Gary S. Vasilash
Gary S. Vasilash is the founding editor of Automotive Design & Production (AD&P) magazine, a publication established in 1997 by Gardner Publications with the cooperation of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He is responsible for the editorial management and direction of the monthly magazine. Vasilash continues to write a monthly column for AD&P and contributes several stories to each issue.
Vasilash has more than 20 years of experience writing about the automotive industry, best practices and new technologies. His work has appeared in a variety of venues, ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Lightworks, a journal of contemporary art. He has made numerous presentations at a variety of venues ranging from the annual meeting of the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) to the Center for Constructive alternatives at Hillsdale College.
Prior to his present position, Vasilash was editor-in-chief of both Automotive Production and Production magazines—predecessors to AD&P. He joined Cincinnati, Ohio-based Gardner Publications in 1987 as executive editor of Production magazine.
Prior to that, Vasilash had editorial positions with the Rockford Institute and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and a Master of Arts degree from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He is a member of the Automotive Press Association.
2017 Buick LaCrosse Premium AWD
14. February 2017
The Buick design team deserves the strongest of accolades for their work at transforming the appearance of the brand from one of, well something akin to “the last ride” to one of contemporary stylishness befitting of a the cohort of automotive customers who didn’t cast their first presidential ballot in 1968 or earlier.
While I have previously thought that the “That’s a Buick!?” commercials were off-point, given the utter transformation of the sedan in question, I truly thought, in effect, “That’s a LaCrosse!?” when I first saw the vehicle.
I can think of no automotive brand that has undergone such a profound change in styling—in a positive way, I should add—in the last several years. One could say that perhaps when Cadillac brought out the first generation CTS in 2002 (model year 2003) that there was a similar change to what’s going on in the Buick showroom.
And in many ways, what Cadillac has done in changing its position in the market (let’s face it, it was pretty much the car that was popular among the well-heeled who were retired and needed to buy American) is what Buick is doing with striking designs.
The 2017 LaCrosse is long, low and wide. It is a full-size sedan that doesn’t appear in anyway to be like a blobby barge on wheels. It is sizable—but sleek.
And what is more than somewhat remarkable is that the starting MSRP for the sedan is $32,900, which means it is a lot of car for the cash—although one is likely to add things to bring it to a higher trim level, because it brings the goods like AWD on the top trim level, as driven here, as well as electronically controlled damping control for the suspension that allows adjustment for softer or stiffer setups, depending on how you’re driving (i.e., in an area strewn with potholes, the touring grade is best; when you have the opportunity to drive on roads that are smooth and curving, sport is where you want to be).
(One of the more amusing names for an option package—it may be accurate in what it delivers, but still seems sort of funny—is “Driver Confidence Package.” There are actually two of them. One is available on the Essence trim, which is just behind the top-of-the-line Premium package, on which it is standard: rear cross-traffic alert and side blind-zone alert with lane-change alert. Then the second package is available on Premium: automatic park assist, front pedestrian detection, front automatic braking, and full speed-range adaptive cruise control. I don’t know if they make one feel more confident, but they surely are useful in most driving conditions.)
The LaCrosse comes with a 310-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine that’s mated to an eight-speed electronically controlled transmission. A word about the transmission shifter. Unless you’ve just started driving (and I have to say that if you just started driving, chances are you aren’t reading this), you’ve spent most of your time behind the wheel with a gear selector that’s essentially a mechanical device that you pull or push some inches or fractions thereof into position. With the setup in the LaCrosse, you’re moving it in the fractions thereof category, which can seem somewhat strange at first. To put it in reverse the movement is up and to the left. To put it into drive it is straight down. In both cases, there is a button on the side of the handle that you depress with your thumb. And to put it into park, there is a button on top that’s engaged. I’ve got to say that I found it a bit difficult when switching from drive to reverse multiple times maneuvering into a tight parking place in a street lot during Industry Days at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), when the lot owner wanted to get every possible vehicle he could onto his property.
That said, I found the AWD and the overall performance of the car absolutely superb when I was driving down to NAIAS one snowy morning.
Buick has been promoting its “QuietTuning” for the past few years. The operative word in that combo is “quiet.” In a stately sedan like the LaCrosse, you surely don’t want road noise, wind noise or other noise that comes from outside the cabin. And they’ve accomplished that in good order in this car.
