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.
Box Full of Soul
23. August 2016
Michael Sprague, chief operating officer and executive vice president, Kia Motors America, makes an interesting observation about things of a boxy nature—vehicles of a boxy configuration, that is.
It started with the Honda Element, which was launched as a model year 2003 vehicle. Clearly unlike anything else out there at the time.
Then there was the—some might argue—iconic Scion xB, a model year 2004 vehicle, which put Scion on the scene in a way that even surprised the people at Toyota (Scion’s parent).
Then there was the Nissan Cube, which made its way to the U.S. in 2009.
And last but not least, there’s the Kia Soul, which appeared in the U.S. in 2010.
Last year, there were 147,133 Souls delivered, up from 145,316 in 2014. A slight bump, but a bump nonetheless. That makes the Soul number two only to the Optima (159,414 in 2015) in the Kia lineup.
The other boxes are boxed out of the market.
The Soul endures, and according to Sprague, will continue to.
Ford and Autonomy
22. August 2016
Ford’s announcement last week in Silicon Valley came as something of a surprise.
That is, GM put itself in a strong position vis-à-vis autonomous ride-sharing capabilities with its purchase of Cruise Automation that is valued on the order of $1-billion and its $500-million investment in Lyft.
Toyota invested $1-billion in the Toyota Research Institute that is dedicated to develop automated driving. It has also entered into an arrangement with Uber, of an undisclosed investment variety.
Then there’s Volvo Cars and Uber, who announced a joint project to develop base vehicles (based on an existing Volvo architecture) that will be used by both companies to develop their own autonomous driving vehicles. The two companies are investing a combined $300-million to the project.
Heck, even FCA announced that Google is going to be getting 100 Pacifica minivans for its autonomous driving fleet.
But Ford has been comparatively silent—working it, but not visibly to the extent as the others—until last Tuesday in Palo Alto, when Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO, announced that the company would be coming out with a high-volume, fully autonomous, SAE level-four capable vehicle by 2021.
Or as he more forcefully put it: “That means there’s going to be no steering wheel. There’s going to be no gas pedal. There’s going to be no brake pedal.”
Yes, fully autonomous.
Fields and his colleagues at Ford recognize that, as he put it, that autonomous vehicles will be “changing the way the world moves.” He likened it to the transformation that Henry Ford initiated when he effectively put the world on wheels.
Fields: “The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago.”
The autonomous vehicles that Ford will be rolling out are going to be used for ride-hailing applications (e.g., Lyft and Uber) and within geo-fenced areas (presumably areas that are things like gated communities).
But know that this isn’t going to be a handful of autonomous vehicles, just enough to say, “Hey, we’re in the game, too!”
Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer, said that Ford, with its resources and technologies and engineering chops has “what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world.”
Ford is doubling its footprint in Silicon Valley. It is adding staff there in a significant way.
And it, too, is making acquisitions and investments that will drive autonomy forward:
It announced a $75-million investment in Velodyne, the LiDAR sensor developer.
It acquired a company in Israel, SAIPS, a developer of computer vision and machine learning systems.
It established an exclusive licensing agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience, a machine vision company.
It invested in Civil Maps, a company developing 3D mapping.
And there’s more.
While it may be that Ford’s announcement may have come as a surprise, the real surprise going forward will be if an array of companies—even those like Apple that aren’t yet in the mobility arena—don’t make similar ones.
2016 Scion FR-S
19. August 2016
Let’s face it: Scion cars have, by and large been somewhat orthopedic in their design (the exception would be the tC, the exception that proves the rule as its stylishness gave it considerable attention and even credibility outside the expected audience), as in practical, straightforward. Consequently, someone who would be looking for something of a sporty performance car would be no more likely to go into a Toyota dealership (remember: Scion dealerships were contained within Toyota floor space, which made things all the more clever from a point of view of making it easier for dealers to swallow the trendy brand) than she would go to a gas station for sushi (she could, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea).
