Auto Mania – April 24, 2019


Azerbaijan GP this weekend

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of Azerbaijan, nobody else has. The capital of Azerbaijan is Baku with narrow streets not conducive for passing, and a straight so long you could use it as a runway for a Boeing Max, if it wasn’t grounded.

The Baku City Circuit is the motor racing circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan constructed near Baku Boulevard.

A lap of the circuit is 6.003km, making it the second-longest circuit on the Formula One calendar. The inaugural Formula One race at the circuit was the 2016 European Grand Prix. A year later, in 2017, the circuit held the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

In December 2013, Formula One President and CEO Bernie Ecclestone suggested that the race would be run, but later said that because the Korean Grand Prix organisers were in breach of contract, it would be moved. However, in July 2014 it was announced that the race’s debut would be delayed until 2016.

The six kilometer, anti-clockwise layout of the circuit was designed by circuit architect Hermann Tilke. The circuit was planned to start adjacent to Azadliq Square, then loop around Government House before heading west along a 1 km straight to the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower. Here, the track was planned to have a narrow 7.6m uphill traversal and then circle the Old City before opening up onto a 2.2km stretch along Neftchilar Avenue back to the start line. The circuit was projected to be the fastest street circuit in the world, with a top speed close to 360 km/h and the second longest circuit on the current F1 calendar behind the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium which currently is the longest circuit on calendar.


China’s auto show highlights electric ambitions

Joe McDonald

Beijing (AP) — This year’s Shanghai auto show highlights the global industry’s race to make electric cars Chinese drivers want to buy as Beijing winds down subsidies that promoted sales.

Communist leaders are shifting the burden to automakers by imposing mandatory sales targets for electrics, adding to financial pressure on them amid a painful sales slump. Chinese purchases of pure-electric and hybrid sedans and SUVs soared 60 percent last year to 1.3 million — half the global total — but overall auto sales shrank 4.1 percent to 23.7 million.

Buyers of electrics were lured with subsidies of up to 50,000 yuan ($7,400) per car, but that support was cut by half in January and ends next year.

“Competition is getting more fierce,” said industry analyst Paul Gong of UBS.

Communist leaders have been promoting electrics for 15 years in hopes of cleaning smog-choked Chinese cities and gaining an early lead in a promising industry.

General Motors, Volkswagen, Nissan and other global majors are developing models to suit Chinese tastes. They have money and technology, but local rivals have experience: brands including BYD Auto and BAIC Group have been selling low-priced electrics for a decade.

Automakers plan to display dozens of electrics, from luxury SUVs to micro-compacts priced under $10,000. They aim to compete with gasoline-powered models on performance, cost and looks.

By the end of next year, “it will be very difficult for a customer to decide against an electric car,” said the CEO of Volkswagen AG, Herbert Diess.

“The cars will offer roominess, space, fast charging,” Diess said during a January visit to Beijing. “They will look exciting.”

This week, General Motors Co. is unveiling the first all-electric model in Buick’s China-only Velite range, which includes a hybrid based on the Chevrolet Volt. VW will display a concept SUV as part of plans to launch 50 electric models by 2025.

Nissan Motor Co. and its Chinese partner will display the Sylphy Zero Emission, an all-electric model designed for China that went on sale in August. BYD Auto will display an all-electric sedan with an advertised range of 400 kilometers on one charge.

BYD China.
BYD China.

Latecomers to gasoline-powered vehicles, Chinese brands account for just 10 percent of global sales, mostly in low price tiers, Gong said. But they account for 50 percent of electric sales worldwide.

“In the EV world, Chinese companies started earlier and reacted faster,” said Gong.

The ruling Communist Party has spent billions of dollars on research grants and incentives to buyers. State-owned power companies have blanketed China with 730,000 charging stations, a vastly larger network than any other country.

Meanwhile, automakers are struggling to revive sales of traditional SUVS, minivans and sedans that fell last year for the first time in three decades.

Despite that, people in the industry say Chinese sales could top 30 million vehicles a year by 2025.

Ford relaunched its China operation this year after 2018 sales plunged 37 percent. The company blamed an aging product lineup.

Ford has an electric venture with Zotye Auto. GM and its Chinese partners plan 10 electric models by next year. Mercedes Benz launched the Denza brand with BYD. VW’s electric joint venture, SOL, started selling an SUV last year.

