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The M88A2: A Different Kind of Exotic

By: Gary S. Vasilash 10. October 2014

Although the exotic vehicles we tend to write about here have four wheels and not a wheeled track, it caught our eye that when it comes to modifying these vehicles, the price tag is most certainly in the ultra-high category, so. . . .

That is, the U.S. Army has awarded a $153.6-million contract to BAE Systems to convert 53 M88A1 recovery vehicles to the M88A2 Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lift Evacuation System (HERCULES).


That’s right: 53 vehicles; $153.6-million.

But know that this is a non-trivial mod.

That is, the HERCULES version features a 70,000-lb. boom that is able to hoist and tow twice the weight of the earlier version, the M88A1. It carries a 70-ton constant pull winch and 280 ft. of cable.

It is said to be the “only vehicle” capable to recovering the M1 Abrams tank, as well as the heaviest mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) variants.

As for other specs of the M88A2:

· Overall length: 338 in.

· Width: 144 in.

· Height: 124 in.

· Horsepower: 1,050 @ 2,400 rpm

· Top speed: 30 mph

· Personnel capacity: 7

· Cruising range: 300 miles

· GVWR: 140,000 lb.

Looking at that GVWR: the name “HERCULES” is certainly appropriate.

Getting Closer to Hydrogen (as in Infrastructure)

By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. October 2014

Way back in 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev published his periodic table of the elements. Hydrogen was, and is, in first place.

So it is fitting that the name of the company that is in the process of establishing the world’s first retail hydrogen vehicle refueling station network is “FirstElement Fuel.”

This week the company announced that it finalized a $25.5-million contract with Air Products for station equipment (a.k.a., fuel pumps). The equipment will be used in the 19 gas stations (realize that hydrogen is generally in a gaseous form, so “gas station” is probably a fitting sobriquet) that FirstElement is going to build in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas.


Why there?

Because that’s where the hydrogen-powered vehicles from Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz are, or will be, found.


On the one hand, this is all about meeting the requirements of the California Air Resources Board.

On the other hand, this is about putting the supply where the demand will be.

And on the third hand, chances are if hydrogen vehicles are going to become successful in the market, it will be easier to get traction in places like San Francisco and LA than, say, Detroit and Indianapolis.

Incidentally: the CEO of FirstElement Fuel is Joel Ewanick, former vice president and Global Marketing Officer of General Motors. Ewanick also held positions at Hyundai and Porsche, so he knows more than a little something about the auto industry and non-traditional approaches toward doing things within it—and hydrogen fuel is nothing if not non-trad.

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. October 2014

The Honda Fit EX-L has a CVT.

That’s “continuously variable transmission.”

Generally, transmissions aren’t that noticeable in cars. Unless, of course, it is a manual, which means that probably about 95% of the population can’t or won’t drive the car.

2015 Honda Fit

The whole thing about CVTs is that instead of conventional gears, there are metal bands. The bands are on pulleys that move in and out, so that the most appropriate gearing is achieved for purposes of fuel economy.

And the Honda Fit EX-L, which has a 1.5-liter, 130-hp I4, gets good fuel economy. As in 32 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 35 mpg combined.

The CVT contributes to that.

2015 Honda Fit

Well, that and the fact that it is a subcompact hatch.

Generally, I don’t pay a great deal of attention to transmissions when driving a car. Unless, of course, it is a manual and I have to be more conscious of the fundamental act of driving. Otherwise, it is, well, automatic.

But I did notice the CVT in the Fit too much. Or maybe it wasn’t the CVT in and of itself, but the entire powertrain.

And it just gave me the sense that I was hoping like mad that it would hurry up and get its job done so that I could go faster than it was moving me. The sense of “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon.”

Let me point out that I like small cars. I particularly like hatches.

Conceptually, I like the Fit.

And I even bought a Honda lawnmower this year, so know that I am invested in Honda engine technology. (I bought a human-propelled version, so I can’t attest to how well the transmission works in the mower.)

But I was not particularly taken with the powertrain in the Fit.

But perhaps I am not thinking about the car in the right context.

Were you thinking of buying a car for a student, particularly a college student who may have a bunch of stuff to schlep to the dorm/apartment and back, then bingo! This fits the bill. (Unintended pun.)

