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.

FCA Through June
27. July 2016

“In spite of some severe stock market volatility in June, the American consumer stayed focused on buying new vehicles and propelled FCA to six vehicle sales records last month,” said Reid Bigland, Senior Vice President, Sales, FCA–North America.

June was good to FCA in many ways:

--It was the group’s best June in 11 years.

--It was Ram Trucks best June in 10 years.

--It was Dodge’s best June in two years.

--It was Jeep’s best June—ever.

That bears repeating: Jeep’s best June ever.

2016 Jeep® Renegade Latitude

Renegade

Jeep saw a 17% sales increase over 2015. It was the 33rd consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains. It has set a sales record every month since November 2013.

Jeep Compass was up 128% in June, and is up 80% for the year (compared to 2015).

Patriot was up 24% and 8% for June and the first half, respectively.

Wrangler is getting a little old, so its June sales were up just 5%, but it is down 2% for the year.

Cherokee has seen a dip, with sales down 12% for June and 3% for the year.

Grand Cherokee, however, remains consistent, with sales up 9% for June and 8% for the first half.

Renegade is overwhelming, with June sales up 99% and first-half sales up 262%.

So while Wrangler and Cherokee are down for the first half, the other Jeep models more than make up for any losses.

2016 Ram 1500 Rebel Crew Cab 4x4

Ram 1500

Ram Trucks, which basically consists of the Ram pickup and the ProMaster Van and ProMaster City, was up 14% in June and is up 11% for the first half.

And Dodge was up 3% in June and is up 6% for the first half of 2016.

So what’s missing from the picture so far?

The two key letters in “FCA”: Fiat and Chrysler.

Both brands aren’t doing so well.

In the case of Fiat, which consists of three 500 variants (500, 500L, 500X) and the just-launched 124 Spider, sales are down 19% for June and for the first half. However, it is worth noting that the 500X was up 257% for June and is up 2,148% for the first half—however, this is predicated on when the model came into showrooms more than crazy demand for the car (i.e., through June, 7,464 500X models were sold, compared with 7,932 500s—and the 500 sales are down 48%).

Meanwhile, Walter P. Chrysler is shedding a tear somewhere because the brand that bears his name was down 20% in June and is down 19% for the year.

It should be pointed out, however, that the Chrysler showroom isn’t exactly bursting with products.

There is the 200, which is a much better can than its sales would seem to indicate (down 58% in June; down 62% for the first half). This is a car that Sergio Marchionne has indicated that he’d like someone else to build for FCA, which indicates that it is something of an orphan, which it doesn’t deserve.

There is the 300, which was down 7% in June but which is up 24% for the first half. But that 24% needs to be put into context, as that’s 30,754 vehicles. So let’s consider the Chevrolet Impala, a sizeable car, by comparison: for the first half its sales are down 2.9%, yet there have been 56,390 sold.

Chrysler also has the outgoing Town & Country minivan and the now-incoming Pacific minivan. One has done extremely well. One will do extremely well.

But it is hard to imagine Chrysler consisting of a big sedan and a minivan.

Ford Through June
26. July 2016

“The first half for Ford Brand SUV’s was a record. We’ve never sold more SUV’s in the first half of a year in our company history.” That’s Erich Merkle, Ford sales analyst.

Merkle also observed, “Ford is the number-one selling brand of truck in America and in continues to extend that lead this year. We sold over a half-million Ford brand trucks throughout the country, that’s a 13% gain. The real driver behind that, especially in June was F-Series, ‘cause F-Series was up 29% and it’s really driven by F-150 performance which was up 40%.”

Overall, things were good for Ford, both for June and the first half of 2016: its sales in June were up 6% and for the first half its total U.S. sales are up 5% (1,353,048 vehicles)—which is its best first-half performance since 2006.

However (there’s always a “however”). . .

2016 Ford F-150 Limited

F-150

Ford is quite clearly becoming something of a truck company. Its overall car sales were down 12.1% in June and are down 8.9% for the first half of the year.

