BIG KID ON THE BLOCK: Nissan rolls out new Urvan Premium

Published May 9, 2017

ONE of the best sellers for Nissan Philippines Inc. (NPI) has gotten a makeover.

The Nissan Urvan Premium, all new for 2017, is a refreshing upgrade from the already popular NV350 Urvan, which accounted for nearly a third of NPI’s sales in the first quarter of the year.

Modern look

The most striking changes in appearance of the new Nissan Urvan Premium are its prominent roof extension, which raises the height of the vehicle to 2,285 millimeters and provides a comfortable amount of headroom in the large cabin space. The exterior has also been somewhat “cleaned up,” giving a sleeker appearance; for instance, the roof drip channel has been eliminated, the wheelbase has been slightly lengthened, and the front and rear overhang shortened. The angular shape of the front grill and headlamps, as well as flush windows and door handles give the Urvan Premium a bit of a sporty look compared with its predecessors.

Three colors for the Urvan Premium will be offered; Alpine White, Black Obsidian and Tiger Eye Brown.

Inside, the cabin is utilitarian, but tasteful and comfortable. Individually mounted seats – 14 in all – are covered in soft tricot fabric, complementing a new, softer headlining and two-tone dashboard.

What is immediately apparent when entering the cabin is that Nissan has put some effort into passenger comfort. One of the knocks against the previous versions of the NV350 was that, despite its size, seat and leg space was limited, and passengers much over 5’7” or 5’8” were likely to find their knees pressed to the seat back in front of them. With the expanded cabin room in the Urvan Premium, however, all four rows of seating provide adequate legroom, even for taller passengers. Comfort in the cabin is also enhanced with a redesigned air conditioning system, which provides 14 individual vents in the rear cabin, eliminating the need for aftermarket climate unit installations.

Another enhancement is the addition of an automatic door closure feature for the 1,580 mm side sliding door. Other convenience features include a rear step board, and strategically placed hand rails to assist entering and exiting the vehicle.

Mechanical strength

For the Urvan Premium, Nissan selected the high-torque 2.5-liter turbo diesel used in the Navara pick-up, which generates 129 horsepower and 356 Newton-meters of torque, mated to a 5-speed manual transmission with dash-mounted shifter.

The Urvan Premium also provides a number of safety features, such as dual front airbags and seatbelts, load tensioning valve, anti-lock brake system, brake assist, child safety lock and front fog lamps.

According to Nissan, the new Nissan Urvan Premium’s cost of maintenance is significantly lower than other vans in the same segment. One service provided by the manufacturer that helps is its first-in-the-industry warranty coverage for business use, which covers vehicle service for the first three years or 100,000 kilometers, whichever comes first.

The new Nissan Urvan Premium will be available in Nissan dealerships nationwide by June 1, the company said, with a suggested retail price of P1.65 million.

Photos: Nissan Philippines


Diesel engine runaway: What it is, and how to respond to it

(Here’s a suggestion: Run)

Published April 18, 2017

If your vehicle looks like this, you are experiencing a diesel engine runaway, and have an expensive and potentially dangerous problem on your hands.

ONE of the more unique and frightening things a diesel engine can do is, without warning, apparently develop a mind of its own and accelerate uncontrollably until it destroys itself, despite every attempt to stop it.

The phenomenon is called diesel engine runaway, a fortunately rare but extremely dangerous condition in which the engine fuels itself, revving faster and faster until it finally fails, usually violently.

In a diesel engine, unlike a gasoline engine, there is essentially no restriction on airflow. While a gas engine has a throttle body with a butterfly valve that regulates airflow to the engine and controls power through the air-fuel mixture, the diesel engine, which fires due to compression rather than electric spark, regulates fuel flow alone to control engine speed and has unrestricted airflow.

While modern diesel engines have better fuel system controls, ventilation systems, and seals to prevent most runaway conditions, it hypothetically can happen to any engine.

