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 NACOTY: The Triumph of Design and Engineering
10. January 2017
The North American Car/Truck of the Year (NACTOY) Awards—which now also encompasses Utilities—were presented yesterday at the North American International Auto Show to the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Honda Ridgeline and Chrysler Pacifica.
While the 60 jurors certainly each have their own reasons for voting for those vehicles, arguably the design and engineering of those three vehicles are certainly solid reasons for why they were selected.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Design: In this case, it isn’t so much the exterior design—which combines a version of the front clip found on the Chevy Volt with a profile in which there is essentially no hood to speak of and a sweeping roofline back to the hatch that is nicely accented by a rising beltline—that makes it of interest as much as it is the packaging design. Realize that the designers were faced with the challenges of accommodating the amount of battery storage needed (which we’ll get to) while also handling five passengers and providing 16.9-cu. ft. of storage. (Interestingly, while it has taken the Car category, Chevy refers to the Bolt EV in the context of its utilities.)
Engineering: There were plenty of challenges addressed by the engineering team. Among them were creating an electric vehicle that would be mainstream-affordable (it starts at $37,495 before any tax credits) yet have a range that would handily beat the competitors in the price range. And this they did, with an EPA estimated 238 miles. The Bolt EV’s 200-hp (150-kW) motor is powered by a 60-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that consists of five sections, 10 modules, and 96 cell groups (three cells per group) for a total of 288 cells. They are packaged below the floor so that there is a flat floor.
2017 Honda Ridgeline
Design: This is the second-generation Honda Ridgeline, the pickup truck that has, since the first generation (it appeared in 2005 as a 2006 model year vehicle, and also picked up the NACTOY that year), pretty much defied what a pickup truck is, as it features unibody construction rather than having a body on frame. The first generation features a sail panel between the cab and the box, which made the first Ridgeline appear to be less capable than it actually is. So for the 2017 model the designers have made the Ridgeline look more, well, truck-like with a distinctive vertical break between the cab and the box. That said, the front end of the 2017 Ridgeline has the stylized grille and swept-back lights that are now characteristics of the Honda light-truck lineup (e.g., CR-V and Pilot).
Engineering: One of the issues with the ride and handling of light trucks is that they tend to be developed to handle a load and when they don’t have a load, there is a choppiness to the ride. The Honda engineers combine a stiff body structure with four-wheel independent suspension, vibration-damping subframes, and amplitude reactive dampers. The result of which is a smooth-riding vehicle whether the bed is empty or loaded. And the bed neither steel nor aluminum, but glass-fiber-reinforced SMC. The Ridgeline has a maximum payload capacity of 1,584 lb.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Design: Last year I had the opportunity to interview Irina Zavatski, the exterior designer for the Pacifica minivan. Prior to getting the assignment she drove a MINI. She then got a Town & Country so that she’d learn about the “minivan stigma.” And as a consequence of that she made sure that the design of the Pacifica would be something that women—and men—would be proud to drive. Zavatski recalled that the design and engineering team watched a “Saturday Night Live” skit about “mom jeans,” and they set out to transform the sixth-gen Chrysler minivan from anything resembling that, which they’ve accomplished through not only broad strokes of form on the body sides, but fine details like the way the chrome trim wraps around the lighting on the front fascia.
Engineering: A minivan is all about hauling people (cargo, too, but let’s concentrate on humans here), and with the Uconnect Theater available for the rear-seat passengers—as in two high-def 10-inch touchscreens that allow the display of games, movies and the Internet—chances are quietness is key. So they set about to make the vehicle as quiet as possible. One of the features Chrysler pioneered in the minivan segment is Stow ‘n Go seating, which allows the second row seats to be folded into the floor—as when you need to haul cargo. But that requires a tub below the floor, which can act like a drum. Not helpful vis-à-vis cabin noise. Another consideration was ride and handling. Sliding doors mean there is are comparatively large areas on both side of the vehicle that don’t offer much in the way of structure. So the engineers cleverly have made the box a part of the structure of the vehicle, which helps address two issues with one deft assembly.
Mustangs, Camaros and F-150s
9. January 2017
If you’re shopping for a Mustang, you’re faced with a variety of choices, not simply in terms of the color or the wheels that you’re going to be applying to your ride, but in terms of which model you’re going to select.
There are the V6 Fastback. EcoBoost Fastback. V6 Convertible. EcoBoost Premium Fastback. GT Fastback. EcoBoost Premium Convertible. GT Premium Fastback. GT Premium Convertible. Shelby T350. Shelby GT350R. (And in case you’re wondering, the MSRP for the range starts at $25,185 and tops out at $62,345—and remember, these are the starting prices.)
The point it, in the case of Mustang, it’s the proverbial “horses for courses.”
The product planners at Ford know that having a range of products can be beneficial in terms of sales.
Consider, for example, the perennial cross-town rivalry between the Mustang and the Chevy Camaro.
For 2016, it wasn’t even close: Mustang: 105,932. Camaro: 72,705.
When it comes to light-duty pickups—as in the F-150—there is no question that Ford is dominant, leading the segment for 40 years running.
And there is certainly a range of models to choose from: XL, XLT, Lariat, Raptor, King Ranch, Platinum, Limited.
For 2018, time for a midcycle refresh, the trucks are being fitted with new grilles, headlamps, bumpers, tailgate, and tail lamps.
But what’s more interesting is what they’re doing under the hood: Offering a 3.0-liter Power Stroke diesel engine. This is the first time an F-150 has been available with a diesel.
