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In its new-found freedom, the country is also discovering customising and, with it, performance enhancements. In a two-pronged approach to China's exploding car sales, Perth-based Sprintex Superchargers has completed five trial Honda Jazz models that it hopes will lead to a lucrative business.
The cars have been supplied to the China-based Honda joint-venture manufacturer of the Jazz and are intended as precursors to either OEM (original equipment manufacturer) or after-market kits. Sprintex business development manager Jay Upton says the supercharger boosts performance of the 1.5-litre Jazz engine but - more importantly - will deliver reduced emissions for a similar performance of bigger engines.
He says the Jazz superchargers will initially be for export mainly to China, however the system will be offered in US and in Australia. No price has been fixed but expect about $3500. "Whilst we did not really expect the local market to be excited by a hotter version of a Honda Jazz, we have been a little surprised by the interest from our home market," he says. "It's not the car that I would pick to hide a supercharger."
Mr Upton says China is an attractive sale proposition. "The China market produces more than 70,000 Fits (Jazz) a year and our partners there are projecting annual sales of more than 1000 systems for the car in China alone," he says.
"We are expecting China to become our largest market and small cars to be the majority of that market. More than 70 per cent of cars produced in China are 1.5 litre or less, hence the market for performance aids for smaller engines.
The move to superchargers also follows similar product development in forced-induction and downsizing engines. China's biggest car maker, Geely, has three small-bore engines in 1.3 and 1.5-litre guises that go on sale in China next year with Eaton superchargers.
Nissan will have a new Micra in Europe with an optional 1.2-litre three-cylinder supercharged engine that claims 40 per cent more power and about 20 per cent lower emissions than its 1.4-litre normally-aspirated sister.
Mr Upton says the Honda Jazz trial unit in Australia - the other mules are in Asia - is a current model 1.5-litre V-Tec VTi model. "The car uses the smallest current Sprintex unit, the S5-150, to increase power by about 40 per cent to 100kW, up from the standard 72kW," he says.
"These are our measured figures, on our dyno, not Honda's stated outcome." The alloy-bodied supercharger is the same base unit that is available as an aftermarket product for the Harley-Davidson Evo models and the Ducati Hypermotard.
"In fact, the 150 - the figure means 150 litres a second of air produced - suits engines from 800cc to about 1800cc," says Mr Upton. "The biggest we make suits engines up to about 4.5 litres, such as the bigger 4WDs. We have kits for those and are making additional kits for the new 4-litre V6 Toyota engine that's fitted to the Prado and Hilux.
"We have a strong business supplying aftermarket kits to 4WDs and we see the move towards the smaller engines, such as the Jazz, as being our future. We have no intention of making units for the 5-litre or 6-litre muscle-car engines.
"Our focus is on designing superchargers to make small engines maximise performance while minimising emissions and fuel use." Sprintex also has supercharger kits for the Mitsubishi Magna/380 which are sold through Mitsubishi's TMR division.