French Grand Prix this weekend
The Magny Cours Circuit has an
interesting history. In the mid-eighties, an initiative by
the then President Mitterrand saw the Circuit Jean Behra
near Nevers updated and modernized and renamed the Circuit
Nevers Magny-Cours. The circuit had begun life as a small
kart track, started by Magny-Cours’ mayor, Jean Bernigaud.
The kart circuit grew into a proper track which was
inaugurated on May 1, 1961; and ten years later, it was
lengthened from two kilometers to 3.85 km.
those ten years, Magny-Cours had become home to Tico
Martini’s racing car company and France’s first race driving
school. The decision in 1986 to upgrade the circuit to Grand
Prix standards saw Guy Ligier move his Formula One team to
the circuit and the new track was opened in 1989. Two years
later, it hosted its first Grand Prix, and the French GP has
remained there ever since.
The French GP starts at a sensible hour for us – 7 p.m. I
will be watching from my roost at Jameson’s Irish Pub in
Pattaya (next to the Nova Park serviced apartments) in Soi
AR (also known as Soi Sukrudee). Join me at 6 p.m. for
dinner and a natter before the red lights come on.
The points score at present is:
Hamilton 58 (McLaren)
Alonso 48 (McLaren)
Massa 39 (Ferrari)
Räikkönen 32 (Ferrari)
Heidfeld 26 (BMW)
Fisichella 13 (Renault)
Kubica 12 (BMW)
Kovalainen 12 (Renault)
Wurz 8 (Williams)
Trulli 7 (Toyota)
Rosberg 5 (Williams)
Coulthard 4 (Red Bull)
Sato 4 (Super Aguri)
Webber 2 (Red Bull)
Last week I brought up the question on
headlights which have been the subject of much in the way of
government regulations over the years. For example,
headlight design was hindered in the USA for decades as the
regulations did not allow any cover over the headlights for
aerodynamics for many years. This meant that early E-type
Jaguars did not have the cover over the headlights. However,
what I want to know was who was the designer of the first
retractable headlights? No clues, sorry, this is easy. It
was Gordon Buehrig, the designer of the Cord 810 and 812,
who had retractable headlights (cable operated) in 1936.
So to this week. What brand of electric car did Thomas
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct
answer to email email@example.com
Forget oil, here comes
The internal combustion/diesel fans will tell you that
electric cars might have been fine around WW I, but they are
not powerful enough for today. However, another step towards
exploding the perception that electric vehicles will never
have the grunt, range or practicality of their oil guzzling,
high-emission counterparts has been taken in California with
a record charging time demonstrated for the all-electric
Phoenix SUT (Sport Utility Truck).
The milestone demonstration by AeroVironment saw the 35 kWh
(kilowatt-hour) battery pack developed for use with the
Phoenix fully-charged in less than ten minutes - enough to
power the five-seat utility for 100 miles at speeds up to
Phoenix Motorcars recently showcased the zero-emission, 4
door SUT at the Inland Empire Auto Show in Ontario. The SUT
can travel at freeway speeds even with five passengers and a
full payload. It has a range of up to 200 km and plans are
already underway for an expansion pack which will extend
this to 300 km. All good stuff, but did they have to copy a
Ssanyong for styling?
The Phoenix is powered by a UQM Technologies motor that
generates 480 foot-pounds of torque and accelerates from 0
to 100 kph in 10 seconds. The vehicle also exceeds all
specifications for a Type III Zero Emission Vehicle - and it
even has air-conditioning.
The 35 kWh NanoSafe battery pack developed by Altairnano has
a life of approximately 12 years or 400,000 km and in
addition to the ten-minute off-board charging capabilities,
it can be recharged on-board (though it takes six hours)
from a 220V plug-in. Tests conducted by AeroVironment
engineers also showed that the battery packs can sustain
several cycles per day of ten minute charging and two hour
With all the problems with fuel oils, cost, availability and
pollution, this has in turn helped drive the push towards
fully electric vehicles which have the potential to
eliminate automobile-based emissions. Given that a visit to
the gas station can take longer, the practicality of a
ten-minute charge is further evidence that the coming of age
for electric transportation is very close.
The Phoenix Motorcar SUT is due for limited release at the
end of the year and a mid-Size SUV will also become part of
the range. The company estimates 2008 production levels to
be in the order of 6,000 vehicles.
I believe that the future is electric, even though the
detractors say that to produce the electricity, it requires
burning coal, using natural resources and producing
pollution as a by-product. As we get closer to every day use
electric vehicles, we will also be designing and harnessing
other energy sources such as wind, tides and hydro-power.
