News : September 2005

Krish Bhaskar looks to re-invent Austin-Healey

PROFESSOR Krish Bhaskar who formerly led the Triple A bid for failed Midlands car manufacturer MG Rover Group Limited, has revealed what he described as his ‘Plan B’, following the sale of the Longbridge based business to China’s Nanjing Automotive (NAC).

Professor Bhaskar said: “I am currently in discussions with a number of potential partners, to re-establish a well known brand from the heyday of the British motor industry. Codenamed ‘Project Tempest’ (not to be confused with the Land Rover Discovery Mk2, obviously), development work on a core range of affordable, high performance cars, is now at an advanced stage. The basic package will cost as little as £25,000, offering performance and handling characteristics traditionally associated with cars costing significantly more.”

“Irrespective of specification, all cars will be electronically limited to a top speed of 155mph. Even the base model will possess sprightly acceleration, with a 0-60mph time of less than 5 seconds. Higher performance models will be capable of 0-100-0mph in under 12 seconds.”

However, Professor Bhaskar acknowledges that in developing the new models, drivability and safety have proven as important as straight line speed and raw performance.

“Each car will incorporate a host of active and passive safety features. Project Tempest is about creating a range of exciting and safe cars that are fun to drive, with class leading fuel economy. Impressive performance does not have to be at the expense of safety, or indeed drivability. So for instance, the performance of the car will ultimately be monitored by a series of on board computers. Most of the time, they will do little else other than passively monitor performance. But in the event that the vehicle could leave its performance envelope, they will intervene to ensure that the limits of the car are never exceeded.”

Professor Bhaskar will neither confirm nor deny suggestions, that the new car will be a spiritual successor to the Austin Healey 3000. But he does admit to having been inspired by the legendary British roadster.

“I would dearly like to a see a 21st century Healey,” says Professor Bhaskar “Who wouldn’t? Since the performance and engineering specification of the vehicle was signed off a few weeks ago, we’ve been busy finalising body design and have drawn inspiration from the heyday of the British motor industry.”

It’s an interesting plan, and there has been a certain amount of speculation that Bhaskar is after either the Peugeot factory at Ryton, or Jaguar’s Browns Lane. A Peugeot contact told that Ryton’s future would be guaranteed until at least 2010, because although the 207 won’t be coming to Britain, there will be plenty of demand for the factory’s current output, the 206, in countries outside Europe.

We welcome the announcement of a new British sports car, but without existing heritage, it would struggle on the market – hence the continuing speculation about the Austin-Healey name being attached to this car. As to whether the Healey family is ready to sell, that’s another matter entirely…

MGs, Rovers, China and Longbridge…


SHANGHAI Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and Nanjing Automotive Corporation (NAC) are both pressing ahead with plans to build their own MG Rovers in China, while Longbridge will be left with low-volume sports car production.

Codenamed SAC528, SAIC’s Rover 75 will sit on a 100mm stretched wheelbase, and will launch in China in ‘late 2006’. Work on the project commenced in 2004, and according to one engineer who worked on the project, MG Rover’s fall into administration did nothing to stop SAC528’s progress. ‘The week before NAC bought MGR, SAIC issued ‘Request for Quotations’ to all R75 suppliers previously under MGR control. It was obvious from the paperwork they had all the information needed to recommence production”, he said.

Although SAIC won’t now gain access to the Longbridge production line, owning the car’s Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) allows the company to create its own. SAIC’s planned production volumes for its 75 look modest – 2000 in 2006, rising to 42,000 in 2010.

NAC will transfer MG Rover production to China, ‘It will produce MG (and possibly Austin) models at Wuxi. Its version of the 1984 SEAT Ibiza will probably be replaced by the Rover 25/MG ZR”, Erik van Ingen Schenau explained. Plans to lift and shift the 25’s production line to China were advanced before meltdown – NAC will merely complete them, and that operation is now well underway, with Powertrain equipment and the 25/ZR already being removed from Longbridge, as convoys of lorries leave Longbridge. One site reader has seen the removal squads in action. He said: “Every day this week I have seen a very large forklift loading flat back lorries at the dock (dock 12?) on the left hand side of the Bristol Road as you head towards the City.”

NAC and SAIC do finally look to be finally working towards a deal – as unlikely as this scenario seems. According to The Times, the two companies have agreed an arrangement that will see the former building Powertrain engines and small cars, while the latter will make the Rover 75/MG ZT. The two groups were heading towards court action over the fate of ‘their’ MG Rovers, with both claiming legitimate rights to build the cars – especially SAIC, which has invested £247m to establish the ‘SAIC-Luwei’ factory in Yizheng. The Joint Plan would see NAC building the K-Series engines for SAIC to use, and as a quid pro quo, SAIC will allow Nanjing to use the designs for the Rover 25/MG ZR.

However, despite having bought Longbridge, NAC appears to have more of a mountain to climb if it wants to build cars in the UK. ‘Nearly all experienced Production Development Department and purchasing staffs have left Longbridge. This loss makes a re-start to production extremely challenging. I had similar concerns in 2000, but the situation now is cataclysmically worse.” The most likely outcome for Longbridge is its future will be in low-volume sports cars overseen by the Great British Sports Car Company (GBSCC), headed by ex-Powertrain boss, Fraser Welford-Winton.

GBSCC and Arup, are working towards the resumption of production at Longbridge – and NAC executives moved to reassure Union Officials that there is a future for Longbridge. A spokesperson for the Transport and General Workers Union said: “It is worrying, but the main production lines are not being moved.”

There is also the issue of finance for any future operation at Longbridge – does NAC have the money to support the venture, or will GBSCC be footing the bill?

