Autofield Blog

Hollywood vs. Detroit

By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. March 2015

Sometimes it seems that other industries are in some ways more progressive than auto.

To which one could respond with a great big HA!

Consider, for example, Hollywood.

That’s really a place where there are forward thinkers and innovators and imaginative leaders and whatnot, right?

Well, shortly before the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) named General Motors one of the 2015 “Top Companies for Executive Women,” the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA released its “2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.”

And among the findings: Film studio heads were 94 percent white and 100 percent male.”

This is a picture of Alicia Boler-Davis (left) and Mary Barra (right):

GM Named One of the 2015 Top Companies for Executive Women

Photo: Monica Morgan

Boler-Davis is senior vice president, Global Connected Customer Experience at General Motors. (As an industry colleague pointed out to me, when it comes to titles at GM, “Global” is essential for those who matter.)

Barra, of course, is GM CEO.

Yes, here are two women who matter in a BIG way at GM.

There is something else that is worth pointing out about these two executives.

It is sometimes seemingly the case that “manufacturing” and “production” are simply necessary but not particularly important parts of this business.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Bohler-Davis started at GM in 1994. As a manufacturing engineer. She was to go on to other manufacturing roles (e.g., plant manager at Lansing Consolidated Operations, Arlington Assembly, Orion Assembly, and Pontiac Stamping) during her career. Now, a direct report to Barra, Boler-Davis is charged with providing customers the best service and experience in the business.

Barra started at GM in 1980 as a co-op student at what was then General Motors Institute. Along the way, she, too, held many manufacturing positions, including plant manager at Detroit Hamtramck Assembly, and vice president, Global Manufacturing Engineering. (Note “Global.”)

And now she runs one of the biggest car companies on the planet.

If you ever think that auto is behind the times, think again.

And congratulations to General Motors.


2015 Buick Regal AWD GS

By: Gary S. Vasilash 4. March 2015

The recent Buick TV ads—the one with the creepy neighbors with high-powered binoculars (!) looking at the new Enclave (yeah, like you want the Peeping Tom community to be admiring your new wheels); the clueless friend and the remarkably clueless parking valet each trying to find the Buick in question (would you trust your car to a valet who doesn’t have the sense to hit the fob before running back and forth like a proverbial headless chicken?)—miss the point about Buick.

Making the point that one’s car is likely to go unidentified is not a good thing. Most people would like friends, relations, perfect strangers, and anyone else to know that they are driving whatever car is theirs.

2015 Buick Regal GS

The whole notion of “That’s a Buick!?!” says primarily to people who remember the division as a purveyor of land barges and rolling Barcaloungers “Yes, we realize that they used to be such; now they are not that, they’re something else, but we’re not going to tell you what that is.”

They say to people who don’t remember the division, well, not a whole lot, except that the vehicles have a certain vehicular anonymity. Which they don’t. They’re better than that.

Like the Buick Regal GS. It is a good car. A handsome car. A car that has technology under the hood. A car that has technology on the dash. A car that has the performance befitting someone who drives to work on a daily basis and takes a long ride Up North on an occasional basis. A car with comfort. A car with style. A car where even the details—like a nicely finished trunk—count.

2015 Buick Regal GS

This is a car that Buick ought to be proud of.

This is a car that someone who wants to buy a premium car can be proud of.

This is a car with presence, not anonymity.

This is a car that, really ought to have a whole lot more traction in the market.

Yes, according to Autodata, the Buick Regal gained considerably in 2014. It finished the year at 22,560, up 20% from its performance in 2013.

However. . .

Among the cars the Regal is compared with is the Acura TLX. The TLX went on sale in August 2014. And by year’s end, 19,127 of them had been sold. So that’s about 85% of Regal sales in seven fewer months.

Another is the Audi A4. There were 28,764 sedans delivered in 2014, according to Autodata.

And then there’s the Lexus IS (250 and 350), of which 51,358 were moved in 2014.

Now, I am not necessarily comparing the Regal GS to any of those cars.

But I am saying that Regal sales are better but, again, Not Good.

Look at it this way: Many people say that the Chevrolet Volt is pretty much like an anchor rather than a lightning bolt. And in 2014 its sales were off 18.6%. Yet there were 18,805 sold, or 83% of the number of Regals, and industry observes tend to make a “pffutt” sound of dismissiveness when it comes to the Volt, so, again, there really should be more performance from the Regal in the market.


