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Autofield Blog

The Rich Are Different

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. August 2014

Thomas Keller is the man who established The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California. Even though it has been in operation since 1994, Chef Keller’s creation is as difficult to get in today as it was back in the day.

Keller’s culinary skills are well acknowledged. Here he is at work:

On August 15, 2014 during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the world’s premier celebration of the automobile, renowned Chef Thomas Keller was among the first exclusive owners to take delivery of the all-new BMW i8, a revolutionary plug-in hybrid sports vehicle, at the BMW Villa in Pebble Beach, CA.

What’s interesting to note, is that Keller, in the picture, is working at a dinner hosted by BMW last week during the Pebble Beach Concours d ’Elegance in Carmel, California.

What’s even more interesting to note is that Keller was performing his artistry in relation to his becoming one of the first people to get delivery of the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car:

On August 15, 2014 during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the world’s premier celebration of the automobile, renowned Chef Thomas Keller was among the first exclusive owners to take delivery of the all-new BMW i8, a revolutionary plug-in hybrid sports vehicle, at the BMW Villa in Pebble Beach, CA.

Others receiving the car in this first batch in the U.S. includes Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Corp., Penske Automotive Group, and Team Penske, and Tony Fadel, founder and CEO of Nest, which Google purchased earlier this year for $3.2-billion.

Even though the i8—which is a carbon-fiber-intensive vehicle that accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, has a governed top speed of 4.2 seconds, and which also is rated at 76 MPGe—has an MSRP of merely* $135,700, clearly the list of those receiving the cars is as difficult to get on as an 8 pm reservation on a Friday night at The French Laundry.


*Relatively speaking, that is.

How Manufacturing Process R&D May Save $

By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. August 2014

I was recently talking with the company’s treasurer about the challenges facing OEMs in regards to meeting the 54.5 mpg CAFE requirement by 2025 and the various lightweighting and alternative powertrain technologies that are being developed and deployed.

And being the good money steward he is, he brought to my attention an item from a CPA and advisory firm, Battelle Rippe Kingston on R&D credits that manufacturers may be able to get from local, state or the federal government.


According to the firm, “R&D” isn’t simply about researching and developing things (e.g., batteries or new materials), but actually manufacturing operations.

Battelle Rippe and Kingston write:

“Examples of automotive initiatives that may be eligible for R&D tax incentives include:

  • Automation of manufacturing processes
  • Exploration of new material use (e.g. high tensile steel, composites, aluminum, stamping process/technologies, etc.)
  • Trials to improve process efficiencies, throughput or reduce waste/costs
  • Designing and fabricating prototypes or tooling
  • Process development to increase reliability, increase efficiencies or throughput
  • Design and development to improve vehicle performance, e.g., aerodynamics, fuel efficiency, etc.
  • Feasibility studies of concept vehicles and technologies
  • Development/perfection of new material bonding technology (e.g. friction welding, 3-d lock seams, etc.)
  • Manufacturing trials to resolve technical challenges with scaling up new products to full-scale production
  • Prototype testing of vehicles and components resulting in a new or improved product
  • Improvements in structural performance or crash worthiness”

All of which is to say that the road to 2025, while it won’t be smooth and will involve, undoubtedly, many detours along the way, can conceivably somewhat less expensive than might have otherwise been thought, at least vis-à-vis taxes.

The Nomenclature of Exclusivity

By: Gary S. Vasilash 15. August 2014

The automotive fascination with platinum is rather interesting. No, not the use of the metal in catalytic converters, but as the trim level of a vehicle that’s at the upper strata.

Which is somewhat interesting given that the name of the element comes from the Spanish word platina, which means “little silver.” Silver, incidentally, is number 47 on the Periodic Table. Platinum is further along at 78, with iridium (no, not the satellite communications company) on one side and gold on the other.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Platinum

Earlier this week, Cadillac announced that in the fourth quarter it will be rolling out with the 2015 Escalade Platinum, which includes things like Nappa semi-aniline leather for the first and second row seats, a cooled center console to keep beverages chilled, and a unique grille mesh design.

Earlier this week on this site, you may have noticed the review of the Platinum trim of the Toyota Tundra pickup.

And back in June, Ford announced that there is a Platinum trim level for the 2015 Expedition (again, one of the key aspects is a high-end leather; leather is not an element, by the way). Ford has been offering a Platinum F-150.

While there are a couple problems with it—like it is radioactive and it is not easy to spell—if some automotive marketer was really clever, they’d come out with an “Ununoctium” trim level.

Presumably the whole Platinum thing is about exclusivity. According to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, since 2006, “only a few atoms of ununoctium have ever been produced.”

That is a whole lot more exclusive and rare than a special set of 22-inch wheels.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Platinum

Steel Pistons for Passenger Car Diesels

By: Gary S. Vasilash 14. August 2014

Although steel producers seem to be taking it on the chin of late from aluminum, word out of Stuttgart ought to be somewhat encouraging to them. That is, Mercedes has announced that starting next month, steel pistons will be installed in the Mercedes-Benz E 350 BlueTEC engine.

