We’ve had the good and the bad, now it’s time for the biggest questions that will be answered in 2018.
Will Tesla Get the Model 3 Sorted?
Production hell. Elon Musk saw this coming. In July last year he said himself that Tesla would go through – his words – “production hell” before the Model 3 would really ramp up volume. I’m not entirely sure even he saw just how bad the hell would be.
Earlier this month Tesla delayed their targets for Model 3 volume production again. They’re now only targeting 2,500 units per week by the end of March. Just half of what Elon Musk was targeting in November and had earlier promised would be achieved by the end of 2017. Quality is also a major issue. Just watching the Doug DeMuro video you can see in the wide shots panels that don’t line up. In a supposed premium product. Sure Tesla is a startup learning to make cars but they can only survive this kind of build quality when the early adopters are prepared to overlook or be patient with such things to have the latest and greatest buzz product. It will not wash with average Johnny Buying Public.
By Steve Jurvetson [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons/Tesla
In November, Reuters reported – from unnamed sources, as the ex-employees quoted were all required to sign NDAs on their departure – that Tesla’s routine quality checks on Model S and Model X products reveal defects on over 90 percent of vehicles produced. Industry quality analyst J.D. Power has also called Tesla’s quality “not competitive” and lacking “precision and attention to detail.” Of course Tesla’s marketing spin doctors were very quick to refute such claims.
I love how Tesla are inspiring people to love electric cars and some of the tech is very cool. At the end of the day a Tesla is still a car though and as a car they still leave a lot to be desired. Can they fix that this year?
Can the Ford Ranger Raptor be Any Good?
The Ford F150 Raptor was a revelation. Replacing the unhinged Lightning with a high performance truck that didn’t really add any power over the standard F150 was a bold move for SVT. It turned out to be a masterstroke. The Baja inspired Raptor, with its Fox Racing Shocks and massive wheel travel was a totally different take on what a performance truck should be and it sold by the, ahem, truckload.
It’s a bit big for us though.
Enter the Ranger Raptor. From an Australian perspective this is the ute that has been sorely lacking from our local landscape ever since the short lived HiLux TRD took the F150 Lightning route and mostly flopped.
The Ranger Raptor should be different. The marketing spin cycle has kicked off with very little additional information. Ford could drop the EcoBoost V6 under the hood and make a performance ute for the ages. Unfortunately the scuttlebutt, backed up by the spec on the just announced US market Ranger, put the 2.3L EcoBoost four from the Mustang and Focus RS in the pointy end. Circa 250kW is a great power number but I still fail to be convinced when moving a mass as large as the Ranger that any less than 3.0 liters is enough, downsized forced induction or not. Especially with a petrol motor.
Ford has been on a total roll lately with their high performance products. The recipe for this one looks like it could totally go either way.
Can Fernando Alonso Make Something of his Side Projects?
By this weekend the Daytona 24 hour will be in full swing and Fernando Alonso will be well and truly into the first of his side projects for 2018. He’s made no secret that he believes the world championship record is well out of his grasp after some lean years with an under-performing McLaren outfit. If anyone can pull off a modern-day triple crown though, he’d have to be your top pick.
Daytona is merely a warm up. Practice for someone who hasn’t done much endurance racing. He hasn’t confirmed an attempt at LeMans yet. Based on the landscape of this season, you’d have to think that deal is already done. If there was ever a shot, ever a chance of stacking the deck to give yourself the best odds, this year is it. Sure, the privateers will get engine performance equalised to the level of the manufacturer hybrids this year but the Toyotas will still be able to do an extra lap per stint on their fuel. A massive advantage. So if they stay reliable – and based on form that’s far from a given – then Alonso would be racing only one other car for the win.
The realignment of the WEC and the ‘super season’ for ’18-’19 includes two runnings of the 24 hours of LeMans. So you’d have to think that there won’t be another LMP1 manufacturer competitor until 2020. That leaves ‘Nando two years to get a win if he ingratiates himself with Toyota well enough this year. Then he’s got plenty of time to work on the Indy 500.
Update 31 Jan: Well that was quick! Just two days after the Daytona 24, Alonso has announced a WEC program with Toyota. He’ll compete in the WEC as long as it doesn’t clash with his Formula 1 commitments. While nothing is confirmed beyond the end of calendar year 2018, there are three WEC races in 2019 for the upcoming ‘super season.’ Surely his participation in those races are just pending the 2019 F1 calendar release…
Can the Honda Come Good in the Toro Rosso?
In 2017 Honda went very quiet. The divorce with McLaren is clearly a bitter pill for the proud Japanese company. But they quietly worked away. Towards the end of the season, there were signs – not big ones – but some signs that they just might be starting to come good. Reliability improved. They weren’t the absolute slowest car down the massive straights at Abu Dhabi.
By Honda/ Morio (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Now they have a partnership with Red Bull B-team Toro Rosso. According to Helmut Marko, “we’re working hard with Honda to make this a competitive package.” There’s no way a Red Bull team wouldn’t do everything they can to make sure the Honda comes good.
The stakes are too high.
The rumors are that after all the acrimony from a couple of seasons ago, Renault have no interest in renewing their deal with Red Bull come 2019. Then where do they go? Christian Horner remains adamant that they have options. But then nothing is set in stone for very long in Formula 1.
McLaren were very insistent on many things during their relationship with Honda including packaging which is widely reported to have hampered development on many fronts. I can see Toro Rosso being more accommodating than the famously fastidious outfit from Woking.
Where Will Daniel Ricciardo End Up in 2019?
This will be the most interesting part of the driver market in 2018. 2017s driver negotiations were pretty straightforward, so the ever news hungry Formula 1 press has already moved on to the 2019 season. Talk about getting ahead of themselves.
By Morio (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It is a bit interesting though. Ricciardo is very highly regarded and both Ferrari and Mercedes have seats available. Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen are on single year contracts for ’18. It seems the teams have set themselves up for a run at the Australian given it will be his first chance to negotiate his own contract after coming up through the Red Bull junior program.
Ricciardo has said himself that he won’t rush the decision. Rightly so. After all, winding up at the right team in 2019 might be the only shot he has at a world title. There is going to be some serious intrigue around this one.
Nissan on their Last Legs?
I love Nissan. As a fan, their return to Australian touring car racing has been hard to watch. Nissan has poured millions of dollars into the Kelly Racing outfit and has very little to show for it. Two race wins in 5 seasons.
You’d have to think the brass’ patience is running out. Nissan is only committed to Supercars until the end of 2018, so decisions have to be made and soon.
Richard Emery, CEO of the local arm of Nissan since 2014 left during 2017 to be replaced by Canadian Stephen Lester. Emery was a motorsport fan. Lester seems to be very level headed about the program going forward, stating that “everything is on the table” and “we will do our due diligence and go through that process in a pragmatic way and not rush into that.”
By Nissan/ Kytabu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Nissan Australia is also a glaring omission from the 2018 Bathurst 12 Hour event, despite owning their own GT-R GT3 machine that has been used almost exclusively at the event. Possibly a bad omen for the Supercars program? After all, the GT-R has generally gone very well at Bathurst.
2019 would require significant additional investment. The Altima is no longer sold here, so another body style would be required. Not easy for a company that is now focusing on SUV products. One would have to think Nissan and Nismo in Japan are one of the best placed manufacturers to adapt a turbo V6 to the new rules with the GT-R GT3 engine available. However Supercars has its own unique rules and the engine would require significant development work to ensure it was competitive.
Nissan need to significantly improve their on track performance in the early part of this year or the decisions might just be very, very easy.