Monthly Archives: February 2015

Brooklands Museum secures Heritage Lottery Fund investment …

One of the UK’s most historically significant sites for motoring, aviation and engineering is to undergo a significant redevelopment to bring to life more of its remarkable history, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey, has today received a confirmed grant of £4.681million from HLF for its ‘Brooklands Aircraft Factory & Race Track Revival Project’.


This project will transform the Museum’s Grade II listed Second World War Wellington Hangar into ‘The Brooklands Aircraft Factory’; build a new annexe (the ‘Flight Shed’) to house more of the Museum’s outstanding collection of historic aircraft; and restore the Finishing Straight of the Brooklands Race Track, the world’s first purpose-built motor-racing circuit.

Brooklands Museum Director Allan Winn says: “This support from Lottery players is a real vindication of the Museum’s vision of bringing a wartime temporary aircraft assembly building back to life as the only place in the country dedicated to showing how aircraft are designed and built. This unique exhibition – coupled as it is with a new home for our live aircraft, new workshops and stores, and the restoration of the Finishing Straight of the Race Track to its 1939 appearance – will give visitors of all ages an unmatched immersive and imaginative experience.  We are now really looking forward to working with our consultants, contractors and volunteers to turn this fantastic vision into an exciting reality.”

The project aims to inspire current and future generations to embrace science, technology and engineering, and will include a training scheme for volunteers in historic aircraft restoration and a raft of new activities on the Race Track. Work is due to start in the next couple of months with completion of the Aircraft Factory and Flight Shed experiences due in the summer of 2016.

The Museum has already been successful in raising over £1.2million in match funding for the project and is currently fundraising for the remaining £775,000. Including preparation and development work already undertaken, the complete cost of the project will be some £7 million, making it the largest endeavour the Museum has ever embarked on.

Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East says: “The Brooklands site has played such an important role in the country’s history. Today’s glitzy Grands Prix and state-of-the-art airliners can all be traced back to innovation that took place here. The Heritage Lottery Fund’s investment in this remarkable site will help the Museum create a unique experience for visitors, helping them understand the pivotal role that the UK has played in the field of engineering.”
The Brooklands Race Track was opened in 1907 and marked the start of organised motor racing in the UK. Within a year, early experiments in aviation were taking place on the site as well. From these beginnings, Brooklands rapidly evolved into an outstanding centre for the development and operation of racing cars, motorcycles and aircraft. The first person to travel over 100 miles in one hour, Percy Lambert, did so at Brooklands in 1913. The first British Grand Prix took place at Brooklands in 1926 as well as the first public demonstration of powered flight in the UK in 1909. Early aviation pioneers including A V Roe, Tommy Sopwith and Harry Hawker all tested, built and flew aircraft on the site.

Although motor racing ceased at Brooklands on the outbreak of the Second World War, the aviation factories of Vickers-Armstrongs and Hawker were greatly expanded, with Vickers erecting a number of buildings on the track, of which the Museum’s Wellington Hangar was one. Built in 1940 on top of the Finishing Straight of the Race Track, it was used for the assembly of Wellington bombers and later for a variety of other industrial purposes. It now houses the Museum’s famous Wellington “R” for “Robert” recovered from Loch Ness in 1985 and restored at Brooklands, and numerous other aircraft.

Under the HLF-funded project, the Hangar will be completely restored on a new site adjacent to its current one, allowing the Finishing Straight of the Race Track to be brought back into use for both motoring and aviation activities. Fittingly, in view of its original purpose, the Hangar itself will be presented as an aircraft factory, its displays showing how aircraft from the earliest biplanes and triplanes to Concorde were designed, built and developed at Brooklands over an 80-year period. The “Factory” will be an interactive learning centre, in which visitors will be able to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of an aircraft manufacturing plant and try for themselves many of the crafts and skills used by thousands of workers in Brooklands’ manufacturing heyday.

In a new adjoining “Flight Shed”, the Museum’s active aircraft such as its Sopwith Camel and Hurricane will be kept ready to roll out onto the refurbished race track for static and taxying demonstrations. In the Flight Shed’s lower floor, Museum volunteers will learn and practice aircraft restoration skills in new workshops, and environmentally controlled, purpose-built storage (the first the Museum has had), will protect Brooklands’ internationally significant archives.

