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Autofield Blog

BMW By the Minute

By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. December 2014


You can buy a BMW. You can lease a BMW. And as of this week, if you’re in London, you can rent, in effect, a BMW 1 Series or a MINI Countryman by the minute. When you need it.

DriveNow, a carsharing undertaking that’s a 50-50 partnership between BMW Group and Sixt SE, a car rental firm that already operates in Munich, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Hamburg, Vienna, and San Francisco, allows people to access cars within a 25-square-mile area in London.

DriveNow is a carsharing joint venture by BMW Group and Sixt SE and currently offers a modern mobility concept in Munich, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Hamburg, Vienna and San Francisco.

Cars can be had for 39 pence (about 61 cents U.S.) per minute. The hourly rate is capped at £20 (~$31). And there are various packages that can be purchased. Fuel, taxes, insurance and parking charges are included.

Next spring, BMW is adding 30 all-electric i3 vehicles to the fleet in London, bringing the total to 300 vehicles there.

DriveNow presently has more than 360,000 customers in the cities it serves.

According to Peter Schwarzenbauer, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG and responsible for Mobility Services, said, “This program is part of BMW Group’s strategic response to the growth in urban living and shared ownership. Our aim is to expand it into about 15 more cities in Europe and about 10 in North America in the future.”

In places where car ownership can be onerous, car sharing can make a lot of sense. Clearly, with OEM involvement, the idea of what it is to be a manufacturer of cars is undergoing a non-trivial transformation.

Honda Makes 300-Million Motorcycles

By: Gary S. Vasilash 4. December 2014

Last week Honda Motor Co. announced that it, since it started in 1949, produced its 300-millionth motorcycle.

2015 Honda GoldWing

2015 Honda Gold Wing

The bike in question was a Gold Wing. It was manufactured at the Honda Kumamoto Factory in Japan.

Some of you may recall that Gold Wings were once built in Marysville, Ohio. In fact, Honda of America Manufacturing actually started with motorcycle manufacture. They started building bikes in mid-Ohio in 1979.

The Marysville Auto Plant didn’t open until 1982.

Honda stopped building motorcycles in Ohio in 2009.

(It is worth noting that the Marysville Motorcycle Plant built all-terrain vehicles as well as bikes. Production of ATVs was shifted to Honda of South Carolina Manufacturing, in Timmonsville, SC. They are still producing motorcycles in North America, in a plant in El Salto, Jalisco, Mexico.)

Dream Type D

Honda Dream Type-D

The first motorcycle produced was the 98-cc Dream Type-D.

Incidentally, one big contributor to the 300-million number is the Honda Super Cub, of which more than 90-million have been sold globally. It is that bike gave rise to the mid-1960s commercial with the line: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”

2015.5 Volvo S60 T5 Drive-E

By: Gary S. Vasilash 3. December 2014

You may have seen the Buick commercials of late wherein people are looking for Buicks but can’t find them because what they think a Buick is is something altogether different than the reality of the vehicles because the vehicles have undergone significant transformations.

This, I think, is an approach that would possibly be even more suitable for Volvo because today’s Volvo’s are certainly not the boxy or semi-boxy (when the Swedes tried to make the vehicles more sexy, which didn’t work out particularly well) vehicles of yore, and let’s face it: you don’t see a heck of a lot of Volvos out there, anyway.

Through October, Volvo sold 47,823 vehicles in the U.S., which is fewer than the number of Dodge Avengers sold in the same period: 50,710.

And if the S60 is any indication of contemporary Volvos, then all I can say is that there are a whole lot of people missing out on what is really a good automobiles (S60 sales through October were 17,574, down 12.2% from 2013).

Volvo 1

The S60 strikes me as being a car that is completely realized. That is, there were people who were thinking about all aspects of the car, from the accordion-style band that holds the gas cap secured to the car when refueling to the position of the buttons on the head unit in the center stack. (And, yes, it is the waterfall-style center stack that Volvo pioneered, so there is space behind the head unit.)

One person who is fairly familiar with cars wasn’t sure what the car was when she first saw it, and was favorably disposed toward it when it was identified. Said another way, she was (1) surprised and (2) impressed.

A friend who works for a Detroit-based car company, when looking at the inside, said, “Volvo has always had great interiors.”

The point here being that although it is a sedan in what is the most competitive market segment, it isn’t chasing gimmicks in terms of both the way it looks and what it offers.

Volvo 2

Volvo, back in the day, was synonymous with safety. The reason that it no longer is—in addition to its ill-advised straying into the sexy attempt—is because pretty much all cars come with a suite of stars on their monroneys indicating that they’re safe, too. This is not to say that Volvos are any less safe than they once were, because that’s not true. (E.g., it received a 2014 Top Safety Pick+ designation from IIHS.)

(Over the years I attended several body engineering conferences, and it seemed as though high-strength steel and laser welding were always discussed by the folks from Sweden, well in advance of even other European car companies, to say nothing of those based in the U.S.)

