Autofield Blog

Volt Power

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. June 2015

This is the new General Motors Enterprise Data Center located at the Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan, a complex west of Detroit:


Photo: John F. Martin

This is the first-generation Chevrolet Volt, a 2015 model:

2015 Chevrolet Volt

What does the building have to do with the car?


Used Chevy Volt Batteries Help Power Milford IT Building

Photo: John F. Martin

GM is using five Volt batteries in combination with a 74-kW ground-mount solar array and two 2-kW wind turbines to generate what they estimate will be some 100-MWh of energy on an annual basis, enough juice to provide the energy needs of the office building and the lighting in an adjacent parking lot:


Photo: John F. Martin

According to Pablo Valencia, senior manager, GM Battery Life Cycle Management: “This system is ideal for commercial use because a business can derive full functionality from an existing battery while reducing upfront costs through this reuse.”

One reason why they’re looking at reuse of the batteries is because the second-generation Volt will become available later this year.

One might make a comment about the presumed number of available batteries (last year, Chevrolet delivered 18,805 Volts, down 18.6% from the 23,094 units in 2013, which, in terms of passenger cars, puts it ahead only of the SS, of which 2,479 were delivered in 2014, but that’s a 493.1% increase over the previous year).

But one won’t.

Do You Believe the Sticker Numbers?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. June 2015

One thing that you may not know about Detroit is that the Detroit Salt Company has a salt mine 1,200 feet below the surface of the city.

The salt mine measures some 1,500 acres and there are more than 100 miles of underground roads.


I sometimes think about the Detroit Salt Company when reading the window stickers (a.k.a., monroneys) for the cars we have an opportunity to get into.

As in thinking about the numbers in the “Fuel Economy and Environment” box with a huge grain of salt.

Generally, the numbers are close. As in hand grenades and horseshoes.

Turns out that plenty of Americans don’t believe the stickers.

(I end up having the opportunity to drive many more cars than the average American, so consequently my disbelief is underscored by my own anecdotal experiences.)

“For years, we’ve heard that drivers question whether the fuel economy rating for their vehicle is accurate,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director, Automotive Engineering and Repair. AAA conducted the study showing the skepticism.

So, “In the interest of our members, AAA aimed to address this issue with a multi-phase testing series designed to uncover the real reasons behind fuel economy variations.”

Turns out that the sticker numbers are really pretty good. What’s more, based on an analysis of 37,000 records submitted to the EPA, which represent more than 8,400 vehicle make, model and year combinations, plenty of drivers seem to be getting miles per gallon runs better than those on the sticker.

As in those with diesels getting 20% better fuel economy than the EPA said and those with manual transmissions getting 17% higher fuel economy.

It does occur, however, that those who self-report their fuel economy are likely to be people who are really keen on their driving performance.

And that’s one factor, according to the AAA, which conducted its own real-world and dyno testing of vehicles to make a determination of the validity of the monroney numbers, that plays a role in what fuel economy is achieved.

Hard acceleration, heavy braking, idling, and environmental factors also play roles in MPGs.

It is interesting to note that minivan owners reported fuel economy equal to or lesser than the EPA numbers.

Elon in Automotive

By: Gary S. Vasilash 17. June 2015

Elon Musk, some people will have you believe, is both conniving and stupid in equal parts. Which seems to be an odd combination. Generally someone who is clever enough to be deviously clever is too clever to be dumb.

As evidence of the first, they point to a battery swap station that Tesla established in Harris Ranch, California, which is all-but unused. BUT. . .it allows Tesla to collect ZEV credits that it can then sell to other OEMs who are in need of them.


Photo: JD Lasica

And as for the dumbness, it turns out that with the announcement of the Tesla Model X, some people are shifting their orders from the more-expensive Model S to get the forthcoming all-new vehicle. (A somewhat related speculation regarding Tesla is that once companies like Audi and Mercedes get into the electric vehicles, Musk and Tesla are going to be left by the side of the proverbial road.)

While I am certainly not in favor of untoward shenanigans, and while I am not 100% convinced that the ploy is nothing but mendacious, it does occur to me that if we go back to the early days of the auto industry, the likes of Henry Ford, the Dodge Brothers, John D. Rockefeller, and other pioneers bent the rules in order to establish the industry and the infrastructure that we know today. While we might like to think that they were all, one and all, straight arrows, that simply wasn’t the case.

So while some have questioned the legitimacy or credibility of Tesla as a “car company,” is what is claimed about Musk in this regard is true, then certainly he is a true heir to those who created what he is advancing.