Trucks do the heavy lifting in GM’s profits …

The Times 5 February 2015, Alexandra Frean US Business Editor

General Motors has blown the doors off analysts’ earnings expectations by announcing a 22 per cent rise in profits on the back of improved truck sales in the United States.

However, the American car maker has failed to stem losses in Europe, where it was knocked off course by its Russian business.

Losses before tax in Europe widened to $393 million in the fourth quarter, from $365 million a year earlier. Full-year pre-tax losses in the region went from $899 million in 2013 to $1.37 billion. While fourth-quarter sales in most of Europe were flat, in Russia they fell by more than a quarter.

Chuck Stevens, the company’s chief financial officer, said that the weaker rouble had made new vehicles more expensive for Russians. Last week, GM said that it would suspend production at its St Petersburg assembly plant for two months from mid-March and would raise its prices because of the weak currency.

Despite its problems in Russia, Mr Stevens told analysts that “the European business demonstrated improved core operating performance in the fourth quarter on a year-over-year basis”.

GM has pledged to return its European operations to pre-tax profit by next year and is withdrawing its Chevrolet brand across the Continent to concentrate on Opel and Vauxhall. Mary Barra,GM’s chief executive, said that the group’s focus on its Vauxhall and Opel brands in western Europe had dramatically improved prospects in the region.

GM’s net income reached $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter, up from $900 million a year earlier, partly driven by increased sales of full-sized SUVs and pick-up trucks, which have a wider profit margin than smaller cars. Revenue in the three months was $39.6 billion, against $40.5 billion a year earlier.

Full-year net income fell from $3.8 billion to $2.8 billion as costs associated with the recall of a record 30.4 million cars and trucks over faulty ignition switches came to $4.1 billion.

GM plans to raise its dividend by 20 per cent to 36 cents. It will pay record annual bonuses of up to $9,000 to its United States-based United Auto Workers union employees, up from $7,500 a year ago.

Shares in GM were $1.96 up at $35.96 in afternoon trading yesterday.

Profit motive is driving Toyota towards No 1 spot …

The Times 5 February 2015, Robert Lea Industrial Editor

The world’s biggest carmaker is set to become its most profitable.

Toyota Motor Corporation said yesterday that, despite a marginal reining in of expected sales in the year to the end of next month of nine million vehicles, it was aiming for operating profits of 2.7 trillion yen (£15.1 billion).

Toyota, which has led the world in producing petrol-electric hybrid cars and last year started sales of the first mainstream commercially available hydrogen car, said that it had benefited from the weaker yen and stronger-than-expected American sales.

Reporting a 14 per cent rise in operating profits in the first nine months of its financial year after the close of the October-December quarter, it said that it expected full-year operating profits to come in 8 per cent better than last year’s Y2.5 billion. If that happens, the Japanese giant could beat Volkswagen, of Germany, to become the world’s most profitable carmaker.

Although volumes were down by 7 per cent in its home market, sales were up by more than 7 per cent in its largest marketplace, the United States. In Europe, where it makes Auris hybrids in Derbyshire, total sales in the nine months came in at 633,578, only 3,000 better than in the previous year.

In recent years Toyota in Europe has been concentrating on selling higher-margin hybrid vehicles, especially from its upmarket Lexus range.

The company said that operating income in Europe leapt by Y23.3 billion to Y66.4 billion.

Ford’s popularity cannot stem Europe losses …

The Times 30 January 2015, Robert Lea Industrial Editor

It may be Britain’s bestselling car brand and has been since Harold Wilson was in Downing Street, but Ford still managed to lose more than $1 billion in Europe last year.

The picture was arguably worse elsewhere for the US auto group, with South American losses also helping to more than halve the company’s after-tax profits to $3.1 billion on sales marginally down at $144 billion.

Although one in seven cars sold in the UK is a Ford, the European recession has not been kind to the group. With sales in Russia collapsing, Ford in Europe lost $443 million in the last quarter of 2014, taking it to $1.06 billion in the red for the year.

One of the few upsides is that it is better than the $1.4 billion lost in Europe in 2013 and that operating margins are improving. Sales in the year were also 70,000 units better, at 1.38 million, and Ford launched the popular US model, the Mustang, in the UK this month.

