Sunday, 31 December 2017


This blogspot is now closed. Is it any wonder, bearing in mind VW's emissions scandal and the debacle surrounding Carlos Goshn, who wil be fired from heading up Nissan on 21 Nvember 2018, that the decision was taken a year ago, to shutter this blogspot. Thus since the end of 2017 no posts have been added.

The editor thanks readers throughout the world for their interest and support; and offers PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR wishes to hisreaders everywhere.

John Mortimer

21 November 2018

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Torotrak: squirming for survival

Torotrak plc, well known for the paucity of late of vital shareholder information, is expected to make a statement later this month about Flybrid Automotive.

The founders of Flybrid Automotive are looking to extricate themselves from what appears on the surface to be the debris of Torotrak Plc.
Flybrid developed a name for itself through its flywheel technology (and patents) – a means of absorbing energy which, at a later stage can be released as a device to improve fuel economy, or boost power output.
In a statement, Torotrak plc, a developer and supplier of emissions reduction and fuel efficiency technology for vehicles, announces that, further to the announcements on 28 November 2017 and 1 December 2017, the Board has received notification that Jonathan Hilton and Douglas Cross have filed an application for administration for Flybrid Automotive Limited. application is listed for hearing on 15 December 2017.
The Board meet with its administration advisers to consider if any value can be generated from its assets or whether the Company should to be put into administration.
The Company will make further announcements in due course.
It may be recalled that Hilton has recently completed a year as president of the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Hilton joined the Institution as a young member in 1982 when he started his engineering career with Rolls-Royce military engines group at Leavesden, Hertforshire. Completing the Rolls-Royce undergraduate training scheme and graduating from the Hatfield Polytechnic, Jon took a first appointment in helicopter engine design.
His passion for engines led him to Formula One and in 1991 he moved to Cosworth where he rose up the ranks from engine designer to chief engineer of the F1 programme by the end of 1997. In 1998 Jon moved to the TWR Arrows team as chief engineer of the F1 Engines group and here he built up a team of skilled engineers to design and develop F1 engines for TWR.
In early 2003, Hilton moved, along with the whole of his F1 engines team, to Renault F1 where he formed the UK based engine division for the team. As technical director Engine Division, Hilton was involved with a successful period for the team, which won drivers and constructors Formula One World Championships in 2005 and 2006.
In January 2007, Hilton with former Renault F1 colleague Doug Cross, formed a new engineering company called Flybrid Automotive to develop high-speed flywheel based hybrid systems for automobile application.
As managing director, Hilton ran the company providing direction for all activities and with prime responsibility for commercial aspects of the business until January 2014, when Torotrak PLC acquired the company. Hilton occupied a non-executive role as deputy chairman of the parent company.
Hilton has held various official posts at the Institution including chairman of the Midland Region, chairman of the Automobile Division and chairman of the Formula Student organising committee.
Two years ago, in August 2015, following a  period of “resetting the strategic focus of the fgroup to commercialise its technology”, new Torotrak chief executive officer Adam Robson saw Torotrak’s key markets as being bus, off-highway and passenger car with KERS (kinetic energy recover systems) and V-Charge appearing to take centre stage compared with the company’s original focus of development, namely infinitely variable transmissions (IVTs). Hmmm.

Interestingly, it is understood Flybrid Automotive Ltd cost Torotrak plc of the order of £11 million in 2014 with a potential further £15 million should performance targets be met. Unsecured loan notes of £1.8m, were given as part of the deal, and were repayable subject to certain commercial targets being met. It is possible these form part of the current dispute. 
A few FTSE companies show their shareholders utter disdain by failing to correctly 'reward' them; Torotrak plc is certasinly one of them.
It now remains to be seen what happens to the technology, know-how and patents stored within Torotrak – and the value placed upon  them.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Torotrak given up hope?

