Back in 2002 at the North American International Auto Show, Ford rolled out with a concept truck, the Mighty F-350 TONKA. That’s “TONKA” as in “toy.” But this was a real, full-size truck. J May, then vp Design, at Ford, said, “We’ve had fun bringing to life a full-size pickup that reminds kids of all ages of the trucks they used to love to punish in their sandboxes.”
What those designers at Ford understood back then—and probably still do today, but can’t really admit it—is that for many people, cars and trucks really are nothing more than full-sized manifestations of things they used to play with when they were kids.
Sure, there are the fundamental requirements of capability and capacity when talking about things like trucks, especially when those vehicles are being used for purposes of work, but if we remove the purely utilitarian from the picture, then there is certainly a measure of personality that goes into one’s choice of vehicle.
When I got into the 4Runner, the Mighty F-350 TONKA came to mind. This could be the Mighty 4Runner Lego, because there is—both inside and out—a certain blocky toy-like nature to the design, a pleasant, whimsical approach to the shapes of the headlamps and tail lamps, to the knobs and buttons and the entire instrument panel.
And this is a good thing. Mind you, this is not at all an issue of fragility or lack of substance or seriousness. But it seems as though the designers simply wanted to acknowledge the fact that whether you’re using the 4Runner to drive to work or you have it in 4Low to traverse the trails on a recreational outing, this is a truck that is about having fun. All too often, it seems, there is a tendency to want to avoid the idea that an automotive product is anything but all about whatever the opposite is of having fun.
“Cars, trucks and SUVs are for the grownups, damnit, and don’t you forget it!”, they seem to scold through their sheet metal and fabrics.
But when I climbed into the cabin—using the textured running board that had a Toyota truck pattern molded into it in such a way that it was both utile and moderately attractive—I got the sense that this is a vehicle that is capable of getting one to wherever it is that they need to get to, but it is also a vehicle wherein “enjoyment” is not something to be disturbed by.
It is a big toy. A toy that happens to weigh 4,675 lb., but a toy nonetheless.
While I can imagine several Toyota people gasping at such a description, this should be completely embraced in a positive way.
Toys that are well done have personality and resonate is a positive way with the people who play with them.
And the same goes with vehicles, even though “play with them” is probably not the descriptor that one would ordinarily use for a product that is strong, safe, and durable.
But isn’t that part of a vehicle that is off-road capable. Isn’t that part of the rationale behind buying a big vehicle like the 4Runner when you have absolutely no intention of ever driving on anything no more demanding than a gravel road?
OK. It’s got skid plates that cover the engine and front suspension, the fuel tank and the transfer case. It has a Torsen-type differential. There are hefty stabilizer bars fore and aft. There is 9.6 inches of ground clearance. The approach angle is 33 degrees and the departure angle is 24. Yes, it is capable.
It seats five. The two seats in the front are large and comfortable. The second row passengers are not in a penalty box.
There is a 4.0-liter six under the hood that produces 270 hp and 278 lb-ft. Given the aforementioned poundage, know that this is not something you’re going to be drag racing with. The combined mpg number on the sticker is 18; I managed 19, though I must confess I was trying. I suspect that had I not been paying attention to whether the little “Eco” light was illuminated or not, I’d have been lucky to get 18.
Again, don’t get me wrong: this is a substantial, body-on-frame vehicle. It is undoubtedly capable.
But it is also a giant toy. And that’s a good thing.
Engine: 4.0-liter, DOHC V6
Horsepower: 270 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 278 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and heads
Transmission: five-speed, electronically controlled
Steering: Power assisted variable gear rack and pinion
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 190.2 in.
Width: 75.8 in.
Height: 70.1 in.
Coefficient of drag: 0.36
Seating capacity: 5
EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 17/21/18 mpg
According to a recent study by J.D. Power—its 2014 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study—52% of the new-vehicle owners surveyed between February and May 2014 use an Apple iPhone OS. Chances are good that with the forthcoming announcement from Apple about a new phone that number will be even higher the next time out.
As for Android, 41%.
What’s interesting about this study of the audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation (ACEN) systems in cars is that people are not particularly happy with the systems that automakers have integrated.
Especially problematic is the voice-recognition system often touted.