Is it all just hot air?
The automotive world is suffering from an overdose of
introspection. What with global warming, nuclear
proliferation, air pollution and fossil fuel depletion this
has been spawning such concepts as hybrids, hydrogen, fuel
cells, solar and straight out battery electric vehicles.
air car 1928
Just about all of these have been done before and all we
have been doing is looking at them again, in the light of
21st century technology. Fringe (and not so fringe) auto
industries are hitching their wagons to one or other of
these concepts, hoping to make a killing when the oil runs
out. The big question is “When?”
Now, the compressed air idea has been around for a while
too, as you can see from this page of an inventions magazine
circa 1928. However, as recently as 2000, CNN reported on a
Korean company that had created a car engine that ran on
air. The engine, which powers a pneumatic-hybrid electric
vehicle (PHEV), works alongside an electric motor to create
the energy source.
The compressed air drives the pistons, which turn the
vehicle’s wheels. The air is compressed using a small motor,
powered by a 48 volt battery, which powers both the air
compressor and the electric motor. Once compressed, the air
is stored in a tank.
The manufacturer also said the compressed air system could
reduce the cost of vehicle production by about 20 percent,
because there was no need to build a cooling system, fuel
tank, spark plugs or silencers.
Round about the same time, a French company (MDI), and
called Zero Pollution Motors in South Africa, produced a two
cylinder compressed air engine. They called the vehicle they
installed it in, the e.Volution, and even showed it at South
African Auto show in 2000, and again at the Paris show in
2002. The cars generated much interest at the time, and the
Mexican government was purportedly signing a deal to buy
40,000 e.Volutions to replace gasoline and diesel-powered
taxis in the heavily polluted Mexico City.
The claims for e.Volution were quite substantial. It would
travel for 200 km before needing another charge of
compressed air. The e.Volution was powered by a
two-cylinder, compressed-air engine. The basic concept
behind the engine was unique in that it could run either on
compressed air alone or act as an internal combustion
engine. Dual fuel capabilities.
The compressed air was stored in carbon or glass fiber tanks
at a pressure of 300 bar. This air was fed through an air
injector to the engine and flows into a small chamber, which
expands the air. The air pushing down on the pistons moves
the crankshaft, which gives the vehicle power, very similar
to the way burning fuel pushes down on the pistons to move
the crankshaft in internal combustion engines.
Air tanks fixed to the underside of the vehicle can hold
about 300 litres of air. When your air tank nears empty, you
can just pull over and fill the e.Volution up at the nearest
air pump. Using a household electrical source, it takes
about four hours to refill the compressed air tanks;
however, a rapid three-minute recharge is possible, using a
high-pressure air pump.
MDI claims it has researched and developed the Air Car over
10 years and the technology is protected by more than 30
international patents and MDI is actively seeking licensees,
with, according to the company, 50 factories in Europe,
America and Asia signed already. Somehow I doubt that the
interest in their engine and vehicles has gone that far,
though there has been a very recent and significant
development, which involves Asia, through the Indian car
Tata Motors is India’s largest automobile company, with
revenues of US$ 5.5 billion in 2005-06. With over 4 million
Tata vehicles on Indian roads, it is the leader in
commercial vehicles and the second largest in passenger
vehicles. It is also the world’s fifth largest medium and
heavy truck manufacturer and the second largest heavy bus
manufacturer. Make no mistake, Tata is truly a heavyweight.
The recent tie-up with Renault to produce the budget priced
Logan car in India will probably mean that Tata will take
over as the number one car manufacturer in India by this
time next year.
What Tata has done is to sign an agreement with MDI for
application in India of MDI’s engine technology, and
therefore believes the engine is viable - its press
statement described it as “efficient, cost-effective,
scalable, and capable of other applications such as power
The agreement between Tata Motors and MDI envisages Tata’s
supporting further development and refinement of the
technology, and its application and licensing for India. It
also appears that Tata is serious in tying up with MDI.
For this project to be viable for Tata, using the engine in
one of Tata’s own body shells would make more sense, and
producing the engine in India, even more so. The pollution
may be less with this engine, but I doubt if that alone
would encourage millions of Indians to buy one. The selling
point has to be cheap running, with the compressed air
engine reputedly costing one tenth of what a gasoline engine
does for the same distance.
The concept seems to be right. The technology makes it
possible. But does the world have the will? And will the oil
cartel lay down without a fight? I doubt it.
This year’s best
motorcycle racing picture?
I was sent
this picture and loved it so much I had to use it. I have no
details, but it is self explanatory!