An electric’s sticker price in China still is higher than a gasoline model. But charging and maintenance cost less. Industry analysts say owners who drive at least 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) a year save money in the long run.

China’s biggest SUV brand, Great Wall Motors, has responded to the sale quotas by launching an electric brand, Ola. Its R1 compact, while looks like a toy beside Great Wall’s hulking SUVs, went on sale in December priced as low as 59,800 yuan ($8,950) after the subsidy.

In a move to spur competition, Beijing lifted ownership restrictions on electric automakers last year. Tesla Ltd. responded by announcing plans to build its first factory outside the United States in Shanghai.

Official ambitions clash with the Chinese public’s love of bulky SUVs, seen as the safest option on crowded, bumpy streets. But sentiments are shifting.

A UBS survey found 71 percent of Chinese buyers are willing to try an electric, up from 58 percent a year ago. The rate for the United States and Europe was below 20 percent.


Shamus lives?

Many years ago (about 47 if I have added it up correctly) I had just finished a spell as a contracted race driver with British Leyland, but with BL shutting down its Australian operations my MG racing contract was finished. I asked BL if they had a car in the press pool I could purchase cheaply, and that was when I met Shamus.

The PR department had produced a very special Mini Clubman GT 1275 which was sent to the Wheels magazine for a one year extended road test. Wheels had christened it Shamus and I asked BL if I could have it.

Shamus had every known extra from a seat lowering kit, twin carbs, “copylite” wheels, intermittent wipers (it was Lucas that invented the intermittent headlights), a sunshine roof, a blue-printed engine and lowered steering column.

Shamus became mine for a ridiculously write down price in the BL accounts department.

The car had all the extras, but the seats were dreadful. I contacted my friend in the BL office in Sydney and a clandestine deal was arranged. BL would make me better seats, in leather, but to get the seats out of the factory required me to drive in past the guard with no seats and drive out “normally” with seats, and him not to get suspicious.


This we did by purloining a milk crate from somewhere, which I sat on, driving through the Sydney (NSW) traffic. The first time I applied the brakes was an exciting affair. With the milk crate just sitting there, application of the brakes saw me sliding backwards on the crate, and rapid deployment of the handbrake was needed to avoid rear-ending the car in front.

However, we arrived unscathed and round the back of one of the buildings we installed the black leather seats, and then drove out past the security, giving him a salute as we turned into the traffic. We left the milk crate.

To my surprise I was contacted from Australia this week wanting details of the car. Was it still running? I’m afraid my memory does not go back to 47 years ago. Some days I can’t remember specifics from yesterday.

I did keep the Clubman 1275 GT for about a year and traded it in on a new Citroen 1220 GS Club. But that’s another story.


Tired of tyres?

The tyres for F1 have reached the height of stupidity. Pirelli supply three compounds, which come in linear degrees of softness. The softer they are, the better the grip, but the quicker they wear out. Years ago we called them ‘gumballs’ and they would only last about four laps. These were then used for qualifying and the normal tyres for the race.

Does the spectator really care which tyre compound is being used? Not in the slightest, let me assure the FIA. Let’s get on with RACING and forget about tyre strategies. Let everyone run on the same tyres.


Wonderful old joke but brought up to date.

A lady walks into a Porsche dealership. She browses around, spots the Top-of-the-line GT2 RS and walks over to inspect it. As she bends over to feel the fine leather upholstery, she inadvertently breaks wind.


Very embarrassed, she looks around nervously to see if anyone has noticed her little accident and prays that a sales person doesn’t pop up right now.

As she turns around, her worst nightmare materializes in the form of a salesman standing right behind her. Cool as a cucumber and displaying complete professionalism, the salesman greets the lady with, “Good day, Madame. How may we help you today?” Very uncomfortably, but hoping that the salesman may just not have been there at the time of her accident, she asks, “Sir, what is the price of this lovely vehicle?”

He answered, “Madam, if you farted just touching it, you are going to sh*t yourself when I tell you the price”.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked why did Rolls-Royce change the color of the two R’s? It was nothing to do with the death of Henry Royce, but was a management decision to make the cars look more refined.

So to this week. A diamond was used as a model derivative. What company made the car?

For the Automania dehydrated beer this week (just add hops and water and store in a dark cupboard), be the first correct answer to email [email protected] or [email protected] Good luck!