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.
2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier
5. May 2016
When the first-generation Chevrolet Volt appeared in 2010, it was almost more of a cause than it was a car.
The genesis of this goes back to the mid-00s. As Bob Lutz, who was heading up General Motors product development at the time writes in his Car Guys vs. Bean Counters about a position he took during an Automotive Strategy Board meeting, “I once again advocated that we create the world’s first electric car. . . . Only that way, I argued, could we blunt the relentless reputational rise of Toyota, coupled, of course, with the ‘gang that couldn’t shoot straight’ yoke around our neck.”
Toyota had the Prius and GM still had the Hummer H2 at the time.
They worked diligently and showed the Volt concept at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Then the model year 2011 Volt arrived just a few short years later.
The original Volt
One of the problems in the early days—something that continued to be a cause for GM—was describing the Volt. They insisted that it wasn’t a hybrid. Presumably that had more than a little something to do with the fact that with Prius, Toyota essentially owns share of mind for the hybrid term.
It was an electric vehicle, they maintained. But then, people noted, there was the not-trivial matter of a 1.4-liter, 84-hp internal combustion engine under its hood. “That’s not an engine!” came the response. “That’s a generator used to charge the lithium-ion batteries, not to turn the wheels of the vehicle.”
This gave rise to the term “extended-range electric vehicle.”
Which then gave rise to those who discovered that under certain conditions the engine was used as an engine. . .
And it became all too complicated for regular people to sort out.
Arguably, one consequence of all this was that the Volt wasn’t perceived as a car straight-up. It was something undefinable, or if defined, incapable of being understood.
It could have simply been presented as a car that you can plug in to an outlet in your garage and that’s capable of using no gasoline if you went a short distance (under ~35 miles) and little gas compared to other compact cars (up to 379 miles).
Instead, all of the extended-range/generator-not-engine folderol.
And the Volt hasn’t sold particularly well.
In 2015 Chevrolet sold just 15,393 Volts. Meanwhile, the Prius gave rise to a family, and altogether, 184,794 were sold.
Now the second-generation Volt has been released.
Here’s what you need to know: It is a sporty compact car that can go really, really far if you have its battery charged and a full tank of unleaded: about 420 miles. If you have a fully charged battery, you can go about 53 miles on electricity alone.
It is a car. It is not a cause.
It is not a science experiment. There is high technology galore under the hood and under floor and all the way back to the trunk. But you need not concern yourself with any of that.
You can pump gas into it just like a regular car in the receptacle in the rear passenger’s side. You can plug it in to a household 110-v outlet via a receptacle in the front driver’s side of the car.
When you are driving with that 18.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack charged, it is really a peppy car. When it runs out of juice, then it’s not so peppy, but you’ll still get about 42 mpg.
Know well that if you’re interested in fuel efficiency without sacrifice of amenities (the vehicle driven here has a leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel, for example), then consider the Volt. If you want performance, then your local Chevy dealer certainly has a Camaro or Corvette that can fit the bill.
But the electric drivetrain is so good in the Volt that it is in some ways an Achilles heel. That is, when I was driving the car and the battery was depleted, there was a discernable change in the performance of the car. It became just an ordinary compact sedan. And as the transmission functions are served by the Voltec electric drive system rather than by, say, a step-gear transmission (which admittedly would not be appropriate for a vehicle of this powertrain setup), under acceleration it sometimes seemed as though it was working too hard (and this is “normal acceleration,” not “let’s see how fast I can make this go” acceleration).
According to members of the Volt team that I’ve talked to, Volt customers for the most part perform opportunistic charging whenever possible. So they’ve designed the 120-v cord set to be easier to handle. Think of this in the context of being in an airport and seeing people with their mobile phones plugged in. You get the juice when and where you can.
That said, the amount of time necessary to fully charge a Volt with a household socket is on the order of 13 hours. Should you have access to a Level II charger, which you can sometimes find in parking lots (I was surprised to discover how few there are; in Ann Arbor, for example, the Downtown Development Agency has installed 23 located in six parking lots, so given that that city is one of the places where you’re likely to find more plugs with cars than, say, Farmington or Livonia, you’re likely to find those chargers in use), the time to charge is 4.5 hours.
