By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer FIRST, congratulations on your status as a respected leader in the international automobile industry. No, strike that. Rock star seems a title more appropriate. Turning around the worldwide operations of Nissan is possibly one of the greatest feats in the history of man making the automobile. You did that as an outsider, a gaijin at that. And now you have a Japanese cartoon character in your likeness to show for it. Everything you seem to do is done in boldface. Unveiling the R35 Nissan GT-R, the spiritual successor of the Skyline, to the driving world last year in Tokyo, stole the show for all intents and purposes. Standing there, elbow to solar plexus with the rest of the worldâs motoring press, even our habitually cynical lot was obviously excited. I was there in the Godzilla-frenzied mosh pit and have lousy, ill-taken photos filled with other journalistsâ heads and shoulders to prove it. Your statements at Davos this year were typically far from low-key as well. Betting Renaultâs and Nissanâs future on electric vehicles is considerably risky. Add to that the pledge that your electric car will be fun to drive and provide a significant economic advantage over the internal combustion engine. Imagine the anticipation for this landmark endeavor, especially when itâs the CEO of worldâs fourth largest automotive conglomerate doing the talking. Double the expectation since Carlos Ghosn spoke those words himself. It would take a car of unparalleled significance to pull this off. Your electric vehicle will have to go beyond the Model T, the hybrid Prius and Ratan Tataâs exercise in automotive minimalism, the pro-poverty Nano. Those are some serious benchmark there, Mr. Ghosn. The Renault-Nissan electric vehicle would have to look, feel and smell like any other car. On top of that, people will have to be convinced that somehow, yours is better. It is only after these requirements have been surpassed that the real punch-line be pulled, âAnd oh, by the way, itâs electric.â Donât forget also that your electric vehicle will have to be affordable, bordering on shamefully cheap. Good luck, youâll need it. Building and selling such a car now is beyond my imagination. Having driven the technology demonstrators of the other players in the industry, it seems like mass market acceptable, alternative energy vehicles are, at the very best, still a decade and a half away. It seems to take a dozen guys in lab coats to keep these kinds of vehicles running, even on just a test track. How can this be practical in any sense of the word? Thankfully, it appears as though Iâm mistaken. In another surprising statement that was quoted in the media this week, your car of the future seems to already be in the here and now. âWe are not interested in some âStar Warsâ prototype, but in bringing a mass-market product that everybody can buy. It is a new chapter in the life of this industry,â you said, announcing plans to introduce a zero-emission electric vehicle in the United States and Japan by 2010 (Time Magazine, Briefing, May 26, 2008). Great news for the developed world, but we in the poverty strangled third world need this product just as badly. While most of our power generation is still fossil fuel fed, a working and practical purely electric vehicle will point us in the right direction at the very least. When the time comes and clean, renewable methods of generating electricity become readily available to us, the electric car will all but sign our emancipation from the oil monopoly that profiteers on the worldâs misery. The impact of the US$135 price of oil per barrel already has the potential for creating societal chaos in the third world of unthinkable proportions. Imagine what will happen when true oil scarcity hits. Please donât keep us waiting, Mr. Ghosn. You of all people should understand that bold moves, timed to perfection can overcome established tradition and stubborn status quos. Whatâs at stake here is greater than the turnaround at Nissan, more spectacular than the rebirth of the world-beating Japanese super car genre. The opportunity to redefine the automobile is at hand. Saving the world in the process will look good on your resumÃ© as well.
