Sci-Tech

JIMS: Ready … Steady … Go!

By Deon Schoeman 13 October 2011

It’s been three years since the last Johannesburg International Motor Show – an unfortunate moniker, given that this is the only significant automotive exhibition in Africa, let alone South Africa. But let’s not let a name get in the way of what has become a truly world-class motor show. DEON SCHOEMAN toured the Expo Centre to highlight the best the 2011 JIMS has on offer.

Motor shows are different things to different audiences. For car enthusiasts, they provide a preview of what’s on the automotive horizon, as well as an opportunity to get up close and personal to the kind of machinery mere mortals can only dream about.

For auto makers, shows are an opportunity to gauge public opinion about daring design directions and new-generation technologies, without having to commit to actual production.

Of course, a motor show is also a great way to see all the latest new cars in one place, in one day – and perhaps even get to sample a few on a short test drive. Plus, there are also side attractions: glamorous girls, outrageous accessories, huge trucks, a 4×4 track … the list goes on.

Motor shows are usually associated with exotic locations like Geneva, Paris, Shanghai or Frankfurt. By comparison, Johannesburg sounds – well, a little bit ho-hum and colloquial.

But the truth is that the Johannesburg International Motor Show can hold its own in that company – and that’s quite a feat, given what it takes to put a world-class motoring expo together. As a result, it is also easily the best motor show ever hosted in South Africa.

To cover every nook and cranny of the JIMS would require more column centimetres of copy than even the most motoring-mad Maverick reader has time to plough through.

Instead, I’ve condensed the vast array of cars and concepts on display into a list of highlights, divided by category, to serve as an initial guide. The list is completely subjective and should only be considered an appetiser for a motoring expo that is sure to thrill and delight – and should not be missed.

Electric Car Of The Show


With environmental responsibility an increasingly urgent and vital agenda within the motor industry, it comes as no surprise that the 2011 JIMS hosts more eco-friendly cars and concepts than ever. But none of them attracted as much attention, or represented a more significant advance in mainstream motoring terms, than the Nissan Leaf. The swoopy, bulbous hatchback won’t win any beauty prizes, but it is the world’s first truly viable, mass-produced electric car.

The Leaf can  be charged from a normal household wall plug, and is powered by an electric motor producing 80kW of maximum power, and 280Nm of instant torque. The synchronous AC motor is fed by a 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack which offers an operating range of around 160km. The Leaf has a top speed capability of 140km/h.

The rest of the package is pretty much what you would expect of a normal car: a five-door hatch configuration with a comprehensive list of standard features, including air-con, sat-nav, electric windows, cruise control and central locking.

Nissan SA wants to launch the Leaf locally in 2013, but much depends on how government reacts to industry calls for tax breaks and incentives to reduce the retail price, and to create a public charging infrastructure that would allow vehicles like the Leaf to be recharged at strategically located power points.

I’m holding thumbs it will arrive sooner rather than later, and herald a wave of viable, practical and affordable zero-emission cars. That’s if we have enough electricity in the country to charge them in the first place …

Concept Car Of The Show


Let’s face it: Chevrolet isn’t exactly the most emotive automotive brand. It’s shed its big-bruiser, V8-powered image for an altogether more pragmatic, more value-orientated approach, spearheaded by cars like the Cruze, the Spark and the upcoming Sonic. So, who would have thought that the most spectacular concept at JIMS would be wearing Chevrolet’s universally recognised bow-tie logo?

The Chevrolet Miray was designed and developed in Korea, and made its world debut at the Seoul Motor Show earlier this year. It’s a futuristic, low-slung roadster that oozes performance and brand heritage, while also recognising the need for a green drivetrain.

Thus, the Miray combines two 15kW electric motors, one for every front wheel, with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. The electric motors are powered by a compact lithium-ion battery pack that’s charged via regenerative braking.

The car can run in zero-emissions mode when required, but can also combine electric and turbo petrol power to ensure rapid responses and exceptional performance. Carbon-fibre reinforced plastic body panels keep the weight low, which aids efficiency, road manners and overall performance.

We’re holding thumbs that a production version of the Miray is on the cards somewhere in Chev’s product planning future.

