Autofield Blog

How Is a Car Like a Cow?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. October 2015

At the recently concluded London Design Festival, there was a concept car from a student at the Royal College of Art, Yi-Wen Tseng, the likes of which is rather unusual.

As Yi-Wen Tseng explained in her artist’s statement, “Our daily lives are filled with the benefits of technological innovation—advanced transportation, electricity devices, or 3D printing. However, many of these are detrimental to the environment, and the situation gets worse as we rely on these products more and more. Technology is also seen as a way to deal with environmental issues, but to the extent where we are replacing nature, rather than working with it. What if we could use potential technologies, not to bypass nature, but to bring us closer to nature?”

cow car

And so she went to work with a 3D printer and developed the “Digestive Car.”

Put simply, she is modeling the fueling of her car on a cow.

Or, as she posited, “the cow’s digestive system is a remarkable feat of nature – an anaerobic powerhouse. What if this organ was replicated in a bio-print, and fashioned into a self-powering vehicle for transport? Could the cow’s digestive system be a vehicle that strikes a balance with nature?”

That’s right: “feed” the car grass, and through processes including rumination and fermentation. . .voila! Fuel.

Presumably there would really need to be a serious catalyst or trap in the exhaust system.

Yi-Wen Tseng acknowledged, “Of course, Digestive Car is a speculative project, relying on great imagination.”


Does the World Need a Range Rover Convertible?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. October 2015

If you want a quick read on how well sport utility vehicles are doing versus cars in the U.S., then it is worth taking a look at the numbers for Jaguar Land Rover, as that company clearly has both types of vehicles on offer.

According to numbers from Autodata, in September Jaguar delivered 995 cars in the U.S., down 12.9%. For the year, it has delivered 11,216 units, which is off by 5.28% for the same period in 2014.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the house, Land Rover delivered 5,855 utilities in September, which is up 88.5%. And for the year, it is up 26%, with 48,403 units.

Clearly, sport utilities are the way to go. While Jaguar will be getting one in the not-too-distant future, the folks at Land Rover are going to have a new one out next month.

It is the Range Rover Evoque Convertible.

Yes, convertible.

The company is describing it as “the most capable convertible in the world.”

Shown here is the vehicle undergoing a test at the company’s Eastnor Castle estate in Herefordshire, UK:

Evoque convertible

You’d think that during water fording you might put the top up lest the interior leather get. . .damp.

While they’ll undoubtedly sell some, perhaps they should have spent some time talking to the people at Nissan about its Murano variant.

2014 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet

Alcoa—Not Aluminum This Time

By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. October 2015

When you say “Alcoa” in this industry, the first thought of those in the steel industry probably runs to the 2015 F-150 and then to a word that we can’t use here.

2015 Ford F-150 frame and body

But it is interesting to note that in addition to aluminum sheet for automotive applications, the company makes a number of products that address multi-material fastening, and multi-materials is the direction that automotive construction is going, a direction that the aircraft industry is already taking.

That is, Alcoa signed a contract with Airbus that’s worth about $1-billion for its fastener products.


These fasteners will be used for products including the A350 XWB, the A320neo, and the A330.

Among the fasteners that Alcoa Fastening Systems & Rings produces are blind bolts, blind rivets, latching systems, inserts, studs, bolts, screws, nuts, lockbelt fasteners, pin fastening system, and panel fasteners.

Among the materials that these fasteners are produced with are stainless steel, titanium, and nickel-based superalloys.

All of which is to say that beyond the aforementioned sheet for body panels, it seems like the company is well positioned to putting materials together, as well.

Presumably, there may be some automotive applications in the offing at some point, as well.

Another Audi Diesel

By: Gary S. Vasilash 6. October 2015

When I saw the headline “Audi Faces Challenging Task in Japan” I immediately thought, “Uh-oh. More issues with the diesel engine”—because remember, Audi is part of the Volkswagen Group and as such, there is shared technology, such as, well, the diesel engines that have caused all manner of problems in Wolfsburg. . .and, arguably, Ingolstadt.