Last year, they measured 7.6 problems per 100 vehicles related to voice-recognition.
This year, they measured 8.3 problems per 100 vehicles.
According to J.D. Power, the in-vehicle systems primary problems, as reported, are:
· Doesn’t recognize/misinterprets verbal commands (63%)
· Doesn’t recognize/misinterprets names/words (44%)
· Doesn’t recognize/misinterprets numbers (31%)
Said Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive at J.D. Power, “Voice recognition and device connectivity are often inherent to the technology design and cannot be fixed at the dealership, creating a high level of angst among new-vehicle owners.”
That’s not a word often associated with a brand-new car.
Automakers are good (well, as J.D. Power IQS surveys show, in varying levels of goodness) at making cars and trucks. They are not as good when it comes to ACEN systems.
Which is probably why companies like Apple, with CarPlay, and Google, with the Open Automotive Alliance, are getting into the game.
Larry Nitz is the Executive Director, Global Transmissions and Electrification at GM Powertrain. He holds 41 U.S. patents and has received four GM Boss Kettering Awards for Engineering Innovation. He attained a BS in electrical engineering from Kettering University and an MS in the same from Stanford.
All of which is to say that he is a very smart guy who knows his stuff when it comes not only to vehicle electrification—he was involved with everything from the GM EV-1 to the Volt to the Spark EV—but transmissions (automatic, manual, dual-clutch, and event continuously variable).
And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Automotive, Gary Witzenberg, a freelance journalist and former GM engineer, and I talk with Nitz about a variety of subjects ranging from the newly developed eight-speed transmission (that will be used in applications from the 2015 Corvette to the full-size Silverado and Sierra pickups) to the forthcoming 2015 Volt.
Spark EV drive unit
In addition to which, after Nitz leaves the set we discuss subjects including the production expansion in Mexico, the Chinese and Indian burgeoning anti-trust charges against Western OEMs and suppliers, the new Acura TLX, and more.
And you can see it all here:
Today is Labor Day in the U.S.
The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday September 5, 1882 in New York City, organized by the Central Labor Union. Just think if that would have stuck: It could have meant a four-day weekend to rest from one’s toils.
However, by 1884, the first Monday in September became the day.
This image, from the Department of Labor website, clearly doesn’t show auto workers on parade. Rather, those are workers from Bakers Union Local 78 in Detroit from back in the ‘50s or ‘60s. Presumably more than a few delicious pastries that they produced were eaten by the men and women of GM, Ford and Chrysler, to say nothing of the multitudinous suppliers in the Motor City.
That said, at the American Federation of Labor convention in 1909, they came up with the idea of celebrating Labor Sunday. That would have meant, of course, no additional day off.
Labor Day is to celebrate the accomplishment of workers.
Pat yourself on the back.
This is Joe Hinrichs. Hinrichs is Ford president of The Americas. The photo was taken yesterday at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan.
Yes, that’s the 2015 Ford Mustang.
It went into production at Flat Rock yesterday.
In April, Mustang celebrated its 50th anniversary. Some 9.2-million of them have been sold since. You don’t need a whole lot of fingers to count the number of vehicle nameplates that have been in continuous production for 50 years.
“Mustang is and will continue to be an automotive icon,” said Hinrichs.
They are familiar with the Mustang at the Flat Rock plant. Last year, nine years after production moved there from Dearborn, they had built a million of them.
“What an honor it is for the hardworking and dedicated UAW Local 3000 workers of Flat Rock Assembly Plant to build the next-generation Mustang,” said UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles. “I don’t think there is any place in the world where this vehicle is not known. To build it right here in Michigan is something to be proud of.”
The Mustang will become even more well-known as they are also producing a right-hand steering version of the car for 25 export markets where they drive on the “other” side of the road.
Flat Rock has been assembling cars since 1987. It was originally a Mazda plant. Ford has been there since 1992, when it purchased a 50% share in the facility. It subsequently acquired the whole thing.
Last year, Ford invested $55-million in the plant for a flexible body shop. They’ve also installed a three-wet paint system, a high-tech dirt-detection system, and robotic laser brazing.
In addition to the Mustang, they also build the Ford Fusion in Flat Rock.
Chances are, as good as the Fusion is, few people will notice for a while.