You can look at a small car like the Fiesta, which was down 49% in June and is down 28% for the year. Arguably, perhaps, cheap gas prices are taking their toll on small cars.

So we look at the biggest car in the Ford showroom, the Taurus, and discover that it was down 44% for June and is off 1.7% for the year. (However, to be fair to Fiesta, know that 25,539 were sold through June, and that’s more than Taurus’ 19,695).

And even the pony car par-excellence the Mustang was down 16.6% for June and is off 7.8% for the year. (For those who are interested in these sorts of things, know that in the Mustang vs. Camaro sales contest, through June there have been 62,965 Mustangs sold and 36,834 Camaros. Chances are Camaro isn’t going to win that race.)

Then there is Lincoln. Which is moving in the right direction. While Ford car sales are down, Lincoln car sales are actually up by 3.4% for June (though down 5% for the first half). The June number is all the more impressive because it is all on the back of the MKZ, which was up 8.5%, because the only other car is the MKS, which was down 21.3%.

And in the crossover category, it is doing well, too, primarily because of the impressive performance of the MKX: it was up 27.4% for June and is up a remarkable 72.5% for the year.

2016 Lincoln MKX

Lincoln MKX

However (see above). . .

If we do a Mustang vs. Camaro comparison but look at the performance of Lincoln trucks vs. Cadillac trucks, then things are better for the GM brand. That is, for June, the total number of Lincoln SUVs is 5,636 and for the first half 35,159.

Meanwhile, at Cadillac, it delivered 8,627 units (35% more than Lincoln) and has moved 43,294 for the first half (19% more than Lincoln).

However. . .

It is absolutely amazing to look at the number of Ford F-Series trucks that the company has delivered (realize this is the F-150 as well as the various Super Duty variants). In June alone there were 70,937 F-Series trucks sold by Ford in the U.S.—compared with 65,305 cars. And for the year, Ford has delivered 373,135 cars yet 395,244 F-Series trucks.

And to put that 395,244 into some sort of context, know that for the first half of 2016, Volkswagen of America—which includes VW, Audi (which set its 66th consecutive month of sales gains in June), Bentley, and Lamborghini—sold a total of 247,135 vehicles—cars, SUVs, exotics, etc.—in the first half of 2016, of 37.5% fewer vehicles than those trucks alone.

General Motors Through June
25. July 2016

One of the things that General Motors is emphasizing of late is that it has a “retail-focused strategy.” This means that rather than selling to rental companies, it is focusing on selling to consumers. Apparently, the rental companies don’t pay as much as you or I do. What’s more, when there is a sea of sedans sitting in the parking lots surrounding airports, at some point those cars flow back into the secondary retail market, which means that because there are so many of them, residual values (i.e., the money that you or I can get when we trade-in our vehicle) are lower.

2016 Buick Envision

Buick Envision

“Our retail-focused strategy is resulting in the highest share gains in the industry. Chevrolet is the fastest growing full-line brand and we expect that trend to continue as the availability of newly launched products improves in the second half of the year,” said Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of Sales Operations.

So let’s look at some numbers for June as well as for the first half of 2016, compared with the same times last year.

Buick: Cars are not doing at all well. The LaCrosse was down 49.9 percent for the month and is down 32.6 percent for the year. Regal down 22.6 percent and 1.4 percent respectively, while Verano, the vehicle that was eating Regal’s lunch for years, was off 12.7 percent for June and is down 16.4 percent for the first half of 2016. The Cascada, the new convertible, has nothing to compare with, but in June 755 were sold, and 4,071 so far this year.

Crossovers at Buick are mixed. There is the compact Encore, which was up 10.2 percent in June and is up 19.2 percent for the year. But its big brother—older big brother—the Enclave was down 30.6 percent for June and is off 13.6 percent for the year. There is the new China-built Envision (yes, you read that right: the Envision crossover comes from China), of which 1,437 were delivered in June, and 1,526 so far this year.