May 2008 Archives
By Tessa R. Salazar Philippine Daily Inquirer THE 1.6-LITER LS Chevy Optra wagon stands all by its lonesome in its market segment. The only wagon in the country that carries a submillion price tag (P869,000 for the automatic, P829,000 for the manual, to be exact), it’s also probably the only wagon that’s not ashamed to highlight its “mama’s toy” character. It certainly knows where it’s going: right to the school zone and PTA meetings, where functionality and safety are more important than tuner-delight performances. For a 1.6-liter engine powering a 1,190-kg body (for automatic), the heaviness makes up for its stability and loads of safety features. It has dual airbags, standard antilock brake system and four-wheel disc brakes. The gate-type automatic transmission makes sure you’re not clumsily fiddling the wrong gear. The instrument panel is easy to read as you simultaneously look over the rear window to check on your restless kids and negotiate that blind turn. The two rear passenger seats have three-point seatbelts, while the middle only has a lap belt (which should’ve also been given a three-point seatbelt). Although the feel of the power steering is just right for this women test driver, the tiny honk buttons on both sides are not that accessible during emergency situations (it would certainly require some “practice honks”). It boasts of Euro-ride tuning suspension with the right amount of compromise between ride comfort and road handling. It has such features as dynamic balancing system and all-wheel independent suspension, McPherson struts and gas-filled shock absorbers. It also boasts of connecting the alternator and air-conditioning compressor with a single drive belt to reduce engine noise and vibration. This mommy wagon is designed thoughtfully with lots of storage areas and compartments, a cooled glove box, vanity mirrors with cover, 60/40 rear split with center armrest and cupholders, side-door pockets, map lamps and center console. The child safety lock is standard. The seat material is fabric. The front seat is sliding and reclining while the rear seat is a 60-40 split with center armrest. Power features are standard in steering, windows, side mirror and door locks. Mudguards are standard, too. To calm the stressed-out mom is the six-in dash CD/MP3 player and tuner. It has six speakers. It has steering-mounted controls and a glass-printed antenna. Fuel consumption (rough tank test) is a modest 8 to 9 km per liter (city drive) and about 12 to 14 km per liter at constant highway speeds of 80 kph. That means mothers only have to mind junior’s grades, and not the pump prices as well. Let’s leave that to dad and his credit cards, right? SPECS 1.6 liter DOHC engine engine displacement: 1,598 cc max power 110 PS @ 5,800 rpm max torque 150 Nm @ 4,000 rpm Curb weight for manual 1,180 kg Curb weight for automatic 1,190 kg Gross weight for manual 1,665 kg Gross weight for automatic 1,675 kg Tires: 195/55R15 Wheels: 6JJ x 15 alloy Dimensions Length 4,500 mm Width 1,725 mm Height 1,445 mm Wheelbase 2,600 mm
By Aida Sevilla-Mendoza Philippine Daily Inquirer DRIVING fast is not much fun these days -- what with oil prices soaring and the guilty feeling that pricks your conscience when you exceed 100 kph. So you learn to moderate your speed in your daily commute. Just the same, you still want a car that can zoom way ahead of the pack when the spirit moves you on the highway. Enter the 2008 Subaru Impreza 2.0R Sport. Although Subaru still has to gain brand awareness among the public in this country, among car cognoscenti Subaru enjoys a cult-like following due to the Impreza WRX’s winning streak in the World Rally Championship. A lesser known Impreza, the 2008 2.0R Sport hatchback with either 5-speed manual (P1.060 million) or 4-speed Sportshift automatic transmission (P1.140 million) was launched in Manila last November by Motor Image Pilipinas, the distributor of Subaru vehicles. Motor Image’s intro of the new 2.0-liter, H-4 (horizontally opposed 4 cylinders) naturally aspirated Impreza Sport together with the 2008 2.5-liter, H-4 turbo WRX follows the decision of Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company, to come up with an Impreza that appeals to a wider base of the global car market, i.e. women and middle-aged men. Before this, the only Imprezas available in the Philippines were the second gen turbo 224-hp WRX and 300-hp STI, high-priced variants that were built for boy racers. The Impreza 2.0R Sport has the same body (except for the air intake scoop on the WRX’s hood), the same dimensions, underpinnings and all-wheel-drive (AWD) system as the WRX. What makes the WRX more than P600,000 costlier, of course, is its rally-bred, more powerful 2.5-liter DOHC turbo-charged boxer engine. You may ask why the Impreza 2.0R Sport packing 150 PS/6,500 rpm and 196 Nm/3,200 rpm max torque should be priced higher than the award-winning Honda Civic 2.0 SL AT or the snazzy 2.0-liter Mazda3 R. The answer is simple: Subaru’s trademark symmetrical AWD provides added safety and traction advantage, outstanding ride comfort and more precise handling. The Impreza’s superb chassis dynamics is based on its sophisticated AWD system coupled with a low-friction, long wheel travel 4-wheel independent suspension and boxer engine which, with its cylinders horizontally opposed, gives the car a lower center of gravity for improved road grip, reduced body roll and more agile steering response. In the 2008 Impreza, the engine and transmission are dropped almost 10 mm lower in the all-new chassis, further enhancing roadholding and stability. Add improved chassis rigidity and a lighter body weight to this equation. Still not impressed by the Impreza? Then look at its long