Previously, aluminum pistons were used in the diesel engine.

And now it is going to steel.

Links Aluminiumkolben, rechts der neue Stahlkolben von Mercedes-Benz

The aluminum piston is on the left and the steel on the right.  Turns out for diesels, smaller can be better.

While you might think that steel would be the norm for diesel engines, where there is tremendous pressure involved in the compression ignition, that is the case for commercial vehicles, but not cars, where aluminum pistons have come to the fore.

But Mercedes engineers started examining steel and determined that there is a potential benefit of using steel pistons within aluminum engine blocks, where the bores are coated by NANOSLIDE material, a nano-crystalline iron coating (also developed by Mercedes).

Because the forged steel pistons are higher in strength than a comparable amount of aluminum, they were able to make the pistons smaller: for the V6 in the E 350, the steel piston is 58.6 mm high versus 71.6 mm for an aluminum piston, yet the steel piston lends itself to application even if—or perhaps when—there is an increase of peak pressures inside the engine.

Links Aluminiumkolben, rechts der neue Stahlkolben von Mercedes-Benz

It was necessary to redesign the piston to go from aluminum (left) to steel (right).

There is less thermal expansion of steel compared with aluminum (the steel expands only about a quarter the amount that the aluminum does), so the gap between the cylinder wall and the piston is reduced as far as the first piston ring. A benefit of this is that there is a reduction in pollutants and emissions.

Joachim Schommer, head of basic engine development at Mercedes-Benz sees further application of steel pistons in the diesels that the vehicle manufacturer produces, such as its four-cylinder diesel (used, for example, in the E 250). Schommer said: “We are assuming that pistons made of steel will in future also be widespread use in passenger car diesel engines.”

2014 Toyota Tundra Platinum CrewMax 4x4

By: Gary S. Vasilash 13. August 2014

He climbed into the cab of the Tundra—and were it not for the running board (a $345 option), this would have been something of a challenging free-style climb because the ground clearance for the full-size truck is 10.4 in., and that’s non-trivial—and said one word:


As in the German-owned British car maker.

(It is surprising to me how much run that manufacturer gets in these parts of the world, where its cars are about as likely to be spotted as Big Foot.)

Tundra 2

What he was referring to was the diamond-patterned quilt-like appearance of the leather on the instrument panel, seats, and door inserts, which is Bentley-like.

Wait a minute. We’re talking about a pickup truck. A truck with a bed. A 66.7-in. bed that is capable of being filled with all kinds of dirt and manure and rocks and whatnot.

And yet it has an interior that brings a Bentley to mind in the mind of someone who works for another vehicle manufacturer, a vehicle manufacturer whose trucks are as commonly seen as the aforementioned Yeti isn’t?

Tundra 1

Another thing about that interior. It is enormous. I’ve typically found that even with sizeable vehicles that it is necessary to inch the driver’s seat forward in order to provide the passenger behind me knee-saving room. Yet when I had a passenger back there I forgot to adjust my seat and the passenger remarked, with what only can be described as surprise in his voice, that he was, well, surprised at how roomy it was back there. And he was someone who had previously owned a full-size from another vehicle manufacturer, not the one of the previously mentioned person, but from the other company whose vehicles are second in ubiquity to that one.

There are lots of things that are nicely big in the Tundra. Like the knobs on the instrument panel. They are comparatively large and substantial. They are the kinds of things that were one to have meaty hands or diminutive hands in massive gloves that would come readily to hand. The knobs just say: This is a serious, big machine and we’re going to make it easy for you to adjust things.

Tundra 3

(What is a bit of a surprise to me is that the key is sort of a 98-pound-weakling-like object by comparison, the sort of thing that you might figure would be suitable for something like a Yaris. The Yaris has an overall length of 154.7 in. The CrewMax configuration of the Platinum Tundra is 228.9 in. long. That’s a difference of more than 6 ft. Which is to say the key ought to be more like one of those things you sometimes get at old-school European hotels, which are meant to be left at the reception desk when you go out for the day, not lugged along. I’m not saying that the Tundra key needs to be crippling in mass, but it ought to say: This is a serious, big key for a serious big machine.)

Anyway, you’ve simply got to know that the Tundra is big, plush and luxe when you check the Platinum box.

And yet at the end of the day—as well as at its start, for that matter—it is a pickup truck. The 4x4 has a 9,000-lb. towing capacity and can handle a payload up to 1,440 lb.

And no Bentley is going to be able to do that.

Tundra 4

Selected specs

Engine: 5.7-liter DOHC EFI V8

Horsepower: 381 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 401 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and heads

Transmission: Six-speed

Steering: Rack and pinion, hydraulic power

Wheelbase: 145.7 in.

Length: 228.9 in.

Width: 79.9 in.

Height: 76.2 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.38

Inside bed length: 66.7 in.

Inside bed depth: 22.2 in.

Inside bed width: 66.4 in.

Seating capacity: 5

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 13/17/15 mpg

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