This doesn’t make Ford unique in the light-duty pickup category with a diesel, as Ram has had a 3.0-liter V6 available starting in model year 2014. And you can get a diesel in Nissan Titans and Chevy Colorados, as well.
Still, it is clear that Ford is working to expand its reach in the segment by putting a diesel in the F-150.
(It is also worth mentioning that the standard engine for the 2018 F-150 is an all-new 3.3-liter V6 (the previous standard had been a 3.5-liter engine). There is also an all-new 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine, which, like the diesel, will be mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission—the only 10-speed in the segment. And also getting the 10-speed is the 5.0-liter V8, which is said to be “improved.” Funny thing: it wasn’t all that long ago that “pickup” and “V8” went hand-in-hand.)
Bosch Study Shows Benefits of Existing Tech
6. January 2017
While the drive toward full autonomy for vehicles is seemingly picking up speed with announcements from companies with new LiDAR systems or the deployment of deep-learning AI systems in vehicles, and while Bosch is working hard in a number of areas to automate driving, here’s something that is striking that comes out of a study, “Connected Car Effect 2025,” that Bosch and the consulting firm Prognos performed.
As Dr. Dirk Hoheisel, member of the Bosch board of management said of the study that looked at the U.S., Germany and China, “The hidden heroes of the connected revolution are assistance and comfort systems, which we are often already familiar with.”
In other words, with technology that already exists in many vehicles. For example, electronic stability control, automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist. It is calculated that by 2025, 90 percent of the vehicles in three countries will be offered with stability control and up to 40 percent for the other two technologies.
In addition to which, there are the smartphones that are seemingly ubiquitous. According to Bosch, approximately 50 percent of vehicles will have smartphone integration by 2025.
So consider having that tech and a system wherein cars are connected. The sensors used in cars for stability control can be used to determine road conditions (e.g., ice) and report that information to other vehicles. And should the cars be equipped with cameras, that information can be shared, as in whether there is congested traffic or fog or some other impediment to travel.
“Our study shows that the effects of connectivity will have a perceptible impact on every driver in 2025,” said Hoheisel.
The study shows that not only is there a potential considerable decrease in the number of traffic accidents and fatalities, but also benefits in terms of time saved (should cars share information in city centers regarding available parking places, there is a huge reduction in the amount of time wasted—to say nothing of fuel—cruising around looking for an open spot: according to Dr. Werner Struth, of the Bosch board of management, people spend up to 30 minutes and drive miles to find an empty parking space in city).
It is all about how the technology is orchestrated and deployed.
Audi & NVIDIA Go Deeper
5. January 2017
NVIDIA, the tech company that transformed powerful, compact computing with its graphical processing units (GPUs) that lead to systems-on-a-chip (SOC)*, and Audi, the car company that transformed what was the state of the art of automotive interiors (and which has been using NVIDIA tech in its vehicles for navigation displays, for example, which enhances the look of the interiors of its cars and crossovers), jointly announced last night at a keynote at CES 2017 that they’re going to be working together to advance artificial applications to address autonomous driving capabilities.
Scott Keogh, Audi of America president, stated, “In our mutual pursuit for safer roads, the partnership between Audi and NVIDIA will expand to deep learning and artificial intelligence to bring higher automation into production more quickly.”
This Q7 concept uses neural networks and end-to-end deep learning on NVIDIA's artificial intelligence platform. The vehicle learns from both the road and the driver in every mile it travels. Thanks to the deep learning capabilities, when something unexpected occurs, the system is capable of adapting to the conditions as required.
And from their side of things, Jen-Hsun Huang founder and CEO of NVIDIA, said, “Audi’s adoption of our DRIVE computing platform will accelerate the introduction of next-generation automated vehicles, moving us closer to a future of greater driving safety and new mobility services.”
DRIVE PX 2 is a computing platform that can be scaled as required to perform tasks starting from a system for performing automated highway driving by using HD maps and sensors to locate the vehicle to systems that combine two SoCs and two discrete GPUs to multiple systems that provide extensive vehicular awareness and capabilities.
While the companies said they’d be putting highly advanced AI cars on the road by 2020, this year Audi is launching the A8 with Traffic Jam Pilot, which the company says will make it the first vehicle to meet SAE Level 3 automation. The system uses an NVIDIA-based system that will allow the driver to conditionally turn over steering, throttle and braking functionality to the vehicle at speeds of up to 35 mph—think of this as a way to deal with traffic jams on the freeway.
Between now and 2020 Audi is expanding its test fleet of AI-equipped vehicles in the U.S.
*NVIDIA is also the recipient of the AD&P and AutoBeat first-ever Automobility award in the Technology category.
Ford Makes an Astounding Achievement
4. January 2017
Ford has made an accomplishment that will never be bested, never even be tied. As it tallied up all of its sales for 2016 it calculated that it delivered 820,799 F-Series trucks.
Which makes the F-Series the best-selling vehicle—as in car, crossover or truck—in the U.S. for 35 years.
And it has been the best-selling pickup in the U.S. for 40 years running.
No company will beat that.
While the F-Series sales for 2016 represent a 5 percent increase over 2015, there is something of interest in other Ford numbers.
While you might think of Ford as a “car company,” that’s arguably no longer the case.
That is, every single one of its cars was down in 2016 compared with 2015. And some rather significantly.
Police Interceptor Sedan: -3.0%
Some people may have been surprised yesterday when Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO, announced that they’d be adding a hybrid version of the F-150 by 2020. Hybrids may seem appropriate for Priuses and Panameras, but pickups?
Given these numbers, it should be no surprise.