Another reason why there is a bit of a hobble to the Voltec electric drive system is that when you’re driving on the battery without the 1.5-liter range extender in use, the electric variant of miles per gallon (MPGe) is great: 106. But then when the range extender is in full play, that number does nothing but go down, so even if you bottom out, say, at 46 mpg, you think about where you were and what you’ve arrived at. (OK, there’s no getting around this, but I still found it somewhat disconcerting.)
But to get back to the original point: If you’re looking for a compact that does, indeed, get really, really good gas mileage, a car that happens to have a port in the front fender where you can plug it in, then you really ought to take a look at the 2016 Volt. Sure, you’re going to pay more for it than a conventional compact, but in terms of the way the car is designed and equipped, the premium for the premium powertrain is supplemented by some good gear, so it’s not just the batteries and the motors that you’re getting for your money.
Yes, a CAR to consider.
Motors: Twin-motor arrangement, 110 kW
Torque: 398 Nm
Range extender: 1.5-liter, DOHC I4
Material: Aluminum block and head
Horsepower: 101 @ 5,600 rpm
Steering: Rack-mounted electric-
Wheelbase: 106.1 in.
Length: 180.4 in.
Width: 71.2 in.
Height: 56.4 in.
Cargo volume: 10.6 cu. ft.
EPA fuel economy: all electric: 106 MPGe; gas: 42 mpg
Driving Fuel Efficiency Improvements
4. May 2016
Electrification of the vehicle powertrain doesn’t mean getting rid of the internal combustion engine and sticking an electric motor in its place and batteries where the fuel tank would otherwise be.
And the benefits can be enormous by taking a clever approach that combines what already exists—like an internal combustion engine—with a different architecture, both from the standpoint of an electrical system (going to 48 volts) and adding an electric motor.
This was explained at the recent Vienna Motor Symposium, where Ford and suppliers Continental and Schaeffler revealed the second-generation of the Ford Focus-based Gasoline Technology Car (GTC II).
How much of an improvement can be gained by this approach that implements 48-volt hybridization?
Well, the GTC I vehicle, which they showed in Vienna in 2014, had a 17% fuel economy improvement in the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC).
GTC II takes the gains of GTC I and makes them even better. They estimate a 25% fuel economy improvement compared with a non-GTC Focus.
The GTC II, like its predecessor, features a turbocharged 3-cylinder 1-liter Ecoboost gasoline engine. What they’ve done with the vehicle is integrate the electrical motor into the drivetrain with a belt that goes between the engine and manual transmission. There are two clutches, one upstream and one downstream of the belt. Consequently the engine can be decoupled when required and the electric motor can run independently of the engine.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Peter Gutzmer, Member of the Schaeffler Executive Board responsible for Research & Development, explained, “The GTC II’s electronic clutch supports functions such as electric launch, electric stop-go operation and energy recuperation at speeds almost down to standstill.”
In addition to which, they optimized the engine by increasing the compression ratio and adjusting the intake valve closing, or as it is said in the business: they improved the Atkinson cycle performance of the engine.
One of the concerns with systems where the engine may not be operating at all times is emissions, so they’ve deployed the Continental electrically heated 48-volt EMICAT catalyst so that the GTC II can meet emissions requirements, even after the engine has been shut off for a long period.
In effect, they addressed the overall powertrain architecture for the GTC II to gain the fuel economy benefits, or as Kregg Wiggnis, senior vice president, Powertrain, Continental North America, put it, “The second generation Gasoline Technology Car demonstrates the huge potential of a mild hybrid when the 48 volt electrical system, the internal combustion engine and the operating strategies are optimized holistically as a complete system.”
Tesla Addresses Air Quality
3. May 2016
When it comes to Tesla, things like “Ludicrous Mode” have a certain “we’re-not-taking-ourselves-too-seriously” aspect to them. But the “Bioweapon Defense Mode,” the name of the HEPA air filtration system that’s used in the cabins of the Model S and the Model X sounds about as funny as your entire neighborhood suddenly being overrun by zombies.
“Bioweapon”? Sounds a bit extreme. Ludicrous, perhaps.
But Tesla has pointed out just how bad bad air really is.