Ford and its US rival General Motors have had a wretched few years in Europe compared with Volkswagen, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover.

One of the few improving units was Ford’s Transit van operation, which is now in eastern Europe.

Jammed roads ‘will spell the end of car ownership’ …

The Times 29 January 2015,Graeme Paton Transport Correspondent

The number of people owning their own car is likely to drop over the next 50 years because of growing anger over the state of Britain’s traffic-clogged roads, research suggests.

A rising number of adults — principally in the inner cities — will shun car ownership in favour of club-style rental deals and greater use of taxis, the Independent Transport Commission suggests. The think-tank adds that the number of miles driven by each car may fall dramatically as people seek alternative modes of transport.

Figures showed that on average men in their 20s travelled only 4,500 miles by car ten years ago, down from about 6,400 a decade previously. Trends seen among young people in recent years are predicted to cause a “ripple effect through the generations” as a rising number of adults become less dependent on the car in later life.

The study will fuel the “peak car” theory that Britain and other western nations are nearing a natural limit on the number of private vehicles that can be accommodated on the road network.

The Department for Transport forecasts that traffic on all roads will rise by 41 per cent between 2010 and 2040, including an increase of more than a third on small local networks. However, the commission said that the forecasts “may prove to be overestimates” because of the “deterrent effect of worsening traffic conditions”.

“As car use becomes less practicable for day-to-day journeys and/or less necessary, the utility derived from owning a car is reduced,” the study said. “Put another way, the perceived cost of owning and maintaining a car simply for occasional journeys is higher.”

The study, Traffic and Towns: The Next 50 Years, said that “utilising cars from a variety of sources” was likely to become a more common practice, particularly with the help of smartphone apps.

“These sources include obtaining lifts or car-sharing among families or friends, hiring taxis or minicabs, car clubs for short-term hire and conventional hire for longer journeys,” said the report, written by Peter Headicar, former reader in transport at Oxford Brookes University. “In this situation the cost and suitability of options are evaluated on a journey-by-journey basis (rather than car use being viewed as the default mode by car owners).”

The RAC Foundation rejected the findings, saying that repeated warnings over the death of the car had not been realised.

Auto-immune …

The Times leader, 29 January 2015

Car ownership looks set to fall as alternatives become more attractive

After a passionate affair lasting the length of the 20th century, the signs are that in the 21st the British are falling out of love with the motor car. While levels of private car ownership have not fallen yet, the number of miles driven in each car has been in decline for years. Once a symbol of freedom, the appeal of your own set of wheels has been seriously reduced by congestion.

A persuasive new study by the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) suggests decreased usage will soon become decreased ownership. What planners call “peak car” –— the point at which a road network becomes effectively full up and the disincentives to owning a car outweigh the convenience — may well be about to arrive.

For many people, notably those living in big cities, a number set to increase, peak car has already arrived. Urban driving long ago became the opposite of taking to the open road. Policies to lower car usage in cities, pedestrianisation, traffic-calming, investment in public transport, bus lanes, bicycle lanes, have found favour with urbanites. Short-term car hire is a growth industry. Cycling is enjoying an extraordinary and welcome revival. New technology in the form of GPS and phone apps has made travelling by bus or taxi efficient and predictable. Teleworking has reduced the number of commuters.

As the ITC says, these trends will surely continue. Among the young, passing your test and owning your first car are no longer the rites of passage they once were for previous generations.

In 1996, 80 per cent of men aged 21-29 held a driving licence. By 2009, that figure had dropped to 67 per cent. Yet current government transport planning remains stubbornly based on a forecast of a 41 per cent increase in car traffic over the next 25 years. If ever a prediction needed a rethink, this one is surely it.

Uber takes on Google over driverless taxis …

The Times 4 February 2015, James Dean Technology Correspondent

A turf war is looming over driverless taxis after it emerged that Google and Uber are developing competing technologies.

Uber is to challenge Google’s supremacy in driverless cars by setting up its own testing facility with Carnegie Mellon University, which houses the world’s largest robotics research organisation. Meanwhile, Google is reported to be developing a taxi-booking service to rival Uber’s.

Uber is to focus its research on vehicle safety, autonomous driving and mapping. Travis Kalanick, its chief executive, angered drivers using the company’s platform by suggesting that they would soon become obsolete.