list of standard equipment aside from the aluminum 2.0-liter DOHC boxer engine and symmetrical AWD: telescopic steering wheel with audio switches, information display, push-button ignition switch, 6-CD changer with 10 speakers, an auxiliary audio input jack, disc brakes on all four 17-inch alloy wheels with ABS, EBD and brake assist, front airbags, HID headlamps, front and rear fog lamps, power folding door mirrors, retractable cargo cover and Hill Start Assist for MT models. To enhance customer appeal, Subaru totally restyled the Impreza. Subaru has never won an award for esthetic design, but the 2008 Impreza hatchback is an improvement over previous generations. The wide tracks, broad shoulder lines and side body creases create a sporty profile while front and rear under spoilers, a roof spoiler, side skirts and a chrome exhaust garnish add pizzazz. The quirky LED taillights are the only things out of sync in the redesign. Inside, the new Impreza is more refined with higher quality materials and an improved dashboard layout with sporty, subtly lighted instruments. There is more space, especially for rear seat passengers, due to a longer wheelbase, wider body and wider track. The new multi-link double wishbone rear suspension, being more compact than the previous rear strut arrangement, increases cargo area to one of the widest in this class even with the rear seats upright. The Impreza’s 2.0-liter flat four engine has undergone substantial revisions resulting in sharper throttle response, higher torque output available in the lower rev range and improved fuel economy with less exhaust emissions. I test-drove both the MT and Sportshift AT models and confirmed that the AT is actually slightly more fuel-efficient as it has a device reducing wasted engine revs and an electronic throttle matching engine speed with the best gear for any situation. Summing up, the 2.0 liter Impreza Sport is a worthy alternative to mainstream compact cars as it offers good engine performance, outstanding roadholding stability, ride comfort and the versatility of a hatchback. But since the Subaru brand is not yet well known here, its resale value may be lower than its competitors. * * * TODAY’S BUMPER STICKER: Caution: Driver reads Braille.
By Aida Sevilla-Mendoza Philippine Daily Inquirer PICTURE in your mind this photo op: the 2008 Volvo XC70 AWD in all its rugged elegance parked on a sandy beach, the waves lapping at its 17-inch alloy wheels while the sun sets behind it on the horizon of the South China Sea. The opportunity to set up this photo op came last week, so I broached it to the Volvo representatives present. But unfortunately the beach at Puerto del Sol resort in Bolinao, Pangasinan is fenced off and therefore inaccessible to cars. But let me tell you how an XC70 ended up at a beach resort in the distant north. In the keenly competitive luxury car segment, manufacturers rack their brains for ways to demonstrate the winning qualities that justify the high prices of their products. One way is to invite the press to test-drive their latest model on a long road trip to a vacation spot outside Metro Manila. This summer, Viking Cars Inc., the authorized Volvo cars dealer, arranged a Freedom Test Drive for its all-new 2008 model XC70 AWD (all-wheel-drive) cross-country. At a press lunch, the motoring media were asked to organize themselves into teams of three after which representatives of the teams drew lots, raffle-style, indicating the dates and destinations of their Freedom Test Drive. The team I joined -- Aris Ilagan of Manila Bulletin and Business Mirror motoring editor Popong Andolong -- drew the raffle stub for Puerto del Sol. After a mixup regarding our room reservations at Puerto del Sol, it was finally set for May 7 and 8. At the last minute Aris and Popong canceled, with Popong assigning Business Mirror motoring and sports columnist Andy Sevilla (no relation) to take his place. Which was just as well, since the absence of Aris enabled Andy to bring along his 11-year-old son, Migoy. The third-generation XC70 is available in two versions: the 3.2-liter, 6-cylinder gasoline variant (P3.295 million) and the 2.4-liter, 5-cylinder, 20 valves DOHC common-rail direct-injection (CRDi) turbodiesel (P3.395 million). Both have all-aluminum engines and a 6-speed Geatronic transmission with manual shift option. The unit assigned to us was the CRDi capable of 185 hp/4,000 rpm and 400 Nm/2,000-2,750 rpm max torque. The first time you drive the XC70 diesel, it feels heavy and slow to accelerate but as you learn to adjust foot pressure on the pedal, you'll find it delivering swift response and exhilarating performance -- thanks in no small part to the high torque and Volvo's advanced CRDi technology with variable turbine geometry. No worries about smoky emissions either as the XC70 diesel has a maintenance-free particle filter. While the AWD system and taller ride height theoretically affect the XC70's steering precision, I thought it handled excellently and with reassuring stability on the winding roads and sharp curves of the northbound highway from Camiling, Tarlac to Bolinao, Pangasinan via Sual, Alaminos and Bani. In the densely populated municipalities, the XC70 performed with sports car-like agility in overtaking maneuvers. When I took the wheel in Pangasinan, a sudden thunderstorm drastically reduced visibility and flooded some of the lower portions of the highway. This was when the XC70's Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) proved its worth, enabling me to splash through puddles of water at 100 kph. With its generous ground clearance of 210 mm, the XC70 can run through 300 mm of water. Photo ads of the XC70 fording a river and caroming down a flooded road are not