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Mustang Production Launched

By: Gary S. Vasilash 29. August 2014

This is Joe Hinrichs. Hinrichs is Ford president of The Americas. The photo was taken yesterday at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan.

2015 Ford Mustang Begins Production at Flat Rock Assembly Plant

Yes, that’s the 2015 Ford Mustang.

It went into production at Flat Rock yesterday.

In April, Mustang celebrated its 50th anniversary. Some 9.2-million of them have been sold since. You don’t need a whole lot of fingers to count the number of vehicle nameplates that have been in continuous production for 50 years.

“Mustang is and will continue to be an automotive icon,” said Hinrichs.

They are familiar with the Mustang at the Flat Rock plant. Last year, nine years after production moved there from Dearborn, they had built a million of them.

“What an honor it is for the hardworking and dedicated UAW Local 3000 workers of Flat Rock Assembly Plant to build the next-generation Mustang,” said UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles. “I don’t think there is any place in the world where this vehicle is not known. To build it right here in Michigan is something to be proud of.”

The Mustang will become even more well-known as they are also producing a right-hand steering version of the car for 25 export markets where they drive on the “other” side of the road.

Flat Rock has been assembling cars since 1987. It was originally a Mazda plant. Ford has been there since 1992, when it purchased a 50% share in the facility.  It subsequently acquired the whole thing.

Last year, Ford invested $55-million in the plant for a flexible body shop. They’ve also installed a three-wet paint system, a high-tech dirt-detection system, and robotic laser brazing.

In addition to the Mustang, they also build the Ford Fusion in Flat Rock.

Chances are, as good as the Fusion is, few people will notice for a while.

What Happens Post-Lead-Acid Batteries to the Lead?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 28. August 2014

As researchers at MIT point out, at some point, conventional automotive lead-acid batteries are going to give way to improved technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries.

According to Angela M. Belcher, the W.M. Keck professor of Energy at MIT, “Once the battery technology evolves, over 200 million lead-acid batteries will potentially be retired in the United States, and that could cause a lot of environmental issues.”

JCI china

Johnson Controls battery plant in Changxing

To say nothing of all of the other places in the world—think China—where there are literally millions of cars and consequent batteries.

Belcher says that now, 90% of the lead recovered from old batteries is used to produce new batteries, but if there aren’t new batteries being produced, that’s a lot of lead that is going to quickly pile up.

So she and her colleagues have done some work that may turn that lead into if not exactly gold, at least energy

They’ve determined that it is possible to make solar cells with organolead halide persovskite, which can be derived from car batteries.

The peroskite photovoltaic material is just 0.5-mm thick. A single car battery contains a sufficient amount of lead to produce a sufficient amount of solar cells to power 30 homes.

“It went from initial demonstrations to good efficiency in less than two years,” said Belcher. The power-conversion efficiency is more than 19%, which is said to be close to that achieved by commercial silicon-based solar cells.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

By: Gary S. Vasilash 27. August 2014

Apparently, if you own a Corvette, this is what you don’t want to see:

Chevrolet Corvette Valet Mode

These people are valets. And as anyone who has ever seen “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off” knows, leaving your car with a valet, be it a Corvette or a Ferrari, can have some untoward consequences. Which explains why Chevrolet has recently  launched “Valet Mode with Performance Data Recorder” for the Corvette, which allows drivers to lock the interior storage, disable the infotainment system and record video, audio and vehicle data when it is active.

“Think of it as a baby monitor for your car,” said Harlan Charles, Corvette product manager. “Anyone who has felt apprehension about handing over their keys will appreciate the peace of mind of knowing exactly what happened while their baby was out of sight.”

Some baby.

While a valet racking up some hard miles on a Corvette is certainly a possibility, my week with a Corvette was one where I had the sense that even the slightest infraction would lead to expensive and legal consequences because there is one thing about that car that is unlike any I’ve had the time to spend time with:

Everyone looks at the Corvette. I mean everyone.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible

I stopped at a gas station to fill it up. A guy in a Dodge Ram came over and started talking to me about the ‘Vette, then asked if I might have any idea why his HEMI was idling rough. It was as though my proximity to the ‘Vette provided me with mystical mechanical powers.

