Autofield Blog

Not a MINI Flying Ace

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. May 2015

Some people may look at the hipster in this MINI and think of those Charles Schultz drawings of Snoopy sitting on top of the dog house, wearing a World War I leather flying helmet, scarf, and large goggles.

Mini glasses

The goggles certainly resonate.

The person here is not going after some imaginary Red Baron, but is wearing “MINI Augmented Vision powered by MINI Connected” spectacles.

This is essentially a heads-up display that uses the lenses of the glasses as the display such that information related to driving—safety alerts, driving directions—appears seemingly just above the steering wheel.

Explained Robert Richter, senor advanced technology engineer, BMW Group Technology Office, “Incorporating AR technology into the MINI Augmented Vision glasses allows for a wide range of capabilities, such as added visibility when navigating traffic, backing up, or trying to squeeze into a tight parking spot.”

When in the car, the AR glasses are integrated with the on-board MINI Connected infotainment platform and can be operated using vehicle controls, such as steering wheel buttons. When out of the car, the wearer can use the AR glasses by interfacing through a touchpad and buttons on the right temple.

The technology was developed in cooperation with Qualcomm and the glasses were designed by BMW’s Designworks. Production is performed with assistance from ODG (Osterhout Design Group).

Clearly, the Google Glass comes to mind (if Snoopy doesn’t). And as most people know, Google stopped distribution of its smart eyewear earlier this year. The general problem seems to have been one of a perception of the wearers as being uncool.

While the guy in this photo certainly looks cool enough, that’s probably a function of how he looks without the eyewear.

Many supplier companies are chasing heads-up displays and augmented reality for automotive applications, most of which are centered on the vehicle, not on the bridge of one’s nose.

On the Lotus Small Car Platform

By: Gary S. Vasilash 30. April 2015

There is probably no topic of more interest to many people in the auto industry when a car comes out is “what platform is it on?”

And there is probably no greater effort—this side of achieving greater fuel efficiency and/or reducing emissions—by automotive executives and engineers than reducing the number of platforms.

Platforms—those fundamental structures upon which vehicles are built—are exceedingly important.

Which brings us to Lotus.

Elise show car

Elise S1 Show Car (1995)

And its “Small Car Platform.”

Last week the company announced that it has produced 40,000 units on its Small Car Platform.

Which is notable because that platform was introduced, with the Lotus Elise.

In 1995.

Yes, 20 years for 40,000 vehicles.

And some people say that it is taking Tesla a long time to ramp up production.



340R (2000)

The Small Car Platform has been used for several small cars in addition to the Elise. Like the Exige, Europa, 2-Eleven, 340R, and various race vehicles.

Jean-Marc Gales, CEO, Group Lotus said, “The small car platform was a landmark development in 1995 and developed at the right time in the company’s history. Yet, in an environment of continuous improvement, while a correlation exists between today’s platform and the first of the lightweight, bonded and extruded aluminum structures, it has altered radically. It remains a benchmark in light weight and efficiency and is as advanced and market-leading today as it was 20 years ago.”

While there is certainly some corporate bombast in that, clearly Lotus is known for its superb engineering, so the Small Car Platform is a testament to that.

Exige S

Exige S S2 (2006)


2-Eleven (2007)


Europa SE (2008)

2015 Nissan Juke SL AWD CVT

By: Gary S. Vasilash 29. April 2015

There is no car on the market that has more character than the Nissan Juke. And character, that notion of personality, is one that is polarizing for many people when it comes to this car. As in love or hate or confusion.

Especially confusion. As in having someone say, “Er, that’s a, um, ah, [cough-cough], nice car?” And they’re trying to make a statement, not ask a question.

2015 Nissan JUKE

This is a car that has an overall design, from front to back and all points in between, where it is highly evident that it has been designed. This is a car that has an overall design, from front to back and all points in between, that is more characteristic of something that you’d see at an Autorama than in a dealer’s lot.

It is exotic. Rare. Unusual.

Look at it this way: Last year in the U.S., Nissan delivered 38,184 Jukes. It delivered just 7,984 fewer LEAFs—and that’s an all-electric vehicle.

It is somewhat surprising that there aren’t more cars like the Juke. I don’t mean cars with comparatively low sales—there are plenty of cars with low sales (heck, the Juke outsold all of the cars from Mitsubishi in 2014, 33,521)—but I mean cars that have outré styling. After all, modern manufacturing practices make it more practical for economic low-volume production, so why worry about the most common denominator?

There were three things that surprised me about the Juke.