The vehicle as driven had a 295-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. What was really nice was the fact that it has all-wheel-drive, because we’re talking about a snowy Detroit winter in this case.

For those who have a default mode to check out Consumer Reports before buying a new vehicle, know that the Regal is now one of its Top Ten Picks for 2015, taking the “Sports sedan” category. They go so far as to write, “Close your eyes, and you’ll think you’re driving an Audi—a very good Audi at that.” (The Regal is based on an Opel platform, so there is that Germaness to it.)

However, one of the points about the Regal that really surprised many people of my acquaintance is that the midsized sedan is priced like an Audi.

2015 Buick Regal GS

This car has the GS trim package, which means that there are some sporty touches to the front and rear fascias; exclusive 19-in. alloy wheels; the Buick “Interactive Drive Control,” which allows making a drive mode selection; a front suspension setup (“HiPer Strut”) that helps minimize torque steer; and other features. It is an AWD car with a Haldex system. And there is the technology like the OnStar 4G LTE hotspot for those who just can’t stop Instagramming or whatever.

The MSRP for the model: $39,810.

Then the car in question had a couple of tech packages that provide things like adaptive cruise control, automatic collision preparation, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, etc. One package is $1,195. The other is $1,040.

Then there is the power moonroof that adds $1,000 to the sticker.

And the paint—Black Diamond Tricoat—is $995.

Add a $925 fee for delivery, and you’re looking at a total of $44,965 for the Buick.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m not confident that “Buick” currently has the resonance of “Audi,” Consumer Reports notwithstanding. This is one of those cases where it seems that the people who are making pricing decisions at GM need to understand that they’ve got to establish and earn their place among the Audis and Lexuses, it just can’t be decided that they’ve got the goods, so they’re going to price accordingly.

But if you can swallow a sticker just this side of $45,000 for a Buick (arguably an import, because it is produced at the GM plant in Oshawa, Ontario), then the Regal GS AWD won’t disappoint.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC turbocharged I4

Material: Cast aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 259 @ 5,300 rpm

Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 3,000-4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Belt-driven electric power steering

Wheelbase: 107.8 in.

Length: 190.2 in.

Width: 73.1 in.

Height: 58.4 in.

Curb weight: 3,981 lb

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 19/27/22 mpg


Passat (the German One) Gets iF Gold

By: Gary S. Vasilash 3. March 2015

The internationally renowned iF Design Awards were presented last Friday in Munich, and the eighth-generation Volkswagen Passat took the gold in the “Automobile/Vehicles/Bikes” category.


Explaining the selection of the Passat, the award committee said, “Reinterpreting such a classic brand requires a great deal of sensitivity. We were fascinated by the consistency—in the sense of form follows function’—with which the pure and expressive design language has been applied throughout the whole concept, in both the interior and the exterior. The Volkswagen Passat unites minimalism with strong detailing. Practical use is combined with the highest level of elegance.”

The award was accepted by Klaus Bischoff, head of Volkswagen Design. (It is interesting to note the consistency with which that design aesthetic has been maintained by Bischoff and his team, as can be seen in this piece from 2008.)

What’s somewhat ironic about this award is that for model year 2012, Volkswagen decided, for a variety of reasons, that they needed to have a Passat for the U.S. What’s more, the company even built a factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to produce the U.S. Passat. The underlying idea was that they needed a “Camry fighter.”

So out came the 2012 Passat, which was different than the model on offer in Germany and elsewhere, although it was made available in other markets, like South Korea, too.

The 2012 Passat did well, initially, even being named the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

But it never really became a Camry fighter of any magnitude.

According to Autodata, last year Volkswagen of America delivered 96,649 Passats. Toyota delivered 428,606 Camrys. In fact, Autodata numbers show that the entire Volkswagen division delivered 366,970 vehicles in 2014, or 61,636 fewer vehicles than the number of Camrys alone.

Maybe they should have stuck with the German version.

Ford Performance: Gone In 30 Minutes

By: Gary S. Vasilash 2. March 2015

Dave Pericak started at Ford as a manufacturing engineer. He worked in a parts plant, working on door panels.

