Autofield Blog

BMW Builds the Car of the 21st Century

By: Gary S. Vasilash 27. April 2015

According to Sandy Munro, who heads up engineering consultancy Munro & Associates, BMW spent approximately $2.8-billion on developing the i3.

Munro & Associates spent approximately $2-million taking the i3 apart. Completely apart. Even—in the case of the batteries—to the molecular level.


This is what the future looks like: BMW i3s at the Port Jersey Vehicle Distribution Center

Munro considers the i3 to be the “watershed.” Every car before it was one thing. Every car after it will be something else. He says that because of the way the carbon-fiber bodied, aluminum framed, electric-powered vehicle is designed, engineered, and produced, it is analogous to, and as consequential as, the Model T.

Because of the disassembly, all the analysis to board level, all of the calculating for costing purposes, Munro finds that the BMW engineers have created not only a vehicle, but process knowledge and capability that is extensible to other vehicles, that should revolutionize the thinking at other OEMs. . .although as he points out in this week’s “Autoline After Hours,” he has found limited interest in the 40,000-page report they have produced as a result of their work by U.S.-based OEMs.

That said, he has had, and continues to have, numerous visits by Chinese car companies.

Unlike most shows, where the guest is on set for 30 minutes, Munro talks to host John McElroy, Lindsay Brooke of Automotive Engineering International and me for the full hour—and then some.

So if you’re interested in composite-intensive vehicles, electric vehicles, automotive benchmarking, automotive design, automotive engineering, or why companies like Munro & Associates are in need of engineers, then this is required viewing:


Dreaming of Lamborghinis

By: Gary S. Vasilash 24. April 2015

When you think “Waldorf Astoria,” you probably think about some pretty sumptuous digs. After all, the mere name of the hotel drips class.

As we’ve recently seen, hotels of an upper echelon are working with auto makers to tie vaunted brands together, or to provide guests with something that goes above and beyond the norm of, say, exquisite concierge service.


And Waldorf Astoria is taking this to something of an extreme, as it is offering the “Waldorf Astoria Driving Experiences” at 12 of its 26 hotels and resorts in the U.S., Europe and the United Arab Emirates.

What this means is that guests will be able to book time in a Ferrari 458 Italia, McLaren MP4-12C, Porsche GT3, Lamborghini Huracan, or Lamborghini Gallardo. And as these cars are rather, well, above and beyond the norm that many of the guests are likely to be familiar with, Waldorf has hired drivers Didier Theys, Vanina Ickx and Eric Van De Poele to be driving directors.

As Theys said, “With a little coaching and advice, drivers of all skill levels can have a memorable day behind the wheel.”

We think that most will probably need more than a “little coaching,” and as for advice, “Slow down” is probably going to be the most appropriate.

2015 Silverado 1500 Z71 4WD LTZ Crew

By: Gary S. Vasilash 23. April 2015

I’ve got to believe that no one really cared a whole lot about what their vehicle was made of since the days of the polymer body panels on Saturn. Remember: “A different kind of car. A different kind of company.”? The vehicular difference had absolutely nothing to do with anything but the plastic on the Saturn. Then after they stopped being made of polymer, the cars became rather, um, irrelevant. And thereafter, Saturn ceased to exist.

So that’s a case where the materials mattered. But after that, what? Does anyone go into a Chevy showroom and ask what the Malibu is constructed with?

2015 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ

And seriously: Does it really matter what material your vehicle is made with? After all, the engineering team changed with developing that vehicle is going to select the material that meets the job requirements and so as a customer, that ought to be the least of your concerns.

Yet since the advent of the 2015 Ford F-150, the “aluminum” F-150, it’s all about the materials, at least in the full-size truck segment.

(Did you ever notice that when people talk about the Tesla Model S, it is as an “electric vehicle.” No one ever says that it is an “aluminum vehicle,” or even an “electric, aluminum vehicle.”)

So for the Silverado High Country and its kin, the folks at Chevy proudly point out: “High-strength steel makes the frames and cabs stronger and lighter” (and in case you’re wondering: that aluminum F-150 has a steel frame) and “Strategic use of aluminum alloys to reduce the weight of engines, front suspension components, hoods and other parts.” Actually, one might argue that it really tactical use of the nonferrous material. What’s more, aluminum blocks and heads are pretty standard across the board—even the Saturn engine back in the day was aluminum. Suspension components, ditto. Hoods on trucks, surprising, have been aluminum for longer than anyone was talking about it.

All of which is to say: forget about what the Silverado is made out of. What matters is how it looks and what it brings you in the way of both amenities and performance.

So the truck in question here, the crew cab version, can accommodate 5 or 6 people, depending on how large those people are. (Presumably, if they’re really large, that is 4 or 5 people.)

2015 Chevrolet Silverado

Those people are in a very nice interior package. Well, the people in the front seats certainly are, because this particular vehicle has some options like heated and cooled seats for the front ($650) and leather appointments ($375). There is also a Bose audio system that’s part of the LTZ Plus package ($1,165), so everyone gets to enjoy the audio.

Overall, the thing that I like the most about the truck (and we’ll get to what it can do in a moment, so at this point the subject is “truck as something you’re going to have to drive in for probably far more hours than you want, no matter how good it is”) is the interior. It is thoughtfully designed and has an upscale look. (Of course, if you look at the price of the truck—MSPR of $45,810 and kick in $7,170 for a suite of options and $1,195 for destination, and you get to a total price of $54,175, which means that it is an upscale truck.)