misleading, after all. Aside from DSTC, numerous airbags, inflatable side curtains and ABS with EBD the XC70 has Hill Descent Control (HDC), Roll Stability Control (RSC) and active projector bi-xenon headlights. I tested the HDC driving down a hill, but the value of the HDC was not fully demonstrated because it was a cemented road. HDC is best appreciated going down a steep off-road incline. For all its rough terrain capability, the XC70 remains at heart a comfortable, family-friendly luxury wagon. It is, after all, a crossover based on Volvo's premium sedan, the S80. During a portion of the drive back through Pangasinan, I sat in the back and found that the suspension system with coil springs and stabilizer bars fore and aft adequately absorbed road surface imperfections. The XC70 can comfortably carry five adults (including driver) and its cargo volume is an immense 575 liters. As for fuel economy, the XC70 CRDi traveled 296 km before half of its 70-liter tank's contents was emptied. For me, the best part of the trip was when it was my turn to drive the full length of the North Luzon Expressway's southbound lane at night in the rain, obeying the 100 kph speed limit. The XC70 was almost as quiet and as peaceful as a cathedral, for Andy and his son were napping and the CRDi engine was purring along, unobtrusive in its now-restrained power after acing the long test drive. Can I check out the gasoline XC70 next, Loi?
By Tessa R. Salazar Philippine Daily Inquirer CAR manufacturers seem to shrug off successive oil price increases as just part of the inevitable, and hope that Filipino buyers would do the same. And from the looks of it, things are still going the carmakers’ way, as new car launches continue left and right, and buyers aren’t just window shopping. The newest car launch was courtesy of General Motors (featuring its new Chevy Aveo hatchback). This is to be followed by other launches of Mitsubishi (public launch of the new Lancer EX), Motor Image Pilipinas’ Subaru (launching the full-sized SUV Tribeca) and Nissan (introducing the Livina MPV). In April, the auto industry registered a year-to-date growth of 14.8 percent compared to the same period (January to April) last year. There were 39,981 units sold, of which 11,078 units were sold in April alone. In an e-mail to the motoring press, the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers Philippines Inc. (Campi) revealed a month-on-month sales growth for April at 4.3 percent—respectable for the situation the industry is in. Campi president Elizabeth Lee said in a press statement that the Philippine market, “generally characterized by a greater share of commercial vehicle sales, continue to remain strong.” CVs continue to dominate the local market, covering 66 percent of total vehicle sales nationwide. Whetting the appetite for new cars are Aveo hatchback, the Lancer EX (public launch on May 24), the 2008 Subaru Tribeca (to be launched last week of May) and the new Nissan MPV Grand Livina (for public launch in June). For Subaru enthusiasts, gas consumption gets the least of their attention. What matters is the aluminum Subaru Boxer 3.6-liter boxer-type engine; symmetrical all-wheel drive; 18” sports rims; leather seats; dual zone automatic air-conditioning; front, side and curtain airbags; and the 4 Sensor/4 Channel ABS (antilock brake system). Nissan Motor Philippines will be revealing in mid-June why the Grand Livina deserves to be called the “MPV of Asia.” “But inquiries are already pouring into our dealers,” said Allen Chen, president of NMPI, in a press statement. “This situation has made our dealers open to receive orders of the new Grand Livina earlier than we expected.” The Nissan Grand Livina was crafted at the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan, for the Asian market. Penned by Nissan’s best design team at the Nissan Design Center, the Grand Livina puts together real-world MPV qualities with the compact nimbleness and performance of a sedan. This provides what Nissan calls a “shift in expectations.” “The idea is to conceptualize a modern vehicle for the new-generation family,” explained Steven Hu, assistant vice president of NMPI. Hu was with the team that successfully launched the Livina lineup in Taiwan. His expertise in developing the vehicle to meet the needs of each specific market proved to be particularly useful in the emergence of this MPV for the Asian region. The design itself is basically a mixture of Asian and European influences. Its chrome-finished radiator grille, reminiscent of the mighty Murano, the rising rear window and roof-line arches reveal a Euro-chic image close to the Renault models, while the compact styling and interior versatility are unmistakable Asian influences. Chen advised the motoring public interested in the Grand Livina to check out www.grandlivina.com.ph. Commercial vehicle (CV) sales, year-to-date, registered a 16.2-percent growth with a strong month-on-month 7.4-percent increase for April compared to March. The increase in CV sales is attributed to a sustained growth in the LCV (light commercial vehicle) segment, which comprise of pickup trucks, vans and compact SUVs. The Philippine auto industry, thus far, is bucking the general trend seen in other countries such as the United States, where rising fuel prices coupled with a softening economy have resulted in a downward trend in CV sales. Passenger car sales in the Philippines for the month of April declined slightly, but overall, PCs still generated a growth of 12.1 percent for the year. Auto players continue to support sales with dealer incentive promos for buyers. Fleet accounts also factored in the sales for the month of April. The industry outlook continues to be positive for the year.