I stopped at a rest stop on I-75 about halfway up the Michigan mitten. When I was walking back to the vehicle there were two older guys who were standing by the rear right quarter panel talking with some animation about the car. They didn’t say a word to me, but as I pulled away, they both gave me thumbs-up.

As I continued up I-75 I fortunately found myself in a bit of congested, slow-moving traffic because there was a police officer, sitting in his Crown Vic, hidden in a copse of trees. I could see his head following the car’s progress as I drove (legally) by.

I drew looks from young women who were walking down Front Street in Traverse City—but later realized that the car was receiving the looks.

All of which is to say that while using the 720-p high-definition camera and audio recorder is useful for recording one’s on-track adventures, the Corvette is such a striking car on public roads that anyone trying anything out of sorts with one’s ‘Vette is someone who is going to garner more attention than he or she might have bargained for.

Even though the car has been out there for about a year (the first vehicles were shipped to dealers from the Bowling Green Assembly Plant on September 18, 2013), the design remains sufficiently striking that it still demands attention.


The Corvette in question is the convertible version.

As you may know, when you have a car that has a folding top, the top has to fold somewhere. And that somewhere is generally where you might otherwise have trunk space.

The Corvette has style, sleekness and sexiness in spades.

What it doesn’t have a great deal of also begins with “S”: space.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible

The cargo volume for the Corvette Convertible is 10-cubic feet.

To put that into some sort of perspective: the Chevy Spark is a minicar. It is the smallest Chevy you can buy. While it is a hatchback—which the Corvette certainly isn’t—it has more cargo capacity than the ‘Vette: 11.4-cubic feet behind the rear seat. No, no one is going to cross shop a Corvette and a Spark. This example is simply to provide a sense of how the trunk in the Corvette Convertible is essentially a slot into which I’m guessing was designed to accommodate a set of golf clubs.

And it should be pointed out that the interior is similarly cargo-challenged.

Again: I get it. No one buys a Corvette to have storage cubbies in abundance. There are things like minivans for that.

But it did occur to me that while the car is certainly comfortable enough to be a daily driver, one would be challenged to have it as one’s only car.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible

In effect, it brought to mind an argument on behalf of full electric vehicles (EVs). Take the aforementioned Spark. It is available as an EV. It has a range of 82 miles. Which means that it isn’t the car that you would drive from Plymouth to Traverse City unless you wanted to dedicate a good chunk of a week getting there. You need a second car.

Lots of EV naysayers complain about the impracticality of EVs due to their limited range (unless, of course, that EV is a Tesla Model S, then they complain about Elon Musk instead).

Did you ever hear someone complain about the impracticality of a Corvette?

I haven’t, either.


There is one aspect of this Corvette that I found not only practical, but somewhat amazing:

The fuel economy.

I averaged just over 29 miles per gallon driving up to Traverse City, around Traverse City, then back to Plymouth.

There was no hypermiling involved here, no attempt to have the best-ever mileage ever achieved in a Corvette.

I didn’t even have the drive mode set to “Eco.”

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible

Mind you, this is a car with 455 hp. You could take five Spark engines (84 hp each) and not get to 455. (OK, I am done with Spark references.)

Yet thanks to some clever engineering like “Active Fuel Management” (a.k.a., shutting off cylinders when you don’t need them working), direct injection, and variable valve timing, there is that big 6.2-liter V8, running with astonishing efficiency. (The seven-speed manual helped, too.)

29 mpg. Yes, that number is on the sticker. But that number is real.


Speaking of numbers, know that the base MSRP for the convertible is $58,800, which is, vis-à-vis its speed and ride and handling characteristics, something of a bargain. The car that I happened to drive had $10,180 worth of options (a car that I won’t cite has a starting MSRP of $12,995—the whole car), everything ranging from premium Bose audio to a heads-up display (quite useful in this application, I must say, when you really want to keep your eyes on the road) to magnetic ride control (really a smooth ride along some of Michigan’s underfunded byways) to red brake calipers (nicely offsetting the Arctic White exterior and accentuating the Adrenaline Red interior).

