Autofield Blog

April is the Windiest Month

By: Gary S. Vasilash 25. September 2014

Like many auto companies, Honda is working to reduce its environmental impact. For example, it is working toward achieving a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions from its U.S. automobile product lineup by 2020, compared to 2000 levels.

But in addition to making sure that its products are more energy efficient and powered, in some cases, by non-traditional fuels (hydrogen, electricity), Honda is applying that same thinking to its manufacturing operations, like the Honda Transmission Mfg. of America plant in Russells Point, Ohio.

Wind turbines at Honda Transmission Mfg. of America

There, it has installed two GE power-producing wind turbines.

This isn’t just a green-washing stunt, whereby it is all about the look and not the result. The company calculated that the two 260-ft tall turbines, with 160-ft blades, would provide approximately 10% of the plant’s energy needs, or some 10,000-megawatt hours (MWH) of electricity annually.

The turbines were installed in January 2014. The company has released information about how well the turbines have done during the first six months of operation, and it turns out that they’ve done better than expected.

Gary Hand, vp of Honda Transmission Mfg. of America, said, “The turbines’ operation has exceeded the projections established during product development.”

The units outperformed expectations for four of the six months. In April, for example, the turbines provided 16.26% of the plant’s energy requirements.

The turbines, incidentally, are owned by ConEdison Solutions, “leading energy services company that provides competitive power supply, renewable energy, sustainability services, and cost-effective energy solutions for commercial, industrial, residential, and government customers.”

Which means that Honda isn’t off the grid. It’s just using less of it.

2014 Kia Soul!

By: Gary S. Vasilash 24. September 2014

Unquestionably, the Kia Soul! (yes, the exclamation point is part of it, signifying that of the three trim levels, base, + and !, ! is the highest) is the most-polarizing car I’ve driven.

This might seem as though that is a blinding flash of the obvious, what is completely unexpected, to me, anyway, is that there was no age grouping of those who are pro and con. The polarization was completely mixed. While you might think that the kids would be all about the car—and it is clearly positioned to appeal to them—of all the cars that I’ve had in my mother’s driveway, of all the cars that she has been unable to identify, when I drove up in the Soul, she asked, “Is that a Kia?” and I nearly fell out of the leather seat (which is part of “The Whole Shebang Package,” which just goes to show you that the people at Kia have a clever point of view about their products in an industry that is all too often mired in a sense of serious dourness). And realize that this was before the Pope rolled around in a Soul in Seoul.

2015 Soul !

One friend was all about the audio system in the vehicle (again, a person who hasn’t been in her 20s for, um, well, a while) and gave credit to the company for having colors like Solar Yellow, which I admit was useful for spotting it in a crowded parking lot but not the sort of thing that I find to be a vehicular color unless it happens to be on a school bus.

Some people did a head-shake of pity, as though they thought it was sad to see either the car or someone of my vintage in the car (let’s be frank about this: when you have an advertising campaign that’s predicated on hamsters, you’re not trying to appeal to people who probably haven’t had furry pets of that nature for decades).

One of the mistakes that I think that many people make when it comes to the Soul! is to think that this is a cheap and cheerful car. It is certainly cheerful. Especially in Solar Yellow. And to go band to the somewhat binary nature of things: it elicits more smiles per mile than most other cars do. (Of course, at the same time there are scowls as a balance.)

2015 Soul !

The base MSRP for the car is $20,300. Not inexpensive. The aforementioned Whole Shebang (which also brings HID low-beam headlights, heated steering wheel, a meter cluster with a 4.3-inch color LCD screen, and an engine immobilizer, along with the leather and HVACed front seats) adds $2,500 to the tab. And the car I had included the “Sun & Sound Package,” with such things as sun in the form of a giant sunroof and sound in the form of an impressive Infinity audio kit. That is $2,600. Add the freight and handling ($795) and you find yourself at $26,195.

Yes, $26K for a Kia.

A cute Kia.

I suppose that one way to look at this is that although it may have a certain cartoonish charm to it, it is a real car. And real car, with lots of good, real stuff, costs real money. QED.

Apparently, more than a few people understand that. This is evidenced by the fact that with other geometric cars like the Nissan Cube going away and the Scion xB not going off of all that many dealers’ lots, the Soul! is doing exceedingly well in the market.

2015 Soul !

That is, Nissan reported Cube sales through August of 2,965 units. The xB is better, at 11,254. But Kia has moved 104,777 Souls through August. For the month of August alone it delivered 15,069 Souls, which is greater than the combined number of Cubes and xBs for the year so far (14,219).

Seems like something with more than a little bit of quirkiness is just the ticket in today’s market.