The company cites figures from the World Health Organization on the amounts of PM2.5 levels—that’s particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter—found in various cities around the world. The average annual figures for various cities are: 56 µg/m³ in Beijing, 25 µg/m³ in Mexico City, 21 µg/m³ in Hong Kong, 20 µg/m³ in Los Angeles, 20 µg/m³ in Berlin, 17 µg/m³ in Paris and 16 µg/m³ in London.
Which doesn’t mean a whole lot until you take into account that, again according to Tesla, a 2013 study conducted at Harvard indicates that people who live in those locales don’t live as long as they might were they not breathing in all of those particles: population-averaged life expectancy reductions of 23 months in Beijing, 10 months in Mexico City, 9 months in Hong Kong, 8 months in Berlin and Los Angeles, and 7 months in Paris and London.
In developing their system they put a Model X in a sealed container and filled said bag with 1,000 µg/m³ of PM2.5. They activated the Bioweapon Defense Mode and the results look like this:
Which is great for those who have the system in their Model S and Model X vehicles. But for the rest of us—particularly those in the aforementioned cities—bad air isn’t particularly funny.
Jaguar Land Rover Takes to the Water
3. May 2016
This is something that’s not ordinarily seen on this page as, well, it isn’t a motor vehicle:
That’s right. It has a sail. No motor.
More to the point, it is the Land Rover BAR, a boat that’s built for the America’s Cup regatta, which will be held in Bermuda in 2017.
Now, just because the name “Land Rover” is part of the name of the yacht isn’t the reason why we’re running it here (although it could be).
It’s actually because two members of the British America’s Cup team participated in something that’s familiar to vehicle development engineers: wind tunnel testing.
That’s right: they were determining the aero of the Land Rover BAR boat.
Sailors Leigh McMillan and Matt Cornwell went to the Motor Industry Research Association facility east of Birmingham in the UK and spent three days of wind tunnel testing.
They were able to get speeds up to 60 mph and as is the case with car exterior development in the tunnel, smoke wands were used so that engineers were able to see the flow of air not only around the hull of the boat, but the sailors’ bodies, too.
Explained Cornwell, “As professional sailors we are always looking at ways to make marginal gains, no matter how small, that will help make the difference between winning and losing. As we reach speeds of over 50 mph on the water, we need to ensure we understand the impact our positions and movement have on the aerodynamic efficiency of the boat.”
Tony Harper, head of Research, Jaguar Land Rover said, “These facilities are integral to further our automotive aerodynamic research and development, so to work with the sailing team in this testing environment is of fundamental importance. The team is utilizing our expertise in aerodynamics design. The sailors are the only source of power available to control the wingsail and hydrofoils and the more aerodynamically efficient they are when they do that work the better and faster the boat will sail.
“Together, the wing and crew can generate over 100 bhp - enough to propel two-tons of boat and its six man crew across the water at over 50 mph."
And realize that’s 50 mph while standing on a surface that is undoubtedly on an angle that’s wet and probably getting wetter as the race goes on.
Knowing how to work under those conditions is critical.
The Artisanal Bentley
2. May 2016
One of the characteristics of manufacturing in China is that the country’s factories churn out literally billions of products per year. It takes mass production to levels that would make Adam Smith’s, Frederick Taylor’s and Henry Ford’s heads explode.
Be that as it may, it seems as though the Chinese—like many people in other parts of the world—are more interested in an artisanal approach to some of the products that they consume.
Case in point: Bentley launched the Mulsanne First Edition models exclusively in China. There are three models: the Mulsanne, the Mulsanne Speed and the Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase.
These vehicles—which add luxury on top of luxury—are not only first editions, but they are a limited edition, as well: there are going to be 50 produced. Period.
These cars are “handcrafted in Crewe,” built by the technicians in the Bentley plant there.
Bentley, like all automobile manufacturers, likes to see increased sales. But what is an increase to that company is significantly different than what it is for your typical full-line manufacturer.
Last year the company delivered 10,100 vehicles—globally.
The biggest market was North America: 2,864.
Still, it is interesting that there is a recognition that uniqueness matters even in markets where products are made in relentless multitudes, and so even though by its very nature it is a limited-production purveyor of motor vehicles, there is even more exclusivity that can be achieved.