There’s the aforementioned fuel efficiency. And then there is a massive amount of cargo capacity.

The Fit offers 16.7-cu. ft. of cargo volume with the rear seats up. And an amazing 52.7-cu. ft. with the rear seats down.

2015 Honda Fit

By way of comparison, know that the trunk of the Honda Accord Sedan handles 15.8-cu. ft., and I’ve not heard anyone complain that the Accord is stingy with space.

The interior materials are student-friendly as well. There are soft-touch plastics. And yet there are also some, well, “plastic” plastics. You know what I mean.

2015 Honda Fit

This is a car that is nicely styled, but is engineered to be nicely priced, too, with the MSRP of the Fit EX-L being $19,800. (There is only one trim level above that, which is the EX-L with Navi, which has an MSRP of $20,800, and I suspect that people might simply opt for a Garmin and save $800.)

That whole acceleration thing is actually a benefit vis-à-vis the student transport approach.

Selected specs

Engine: 1.5-liter, DOHC, iVTEC I4

Horsepower: 130 @ 6,600 rpm

Torque: 114 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and head

Transmission: Continuously variable

Steering: Electric-power assisted rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 99.6 in.

Length: 160 in.

Width: 70.9 in.

Height: 60 in.

Seating capacity: 5

Passenger volume: 95.7 cu. ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 32/38/35 mpg

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Honda Goes NVIDIA

By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. October 2014

Lost, presumably (or relatively), last week, amid announcements of things like the Lamborghini Asterion LPI 910-4, which features a V10 naturally aspirated engine combined with three electric motors so that the car has total deliverable power of 910 hp (it is really time to start thinking of hybrids as things other than just Priuses), supercomputer-on-a-chip producer announced at the Paris Motor Show that the its Tegra mobile processor is being used by Honda to power infotainment for 2015 Honda Civic, Civic Tourer and CR-V models equipped with the Honda Connect system (in Europe).

Lambo in paris

Lamborghini Asterion LPI 910-4

That’s as in European models of the vehicles.

What’s interesting to note about this is that Honda becomes the 19th global auto company to go with NVIDIA, which is probably more familiar to global game system and tablet producers—or at least has been heretofore.

Danny Shapiro, NVIDIA’s senior director of Automotive, emphasizes that they’ve been intensively working with automotive for the past several years, which explains in large part why they have marque users including Audi and Tesla.

(The Tesla Model S actually has two Tegra processors, one for the gauge cluster and one for that 17-in. infotainment system.)

Honda is the first Japanese OEM to go with NVIDIA.

Kristian - Israel

And Shapiro points out that Honda will be the first automotive OEM that will be using Android—in this case 4.0.4—as the embedded operating system. That is, Android just like the system that you may have on your phone or Google tablet.

On the Honda vehicles, there is a 7-in. capacitive touchscreen that is used for navigation, audio, and the rearview camera.

It may not be as visibly awesome as that Lambo, but the implications for telematics implementations are certainly underscored by the announcement.

Ford Studio 2000X: Creating the Future

By: Gary S. Vasilash 6. October 2014

Jeff Nowak shows a film clip of a 2015 Ford Edge in action. It is exceedingly high-def. The lights glint off the sheet metal and the glass; the edges are crisp; the colors are rich and bright.

All-New 2015 Ford Edge Showcases Technology, Design and Craftsmanship

One thing about this.

It isn’t real.

There is no 2015 Ford Edge in the film.

There is no road. No buildings.

Jeff Nowak is chief designer at Ford’s Studio 2000X.

There they produce hyperrealistic digital images.

As Nowak explains, about half of the people in the studio are designers. The other half are tech experts.

Through the combination of the two, they are able to help bring designs that are being created in the studio into highly accurate images.

It helps development. It helps executives better understand what is being designed.

Nowak talks with John Manoogian of the College of Creative Studies (Nowak, incidentally, is a CCS graduate), Jeff Sabatini of Car and Driver, and me on this installment of “Autoline After Hours.”

Does things like Studio 2000X portend the end of clay modeling?

Watch and see.

In addition to which, Manoogian, Sabatini and I discuss a variety of auto-related developments, from the imminent Cadillac departure to New York to the viability of Lincoln.

You can watch it here:

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