Torotrak Group’s share price falls to an all-time low as the company appears to have lost direction.
FRIDAY 1 December 2017 marked a grim day for Torotrak Group as its share price fell to an all-time low. No statements seemingly are being issued and the company’s website gives no email addresses for shareholders to contact staff.
The last news item appeared 27 July 2017 when the company issued final year results for the period to 31 March 2017.
On the basis of the latest share price the company would seem to be almost worthless as directors appear to have lost all sense of both direction, motivation and momentum. A sad testament to those who have committed time and effort over the years to developing three main technologies: Torotrak’s (Perbury’s) CVT, V-Charge and  Flybrid. And Allison? Little seems to be heard about its involvement with the beleaguered UK company which was spun out if BTG all those years ago.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Torotrak signals the end of an era

Preston-based Torotrak, a developer and supplier of emissions reduction and fuel efficiency technology in vehicles, is to close its Leyland headquarters and make all staff based at the site redundant.

This is indeed the end of an era. But the end cannot be allowed to pass without some comment being made. For it seems that faith has been lost in the concept of traction drive transmissions which had its heart in Leyland, Lancashire for so many years.
This is an era that many people have forgotten about. Or not even aware. Some may regard it as a nostalgic era, when the future appeared not only bright but lucrative.
The era extends back at least until around 1962 (the actual date is unclear as one of the principal participants is no longer alive) when a 1957 Hillman Minx fitted with a Perbury continuously variable transmission (CVT) covered some 25,000 miles of testing to prove the capabilities of the CVT developed by Forbes Perry of Perbury Engineering Ltd.
Perbury Engineering developed a CVT for a car project centred within the British Technology Group (BTG and formerly NRDC) out of which blossomed Torotrak plc based at Leyland in Lancashire where there was also a CVT programme, again based on the Perbury design.
The era certainly embraces BL Technology, a small part of British Leyland, tasked with exploring new technology and based at Gaydon, in Warwickshire – now the home of Aston Martin and JaguarLandRover. Perbury-type transmissions were developed on this former RAF airfield site.
It is fair to say that designs of the Perbury transmission were based on the Hayes transmission (once fitted to Austin cars), it being the point at which Forbes Perry’s designs began to evolve and improve this type of transmission. He probably started serious work circa 1957.
A great deal of water has passed under the bridge, most of it happening within the confines of the facilities in Leyland Truck & Bus which undertook some work in applying the technology to buses. Facilities in Leyland near to the original truck plant became the bedrock for Torotrak.
Executives of major automotive companies made their way to Torotrak Leyland during the last 50 years, all in search of the ‘perfect’ seamless transmission – that disappearing elixir. But for one reason or another, the reality eluded everybody.
Perbury Engineering was for many years the hub of the fountain of ideas. Yet no one liked to admit that a stand-alone engineer knew more about the transmission than anyone else. It was as if he did not exist. Boffins at Leyland believed they knew everything and looked down their noses at ‘clowns’ working in workshops in deepest Oxfordshire.
The little company in Oxfordshire however built a variety of experimental prototypes including those produced by Leyland Truck & Bus, from which people moved across to nearby Torotrak as the company evolved.
                      Careers built on the back of CVT technology
Countless technical papers have been written down the years in Europe, Asia and North America, about CVTs as engineers expounded their ideas about one tiny facet or another of the design. Indeed, careers were forged on the back of the Perbury system.
Now it looks as though, in a bid to cut costs, a huge slimming down process is under way which could see the end of the Perbury-type transmission. Of course, many will dispute that the current design is a Perbury design, as so many man-hours have been invested in pushing out the frontiers of knowledge to expand the power base of understanding of this simple design which relies on traction drive characteristics.
Torotrak plc, which specialises in the use of ground-breaking KERS technology for buses and V-Charge to boost the power of smaller engines for cars, has seen its share price tumble as the car industry has turned its attention to electric cars instead of making traditional engines more efficient.
Interestingly, none of the directors of the company have any history in toroidal transmissions - a passion to drive the technology forward into the market place. None has held board directorship for longer than four years, with the exception of non-executive chairmanNick Barter who joined in 2003. The most recent encumbent is Adam Robson, (April 2015). John McLaren and Rex Vevers joined in June 2013 while Jon Hilton, who is also president of the prestigious Institution of Mechanical Engineers, joined in January 2014. 
In January, Torotrak (which has seen chief executives come and go) announced a strategic refocus of the group including the consolidation of its engineering resources to reduce its ongoing cash operating costs. Indeed, it is possible that some may view Torotrak's acquisition of Flybrid Automotive as a clever device for the Silverstone-based company to reverse into Torotrak plc. Time alone will reveal the outcome.
The company, which also has an office and workshops in Silverstone, has not given details of how many people will be affected but company accounts to March 2016 show it employed 85 staff, 57 of which were engineers at the Leyland site, and it had a total wage bill of £4.7million.
Significantly, perhaps, the Silverstone unit was the technology hub for Flybrid Automotive which became part of Torotrak and led to the emergence of Flybrid executives having a greater say in the running of the company. After all, it was Flybrid Automotive’s KERS technology which now appears to be driving Torotrak forward – if indeed it is making any headway at all.
Last year’s Torotrak plc pre-tax losses almost doubled to £14.3million on a turnover of £1.2 million. Could Torotrak be on the verge of throwing in the CVT towel? It appears not from today’s statement. But who knows the truth?
“The board continues to focus on realising value from Torotrak’s technology portfolio and other assets,” Torotrak said today in a stock market statement.
The group said it expects to close the financial year to the end of March with £5.1 million in cash, in line with expectations but added that the net assets of the company will fall below half of the value of the called-up share capital.  
Under Section 656 of the Companies Act 2006, when this happens the directors are required to call a general meeting of the company to discuss whether steps should be taken to deal with the situation. It will hold this meeting on 31st May.
“The board does not consider that any steps are required to be taken beyond those already in hand and accordingly, no resolutions will be put to Shareholders at the General Meeting,” it said.
So there we have it. The company rumbles on. The question has to be raised, after this recent activity: just how long can Torotrak survive? The technology does not seem to be attractive enough for an OEM to step in and buy the company to add to its portfolio. But of course this could change.
Only in the minds of those ‘running’ Torotrak is there perhaps the germs of ideas to take the technology strands forward. But these minds are holding their real thoughts close to their chests. Whether the truth of Torotrak's collapse ever emerges remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Toyota to put fuel cells in heavy trucks

