Autofield Blog

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.

It’s a Big World, After All

By: Gary S. Vasilash 21. January 2016

In a briefing at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last week, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.—which is the global company, not just Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC—talked about succession planning, which is likely to be succession within a couple of years.


Marchionne underscored the breadth of the position by pointing out that it isn’t enough to be a “Detroit darling”—not, he noted, that that’s a bad thing to be—but that the same level of warm feelings has to exist in China, Brazil, Argentina, Europe. . . .

And he stated:

“The world is a big place. We forget that from here.”

And “here,” of course, being Detroit.

Detroit in this context is an example of synecdoche. The part standing for the whole.

Here Detroit is standing for the auto industry.

Even though people in the industry around here know that there are European and Asian OEMs and that cars that trucks that might otherwise seem to be “Made in U.S.A.” are actually produced both north and south of the borders, there is, Marchionne seems to have been saying, still too great a tendency to think that the world revolves around Detroit.

Jeep Renegade

A Jeep Renegade. . .yes, in China

Although people would argue that the narrow-mindedness that knocked Detroit back on its collective heels some years back (“What do you mean that there are people driving Toyotas in great number? I don’t see any of them on Woodward, or at least not in the parking lot when I pulled in this morning.”) has been expanded greatly, there is still a risk that last year’s massive sales success could lead to a re-narrowing of focus.

Which no one can afford.

2016 GMC Terrain AWD Denali

By: Gary S. Vasilash 20. January 2016

The Terrain is a small SUV. Its cousin is the Chevy Equinox. But whereas the Equinox is somewhat soft and curvy, the Terrain is more angular, especially in the areas of the fender forms, suggesting that this is a vehicle that means business.

2016 GMC Terrain Denali 3/4 front

There are sometimes questions as to whether GM might look at the tremendous success that FCA is having with Jeep (through December 2015, Jeep posted 27 straight months of year-over-year sales increases, which is nothing to sniff it). You can almost see the Terrain as where GM might go in creating its own Jeep-like brand.

Here are a few things I suggest they do.

· Most notably: Use some ultra-high-strength steel for the A-pillars. The ones now are massive, so much so as the one of the passenger’s side can block the driver’s view in the general area, which is particularly vexing when pulling out of a parking space or while making a right turn.

· Add audio for purposes of warning, not entertainment. Most automatic tailgates have an audible beep that provides an alert when it is opening or closing. (Higher-end crossovers have a chime.) Let’s face it: a tailgate is a rather large piece of steel and glass, so when it is in motion, there really ought to be a warning for those who might be distracted while trying to find that can of soup that may have rolled out of the grocery bag in the cargo area.

· What time is it? If you have the navigation screen on the display and want to know what time it is, you’d better be wearing a watch. There is no clock or digital display elsewhere on the IP. Should you have the main or audio screen on, there is a digital time display. Otherwise. . . .

· Up the ante. On the interior materials. Presumably “Denali” signifies an upper trim level. Yet the knobs, buttons and surfaces are really not-top-grade. The designers and color and materials folks ought to look at the execution of something like a Hyundai Santa Fe, even at entry levels. Yes, the Terrain has leather. But is almost seems as though the Denaliness of the vehicle is predicated on things like the grille, lighted sill plate and exterior satin chrome treatments. Yes, you often buy a vehicle for its exterior looks. But you live with what’s on the inside.

· Power up. As in the front side glass. They’re express down, but you have to hold the finger lever to get them to go back up.

That said. . .

2016 GMC Terrain Denali light titanium-jet black interior

During my time with the vehicle, there was an early dumping of seven inches of snow in my vicinity, snow that came down almost as though it was rain. And I can say that I felt sufficiently smug (and snug) in the Terrain, which was ideal for those conditions, especially when the heated seat was activated. For getting around town it was nice as given its small size: all-wheel-drive drivers sometimes don’t realize that due to physics, if you’re driving something with massive mass, you’re still more likely to skid when going into turns than you are in something like the Terrain.

Still, this small SUV segment is more competitive than ever, with really fine products available from seemingly every manufacturer.

2016 GMC Terrain Denali 3/4 rear

Funny thing, though: the Terrain is selling well, with its numbers  this year up over last by 6.7%.

However, look at it like this. Through 2015, there were 112,030 Terrains delivered.

The number of Jeep Cherokees?  220,260.

Over at Ford, they moved 306,492 Escapes.

Toyota sold 315,412 RAV4s in 2015.

And Honda moved a whopping 345,647 CR-Vs.

Denali trim or not, there is a lot of room to move up.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.6-liter, DOHC, V6

Material: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 301 @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 272 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Hydraulic rack and pinion

Wheelbase: 112.5 in.

Length: 185.3 in.

Width 72.8 in.

Height: 66.3 in.

Passenger volume: 99.6-cu. ft.

Cargo volume behind rear seat: 31.6-cu. ft.

Curb weight: 4,204 lb.

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 16/23/18 mpg

2017 Lincoln Continental

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. January 2016

Can Lincoln advance the appeal of sedans in a CUV-centric market? Or will it find that the MKC, the MKX and the Navigator are going to hold sway in terms of its position in the market? No one knows the answers to those questions—yet—but Lincoln is going to put the flagship Continental sedan on the market this coming fall to see whether it can gain traction in the car side of things.

