Autofield Blog

Audi Rolls With Robots

By: Gary S. Vasilash 13. March 2015

Typically, one of the more manic places in an automotive assembly plant is at the end of the line, when vehicles are driven off the line and to various places, depending on the status of the vehicle (e.g., to a logistics area; to rework; to staging for a test track).

Audi is trying something a bit different at a pilot facility in Ingolstadt.

Audi robot

Rather than having workers jump into finished cars, robotic devices are used to move the vehicles from the production line to an interim storage area.

Each robot, which is sourced from Serva Transport Systems, a German company that builds systems for parking and logistics, consists of a metal frame that’s 19.7-ft long and 9.8-ft wide. Sensors on the device determine the position and dimensions of a car—it can handle cars up to 17.4-ft long—then grips the tires and lifts the car some 4 inches.

Then the vehicle is moved, based on information from control software.

The reason for using the robots rather than human drivers?

Answered Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl, board of management member for Production at Audi AG, “The autonomous transport of our automobiles could allow us to eliminate long walking distances for our employees and to improve the ergonomics of their work.”

He added, “Systems like this also have the potential to significantly increase the efficiency of our processes.”

Of course, it also means that workers at Ingolstadt have a reduced opportunity to drive a new Audi (chances are good they drive VWs, not the premium brand.)

2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Platinum

By: Gary S. Vasilash 12. March 2015


That was the word used by a colleague in regards to the 2015 Escalade Platinum.

2015 Cadillac Escalade

The word in the context that he used it—as in “inspiring awe”—goes back to the late 17th century, and arguably this is one of the most apt uses of the word because from all angles, the vehicle is simply damned awesome.

You look at it, and you know that it is a 21st century vehicle. It is contemporary without and within, it is a vehicle that doesn’t harken back to some earlier time nor does it seem temporarily unhinged like something out of Quantum Leap.

First of all, there is its presence. It is like a giant work of sculpture made by an artist from sheet metal and polymers. There is a danger when you have such a giant expanse of sheet metal as is the case with the body side of the Escalade that it will be bland, but they’ve managed to provide just enough form to make it distinctive.

As is the case with many luxury vehicles today, the Escalade has an abundance of LEDs in the front and rear. The rear taillights are particularly striking, as this is a large, high vehicle (after all, it is rolling on 22s), and the tail lamps, outboard on both sides, reach all the way to the top of the vehicle.

2015 Cadillac Escalade

In the front, there is what is called “Total Internal Reflection” lighting. Which means that thanks to the deployed lenses and LEDs, the forward visibility is superb.

But the lighting that I found to be most impressive at night was that which is in the door handles. You want to know what luxury is? It’s something that invites you in to its space, space that, especially in the case of the Platinum trim, is full of leather-clad furniture and surfaces that are planked with rear wood.

Seriously: this vehicle is in many ways a living room on wheels, which is not meant to be a knock in any way, but just to give a sense that the space that is within the vehicle is voluminous and the accoutrements are first-rate. Three rows. Lots of room. Perhaps think of it as a living room that one would have were one to be a Cadillac customer.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Platinum

The vehicle as driven had a single option—and it had a single option because the vehicle has everything you can otherwise imagine, ranging from a 16-speaker Bose audio system to heads-up display, from two DVD screens in headrests to a cooler in the center console, and then some—which is a power retractable running board. That is an option all-but essential for those of us who aren’t members of the NBA.

The Escalade is powered by a 420-hp, 6.2-liter V8 engine. Yes, a massive engine. A powerful engine. An engine that is pretty much required to propel this vehicle. That is, a 4WD Escalade with 20-in. wheels has a curb weight of 5,840 lb., so you’ve got to add a few more pounds to account for the larger wheels on this one.

The engine (which is mated to a six-speed automatic) moves the Escalade with authority, if not alacrity.

(The engine, by the way, has GM’s “Active Fuel Management” system, which means that cylinders are deactivated when all eight aren’t needed.)

2015 Cadillac Escalade

The vehicle in all aspects seems as solid as a proverbial vault, whether it is the “thunk” you hear when slamming the door or the sense you have when driving over (into?) potholed surfaces. But whereas that simile seems to imply that it may be as stationary as something in First National Whatever, that doesn’t hold, because it moves you in comfort, safety (there is available technology including automatic braking, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, front-center airbag) and style.

Which brings me back to “awesome.”

My colleague asked what the sticker on the 2015 Escalade 4WD Platinum reads.

And the actual bottom line: $94,565.

“Awesome,” he remarked.

Selected specs

Engine: 6.2-liter V8

Material: Cast-aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 420 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm

Transmission: Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic

Steering: Electrical power-assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 116 in.

Length: 203.9 in.

Width: 80.5 in.

Height: 74.4 in.

EPA interior volume: 120.8-cu. ft.

Maximum cargo room: 94.2-cu. ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 15/21/17 mpg

Conceptually Cool Rubber

By: Gary S. Vasilash 11. March 2015

While people attending the 85th Geneva Motor Show are, for obvious reasons, distracted by things like the Mercedes-Maybach S 600 Pullman and the McLaren P1 GTR, from a design and engineering perspective there were two other introductions—of concepts—at the show that are conceptually more startling than even the Lexus LF-SA:


Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company showed two tires, the BHO3 and the Triple Tube.

