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.

Suzuki Sells Millions of Swifts But Not in the U.S.
22. April 2016

American Suzuki Motor Corporation—the car part of Suzuki, not the motorcycle, ATV and outboard motor producer and purveyor—filed for Chapter 11 in November 2012.

Which put a period to the brand in the U.S. market once the dealers’ stock of cars and crossovers ran out.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, Suzuki is selling cars at a respectable clip.

Swift

Case in point: the Suzuki Swift.

Last week Suzuki announced that it has sold more than five million of the subcompact cars.

The vehicle went into production in Japan in 2004. In subsequent years, it added manufacturing facilities in Hungary, India, China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The Swift is available in 140 countries, of which the U.S. isn’t one.

Of the overall sales, Japan accounts for 11%, India 50%, and Europe for 19%.

Honda (Re)Energized
21. April 2016

Honda, says John Mendel, executive vice president, Automobile Division, American Honda Motor Co., is fairly rare in the U.S. auto industry right now for at least a couple of reasons.

For one thing, Mendel points out that while the industry overall has increased incentive spending to move sheet metal by 18 percent, Honda has reduced its incentive spending by 18 percent.

Honda Press Conference at 2015 NAIAS

John Mendel

And while the common wisdom would have it that cars are becoming sales-proof as consumers make the switch to crossovers and SUVs, in the first quarter of this year Civic sales are up 30 percent compared to the same period last year and Accord sales are up 12 percent. And the Honda approach is to sell vehicles to individuals, not fleet buyers. Which means that, as Mendel observes, the Civic and the Accord are the top-retail selling cars in their class three years running.

But there is another thing that’s interesting about Honda.

Mendel: “Honda is one of only two automakers today that is meeting our federal fuel economy targets without the benefit of credits or offsets. In fact, we have the largest margin of improvement of our CAFE requirements of any full-line automaker.”

Which is to say that even though people generally scoff at the possibility that there is little if any interest in fuel-efficient vehicles, know that the only way that Honda is doing so well as regards those requirements is because it is producing fuel-efficient vehicles and that they are doing a great job in selling those vehicles, as well.

Honda had a new Accord Hybrid in 2014. That vehicle didn’t sell particularly well, Mendel admits, with sales of only about 14,000. It’s worth noting that in March, Honda sold 30,523 Accords, which gives you a sense of how small that 14,000 is.

But Mendel also admits that there were problems in terms of having the manufacturing capacity—both at the Honda level and at the supplier level—to produce more Accord Hybrids.

You might think that the company would shy away from that exercise again.

AccordHybrid

2017 Accord Hybrid

But to the contrary, it is launching the 2017 Accord Hybrid this spring. The new car, which will be positioned as the “ultimate” Accord, has a two-motor hybrid, as its predecessor did, as well as the 2.0-liter Atkinson Cycle engine. But the motors, the li-ion batteries and the engine have been all improved so that (1) the 212 hp is a 16 hp increase over the previous model and (2) the estimated EPA fuel economy numbers, based on the 2017 EPA testing regimen, will be 48/45/47 city/highway/combined, which are a +1/+2/+1 mpg increase over the previous model.

AccordHybrid2

Accord Hybrid Engine

But Honda’s not done. Not by a long shot.

Honda has been developing its fuel cell vehicle, the Clarity, for a number of years. In March the vehicle went on sale in Japan. Later this year it will launch in the U.S. market. This is a five-passenger vehicle that has a range that is estimated to be greater than 300 miles. They’re looking at an MSRP on the order of $60,000 and a lease of less than $500 per month.

Similar to the sort of improvements found in the new Accord Hybrid, the Clarity Fuel Cell has a 60 percent increase in power density compared with its predecessor. The fuel cell powertrain is about the size of a V6 engine and fits completely under the hood of the car.

Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Clarity Fuel Cell

This is packaging is of importance because Honda is using the underlying platform for extensions to the Clarity lineup: a Clarity Electric and a Clarity Plug-In. Both of these models will be on the road in the U.S. by the end of 2017.

Mendel: “This shared platform strategy will enable Honda to more efficiently respond to infrastructure and market developments, provide customers nationwide with an ultra-low carbon vehicle that meets their lifestyle needs, and take us toward higher volume sales of advanced alt-fuel products.”

What they’re doing, is leveraging their scale: by having three distinct powertrain variants (and recognize that these variants are a whole lot different than a four- and six-cylinder engine or even a spark-ignition versus a combustion-ignition engine) but the same fundamental underpinnings, they are able to spread their engineering and development costs, thereby being more cost effective. At the same time, by providing these choices, people who live in markets that currently don’t have a hydrogen infrastructure (which is approximately everywhere but California) can go for the full electric vehicle or the plug-in; people who are in California might opt for any of the three.

When asked whether he thought that 350,000+ pre-orders for the Tesla Model 3 would have a negative effect on the prospects of the Clarity series, Mendel laughed and said that producing that number of vehicles will be a real challenge for Tesla. “It would take us a while. And we’re kind of geared up for that.”

HOG, JOG and the EMEA
20. April 2016

For those of us who live in the United States, there are two motor vehicle brands that seem to be quintessentially “American.”

One is Jeep.

The other is Harley.

JeepHarley

So it came of something of a surprise to us to learn that Jeep and Harley-Davidson have, for the past three years, been collaborating on events in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) region.

