Autofield Blog

How to Engineer the BMW i3

By: Gary S. Vasilash 20. July 2015

The thing that people from BMW emphasize most about the i3 is not that it is an electric vehicle (EV), not that it has a carbon fiber passenger cabin (“Life Module”), not that it has a 100% aluminum chassis (“Drive Module”), not that most of its exterior body panels are thermoplastic.

i3 1

None of that.

Not that they’re not important, because they are fundamental to the i3.

No, the thing that they really emphasize is that the i3 IS A BMW.

Although it is an upright vehicle that is propelled by an electric motor that generates 170 hp and that is powered by a 22-kWh lithium-ion battery, the development objective, explains John G. Kelly, was, from the start, to create a car that has the performance and attributes of what BMW owners have come to expect from the brand.

i3 5

Kelly, who was a product engineer in the BMW Hybrid & Electric Vehicles activity, is now a product manager. So he has first-hand and continuing involvement with the i3.

And he talks about it in this edition of “Autoline After Hours”—with an i3 nearby in the studio.

i3 4

Kelly explains that while there were forerunner programs—like the BMW Active E, which is based on a 1 Series Coupe, and the MINI E—when they went to work on the i3 they wanted to create a car that is sustainable in almost every way—they’re using wind-generated electricity at the assembly plant in Leipzig; some carbon fiber components are made from recycled materials and hydroelectric power is used at the carbon fiber production plant to make the material; the interior uses Kenaf fibers, eucalyptus, and leather that’s tanned with olive-leaf extract.

i3 2

Kelly describes the car to host John McElroy, freelancer and former GM engineer who worked on the electric EV1 program Gary Witzenburg, and me.

In addition to which, McElroy, Witzenburg and I discuss various other subjects, ranging from the new front-end design for the Chevrolet Silverado to the data intensity of autonomy.

And you can see it all here:

Porsche and the Importance of Tooling

By: Gary S. Vasilash 17. July 2015

Yesterday we looked at the addition of apprentices at Audi in Germany.

Which brings to mind something that happened at another of the Volkswagen Group companies last month, Porsche.

And we don’t mean Porsche beating Audi at Le Mans.

No, Porsche acquired the toolmaking division of Kuka Systems GmbH.

Porsche Leipzig October 2013

This is “toolmaking” as in things like stamping dies.

Porsche is getting more than 600 employees in two locations, Schwarzenberg, Germany, and Dubnica, Slovakia.

Explained Dr. Oliver Blume, Member of the Executive Board – Production and Logistics at Porsche AG, “Innovative tool concepts are enabling us to implement the emotional design typical of Porsche with the maximum possible quality. The employees of our new subsidiary are distinguished by their very high level of expertise across every step of the toolmaking process. We are especially able to profit from this expertise in complex aluminum parts relevant to lightweight design.”

And the criticality of tooling was amplified by Matthias Müller, president of the Executive Board of Porsche AG: “By taking over the toolmaking division, Porsche is making important moves for the sports car production of the future. From a strategic point of view, the integration is a major step for us.”

While most automotive OEMs look to outside companies to provide resource like toolmaking, and while toolmaking is one of the sorts of things that is far from being as sexy as, say, autonomy, it is hard to imagine something that is more curvaceously appealing—at least in an automotive sense—than this:

Porsche 918

Which comes back to tooling.

Audi Adds Apprentices

By: Gary S. Vasilash 16. July 2015

There is no question that Audi makes desirable cars.

People want them the world over.


And in those previous two sentences, there are two key words: makes and people.

What is sometimes lost, or at least overlooked, in the discussion of cars is that they are actually made. And while automation is certainly on the rise at Audi as well as at every other vehicle manufacturer on the planet, people are still essential.

And what’s interesting is that Audi recognizes this.

More importantly, it is doing something about it.

The company recently announced that it is increasing the number of apprentices that it trains from some 2,500 today to more than 2,700 by 2018.

For example, last year it had 493 apprentices in its Ingolstadt complex. Next year it will have 534. At Neckarsulm, it will go from 238 to 273.

These are three-year programs.

Audi mfg

The new apprentices will be primarily added in the areas of mechatronics, informatics, body construction, and vehicle construction.

Thomas Sigi, Audi Board of Management Member for Human Resources, explained, “In order to achieve our strategic corporate goals, we are increasingly investing in our own vocational training, especially in the pioneering technologies of the future. In this way, we will ensure that we have key expertise at the company over the long term.”

Having in-house capability is something that is often overlooked.

It is also essential.

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

By: Gary S. Vasilash 15. July 2015

While some people might say that the design of the Lexus NX is “polarizing,” that isn’t entirely descriptive.