Newcomer Of The Show


Motor shows are all about introducing the motoring public to new models – either cars launched just before the show, or vehicles that make their local debut at the event. The list of new models at JIMS is an extensive one, but one newcomer that turned the heads of all and sundry was the Range Rover Evoque.

The much-hyped “baby” Range Rover is unlike any other vehicle bearing that illustrious badge. A direct descendent of LRX concept shown at JIMS three years ago, it combines the seemingly divergent and irreconcilable attractions of athletic appeal, lifestyle design, upmarket luxury and all-terrain capability in a single package.

The Evoque is offered locally in two-door and four-door configurations. Both models feature a sloping roofline and large tailgate, together with high-grade interiors. A choice of two trim levels – Premium and Dynamic – allows the Evoque to be tailored to suit different customer profiles.

The engine choices cover both petrol and diesel, with the petrol model delivering 177kW of urge, compared to the turbodiesel’s 140kW. Permanent all-wheel drive via a Haldex multi-plate clutch system, and optional adaptive suspension, are among the technical highlights.

Pricing starts at just under R600k, which means it’s also a true Range Rover as far a price positioning is concerned.

Supercar Of The Show


JIMS may have attracted all the mainstream brands, but it is short of exotic cars. The local distributors of Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini were notable only for their absence, which means show goers aren’t offered the opportunity to see the new 991-generation Porsche 911, the latest Ferrari 458 Spider, or the Lamborghini Aventador.

However, even if they had been present, the prize for the most appealing exotic on show would have gone to the McLaren MP4-12C. The car may be awkwardly named, but there’s nothing awkward about its shape or execution.

Employing a one-piece carbon fibre tub, the MP4-12C offers a rigid, lightweight, race car-inspired platform for its high-performance, 3.8-litre V8 engine. The twin-turbo powerplant produces 441kW and 601Nm, while the gearbox is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The result is a claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time of 3.1 sec, and a top speed in excess of 320km/h. It’s said to dash from zero to 200km/h in 8.9 sec, and to be able to stop from 200km/h in under five seconds.

Pricing in South Africa is likely to exceed the R3 million mark, but that hasn’t blunted interest in the car: in fact, the queue of would-be buyers already exceeds the number of McLarens to be offered locally next year.

Bakkie Of The Show


South Africa is bakkie country – a fact evidenced by the huge sales successes of pick-ups like the Toyota Hilux and the VW Amarok. But Ford fans will feel vindicated by the release of the all-new Ford Ranger – arguably the most radical and most handsome bakkie ever to wear the Blue Oval.

Developed and tested in Australia, the Ranger looks chunky and contemporary in a clean, almost Bauhaus kind of way – which is quite a departure from the marque’s usually conservative approach.

Powering the top-of-the-line Ranger modes, which can be had in single-cab, double-cab  and so-called supercab configurations, is a locally produced four-cylinder, 3.2-litre turbodiesel engine credited with 147kW and 470Nm, which suggests ample on-road performance and plenty of off-road grunt.

There’s a choice of six-speed manual and auto gearboxes, while 4×4 versions feature a transfer case with low-range for true all-terrain prowess. XLS models also step up the safety standard ante with front, side, curtain and a driver’s side knee airbag.

The Ranger is being built in Pretoria for export around the world and, therefore, also represents both a significant investment by Ford in SA and more jobs for a country that desperately needs them.

Affordable Car Of The Show


There are a lot of entry-level models at JIMS, reflecting SA’s need for affordable cars – although, of course, not even budget models are truly affordable in the real rand-and-cents context.

But Toyota’s all-new Yaris, unveiled at JIMS and due to go on sale here during November, promises to offer buyers a lot of car for their money. It’s grown inside and out compared to  the current model.  More importantly, the execution has become more convincing, with that reassuringly solid feel more often associated with larger, fancier cars.

At the same time, it reflects the industry-wide emphasis on efficiency with two frugal engine choices – a 1-litre and a 1.3-litre – providing outputs of 51kW/93Nm and 73kW/125Nm respectively. Frugal fuel consumption and low emissions are a given.

Add sharper, cleaner styling with a certain European flair, and the Yaris looks set to continue its local success story.