New Audi R18 e-tron quattro even more efficient

However, that wasn’t the “challenging task” being referred to. Rather, it is for next Sunday’s World Endurance Championship race the Fuji Speedway, where Audi will be campaigning its R18 e-tron quattro.

Still, one begins to think: the R18 e-tron quattro is a hybrid vehicle that combines an electric motor. . .and a diesel engine. In this case, a four-liter, V6 TDI engine that delivers 558 hp. (Not the 2.0-liter TDI that it has under the hood of the A3.) Audi has been running a racing diesel at Le Mans, for example, since 2006, and scored eight victories.

(One interesting aspect of the R18 e-quattro is that it uses an energy recovery system that takes energy from braking and stores it in a flywheel system that sits in the cockpit along with the driver (!) and is capable of storing up to 700 kilojoules of energy. This power goes back to an electrical machine on the front axle that can produce 272-hp.

Because of this setup, the rules demand that they had to restrict the amount of fuel used by the car by 2.5% per lap.

Describing the fuel efficiency of the R18 e-tron quattro up to this year’s 24 Hour of Le Mans, a statement from Audi says, “In 2006, Audi’s TDI engine debuted at Le Mans, followed by eight victories until 2014. While lap times continually improved, fuel consumption decreased by 38 percent during this period.”

No word on emissions.

Developing the 2016 Toyota Tacoma

By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. October 2015

“We’re engineers. We live for a challenge.”

So says Mike Sweers, chief engineer for Trucks at Toyota.

Tacoma Sweers

Mike Sweers and the 2016 Toyota Tacoma (Photo: Dewhurst Photography for Toyota)

The challenge he and his colleagues most recently took on was the 2016 Toyota Tacoma, the midsize truck (or “small pickup” or “compact pickup”) that’s basically dominated the segment for the past decade.

According to the most recent numbers from Autodata, through September, 133,672 vehicles in that category have been sold this year. Of that number, 63,232 are Tacoma, or about 47%--and realize that the new ones haven’t yet hit the showrooms.

(The trucks are now being built at Tacoma is assembled at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas (TMMTX) in San Antonio and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Baja California (TMMBC) in Baja California, Mexico.)

Sweers explains that the focus at Toyota is on QDR—quality, durability, and reliability. And that for a Camry owner, for example, that means something along the lines of having a car that needs only regularly scheduled maintenance and nothing major. For Tacoma owners, it means the ability to turn that odometer over 100,000 on roads that may only be hinted at without having to deal with anything major.

So they went at the development of this vehicle knowing full well that it has to deal with the most-demanding conditions, which meant engineering it with plenty of high-strength, and even ultra-high-strength steels—including hot-stamped 1480 MPa material, the first-ever use by Toyota.

Tacoma in the dirt

One of the most amazing—yes, amazing—features of the Tacoma is Crawl Control. As you can see, this truck is up to its axles in sand. Through the use of Crawl, which controls both the engine and brake torque at each wheel individually, the vehicle will work its way out while the driver does nothing but control the steering as necessary. Think of it as autonomous extraction.  (Photo: Dewhurst Photography for Toyota)

And while on the subject of stamping—and know that the body panels are creased and formed in a way that contributes to the design brief that Sweers gave to the designers at CALTY in Newport Beach: “I want a bad-ass truck”—Sweers says, “We violate about. . .all of our stamping rules on this truck.”

Sweers had previously done the 2014 Toyota Tundra full-size pickup, and says that some of the learnings that they used in developing that truck for the Tacoma (e.g., the use of a three-piece rear bumper instead of one, which makes it easier—and less costly—to replace in case of damage).

Sweers talks about all this on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with host John McElroy, Chris Paukert of CNET and me. (Did you ever hear of an engineering team that had dirt, dust and sand sent to them in order to develop a truck that could deal with demanding conditions the world over? The Tacoma team did.)

Model X

Model X

In addition to which, John, Chris and I talk about the introduction of the Tesla Model X, the potential fallout of the continuing VW diesel debacle and more on the show.

And you can see it right here:



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