The most common cause, according to most diesel mechanics and service guides, is worn piston rings or cylinders. These can allow combustion gases to blow past the piston into the crankcase, creating an oil mist that is vented through the crankcase breather tube. The breather is, of course, connected to the intake manifold, so the oil mist is drawn back into the engine; remember, a diesel is capable of running on even very poor fuel, and engine oil in a mist form is actually not too different in terms of combustibility than actual diesel fuel. The oil being drawn into the engine causes it to run faster, which in turn forces more oil into the intake, created a positive feedback loop that quickly has the engine overspeeding well beyond its redline.

Other causes include worn turbo seals, which allow oil to leak from the turbocharger into the intake, and on rare occasions, a blown head gasket, oil overfilling, or worn valve seals. One mechanic pointed out, however, that if enough valve seals are worn to cause an engine runaway, the engine has problems that would probably cause a breakdown long before it reaches that point.

Once a runaway begins, it is nearly impossible to stop. Turning off the ignition makes no difference, as a diesel runs on compression rather than electric spark. And unless one of the two available methods to stop the engine don’t work within a minute or so of a runaway starting, the wisest course is to move a safe distance from the vehicle and wait for the motor to destroy itself; after a minute or two, the damage the engine will suffer from a runaway ruins it anyway, so letting it blow apart or seize is not necessarily a greater loss.

If a runaway occurs while you are driving, try not to panic: Shift the vehicle into neutral, carefully apply the brakes, and pull over at a safe spot. Leave the transmission in neutral, set the parking brake firmly, and move away.

To stop a runaway, there are two things you can try, although they may not work. In a small vehicle, it is sometimes possible to stall the engine with clutch friction – provided the clutch is in good condition. First, set the parking brake, then step on the brake pedal as hard as possible and hold it. Depress the clutch, shift the car into a high gear (5 or 6), and then dump the clutch. DO NOT take your foot off the brake.

If that doesn’t work, the only other way is to try to stop the airflow, but this requires a desperate sort of bravery that is NOT recommended. Stuffing rags or covering the air intake with something solid may work (keep your hands away from the turbocharger, which is now spinning at a speed that will remove fingers). Alternately, spraying a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher directly into the air intake may starve the engine of oxygen and cause it to stop.

If these methods do not work, or you don’t wish to have internal engine parts exploding in your direction at waist level, then simply stay away, warn others in the area, and wait for the engine to fail. Sometimes it will simply seize up and stop due to extreme heat and friction, but more often it will blow in spectacular fashion once a rod bearing or wrist pin finally gives up.

Again, a runaway is a relatively rare sort of failure in a modern diesel engine, but it can and does happen, particularly given the number of diesel engines that are decidedly less than modern on Philippine roads. Knowing what to do if it happens to you won’t necessarily save your engine, but it certainly can save you and others from serious injury.

Photo: YouTube

New format turns 2017 Daytona 500 into crashfest

Published March 7, 2017

BUMPER CARS: 2016 NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (48) is among those knocked out of the Daytona 500 in a late-race 16-car crash.

NASCAR’s introduction of a new staged format in the 2017 NASCAR Cup season opener Daytona 500 made for exciting racing but a huge headache for team owners and engineers as only five of the 40 cars taking the green flag finished the race without damage.

Stewart-Haas Ford driver Kurt Busch took the win as both pole sitter Chase Elliott and then previous winner Kyle Larson ran out of fuel while leading during the final two laps.

Busch chalked up his win to perseverance and a bit of luck, having avoiding the many incidents in the middle part of the race, and recovering from a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane early on.

The race featured a new format, which divided the 200-lap race into two stages of 60 laps each with a third, final stage of 80 laps. The format was intended to make the race more exciting, and avoid the situation that has become common in recent races where most of the race is spent with the entire field in a single-file, high-speed parade around Daytona’s iconic oval.

