What did we learn from the Spanish Grand Prix?
Well firstly, despite the fact that F1
race cars are supposed to be the epitome of engineering
excellence and cost millions of dollars to build, they are
less reliable than my Pattaya Mail pool Daihatsu Mira.
Toyota parked one of theirs with mechanical maladies, BMW
one, Red Bull one, Toro Rosso one, Ferrari one, then add on
accidents two and high speed punctures which destroyed
another Toro Rosso. Eight out of 22 isn’t too good really.
Pity the Mira isn’t eligible.
We also saw that all the hype about Lewis Hamilton isn’t
It is reality! Consistently faster than his World Champ team
mate all weekend, and deservedly now leads the 2007
championships. Even with McLaren-Mercedes fuelling Alonso
light, he could not make any real inroads into the lead
Hamilton had built up over him. The Spaniard had a long face
at the end of the race and his post-race press comments were
taken from pages 4, 7 and 11 of the standard excuse book.
Ferrari had an electrical problem and Raikkonen parked his
early, had a shower and went home. His ‘team spirit’ will
have been noted by Jean Todt, and his performance has shown
that he is no Michael Schumacher. He can be replaced.
There will be some interrogations going on at BMW this week.
Wheel nuts coming off are just not acceptable in an EffWun
team these days. Dr Mario Theissen vill haf ze culprit doing
hard labor sweeping the floors in Munich for the rest of his
natural life. However, Robert Kubica did get 4th place by a
And how about Super Aguri? I used to call them (Not so
Super) Aguri, but I have to eat my words now. Takumo Sato
kept it on the island, didn’t hit anyone and scored a
championship point for his team, whilst the ‘parent’ Honda
Racing wallowed around behind him. Well done Takumo. And I
won’t say anything more about Honda, other than the fact
that running into your team mate is really not on! There
will be restrictions on the amount of rice Jenson Button is
allowed this week. Mr Honda will not be pleased.
Alexander Wurz continues to go from bad to wurz. 18th on the
grid after qualifying would not have impressed Sir Frank
Williams, a man who is known to consider the driver as the
weakest link in the equation. He’s certainly got his weak
link there. Alexander may not even last the year with
The next Grand Prix is in Monaco on May 27. Hamilton has
never been beaten in Monaco in the previous formulae he has
driven. Can he do it in F1? Of course he can. I predict
Hamilton will get pole position. He has no fear, he has good
car control and he has enough mental maturity to handle
anything that is thrown at him. He will be a world champion.
Even if not this year, he will the next.
Blow your doors off!
Shelby and Ford have joined forces again to produce a
mega-muscle car with one simple goal: “to blow the doors off
most anything on the planet.” They are claiming up to 725
horsepower from the Super Snake, which is over a hundred
more than the top-of-the line Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorino.
Shelby GT500 Super Snake.
The “Super Snake” coupes include enhancements to the Ford
Shelby GT500’s handling, styling and power; tuning options
will range from a warranted 600 HP V8 to over 725 HP
(unwarranted). Only a limited number of Super Snakes will be
built per model year at the Shelby Automobiles facility in
Las Vegas beginning in late 2007.
I want one!
Last week I asked what was the first racing car to have disc
brakes? Clue: it also had 4WD. This was the rear-engined 4WD
Miller of 1938, built for the Indianapolis 500.
Incidentally, a Miller was the first 4WD race car to compete
against Grand Prix cars and that was 1934 and that was the
Tripoli Grand Prix and the Avusrennen Formula Libre race. It
was driven by American Peter de Paolo. So there!
So to this week. Which F1 car broke down in its debut race
and spectators tossed coins into the cockpit in derision?
Clue, think green.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct
answer to email email@example.com.
Is the auto industry hiding its lemons?
Satisfaction with one’s new car is important for every
buyer. After all, a new car is the fourth most expensive
item you will ever buy, after the wife, the children’s
education and the house! (Don’t write in! It’s a joke!) Even
in Thailand, we have had enraged owners smashing windscreens
with sledgehammers and recently someone else held a funeral
service for their vehicle. However, the lady stopped short
of its cremation!
So how do you know if the lemon you just bought is just a
‘bad’ car built on a collectively hung-over Monday, or just
a typical example of a run of typically ‘bad’ cars? The
answer is surveys, done on large numbers of vehicles, and
carried out with transparency and lack of bias. JD Power
carry out a survey in the USA, to do just this. Manufacturer
A should not be doing a critique on Manufacturer B, for
It has just come to the light of public knowledge that there
is an AC Nielsen survey commissioned regularly in Australia
by the manufacturers, but this had been kept from the
general public – the people who buy their cars. According to
my source, the top 10 brands in Australia - which together
make up almost 85 percent of the market - all pay for the
service, which is believed to cost each of them about
$250,000 a year. Prestige brands, with the notable exception
of Mercedes-Benz, subscribe to a separate survey that
doesn’t include quality figures.
