The automotive fascination with platinum is rather interesting. No, not the use of the metal in catalytic converters, but as the trim level of a vehicle that’s at the upper strata.
Which is somewhat interesting given that the name of the element comes from the Spanish word platina, which means “little silver.” Silver, incidentally, is number 47 on the Periodic Table. Platinum is further along at 78, with iridium (no, not the satellite communications company) on one side and gold on the other.
Earlier this week, Cadillac announced that in the fourth quarter it will be rolling out with the 2015 Escalade Platinum, which includes things like Nappa semi-aniline leather for the first and second row seats, a cooled center console to keep beverages chilled, and a unique grille mesh design.
Earlier this week on this site, you may have noticed the review of the Platinum trim of the Toyota Tundra pickup.
And back in June, Ford announced that there is a Platinum trim level for the 2015 Expedition (again, one of the key aspects is a high-end leather; leather is not an element, by the way). Ford has been offering a Platinum F-150.
While there are a couple problems with it—like it is radioactive and it is not easy to spell—if some automotive marketer was really clever, they’d come out with an “Ununoctium” trim level.
Presumably the whole Platinum thing is about exclusivity. According to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, since 2006, “only a few atoms of ununoctium have ever been produced.”
That is a whole lot more exclusive and rare than a special set of 22-inch wheels.
Although steel producers seem to be taking it on the chin of late from aluminum, word out of Stuttgart ought to be somewhat encouraging to them. That is, Mercedes has announced that starting next month, steel pistons will be installed in the Mercedes-Benz E 350 BlueTEC engine.
Previously, aluminum pistons were used in the diesel engine.
And now it is going to steel.
The aluminum piston is on the left and the steel on the right. Turns out for diesels, smaller can be better.
While you might think that steel would be the norm for diesel engines, where there is tremendous pressure involved in the compression ignition, that is the case for commercial vehicles, but not cars, where aluminum pistons have come to the fore.
But Mercedes engineers started examining steel and determined that there is a potential benefit of using steel pistons within aluminum engine blocks, where the bores are coated by NANOSLIDE material, a nano-crystalline iron coating (also developed by Mercedes).
Because the forged steel pistons are higher in strength than a comparable amount of aluminum, they were able to make the pistons smaller: for the V6 in the E 350, the steel piston is 58.6 mm high versus 71.6 mm for an aluminum piston, yet the steel piston lends itself to application even if—or perhaps when—there is an increase of peak pressures inside the engine.
It was necessary to redesign the piston to go from aluminum (left) to steel (right).
There is less thermal expansion of steel compared with aluminum (the steel expands only about a quarter the amount that the aluminum does), so the gap between the cylinder wall and the piston is reduced as far as the first piston ring. A benefit of this is that there is a reduction in pollutants and emissions.
Joachim Schommer, head of basic engine development at Mercedes-Benz sees further application of steel pistons in the diesels that the vehicle manufacturer produces, such as its four-cylinder diesel (used, for example, in the E 250). Schommer said: “We are assuming that pistons made of steel will in future also be widespread use in passenger car diesel engines.”
He climbed into the cab of the Tundra—and were it not for the running board (a $345 option), this would have been something of a challenging free-style climb because the ground clearance for the full-size truck is 10.4 in., and that’s non-trivial—and said one word:
As in the German-owned British car maker.
(It is surprising to me how much run that manufacturer gets in these parts of the world, where its cars are about as likely to be spotted as Big Foot.)
What he was referring to was the diamond-patterned quilt-like appearance of the leather on the instrument panel, seats, and door inserts, which is Bentley-like.
Wait a minute. We’re talking about a pickup truck. A truck with a bed. A 66.7-in. bed that is capable of being filled with all kinds of dirt and manure and rocks and whatnot.
And yet it has an interior that brings a Bentley to mind in the mind of someone who works for another vehicle manufacturer, a vehicle manufacturer whose trucks are as commonly seen as the aforementioned Yeti isn’t?
Another thing about that interior. It is enormous. I’ve typically found that even with sizeable vehicles that it is necessary to inch the driver’s seat forward in order to provide the passenger behind me knee-saving room. Yet when I had a passenger back there I forgot to adjust my seat and the passenger remarked, with what only can be described as surprise in his voice, that he was, well, surprised at how roomy it was back there. And he was someone who had previously owned a full-size from another vehicle manufacturer, not the one of the previously mentioned person, but from the other company whose vehicles are second in ubiquity to that one.
There are lots of things that are nicely big in the Tundra. Like the knobs on the instrument panel. They are comparatively large and substantial. They are the kinds of things that were one to have meaty hands or diminutive hands in massive gloves that would come readily to hand. The knobs just say: This is a serious, big machine and we’re going to make it easy for you to adjust things.
