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Autofield Blog

Ford F-150 Goes CNG


By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. May 2015

Although the price of gasoline is still rather inexpensive—according to GasBuddy.com, the national average price of a gallon of regular stands at $2.62 this week, though the petroleum analysis firm points out that the price of gas is in the process of climbing—there is another option that remains (1) less expensive and (2) helps reduce emissions.

It’s compressed natural gas (CNG).

2016 Ford F-150

And this past Monday Ford announced that it is offering the 2016 F-150 with a gaseous-fuel prep package such that 5.0-liter, V8 half-tons will be able to run on CNG or propane.

Jon Coleman, Ford fleet sustainability and technology manager (realize that this is primarily of interest to those who have fleets of pickups), said, “We surveyed customers likely to use natural gas or propane, and 72% told us they want to have these alternative-fuel capabilities available on F-150 with the 5.0-liter V8 engine. We expect the gaseous-fuel prep package will be even more popular than it was on the 2014 F-150 with the 3.7-liter V6 engine, given the capability of the 2016 F-150 5.0-liter V8.”

At the factory, the intake and exhaust valves and valve seats are upgraded to accommodate the gaseous fuel. Then the truck owner selects to have additional work—fuel tanks, fuel lines, and unique fuel injectors installed—done by a “Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier.”

This upfitting runs from about $7,500 to $9,500, depending largely on the tank size.

Given that premium, that’s probably why this is something that fleet operators do rather than the guy next door.

According to Ford, as of April 30, the average price of CNG was $2.11 (that is, the gasoline equivalent was). What’s more, it “is as low as $1 in some parts of the country.”

$1!

Consequently, the operating costs can be lower than gasoline (or diesel) powered vehicles.

Last year Ford sold 16,821 commercial vehicles with CNG/propane prep (in addition to F-150s, it offers Super Duty, Transit and Transit Connect). It anticipates greater sales this year.

The vehicles offered are:

  • 2016 F-150 with 5.0-liter Ti-VCT V8
  • F-250 and F-350 Super Duty pickup with 6.2-liter V8
  • F-350 to F-550 Super Duty chassis cab with 6.2-liter V8 or 6.8-liter V10
  • F-650 and F-750 chassis cab with 6.8-liter V10
  • F-53 and F-59 stripped chassis with 6.8-liter V10
  • Transit Connect van and wagon with 2.5-liter I-4
  • Transit van, wagon, cutaway and chassis cab with 3.7-liter Ti-VCT V6
  • E-Series cutaway and stripped chassis with 5.4-liter V8 or 6.8-liter V10

Notably, in 2010, the only vehicle that was offered with the factory prep was the E-Series van—which is in the process of being phased out (through April Ford sold 18,710 E-Series vehicles in 2015, down 54.2% from the same period in 2014).


Autodesk, Microsoft & 3D Printing


By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. May 2015

“3D printing is incredibly promising, but also still too complex and unreliable,” said Samir Hanna, vice president and general manager, Consumer and 3D printing, Autodesk.

Autodesk, however, is extremely bullish on the technology, so it is working to make it less complex and more reliable.

Autodesk Spark

So in an effort to make that happen, it has announced that it is embedding its Spark 3D printing platform in Microsoft’s Windows 10. What’s more, it is making Spark APIs free (terms and conditions apply, of course) to the Microsoft developer community.

According to Hanna, “This relationship”—as in Autodesk and Microsoft—“is a key step in making 3D printing easier and more accessible to businesses and individuals alike."

Autodesk and Microsoft are also founding members of the 3D Manufacturing (3MF) Consortium for creating and supporting a standard 3D interchange and printing format.

Said Steve Guggenheimer, Corporate Vice President of Developer Platform & Evangelism and Chief Evangelist for Microsoft, "We’re approaching a tipping point with 3D printing, which means there is a huge market opportunity waiting for companies developing applications for Windows 10. By providing the 3D printing building blocks found in the Spark platform and optimizing it for Windows 10, Autodesk has empowered our global developer community to confidently enter this new world of additive manufacturing.”

Given that the image that accompanied the announcement appears to be a spark plug, presumably there is some automotive potential in all this.


2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Platinum Premium


By: Gary S. Vasilash 6. May 2015

The 2015 Nissan Pathfinder has a fresh, contemporary look. Which is really impressive, given that the vehicle was redesigned two years ago, and there is that ever-changing array in the three-row crossover utility segment.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

In some ways, crossovers (and cars and utes) are under the tyranny of what I think of as the “Las Vegas Hotel Phenomenon.” No, it’s not that hotels in Vegas are all giant (nor are all vehicles giant).

But it’s that when a new hotel goes up (or a new vehicle enters the mix), somehow everything else on the Boulevard, even something that hasn’t been there as long as vehicle ready for a midcycle refresh, looks somewhat dated.

Yet the Pathfinder still looks fresh. Which is a testimony to the stylists and designers who came up with the shapely forms and the engineers and manufacturers who gave shape to the sheet metal.

When you look at the name of the vehicle above, especially the last two words, Platinum and Premium you know that this is a luxe offering. And you may be surprised to learn just how grand this seven-seater really is.

What’s interesting to note is that this is a comprehensive package of offerings. That is, when you look at the sticker to see the MSRP ($43,100), then add on the destination ($860), you’re pretty much done. Pretty much only because there is what strikes me as an odd option on the vehicle that I had. There is a $210 line item for “Carpeted Floor Mats.”

