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Autos Up North

By: Gary S. Vasilash 11. August 2014

If it is early August, then it is time for the annual Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Michigan, time for John McElroy of “Autoline” and me to head north to do more listening than talking, then talking after all of our listening.

Continental turbocharger

One of the things we talk about is this, a turbocharger with an aluminum housing that Continental developed with BMW Group for a 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine that is being initially used by MINI.

This year (it is worth noting that the event has taken place Up North—as those of us in southeastern Michigan so geographically chauvinistically put it—for 49 years) the topics included:

· Mapping the Pathway to World-Class Manufacturing

· Featherweight Competition: Agile, Light and Strong

· Connected and Automated Vehicles: Driving Forward Fast

· Advanced Powertrain

· Onwards and Upwards? The Sales Forecast

· Attracting and Retaining Talent in an Era of Changing Technology and Demographics

· Managing the Global Supply Chain and Logistics

· Automotive Strategy: Pathways to Prosperity

· Designing for Technology and the Customer

· Global Opportunities, Global Decisions, Final Outcomes

· Purchasing and Automaker/Supplier Relations in Today’s Automotive Industry

Given all that, you can well imagine why John and I have been attending the event for a non-trivial number of years (although not 49).

As we were there, and as there were a number of interesting, informed, and influential people on the scene, we decided to do an “Autoline After Hours” in the sunshine.

We sat down with:

· Chuhee Lee, Deputy Director, Volkswagen Electronics Research Lab, VW Group of America

· Han Hendricks, vice president, Advanced Product Development & Sales, Johnson Controls

· Dr. Mark White, Chief Engineer, Body Complete Business Unit, Jaguar Land Rover

· Kregg Wiggins, senior vice president, Powertrains, Continental

· Prof. Frank Zhao, PhD, Director, TASRI (Tsinghua Automotive Strategy Research Institute)

So we talked telematics and autonomy. Car sharing and self-cleaning interior surfaces. Aluminum and other body materials. Turbochargers and dual-clutch transmissions. The China Market—and the various Chinese markets.

It’s a great way to come up to speed on a great deal that’s going on in the auto industry—all in just an hour.



A Consequence of Electrification

By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. August 2014

Although there is a whole lot of talk nowadays in the auto industry about materials including aluminum, ultra-high-strength steel, and composites, there is another material that, Jeff Owens, chief technology officer and executive vice president, Delphi Automotive, told the audience this week at the CAR Group Management Briefing Seminars that is going to have huge growth in automotive:


Delphi image

Speaking to the issue of increased networking and electrification in vehicles, he said that whereas there is currently about 7.5 kg of copper in the average car, that’s going to go to 15 kg.

What’s more, there is going to be an increase in wiring and cabling from 1 mile to 1.5 miles. There will be a need for vehicular voltage to go from 12 volts to 300 to 600 volts. What was once a $2 connector may become a $20 connector.

Just providing the support for an electrified powertrain will mean an additional cost from $500 to $800 per vehicle.

Speaking of cost: Owens says that he is doubtful that there will be fully autonomous cars not only because of the regulatory, legal and technical challenges (sensors, computing platforms, control systems, etc. etc. etc.), but: “Will the consumer pay for it?”

Proof the Recession Is Over

By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. August 2014

If you have any doubt that the global economy is gaining legs, know that Rolls-Royce, which announced record sales for the first half of 2014 (and noted that it is the leader in the segment of “motor cars selling above Euros 200,000 net”), confirmed that it is developing a new Rolls, another to put in the proverbial multi-car garage, joining the Phantom, Ghost and Wraith in its lineup. Torsten Müller-Ötvös, Chief Executive Officer, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, described it by saying, “We are currently developing an exciting and thoroughly contemporary interpretation of a pinnacle drophead tourer which will introduce even more discerning men and women to Rolls-Royce ownership.”

Phantom Pinnacle

The new car is to be available in 2016.

Incidentally, in 2013 Rolls-Royce had record-setting global sales.

It delivered 3,630 vehicles.

Well, they are, after all, hand-crafted.

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2014 Lexus ES 350

By: Gary S. Vasilash 6. August 2014

The last-generation Lincoln Continental. The ninth. That, a knowledgeable friend suggested to me, is the vehicle that the Lexus ES—now the ES 350—has effectively replaced in the market. Or, as he explained, people who might have otherwise purchased a Lincoln Continental in the late ‘90s (this vehicle had its run from model year ’95 to ’02) would now buy the ES. He was, of course, correcting for age, meaning that he wasn’t suggesting that someone who would buy a Continental in, say, 1999 would be the same person who would be buying an ES 15 years later. (Nor would a person who might have purchased an ES in 1999—that would have been a third-generation car, the ES 300, possibly the Coach edition of the car—be likely to buy an ES 350—the 6th generation of the car today. The first gen, in case you are wondering, the 1990 ES 250, went on sale in the U.S. in September, 1989, and the second generation, the ES 300, showed up a mere two years later.)