As Joe Zekoski, Goodyear’s senior vice president and chief technical officer, put it: “These concept tires reimagine the role that tires may play in the future.”

And of that future, he said, “We envision a future in which our products become more integrated with the vehicle and the consumer, more environmentally friendly and more versatile.”

Goodyear BH03

The BHO3 takes advantage of the heat generated during driving. The materials in the tire will transform the heat into electricity, and the electricity can then be shunted to the on-board battery—that is, battery in the context of an electric vehicle.

Goodyear Triple Tube

The Triple Tube has, well, three tubes within the tire. One is beneath the center of the tread. One near the inboard shoulder and the other the outboard shoulder. There is an internal pump that moves air from the main air chamber (i.e., the tire, in effect) to the tubes predicated on conditions or driver selection.

That is: With maximum inflation in all tubes, there is reduced rolling resistance, for more eco-driving.

With the inboard tube slightly deflated, there is better handling for sporty carving of corners because the contact patch is optimized.

And with the center tube at maximum pressure, the tread in the center of the tire is raised so there is superior aquaplaning resistance during wet driving.

Ram Powered By Gas—as in Gaseous Gas

By: Gary S. Vasilash 10. March 2015

One of the things that is generally overlooked about the general decline in gas prices (yes, they are going up, but think back a year—or less) is that it is predicated on increased supply that is generated, in part, by unconventional extraction techniques.

And another thing that is coming out of the ground in great abundance is natural gas, as this chart from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows:

natural gas

So it is interesting to note that Ram Truck is the only manufacturer to offer factory-built compressed natural gas-powered pickup trucks.

(Other trucks undergo post-factory modifications to make them compressed natural gas (CNG) capable.)

The Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG pickup is actually a bi-fuel vehicle that can run on both CNG and gasoline.

2012 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG with bi-fuel capability—powered by compressed natural gas or gasoline.

It is powered by a 5.7-liter HEMI V8. The primary differences between that HEMI and one that can be found in a non-CNG-powered vehicle are the valves and valve seats, a second CNG-specific fuel rail and injectors, specific spark plugs, and a unique powertrain control module.

Not only can it run on gasoline, but the vehicle actually has tanks for both. There are two 130-liter CNG tanks, which provide a gasoline gallon equivalence of 18.2 gallons, and an 8- or 35-gallon gasoline tank.

The powertrain control module automatically switches the vehicle to gasoline when required.

Ram Truck announced last week that it was expanding its lineup of Ram 2500 CNG trucks to include regular cab and 2WD.

It is interesting to note that over in Europe Iveco, which is Fiat Industrial’s truck and commercial vehicles division and a sibling of Ram Truck, has been focusing on CNG propulsion since 1995 and has some 11,000 CNG vehicles out on the roads today.

Presumably with the U.S. abundance of CNG, things may make a significant shift.

Engineering the Jeep Renegade

By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. March 2015

Art Anderson is the chief engineer for the 2015 Jeep Renegade, the newest, smallest Jeep in the brand’s lineup. This is no “baby Jeep.” It has the capability and performance that one would expect from a Jeep, it can be optioned up to have all of the technologies and accessories that one would expect for a class-above vehicle*, yet it has a footprint that is more internationally appropriate than its larger brethren.

2015 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

Which is important, because the Jeep Renegade, which is produced in a plant in Melfi, Italy, not in Toledo or Detroit, is a global vehicle.

You can learn about the Renegade in the cover story of the March 2015 issue of Automotive Design & Production (or simply click here and see the digital version thereof).

And you can learn even more about it from Art Anderson himself, as he appears on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Anderson talks with Brent Snavely, business and auto reporter for the Detroit Free Press, Joe Szczesny, auto writer for the Oakland Press, and me.

John McElroy was on his way back from the Geneva Motor Show and consequently back in the studio. But even though Snavely, Szczesny and I weren’t in Switzerland, we did talk about some of the new cars that were unveiled there.

In addition to which, we took a look at the February sales numbers, which generally show that were it not for their light truck offerings, a whole lot of OEMs would be stuck with dealer lots full of unsold inventory of sedans, which aren’t having much traction in this period of low gas prices.

2015 GMC Yukon XL Denali

Yukon XL sales are up 103.5% for the year

(Here’s an example of the strength of crossovers and SUVs. GMC is GM’s truck brand. It has seven vehicles—a van, crossovers, SUVs, and pickups—in the market. Of those seven vehicles, only one, the Savana van (which is having its proverbial lunch eaten by the likes of the Ford Transit Connect), is down in sales. For the month, its sales in February 2015 are up 19.3% compared to February of last year. The other three GM brands offer a mix of cars and light trucks. Chevy February/February sales were up only 3.8%. Buick’s were down by 9.2% and Cadillac’s were off by 12.6%. This was GMC’s best month since. . .2002)

*Although Anderson talks about “class-above” and “best-in-class,” he readily admits that there really isn’t anything like the Renegade available in the market. One vehicle that he brings up as a possible contender is the Kia Soul, but while the Soul may be competitive from the standpoint of its exterior shape and its interior cargo capacity, the Soul is an urban car, not something one is going to take on mountain adventures.


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