By Aida Sevilla-Mendoza Philippine Daily Inquirer CHINA is the third largest country in the world in land area and the largest in population with 1.2 billion. China is also, after the United States, the world’s second largest car market (8.8 million motor vehicles sold in 2007) with sales rising nearly 20 percent every year, and it aims to be the world’s second largest automobile manufacturing country. Naturally, when this giant holds its bi-annual international auto show, it has got to be on the grandest scale, with car makers from all over the world scrambling to showcase their best and gain market share. The 10th Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, a.k.a. Auto China 2008, opened on April 22 and ended last Monday at the new China International Exhibition Center. It had 106,000 square meters of indoor space in eight halls, all displaying passenger vehicles plus 80,000 sq m outdoors; 2,100 exhibitors of which 225 were from 18 countries; a total of 890 models, almost 100 brand-new, with 55 concept cars, seven global debuts and 24 Asian debuts. Nearly 10,000 domestic and overseas reporters attended the press days (April 20-21) and 600,000 visitors were expected, including 30,000 foreigners. The theme, “Dream, Harmony and New Vision” aptly has “dream” as the first word. Independent Chinese car manufacturers -- those that have not formed joint ventures with European, American, Japanese or Korean brands -- dream of breaking into the European and North American markets, which comprise 50 to 60 percent of the world market. Among the dreamers is Chery, China’s foremost state-owned automaker, which displayed 26 models in a 2,500-sq-m exhibit area, one of the largest in the show. The theme “Safe and Save” underscored Chery’s goal to build much safer, more energy-saving and more eco-friendly cars. Faira and Higgo At Auto China 2008, Chery unveiled two new concepts: the Faira series, Chery’s interpretation of stylish, fuel-efficient, emission-reducing 1.3-liter small cars and the Higgo SUV and pickup to meet the growing demand for sturdy utility vehicles in China. An upgraded version of the A3 sedan, was shown, ready for launching in China this year. The Oasis Series. consisting of vehicles with diesel, hybrid, fuel cell and flex fuel engines, included the Chery A5 hybrid, the official car of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The display of 26 models at Auto China 2008 showed Chery’s determination to expand its product lineup to cover all passenger vehicle market segments and to eventually achieve global recognition as an independent international brand. In terms of sales by brand, Chery ranks third in China behind Volkswagen and General Motors. At a press conference, Dr. Zhang Lin, general manager of Chery International, said that Chery began exporting cars in 2001 (four years after its factory began operating), exported 119,800 units in 2007 to 60 countries and plans to export 180,000 units this year. For five years now, Chery has led passenger vehicle manufacturers in China in export volume. Every year in Wuhu, Chery produces 650,000 vehicles, 400,000 engines and 300,000 gearboxes. In 2007, Chery sold 387,000 cars and last August rolled out its millionth car. Chery has more than 500 distribution and service centers in China and factories in Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia and Uruguay. Aside from a technology testing center and a planning and design institute, Chery has an Automotive Engineering and Research Institute with more than 5,000 engineers in Wuhu. Deals Last year, Chery struck separate deals with Fiat and Chrysler whereby Chery will supply engines to the Fiat group and design and develop seven new small car models for Chrysler starting with the A1, which will be sold in Mexico under the Dodge brand. Dr. Zhang said that even without Chrysler, Chery was developing the A1 for the global market. As it is, Chrysler engineers have gone to Wuhu and Chery engineers have gone to Mexico to study local market and road conditions. However, Chery’s drive to enter the US market was stalled somewhat when Phil Murtaugh, the CEO of Chrysler’s Asia operations, told the Associated Press in Beijing that neither Chery nor Chrysler think that the A1 has met Chyrsler’s requirements for safety. Murtaugh said that safety is “a huge challenge” because of the A1’s size and its body structure needs work. Dr. Zhang admitted that meeting US and European homologation requirements in terms of safety and emissions will take some time, but Chery is “technically confident” that it can. Durability is not a problem, said Dr. Zhang, since Chery tests its cars in the heat of Saudi Arabia’s desert and the cold of Russia’s winter. To prove the reliability of its cars, Chery switched on the ignition of an A3 for a 100,000-kilometer uninterrupted public test at the Beijing auto