That is, when something is referred to as being polarizing it generally means that there are those who like it and those who don’t. Binary.

NX 4

But there is at least a third option when it comes to the NX, which is that there are those who just don’t understand what’s going on with that compact crossover. There isn’t love or hate going on here. Just a bit of head-scratching confusion.

And that probably has something to do with demographics more than anything else.

Although there are those who will quibble, the Lexus brand is a luxury marque.

Mercedes. . .BMW. . .Lexus.

It fits.

It fits in a way that Cadillac and Lincoln want to. The way that Infiniti doesn’t quite and that Acura is still wishing to.

That established, take a look at the NX straight on:

NX 1a

Its maw is aggressive. In-your-face. It is all the more striking because of the overall compact proportions of the vehicle: It is outsized.

Generally speaking, with few exceptions, luxury vehicles tend to be more visually staid.

So what the heck is going on with this?

Here’s a crossover from the company that essentially invented the category with the RX, the crossover that, has been at the top of the charts since 1998. 1998. Seventeen years. If it was a person, it could have a driver’s license.

But the RX has always been something that is stylish in a most-reserved manner.

So what the heck is going on with the NX?


It is meant to reach a new buyer, a younger buyer, a buyer who truly seeks things that are more overt.

NX 3

And what else is there in the market that can stand as expressively while, at the same time, providing the utility that a crossover provides?

Nothing I can think of.

GLK? Nope. X3. Sorry. Cadillac still doesn’t have anything in this space. The Lincoln MKC seems to be of another category entirely.

Some people will love the NX. Some people will not. And some people will shake their heads in wonder.

But it seems as though the middle category—consisting of those who find it appealing—are doing what Lexus wants them to do, which is to buy it.

NX 2

In June there were 3,505 NXs sold. From January to June, 20,049.

This means the NX is the fourth best-selling vehicle in the Lexus lineup, after the RX, ES, and IS (and given that the IS June sales were 3,821, it’s not like the NX is way behind).

And it isn’t like Lexus is giving them away.

The MSRP for the NX 200t F Sport is $37,980. The vehicle as-driven was optioned up to $44,289, and that’s before the $925 handling. It stickered at $45,214. Not cheap.

(A quibble is that there are a few options that ought to be standard. Like the Homelink garage door opener for $125. Really? That couldn’t have been buried in the MSRP? Or a $400 powered back door? We are talking Lexus, aren’t we?)

I could point out things like the fact that this is the first turbocharged Lexus. Or that it is really quite maneuverable as one pilots it through the urban environment.

But before any of that becomes relevant, it is a matter of getting into the NX, behind the wheel of the crossover.

And that brings us back to the issue of how the car looks.

Like that and you’ll like driving it. Don’t and you’ll not know.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, twin-scroll turbocharged inline 4

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 235 @ 4,800 to 5,600 rpm

Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,650 to 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electric power

Wheelbase: 104.7 in.

Length: 182.3 in.

Width 73.6 in.

Height: 64.8 in.

Cargo volume (rear seat up): 17.7 cu. ft.

Curb weight: 3,940 lb.

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 22/27/24 mpg

Honda Sets Fuel Economy Record

By: Gary S. Vasilash 14. July 2015

Last week, Honda scored a record from the Guinness Book of World Records for fuel economy.

That’s good news if you’re in Europe and you care about fuel economy.

It’s not at all important should you live, oh, in the U.S.

Tourer 1

That’s because:

The vehicle that achieved the record is a Civic Tourer. That’s a Civic-based station wagon. That’s something that isn’t available in the U.S.

The vehicle was equipped with a 1.6 i-DTEC engine. That’s a diesel engine. That’s something that isn’t available in the U.S.

But for those who are interested, the record in question is “Lowest fuel consumption—all 24 contiguous EU countries (all cars).” I nearly ran out of proverbial gas before I finished typing that name.

What this meant was that they had to go to all 24 contiguous EU countries and to obtain evidence of being there (logbook, GPS readings, photographs, autographs of independent witnesses).

The vehicle traveled 8,387 miles over 25 days. It was piloted by two members of Honda’s European R&D team, Fergal McGrath and Julian Warren.

They achieved an average of 100.31 mpg.

The car—paint scheme notwithstanding—is stock, not modified for hypermiling.

The drivers reportedly “used some very logical methods including careful and sensible route planning, driving smoothly and consistently without harsh acceleration or braking, anticipating the road conditions ahead, carrying no unnecessary weight, and ensuring that the car was correctly maintained at all times.”

It is also noted that “Driving speed was always within the law and keeping up with traffic conditions.”

How demanding was the drive?

Well, McGrath said, “After spending so much time behind the wheel Julian and I are just happy to be back behind our desks for a while!”

Tourer 2

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