Some 17 years later, in 2012, he became the chief engineer on the Mustang team, developing the car that’s out on the streets today:

The All-new Shelby GT350 Mustang

Following that assignment, Pericak was made head of Ford Performance. Clearly, he knows more than a little about that subject. And Ford Performance is an increasingly important part of the automaker’s business. Not only are performance variants of the cars popular among the stalwarts, like the Shelby GT350R Mustang, but, Pericak explains, cars like the Fiesta ST and Focus ST (and presumably the forthcoming Focus RS) are attracting more young people into the Ford showroom, no doubt in part given that they’ve watched and rewatched the Ken Block Gymkhana Hoonigan videos on YouTube.

2015 Ford Fiesta ST

“Performance,” of course, has more than a little something to do with racing. And Ford Racing, this year, has been racking up the wins with alacrity. During Speedweek in Daytona last month, Ford vehicles took the trophies for the NASCAR Camping World Truck, NASCAR XFINITY and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.

And in January, an EcoBoost-powered Riley took the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Ford EcoBoost Powers Chip Ganassi Racing to Victory

Jamie Allison is the head of Ford Racing. And he explains that what they’re doing week in, week out on the tracks for the various series that Ford supports is translating into developments and technologies applicable to production Fords.

While the notion that, say, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost that powered the racing prototype at Daytona has anything to do with a “regular” car seems far-fetched, Allison points out that that engine is 70% the same as the EcoBoost found under the hood of a Taurus.

Pericak and Allison are the guests on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

They talk performance cars, of course. They talk racing, of course. And importantly, they talk about how the Racing and Performance operations have now become integrated into the “One Ford” plan such that they aren’t outliers, but are actually integral within the Ford Product Development activities.

And they talk within 30 minutes, as they had to leave for an evening meeting back at Ford HQ.

In addition to which, John McElroy of “Autoline” and I discuss the recent J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study and other developments of the past week.

And you can see it all here:



Daring Greatly?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 27. February 2015

By now you have probably read or viewed on a screen the Cadillac “Dare Greatly” ad. While advertisements aren’t something that we ordinarily talk about, this repositioning of Cadillac is worth noting.

2015 Cadillac Logo in Vertical Lockup

The text of the ad is an edited version of a speech that was given by Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne in 1910.

The Cadillac version reads: “It is not the critic who counts; the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who knows at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

So in other words, try, try and try again.

The paragraph from Roosevelt’s speech, which was titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” a speech which looks at a number of subjects, is far more complex, too long for an advertisement, to say nothing of a poster that people may have on the walls of their cubicles to pump themselves up:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Clearly, you don’t want “dust and sweat and blood” in your car ad, so trimming was naturally in order.

One thing that is a bit odd about the Cadillac ad (and remember, “It is not the critic who counts”) is that it does talk about shortcomings and failures (“Who errs, who comes short again and again. . .If he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my premium luxury car to come up short. I don’t want to have my car fail.

Cadillac, as is widely attested, is making some damn fine automobiles. The “Standard of the World” line may not be wholly accurate, but they’ve sighted the benchmark vehicles and the Cadillac designers and engineers have made Rooseveltian strides to at least meet and often succeed those vehicles with cars like the ATS and CTS. Make no mistake: these are simply world-class products.

While there seems to be a creeping homogenization among the designs of some German vehicles, Cadillac designers have been consistently pushing and refining their creases, edges and body forms in a way that drives forward while reflecting back on where they came from.

It is odd that the ad talks about failure and defeat.

Contrast what Cadillac is saying with what Apple has said from the start, when the famous “1984” ad ran. They always said that they were going to strive and win. They said that thinking differently is what needs to be done. They celebrated the rebels and the thinkers and the doers and the artists who put a dent in the universe. They didn’t even consider that they would have been beaten back by Microsoft or Sony or Samsung or whatever.

That was unthinkable.

The Cadillac print ad shows no cars. The short versions of the video ad shows cars like cabs and anonymous cars parked on the street. The long version teases the forthcoming CT6 luxury sedan.

So what are we to make of that glimpse? What are we to imagine that the vehicle is about?

In the context of the edited Roosevelt lines, it strikes me that in some ways it evokes a line written by a great American writer, Budd Schulberg. It is a line from the 1954 film “On the Waterfront”:

“I coulda been a contender.”

That’s certainly not where Cadillac needs to be.

Another line from Roosevelt’s speech is appropriate, perhaps: “No permanent good comes from aspirations so lofty that they have grown fantastic and have become impossible. . . .”

Cadillac designs and builds some cars that need not take second place to any marque.

That, I think, is what people need understand. In this business, it is about delivering on the goods. Not trying to deliver.

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