(What is a bit of a surprise to me is that the key is sort of a 98-pound-weakling-like object by comparison, the sort of thing that you might figure would be suitable for something like a Yaris. The Yaris has an overall length of 154.7 in. The CrewMax configuration of the Platinum Tundra is 228.9 in. long. That’s a difference of more than 6 ft. Which is to say the key ought to be more like one of those things you sometimes get at old-school European hotels, which are meant to be left at the reception desk when you go out for the day, not lugged along. I’m not saying that the Tundra key needs to be crippling in mass, but it ought to say: This is a serious, big key for a serious big machine.)
Anyway, you’ve simply got to know that the Tundra is big, plush and luxe when you check the Platinum box.
And yet at the end of the day—as well as at its start, for that matter—it is a pickup truck. The 4x4 has a 9,000-lb. towing capacity and can handle a payload up to 1,440 lb.
And no Bentley is going to be able to do that.
Engine: 5.7-liter DOHC EFI V8
Horsepower: 381 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 401 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and heads
Steering: Rack and pinion, hydraulic power
Wheelbase: 145.7 in.
Length: 228.9 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Height: 76.2 in.
Coefficient of drag: 0.38
Inside bed length: 66.7 in.
Inside bed depth: 22.2 in.
Inside bed width: 66.4 in.
Seating capacity: 5
EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 13/17/15 mpg
When people think about a 1.0-liter engine, they probably don’t think much of it, at least not people in the U.S. There’s no replacement for displacement, right?
Well, it turns out that in Europe, plenty of people have proven themselves to be receptive to 1.0-liter engines in Ford products.
According to Ford, for the first six months of 2014, one in five Fords sold in Europe was equipped with a 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine. That’s about 120,000 vehicles.
In terms of specific vehicles, 47% of all B-MAX multi-activity vehicles had one, and although that vehicle isn’t available in the U.S., these two vehicles are: 33% of all Focus sales in Europe had a 1.0-liter and 30% of Fiesta sales.
How small is a 1.0-liter EcoBoost? As the people from Ford of Europe point out, the engine block can fit on a sheet of A4 paper, which is approximately the size of a sheet of typing paper in the U.S. (A4 measures 8.3 x 11.7 in., while typing paper is 8.5 x 11 in.)
And as for that no replacement for displacement, consider this.
The 1.0-liter EcoBoost is offered in the U.S. as an option in 2015 Fiesta. The standard engine is a 1.6-liter four.
The turbocharged three cylinder engine produces 123 hp @ 6,350 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque @ 5,000 rpm.
The normally aspirated 1.6-liter four produces 120 hp @ 6,350 rpm and 112 lb-ft of torque @ 5,000 rpm.
That’s some awfully clever powertrain engineering.
Clearly, the Europeans get it. Odds are good, those of us in the U.S. will, too.
If it is early August, then it is time for the annual Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Michigan, time for John McElroy of “Autoline” and me to head north to do more listening than talking, then talking after all of our listening.
One of the things we talk about is this, a turbocharger with an aluminum housing that Continental developed with BMW Group for a 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine that is being initially used by MINI.
This year (it is worth noting that the event has taken place Up North—as those of us in southeastern Michigan so geographically chauvinistically put it—for 49 years) the topics included:
· Mapping the Pathway to World-Class Manufacturing
· Featherweight Competition: Agile, Light and Strong
· Connected and Automated Vehicles: Driving Forward Fast
· Advanced Powertrain
· Onwards and Upwards? The Sales Forecast
· Attracting and Retaining Talent in an Era of Changing Technology and Demographics
· Managing the Global Supply Chain and Logistics
· Automotive Strategy: Pathways to Prosperity
· Designing for Technology and the Customer
· Global Opportunities, Global Decisions, Final Outcomes
· Purchasing and Automaker/Supplier Relations in Today’s Automotive Industry
Given all that, you can well imagine why John and I have been attending the event for a non-trivial number of years (although not 49).
As we were there, and as there were a number of interesting, informed, and influential people on the scene, we decided to do an “Autoline After Hours” in the sunshine.
We sat down with:
· Chuhee Lee, Deputy Director, Volkswagen Electronics Research Lab, VW Group of America
· Han Hendricks, vice president, Advanced Product Development & Sales, Johnson Controls
· Dr. Mark White, Chief Engineer, Body Complete Business Unit, Jaguar Land Rover
· Kregg Wiggins, senior vice president, Powertrains, Continental
· Prof. Frank Zhao, PhD, Director, TASRI (Tsinghua Automotive Strategy Research Institute)
So we talked telematics and autonomy. Car sharing and self-cleaning interior surfaces. Aluminum and other body materials. Turbochargers and dual-clutch transmissions. The China Market—and the various Chinese markets.
It’s a great way to come up to speed on a great deal that’s going on in the auto industry—all in just an hour.