Autofield Blog

What Would George Washington Drive?*

By: Gary S. Vasilash 4. November 2014

Today is Election Day in the U.S.

While not exactly being a Nate Silver for this year’s election, John Krafcik, president of TrueCar, says, “There’s unquestionably a link between vehicle choice and the political landscape—you see this clearly in the state-by-state data.”

Which you can see here, the breakdown between political orientation and whether people in that state are pickup or car buyers.


“Our bold call is that trucks and SUVs will outnumber cars and minivans at polling stations in swing states this year”—of which says there are 10 out of the 36 states in which there are Senate races—“putting Republicans back in control of the Senate for the first time since 2006.”

*Probably a horse-and-wagon.

Are Two Strokes Better than Four?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 3. November 2014

A typical internal combustion engine at work in any car or truck today is a four-stroke: intake, compression, combustion, exhaust. This means that there needs to be things like valves and camshafts and cylinder heads.

Two-stroke engines are simpler. Compression and combustion. Instead of valves, there are ports in the walls of the cylinder for intake and exhaust. The engines are much simpler than four-stroke engines. And smaller. And less expensive. And yet, you’re likely to find a two-stroke engine on a lawnmower or a jet ski, not a car or truck. This is because two-strokes tend to have issues related to producing more pollution and not having the sort of longevity of a four-stroke (you’re not going to see a 100,000-mile warranty on that snow mobile).


Enter Achates Power of San Diego. For the past 10 years the company has been working on the development of two-stroke diesel engines for use in the auto industry.

But these two-stroke engines are wholly unlike those that you’ll find elsewhere. That’s because they’re using a configuration that has two opposed pistons in a single cylinder. According to David Johnson, Achates president and CEO, a man who has diesel experience with Navistar, Ford and General Motors, Achates is solving many of the concerns related to two-strokes, and, because of their approach of having two pistons in one cylinder they have developed an even simpler architecture for what is already more straightforward than a four-stroke.

He says they’re getting the power and the performance. That they’re getting better combustion so there are reduced exhaust emissions. That they’re providing a means through which OEMs can get the kinds of miles per gallon that they need to make reaching CAFE affordable for both the manufacturer and the consumer.

And David Johnson talks about this and more on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Lindsay Brooke of SAE International joins John McElroy and me in the studio to talk with Johnson.

In addition to which, Brooke, McElroy and I discuss a variety of subjects, including John’s lunch with Dan Gurney, my trip to Wolfsburg to drive the eGolf and the GTE, and other automotive-related topics. Like the new Voltec powertrain for the forthcoming 2016 Volt.

All of which you can see here:

Mazdas Made in Mexico

By: Gary S. Vasilash 31. October 2014

In January, Mazda de Mexico Vehicle Operation (MMVO) started production of the Mazda3; last week the new Mazda2—which is known as the Demio in Japan and which will be a 2016 model when launched in the U.S.—went into production in the plant in Salamanca.


In addition to which, the company started engine machining operations at MMVO.

Said MMVO president Keishi Egawa, “With the start of production of the all-new Mazda2, operations underway at the engine machining plant, and an increase in our annual production capacity, we now have an even stronger production framework capable of supplying global markets with SKYACTIV products of the same high quality level as those made in Japan.”

In addition to MMVO, Mazda produces the Mazda2 at its plant in Hofu, Japan, and at Auto Alliance (Thailand).

The Mazda2 is clearly more popular in other parts of the world than it is in the U.S.

The new version of the Demio was named the 2014-2015 Car of the Year Japan on October 13, for example.

The current-generation Mazda2 available in the U.S. has had sales of just 12,697 units through September. By way of comparison, Chevrolet moved 30,937 Sparks and Ford 52,403 Fiestas during the same period.

However, to be fair, it is worth noting that the 12,697 Mazda2s is a bigger accomplishment than the 10,339 Yaris models from Toyota.

Given how well the other SKYTACTIV Mazdas have been executed, presumably the 2016 Mazda2 will be a more capable contender.

Why Race? An Answer from Audi

By: Gary S. Vasilash 30. October 2014

This coming weekend there will be the sixth of eight FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) races. It will be held at the Shanghai International Circuit.

WEC 6 Hours of Fuji 2014

Which is notable for those who are interested in the series, which pits builders Toyota (which is presently in first place in the Manufacturer category with 183 points), Audi (175) and Porsche (109) against each other with their LMP1-H hybrid vehicles.

