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.
Toyota: Collaborate or . . . .
20. October 2016
The number of auto companies that carry a family name and still have people of that name in important positions are Ford, Toyota and. . . ?
Which is something that I confess to not knowing until the announcement made last week by Suzuki chairman Osamu Suzuki and Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota (the name of the company was changed from having a “d” to a “t” in 1937), that they are going to be looking at ways the two can collaborate.
While Suzuki no longer sells cars in the U.S., it continues with motorcycles, ATVs and outboard motors. But elsewhere it still sells vehicles, particularly minivehicles.
Osamu Suzuki had approached Shoichiro Toyoda, Akio’s father and honorary chairman of Toyota, about the possibility of working together in R&D. And so the two companies are now proceeding to see how this might manifest itself.
One of the things that’s notable about this is what Akio Toyoda said when the announcement was made in Tokyo.
He said, in part, “Toyota is not really good at creating alliances. Traditionally, Toyota had been fixated on the need to be able to cover all of our own bases. However, as the surrounding environment is changing drastically, we need to have capability to respond to changes in order to survive. This is exactly the challenge that Toyota has to overcome now.
“We at Toyota are now making efforts for the future, such as through our initiatives which help to promote the creation of a hydrogen society, as well as R&D in the artificial intelligence and robotics fields. In these areas, we are collaborating with other companies to work together on R&D.
“Although we are still halfway there, I believe that we have to go forward with the understanding of the importance of the need to create partnerships and the establishment of standardizations.”
According to a survey in Strategy&, Toyota is the eighth biggest investor in R&D in the world and one of two auto companies in the top 10 (you may be interested to know that the #1 investor in R&D of any kind of company anywhere is Volkswagen).
Yet here is Toyoda saying that there is a need to collaborate to help realize further advances in technologies. Suzuki is undoubtedly only one of the companies that they’re talking with.
But what is all the more remarkable is Toyoda’s admission that they’re really not good at working with others, and that this is something they’re going to have to work at going forward.
While it might seem that the eighth-largest investor in R&D in the world would be in good shape vis-à-vis staying near the front of technological developments, Toyoda (and Toyota) realizes that’s not enough. Note well the “respond to changes in order to survive.”
Clearly, this is serious.
What’s all the more astonishing is that here is a company executive who is willing to publically admit that.
2016 Toyota RAV4 SE AWD
19. October 2016
Light vehicle sales in Russia have been rather weak for the past several months, given all manner of issues ranging from a weak currency to the significant drop in oil prices. It is hard to buy cars and crossovers when money is hard to come by. (Although some might argue that given the types of loans that are on offer in the U.S., even that limitation can be overcome.)
According to the Association of European Businesses, in September light vehicle sales were down 10.9% in Russia compared to September 2015. The number of vehicles sold was 125,568.
To put that number in some perspective, according to Autodata, there were 575,114 passenger cars sold in the U.S. in September and 860,575 light trucks. Or a total of 1,435,689 vehicles in September.
However, to be fair, realize that the population of Russia is 143.5-million and it is 318.9-million in the U.S.
Still, the gulf in sales, population considered, is deep and wide.
One of the consequences of the weak vehicle sales in Russia is that many global automakers have reduced their production there.
Building RAV4s in Saint Petersburg, Russia
But this past August, Toyota started production of the RAV4 in its Saint Petersburg plant, where the Camry has been in production since 2007.
The RAV4 built in the plant will be sold in the Russian, Kazakh and Belarus markets.
To accommodate the RAV4 production in the plant, the production capacity was doubled from 50,000 to 100,000 units per year and the production capacity increase and new model launch represent an investment of 9.7-billion RUR. When full production for the RAV4 is underway, approximately 800 employees will have been added to the Saint Petersburg workforce.
According to the Association of European Businesses, in September the RAV4 was the 10th best-selling vehicle in Russia (the Camry is 9th); for the year, RAV4 is the 7th best-selling vehicle in Russia (the Camry, again, is 9th).
All of which may make you wonder: Isn’t this supposed to be a review of the RAV4?
And it goes straight to the point of the RAV4, which is such a good vehicle that the people at Toyota are confident that its fundamental characteristics can transcend a seriously struggling market.
Here in the U.S. in September its sales—29,438—were nipping at the heels of the perennially best-selling Camry, which was at 30,707.
The styling, the powertrain, the amenities, and the overall orchestration makes this a compact crossover to be considered by anyone who is considering a vehicle of this type—and nowadays, that seems to be everyone.
Another data point:
According to Cars.com: “Out of 84 model-year 2016 and 2017 vehicles tested in our Car Seat Checks, only six have made the Cars.com's Car Seat Check Honor Roll. These six cars earned the top score of A in all of our Car Seat Check categories, setting them apart as the best for car-seat installation.”
The cars that made the grader are the 2017 Ford Escape, 2017 GMC Acadia, 2016 Sonata Hybrid, 2016 Jaguar XF, 2016 Mini Clubman. . .and the 2016 Toyota RAV4.
While there is certainly a considerable number of people who buy crossovers just because they like the higher H-point or because of the AWD availability, some are interested in the vehicles because they generally have more cargo capability than, say, sedans. And they have kids that need to be transported, as well.
