Autofield Blog

Acura TLX in Ohio


By: Gary S. Vasilash 17. July 2014

The Honda of America Marysville Auto Plant in Ohio is something of a historic place. Sure, it is only a bit over 30, which doesn’t make it too historic, but it is the plant that, back in 1982, initiated production of what some once designated “new domestic vehicles,” as in “not traditional Big Three vehicles.”

Given that all that has changed in the auto industry over the past 30 years, one could argue that Marysville really is a historic place.

Marysville comes to mind because on Monday the workers there initiated production of the all-new Acura 2015 TLX premium sports sedan.

2015 Acura TLX

The Acura TLX will only be built in Marysville. It was designed and engineered in Torrance, California, and Ohio.

Said Marysville plant manager Rob May, “We are proud to be the exclusive global manufacturer of the Acura TLX. Working side-by-side with our Acura engineers, our dedicated team of manufacturing associates is committed to exceeding the expectations of every customer and producing the best products in the world.”

2015 Acura TLX begins production in Marysville, Ohio

While you might simply think that that is the sort of thing that a plant manager anywhere would say about the production of anything, given Marysville’s track record, year in, year out, building the Accord, which is one of the best-selling and most bullet-proof cars on the road, May is not merely exercising rhetoric.

The TLX is a crucially important vehicle for Acura. In terms of cars, it joins the ILX compact sedan and the RLX luxury sedan. On the truck side, there are the RDX compact and MDX full-size crossovers and a few ZDXes still left on lots. The trucks are doing fairly well, but the cars are a bit anemic. (E.g., although the sales of the RLX through June are up 33.3% compared to the same period last year, only 2,084 of them have been sold.)

It is hoped that the TLX will kick start sales.

Incidentally, about that aforementioned “new domestic” moniker.

In the case of Acura, more than 90% of the vehicles it sells in the U.S. are built in the U.S.

After 30 years, we can probably drop the modifier in front of “domestic.”


2015 Hyundai Genesis 3.8


By: Gary S. Vasilash 16. July 2014

I drove into my mom’s driveway and heard her next-door neighbor, who was sitting on his porch, F-150 and Taurus parked in his driveway, call out to me, “Hey, is that a Bentley?”

I don’t think he’s ever seen a Bentley, but he knows that it is an upper-crust premium brand, something, as one might say, “large and in charge.”

“No,” I replied. “It’s a Hyundai. The new Genesis.”

“I’ve never seen a Hyundai like that!”

No doubt. Even though this is the second-generation car, with the first appearing on the scene in 2008 as a 2009 model. You see lots of Elantras and Sonatas. But not so many Genesis(es). Which is probably as it should be, as it is certainly more exclusive. But not unobtainable by mere mortals.

I’m sure that the folks at Hyundai are very pleased that the neighbor thought the Genesis was something that costs roughly $140,000 more.

Bentley Flying Spur Not a Hyundai Genesis

2015 Genesis 1 Not a Bentley Flying Spur

I’m sure that the folks at Hyundai are not so pleased that the neighbor undoubtedly thinks that Hyundai doesn’t offer a model that has the presence of the Genesis.

You win some. You lose some.

And realize that there is actually a model in the company’s lineup—the Equus—which is above the Genesis. (Rolls-Royce Phantom, anyone?)

Without taking anything away from the Genesis, I would like to suggest that it is a car that fits into a category that doesn’t exist in the auto market, but which ought to. While Hyundai wants it to play against offerings from BMW and Lexus, Mercedes and Cadillac, perceptually I don’t think it does for the simple reason that the Hyundai brand goes down to the Accent, and you’re not going to find anything like that from the other brands. Some people were apoplectic when Mercedes offered a car with a sticker under $30,000, and you can pick up an Accent for half that.

The category that I would create is “Serious, Substantial Sedan.”

Yes, there are people who want to buy a car for more than its marque. They want to get a car because it is something that they think best suits their sensibilities, their needs, and their point of view. They’re willing to pay not crazy money, but more than the average transaction price for a vehicle (J.D. Power & Associates recently announced that the average transaction price for a vehicle during the first six months of 2014 was $29,630).

Among the Serious, Substantial Sedans I would put the Genesis, of course, as well as things like the Ford Taurus Ltd, the Chrysler 300C, the Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ, and the Toyota Avalon Limited. Which is to say that these are big(ish) cars that can be trimmed such that you’re looking at about $40,000 and pretty much getting what you’re paying for.