show. While more and more car buyers in the United States are switching from big sport utility vehicles to small, fuel-sipping cars, those in China are increasingly interested in big SUVs and full-size luxury cars. Blame it on the high cost of gasoline in the United States ($3.50 a gallon) while China’s subsidized fuel price (below $3 a gallon) and the rising wealth of the Chinese middle class have stimulated sales of bigger, more upscale vehicles. The April 2008 China Automotive Review reports that last year, 357,400 units of SUVs were sold in China, up 50 percent. For the first two months this year, sales of SUVs in China jumped 38 percent and sales of luxury cars rose 30 percent. In 2007, sales of mini- and subcompact cars such as the Chery QQ grew just 3.9 percent to 1.27-million vehicles even as sales of compact and midsize cars like the Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota Camry grew 32 percent to 3.34-million vehicles, the auto market researcher CSM Worldwide said. Bigger Even first-time car buyers, who according to J.D. Power and Associates account for four-fifths of all new cars sold in China, want bigger, more impressive vehicles. The shift in China’s booming car market (1.85-million vehicles sold in the first quarter of 2008 alone) is good news for multinational car manufacturers like VW, General Motors, Peugeot, Fiat, Renault, Honda, Toyota, Ford, that have joint ventures with Chinese firms. Ditto the luxury car makers doing business in China, where 177 Ferraris were sold in 2007, Mercedes-Benz sales went up 50 percent and BMW, up 42 percent year on year. Incidentally, China is the world's third largest market for Rolls Royce. But China’s growing appetite for pricier cars presents a problem for independent, home-grown Chinese automakers like Chery Automobile Co. that have focused on low-cost ($4,500) subcompacts like the Chery QQ. The trend did not affect Chery’s bigger models such as the 1.6-liter A5 and the 2.0-liter Eastar, but Chery had to rely largely on strong overseas demand for the QQ to boost 2007 sales by 30 percent from a year earlier to a total of 392,000 vehicles. In 2007, according to the Chinese Commerce Ministry, China sold 612,700 cars abroad, mostly in the emerging markets of Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia, with Chery as the leading exporter. Not surprisingly, China carmakers are cultivating markets in the developing countries where safety and emission standards are lower and a cheap price is a deciding factor. Safety But even in the emerging markets, concerns about the safety and quality of Chinese cars prevail. To win customers, Chinese auto dealers have to offer extended warranties and prices that are 20 to 25 percent lower than competitors’. Unfortunately, several made-in-China vehicles such as the Landwind SUV and Brilliance Auto’s B56 sedan flunked crash tests conducted by the Association of German Automobile Clubs (Adac) and US magazine Car and Driver. Although Chery and other independent Chinese brands have a long way to go to overcome the safety issue, they are already eyeing the lucrative US and West European markets. At its 2008 International Business Conference in Beijing, Chery’s action plans for this year included an entry strategy for Europe and the United States, developing International Export Model Standard Versions and choosing which products are ripe for these highly sophisticated and discriminating markets. Chery is tapping foreign automotive expertise to improve its products such as Italian auto design studios Bertone, Pininfarina and Turino (the latter for the Faira and Storm 2 concept cars exhibited at the recent Beijing Auto Show) and auto parts/components manufacturers such as Bosch, Delphi, Mobil, Lear, Autoliv and Valeo. Chery’s plant in Wuhu has the latest machinery from Germany and robots from Italy. Dream In its dream to establish itself as a world-class independent international brand in the global car market, Chery is following Toyota as its benchmark and role model. Despite the formidable hurdles in their path, particularly regarding safety and quality, China automakers aspire to eventually take on American, German and Japanese car manufacturers in their own home turf. The inexorable march of China’s automotive industry toward this goal is being closely watched by the whole world. Will the Chinese succeed in graduating from the emerging markets to Western Europe and North America the way the Japanese and South Korean automakers did? Certainly, it will take years of upgrading and brand-building before Chinese cars connote quality instead of cheap prices. But industry observers note that China has a fast learning curve. As some people are saying, it took Japanese carmakers 30 years and Koreans, 10 years. China will take only five. * * * TODAY’S BUMPER STICKER: Get in. Sit down. Shut up. Hang on.