The Soul! has a 164-hp engine. You are not going to win drag races with it. The window sticker is 23 city/31 highway/26 combined mpgs. You are not going to win any hypermiling events with it.

But it has presence and attitude in abundance. And you will win a response from all who see you in it.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, DI, DOHC, I4

Horsepower: 164 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 151 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electric motor assist

Wheelbase: 101.2 in.

Length: 163 in.

Width: 70.9 in.

Height: 63 in.

Curb weight: 2,837 lb.

Coefficient of drag: 0.36

Seating capacity: 5

Passenger volume (w/sunroof) 96.8-cu-ft.

Cargo volume (rear seat up wo/luggage under tray): 24.2 cu-ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 23/31/26 mpg

Top 10 Lists: & “Most Comfortable Under $30K”

By: Gary S. Vasilash 23. September 2014

Comfortable, quiet and cheap. I mean economical. That’s what the folks at went for in their listing of the “Most Comfortable New Cars.”

It isn’t clear whether they used themselves as test subjects or used one of those robots that are used by Johnson Controls to measure the pressures of a derriere in a seat.

2014 Chevrolet Impala

The one they named the most comfortable is the Chevrolet Impala.

Which is, I will agree, a nice car. But it should be noted that the MSRP for the base trim level, the LS, is $27,885, so they’re squeaking under that $30,000 mark, especially when you take into account that the next higher trim, the 1LT, is $30,135, and it only goes up from there.

The other nine:

2014 Volvo S60

2014 Chrysler 300

2014 Buick Regal

2014 Toyota Avalon

2014 Nissan Altima

2014 Honda Accord

2014 Volkswagen Passat

2014 Buick Verano

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Two observations:

1. When it comes to comfort, the Buick Regal and Verano don’t hold a candle to Buicks of not-too-distant memory, so there ought to be a disqualification for that.

2. The Golf is one of the most enjoyable cars I’ve had the opportunity to drive this year, but how that makes it even into 10th place is an utter mystery.  It is not that it isn’t comfortable for the type of car that it is—which is a car that is meant to be driven, not, in effect, to have a La-Z-Boy experience in.

Inside China’s Most Precise Crash Facility

By: Gary S. Vasilash 22. September 2014

For a while, videos of Chinese cars being crash tested and crumpling up like cheap suits were pretty much diversionary viewing in the West. But as the Chinese auto industry gets a depth of knowledge, thanks, undoubtedly, to the Western automotive OEMs who have setup joint ventures in that country in order to gain access to the seemingly ever-expanding market, it just may be that the joke will be on the West.


This occurs to us with a description of a crash-test facility that we recently received. The massive operation was produced for the Chongqing Automotive Research Institute (CAERI) by a German company, MESSRING, a firm that has built more than 100 crash-test facilities around the world.

This facility for CAERI has floor space of 269,098-sq ft. The acceleration track is 965-ft long.

There are two electric propulsion systems with a combined power rating of 2.4-mW. Vehicles weighing up to five tons can be accelerated to 74.5 mph before they collide with the impact block. Vehicles weighing up to 25 tons can be crash tested at the facility.

Tolerances are tight. The maximum permitted deviation in speed with the system under full load is ±0.09 mph. The tolerance bandwidth for two test vehicles colliding is ±0.4 in.

Nothing funny about this.

China crash

The Road to Smart Transportation: What About the Ruts?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. September 2014

“A tide of innovation has invigorated the global auto industry, and we are taking these giant leaps forward to remain a leader of new technology.

“We are not doing this for the sake of the technology itself. We are doing it because it’s what customers around the world want. Through technology and innovation, we will make driving safer.”

That was General Motors CEO Mary Barra during her keynote address at the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) World Congress in Detroit last week.

2015 Cadillac CTS

Cars talking to cars

She was talking about two new technologies.

One is vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. This is a system wherein vehicles so equipped with the sensors and communications setup will be able to send/receive information about the driving environment from other so-equipped vehicles as well as from the infrastructure. This not only has the potential to improve safety, but to reduce congestion on the roads as drivers will have comprehensive information about their driving environment.

General Motors plans to introduce V2V on the 2017 Cadillac CTS.

The other technology is called “Super Cruise.” At least that’s the working name. This is an automated driving technology. This will include hands-off lane following (yes, no hands: the car steers itself), braking and speed control. This would allow the car to do the work in tedious driving situations, such as in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or during long road trips. (It should be noted that the driver is still to be “attentive.” No dozing.)

While all of this is certainly impressive, there is one thing that comes to mind, especially for those of us who live and drive in the southeastern Michigan region. There is serious attention being given to “intelligent” vehicles and highway systems. But for the most part, many of the roadways look like this:

Chevrolet Designs for Pothole Perseverance

Solid infrastructure is going to have to precede intelligent infrastructure.

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