2015 Genesis 3

With the 2015 Genesis 3.8 base priced at $38,000, you are getting probably more than you’d expect for what you are paying.

That is, if you look at the Monroney (a.k.a., “window sticker”) for this car, there are so many items that are listed as “Included” that amazement finally gives way to boredom and then back to amazement: Vehicle Stability Management System. . . 9 Airbags including Driver Knee Airbag. . . 8-speed Auto Transmission with SHIFTRONIC & Paddle Shifters. . . Intelligent Drive Mode Select. . .18-inch Alloy Wheels with P245/45R18 All Season Tires. . . Auto Headlights with Daytime Running Lights & LED Accents. . .Power Folding Outside Mirrors with Genesis Logo Puddle Lamps. . .Leather Seating Surfaces with Heated Front Seats. . .Navigation System with 8” Display and Rearview Camera. . .Hyundai BlueLink Powered by Google. . . .

Yes, there are packages that you can buy beyond this. But for what this package offers—well, how much is enough?

From an exterior design point of view, this Serious, Substantial Sedan looks European. Sometimes when approaching it I thought “Audi.” Other times “BMW.” While the official design language used is “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0,” with the 1.0 being that of the 2011 Sonata, I would call it “Striking Presence 1.0.” It has a certain gravity about it.

This is a rear-wheel-drive sedan, which not only means the design puts the front wheels at the extreme edge of the front, but propels the vehicle in a way that front-drive usually doesn’t. The dash-to-axle proportions are key, so say designers who are interested in achieving a striking look, and that’s what rear drive facilitates. In addition to that oomph.

Inside, it is a Serious, Substantial Sedan in all aspects. Here’s one thing to look at when in a car that is in this category: the ignition. Does it require a key or an insertion of a keyfob into a slot? Or is there a pushbutton? If there is a pushbutton, is it small or large, is it plastic or metallic? The Genesis has a large, aluminum button. That nails it in my estimation.

2015 Genesis 2

There is one thing that the Genesis offers that no other car, no matter how Serious, has, which is a CO2 sensor. Turns out that if you breathe a lot in a car, expelling carbon dioxide, and the vents are shut so that air is recirculated, said carbon dioxide can make you drowsy. Think about it: you are in that comfortable Genesis cabin, listening to the outstanding audio system, the engine burbling under the hood, breathing in CO2, and the next thing you know. . . . So Hyundai engineers have installed a sensor that, when the amount of carbon dioxide hits 2,000 parts per million, opens up the vents to refresh the air so that you can do what you’re supposed to do when behind the wheel, which is drive.

And driving the Genesis is such a pleasant experience, that you do want all your wits about you so that you can appreciate it.

No, it’s not a Bentley.  It doesn’t need to be.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.8-liter V6 with continuously variable valve timing

Materials: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 311 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 293 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed electronic automatic with SHIFTRONIC

Steering: Rack-mounted motor driven electric power steering

Wheelbase: 118.5 in.

Length: 196.5 in.

Width: 74.4 in.

Height: 58.3 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.26

Curb weight: 4,138 lb.

EPA passenger volume: 107.7 cu-ft

EPA cargo volume: 15.3 cu-ft

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 18/29/22 mpg


The China Sales Syndrome (Not a Meltdown By Any Means)


By: Gary S. Vasilash 15. July 2014

There isn’t an automaker on earth that probably doesn’t have its China strategy in play.

That is going to be where they’re really going to sell cars. All other home markets pale by comparison.

Recently, LMC Automotive released its data for China light-vehicle manufacturing and sales for May. And it found that in terms of local light-vehicle production, it was 1.8-million units, a 9.7% increase from May 2013.

Sales of passenger cars was 1.4-million units, a 14.2% increase over the previous year.

Yes, they’re building—and selling—a lot of cars in China.

What was the best-selling car in China this past May by a fairly good margin?

VW Lavida 

According to LMC: the Volkswagen Lavida (essentially a Jetta). Its sales were 37,557. Second place had sales of 28,440. That is for the Volkswagen Santana.

In terms of total sales through May, VW is way ahead of its competitors, with sales of 1,280,192 units. Second place goes to Hyundai, at 473,271. Rounding out the top five are Toyota (382,036), Buick (380,216), and Nissan (351,072).

That Buick number is interesting. For the month of May, Buick sold 72,660 vehicles in China. How many in the U.S. for the same month? 19,975. And its year-to-date sales through May in the U.S. were 92,069, compared with 380,216 in China.