ES 1

What my friend was saying is that the ES 350, like the Continental, is a large, comfortable front-drive car. (I had thought that the Continental was a rear-drive car, as the Lincoln Town Car was; that car had three generations, rolling off into the sunset in 2011. Just to add a bit of confusion to things, there was another rear-drive Lincoln available from model year 2000 to 2006. There is a rear-drive Lexus that also happens to have the “LS” nomenclature.)

OK. Let’s simply get back to the 2014 ES 350.

When you buy a four-door sedan nowadays, you sometimes discover that when you have someone open one of those second-row doors and climb in, you, if you are behind the wheel and a caring person, need to adjust your seat so far forward that you hope like mad that the airbag won’t deploy because you’d find that it would probably bruise and suffocate you before it was fully inflated.

That is not an issue with the ES 350.

ES 4

For this generation, the wheelbase was increased by 1.8 inches (to 111 inches) and that space pretty much went into the back seat. While the math may seem a bit bizarre, according to Lexus, the increase in rear leg room compared with the previous generation ES is 4.1 inches. Or what might be more meaningful: the front leg room is 41.9 inches and the rear is 40 inches, which is to say that there is sufficient room back there so that your backseat passenger is actually going to be comfortable while you are able to drive without getting overly intimate with the steering wheel. (Should, however, you like to move your driver’s seat around, know that there 10-way powered seats are standard, and 12-way heated and ventilated powered front seats, which allow the front cushions to extend an additional 1.4 inches for those who have long legs and are interested in a bit more support, are available.)

The point is that the cabin is roomy and comfortable.

ES 3

There are real knobs that can be used for things like adjusting the radio, as well as steering wheel-mounted controls. Assuming one opts for the navigation system (and it is hard to imagine that one would buy a car in this category without one), there is not only the obligatory 8-inch VGA screen in the center of the instrument panel, but also the “Remote Touch Interface,” or a square knob that allows moving the cursor around the screen to select things like audio stations or for navi setup. While it may sound awkward, it really isn’t, as there is an arm rest adjacent to the knob so that the knob comes readily to hand.

And while we’re in this consumer electronics-type space, know that the car when equipped with navigation comes with Lexus Enform, which brings to bear all of the apps that you may find necessary should you need reservations, movie tickets, or even emergency help.

The car has a 3.5-liter V6 engine (3.5—ES 350: get it?) and a six-speed automatic. It propels the 3,549-pound car quite nicely. Lexus claims a 0 to 60 time of 7.1 seconds, which can be translated as: You can get off the freeway ramp onto the freeway without a problem.

ES 2

The car has a another knob (this one is a nice big metallic one) that allows you to adjust the powertrain response and climate control setting to ECO or Sport (Normal is a default), with the first to eke out a bit more mileage from the fuel (and it is worth noting that the car operates on regular gas, not premium) and the Sport a bit more saucy.

It is rated at 21 city, 31 highway, and 24 mpg combined. I never saw anything close to 31, but the 24 figure was absolutely real.

Roomy, comfortable, responsive, handsomely styled. No, this is not the car that one would buy if they’re looking for a premium marque and rear-drive performance. This is the car that one would buy if they’re looking for something that is well executed and that will get them to where they need to go in an upscale manner.

The ES model has been a mainstay for Lexus from the start. And this current one simply underscores the fact that they really do pursue continuous improvement.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.5-liter V6

Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and heads

Transmission: Six-speed, electronically controlled

Steering: Electric rack and pinion

Wheelbase: 111.0 in.

Length: 192.7 in.

Width: 71.7 in.

Height: 57.1 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.27

Seating capacity: 5

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 21/31/24 mpg

Portlandia—Land of. . .Trucks?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. August 2014

When I think of Portland, I think of this


I don’t think of this


Yes, that’s a truck. A Freightliner.

And it turns out that Freightliner Corp. began manufacturing trucks in Portland back in the 1940s.

That’s right: truck manufacturing in Portland. Heavy-duty trucks, no less.

In 1981, Daimler bought Freightliner.

A couple weeks ago, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) started construction on a new $150-million headquarters in Portland.

In addition to Freightliner, DTNA also owns Western Star and Thomas Built buses.

Seems like there’s a whole lot more to Portland than coffee, microbreweries, and tragically hip people.

Thomas Built

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