It has a 5-ft, 8-in. box on the back. And that box has a volume of 53.4-cu. ft. And its length at floor is 69.3 in., and the width at floor is 64.6 in., the width between wheel housings is 51 in., and the width of the tailgate is 62.2 in., and the inside height is 21.1 in. And that floor, in this case, has a spray-on bed liner ($475) to protect the steel.

2015 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ

Get it with the “Max Trailering” package and this truck weighs 5,518 lb. (remember that as a four-wheel drive vehicle, there is additional mass for the additional capability), it has a GVWR of 7,600 lb., a payload of 2,050 lb., and trailering capacity of 11,800 lb. (remember: Max Trailering package).

This truck is fitted with the 6.2-liter V8 and Hydra-Matic eight-speed automatic (which add $2,495 to the sticker). And the miles per gallon on that sticker are 15 city, 21 highway, and 17 combined. This is an engine that produces 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. (Out of curiosity I took a look at the numbers for an F-150 4x4 with a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 385 hp and 387 lb-ft—an aluminum F-150—and discovered that the fuel economy is the same. Go figure.)

The thing about pickups is not what they’re made of. The thing about pickups is really two-fold, with the first being REALLY important, and the second relevant, but not the stuff of tipping-points, generally speaking.

The first is what company produces it. The second is what it looks like. The first is about loyalty. The second is about subjectivity. The first is something that is difficult, if not impossible, to change. The second can be influenced, although one might argue that in the light truck segment, there really hasn’t been much of a leap forward in design since the model year 1994 Dodge Ram pickup, the one with the “big-rig” look. So in the case of the Silverado, F-150 or Ram 1500 (yes, I am not mentioning Toyota and Nissan here because that would take another long digression in parenthesis, and we probably don’t need to go there right now), for the past many years it has been more about design enhancement and refinement than major modifications. So you like the way it looks or you don’t. (You might say that is the case with any vehicle, but chances are while there are brand loyalties, if you really think the Chevy Cruze is awful-looking and that the Dodge Dart is really cool, you might be persuaded to switch. This sort of thinking is more rare in the truck space.) The Silverado has a suitable exterior design. But its interior is better than the exterior, and as that’s where you’re going to be planting your posterior, that’s probably a better thing.

Selected specs

Engine: 6.2-liter V8 with direct injection & cylinder deactivation

Material: Cast-aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 420 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm

Transmission: Hydra-Matic 8L90 eight-speed automatic

Steering: Electrical power-assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 143.5 in.

Length: 230 in.

Width: 80 in.

Height: 74. in.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 15/21/17 mpg

Volkswagen Introduces a New GTI

By: Gary S. Vasilash 22. April 2015

Without question, the brightest lineup in the Volkswagen of America showroom is the Golf family, which consists of the Golf, the GTI, Golf R, and Golf Sportwagen.

Through March, with combined sales of 12,763 vehicles, the Golf family sales compared to the same period in 2014 are up 138.6%. There is no other VW on offer that shows such performance.

Which brings us to this vehicle, the brand-new GTI Supersport.


It is described as a vehicle with a 503-hp, VR6 TSI engine and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It produces 490 lb-ft of torque. Its 0 to 62 time is 3.6 seconds. It has a top speed in excess of 186 mph.

It has 4MOTION all-wheel drive and rides on 20-inch alloys.

The GTI Supersport is engineered with lightweight elements such that it has a power-to-weight ratio of 5.5 pound per horsepower.

It is available in “Reflex Silver,” “Gran Turismo Red,” “Lapiz Blue” and “Oryx White.”

One more thing about the GTI Supersport.

It isn’t real.

At least not physically real.


Volkswagen “engineered” the GTI Supersport for the PlayStation 3 Gran Turismo 6 game.

Given the performance of the real GTIs in terms of sales (with 5,754 GTIs sold through March, it is the biggest-seller in the Golf family), chances are the GTI Supersport would do exceedingly well.

Mazda Design Exercises in Milan

By: Gary S. Vasilash 21. April 2015

When it comes to vehicle design, other companies may get more attention (think only of the previous generation Hyundai Sonata; you would have thought that the vehicle was sculpted by a reincarnated Bernini for all of the lavish praise of its formed surfaces), but in our humble estimation, there is no company that is doing a better job, car after car after car, than Mazda.

Five years ago, we went to a palazzo in Milan to see the unveiling of the Shinari concept car and were told that the design language, called “KODO,” would be used as the basis for forthcoming Mazda production vehicles.


Shinari concept

Which, of course, seemed a bit rhetorically exaggerated.

But they delivered.


2015 Mazda6

And they’ve consistently delivered on the KODO, “Soul of Motion,” approach to design.

However, maybe they’re getting a little too KODOed.

That is, last week in Milan they unveiled two new products with the design theme, but this time one doesn’t have any wheels.

It is a sofa.

Kodo 1

The other one is a vehicle, but probably not one ordinarily associated with Mazda.

It is a bicycle.

Kodo 2

Yes, a track bike (possibly keeping with the theme of Mazda racing: remember, the official name of the track usually referred to simply as “Laguna Seca” is actually “Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca”).

What is most impressive about this seriously minimalist bike is that the frame was produced by hammering a single sheet of steel. Clearly, this is art, not production.

Mazda created these objects for the Salon del Mobile. Which, the last word notwithstanding, is not a mobility event, but actually the annual Milan international furniture fair.

Clearly, the designers at Mazda are nothing if not fashion-forward.

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