That said, there are unexpected touches on the S60 that show that safety is still part of the DNA. For example, plenty of cars have systems that show the speed limit for the road you’re on. The S60 does. But what’s a nice touch is that there is a small red dot on the outer diameter of the speedometer that indexes to the speed limit so that at a glance at the location of the needle one can tell where one is in relation to the limit. (All of this is rendered digitally.) There is the City Safety system that the company developed, which provides warnings—audio and visual—when a collision is imminent; brake deployment is activated, as in precharging them so that when you hit the pedal, the system will engage quickly or full-on automatic braking should you fail to take action, this at speeds of 31 mph or below. (Should you be driving at higher speed and begin to close on a vehicle ahead of you, there are warning lights that you can see on the windshield, projected up from the top of the instrument panel.)

But the point is is that there is a more comprehensive realization of the car, a more complete execution that combines style and substance. Which really makes for a better overall car.

Volvo 3

The S60 T5 is powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, direct injection engine that produces 240 hp. It is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with self-shifting capability (for those who want to feel racy, presumably). For being a four-cylinder engine, it is quite remarkable.

Another aspect of what I think contemporary Volvo-ness is about is environmental awareness. The vehicle has what is called “ECO+,” which when activated has a number of fuel-saving functions, such as start/stop (it goes into effect at and below 4 mph) and air conditioning compressor disconnection when not required. This is driver-selectable. In cases when in a traffic jam, disengaging the system is probably a good thing to do because the engine stopping and starting can become a bit disconcerting if you’re stopping, moving ahead a bit, stopping, etc.

Being a premium car, there are the premium amenities, such as the eight way power driver seat, lather, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and more.

The vehicle as driven here had the “Platinum” package, which adds an array of things like navigation and adaptive cruise control, a Harmon-Kardon audio system and a power glass moonroof. There is the “Climate” package that adds heated seats all around and even heated windshield wiper nozzles (handy not only in Sweden, but in places like Michigan, as well). A package bringing 19-in. alloys and paddles on the steering wheel; another for sport seats; then blind spot information and other sensors; and metallic paint. The base MSRP is $33,750, but when thusly upfitted and a destination charge of $925, you get to $45,425. Which is completely rational for this car.

Volvo 4

Should you be looking for a compact premium sedan, go look where you may not think to. Yes, there are a lot of good European cars in this category, but this is one that also has the benefit of being comparatively rare. At least until more people find out about the Volvo S60.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged, DOHC, direct-injected I4

Horsepower: 240 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 to 4,800 rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Steering: Electrical power-assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 109.3 in.

Length: 182.5 in.

Width: 73.4 in.

Height: 58.4 in.

Curb weight: 3,433 lb.

Cargo volume: 12 cu-ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 25/37/29 mpg

The Suggestion Box Endures at Bosch

By: Gary S. Vasilash 2. December 2014

One thing you don’t hear about much anymore is the suggestion box. Presumably, they still exist in many places. If they don’t then the companies in question are missing out on a whole lot of opportunities.

This came to our attention as Bosch announced that it has had its suggestion box—which actually started out as a book—open since 1924.


Bosch suggestion book, 1924

Yes, Robert Bosch himself initiated the program. The goal as stated 90 years ago was to “perfect work processes and improve products, or reduce the cost of producing and managing them.”

How is it working out?

Well, the company reckons that during the past 10 years it has saved approximately 395-million euros (~$492-million) thanks to the suggestions received from Bosch employees.

Bosch rewards employees for suggestions. The top prize is 150,000 euros. Tow Bosch associates at a Bosch Drive and Control Technology Div. foundry in Lohr, Germany, recently received 150,000 euros for coming up with a way to clean the pipes through which molten steel flows. (They’re using oxygen.)

Incidentally: the suggestion box or book at Bosch is now largely digital. But it is certainly no less important than it was 90 years ago.

The Future Isn’t Now—But Could Have Been

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. December 2014

Art galleries aren’t something we ordinarily write about, but neither are flying cars. And now we’re doing both.

The M.A.D. Gallery in Geneva is exhibiting a collection of photographs by French photographer Renaud Marion. . .of flying cars.

Marion, who is 39, had assumed—as many of us did—that certainly by now we’re all be zipping around in flying cars in the 21st century.

El Camino

As an artist, he may be a little more imaginative than the rest of us, as he said, “As a child, I imagined the new millennium with flying cars, spaceships, parallel worlds, extra-terrestrials living with us on earth, and time travel.”

We are at least with him on the flying cars.

Anyway, he has created a series of photographs of flying cars, a collection named “Air Drive.”

Rather than developing fanciful vehicles, he went for classics, like the Chevy El Camino, as they represent for Marion what he had imagined, as a child, what the future would look like.

Mercedes 190

He also paid careful attention to the background for the cars: “I looked for architecture dating from the 1970s; for me that’s retro-futuristic. The buildings had to be imposing, massive and graphic.”

Well, maybe this isn’t what the future has become, but it is interesting from Marion’s point of view of what it could be.

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