Continental 1

Technology, of course, is important in the luxury sedan market, so there’s the obligatory array, with things like an array of cameras on the exterior to facilitate parking, sensors to keep the driver and pedestrians safer, and a large screen on the center stack for purposes of infotainment.

Continental 3

Increased attention to detail seems to be the approach being taken throughout the execution of the car, perhaps best exemplified by what are called “Perfect Position Seats.” No two people, points out Kumar Galhorta, president of Lincoln, sit symmetrically or even in the same way, so Lincoln engineers devised a seat that allows the cushions to be adjusted to accommodate the left leg and the right, and to cosset people of different sizes and weights.

Engagement with a vehicle seems to be the name of the game, particularly in the luxury space, so they’ve taken particular care, not only with the level of lighting that automatically occurs as a driver approaches the Continental at night, but even engineered the door handles—called “E-latch”—to ease opening. Not overlooking the inside experience, they’ve applied real materials (wood, metal, leather), are offering a Revel audio system, are using Active Noise Control to keep the cabin quiet, and are providing the back seat passengers with the means to control their space.

Continental 2

There are plenty of competitors in the luxury space that tout their performance characteristics, and while the Continental is available with a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that will produce on the order of 400 hp and 400 lb-ft, Galhorta stresses that the objective is not 0 to 60 times as much as it is confidence in acceleration.

Continental 4

Although many people think of Lincoln strictly in the context of the U.S. market, the company is quite clear that this car has been designed and engineered for the important Chinese market, as well, where luxury marques are doing exceedingly well, where the company wants to gain a strong foothold.

Lincoln is clearly on a journey in the luxury category, and the 2017 is certainly an important waypoint on its path.

Kia Going Autonomous

By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. January 2016

Usually when a company in the auto industry talks about spending $1-billion, that’s fairly big news.

And a company that said it is going to be spending a total of $2-billion by 2018 ought to make twice the news.

But somehow, the fact that Kia announced that it is spending that amount of money to fast-track its autonomous vehicle development seems to have gone unremarked.

Of course, they made the announcement at CES, so perhaps being buried under other announcement can be somewhat understood.

Kia Motors introduces new ‘DRIVE WISE’ sub-brand for autonomous driving technologies

Kia is calling its autonomous initiative “DRIVE WISE.”

Included in the portfolio that it is developing are highway autonomous driving, which uses a camera and radar for maintaining a lane, and even the ability to pass other vehicles without driver input (one of the concerns even with adaptive cruise control is that a pokey car in front will keep the one behind way behind); urban autonomous driving, which uses GPS and sensors to locate the car on the road and live traffic updates to allow the vehicle to traverse dense city traffic; and autonomous valet parking, which has the driver sending a vehicle on its way using a smart key or smartwatch.

Of the undertaking, Tae-Won Lim, senior vice president, Central Advanced Research and Engineering Institute of Hyundai Motor Group, of which Kia is a part, said, “Kia is undergoing a very promising and gradual process of introducing partially and fully autonomous technologies to its vehicles. Although the first marketable fully-autonomous car from Kia will not be available in the immediate future, the work our R&D teams are currently doing to develop our range of DRIVE WISE technologies is already improving on-road safety and driver assistance.”

But here’s a notable thing.

Kia plans to have its first partially automated DRIVE WISE car available in 2020.

And more remarkable, fully autonomous cars on the market within 15 years.

Hard to overlook that.

Autonomous Snow

By: Gary S. Vasilash 15. January 2016

Let’s face it: snow falls when, well, snow falls. But it seems like there is a factor that contributes to the high likelihood that snow will fall in the greater Detroit area, and that is the launch of the media events at the North American International Auto Show.

For example, on Saturday January 9, the high temperature was 48 F and the low was 41.

On Sunday, the day that many of the OEMs held evening events, the morning started at 42, then the mercury dropped to 18—and snow dropped from the sky.

The roads were covered with ice, then snow. Difficult to drive in.

Ford Conducts Industry-First Snow Tests of Autonomous Vehicles

Let the robot car do the driving. . .

On the evening of the first press day, which was Monday, what happened? More snow. And the high temperature for the day was 19. The minimum was 10. And the wind gusts were as high as 29 mph.

Which is to say that on Tuesday morning, the second full press day, the roads were fairly dicey.

The point of this is not to whine about the weather.

Rather, it is to give credit to Ford, which pretty much used the media days to focus on its connectedness and technological cleverness more than its automobilitiness, which announced that it has started autonomous vehicle tests. . .in the snow.

As Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles, explained, “It’s one thing for a car to drive itself in perfect weather. It’s quite another to do so when the car’s sensors can’t see the road because it’s covered with snow.”

For those who drove on I-96 yesterday morning, they can attest to the difficulty of one’s human visual sensors finding the road.

Ford and University of Michigan researchers are running the tests using high-resolution 3D maps that can be generated when the car is driving a route during favorable weather. When the weather is foul and the road surface can’t be seen (e.g., it is covered with snow), then the vehicle’s sensors “look” for various above-ground landmarks that are part of that 3D map to determine where the vehicle is in space.

The work is being conducted at the Mcity test facility in Ann Arbor.

Yes, it snowed in Ann Arbor this week, too.

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