Driving your fuel costs down


WITH the spectre of fuel rationing, blockades and no let-up in the £1 litre of petrol and diesel, perhaps it is time for drivers to take a good look at their driving style, with a view to making their fuel go further. With anticipation, less haste and more care, it is possible to achieve gains of over 30 per cent in daily driving, by simply adhering to a few simple rules.


0. Smooth and gentle use of the controls.

1. Feather the throttle, accelerating gently in the gears to a cruising speed. Some people advocate getting to the cruising speed quickly and then maintaining it, whereas others advocate a more gentle approach uses less fuel overall.

2. Except on uphill inclines change from 1st to 3rd to 5th keeping mainly in the 1000rpm to 2000rpm band. Change up points recommended on the flat are: 1st to 3rd – 10-15mph, 3rd to 5th – 20-25mph, 5th to 6th – 30-35mph. Engine torque and gearing of cars does differ making this more practical in some than others. The aim is to keep within the optimal torque zone.

3. Maintain momentum in the highest gear possible at all times, so gain speed before inclines, and lose speed when climbing hills, but if necessary change down so as to help with maintaining momentum. On modern heavy cars (post NCAP) maintaining momentum is crucial to good economy.

4. Do not labour the engine at low revs – avoid the ‘pinking zone’ – use a lower gear if necessary.

5. Don’t use the gears to slow down! – declutch or drop into neutral.

6. ‘Coasting’ can save fuel, not just dropping the car into neutral going down hills, but you can build speed on the flat and then coast in neutral or by using the clutch. When coasting, engage the next gear you anticipate you will use and employ it before the bend or roundabout – avoid coasting through bends, etc.

7. Limit the use of the brakes! – economy driving is about anticipation – drive as if the brakes have failed and you only have the handbrake to rely on!

8. But when using the brakes, sometimes early, hard application is preferable followed by release so that when you reach a roundabout for example you have adjusted your speed so that you can merge with traffic without the need to stop, thereby retaining momentum.

9. Keep your distance from the car in front. This allows you to maintain a steady speed and be less likely to have to slow down thereby retaining momentum.

10. Switch off the engine while waiting at traffic lights, or traffic queues.

11. Limit the use of the electrics – lights, wipers, heater fan, heated rear window, and especially the aircon. Driving on dipped headlamps can increase fuel consumption by up to 10 per cent. A test showed that at 30mph the fuel consumption on a 1.0 litre Metro dropped from nearly 80mpg to just over 70mpg when you switched on the headlamps. Indeed I can confirm that my fuel consumption has been up to 10 per cent worse at night.

12. Always try to drive without opening the windows or sunroof (slightly opening a window is preferable to the fan).

Car Preparation

Do not add unnecessary weight or fit items like roof racks
The engine should be optimally tuned – plugs, points, fuelling
Efficient air cleaner – dirty air filters badly affect fuel economy and competition free-flow types can improve it.
Low viscosity oil – not all oils are the same and you might be able to use one with less friction loss.
Make sure the brakes not binding
Tyre choice and pressures – low rolling resistance tyres / higher pressures will help.
Fitting wider tyres will increase rolling resistance.
Fit an additional throttle spring – adds weight to the pedal and aids lighter use of it.

Economy Driving – A challenge but keep it safe

A challenge – development of a new driving style
Set goals – beating the manufacturers figures.
Need not be boring – no ‘pedal to the metal’ but some aspects are good fun.
Keeping up momentum can actually mean driving more quickly round corners.
But it can be dangerous if taken to extremes!
The challenge is to achieve good mpg without compromising safety.
Also take into consideration other road users – don’t upset them – avoid road-rage incidents!
Increased concentration and anticipation should improve road safety!

Skills required

Careful car control – gentle use of throttle and brakes.
Patience – If I can do it so can you!
Concentration – think about what you are doing – it can become natural.
But above all the 3 most important requirements are:
Anticipation, anticipation, anticipation
Anticipate the road – learning to read the road (bends/hills/junctions) is an acquired skill
Anticipate traffic management features like traffic lights and roundabouts
Anticipate what other road users are going to do, and leave more space for what is not anticipated.

Remember to remain smooth and gentle at all time, anticipate further ahead, and maintain momentum as much as possible. Sticking to this programme will result in lessened fuel bills – and more than likely, will mean you arrive at your destination a whole less stressed than you might have otherwise been.

Have fun out there…

Sonalika to launch Rhino-Rover


ACCORDING to the Indian media, one of MG Rover’s partner companies, Indian company, Sonalika is set to launch a car co-developed by the British company. It even sports a rather familiar sounding name…

The Indian sports utility vehicle (SUV) market is set to witness the entry of a new price warrior this year-end. Punjab-based International Cars & Motors (ICM) is all set to roll out its maiden SUV – built in collaboration with MG Rover of UK in January 2006. Christened Rhino-Rover, the vehicle is undergoing final testing and trial runs before being despatched to the dealerships in December.

LD Mittal, chairman of the Sonalika group, which owns International Cars & Motors said: “We have managed to keep costs low and also have the benefits of being located in a tax-free zone. This means cost savings, which are being passed down to the consumer by way of an aggressive price tag”. The firm has finalised 24 dealerships in north India for selling Rhino-Rover.

The Sonalika group has also joined hands with MG Rover’s engine division, Powertrain Ltd, to produce 2-litre common rail diesel (CRDi) engines in India. This is the long awaited upgrade to the L-Series diesel engine, which was due to be fitted to the Rover 75 this summer, following extensive trials.

With its SUV now driving towards commercial sales, the group is setting up a new venture — Cllas Motors — to mark entry into car, van, LCVs and truck markets.

Keith Adams

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