Engine: 3.6-liter direct-injected V6, 310 hp// Transmission: Eight-speed automatic//Wheelbase/length/width/height: 114.4, 197.5, 73.5, 57.5 inches//Seating: 5// Passenger volume: 102 cu. ft.//Cargo volume: 15 cu. ft.// Fuel economy: 20/29/20 city/highway/combined mpg
After Hours in the Second City
13. February 2017
The Chicago Auto Show is held each year at McCormick Place. In terms of longevity, it is second only to the New York Auto Show. However, points out Dave Sloan, general manager of the show, the New York Show was earlier than in 1901, when the Chicago Show was first held, after World War II the Chicago Show was up and running sooner, so it has been held more times than any other show in the U.S. (This is the 109th.)
In term of size, it is large, as well, taking up more than 1-million square feet of space in McCormick Place.
Sloan says that McCormick Place is so capacious—with 2.7-million square feet of exhibit space and an addition 700,000 square feet of meeting rooms—that it would be possible to hold the New York, Detroit and Los Angeles Shows simultaneously in Chicago.
Sloan talks about the show and overall industry trends to Autoline’s John McElroy and me on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”
Then John and I are joined by Mark Scarpelli, recently named chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (and a car dealer in suburban Chicago). Scarpelli talks about the trends that he sees going on in the industry, including issues related to direct sales and mobility services, both of which have implications on dealers.
Because Chicago is known as a “truck” show, we then talk with Fred Diaz, division vice president and general manager, North America Trucks and Light Commercial Vehicles, Nissan North America, who, earlier in the day, introduced the 2017 Titan King Cab, the fifth configuration for the pickup that the company has launched in the last year. Diaz talks about the new truck and Nissan’s growing competitiveness in the truck space.
Then we’re joined by two Chicago-based journalists, Kirk Bell of Motor Authority and Paul Brian of ABC stations, and we discuss the Chicago Auto Show, as well as a wide array of trends, news and developments in the auto industry.
And you can see it here:
10. February 2017
Infiniti, at long last, seems to be on a roll in the U.S. market. For 2016, it sold 138,293 vehicles, which is an increase of four percent over 2015.
So to help keep the momentum going, it is launching at the Chicago Auto Show two 2017 “Signature Editions,” one for it Q50 3.0t sport sedan and the other for its full-size QX 5.6 SUV.
In both cases, it is about adding some special content, like, for the Q50, a power-sliding glass moonroof, navigation, and LED lights fore and aft.
For the OX80 Signature Edition there are things like exterior touches like chrome outside rearview mirror caps and dark-finish 22-inch forged aluminum alloy wheels, and inside touches like a leather Saddle Tan trimmed surfaces. And there is a lengthy list of driver assistance tech, including: Backup Collision Intervention (BCI), Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Intelligent Cruise Control (Full-Speed Range), Distance Control Assist (DCA), Forward Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW), Blind Spot Intervention (BSI), Land Departure Warning (LPW) and Lane Departure Prevention (LDP).
While it is certainly the case that sedans are having a tough time of it in the market so providing some additional features and functions is a good thing—although it should be noted that Q50 sales actually were up last year, albeit only by 0.3 percent—when it comes to SUVs, be they large, medium or small, they are figuratively flying off the showroom floors: the QX80 sales were up 7.2 percent last year, and realize that it has a starting MSRP of $63,850, so that’s a non-trivial purchase.
Toyota TRD in City of the Big Shoulders
9. February 2017
For some reason, the Chicago Auto Show has the reputation of being the “truck show.” That is, if you’re going to be showing a new truck, don’t reveal it in Detroit, New York or LA, do it in Chicago.
The only rationale I can think of goes back to 1914 when then-Chicago resident Carl Sandburg published the first of what were to be collected as the Chicago Poems, a poem that you may recall from high school that opens:
HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders
Be that as it may. . .
In keeping with the truck theme, Toyota rolled out two new grades for its Tundra full-size pickup and its Sequoia full-size crossover, two vehicles that can readily accommodate those with broad shoulders.
But in the case of both of these trucks, what Toyota has done is called on its operation that is for making trucks a bit more, well, “stormy, husky, brawling,” in effect: Toyota Racing Development (TRD), the company’s in-house tuning shop. (Yes, it is involved in the NASCAR program—and last year Toyota won the Daytona 500 (and 15 other races) and received the Manufacturers Championship—as well as in endeavors that involve deserts, rocks and whatnot.)
The 2018 Tundra TRD Sport is available on the CrewMax and Double cab configurations, 4x4 and 4x2 grades. Although the vehicle is visually TRDed—color keyed mirrors, bumpers and hood scoop; 20-inch silver alloy wheels with black accents; mesh grille with body-color surround; 20-inch silver alloy wheels with black bezels; and, lest anyone mistake it for something else: TRD Sport bed-side graphic. The inside has TRD touches, as on the shift knob and sport mats.