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Realize that this is a vehicle with leather seating. An eight-way adjustable power driver seat and a four-way adjustable power front passenger seat. And both of those seats are headed and cooled. The second row seats are heated. The steering wheel—which tilts and telescopes--is wrapped in leather and heated. The shifter is leather wrapped, as well. There is an eight-inch touch-screen monitor in the center of the instrument panel that facilitates everything from navigation to the Around View monitor, which essentially shows an image of the vehicle as though it was taken about 20 feet directly above it, which makes parking the Pathfinder much easier. There is a dual moonroof, with a front panel that slides and rear glass, that goes all the way to above the third row, that’s fixed. There are seven-inch DVD screens integrated into the back of the headrests of the driver’s and front passenger’s seats for entertainment. There’s BOSE audio with 13 speakers.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

The vehicle is not only loaded, it is loaded with top-notch materials and functions—it’s not as though this is one of those vehicles that has a lot of stuff that has a whiff of the Dollar Store about them.

The Pathfinder is powered by a 260-hp 3.5-liter V6 that’s matched with a continuously variable transmission, the XRONIC. The 4WD system can be left in “Auto” so that it can decide what to do when, or 4WD low, or 2WD, or 4WD lock can be selected. All of which is to say that it is unlikely that the 20s that the Pathfinder rolls on will ever become stuck.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Yes, this Pathfinder is a unibody, not a body-on-frame like its predecessor. But you don’t give anything up, except for, well, about 500 pounds of mass that the engineers managed to take out of the vehicle, which helps provide more-than respectable miles per gallon for this sizeable crossover: 22 mpg combined.

And even though it is a unibody, it can still tow, offering 5,000-pound capacity from the standard tow hitch and harness on the back of this Platinum vehicle.

The Pathfinder Platinum Premium lives up to its name.

But seriously, that $210 option really needs to be rolled into the overall price.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V6

Material: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 260 @ 6,400 rpm

Torque: 240 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission: Continuously variable

Steering: Speed-sensitive hydraulic-electric

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Length: 197.2 in.

Width: 77.2 in.

Height: 69.6 in.

EPA interior volume: 157.8 cubic feet

EPA cargo volume: 16 cubic feet behind third row; 79.8 cu. ft., both folded

EPA mpg city/highway/combined: 19/26/22 mpg

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Camaro: Shapely for 2016


By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. May 2015

Although the 2016 Camaro won’t be fully revealed for a couple of weeks, Chevrolet has released some imagines that strongly indicate that the exterior design will have the mechatronic edginess of the 2014 Corvette Stingray:

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

That is, it is a design that combines something of a sharp machine aesthetic that screams “function” with an ultramodern, nearly electronic ethos.

The Generation 6 Camaro appears as though it will have the taut forms of the Corvette.

The broad rear fenders that were introduced on the Gen 5 car back in 2010 are retained, although this time they promise to be, well, less zaftig.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro

Ed Welburn, vice president, GM Global Design, remarked, “The Camaro went to the gym and came out with a lithe, more athletic physique for the sixth generation.”

And speaking of weight-reduction, the 2016 Camaro has an aluminum hood that combines sharp edges with smooth curves:

2016 Chevrolet Camaro

Given that Chevy’s crosstown rival came out with this for model year 2015:

2015 Mustang Media Drive in L.A.

You can be confident that Hwasup Lee, the lead exterior designer for the 2016, has done what it takes to be even more-than competitive with the Mustang.


How Klaus Busse Creates Excellent Interiors


By: Gary S. Vasilash 4. May 2015

This is Klaus Busse:

Klaus

If you were asked to, you’d probably guess that he’s a designer.

Specifically, Busse is vice president of Interior Design for FCA North America.

Which means he leads the team that designs things like this:

2015 Chrysler 300C Platinum

This:

2015 Ram 1500 Texas Ranger Concept truck

And this:

2015 Jeep Renegade Limited

So which of the three is a concept?  Which are production?

The first is the Platinum trim interior for the Chrysler 300. Yes, you can buy it.

The second is the Texas Ranger Ram concept. Sorry. However, Busse points out that the laser treatment on the surface of the seat leather, the design that brings to mind a pair of boots from Tony Lama, is something that you can get on the production Laramie Limited Ram 1500.

And the final is the interior of the Jeep Renegade.

Yes, they really made interiors that are nearly concept in their execution.

In a few weeks, Busse will be celebrating his 10th anniversary with the company now known as “FCA.”

Busse, who was born in Minden, Germany, and who received a BA in transportation design from Coventry University, started his professional design career at Mercedes-Benz in 1995. When there was the entity known as “DaimlerChrysler,” Busse moved to Michigan and took the position as manager of Interior Design for Ram Trucks.

When the entity known as “DaimlerChrysler” ceased to exist in 2007, two years after Busse was in Auburn Hills, he stayed.

Busse and his colleagues have created what are arguably some of the best—if not the best—interiors in the business.

How they do that is a large part of the discussion on this week’s “Autoline After Hours.” Busse talks about their approach to interior design and teamwork with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Drew Winter of Ward’s, and me.

Even if you’re not at all interested in interior design, it is interesting to learn the thinking behind how they’ve pretty much gone from zero to hero in a fairly short period of time, something that should be considered by anyone who is part of a team that’s hopes to excel, even if the odds don’t look particularly promising.

In addition to which, John, Drew and I discuss a variety of other subject, including the departure of Ferdinand Piech from Volkswagen Group, the impressive numbers of the forthcoming Cadillac CTS-V, and much more on the show.

And you can see it right here:

 




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