However, people sometimes wonder why companies spend millions on racing programs.

And in its news release about the Shanghai race, Audi spells it out rather plainly:

“The track is regarded as very challenging, the team achieved victory there last year, and the ‘Middle Kingdom’ has evolved into the largest sales market for AUDI AG. In China, the company delivered 415,704 automobiles between January and September – 16 percent more than a year ago. Audi operates production sites in the cities of Changchun and Foshan.”

To amplify that a little: at the Beijing Auto Show in April, Rupert Stadler, chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, said: “We are extending our production capacities in Changchun and Foshan up to 700.000 automobiles per year with Foshan being home to the promising Audi A3 Sedan.”

They sell a lot of cars in China. They are building a lot of cars in China.

To amplify that a lot: Stadler also said, “In fact, China has become our second home.”

That’s why Audi is racing in China.

Incidentally: the A3 Sedan that is available in the U.S. market isn’t being built in Foshan, but in Györ, Hungary, where Audi has been building the TT Coupé and Roadster as well as the A3 Cabriolet for a number of years.

(And in case you’re wondering: there is no WEC race in Budapest.)

2015 Kia K900

By: Gary S. Vasilash 29. October 2014

One thing you may not know about Kia is that the rapidly growing vehicle manufacturer is “The Official Automotive Partner of the NBA.”

Yes, that’s as in National Basketball Association.

And even if you did know that, you might not know that LeBron James, legendary forward for the Cavaliers, is the first-ever Kia “K900 Luxury Ambassador.”


“Wait a minute,” you say.

“K900? What’s that?”

Yes, this is one more thing that you may not know.

Sure, Kia is the company with the funky Soul and the stylish Optima. But it has recently entered a higher automotive realm, one befitting of King James.

“I was a Kia K900 driver and fan before we decided to become partners, so I'm really excited to be Kia’s first-ever luxury ambassador," said James.

That’s right: James, who has a reported salary of $20,644,400 for this season, rolls in a Kia.

Which brings us to the full-size, V8-powered, rear-drive K900.

K900 2

This is not your uncle’s Kia, unless your uncle happens to be Scrooge McDuck, a character who is as rich as he is thrifty.

That is, the K900 is a sedan that has all of the luxury accoutrements that you can reasonably expect (leather and wood; seats that are heated and mechanically driven in all sorts of axes; telematics galore; sensors fore, side and aft; LED headlights that adjust adaptively vis-à-vis steering wheel location; a sunroof as big as the Ritz) and even at least one that seems outré: a power closing trunk lid (that’s right: push a button on the lid inner and it closes for you, even though the truck action is so smooth that simply bringing your arm down from having reached up to activate the button would probably be sufficient to secure the hatch.

K900 3

It has that aforementioned V8 engine that produces 420 hp and an eight-speed automatic transmission that is so smooth as to be operationally invisible.

It rides on standard 19s.

It has a base MSRP of $59,500, and when you opt for the “VIP Package,” which adds $6,000 to the sticker, you get a surfeit of stuff, including technology like adaptive cruise control, heads-up display, a 12.3-inch full LCD TFT instrument cluster (i.e., the gauges and dials look like analog gauges and dials except they’re digital, not physical), and even front-seat power headrests (after all, who wants to tussle with those things?).

The vehicle is about comfort. Although that V8 is powerful, it has to power a 4,555-lb. sedan. You can get a 2015 F-150 pickup that weighs less. So this is not about fast getaways, but about stately progress.

K900 4

Stately at a comparatively low price point.

One more thing. LeBron James is 6’8” and weighs on the order of 250 lb. Meaning that he is a big man. Yet he evidentially (even before he became the Luxury Ambassador) he found the K900 sufficiently roomy. Given that the average U.S. male is 5’9” and weighs 195 lb. and the average female is 5’3” and 166 lb., there is certainly more than enough leather-covered furniture in the K900 to make anyone feel reasonably royal.

Selected specs

Engine: 5.0-liter, DOHC, direct-injected V8

Horsepower: 420 @ 6,400 rpm

Torque: 376 @ 5,000 rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Steering: Electro-hydraulic

Wheelbase: 119.9 in.

Length: 200.6 in.

Width: 78.8 in.

Height: 58.7 in.

Curb weight: 4,555 lb.

Seating capacity: 5

Passenger volume: 110.8-cu-ft.

Cargo volume: 15.9 cu-ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 15/23/18 mpg

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