Autofield Blog

The Ultimate Rolling Machine

By: Gary S. Vasilash 13. August 2015

Let’s face it: When it comes to vehicular engineering of all types, automotive engineers pretty much have a handle on it.

So it is not entirely surprising to discover that BMW of North America is developing a racing wheelchair for the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field Team for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

BMW wheelchair

BMW’s Designworks, its Newbury Park, California-based design consultancy, is working with members of the team to determine what the athletes need.

So far they’ve determined that the chassis will be completely redesigned. They’ll be using carbon fiber composites to produce the wheelchair—and presumably the i3 and i8 experience with the material will be helpful. They’ll be making the wheelchair more aerodynamic, enhance the athlete restraint (as with autos, safety is critical), and improve both the steering and braking systems.

BMW of North America is the Official Mobility Partner of the U.S. Olympic committed, and it has worked with Team USA on other vehicles, like a two-man bobsled for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, which helped achieve a Bronze Medal, the first time in 62 years Team USA medaled in that sport.

Here’s hoping the racing wheelchair will help the U.S. paralypians get the Gold in Rio.

Design/Development Tip

By: Gary S. Vasilash 12. August 2015

Last week at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefings Seminars, Jeevak Badve, vice president, Strategic Growth, Sundberg-Ferar, a design and development firm that’s been around since 1934, so it must be doing something right, made a presentation during a session titled: “The Car of Tomorrow: Design and Technology.” The panel was moderated by John Waraniak, vp of Vehicle Technology at the Specialty Equipment Market Association, one of the industry’s most positive and provocative figures (e.g., “You can’t fake true cool,” he told the assembled auto people, pointing out that authenticity matters more than ever, particularly if one is interested in maintaining relevance to the emerging younger market).


Jeevak Badve

Anyway, Badve, in a machine-gun fast delivery, spoke of the ways and means to develop products that have a real reason for being (one of the Sunberg-Ferar slogans is “No More Porridge,” not because they have anything against breakfast, but they do have something against bland), the methodology that they use at their firm to create products that are not merely different, but potentially profitable.

And one of the points he made is this:

“If we want to design a tent, we'll benchmark tents, but we’ll also benchmark the camping experience.”

Badve explained that while many companies concentrate on the object, the use and the environment cannot be overlooked. By looking at what something is supposed to do and the time and place that it will do it, the design solution might be entirely different than you otherwise might think.

Badve also recommended: “Stop trying to be all things to all people. Start by being something to someone.”

Bentley 85 Years On

By: Gary S. Vasilash 11. August 2015

This week is known as “Monterey Auto Week” for those who are automotive aficionados, particularly if they are well-heeled ones. That’s because the northern California area will be full of all manner of vintage, prestigious cars.

Naturally, Bentley is in the mix.

What’s interesting about Bentley in this regard is not that it is going to have the 2016 Continental GT (a new front and rear fascia; new interior tailoring; a new tuning for its 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 engine so that it now has 567 hp and 531 lb-ft), but as this is its 85th anniversary, it is going to be showing, in the Quail Rally, a 1930 Blower Bentley.

It is interesting to compare the design of that vehicle:

Bentley blower

with a current design, the Continental GT Convertible:

Continental GT

Without taking anything away from the new car, the Blower Bentley has a certain panache that the new one lacks.

Gearheads On What You Need to Do Before You Checkout

By: Gary S. Vasilash 10. August 2015

Jason Fogelson evidently likes all things automotive, from vehicles to roads, from races to museums.

And he has captured that affection in a book, 100 Things for Every Gearhead to Do Before They Die.

Fogelson shares some of this thoughts on the 100 Things along with a few other gearheads, John McElroy of Autoline, Todd Lassa of Automobile, and me on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

We talk about the Tail of the Dragon—the road in North Carolina that will prove your driving mettle.


The Petersen Museum in process

he Petersen Automotive Museum in LA—which is undergoing re-development right now and will reopen in December, but which is a collection of motor vehicles that can’t be missed.

The Pebble Beach Concours in Carmel, which is coming up this weekend.

And much more.

This is an “After Hours” that is unlike most shows. There is no discussion of the week-that-was in the auto world. That’s because John and I were attending the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars in northern Michigan.

Some of what he and I learned you can learn about here.

But you can find the show with Fogelson right here:


GM Investments Keep on Truckin’

By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. August 2015

Although General Motors announced on July 28 that it was going to be spending $5-billion “outside of mature markets” for product development, it is worth noting that the company announced on April 30 that it would be spending $5.4-billion in its most-mature market, the U.S.

On this past Tuesday, GM announced that it was going to be investing $877-million in a plant that qualified for AARP membership some years ago, Flint Assembly, which went into production back in 1947 (which, generationally speaking, makes it a Baby Boomer, as that appellation applies to those who were born in 1946 (to ’64)).

General Motors will invest $877 million to build an 883,000-square-foot body shop at Flint Assembly. In this artist rendering the new body shop (highlighted) is located just north of the Flint Metal Center.

Flint Assembly is one of the GM plants that is running rather rapidly right now, as it is where heavy-duty versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra are built, as well as light-duty Silverados.

Through July, Silverado deliveries are up 17.5% (to 332,202) and Sierra’s up 9% (to 120,658), so that’s a lot of trucks that need to be produced (these numbers are for the trucks overall, not just coming out of Flint alone).

2015 Silverado Custom Sport HD

The $877-million will be spent to build a new body shop, locating it closer to the Flint Metal Center, where various sheet metal and other parts are produced. Explained Cathy Clegg, GM North America Manufacturing and Labor Relations vice president, “This investment will allow us to use a more innovative approach to deliver material between two critical facilities, reducing handling and the time it takes to ship parts.”

In other words, simplifying and speeding logistics.

The body shop will measure 883,000-square-feet and is expected to be completed by 2018.

It is worth noting that since 2011 GM has announced that it is keeping Flint Assembly productive through investments that will be in excess of $1.8-billion.

Flint Assembly may be mature, but that’s nothing that some upgraded equipment, tooling, and facilities can’t improve.

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