A friend who was interested in the RAV4 has three small children (including twins), so he climbed in the back and his verdict—not having done any experimentation, but just from sitting and looking—was “I could put three seats back here.”
So there you have it.
This is a crossover that checks those boxes and plenty more.
Engine: 2.5-liter four; 176 hp Transmission: Six-speed automatic Passenger volume (w/moonroof): 100.7-cu.ft. Cargo volume: 38.4-cu. ft. behind second row; 73.4-cu. ft. second row folded Fuel economy: 22/29/25 city/highway/combined mpg
Why China Matters to GM—Especially Buick
18. October 2016
If you want to know how important China is to a company like General Motors, all you have to do it look at its sales of Cadillac and Buick there in September.
Overall, GM and its various joint ventures sold a record 343,773 vehicles in China in September. And while there are brands there that aren’t in the U.S. that accounted for more than half of those sales—Baojun September sales were 62,719 units and Wuling were 108,225—Cadillac, Chevy and Buick—especially Buick—made significant contributions.
In the case of Cadillac, it delivered 12,539 units, or 63% more vehicles than it had sold in China in September 2015. While the U.S. remains Cadillac’s biggest market (15,368 units in September), it is interesting to note that third place goes to Canada, which represents about 1/10 of the China sales, with 1,264 deliveries.
Chevrolet delivered 51,932 units in China in September, or a 2.6% increase over September 2015 deliveries. Certainly Chevy sold many more vehicles in the U.S., two things: (1) it has far more models on offer in the U.S. and (2) its September over September sales were down 0.3%.
Buick Excelle GT
The big story is Buick in China, which was up 23% over last September, with 108,325 units delivered. That is huge. Apparently, the Excelle GT is averaging monthly sales this year of 30,000 vehicles a month. In September in the U.S. all models of Buick accounted for 20,922 units. Yet here’s one car selling, on average, considerably more.
And while Buick had a strong performance in the U.S. market in September—up 14.1% compared with September 2015—it is hard to see the monthly number for Buick in China as anything short of astonishing.
Here’s another way to look at that 108,325: If you add up the September U.S. sales of Buick, Cadillac and GMC (which isn’t in China, by the way), the total is 79,558, which is 73% of Buick in China for the month.
Engineering the Acura NSX
17. October 2016
The 2017 Acura NSX is an engineering tour de force.
The vehicle is a hybrid, which consists of a twin-turbocharged V6 (500 hp @ 6,500-7,500 rpm) a nine-speed dual-clutch transmission; a 47 hp permanent-magnet. Water-cooled electric motor generator that is located between the engine and transmission and attached directly to the crankshaft that performs like a supercharger; and two 36-hp permanent magnet electric motor generators that are located in the front of the vehicle and independently drive the left and right front wheels.
Then there is the construction of the vehicle, which is based on a space frame. This space frame includes aluminum structures as well as steel, such as A-pillars that are made with ultra-high-strength steel (1,500 MPa), produced with a process called “3DQ,” for “three-dimensional bent and quenched; this is said to be the world’s first application of the process. There is another “world’s first,” the use of ablation casting for the production of aluminum frame nodes.
The body panels for the NSX are made of aluminum panels and SMC panels.
The body was designed taking into account what they call “total airflow management,” which channels airflow through and around the vehicle, to provide better aerodynamics for the vehicle while also serve to cool the engine and the three electric motors.
While this was a global project, with engineers working on the powertrain in Tochigi, Japan and initial design being performed in Wako, Japan, the design and development of the body, chassis, electrical and interior, as well as vehicle integration was done in Raymond, Ohio, and the finish design, interior and exterior, were performed at the Acura Design Studio in Los Angeles. The engine is being hand-assembled at the Honda engine plant in Anna, Ohio, and the vehicle is assembled at a purpose-built facility, the Performance Manufacturing Center, in Marysville, Ohio.
A deeper dive into the engineering of Acura’s supercar is provided by Ted Klaus, the executive engineer of the vehicle, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”
John McElroy and I are joined by Joe DeMatio of Road & Track on the show.
In addition to which, we discuss a number of topical topics, such as what Nissan might do to turn around Mitsubishi, the future of the internal combustion engine in Germany in light of a government resolution calling for the banning of them by 2030, and a whole lot more.
And you can see it here:
14. October 2016
So far this year in the U.S. Bentley has delivered a total 1,475 vehicles.
Given that the cars have a starting price around $200,000 and you can up that by about $29,000 to slide into the seat of the Bentayga crossover, they’re probably doing alright.
However, what’s a person to do who likes the idea and styling of Bentley yet find her- or him-self a bit strapped money-wise?
Well, perhaps a look at the new “Iconic Classics” line that’s part of the Bentley Collections.
For example, there are leather jackets for women and men that feature a “matrix grille lining” that’s said to echo the shape of the Bentley dashboard. There are cross-stitched twinned joints and hanging loop that are said to be related to the stitching on a Bentley steering wheel.
There are Italian-made silk scarfs, as well as British-made cashmere scarfs, with the material sourced—and we are not making this up—from Inner Mongolia.
"The elegant, timeless pieces of the new line are designed to be treasured lifetime companions of the owner, much like the cars that influence them," said Karin Schilcher, director of Licensing and Branding at Bentley Motors.