At events in France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, UK, Inlay, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and South Africa (e.g., the Euro Festival, which will be held in Saint-Tropez later this month), there is a Harley Village on site, and within it there is a Jeep section including production and customized models.

In 2014, the first year of the partnership, there were more than 600,000 participants at the events. Last year it passed one-million.

Another interesting thing to know about the two brands in the EMEA region:

There is a Harley Owners Group (HOG), which has 116,000 members in the EMEA region, and a Jeep Owners Group (JOG), which has 64,000 members in the area.

When it comes to Harleys and Jeeps, it really is a global village.

Freudenberg: Technology Meets Humanity
19. April 2016

When Dr. Mohsen Sohi, CEO and member of the Board of Management, The Freudenberg Group, a Germany-based conglomerate with a considerable footprint in the automotive space, particularly in sealing and filters, and strong presence in the North American market, which represented 26 percent of the company’s sales in 2015, talked about the company’s 2015 financials, it was nice to hear that a supplier has had a good run, as in improvements six years in a row, with 2015 overall sales increasing by 7.6 percent to €7.57 billion (or $8.36-billion).

Dr. Mohsen Sohi - Speaker of the Board of Management

Sohi

But it was perhaps more encouraging to hear that the company is serious about improving the technologies that it provides, serious to the tune of a 17 percent increase in its spending on R&D, €315-million in 2015. That represents 4.2 percent of sales. In 2014, not only were sales lower, but the percentage of R&D spend was lower, too, at 3.8 percent of sales.

Sohi said, “We can spend more on innovation because we’re spending less on administration.”

Which is something that all companies ought to take into account.

Freudenberg Oil & Gas: Seals thermoplastic and elastomer

Products

The company increased the number of people working on R&D by 190 in 2015, so it now stands at 2,772 of a total workforce (located in some 60 countries) of 40,474.

Sohi said that the company focuses its R&D on five “technology platforms”: nonwovens, sealing technologies, molding, friction/wear and lubrication, and surface technologies, and that within those areas the three areas of interest are materials science, process technologies and product design and application engineering.

The investments in innovation are paying off because Sohi said that 26 percent of the company’s sales come from products in the portfolio that are less than four years old.

Freudenberg Research Services: Atomic emission spectroscopy

R&D

But there was also something that Sohi said that Freudenberg is committed to, which is being a good corporate citizen, a company that takes social responsibility seriously. The company has an initiative called “e2,” which addresses the environment and education. It has made commitments in Detroit to the Beyond Basics and The Greening of Detroit initiatives, which work in those two respective areas. It has rebuilt an elementary school in China. It has established a non-profit jobs training program in India.

And Sohi said that Freudenberg Group is doing its part to help with the refugee crisis in Europe. “In our lifetimes, we haven’t seen something of this magnitude,” he said.

It is nice to learn about a company that is doing good from a financial point of view.

It is outstanding to learn about a company that does good.

Freudenberg Group does both.

The Toyota Mirai and How Fuel Cells Work
18. April 2016

Hydrogen is not only the first element on the Periodic Table (so it gets Atomic Number 1), but it is also the simplest—one proton and one electron—and it is also the most abundant element in the universe.

What’s more, it is a pretty significant fuel (vide: the Sun and all other stars).

Hydrogen is the stuff of plenty of science projects.

Mirai1

But it is also the fuel that is used to power the Toyota Mirai, and that’s a production car, built in the Motomachi Plant in Toyota City, and the Mirai, explains Jackie Birdsall, senior engineer at Toyota who worked on the vehicle, is not a science project.

It is a car that is available for sale (~$57K) or lease ($499/month). . .assuming that you live in one of three markets in California (Bay Area, LA or Sacramento) for the simple reason, Birdsall says, that they’re making the vehicles available where there is infrastructure, and “infrastructure” simply means “gas stations” (and in the case of refueling for the Mirai, the hydrogen is in gaseous form, not liquid like the gasoline that you pump into your car).

According to Birdsall, the plan isn’t to have the Mirai be a niche-market vehicle but, once there is greater hydrogen refueling capability, to be found throughout the U.S.—as well as other parts of the world.

Mirai2

If you’ve ever wondered how a fuel-cell-powered vehicle works, then you want to watch this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” during which Birdsall explains the process by which the hydrogen atoms create the energy necessary to drive the 151-hp car (which is better said as 113 kW, because it is powered by an electric motor; there is no internal combustion engine on board) that has a top speed of 111 mph and a cruising range on the order of 312 miles.

And for those who know that it is exceedingly easy to become impatient while waiting for an electric car to charge, it is important to note that it takes just about five minutes to refuel a Mirai, and the process is fairly identical to that of pumping in unleaded.

Mirai3

One interesting aspect of the Mirai’s powertrain is that the learnings that Toyota has gained over four generations of Prius vehicles is used for the Mirai: the Mirai has a Hybrid Synergy Drive, albeit one that is certainly different than Prius, plug-in or otherwise.

It is a fascinating and important discussion (along with John McElroy of “Autoline,” Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press and me) because of the necessary powertrain transformations that are going to be occurring the world over as the auto industry comes ever closer to 2025.

In addition to which, McElroy, Phelan and I discuss a variety of topics including whether Volkswagen execs deserve bonuses, Ford’s big commitment to transforming its footprint(s) in Dearborn, and much more.

And you can see it all here:




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