The stage system awarded championship points to drivers inside the top 10 at the end of each stage, presumably to give them incentive to race. As it turned out, however, action was cautious in the first and most of the second stages of the race as teams employed a variety of pit stop strategies to make the most of the enforced breaks in the action.

Late in the second stage, as the teams and drivers sensed the end of the race drawing near, the crashes began. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Daniel Suarez and Matt Kenseth were taken out in accidents, while Penske’s Brad Keselowski also ended his race in the wall. The “big one” – considered almost inevitable at Daytona – happened early in the third stage, with a 16-car melee taking out contender Kevin Harvick, who finished the first stage in second place and won the second stage, as well as reigning series champ Jimmie Johnson and last year’s Daytona winner Denny Hamlin.

With the third stage being longer than the first two, a number of teams miscalculated their fuel needs, leading to Elliott and Larson fading with empty tanks, finishing 14th and 12th, respectively, as well as Martin Truex Jr., who coasted over the line in his Toyota in 13th place after a good showing throughout the afternoon. Through either crashes or fuel issues, only 15 cars of the 40 that started managed to complete the full 200-lap race.

Ford dominated the results, taking six out of the top ten places, with Toyota failing to live up to its early weekend strength with only one top ten finisher, the retiring Michael Waltrip, coming home in his last Daytona 500 in 8th place. Underdogs Ryan Blaney of Wood Brothers, who was lucky to escape damage in an earlier crash, and AJ Allmendinger of JTG Daugherty Racing, joined Busch on the podium in 2nd and 3rd places.


DJR Team Penske looks to bring the Mustang to Supercars program

Published February 14, 2017

AUSTRALIAN PONIES? A Mustang GT4 racer. The two Ford-runners in Australia’s Supercars series, DJR Team Penske and Prodrive Racing Australia, are eager to bring the Mustang to the series, but DJR Team Penske has cautioned that the project will require some direct backing from Ford.

Australia’s DJR Team Penske is eager to bring the Ford Mustang body to the Supercars series, but is seeking some “support and backing” from Ford to make it possible, the team’s managing director Ryan Story said in an interview with

The iconic Australian series now has just two teams fielding Fords, DJR Team Penske and Prodrive Racing Australia, neither of which are receiving direct factory funding at this point.

The current Ford model, the Falcon FG X, is nearing the end of its marketing life in Australia, with a new model expected either next season or in 2019. The Ford Focus and Mondeo are possibilities, but according to the new Gen2 regulations to be introduced for Supercars in 2018, the two-door Mustang would also be eligible.

Rival team PRA is also considering the Mustang, as the team has business connections to the Tickford motorsport and tuning company in Australia, which produces a customized Mustang version, quoted PRA boss Tim Edwards as saying.

DJR Team Penske’s Story said that shifting to the Mustang would be “fantastic for both the team and the category,” provided the project receives some factory support.

“I think it would be fantastic for the series,” Story told

“But something like that can’t happen without the support and backing from Ford, so I think there is a lot of water to go under that bridge before we see something like that transpire.

“But absolutely, it would be fantastic for both the team and category to be in that position.

“As it comes back to us, our intent and desire is to field the most competitive car that we can. We still believe that we have the ability to be competitive with the package that we currently run, and what we race next year still has a little asterisk next to it.

“You’ll see some of that unfold over the course of the next few months,” he said.

Both Edwards and Story indicated that the FG X might be fielded in 2018, meaning that the Mustang or any other Ford body wouldn’t see action until 2019.

“I think it’s just as likely we would run [the FG X] for another season,” Story said. “We have the capacity to do that. We’re committed to the Ford product, but again for us to make a change it requires the input and certainly the investment of others beyond us. So it’s not as simple as making a decision and going with it. If only it was that simple.”

He added, “We want to field the most competitive package we can, and we know that the guys and girls that come to race tracks and watch it on TV would love to see a car like that race.”

