it with more of the sporty feel than you would expect in a hatchback

“And what I feel, and what we hoped to express, in this car design was that it was not what you would have seen in the previous generations, very juvenile and ‘fresh’ – that is what we had before.

“But with this one, I’m hoping, and it was certainly the intention, to have more sporty, mature design for this car.”

From the front, the Kai concept has slim headlights and Mazda’s prominent grille, while its front-wheel-drive layout is pointed to with exaggerated front guards.

Giving the Kai concept a more seamless look, the front windscreen extends to the roof where the top body panel partitions the driver’s and passenger’s glass ceiling.

From behind, the Kai concept has a high-riding bumper with integrated dual exhaust pipes for a squat stance, and aggressively styled tail-lights.

The wheel arches house 20 inch alloys measuring nine inches wide and using low profile 245/35 rubber, with large drilled brake discs.

Measuring 4420 mm long, 1855 mm wide and 1375 mm high, the Kai concept is 50 mm shorter and 90 mm lower than the current Mazda3 hatchback, but is also 60 mm wider. It also has a 50 mm longer wheelbase.

When it arrives in production form, the next-generation Mazda3 will be the first vehicle built on the brand’s new SkyActiv-Vehicle Architecture, which will be spread across the company’s range of passenger cars, SUVs and sports models.

This new platform is designed to lower noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, according to Mazda.

While still too far out to confirm exact specifications, the new Mazda3 is expected to carry over the current model’s SkyActiv-G 2.0- and 2.5-liter direct-injection petrol engines with minor updates and will be topped by the new compression-ignition SkyActiv-X powerplant.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that one particular vehicle has been manufactured or assembled in 22 countries. I asked what was it? It was the Jeep.

So to this week. There was a strange association between Jordan F1 and Porsche. It resolved itself with a black Porsche 911. What was the story there?

For the Automania free beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]  or [email protected] . Good luck!

Update Saturday, Nov. 11 - Nov. 17, 2017

Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake

Aston Martin Shooting Brake.

I think it is only the Brits that call a shopping trolley, a Shooting Brake. In Australia they are known as Station Wagons, but whatever, here is a new one designed and built by Aston Martin, a company better known for beautiful cars driven by James Bond.

Now, I ask you, does Mr Bond really do his own shopping? And if he does, why the great urgency for quick getaways? Doing a runner at the check-out perhaps? The price for a loaf of bread gone up that much? I ask you, do we really need 300 km/h vehicles to carry the children’s school bags?

In actual fact, this so-called ‘Shooting Brake’ is only a two seater, so I hope you haven’t got more than one school ager.

But if we look upon the AM Shooting Brake as a styling exercise, then perhaps they can be excused, but practical it is not. So on that parameter, AM has built a failure. However, they can hide behind the Big Z (that’s Zagato, not ZZ Top).

The Shooting Brake is the fourth member of an exclusive range of Vanquish models redesigned by the famed Italian coachbuilder Zagato, joining the Coupe, Volante (convertible) and Speedster variants, and the first time Aston has created a factory-built wagon-style vehicle.

But this is nothing like your average football mum’s taxi. As showcased by the images, the Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake has a steeply raked, floating-style roof that incorporates its signature double bubble treatment and extends over the liftback with a sharp rear wing.

On the positive side, the extended rear section provides more useable storage space than the other Zagato variants and comes complete with a set of specially-tailored luggage for the occasional cross-continent luxury holiday, leaving the children behind, of course.

As for the rest of the car, it faithfully uses the unique Zagato-designed elements of its three siblings with all-new bodywork, including its hallmark spotlights in the front bumper, gaping intakes in the front fenders and floating taillights at the rear.

Under the bonnet, the Shooting Brake is powered by an uprated version of Aston’s venerable 6.0-liter naturally-aspirated V12, which produces 444 kW and 630 Nm and drives the rear wheels through a rear-mounted eight-speed automatic transaxle gearbox.

Only 99 of the Shooting Brake versions will be built, and all have been pre-sold to loyal collectors (with a maximum of one child). Aston has not revealed price details for the model, which is expected to cost around $1 million.

Bloodhound SSC: 0-322 km/h in under nine seconds

Bloodhound SSC.

The record-seeking Bloodhound Supersonic Car has completed two trial runs on a 2.7 km long runway in England.

A crowd of more than 3000 people watched the jet powered car successfully reach its goal of 322 km/h from a standstill in just over 8 seconds and go on to a top speed of 340 km/h. It was a walk in the park for the driver, Royal Air Force Wing Commander Andy Green who set the current land speed record of 1227km/h two decades ago.