The figures confirm similar surveys overseas, which have
shown that US and European built cars largely lag behind
Korean and Japanese cars on quality. They also reinforce the
results of a recent Roy Morgan Research survey on customer
satisfaction for nine of the country’s biggest brands, in
which Holden, Mitsubishi and Ford were ranked in the bottom
three places. But in addition to measuring actual vehicle
faults the AC Nielsen survey also measures customer
satisfaction and their perception of quality. In this
regard, the survey shows that while fault levels may be
higher than expected, this does not mean customers are
unhappy. And that shows why PR departments are so important
in the auto industry!
Now the really interesting thing about this survey was that
all the manufacturers had a buddy deal going on, that nobody
would use the survey to finger anyone else! One manufacturer
said, “‘It’s not for me to comment on other manufacturers’
quality but from our point of view we are continuing to move
in the right direction in this area. We have seen
improvement in recent years. Beyond that level of detail,
the figures are confidential,” he said. Toyota Australia’s
sales and marketing boss, David Buttner, agreed. He said the
AC Nielsen New Car Buyers Survey was, from its inception,
designed to be “a research tool and not a sales and
“We have no problem with our results but this is really a
research tool and given that there is a manufacturers’
agreement across the board we would not break ranks. That’s
just not cricket,” he said, and everyone knows just how
sacred cricket is in Australia! Buttner said the company
shares the figures with its dealers, staff and its
manufacturing facilities to improve quality and customer
The Australian survey challenges the thinking that the
country where a vehicle is built determines its quality
level. You know the old concept that if it’s made in Europe,
especially Germany, then it is the best quality. If it’s
made in Asia, the quality is doubtful. Its results showed
Australian-built vehicles had more faults in comparison to
their Japanese rivals - but then so did the European-built
vehicles, such as the Ford Fiesta and Holden Vectra and
prestige brand Volkswagen.
On a company-wide basis, Mazda topped the New Car Buyer
Survey, followed by Suzuki, Honda and Nissan (tied), then
Toyota. Volkswagen and Renault were placed just above Ford
and Holden who were equal last.
The top performer in the light class was the Japanese-built
Mazda2, with 82 percent of cars fault-free. Two other
Japanese cars, the Mitsubishi Colt and Toyota Yaris, were
ranked second and third, with 81percent and 75 percent
respectively of cars fault-free. The Korean-made Accent
recorded a score of 72 percent, while the Thai-built Honda
Jazz scored 67 percent. The two European-built vehicles in
the survey, the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta, fared the
worst, with scores of 49 and 57 percent respectively
The story is similar in the small-car segment, where the
Japanese-built Nissan Tiida came out on top, with a score of
79 percent (Tiida production has since shifted to Thailand),
followed by Korea’s Hyundai Elantra (74) and Japan’s Mazda3
Volkswagens brought up the rear, with half of all Beetle
owners and two out of five Golf owners experiencing
problems. The Ford Focus, which is built in Europe and South
Africa, scored just 55 (our Focus comes from the
Philippines), while Holden’s Korean built Viva scored 57.
In the US, the data from the JD Power survey mirrors that of
the Australian AC Neilsen survey, with Japanese cars
performing significantly better than most luxury European
marques. Porsche tops the latest JD Power survey, which
ranks Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz below the industry average
- and behind Ford, General Motors and Chrysler - on initial
quality. Lexus ranked second in the survey, followed by
Hyundai, Toyota and Jaguar. Audi finished 18th,Volvo 21st,
Mercedes-Benz 25th, BMW 27th, Mini 30th, Saab 32nd and
Volkswagen 35th. The American JD Power survey is based on
survey responses by more than 60,000 new-car buyers.
Meanwhile, in the UK, it was Toyota, Toyota, Toyota, winning
five of the top tem awards in their JD Power survey. The
Toyota Prius hybrid family car won its fourth consecutive
International Engine of the Year Award for the engine with
the best fuel economy, and today it finished equal top of
the 2007 JD Power and Associates customer satisfaction
study. The independent study of thousands of UK motorists
saw the Prius place equal first, alongside the Lexus IS,
another Toyota group model. Lexus brand also took out its
seventh consecutive Gold Award for customer satisfaction.
The RX Lexus was placed fourth overall, making it by far the
highest-rated SUV, 20 points clear of its closest rival.
Three other Toyota models ranked in the top 10 individual
model rankings (the Avensis and Corolla tied for eighth
place and Yaris came in tenth.
It may also be of interest that Thai built vehicles
generally score well in world surveys. The Fords,
Chevrolets, Hondas, Mitsubishis and Toyotas that are
exported to other countries from Thailand are known as
quality products. Well done, the local manufacturers!