The two teams will field a total of six Falcon FG X cars for the 2017 season: Four from PRA driven by Mark Winterbottom, Cam Waters, Chaz Mostert and Jason Bright; and two Shell-sponsored DJR Team Penske cars, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard behind the wheel.

Photo: AFP

AUTO HERITAGE: Volkswagen’s dubious beginnings

Published January 24, 2017

STRANGE BEGINNINGS: A 1960s-vintage Volkswagen poses before a modern iteration.

MOST automakers devote at least some of the online and other marketing resources to their brand’s history, but when one browses the websites of German giant Volkswagen, the story of how the iconic marque was born is a little hard to find.

Of course, if your car brand owed its existence to the enthusiastic ideas of Adolf Hitler, you might be inclined to be a bit circumspect, too.

The influence of Ford

Volkswagen, in a sense, was really a creation of Henry Ford. The story of the “people’s car” began in Landsberg Castle in Southern Germany, where Hitler found himself comfortably imprisoned for a few years after leading a comically-failed coup attempt against the Bavarian state government. With little else to do but read and write, Hitler digested many books, among them Ford’s 1922 autobiography, which had been translated into German.

By Hitler’s own admission, he had always been fascinated by automobiles and Ford’s world-changing production innovations, which had lowered the cost of the Model T from $1,000 when it was first introduced in 1908 to about $360 in 1916. This inspired Hitler to wonder whether German industry could achieve the same success. Ford’s work appealed to the amateur motorhead on philosophical grounds as well; Ford, who was embarrassingly anti-Semitic, had written extensively on what he saw as the threat Jews posed to the civilized world, validating Hitler’s own misguided beliefs.

Government project

Sometime during the early 1930s Hitler – ever the artist – sketched his vision for a car for the German masses: A small, roughly egg-shaped car that he wanted to be mass-produced and sold for less than 1,000 Reichsmarks. What concerned Hitler the most after taking power in 1933 was Germany’s crushing unemployment; at that time, about half of the German workforce was out of work, and if Hitler and his upstart Nazi Party hoped to stay in power, something needed to be done about that quickly.

Hitler’s dream car was part of a plan to put Germans back to work. The key to the plan was the construction of new highways: 7,300 miles (11,680 kilometers) of four-lane roads that would give Germany a modern road infrastructure and, not coincidentally, ease the movement of military forces. Handing the task to his construction was Fritz Todt, who put 125,000 men to work building highways by 1935. The next step was to fill those roads with German cars and that is where the “Volkswagen” came in. Not only would it put the new roads to good use, its manufacture would provide thousands more jobs.

Germany’s leading industrialists were not impressed with Hitler’s doodles, however, and even less enthusiastic about his request that the little car be produced for 750 Reichsmark (at the time, a little less than $400, about the same price as inexpensive cars in America). Undeterred, Hitler declared that the car would be produced by the state, passing the task to his labor minister, Robert Ley, and asking Ferdinand Porsche to turn his sketches into a real car design. The project to produce a “People’s Car” – a Volkswagen ­– was announced to the public in 1935.

Almost at once, the initiative began to be a little uncertain. Government budget concerns led Hitler to demand that Ley’s German Labor Front find the 50 million Reichsmark funding needed to erect a factory and begin production. Although a daunting task, it was eased somewhat by the fact that for a long time, there wasn’t actually anything to produce; Porsche’s prototype design wasn’t available until 1937.

To fund production, Ley devised a novel scheme that noted historian William Shirer described as one of the biggest

MARKETING COUP: Posters such as this fired the imagination of German workers for the “People’s Car,” with more than 330,000 workers signing up for the government’s installment purchase plan.

scams ever perpetrated by the Nazi regime. Through the German Labor Front’s Kraft durch Freude (KdF, or in English ‘Strength through Joy’), Ley promoted an installment plan for German workers. For as little as five Reichsmarks per week, any employed German could arrange to own a Volkswagen. Once the 750 Reichsmarks was made, the future owner was given a number that entitled him to a new Volkswagen as it rolled off the (still unbuilt) assembly line.

