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Autofield Blog

Nissan, NASA and Mars

By: Gary S. Vasilash 16. January 2015

The NASA Mars Rover Opportunity landed on Mars January 25, 2004. It was expected to have a three-month mission, rolling around on the Red Planet.

And it is still going.

JPL image

NASA Image

Its twin, the Spirit, landed on Mars on January 3, 2004. Its last communication with Earth was on March 22, 2010.

Again, somewhat greater longevity than three months.

Clearly, NASA knows more than a little something about autonomous vehicles.

So it isn’t entirely surprising that Nissan North America and NASA are undertaking a five-year R&D partnership focused on autonomous vehicles.

Nissan researchers from its Silicon Valley Research Center will work with those at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, CA (which is essentially in Silicon Valley).

Nissan and NASA partner to jointly develop and deploy autonomous drive vehicles by end of year

Among the areas of focus are autonomous drive systems, human-machine interfaces, network-enabled applications, and software analysis and verification.

They’re also looking at remote operation of autonomous vehicles, and expect to have the first vehicle ready for testing by the end of 2015.

Given that the distance between Earth and Mars is 186.8-million miles, chances are good they’re going to have this terrestrial project nailed.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4x4

By: Gary S. Vasilash 15. January 2015

The Jeep Cherokee is the Jeep for people who don’t like the way that Jeeps (generally) look, for people who might not otherwise consider a Jeep.


Who can forget the teased images that appeared before the actual 2014 model was shown at the 2013 New York Auto Show, the silhouette and the stunning lights high up on the front end?

New York – March 27, 2013 – Mike Manley, President and CEO, Jeep Brand - Chrysler Group LLC, unveiled the all-new 2014 Jeep® Cherokee at the New York International Auto Show today.  Jeep Cherokee redefines the mid-size SUV segment, delivering legendary Jeep 4x4 capability, a segment-first nine-speed automatic transmission, fuel economy improvements of more than 45 percent, superior on-road ride and handling, world-class craftsmanship, class-exclusive technology and more than 70 advanced safety and security features.

Cherokee’s NYC reveal by Jeep chief Mike Manley

If there was anything that anyone who knows anything about Jeeps knew, what was being presented by Jeep was something that was far and away different from what had come before.

And when the vehicle was fully revealed, yes there are the seven slots signifying the grille and yes the wheel arches are trapezoidal, but does it look like a Jeep, even though the Grand Cherokee is certainly a much less T-square execution than back in the day and so the “Jeep” definition might be somewhat modified overall?

Mind you, this is not to be critical of the vehicle. Rather, it is to make the point that it is indisputable that the people in Auburn Hills (and possibly Turin) recognized that if Jeep was going to have a chance at really capturing the hearts and checkbooks of people who were moving to midsized SUVs they needed to change the game in a significant way.

Which is precisely what they did with this vehicle that is built on the “Compact U.S. Wide” platform that the people at Chrysler and Fiat (when there were a Chrysler and a Fiat) created, a platform that has also been the basis for the Dodge Dart, Alfa Romeo Giulietta, and the Chrysler 200. Of course, the platform has been engineered for each application, so it isn’t like there is a base and a top attached that looks like a four-door or a sports sedan or an SUV.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited

And the Cherokee is produced at the Toledo North Assembly Plant in Ohio, which is essentially synonymous with “Jeep.”

As for that aforementioned “chance” at getting a piece of the market: The people at Jeep played and won. For 2014, Jeep delivered 178,508 Cherokees. While that number might not be too meaningful, look at it this way: You can add the number of Chrysler 200s and Chrysler 300s delivered in 2014 and have a sum that is less than the Cherokee: 170,745.

Yeah, it’s that popular.

But it really seems to me that the most Jeep aspect of the Jeep Cherokee is this:

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited

That’s right, the switch gear that allows you to put it in four-wheel-drive (all the way up to the Jeep Active Drive Lock with two-speed PTU, low range and locking rear differential, something that your run-of-the-mill crossover SUV shopper isn’t going to have the foggiest about) or deploy the Selec-Terrain traction control system (which is somewhat more intuitive as the choices are Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, Rock; here’s betting that Auto and Snow—at least for people in some parts of the country—will be the most selected choices, with Sand/Mud and Rock never even getting a try).

The thing is, the Cherokee is remarkably refined in the context of what might consider to be a Jeep—unless, of course, one is thinking of the Cherokee’s big brother, the Grand Cherokee, because that vehicle is on par with vehicles that cost considerably more and yet gives nothing away in terms of refinement, or capability.

As I drove the Cherokee—admittedly, it was all on freeways and city streets, but as those who live in Michigan (including the governor) know, this can be considered, in many places, as quasi-off-road—I had the sense that I wasn’t in something that had the aforementioned Rock capability, but a comfortable crossover. Most of those comfortable crossovers, of course, aren’t built like Jeeps, so presumably, assuming one is looking for that additional go-wherever capability, then the Cherokee is the just the thing.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.4-liter, I4 MultiAir2

Horsepower: 184 @ 6,400 rpm

Torque: 171 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic

Steering: Electrical power-assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 107 in.

Length: 182 in.

Width: 74.9 in.

Height: 66.2 in.

Curb weight: 3,953 lb.

Passenger volume: 49.47 cu. ft.

Cargo volume (rear seats up): 24.6 cu-ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 21/28/24 mpg

Jaguar, Intel, Seeing Machines & Sleepy Drivers

By: Gary S. Vasilash 14. January 2015

This is a Jaguar F-Type R Coupe:

F type R

It features all-wheel drive and a 550-hp supercharged V8. It can be propelled from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. It has an electronically limited top speed of 189 mph.

Chances are, anyone who has the opportunity to drive one is probably going to be in a near-constant state of exhilaration.