“We did two back-to-back 200 mph runs in a five-tonne car. It felt like about eight seconds, which was what we were expecting,” Green told BBC News.

“It was a real hard work-out for the brakes. Probably up to somewhere close to a thousand degrees, the front brakes were smoking furiously after the second run. They just started to flicker with flame - very sort of Formula One, but in a proper high-speed car. And that was exactly what we were hoping for,” he said.

The high-speed runs are only a public shakedown for the Bloodhound SSC which is hunting a new land speed record in the next few years. However, the Rolls-Royce EJ200 jet engine that currently powers the car will only reach a maximum speed of 1050 km/h - almost 600 km/h less than the target.

To get there, the team plans on replacing the car’s current jet-powered engine with a hybrid rocket propulsion system built by Norwegian aerospace and defence company, Nammo. The higher Vmax will also necessitate changes to the vehicle’s aerodynamic design at the rear.

“The total thrust we think we need is about 20 tonnes. So that’s a thrust-to-weight ratio of about two-and-a-half. The car when we’re breaking records will weigh about eight tonnes,” said Bloodhound technical director, Mark Chapman.

Additional changes to the car may include substituting its Jaguar V8 powered fuel pump for an electric system that can distribute its weight more evenly.

Nammo’s technology, which isn’t available until at least 2020, will push the car to a top speed of around 1610 km/h and smash through the sound barrier. If all goes to plan, Green will pilot the car and notch his name in the record book for a third time, having set the world’s previous two records at Black Rock Desert in the USA.

The 2020 record attempt will require an even longer stretch, likely to be the 19 km wide Hakskeen Pan dry lake bed in South Africa.

I have driven at 300 km/h in an F5000 race car and it seems blindingly fast. What it is like at over 1000 km/h almost defies imagination.

Natter Nosh and Noggin

The Pattaya car club meets at Jameson’s Irish Pub on Soi AR next to Nova Park. The next meeting is on Monday November 13 at Jameson’s at 7 p.m. A totally informal meeting of like-minded souls to discuss their pet motoring (and motorcycling) loves and hates (plus lies and outright exaggerations). Come along and meet the guys who have a common interest in cars and bikes, and enjoy the Jameson’s specials, washed down with a few beers. Always a fun night. The Car Club nights are only on the second Monday of the month (not every second Monday)!

FXX K Evo from Ferrari

Ferrari FXX K Evo.

Ferrari has made one of the world’s fastest supercars, even more so. After spending 12 months in the wind tunnel and over 20,000 km testing on the road, Ferrari has unveiled an updated version of race-inspired LaFerrari, the FXX K Evo. It features reshaped aerodynamics to increase downforce and drops a few kilos from its already light weight body.

However, Ferrari has not revealed all of the FXX K Evo’s details, including price, which will be offered for sale to only the most exclusive members of the Prancing Horse club.

Owners of the 40 existing FXX Ks won’t miss out either, with Ferrari offering to retro fit the new FXX K Evo kit for an undisclosed cost. While the cost to buy a new FXX K Evo off the shelf has not been revealed, the FXX K was around $4 million.

Making its styling stand out is the new rear spoiler which incorporates a large central fin to increase stability under yaw and two side fins – which Ferrari calls vortex generators – that stabilize air turbulence generated from the engine’s heat.

The front bumper has been reshaped with larger air dams for ventilation and underneath are more vortex generators. The rear wheel arches are also larger and reduce drag produced from the rear wheels, while the rear bumper has a different look. All of the changes improve stability at high speed and Ferrari says, compared to the FXX K, downforce has increased by 23 percent at 200 km/h and the Evo weighs less than the 1165 kg FXX K but Ferrari won’t say by how much.

Shocking information for Oxford

Shocking information for Oxford – are we next? Oxford in the UK claims it will be the first to mandate itself as the world-first zero-emissions zone.

The stimulus for this comes from the World Health Organisation data released last year showing that Oxford was one of 11 cities in the UK to breach the safe limits set for certain types of toxic particles. Without a hint of knee jerk, the local council is promising to clean up the air by gradually banning petrol and diesel cars, trucks and taxis over a 15-year period from 2020.

By 2035, only electric vehicles will be allowed inside a zero-emissions zone and it’s hoped levels of nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from cars, will have been slashed by 74 percent on the city’s most polluted streets.

“We think it will be the world’s first zero-emissions zone,” Oxford City Councillor John Tanner says. “We’re responding to an immediate health challenge, that’s why we’re doing it. We happen to be the first, we are sure many other cities around the world will follow us.”

The rest of the United Kingdom, mandates it will stop the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, and France, where carmakers are being encouraged by the Government to build electric and hybrid vehicles.