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer BIGGER isn't always better, having more doesn’t always equate into being merrier. When was the last time you chose to buy a car because of the number of speakers, cupholders or map lights in the cabin? These things are nice to have but in the end, many brands just do this to overcome their products’ shortcomings. We live in a world where products loaded beyond reason saturate the market. A common marketing tactic is that vehicles that can’t cut it as fundamentally sound products load up on knickknacks for much-needed brochure appeal. Peeling back all the extras is one way to figure out just how good a product is. Finding a car that is good enough just by merely how it drives, sans all the frills, is a wonderful thing. Better even is when a lower model and trim level still delivers the same amount of satisfaction. But is it more amazing when a product with a smaller engine strikes almost the same chords as its better endowed brethren? My second time around with the Strada is an exercise in simple comparison. Having already tested the 3.2-liter, 4x4 with the slush box, finding out what the working, blue collar version was all about had to be figured out. Driving the 2.5-liter, rear-wheel drive with the five-speed manual was supposed to show the gulf between the top of the line and the more important every man’s product. This is because pickups by nature are utility vehicles. The biggest difference on paper between the two trucks is the engine size. The basic genetics of the 3.2-liter and 2.5-liter units are shared. These new-generation common-rail, direct-injection engines continue to change the motoring public’s preconceived notions about diesel-powered vehicles. Truthfully, there isn’t a CRDi engine out in the market today that doesn’t get me all worked up. New, out of the box, there isn’t an engine technology out there that provides the most reasonable engine punch for your hard-earned peso. On paper, the differences in the displacement between these two Mitsubishi engines should equate into night and day performance gaps. Truth be told, they aren’t very far apart. The 3.2-liter CRDi turbo hints at increased performance but the bar set by the 2.5-liter CRD turbo is already quite high. Honestly folks, the on-paper differences of 20 bhp and 30 Nm of torque between the two are easy to overlook in daily driving conditions. Anyone who can tell, blindfolded and bound in the back seat, which engine is special in their own way. Insistent human dynamometers should register with the National Center for Mental Health. The 4x2 version also has two more things working for it. The simpler Strada is spared the automatic gear box and is a much lighter by around 100 kg. The result is a quick product that tip-toes around turns and bends in a livelier fashion. Combine this with the Strada’s road tuned ride character and a truly streetable truck is the final sum. Daily and drive are even two words that come to mind, especially when you take into consideration the imperfect character of our supposedly sealed road national surfaces. The 4x2 Mitsubishi Strada is a clear and wonderful example of less being more, of not needing a shopping list of accessories to turn a good automobile into a great one. Sound and grounded fundamentals are the basis on which this value-laden vehicle is built on. If your trucking takes you mostly through the metropolis and its environs, this is the pickup that will reward you with moments of decent drive time. Dakar raiders, mud crawlers and rock hoppers should look elsewhere -- the blacktop belongs to this Strada.
By Tessa R. Salazar Philippine Daily Inquirer BRING it on! Now that could have been a cute takeoff for a fun motoring article, except that at almost P50 per liter (and counting), the cost of fuel is no longer a laughing matter. And the next time legendary ol’ Tito Poch utters this now-famous sentence, it may be to face a rioting mob of motorists fed up with the rising cost of the rice-gasoline cocktail. Intoxicating thought, isn’t it? For those who haven’t gone to the extent of installing their cars with LPG tanks, or at the extreme dumping their old (or new) gas guzzlers for some two-wheeled fuel misers, they may be holding on to the hope that, perhaps, changing some wasteful driving habits may do the trick of squeezing out a few more kilometers out of that last precious drop of fuel. Some car manufacturers, understandably, are willing to help. Honda Cars Philippines Inc. (HCPI) recently held the motoring media edition of a fuel-efficiency driving competition on a combination of city and highway driving. This turns out to be a bold move on the part of HCPI, which cited a survey that most Honda owners still preferred performance over fuel economy. Here's Mario Marasigan, the director for the Department of Energy’s Energy Utilization Management Bureau, and HCPI president and GM Hiroshi Shimizu signaling the start of Honda Challenge Cup. HCPI vice president for marketing Arnel Doria revealed that the Japanese manufacturer had, indeed, lined up a series of fuel economy activities for the motoring public to be increasingly aware of the benefits of fuel-efficient driving. For this edition planned specially for the media (willing guinea pigs, at that), HCPI had prepared a route consisting