Jeff Holden, its chief product officer, said that the research project presented a “unique opportunity” to invest in technologies that could “enable the safe and efficient movement of people and things at giant scale”.

The fates of Google and Uber are intertwined. Google has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Uber and its chief legal officer, David Drummond, sits on Uber’s board. Uber, meanwhile, uses Google Maps to power its smartphone app.

A report by Bloomberg suggested that Google was developing its own ride-sharing app to use in its driverless cars. Uber executives had been shown screenshots of the app in use by Google employees, the report said.

Silicon Valley companies often develop in-house systems before releasing them to the wider world, as Facebook did with its new Facebook at Work system.

Google declined to comment, but a tweet posted by the company appeared to indicate that it had no immediate plans to compete with existing ride-sharing services. “We think you’ll find Uber and Lyft [a competitor to Uber] work quite well,” the tweet said. “We use them all the time.”

Insiders at Google also played down the importance of the ride-sharing app. One said that it had been created by an engineer to help employees share cars on their way to work, and had nothing to do with Google’s driverless car programme.

Mr Kalanick said last May: “The reason Uber could be expensive is you’re paying for the other dude in the car. When there is no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere is cheaper. Even on a road trip.”

He said that such a scenario was “quite a way off . . . but if I were talking to one of the drivers we partner with, I’d say, look: this is the way the world is going to go and if Uber didn’t go that way, it won’t exist”.

Car gadgets are blamed for increase in road casualties …

The Times, February 6 2015.Graeme Paton Transport Correspondent

There was a 4 per cent increase in the number of deaths and serious injuries in the past 12 months, reaching almost 25,000, amid claims that technological “distractions” are causing motorists to lose concentration.

The data suggested that accidents were now on the rise after a long-term decline in injury rates over the previous three decades.

Incidents involving cyclists showed the biggest rise, with a record 3,500 deaths or serious injuries in the 12 months to last September, up by 8 per cent. Major accidents among children increased by 3 per cent to more than 2,000, representing the first year-on-year rise since the mid-1990s.

Officials suggested that the increase was driven by a rise in the number of cars taking to the road over the past 12 months.

The disclosure prompted claims that the government had become complacent about its road safety record, with cuts in funding for awareness campaigns.

The RAC said that many motorists were becoming distracted by the sheer number of gadgets installed on the dashboard of newly built cars. This included technology allowing motorists to connect smartphones directly to sound systems to make calls, play music and get directions.

Its own polling has shown that mobile phones are a “major source of distraction” for more than a quarter of drivers, rising to four in ten among those in their late teens and early twenties.

Pete Williams, the RAC’s head of external affairs, said: “Is it the case that many of us don’t link reaching for the phone with staying safe, and think we’re likely to get away with it?”

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of Brake, the road safety charity, said: “These casualty increases . . . come on the back of three years of flat-lining road death and serious injury figures, during which the government congratulated itself on having some of the safest roads in the world, rather than making forward thinking decisions.”

In all, 1,730 fatalities were recorded in the 12 months to September, a figure 1 per cent higher than the same period a year earlier. Some 24,360 people were killed and seriously injured and there were 192,910 casualties of all types, a 5 per cent increase. It was only the third time in 30 years that the number of accidents had increased after a downward trend in the number of deaths and injuries.

Robert Goodwill, the transport minister, said: “We are determined to do more to reduce these figures, working with the police and other agencies.”

Should our railways be converted into roads? …

The Times letters, 6 February 2015

The Institute of Economic Affairs says this idea would save money and end ‘sardine-like’ conditions for commuters.

Sir, The brave suggestion by the Institute for Economic Affairs that it might be time for much of Britain’s main rail network to be replaced by a road-borne coach network (report, Feb 3) will, of course, draw intense fire from the ubiquitous rail lobby.

I felt the full force of this brigade’s firepower in 2003 when, as a keen, newly appointed rail minister, I volunteered publicly my belief that part of the problem with this country’s transport policy was that it was profoundly influenced by trainspotters.

As the sky darkened with incoming missiles, the officials at the ministry were very kind to me, as an indulgent uncle might be kind to a deranged nephew, before they resumed their full-time job of trying to persuade the Treasury to cough up vast amounts of taxpayers’ money to keep the railways running. I fear that their job description has not changed much since then.