Of course, there are a lot of new compacts and budget beaters at the show, among them the Hyundai Accent and the Kia Rio, Chery’s new J2, the India-built Toyota Etios and the sporty VW Vivo GT, to name a few.

SUV Of The Show


In South Africa, the sports utility vehicle is a ubiquitous contender, preferred by many ahead of conventional sedans because of its unique mix of practicality, versatility, raised ride height and elevated seating and some level of all-terrain capability.

The Ford Kuga compact SUV ticks all those boxes, and also offers clean, attractive styling, comprehensive standard appointments, high safety levels, and sprightly dynamics, courtesy of a five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine rated at 147kW and 320Nm.

Intelligent all-wheel drive is another feature. It transfers the engine’s urge to the front wheels or rear wheels proportionately, depending on the available traction. Inside, the smart and comprehensively equipped cabin provides space for four or even five.

The Kuga should boost Ford’s local market share considerably and gives Ford fans the option of a modern, cutting-edge compact SUV.

Hot Hatch Of The Show


There were a number of pocket rockets competing for this title: the super exclusive but super expensive (and tiny) Fiat 695 Tributo Ferrari, the new Ford Focus ST, the sleek and very sexy Opel Astra GTC and the supercharged Toyota Auris TRD, as well as the much acclaimed Audi RS 3.

But to my mind, the car that breaks the mould in this category is the new Mini Coupé. Launched to the world in Frankfurt, it debuts at JIMS only weeks before it goes on sale locally.

The Mini Coupé is about as pared down and purist as it gets in modern-day Mini terms, with a shape that’s cleaner, more compact, and more aerodynamic than the standard two-door. The rear wing looks hideous, but assists in creating sufficient downforce.

Add the full-house interior, and a choice of Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works derivatives, and the Mini Coupé seems set to become a more serious driving machine than any of its predecessors – but with a zesty dose of fun so inherent to the Mini formula.

Surprise Of The Show


The Toyota FT-86 is not a production car – yet. But Toyota’s first real sports car in many years will go on sale globally next year after an extended gestation period. And all indications are that it’s been worth the wait.

The near-production concept at JIMS wasn’t expected, and provides show visitors with a pretty accurate indication of what to expect. It looks compact and composed, with a design DNA that harks back to the legendary Celica, yet adds a clean and contemporary twist.

The car is set to be powered by a flat-four engine co-developed with Subaru, which is producing a sister car of its own that will share many of the FT-86’s mechanicals. A suspension tuned for responsive, intuitive handling and a choice of manual or dual-clutch gearboxes should add to the car’s high dynamic potential.

According to an insider, the FT-86 (it will get a ‘real’ name at launch) will be launched in SA before the end of next year, and should be priced at a fairly accessible level, which suggests a retail price, before options, of around R325,000.

Overall Star Of The Show


It’s difficult to pick an outright star of the show – one car that consistently draws the crowds, and is also relevant in the modern motoring context. But the Audi etron concept is perhaps the one that gets closest to those parameters.

The ground-hugging, supercar-shaped concept marries glamorous styling to an all-electric, zero emissions drivetrain, proving that electric cars can be aspirational too. The powertrain consists of two electric motors, one for each rear wheel, delivering a combined 150kW of muscle, and an astounding 2,650Nm of torque.

The result is a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.9 seconds and a 60-120km/h tractability potential of 5.1 sec. The centrally mounted battery pack allows a 250km range, while the aluminium construction keeps the weight down to 1,350kg.

If the etron represents the automotive future, I can’t wait!

Summary


In the absence of any real competition, dubbing the 2011 Johannesburg International Motor Show the greatest motoring show in Africa may sound like a hollow compliment. But it really is a top-notch expo and one that easily holds its own against the big ‘uns in Europe and the US.

Of course, there is a lot more to see and a lot more to do than I’ve covered here. For motoring fans and petrol heads, it’s unmissable, especially since it’s only held every two years.

But given how important the role of the car is in the South African context, JIMS is not just for car nuts. It’s a fascinating showcase of what’s coming and in which direction the automotive future is heading.

The Johannesburg International Motor Show runs daily until Sunday 16 October. Entrance is R80 for adults and R20 for kids under 12. The under-6 brigade gets in for free. For opening times and more info, go to www.jhbmotorshow.co.za. DM



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