Autofield Blog

Fuel Efficiency Falls in June—Sort Of


By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. July 2015

In June, SUV and van sales were very good for Ford.

The sales of the Explorer were up 30% compared with June 2014. And the same is true for the Ford Edge.

2015 Ford Edge

Things were even better for Ford van sales, which were up 31% compared with last year.

In fact, Ford vans had their best June since 1999. June 1999 was the year the Napster first appeared. It’s been that long.

Overall, sales of light trucks did exceedingly well in June, and not just for Ford.

Anyway, over at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) researchers monitor overall vehicle sales and calculate the miles per gallon that those sales represent.

And while it is true that the miles per gallon for a given SUV or other light truck variant are better today that in the past, when you make the overall calculation, including cars in the mix, then it isn’t entirely surprising that they found a decrease in the fuel economy for the month of June.

UMTRI

However, it is just by 0.1 mpg, so it is not like a comparative Deepwater Horizon event on land.

Actually, the 25.4 mpg in June is pretty good for the year so far.

That is, the UMTRI researchers calculated that it was 25.4 mpg for January, 25.2 for February, 25.4 in March, 25.2 in April, and 25.5 mpg in May. That would be an average of 25.3 for those months, which means that the 25.4 mpg for June is actually above average.

Go figure.


Fiat 500 & July 4


By: Gary S. Vasilash 6. July 2015

The 239th anniversary of July 4, 1776, occurred last Saturday, which was notable primarily in the United States, due to the crafting of the Declaration of Independence.

Fiat 1957

The 50th anniversary of July 4, 1957, also occurred last Saturday, which was notable primarily in Italy, due to the introduction of the first Fiat 500.

In 1776, the population of the United States was about 2.5-million. Fifty years later the population was 9.6-million.

Since 1957, the number of Fiat 500s sold is approximately 3.8-million, of which 1.5-million were sold between 2007 and now, with 2007 being the year that the current-generation 500 was launched.

Which just goes to show you that populations rise faster than car models sell.

New 500 2

Anyway, in keeping with an anniversary theme, last Saturday Fiat launched the New 500 at the Lingotto in Turin, Italy. The Lingotto was a Fiat factory from 1923 to 1982. It has been recreated as a public facility.

Back to the New 500.

New 500 3

Well, maybe that should be “Newish 500,” because it has a refreshed exterior and interior and, according to Fiat, 1,800 “innovative details.”

Some of these details are minor, like new interior materials.

Some are major, like an increased range of engines, including a 0.9-liter (!), 85- or 105-hp TwinAir Engine that features two cylinders and a 1.2-liter 69-hp, that comes in two variants, gasoline or bi-fuel.

New 500 1

The vehicle will be available as coupe and a convertible.

While we don’t know at this time when it might be coming to the U.S., it probably can’t be too soon. According to FCA US LLC, so far this year, through June, it has sold 15,390 500s in the U.S., which is down 15% compared with 2014’s sales.

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The Bentley of Smartphones


By: Gary S. Vasilash 3. July 2015

Although there is an ongoing battle at the corporate level and often a kerfuffle at the individual level between the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy, those two phones are really somewhat trivial compared to the Vertu.

“Vertu?”

Bentley phone

Yes, that’s the phone that can set you back thousands of dollars. A phone that can be gem-encrusted. A phone that doesn’t use Gorilla Glass for its screen but sapphire. (Yes, as in sapphire.)

And it may not be entirely surprising (once you get over the initial shock of seeing the price of a car attached to a smartphone) that Bentley and Vertu have an on-going partnership.

Last week the two companies unveiled the second Vertu for Bentley handset. It was displayed at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. It will make its way to the U.S. for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. And it will be launched September 18.

The Virtu Signature for Bentley handset is said to have cues drawn from the Bentley Mulsanne Speed. Like a carbon fiber weave pattern on the top of the phone and knurled stainless steel surfaces on the sides. The phone’s case is made from leather sourced from the tannery that Bentley uses. Of course, the case has the Bentley Flying B logo on it—in titanium.

Beyond the object alone, there is service, as well.

Owners of the phone get one year’s complimentary access to Vertu Concierge. With the push of a ruby button (seriously: a ruby button) you can be connected to “a dedicated Lifestyle manager, providing expert assistance designed to meet your every need.”

Or, perhaps, you could simply ask Siri.


Lotus: Pure Michigan


By: Gary S. Vasilash 2. July 2015

One of the leading automotive engineering consultancies in the world is Lotus Engineering. When it comes to things like chassis development and tuning, the firm is second to none.

Evora 400

Lotus Evora 400

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Lotus Engineering’s U.S. facility is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For those of you who weren’t fans of Dora the Explorer or aren’t fans of Big Ten football, Ann Arbor is due west of Detroit.

Lotus, of course, is based in Norfolk, UK, and it has three operations: engineering, sales and racing.

Its U.S. sales operation, Lotus Cars USA, is located in Lawrenceville, Georgia. That, geographically speaking is close to Atlanta. But it is also, geographically speaking, miles away from the U.S. hub of automotive development, which is a whole lot closer to Ann Arbor.

While there are regularly reports of auto companies moving operations south—be it to southern states or even below the border with Mexico, Lotus is making a counter move: it is packing up its belongings and heading north.

Explains Jean-Marc Gales, CEO of Group Lotus: “North America, as the largest sports car market in the world, is important for Lotus, both for model sales and for our engineering consultancy business. By having both of our USA organizations located in Michigan, we shall be within the heartland of the USA automotive sector, where the headquarters of some of the most important, influential and significant automotive manufacturers and suppliers are based. This will reaffirm our presence in the North American market, by providing improved customer service, better technical and consultancy support, while ensuring that we have access to a skills base not found anywhere else in the territory. All of this fits with Lotus developing speedily in North America in years to come.”

The extent to which the company develops in the North American market—where it has just 47 dealer outlets—remains to be seen.

But clearly this organizational consolidation is a move in the right direction.


Audi: To the Moon!


By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. July 2015

The Google Xprize is not about the Google Car, though arguably it does have an automotive aspect to it.

That is, the $30-million competition is about going to the Moon. Yes, an actual space shot.

lunar audi

But that’s only part of it. The competitors must not only get to the surface of the Earth’s satellite, but they have to put a privately funded lunar rover on it.

And this isn’t a matter of demolition derby with the Moon. The lunar rover then must drive around on the surface—at least 500 meters—and transmit high-definition video and images back to the home planet.

First place: $20-million. Second, $5-million.

Which brings us more directly to the auto industry in the form of Audi.

Audi is working with a group of engineers, technicians and scientists who are operating under the whimsical name “Part-Time Scientists.” This is the only German team.

Explains Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi Board Member for Technical Development, “We are pleased to support the project with our know-how in lightweight technology, electronics and robotics.”

In addition, Audi’s Concept Design Studio is undertaking a redesign of the rover, reportedly to “ensure ideal lightweight construction conditions,” probably to make sure it looks cool. After all, it is going to be called the “Audi lunar quattro.”

The aluminum-intensive vehicle is solar powered. It has a maximum speed of 3.6 kmph (2.2 mph).

Takeoff is planned for 2017.




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