Cadillac: The Standard of the World continues to sputter in the retail space. Particularly its cars. Cars which, across the board, are really quite good. The only Cadillac car that doesn’t have a minus sign in front of a number is the CT6, as it is a new model for this year. In June 962 were delivered, and 1,979 so far this year.

The giant Escalade SUV continues strong in sales, and while the SRX is off, that’s because it is going out of the market, being replaced by the XT5.

The first-ever 2017 Cadillac XT5 is a comprehensively upgraded luxury crossover and the cornerstone of a new series of crossovers in the brand’s ongoing expansion. The XT5 further builds on Cadillac’s trademark attributes of distinctive, sophisticated and agile vehicles. Pictured: 2017 Cadillac XT5 Platinum; Exterior paint shown in in Red Passion Tintcoat; Interior environment shown in Maple Sugar with Jet Black accents and Satin Rosewood wood trim.

Cadillac XT5

Chevrolet: This is a mixed bag. According to GM, Chevy is the “fastest-growing full-line brand in the industry.” Apparently growth is not always large. That is, all-in for June Chevrolet sales are up 0.1 percent. For the first half they’re down 4.4 percent. Must be a retail metric somewhere that explains the growth.

Indeed, according to GM (which I need to quote at length):

“GM’s retail sales strength is reflected in the ongoing sales performance of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups. Every month since January 2014, GM has sold more full-size pickups than any other original equipment manufacturer, according to Polk retail registrations and J.D. Power PIN retail sales data. GM is achieving these results while spending less on incentives than its competitors and commanding record Average Transaction Prices (ATPs). In June, GM full-size pickup ATPs were up $3,300 compared to last year and Silverado recorded its highest monthly ATP in history. Year to date, GM full-size pickup ATPs are up $2,600 compared to last year.”

But if you look at the gross number of deliveries for Silverado, they’re down 3.7 percent for June and down 0.8 percent for the year. Sierra, however, is doing better. For the year so far, it is up 5.6 percent, though in June it was off 7.8 percent.

Before leaving Chevy, a shout-out to the Volt. It had been sputtering for years, but with the new generation version, it is gaining traction. In June its sales were up 58.1 percent and it is up a highly respectable 74.5 percent for the first half of 2016, compared with 2015.

GMC: Notable here is the performance of the mid-size Canyon pickup, which was up 34.2 percent for the month and is up 15.6 percent for the year. (The Chevy Colorado, its platform mate, was also up in June, by 38 percent, and for the year, 23.2 percent.) Surprisingly, overall GMC was down 8.6 percent for the month and is down 3.8 percent for the first half. Fresh products—like the new Acadia coming into the market and a Terrain on the horizon—ought to help before the year is out.

The Car-Shoe Continuum
22. July 2016

Back in 2008, BMW revealed a concept vehicle that is still revolutionary all these years later: It was called the GINA Light Visionary Model, with the acronym standing for “Geometry and Functions In ‘N’ Adaptions.”

gina

Fundamentally, the vehicle is based on a moveable substructure and a flexible textile outer cover. The movements of the substructure are controlled by the driver through electro- and electro-hydraulic controls. The skin then moves accordingly. So, for example, the overall shape of the two-seat roadster could be modified to make it more aerodynamic for purposes of speed.

The material selected by BMW Group Design has a variety of characteristics, including expansion-resistance (the ability to be modified without stretching; i.e., were it to be otherwise, a few times adjusted could lead to sagging skin), and translucence, so that, for example, the taillights are visible through the skin, though the skin is not transparent.

GINA hasn’t really gone anywhere—until now.

But not as a car. Rather, as a shoe.

Puma1

Specifically, X-CAT DISC from Puma.

“The approach was to look at every aspect of making a shoe and to try and reimagine it. Freeing yourself of what is here now can be an enjoyable and rewarding exercise. Typically, it also speeds up change,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design.

While that same approach was taken with the car, execution for an athletic shoe is evidently more do-able.

There is a layer of GINA material that forms the exterior of the shoe, which is said to wrap around the wearer’s foot “like a second skin.”