Fundamentally, the market for cars like the FR-S is small. The sort of numbers that in the context of, say, the Ford F-Series (not that there is any correlation between the two vehicles other than that they both are vehicles with the letter “F” involved, but the F-Series sales are so extreme that it is fun to use it as a use case) probably aren’t noticed.
Looking at the sales for 2015, according to Autodata, there were 10,507 FR-S models sold. Its genetic relative, the Subaru BRZ: 5,296. What else would go into this space of two-door sporty cars that don’t cost a boatload? Honda CR-Z? 3,073 (although it is a hybrid and not as performance oriented). There’s the Nissan Z, but it is more expensive. Still, let’s throw that in: 7,391. There were 8,591 Mazda Miatas delivered in 2015.
Which is five cars with a total of 34,858 sold. It may be interesting to note that there were 33,329 Corvettes delivered, so arguably more expensive sporty two-doors have a better potential in the market.
Oh, and as for the F-Series: Well that was 780,354, or about 74 times more vehicles than the FR-S.
The FR-S is going away. So is Scion. But while Scion will completely go into the annals of car companies gone by, the FR-S is going to become a Toyota, the 86.
Well, that name harkens back to the Toyota AE86, which was produced from 1983 to 1987. The AE86 had a compact, light body (52.6-in. high, 64.0-in. wide, 165.5-in. long, with a curb weight ranging from 2,200 to 2,400 lb.); the models in North America had a 1.6-liter four-cylinder twin-cam engine that, in GT-S trim, produced 112 hp @ 6,600 rpm.
If you’re an enthusiast for Japanese compact sports cars you probably already knew that.
Until the 2017 86 gets here, there’s the 2016 FR-S.
This is a car that is meant to driven with alacrity. And it can be. It has a 200-hp 2.0-liter engine under its hood and the shift lever for a six-speed manual comes readily to hand (yes, there is an automatic available, too, but. . . .).
While some may do an eye-roll seeing the 200 hp, know that with said automatic the curb weight of the car is 2,758 pounds, so that’s a decent power-to-weight ratio for this rear-drive car.
At the risk of being an ageist, the FR-S is a young person’s car. No, this is not because Scion is all about being all pierced and tatted up and so on. Rather, because it is a car that takes a bit of limberness and finesse to simply climb into. Sure, you can carry an AARP card and drive one. But then you might have a bit of difficulty of climbing out of one.
(OK. People of all ages who like to drive rear-drive sports cars know that there are going to be more compromises than a limited number of cup holders and they are good with that.)
I once had the opportunity to drive an FR-S on a coned slalom course. I may have killed a cone or two. But I can’t recall too many times having much more fun.
Maybe that’s what the “F” stands for.
Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC, boxer four cylinder
Material: Aluminum block and head
Horsepower: 200 @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 151 lb-ft @ 6,400 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Steering: Electric power
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 166.7 in.
Width 69.9 in.
Height: 50.6 in.
Passenger volume: 76.5-cu. ft.
Curb weight: 2,758 lb.
EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 22/30/25 mpg
18. August 2016
“Luxury” rhymes with “credibility,” and so it seems that every—or almost every—automotive OEM would like to point to its very own luxury marque. It is a bit different, of course, with the likes of BMW and Mercedes, as they are both companies that have a broad range of offerings, especially Mercedes, which essentially has vehicles for, as Alfred Sloan had it, “every purse and purpose.”
General Motors has Cadillac.
Ford has Lincoln.
Toyota has Lexus.
Nissan has Infiniti.
Honda has Acura.
And now Hyundai has Genesis.
Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with David Zuchowski, president and chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor America, who is responsible for the strategic direction and management of the company’s operations in the U.S., with Genesis under his purview, as well.
Genesis was introducing the G90 luxury sedan to the motoring press and providing an overview of the direction that it will be taking between now and 2021, when it plans to have a showroom consisting of six vehicles.
For the next few years it will just have cars. Right now there are two. The G90 and the G80, with the G80 being the Genesis sold by Hyundai dealers until the advent of the new marque.