Toyota Motor North America, Inc. has revealed “Project Portal” - a hydrogen fuel cell system designed for heavy duty truck use at the Port of Los Angeles.

Friday, 17 March 2017

VW uses Hololens to design cars of future

Volkswagen’s Virtual Engineering Laboratory in Wolfsburg is using augmented and virtual reality techniques to design cars of the future.

Friday, 10 March 2017

VW and Tata Motors to explore cooperation

Volkswagen AG and Tata Motors Ltd. have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at exploring long-term strategic cooperation in clearly-defined fields.

JLR to boost its design, engineering resources

Fuelled by success at home and overseas, Jaguar Land Rover Automotive (JLRA) is boosting in engineering resources at Gaydon, the former home of sibling BL Technology Ltd in the days of British Leyland.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Navistar has woes but Clarke remains bullish

Navistar International Corporation has announced a first quarter 2017 net loss of $62 million, compared to a first quarter 2016 net loss of $33 million.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Cummins to have new 12-litre I6 by 2018?

According to Cummins Inc. is working on a new engine, the X12, that will be available in 2018.

China and US markets bolsters JLR

JaguarLandRover (JLR), the UK's leading manufacturer of premium luxury vehicles reported its best February retail sales figure of 40,978 vehicles, up nine per cent on February 2016, driven by strong sales performances in China and North America.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

When is a new engine a new engine?

Journalists are frequently criticised for highlighting the ‘smoke and mirrors’ marketing departments use to create something new that is not really new at all.

Ford explores large-part 3D printing

Ford is exploring how large one-piece car parts could be printed for prototyping and future production vehicles. It claims it is the first automaker to pilot the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer.

Monday, 6 March 2017

PSA-GM: The final solution?

It is quite clear that executives of General Motors Europe and PSA Group have been working behind the scenes for quite some time in secret to cobble together a deal to off-load General Motors’ Europe (GME) vehicle-making operations.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Uncertain times ahead for Bridgend Plant

It looks as though Ford Motor Company is set to reduce its workforce at the Bridgend Engine Plant in south Wales, UK, by 2021 as Dragon begins to show its teeth and JLR pulls out.