“We have transformed the essence of the shape-shifting GINA car into a streamlined and elegant shoe,” says Torsten Hochstetter, Global Creative Director at Puma.

Just think: eight years between GINA and X-CAT DISC.

Imagine how long it will take before there is a production automotive variant of GINA.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-road 4x4 Double Cab
21. July 2016

The thing about the Toyota Tacoma is that it is built for banging around, and it is not sorry.

Tacoma1

That is, there has been the, in effect, gentrification of pickup trucks. They’ve gone upscale. To be sure, people like comfort and amenities. Seats that are easy on the posterior. Things like navigation and satellite radio. An interior that doesn’t seem to have been put together from the Vinyl-o-Rama outlet mall.

However, it seems as though the proverbial pendulum has swung to a place where not only are crossovers and SUVs the new sedans, but pickup trucks are the new sedans, too.

This is not to say that pickups of any type have lost their capability, because they all still have beds on the back to handle stuff of various sizes, masses and consistencies. And all are offered with a 4x4 optional capability, so there is more than the average amount of capability, certainly more than in the family midsize sedan (with the 4x4 capability being about handling terrain, not getting away from stoplights with alacrity).

But I’ve certainly gotten the sense from several pickups that they’ve become the sorts of things that you don’t want to climb into with dirty shoes, to say nothing of boots. They’re really nice inside. You might even wear a cravat while driving one. And break out the Grey Poupon.

Tacoma4

Which is not to say that the interior of the Tacoma seems like a construction site trailer’s environs. In fact, whether it is the seat material or the thoughtfully designed (thoughtful, but ruggedly designed: we’re not talking eggheads here) instrument panel, the Tacoma is well done. But it is something that you’re going to clamber into after hunting or fishing or surfing or whatever and not give it a second thought, not think about how your mother once kept you off the furniture with your dirty jeans—even if you thought they were clean.

Tacoma2

Now the truck in question has the word “off-road” in its name, so you know that they’ve done more than a little something that makes it capable of eating dirt. Like specifically tuning the suspension and adding Bilstein shocks.

The TRD stands for “Toyota Racing Development,” and while TRD is most certainly involved in series like NASCAR Sprint Cup, it really made its bones in off-road racing.

Hmm. . . “Tacoma TRD Off-road”. . . .

One thing that I found appropriate for the vehicle—and hell on my left calf—was the clutch for the six-speed manual transmission. Let’s face it: If you’re going to go slamming and banging where there is no asphalt, chances are you’re also going to be slamming and banging a shift lever.

Tacoma3

It features 4WDemand part-time 4WD with an electronically controlled transfer case and Automatic Limited Slip Differential (Auto LSD). And for the Tacoma you can get a locking rear differential, Hill Start Assist Control (HAC), Clutch Start Cancel, Active Traction Control, and Crawl Control.

The truck has a 278-hp 3.5-liter V6 that provides 265 lb-ft of torque, so it has the muscle to move. The double cab truck can tow 6,400 pounds if you get the tow prep package (Class IV towing receiver hitch with transmission oil cooler with water and air cooler, 130-amp alternator, 4- and 7-pin connector, and Trailer-Sway Control).

Yes, there are amenities in the truck. Like Entune Premium Audio and the Integrated Navigation and App Suite that’s shown on a seven-inch touch screen.

Crank the tunes and go. Like mad. But safely. (Yes, like even the more, ah, refined Toyotas the Tacoma comes with the Star Safety System, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop brake override technology (SST).)

Bottom line is that there are cushier trucks that you can select. Heck, if you’re looking for plush, Toyota has a Tundra 1794 Edition that will make you feel like you’re back in the Wild West—and happened to own the town.

But the Tacoma TRD Off-road 4x4 Double Cab is a blast—and the people at Toyota seem just fine with that.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.5-liter V6

Horsepower: 278 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 265 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Rack-and-pinion power

Wheelbase: 127.4 inches

Length: 212.3 inches

Width 74.4 inches

Height: 70.6 inches

Seating capacity: 5

Curb weight: 4,445 pounds

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 17/20/18 mpg




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