Zuchowski has no illusions about how long it is going to take to build the new luxury brand. “We have studied Lexus very carefully,” he admitted. “And they’ll tell you that it took 10 years and $1-billion.” Time and money to create a brand.
He said that it isn’t like throwing a switch and voila! a credible luxury brand.
It takes product. And it takes an extraordinary ownership experience from the start of consideration all the way through purchase and service.
Zuchowski also knows that right now it is tough in the car part of the luxury market in the U.S.
According to Autodata, through July, these are the cars (not including the light trucks/crossovers) delivered by the various companies and how that number compares with January through July 2015:
· Cadillac: 35,132 -9.6%
· Lincoln: 21,419 -3.8%
· Lexus: 77,570 -19%
· Acura: 32,555 -12.8%
· Infiniti: -31.1%
Minus signs across the board.
And even the Germans are not doing well with cars:
· BMW: 110,606 -14.8%
· Mercedes: 102,611 -13.4%
That said, Zuchowski is confident that Genesis will be successful (yes, there are crossovers in the plans—and the G90 is more than up to the challenge).
And one advantage that he thinks that it has versus the likes of Cadillac and Lincoln, two companies that are trying to recreate themselves in many ways, is that with Genesis they are starting out with a blank slate.
Said another way: there are no preexisting notions of what a Genesis “buyer” is, whereas there are certainly those who remember their parents—or grandparents—going into a Cadillac or Lincoln dealership.
In this industry product is king, queen and the rest of the royal court.
But in creating a new luxury brand, patience isn’t merely a virtue, it is a requirement.
“Automobility ‘16”: The Road to Tomorrow
17. August 2016
It’s gone from being a matter of “if” to one of “when.”
And there is something of a subset to that “when” of “how much at what time.”
The topic, of course, is autonomy.
For some people it is a matter of headlines.
But for automotive professionals, it is a matter of technology and business. The “what” and the “how.”
What technologies are required for the deployment of automated vehicles on our roads—and how will cities adapt, and how will there be a business case for the deployment?
SAE has its six levels, ranging from 0, None, to 5, Full Automation.
NHTSA has five levels, from 0, to 4, Full.
And there are, of course, the levels in between, encompassing everything from adaptive cruise control to lane-keeping assistance.
There is radar. Lidar. Cameras. Ultrasonic sensors. CPUs. GPUs. And an assortment of other technologies.
There are considerations of drivers and passengers, or maybe that’s drivers as passengers.
Clearly there is a whole lot to be developed. A whole lot to be determined. A multitude of paths to go from 0 to 4. Or 5.
And given the overall sexiness of the subject (“Robot Car Runs Amok!”), there is a lot of noise associated with autonomy.
So our sister publication AutoBeat Daily and Automotive Design & Production have joined forces to provide some signal about the subject and are holding “Automobility ’16,” a one-day conference in Dearborn, Michigan on October 13.
The objective of this conference is to provide some explanation, guidance and even speculation on the subjects of autonomy and mobility.
We are bringing together some of the leaders in this space, including:
· James Kuffner, Toyota Research Institute, Chief Technology Officer
· Mike O’Brien, Hyundai Motor America, Vice President, Corporate & Product Planning
· Andreas Mai, Cisco, Director Smart Connected Vehicles
· Swamy Kotagiri, Magna International, Chief Technology Officer
· Carla Bailo, Ohio State University, Asst. Vice President, Mobility Research & Development
· Chris Borroni-Bird, Qualcomm, Vice President Strategic Development
· Glen DeVos, Delphi Electronics & Safety, Vice President, Global Engineering and Services
· Elliot Garbus, Intel, Vice President - Internet of Things Group
· Jeff Klei, Continental Automotive Systems, President North America
If these people can’t help provide direction on what is arguably a path with many forks and bends and cul-de-sacs, then it is hard to imagine who can.
These guides are good.
And because you read this, know that if you register by Friday, August 19, you can save $70.
We’re going to get to the top level. So you might as well get ahead of the curve by attending “Automobility ’16.”