But it isn’t all show and no go as there are TRD Sport Tuned Bilstein shocks and TRD front and rear anti-sway bars.
The 2018 Sequoia TRD Sport is similar in some respects—as in terms of the shocks and sway bars—but it goes more toward black than body colored, as in gloss black mirror caps, black satin finish TRD sport badging on the front doors, and smoked rear tail light lenses.
On the inside, there are the TRD shift knob and floor mats, as well as TRD sill protectors. The standard seating surfaces are black fabrics; however, there is optional black leather captain chairs for the vehicle.
Both vehicles have a 381-hp 5.7-liter i-Force V8 engine.
In addition to which, both (along with other non-TRD variants of the respective 2018 models), will feature as standard the Toyota Safety Sense package (TSS-P). It includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, auto high beam, and dynamic radar cruise control.
Were it not for the fact that in January the RAV4, with 22,155 units, outsold Camry (20,313), the other Chicago intro might have gone overlooked, but given the momentum of RAV4 in the Toyota lineup, the RAV4 Adventure can’t pass unmentioned.
This model is available as either front- or all-wheel drive. There is a standard tow package for both, which includes an upgraded radiator and supplemental engine oil and transmission fluid coolers (if the engine is going to work harder by pulling a load, then you need to make it easier to do so), as well as a suspension system that has increased ride height.
And there are visual differences, too, like large, over-fender flares, 18-inch black alloy wheels, lower body guards, black headlight bezels, fog lamp surround, roof racks, and badging. Inside there are Adventure-specific trim panels, sill protectors and all-weather mats.
All of these vehicles are going to be available in the fall.
Sandburg, incidentally, died at age 89. In Flat Rock, North Carolina.
Ford Expedition: Bigger, Better
8. February 2017
If you’re going to introduce a new full-size SUV, you might as well do it in a place where there are more of them sold than anywhere else, says Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas. And it also happens to be a place where Ford sells 20 percent of its F Series full-size pickups.
Specifically, in the case of the new Expedition—and this is “new” as in “all-new,” which is probably due, as the fundamental vehicle was introduced 20 years ago, and while it has been updated and refreshed, it hasn’t undergone a full top-to-bottom change since until now—the global reveal took place at the Ford Center at the Star, a complex in Frisco, Texas, north of Dallas, a 510,000-square foot indoor athletic facility used by the Dallas Cowboys for training (there’s an indoor arena that seats 12,000 and there is a Texas-sized Ford Blue Oval on the outside of the building that’s probably big enough for the new neighbors down the way in Plano to see).
Jones (left) and Hinrichs (right) deep in the heart of Texas
Hinrichs has two new Platinum Expeditions driven out on a plaza outside the building. One of them was piloted by Stephen Jones, chief operating officer of the Cowboys, and son of Jerry. Jones said he is a long-time Expedition owner.
Perhaps one of the most notable things about the new Expedition is, Todd Hoevener, chief engineer, points out, the fact that the body is made with aluminum. And like the aluminum-bodied F Series, there is a high-strength steel frame underpinning the vehicle. (Although there are some borrowings from the F Series in terms of the front of the vehicle, Hoevener says the Expedition is its own platform.)
As is the case with the F Series, the purpose of the aluminum, the engineer says, was to reduce mass. There is up to 300 pounds of mass savings for the new vehicle thanks to the material. He points out that this is important because the Expedition is bigger than the previous model and it is offered with an array of available amenities.
The Expedition has more than 40 new features and driver-assist technologies, ranging from a second row seat that slides fore and aft and tips forward in such a way that it is possible to have a child seat in place while someone is accessing the third row to on-board Wi-Fi that’s not only capable of handling 10 devices, but which is accessible up to 50 feet away from the vehicle, from for 12-volt power points and six USB chargers and a 110-volt power outlet to a vista roof that covers the first and second rows.
And there are keeping assist, active park assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, and much more.
Under the hood is a 3.5-liter EcoBoost (with start-stop) that’s mated to a 10-speed automatic.
It is available as a 4x4. There is what Ford calls “Intelligent 4WD,” which is available with an electronic limited-slip differential that sends the torque to the wheel that needs it.
Ford research found that more than 50 percent of Expedition owners tow with their vehicles. That number may actually rise, as they are offering Pro Trailer Backup Assist, which essentially helps control the maneuvering via the turning of a knob.
Hinrichs pointed out that last year SUVs outsold cars in the U.S. market. So the Expedition, which goes on sale this fall, is one of a suite of products that the company has—or will have (the EcoSport is coming in 2018 to address the small end of the market and the Bronco is coming in 2020 to further address the middle)—to meet customer demands.
Especially in Texas.