Autofield Blog

Rocking the Brickyard

By: Gary S. Vasilash 3. April 2015

We recently suggested that open-wheel racing of the Indy-car variety doesn’t have quite the interest that it once did, back in the days of Andretti and Unser (fathers and sons in both cases).

So what do you do if you have the venue for the “Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing,” a facility so massive that it even contains an 18-hole golf course, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

photo by Bret Kelly

photo by Bret Kelly

Well, you try to find something else to fill the seats.

Sure they run other races like the “Brickyard 400.”

But they have huge plans for the Fourth of July because the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see the Rolling Stones in concert at the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Road.

Said J. Douglas Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president, “The Rolling Stones concert on July 4 will mark the first time the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted a concert on a non-race weekend.”

Stones in Indy

He added, “The biggest band in the world playing at the biggest sporting venue in the world will provide an unbelievable experience for our fans. It doesn't get any better than the Rolling Stones on Fourth of July Weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It is worth mentioning that the Rolling Stones have been performing since 1962.

In 1962, a driver named Rodger Ward piloted an Offenhauser-powered Watson to victory at that year’s 500.

His average speed: 140.293 mph.

Times change. Even if the Stones barely do.

Designing Kias

By: Gary S. Vasilash 2. April 2015

Ever since Peter Schreyer has been at Kia (it will be 10 years next year!), the designs coming out of its studios have been nothing short of impressive. There almost isn’t a vehicle in the company’s lineup that doesn’t have presence in a way that exceeds what is the norm in the category.

(I recently talked to the global design leader for a competitive company and mentioned that I had just been looking at the design of the Kia Rio, the entry car. “We really like that car. I especially like the tension in the rear quarter.” What was striking was that I put the Rio in contrast to a vehicle that the designer’s company had produced.)

Anyway, this week Kia took the wraps off the 2016 Optima. Since model year 2011, the Optima has certainly been a midsize car that, while perhaps not mentioned as often as the Aston-Martin-apparently influenced Ford Fusion, is one that is seriously striking.

Here is what a sketch for the 2016 Kia Optima looks like:


And here’s the real thing:

2016 Kia Optima SX

The Kids Are All Mobile

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. April 2015

When the Renault Twizy* was introduced a few years back, one of the points that Renault stressed is that the urban electric vehicle is “safer than a two- or three-wheeler.” Which would be a bike or a trike.

The Twizy has four wheels and a roof, an airbag for the driver, disc brakes, and optional doors. Yes, safer than hanging it out there on a bike or a trike.


It is a compact two-seater, measuring just 7.7-feet long and 4-feet wide. It weighs 992 pounds. It is powered by a 13-kW motor.

According to Renault, approximately 15,000 Twizys are on the road in Europe.

And there is likely to be considerably more, thanks to a move in France to adopt the European Union’s regulation regarding those who are permitted to drive “light quadracycles.”

The legislation has it that a 14-year-old with a BSR safety certificate can legally drive a light quadracycle. Previously, the permissible age was 16.

Just think: packs of 8th and 9th graders can now be on the roll down the Champs de Elysee in Twizys.

*About that name. Apparently it is derived from a vehicle for two—TWIn—that’s simple to drive—eaSY. (Yes, the name has a z not an s. Must be a French thing.)

The Kids Aren’t All Right

31. March 2015

One of the features offered on the forthcoming 2016 Chevy Malibu is called “Teen Driver.”

The system is being positioned as something that “provides parents with a tool to help encourage safe driving habits for their kids, even when they are not in the car with them.”

Or put more plainly: It keeps an eye on the kid behind the wheel.

Teen Driver, available on the all-new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu

Essentially, the parent, after pairing the teen’s key fob with the system via the Chevy MyLink system (in cars so equipped), can set the top speed of the car (from 40 to 75 mph). If exceeded, a visual and audible warning kicks in.

But what is more to the point of this system is that it generates a report that includes metrics like distance driven, maximum speed traveled, over-speed warnings issued, stability control events, and antilock brake events.

In other words, should said teen not drive in a “responsible” manner, even though the parental unit may not be with the teen, a virtual monitor is in place, taking note of the driving behavior.

While one might think this is a bit on the Big Brother side, the essential nature of things like this can be extrapolated from a study on teen drivers recently conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The study was conducted by capturing some 1,700 videos of teen drivers in action behind the wheel.

Turns out that they’re generally doing more than paying attention to the task at hand (a.k.a., driving).

And as a result, they are distracted. Distraction, the study finds, was a factor in 58% of the crashes studied that involved teens. Of that number, 89% of the road-departure crashes and 76% of the rear-end crashes had being otherwise occupied as a causal factor.

Apparently, this is a finding that is rather different than the one from NHTSA, which reckoned that distraction was a factor in only 14% of all teen crashes.

That’s a fairly substantial delta.

While cell phone use is a nontrivial contributor to the number of crashes (12%), there are other, non-tech-related causes, as well. That is, “interacting with one or more passengers” accounted for 15%, looking at something in the vehicle 10%, and looking at something outside the vehicle 9%.

Singing and bustin’ a move behind the wheel accounted for 8%.

This last one brings us back to the Chevy Teen Driver. Another of the features mutes the audio (including anything brought in and linked to the audio system) if the driver or front seat passenger isn’t buckled in.

So at least there is a measure of safety vis-à-vis that 8%.

The Volt Recharged

By: Gary S. Vasilash 30. March 2015

“Gen 1 or better!”

That, says Andrew Farah, vehicle chief engineer for the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, was the motto he and his team lived by as they developed the second-generation car.

2016 Chevrolet Volt

Realize that when they were developing the first generation—which appeared as a model year 2011 car—not only was this a period during which General Motors was undergoing some significant modifications and changes at all levels, but the team was creating an extended-range electric vehicle, something that was not exactly status quo technology at the time.

While the sales of the Volt have been modest (e.g., in 2014, 18,805 were delivered), Farrar and his colleagues have discovered that Volt owners are a special breed in that whereas ordinary compact sedans generally don’t have committed fans, that is certainly the case with the Volt. Consequently, they were able to get a significant amount of input regarding where the owners thought there could be better.

Volt 2

One of the things that was asked for was an increase in electric range. For the 2015 MY Volt, the battery capacity was improved from 16.5 kWh to 17.1 kWh. For the 2016 Volt, there is an all-new battery, which has a capacity of 18.4 kWh.

The previous-generation Volts have had an all-electric range of 38 miles. The 2016 Volt will have a 50-mile all-electric range.

It is not just the battery, of course, that makes the difference. Overall, they reduced the mass of the vehicle by more than 200 lb. (3,543 vs. 3,786 lb.)

They added the Regen on Demand feature (using paddles mounted on the rear of the steering wheel to activate regenerative braking), something that had been previously only available on the Cadillac ELR.

Overall, Farrar says on this week’s edition of “Autoline After Hours,” they fundamentally changed everything. And he explains much of what they did to make this new Volt a better Volt, one, he says, is likely to have more mainstream appeal (which he acknowledges owes a lot to the new design of the car).

Farrar talks with host John McElroy, Frank Marcus of Motor Trend and me on what is a fascinating discussion of EV technology.

In addition to which, the panel, after Farrar leaves the set, talks about a number of other things, including the BBC’s dismissal of Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson for exceedingly bad behavior, annoyances in cars, and several others subjects.

All of which you can see right here:

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