of a 39.9-km city drive from Petron C5 passing through Ayala, Buendia, Edsa all the way to Petron North Luzon Expressway northbound, and a 65-km highway drive starting from Petron NLEX to Petron in Dau, Pampanga. Fourteen teams (each comprised of a driver and a navigator) were allotted the Honda vehicles City 1.3 CVT, City 1.5 CVT, Jazz 1.3 CVT, Jazz 1.5 CVT, Civic 1.8 A/T, Civic 2.0 A/T, and the CR-V 2.4 A/T. For each Honda variant, two teams went head-to-head, for a total of seven competing groups. Unlike past fuel economy runs, HCPI urged the participating teams to practice “normal” day-to-day driving, with the air-conditioning and thermostats on at comfortable settings, and city and highway speeds maintained at “legal” levels. That meant a minimum speed of anywhere from 0 to 30 kph during city driving, and 60 kph on the highway drives. HCPI made sure all participants would follow this speed guidelines by setting a time requirement of a maximum 2-hour completion of the city route and 1.5 hours for the highway route.According to HCPI technicians, all of the competing units had just been tuned up. One factor, however, was not made constant: the total mileages of competing cars were not identical. Thus, while one team was to drive a relatively brand-new car (of less than 25,000 km in the odometer, for example), the competing team had to make do with a 50,000-km-old car. Questions about cylinder friction and other matters related with age were brought up. HCPI explained, however, that today's cars have virtually “less friction,” especially at the parts where it mattered most -- the engine. As long as the cars were regularly tuned up, such age differences were negligible. HCPI went on to stress that vehicle age was just one factor of a myriad of factors playing on fuel efficiencies. Other major aspects to consider were the driver’s skills, driver-navigator teamwork and the car's total weight. HCPI chose the “rough tank” test. That meant fuel measurements would be determined entirely by the gas pumps, or more specifically by the automatic shutoff of the gas pumps (as fuel economy run is devoid of expensive fuel-measuring instruments). This was not exactly one of the most accurate ways to measure fuel runs but it does give a general idea of how much fuel was consumed.(Note: Based on past fuel economy runs conducted by the Department of Energy using rough tank test, the organizer either generally used the same location and pump as several pumps may produce discrepancies; cars were filled to the brim with indicator; and using ramps taking into consideration the fuel lines, etc. but these procedures have accuracy issues, too). The refueling was supervised by a technical committee composed of HCPI and Automobile Association Philippines representatives. Fuel economy readings would be derived by adding up the actual distance of city and highway driving divided by the total amount of fuel consumed (in liters). Seals were placed on the hood-body gap, fuel lid, trunk, air-con thermostats, fan control dial, recirculation control, and trunk after the initial and second fill-ups. The technical committee also checked the air-con pipelines (to make sure everyone used the car's aircon). The recommended tire pressures (usually seen on the driver’s side door) were followed (underinflated tires increase road resistance, while overinflated tires bring about unstable weight distribution due to insufficient tire-to-surface contact. Adding an interesting sidelight to the run was the participation of HCPI's own hybrid Civic. The DoE's Marasigan, who witnessed the entire run, lauded Honda’s fuel economy initiatives. The results of the fuel economy run were not without its surprises. The tandem of Manila Bulletin’s Aris Ilagan and Manila Standard Today’s Dino Directo, tagged heavy favorites for their nearly decade-old experience in fuel economy runs (and having won several of these runs to boot), were narrowly out-economized by first-time participants Maike Evers and Lory Uy. The two teams drove a Honda CR-V 2.4-L. Inquirer Motoring's Tessa Salazar, in tandem with Road Talk's Aries Espinosa, made the technical committee gasp in disbelief twice -- the first at the first fill-up at the Petron NLEX after the city drive, where the Jazz 1.3 A/T Espinosa drove consumed only 1.13 km in 39.5 km, for an amazing fuel-efficiency reading of 35 km per liter -- and the second at the second fill-up at Petron Dau after the highway drive, where the same vehicle driven by the same driver consumed an appalling 6.09 liters in 65.7 km, for a dismal fuel run of 10.7 km to a liter. The Inquirer team ended up with an average fuel consumption rating of 14.5 km to a liter, a far cry from competitor Manila Bulletin motoring editor Pinky Colmenares and assistant editor Anjo Perez’s result of 26 km to a liter for city and 39.5km to a liter for the highway). Here's a photo of the Honda Challenge Cup winners with Gabby Peren, assistant vice president for Logistics of Honda Cars Philippines Inc. (extreme left), Marasigan (third from left) and Doria (third from right). Nobody could explain such big differences in the results, and the losers, expectedly so, cried for a rematch. Hopefully soon, though, before fuel prices hit the roof, and everyone throws in the towel and wears their crash helmets. Bring it on!