However, not all the local citizens are all that enthusiastic. You don’t have to search too hard to find people with concerns about how quickly the zero-emissions zone is being phased in. Oxford taxi drivers, for example, worry about the immediate cost and practicality of using electric cabs. Range anxiety is a real worry.

“They’re talking about these new cabs that have got a range of 112 km before they need recharging but if you get a long distance job over 70 miles you need a charging point somewhere.”

Others voiced their misgivings, “They’re going to have to bring the emissions zone into Oxford because the pollution is still too high … but until they get all the infrastructure rolled out across the country it’s crazy.”

City councillors are promising they will listen to the concerns of local businesses and build more charging stations. They want to show the world that transitioning to electric cars is possible and they hope the process is relatively painless.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that a BMW designer moved across to Japan, designing a very stylish hatchback. I asked, what was this car? It was the Datsun 240 Z, which is rapidly becoming a cult car.

So to this week. One particular vehicle has been manufactured or assembled in 22 countries. What was it?

For the Automania free beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]  or [email protected] . Good luck!

Update Saturday, Nov. 4 - Nov. 10, 2017

Toyota reveals fuel-cell concepts for Tokyo Motor Show


Toyota Fine Comfort.

Not content with displaying its range of electric cars, Toyota has developed the Mirai concept a little further using Hydrogen power.

In a typically Japanese way, Toyota has called the saloon a Fine-Comfort Ride concept. (Remember Honda called its SUV a “Comfortable Recreation Vehicle” which fortunately just became the CRV.)

Following the announcement of the Concept-i family of autonomous electric vehicles earlier this week, the Fine Comfort focus is more on Toyota’s expertise in fuel-cell technology.

Fine-Comfort Ride concept is claimed to be capable of up to 1000 kilometers one tank of hydrogen.

Measuring 4830 mm long, 1950 mm wide and 1650 mm tall with a 3450 mm wheelbase, the six-seat Fine-Comfort Ride has been designed for maximum passenger comfort while achieving zero emissions.

The vehicle features in-wheel electric motors, with each rim positioned at the very edge of the body, combined with an underbody cover to achieve “high running stability” and quietness normally associated with a premium sedan or limousine.

Touch screen technology is everywhere. Inside, an array of displays are accessible to the driver and passengers, including a massive widescreen setup in front of the driver, complemented by a smaller display in the futuristic steering wheel. The side windows double up as touchscreen displays, too.

The front four seats can be arranged in a traditional passenger layout or turned into a meeting space.

No details of the powertrain have been given yet, but you can expect it to be an evolution of the system used in the Mirai with Hydrogen tanks and in-wheel motors. It is of interest that in-wheel motors is not a new concept, with the Lohner-Porsche, designed and built by Dr Ferdinand Porsche using that method in 1902.


The Legend of the Green Hell

Frank Gardner.

Since its construction (1925 - 1927), the Nordschleife in Germany has enjoyed a reputation as a terrifying and merciless route through the Eifel forests. Formula One’s Sir John Young (Jackie) Stewart, three-times world champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973, was so impressed by the circuit that he gave it the name which it will probably never lose: Green Hell (Grüne Hölle).

Tricky corners, treacherous crests, steep inclines and gradients and constantly changing road surfaces demand great skill from the driver and puts vehicles to an unbelievable stress. I am fortunate that I have driven it, and kept it off the walls, and the circuit is just a fantastic test of man and machine.

The number of fatalities in its 83-year history is almost 80. If a driver/rider has an accident and damage the Armco barriers, he/she (or a non-dead relative) will end up paying. And if their accident closes the track for an extended period, that’ll cost them or their estates, too.

But despite Sir Jackie Stewart’s Green Hell description, nobody beats Aussie Frank Gardner (1931-2009) who was one of the world’s most under-rated race drivers. It was Frank Gardner who said that “Nürburgring was the circuit that Hitler designed for Jewish racing drivers.”

After he retired he said, “Everybody is convinced that you can’t move unless you’ve got five engineers, computers, a trainer, an adviser, a bloody manager, a solicitor, a Protestant Pope and an Irish king! The basics haven’t altered, but the cost has just gone through the roof.”

How’s your handbrake? And it isn’t your wife

A little history if I may. Ever since man managed to make contraptions that were self-propelled, man very quickly afterwards found that he needed a reliable way to pull up. The first to experience this was a military steam tractor, which with a top speed of three km/h managed to knock down a wall on its maiden outing. The fact that it weighed several tonnes did not help the retardation process either.