Dr Kim Howells


Sir, The suggestion by the Institute of Economic Affairs concerning conversion of our railway to bus lanes is not new. It was floated in the 1980s by Sir Alfred Sherman, who was associated with the same organisation.

There were many loopholes in the proposal. For example, railway tracks are often narrow, have tunnels and bridges, as well as very elaborate and expensive safety systems (which largely work). Furthermore, there is the issue about all the coaches arriving at a major terminal and how they are dispersed.

The present problems of the railway are caused by rapidly increasing traffic and decades of underinvestment. The complex nature of the organisation, riddled with expensive lawyers and financiers as a result of privatisation, is why it costs so much to rectify.

Lord Bradshaw
Lib Dem transport spokesman in the House of Lords and former general manager, British Rail Western Region


Sir, About 30 years ago a study was made of the feasibility of converting the railway between the Chilterns and London into a busway. The idea was not proceeded with for various reasons, not least of which was the problem of what to do with a large number of buses at the end of the journey; clearly disgorging them on to London’s crowded streets was not acceptable.

The Cambridge to St Ives busway does a good job, making use of a former railway track bed, but is not carrying anywhere near the sort of volumes of passengers which the Institute for Economic Affairs mentions. As a retired former busman I am well aware of the potential of busways, but moving large volumes of passengers on urban and interurban corridors is best left to railways, which manage it very well for most of the time.

David Wallace
Wiveliscombe, Somerset


Sir, John Chapman (letter, Feb 5) says that buses could be linked and then put back on railway tracks. With no linkage and steered by the drivers, express coaches using one lane of a road could offer 75,000 seats an hour. That’s 50 per cent more than the crushed peak-hour railway commuters who arrive at Waterloo in trains requiring four inbound tracks.

The coaches would motor at 60mph, with the journey time from Southampton, for example, similar to that by rail. Fares, though, could be halved or perhaps even quartered. Linking the vehicles electronically would vastly increase potential capacity, but putting them back on rails would cost a fortune and prevent any other vehicle from using the track.

The opportunity is overwhelming.

Paul Withrington
Director, Transport-Watch

Scalextric roads to power green cars on the go …

The Times, 23 January 2015. Graeme Paton Transport Correspondent.

A network of “electrified motorways” could be developed to increase the number of green cars on the roads.

The Highways Agency is testing the feasibility of installing wireless technology beneath roads, which would charge electric and hybrid cars on the go.

As part of the proposals, power would be transmitted between coils buried in the highway and a passing car, providing a continuous energy supply.

Similar technology has already been adapted to power buses in Milton Keynes, charging stationary vehicles at key points. This“dynamic” version of the system would charge moving cars.

The £200,000 feasibility study is expected to be completed by the summer before progressing to full off-road trials.

It is hoped the move would boost the number of electric vehicles. A record 14,500 were registered last year — four times the total in 2013.

Motoring groups welcomed the move but warned that the cost would be huge. Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Given the very high mileage taking place on the motorways, inductive charging on this limited but crucial network might ease range anxiety for electric car drivers, but there are big problems.

“The cost is likely to be enormous and you are setting in stone today’s view on the future of road transport, while tomorrow’s green cars might rely on another fuel such as hydrogen.”

The Highways Agency commissioned the research as part of a £150 million innovation fund. It is being led by the Transport Research Laboratory and the engineering consultants Halcrow.

Electric car charging points have been installed around the country, with 900 in London, but the new research will look at placing electromagnetic charging networks in the road itself.

A high-voltage line would run alongside the road, feeding coils buried beneath the highway. An electromagnetic field would be generated when a secondary coil in the car passed overhead, transferring energy to the vehicle. Conventional electric cars would have to be adapted to the system.


The Times letters, 23 January 2015

Sir, Your article on feeding electrical power directly to cars is a welcome reworking of Sir Clive Sinclair’s proposals in the 1980s, and (“Scalextric roads to power green cars on the go,” Jan 23). There are other, similar ways of achieving the same result, the most intellectually fascinating being the method used by Nikola Tesla to power his Pierce Arrow motor car in the 1930s. This system may have failed because there is no practical way to meter and charge for the electricity. However, the same applies to road usage, and the problem could be solved in the same way.
Peter Rutherford
London NW6