· The price

· The powertrain

· The interior

And not in particularly good ways.

2015 Nissan JUKE

The base MSRP for this Juke is $26,940. Yes, it has AWD. But the base for a Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is $25,995, and you can climb a mountain with that thing, should you be so inclined.

The vehicle is powered by a 1.6-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged engine that produces a more-than respectable 188 hp. But the vehicle is also equipped with a continuously variable transmission, like most Nissan cars are nowadays. While there are those who don’t like CVTs, I am not one of them. Nissan has done a good job, by and large, with them. But I was astonished that when I had a cold start of the vehicle—and I am talking above freezing—the powertrain was woefully unresponsive: It was like driving an automatic in low gear. In fact, on more than one occasion when pulling out of a subdivision onto a surface street I looked at the shift selector to make sure that I didn’t have it in low, which is a selection that doesn’t exist on a CVT. Disappointing.

Then the interior. One of the options to that aforementioned MSRP is $250 for a center armrest. One of the standard features is heating for the leather-appointed seats. The switches to turn the heating on and off happens to be located under the center armrest. Which means that if you’re driving the Juke, access is not something you’re able to achieve to turn that on or off. Consider that a design flaw. Then there is the fact that it seems as though the Juke is where all of the hard plastics that are pretty much gone from the Nissan lineup have gone. And when’s the last time you saw a 2015 model car with a giant door scribed into the plastic of the instrument for the passenger’s side airbag? And at the risk of piling on to all this, remember how car’s used to have “mouse fur” headliners? If you’re at all nostalgic, get inside the Juke.

The vehicle does offer a lot in the way of technology, from LED accent lights to the Nisan Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection and more.

But you’ve really got to love the exterior looks, I think, to make it a consideration.

Selected specs

Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged I4

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 188 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 1,600-5,200 rpm

Transmission: Continuously variable

Steering: Electric power assisted

Wheelbase: 99.6 in.

Length: 162.4 in.

Width: 69.5 in.

Height: 61.8 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.35

Curb weight: 3,209 lb.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 26/31/28 mpg

Chevrolet Finds New Roads (FNR concept)

By: Gary S. Vasilash 28. April 2015

Last week in Shanghai, Chevrolet revealed the Chevrolet-FNR, an autonomous electric concept vehicle.


The vehicle, which has quite clearly a design that is more like something one might find in a SF movie or video game, features laser headlight and taillights and dragonfly dual swing doors.

It was designed at the GM Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC), GM’s joint venture with SAIC.


The color of the car is “Mid-night Glimmer,” which was developed for the concept car by the BASF Coating Div. in collaboration with the PATAC design team.

Because the FNR has autonomous capability, the front seats can swivel 180 degrees so that the people in the front can have a tête-à-tête with those in the rear.

The vehicle features hubless electric wheel motors and a wireless charge system. This vehicle doesn’t have mere pushbutton star, but in keeping with its futuristic advancement, iris-recognition start.

Chances are, we’ll see Mid-night Glimmer paint before most of the other features of the Chevrolet-FNR.

BMW Builds the Car of the 21st Century

By: Gary S. Vasilash 27. April 2015

According to Sandy Munro, who heads up engineering consultancy Munro & Associates, BMW spent approximately $2.8-billion on developing the i3.

Munro & Associates spent approximately $2-million taking the i3 apart. Completely apart. Even—in the case of the batteries—to the molecular level.


This is what the future looks like: BMW i3s at the Port Jersey Vehicle Distribution Center

Munro considers the i3 to be the “watershed.” Every car before it was one thing. Every car after it will be something else. He says that because of the way the carbon-fiber bodied, aluminum framed, electric-powered vehicle is designed, engineered, and produced, it is analogous to, and as consequential as, the Model T.

Because of the disassembly, all the analysis to board level, all of the calculating for costing purposes, Munro finds that the BMW engineers have created not only a vehicle, but process knowledge and capability that is extensible to other vehicles, that should revolutionize the thinking at other OEMs. . .although as he points out in this week’s “Autoline After Hours,” he has found limited interest in the 40,000-page report they have produced as a result of their work by U.S.-based OEMs.

That said, he has had, and continues to have, numerous visits by Chinese car companies.

Unlike most shows, where the guest is on set for 30 minutes, Munro talks to host John McElroy, Lindsay Brooke of Automotive Engineering International and me for the full hour—and then some.

So if you’re interested in composite-intensive vehicles, electric vehicles, automotive benchmarking, automotive design, automotive engineering, or why companies like Munro & Associates are in need of engineers, then this is required viewing:


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