It was further back than you imagine, and was in 1769, and that very first self-propelled road vehicle was a military tractor invented by French engineer and mechanic, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot (1725 - 1804). Cugnot used a steam engine to power his vehicle, built under his instructions at the Paris Arsenal by mechanic Brezin. Apart from knocking down walls, it was used by the French Army to haul artillery at three km/h on only three wheels.

During the late 1800’s, we began to see many more self-propelled vehicles, and with the diversity in designs, there were also many different retardation devices. These included brakes on the fly wheel, or on the prop shaft, rather than at the wheels. And if you would like some other interesting facts, the disc brake was patented by British engineer Frederick William Lanchester in 1902. It did not gain immediate acceptance as although it was reasonably efficient for the slow moving vehicles of the time, it was noisy. Very noisy, with the copper brake pads running against the disc.

The next technological advance to come to grips with Lanchester’s disc brakes came from another engineer, Herbert Frood (later to become Ferodo). Frood lined the pads with asbestos and solved the noise problem but the disc brake would not become standard in Europe until much later, by which stage, the world had found out that asbestos was a dangerous material.

Another of the famous names in automotive history is Ransom E. Olds (Oldsmobile) who demonstrated just how much better deceleration he could provide with his early drum brake which featured a stainless steel band wrapped around a drum on the rear axle. It certainly was better than the stick on a tyre brake of the hansom cabs of the day.

This external drum brake was not without problems either. On hills, where the brake unwrapped, motorists could not rely entirely on this design. This led to another very crude piece of technology called the ‘sprague’, which was a metal spike which when released would stick in the ground behind the car and stop it running backwards!

We have certainly come a long way since then. My racing Escort for example, uses EBC pads giving it a stopping power of the next best thing to a brick wall!

Breaking into a Porsche

I was on a Porsche club rally, and we were coming back from Adelaide, a 3,000 km trip. Australia is a big place! We had pulled into a motel for the evening, and we were 11 cars, every one a Porsche 911. I got out, pushed the locking button down on the driver’s door and swung the door shut. As it clicked into place, to my horror, I saw that the keys were still in the ignition. What to do? Porsches are just about thief-proof, and none of us were accomplished car thieves like Nick Cage in the great movie “Gone in 30 seconds”. In desperation, I asked for the other 10 driver’s keys and tried them in my door lock. Amazingly, the keys from the 911 parked closest to mine opened my door! And just as amazingly, my key would not open his, though his would open mine. But neither key would operate the ignition of the other car. I was certainly lucky that evening.

So never rely on your new car being thief-proof.

Is this the end of Chinese JV’s?

China is mulling loosening regulations to allow ‘green’ manufacturers to dispense with Joint Ventures in proposed free trade regions. The authorities are looking at regulations as early as 2018.

China is now discussing a plan to allow foreign carmakers to set up wholly owned electric-vehicle businesses in its free-trade zones in a major revision of a fundamental principle governing the country’s auto industry policy since the 1990s, according to company spokesman.

At present, foreign automakers must form a joint venture with a Chinese partner to enter the country. The authorities are considering relaxing this rule, paving the way for the likes of Tesla, the major U.S. electric vehicle maker, which has no production base in China, to come in on its own.

Still, with any easing restricted to pilot free trade zones, the practical implications remain unclear. Automakers would face many challenges, including building a new supply chain, as producing electric vehicles requires many specialized parts such as batteries.

But the potential softening shows that China — which shackles foreign entrants with many regulations - aims to draw companies in with a show of market liberalization. Will it then grow its own electric vehicle market and seize the majority in that industry.

“China’s government has become more open with its policies around green cars,” Wang Chuanfu, CEO of Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD, said. “More foreign companies will probably come in solo from now on.”

What is not being voiced, is “why”. China has its own battery manufacturers and the capacity to grow the market without foreign assistance.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week and an easy one. Which car had a warning message across the dash which spelled out “Stop! Brake failure” leaving the poor driver to try and find another way to stop, rather than a tree. It was the Citroen CX series.

So to this week. A BMW designer moved across to Japan, designing a very stylish hatchback. What was this car?

For the Automania free beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]  or [email protected] . Good luck!

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Honda re-invents the 60’s

Nissan sees 2025 as saturation point for EV’s

Here’s your next Mazda3

Autotrivia Quiz

Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake

Bloodhound SSC: 0-322 km/h in under nine seconds

Natter Nosh and Noggin

FXX K Evo from Ferrari

Shocking information for Oxford

Autotrivia Quiz

Toyota reveals fuel-cell concepts for Tokyo Motor Show

The Legend of the Green Hell

How’s your handbrake? And it isn’t your wife

Breaking into a Porsche

Is this the end of Chinese JV’s?

Autotrivia Quiz



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