As for the issue about people ordering the X rather than the S: this is simply what tends to happen in any case when there are new, desirable products.

Presumably the sales of the Apple iPhone 5 did less well than they had before the iPhone 6 was officially announced. (Although one could make the counter argument that Apple was able to make more on the 6 than on the 5 and that Tesla will make less on the X than on the S. So if we follow this logic, then it seems that the only thing that Tesla could do is continue to create more and more expensive vehicles. Sure.)

Which leads to another consideration about Tesla:

Isn’t it cool that an advanced, technological suite of automotive products, products that are admired the world over by people in the auto industry as well as by regular people, come from an American company and not from Germany or Japan?

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The Dodge Brothers

By: Gary S. Vasilash 16. June 2015

Despite the remarkable exterior designs, interior innovations and potent powertrains, Dodge sales are not doing particularly well.

In May, sales were off 22%. For the year they’re off 17%.

The brand under the FCA US LLC umbrella has sold a total of 213,685 units through May.

Chevrolet sold a total of 207,970 units in May.

In order to try to boost sales, Dodge is running a series of ads featuring the Dodge Brothers, fictional version of the actual guys who established their car-making concern back in 1912.

The spirit of the legendary Dodge Brothers lives on as Dodge launches four new ads in its marketing campaign. The 60-second “First Dodge” spot goes back to the beginning to tell a story of John and Horace Dodge. Before they founded their car company and before they were even out of their teens, the first vehicle they ever built was a bicycle.

According to Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of FCA Global (i.e., not just the U.S. but the whole shooting match), "Today's Dodge vehicles have the same passion for performance as John and Horace Dodge established in the first vehicles they crafted more than one hundred years ago. The initial 'Dodge Brothers' campaign we ran last year as a celebration of Dodge's centennial was so successful that the brothers are now back in this cinematic 'season two,' beautifully directed by Academy Award winner Adrien Brody.”

He added, “Our Dodge owners have embraced this campaign as they are extremely passionate about our cars and connect with the excitement these two brothers first brought to the auto industry decades ago and continue to bring to the ads in which they star today."

A couple of points.

One is that Brody won his Oscar for his remarkable starring role in Roman Polanski’s 2002 film The Pianist, in which he plays the title role, a musician in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Not a whole lot of Dodge Brothers hijinks there.

According to his profile on IMDB, Brody has directed one film, Stone Barn Castle. It is documentary about the restoration. . .of a barn.

Not exactly SRT territory.

Second, “Dodge owners have embraced this campaign.” These people already own Dodges. The brand needs to attract buyers who don’t own Dodges.

Were I to provide Francois with a recommendation regarding what they ought to do with the Dodge Brothers rather than making them look like a couple of guys who take on overweight boys and society snobs is to look to what I continue to consider the all-time go-to book about the auto industry, The Automobile Age by James J. Flink (The MIT Press).

In it, Flink writes, “The chassis (engines, transmission, and axles) of the first Ford car were supplied by the Detroit machine shop of John F. and Horace E. Dodge, which earlier had supplied transmissions for the curved-dash Olds.”

Just imagine an ad that stated: “Who taught Ford and General Motors about powertrains? These guys.”

Creating the Camaro, Gen Six

By: Gary S. Vasilash 15. June 2015

Whether it is reduced gasoline prices, an overall improvement in the economy or just because they are what they are, cars like the Mustang, the Charger and the Camaro are doing exceedingly well and the segment is arguably more competitive than ever.

So when Al Oppenheiser and his team set out to create the sixth generation Camaro, they had an opportunity and a challenge facing them.

Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer

And Oppenheiser, the chief engineer for the sixth generation, went to work on creating a car that is truly a Camaro, but which is a contemporary vehicle.

This car is truly a new car to the extent that there are two carryover parts: the bowtie emblem on the back and, if someone opts for the most powerful Camaro SS ever—a car equipped with a 6.2-liter LT1 direct-injected V8 that’s rated at 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque—then the SS badge is a carryover, too.

One of the big changes was a weight reduction program for the car—curb weight is down as much as 200 lb. compared with previous versions—while not sacrificing anything in the way of performance, but actually improving it: the structural rigidity, Oppenheiser points out, is increased by 28%.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro engineering prototype

Oppenheiser talks to freelance automotive journalists Jim McCraw and Chris Paukert and me on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” about how the 2016 Camaro was developed.

In addition to which, John McElroy joins the journos to talk about subjects ranging from the success Costco has in connecting car buyers with cars, the BMW 7 Series, and much more.

And you can see it all here.



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