Yes, China is that important.


MX-5: The Next Generation


By: Gary S. Vasilash 14. July 2014

What you can’t see very clearly in the picture below is the 25th anniversary Mazda MX-5 zooming along on that highway:

25th Anniversary Mazda MX-5

Arguably, it could actually be a picture of the 2016 Mazda MX-5, which Mazda recently confirmed will be, according to Jim O’Sullivan, president and CEO, Mazda North American Operations, “arriving soon.”

The next-gen MX-5 is to be revealed in Monterey, California, on September 3. Monterey is where Mazda Raceway is located.

Mazda showed a chassis for the vehicle last April at the New York International Auto Show. It is part of the suite of Mazda SKYACTIV Technologies. While there is a considerable amount of attention paid to things like the SKYACTIV engines, SKYACTIV is really an engineering approach that addresses vehicles in a more holistic manner, with every aspect of the vehicle addressed.

Foto: Hildebrandt/Lorenz

For the 2014 Mazda6, for example, they developed entirely new front and rear suspension systems (the focus was to provide both low- to mid-speed agility and high-speed stability without sacrificing comfort) and an electric power steering system. Oh, and they reduced chassis weight by 14% compared with the previous-generation car.

Again this approach will be taken for the 2016 MX-5.

Earlier this month when June sales numbers were released, Mazda reported that it was its best June in 10 years, and that it had a 16.5% year-over-year increase.

Mazda is a small player in the U.S. market, with, according to Autodata, 1.9% of the market.

Yet there is no other company in the industry that punches well above its weight the way that Mazda does.


Addressing “The Last Mile”


By: Gary S. Vasilash 11. July 2014

In mobility system terms, “the last mile” (which could just as easily be “the first mile” in a given commute) is something that can probably be better addressed by something other than automobiles—at least in many cases—particularly given increasing urban congestion and lack of parking.

Last week, the City of Grenoble [as in France], Grenoble-Alpes Métropole, EDF Group, Toyota, and Citélib announced a collaboration that will come to fruition in October, a collaboration that will give rise to a rather sophisticated mobility system for the town in the French Alps. They are, in effect, addressing the last mile.

It is called “Citélib by Ha:mo,” and it really helps enhance what is already a robust public transportation system.

Hamo

In addition to the municipal organizations, the players are:

EDF, a French energy company that runs Sodetrel, which will manage approximately 30 charging stations.

Citélib, which is an existing car-sharing service in Grenoble

Toyota, which will provide 70 i-Road and COMS ultra-compact electric vehicles.

And while not a player, but part of the name:

Ha:Mo, which is the name Toyota has given to its experiments in alternative transportation (with the first being in Japan). It signifies “Harmonious Mobility.” Speaking of the forthcoming French execution, Michel Gardel, vp of Toyota Motor Europe, said, “Ha:mo was designed to reduce the stress caused by traffic jams, peak traffic hours, and searching for a parking space. It also allows a reduction in emissions that cause poor air quality in city centers.”

About those vehicles, both of which are electric vehicles. They are truly personal transportation, not even a Prius c in size.

Grenoble

Consider the i-Road. It is 92 in. long with a 67 in. wheelbase. It is 34 in. wide and 57 in. high. It has a curb weight of 661 lb. Its minimum turning radius is just 9.8 ft. In Japan it is a one-passenger vehicle; it Europe it meets regulations for two (seriously: 34 in. wide and someone images that two people are going to fit in there?). It has three wheels.

The scenario is that someone who needs to get into, say, the city center, would take a tram for 20 minutes, a bus for another ten, which then leaves a five-minute walk.

The alternative is to take the tram, then having used a smart phone to schedule a vehicle, get a vehicle and then take it near the final destination during a six-minute drive that would put the person two minutes away from the destination.

Because of the 30 charging stations (which is where the vehicle would be dropped off), they calculate that at least one would be proximate to many places in Grenoble.

(Or it could be that a vehicle is picked up close to home, then driven to the tram station, thereby addressing the first mile.)

Grenoble is comparatively small, with about 157,000 people. The student population is about 60,000.

The people there are already oriented toward public transportation, as 78-million people used public transport in 2013. There are 5,000 bikes in the Metrovélo public rental service and more than 200 miles of bicycle lanes in the city.

Perhaps this undertaking is comparatively small. But it is certainly significant.




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