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible

All good stuff. So worth it. (C’mon: If you’re going to buy a Corvette, how many are you likely ever to buy? Might as well go all in.)

Chevrolet’s sister division Cadillac once labeled itself as “Standard of the World.”

But when you run the numbers—performance and price—it is clear that the Corvette Stingray can clearly carry that moniker.

I wonder whatever happened to Mia Sara. . . .

Selected specs

Engine: 6.2-liter, direct-injected V8 with variable valve timing

Horsepower: 455 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and heads

Transmission: Seven-speed manual with active rev matching

Steering: Variable-ratio rack-and-pinion w/electric power assist

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Length: 176.9 in.

Width: 73.9 in.

Height: 48.6 in.

Seating capacity: 2

Curb weight: 3,362 lb.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 17/29/21 mpg

Johnson Controls Assesses Hydroforming & Laser Welding for Seats

By: Gary S. Vasilash 26. August 2014

Hydroforming and laser welding may give rise to lighter car seats. That seems to be what’s indicated by a project that Johnson Controls Automotive Seating is pursuing in Germany along with the Institute for Integrated Production and the Hanover Laser Center.

JCI seat

They are developing tailored tubes that are a combination of steel and aluminum that can then be used in applications like seat backs.

According to Andreas Eppinger, group vice president, technology management, at Johnson Controls Automotive Seating, “The primary challenge is first connecting the steel and aluminum tube sections. The hollow components are given their final geometry by means of hydroforming.”

Conventional welding hasn’t been able to provide a sufficient bond to withstand the pressures that are involved in hydroforming, which is why laser brazing is being used.

Explaining the rationale for the 24-month project, which is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the Research Association for Automotive Technology, Eppinger said, “We could realize an enormous reduction in weight with seat backs made of hybrid tailored tubes, not only from the lighter material mix of steel and aluminum, but also from using few components. We are also researching the option of a direct, high-strength integration of the seat back recliner. This way we could finally do away with the additional required adjustment parts and create global production processes that are both faster and more efficient.”

Audi’s Advanced Diagnostic Robot

By: Gary S. Vasilash 25. August 2014

Audi of America has been on an impressive upward trajectory for some time now. Through July 2014, it had 43 consecutive months of record sales.

This means, of course, that there are more Audis on the road. And while the company is building them with high levels of quality, things can and do go wrong, which means that Audi customers—like the customers of any other brand—can find themselves in the dealership.

Audi art

Jamie Dennis, Audi Quality & Technical Service Director, explains that most problems can be handled by the technicians in a given dealership’s service bay. Sometimes, however, problems are elevated such that one of 20 Technical Field Managers needs to come out and lend some expertise to the problem at hand.

Given that they’re working hard to improve the customer experience, given the increasing number of Audis on the road, and given the fact that there are a limited number of the specialists, Dennis and his team decided that there had to be another way.

And so the Audi Technical Support team took a page from the medical community, and worked with VGo, a provider of robotic telepresence systems, and developed “ART”: Audi Robotic Telepresence.

Explains Brian Stockton, General Manager, Technical Support, Audi of America, “The device will give local service technicians valuable one-on-one interaction with their counterparts at Audi of America, which will not only benefit the speed and depth of service at the dealer level, but create an improved ownership experience for the customer in general.”

ART is a remotely controlled robot that is activated once the dealer-based technician decides that it is necessary to get some addition help from Audi of America. There is a screen where the “face” might be about the size of a small tablet computer; within the screen there is a small picture-in-a-picture, showing the technician back at HQ. There are both a borescope and a hand-held camera. The remote technician guides the person in the service department through the diagnostic analysis. When, for example, the borescope goes into a cylinder, the on-site technician sees the image on the ART screen and the remote advisor sees it on his, too, as there is a WiFi connection via the dealership’s secure network.

Dennis explains that this development was done by Audi of America and the people back at Audi in Ingolstadt are most impressed, seeing the potential for ART not only in dealerships, but actually for diagnostic maintenance personnel on the factory floor.

All this and discussions of automotive R&D spending, Mark Reuss on Tesla, and a whole lot more on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” when John McElroy and I are joined by freelance auto journalist Mike Strong.

It’s just a click away:


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