A huge marketing campaign was launched and more than 330,000 German workers signed up for the program – some of them involuntarily, Shirer noted in his landmark 1959 history The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. With the funds thus collected and with Ferdinand Porsche’s functional design finally in hand, in 1938 Ley built a factory in Fallersleben and built a town – called KdF-Stadt – to house the workers. That town would eventually become Wolfsburg, Volkswagen’s present-day headquarters.

Car, interrupted

For something that didn’t actually exist, the Volkswagen fired the German imagination. A report by an undercover operative for Germany’s Social Democrat Party (which had been banned, along with all others, by Hitler) and collected by US intelligence officers after the war related:

“For a large number of Germans, the announcement of the ‘People’s Car’ is a great and happy surprise…. For a long time the car was a main topic of conversation in all sections of the population in Germany. All other pressing problems, whether of domestic or foreign policy, were pushed into the background for a while. The gray German everyday sank beneath notice under the impression of this music of the future. Wherever the test models of the new Strength-Through-Joy construction are seen in Germany, crowds gather around them. The politician who promises a car for everyone is the man of the masses if the masses believe his promises. And as far as the Strength-Through-Joy car is concerned, the German people do believe in Hitler’s promises.”

PROUD PAPA: Adolf Hitler (center) inspects one of the few Volkswagens actually built under the Nazi government program with his Labor Minister Robert Ley (without hat).

How many “test models” were produced is not known for certain, but the figure was likely less than 100. The Volkswagen was formally introduced in October 1938 in Munich and Vienna, at the height of the Sudeten crisis – in hindsight, not a promising time for new auto models. The Fallersleben plant was still presumably making Volkswagens as late as February 1939, when one was presented to Hitler at the Berlin Auto Show (he in turn gave it to his girlfriend, Eva Braun), and another example, a special cabriolet version, managed to survive until April 1944, when it was given to Hitler for his 55th birthday.

What is known for certain is that not one of the more than 330,000 German citizens who signed up for the Volkswagen purchase program received a car; soon after the Sudeten crisis, the Fallersleben plant switched to producing military vehicles (the Kübelwagen and the amphibious Schwimmwagen) and later also built parts for the V1 flying bomb.

Britain to the rescue

The modern Volkswagen company has the British Army to thank for its existence, for it was an enterprising Army officer, Colonel Charles Radclyffe, who was responsible for resurrecting Hitler’s brainchild. Radclyffe was one of a number of officers tasked with restarting industries in the British-occupied part of Germany in the summer of 1945, and the Fallersleben works – or at least what was left of them – fell under his control.

Radclyffe’s first idea was to salvage what equipment and tooling he could from Fallersleben and ship it back to England as reparations, but English auto manufacturers were no more impressed with the Volkswagen than their German counterparts were before the war. An official Army report said, “The vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor car… it is quite unattractive to the average buyer… To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise.”

Unable to rid himself of the Volkswagen, Radclyffe turned to Major Ivan Hirst of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers to do something with the operation. Locating the original 1938 plans, Hirst directed the repair of the factory buildings, refurbished or replaced the original machine tools, body presses and jigs, and focused on improving the quality and marketability of the car, setting up a sales and service network in a few locations in Germany.

Hirst’s efforts did not go unrewarded; after one of the original Volkswagens that had somehow survived the war was demonstrated to the British Army’s Rhine Group Headquarters staff, the Army put in an order for 20,000 vehicles.

With Volkswagen now a live business, Radclyffe decided that it should be led by German managers and on Hirst’s recommendation in 1947, he recruited Heinrich Nordhoff, who had been the production manager at Opel during the war. In 1949, Nordhoff was formally appointed managing director of Volkswagen. He would lead the company for the next 20 years and turn it into one of the world’s leading automakers.

Photos: Volkswagen Heritage