Which sort of makes last week’s presentation at the Intel booth at CES of an F-Type prototype seem rather curious.

Jaguar is working with Intel and Seeing Machines, a computer-vision company, on a Driver Monitor System (DMS).


The DMS is based on sensors that are mounted in the dashboard. They are used to detect eye and facial movements of the driver. The setup can even track the eyes when the driver is wearing sunglasses.

Intel is deploying its Core i7 chips for the DMS.

Should the eye/face movements indicate a state wherein it is likely that the driver has become inattentive or drowsy, then the system fires up an alert.

According to Dr. Wolfgang Ziebart, Jaguar Land Rover Engineering Director, "The attention-monitoring technology we are showcasing at CES has huge potential for road safety. If the driver's gaze moves towards the infotainment screen or out of a side window, and the car identifies this, then the system could alert the driver to hazards earlier. DMS could even enhance settings in safety systems like Autonomous Emergency Braking, to reflect the driver's lack of attention. As the car drives up to a hazard, the brakes could engage autonomously sooner because the car realizes the driver has not seen the danger ahead."

Given the amount of stuff that automakers are installing in vehicles of an infotainment nature, distraction is most certainly a possibility.

But as for becoming drowsy in the F-Type R. . .not too likely.

Of course, given the capabilities of that car, the person behind the wheel really need be attentive.

Corvette Z06 & Ultimate DIY

By: Gary S. Vasilash 13. January 2015

“Very few cars in the world deliver 650 horsepower, true aerodynamic downforce, carbon fiber and performance technologies such as Magnetic Ride Control, Performance Traction Management and an electronic limited slip differential – and none gives the driver a transmission choice or the choice of a coupe with a removable roof panel or a full-power-top convertible.”

That’s Harlan Charles, Corvette product and marketing manager talking about the 2015 Corvette Z06.

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The Z06 has an all-new, supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine rated at an SAE-certified 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque. The LT4 engine features direct injection, cylinder deactivation, and continuously variable valve timing.

There are plenty of packages that buyers can add to the car, which has an MSRP of $78,995.

For example, for $2,995, there’s the Carbon Fiber Ground Effects package.

Or, for $7,995 the Z07 Performance Package can be added to the Z06. This includes Brembo carbon ceramic-matrix brake rotors, adjustable front and rear aerodynamic components to the aforementioned Carbon Fiber Ground Effects package, and Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup tires.

But for those of you who read this site, and who are likely to be a bit more car-obsessed and mechanically oriented, there is a new package that Chevrolet announced last week for the Z06:

The $5,000 Engine Build Experience.

Which means that you can build the Z06 LT4 engine for your car. Think of it as “supercharged DIY.”

2015 "LT4" 6.2L V-8 AFM VVT DI SC (LT4)

Put these together and make. . .

2015 "LT4" 6.2L V-8 AFM VVT DI SC (LT4)

. . .this.

Harlan Charles: “Chevrolet recognizes the passion customers have for Corvette and the Engine Build Experience offers them a truly unique opportunity for hands-on involvement in the creation of the heart of their new car. It’s a chance to bond with their new car.” 

Now chances are, you don’t want to risk screwing up the engine for your car. So when you get to the Performance Build Center at the Bowling Green Assembly Plant, there is an engine assembly technician who helps you build the V8.

Starting in March 2015, Chevrolet Corvette Z06 customers can take part in the exclusive Engine Build Experience

Steve Stinson, an engine build tech, at the Performance Build Center, will help you out

When completed, a personalized plaque is added, a professional photo shot, and the engine moves to the vehicle assembly area of the plant.

It should be noted that you won’t drive away with your Z06 because the engine enters the production sequence that exists at the plant.

Still, building a 650-hp engine is quite an experience.

Of course, once you build your engine, you’ll probably spend as much time polishing it as you’ll spend washing the exterior. So you’d better factor that into your buying decision.

Is Bob Hegbloom the Happiest Guy in Detroit?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 12. January 2015

Ram Trucks as a stand-alone brand was established in 2010.

In 2010 Bob Hegbloom as the director of Truck, Commercial and SUV product planning at Chrysler, then director for Truck, Large SUV and Commercial Vehicle marketing. In 2011, Hegbloom was named director of Ram Brand Product Marketing.

Then in 2014, Hegbloom was named president and CEO of Ram.

And this guy, who has a tremendous background in trucks, is in a great situation.


Hegbloom after August 2014 sales

December 2014 Ram sales were up 32% over December 2013. December 2014 was the 56th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains for Ram. Nearly five years running.

What’s more, overall, for 2014 Ram annual sales increased 28%. That’s the best full-year sales since 2005. And when it comes to its pickups, it was the best annual sales since 2003.

In addition to which, Hegbloom’s operation has the most fuel-efficient pickup truck in its lineup, the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, which, with its 3.0-liter, 240-hp, 420 lb-ft of torque V6, returns 28 mpg. This has proven to be so popular in its lineup that the company has decided to double its original production output, so that the diesel version of the light-duty pickup will be about 20% of the overall sales mix.

Hegbloom talks about the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, the importance of product, how Ram has managed to grow its share of the market in a category (truck) where there is tremendous brand loyalty. . .and the newest product in the Ram lineup, the ProMaster City, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

2015 Ram ProMaster City Tradesman SLT

ProMaster City

In addition to which, host John McElroy, just back from CES, and Seyth Miersma of Autoblog, just back from driving the 2015 Corvette Z06, and I (just back from. . .nowhere) discuss autonomous vehicles, the implications of Mercedes announced U.S. HQ move from the greater New York City metro area (it’s in Montvale, NJ, right now) in light of Cadillac’s announced move to New York City, and much more.

Check it out:


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