Autofield Blog

Indy, Apple & More

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. June 2015

It’s still the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Montoya 2

Montoya at Indy (photo: Mike Young)

That is the consensus of the panel on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” host John McElroy, Motor Trend Detroit editor Scott Burgess, Automobile Magazine Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa, and me.

Juan Pablo Montoya took his second kiss of the bricks on May 24 in the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, a race that he won by 0.1046 seconds, which is probably more time than it takes to read “0.1046 seconds.” (Second place was achieved by Will Power.)


Montoya meet bricks (photo: Joe Skibinski)

McElroy and Burgess were on site at the Brickyard for the race, and they share some of what they saw—and heard—at the race.

And we wonder why Honda—Graham Rahal running a car with a Honda engine finished fifth, the best of anyone with that package—seemed to be completely outpowered by the Chevys.

In addition to which—after all, May 24 was a HUGE day in racing—they discuss the Monaco Grand Prix (Nico Rosberg wins his third consecutive Monaco, which puts him in a group that also includes Graham Hill, Alain Prost, and Ayrton Senna) and glance at the Coca-Cola 600 (won by Carl Edwards driving a Toyota, which was two races in a row won by a Toyota, which has been greatly overshadowed by Chevy and Ford in the series).

In addition to which, the four of us talk about the BrandZ 100 Most Valuable Brands, 2015, which happens to have Toyota as the top automotive brand—but it doesn’t show up until #30.

They talk about Apple CarPlay and Android Auto from Google—and it is worth noting that on the aforementioned BrandZ list, Apple is #1 and Google #2—and the implications for automakers when it comes to the displays in automobiles.

That, and much more, which you can see right here:

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

By: Gary S. Vasilash 29. May 2015

Here’s an interesting thing to know about the Mazda CX-5: From November 2011, when production of the compact crossover SUV commenced, through the end of April 2015, one-million units were produced.

Now for some vehicles, that accomplishment isn’t much of a big deal. But in the world of Mazda it certainly is because the CX-5, which is really the progenitor of both the fuel-saving SKYACTIV Technology and the Kodo design language (that is, the CX-5 combines both in a thoroughgoing way, which means it was the first model in the company’s lineup to do so), is the second-fastest Mazda model to reach one-million units.

Mazda 1

(The fastest? The Mazda3.)

Consider this about the aforementioned technologies and design from no less than Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp.: “As evidenced by their SKYACTIV Technologies and KODO—Soul of Motion design, Mazda has proven that it always thinks of what is coming next for vehicles and technology, while still managing to stay true to its basic car making roots. “As evidenced by their SKYACTIV Technologies and KODO—Soul of Motion design, Mazda has proven that it always thinks of what is coming next for vehicles and technology, while still managing to stay true to its basic car making roots.”

Toyoda and Mazda president and CEO Masamichi Kogai were announcing that the two companies are entering into an agreement whereby they will have “broad and meaningful collaboration across a range of fields, including environmental and advanced safety technologies.”

To put the two companies into some sort of context, realize that according to Autodata, in 2014 in the U.S. Mazda delivered 305,801 vehicles. That’s the total number of all of its offerings combined.

In 2014, Toyota delivered more Corollas in the U.S.: 339,498.

And we can imagine that the same holds true vis-à-vis the two companies in other markets.

All of which is to say that evidentially Mazda punches way above its weight in automotive design and technology.

Which brings me back to the CX-5.

The CX-5 is as mentioned, a compact SUV. This is an increasingly crowded category with offerings from a variety of companies (including Toyota with its RAV4) which are, by and large, good. Which is to say that given that the CX-5 was a new entry to the category when it first appeared in 2012 as a 2013 model, it had to be more than damn good to get space on consideration lists that already included things like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V.

Mazda 3

First of all, there is the exterior appearance. The swooping shapes and forms that are more characteristic of exotic sports cars than sport utility vehicles. Something to talk about. Something remarkable. And inside the CX-5, the layout and amenities are sufficiently sporty without pretending to being something that the vehicle isn’t (remember, at the end of the day—just like at the start—this vehicle is about transportation, not carving the corkscrew at Laguna Seca (which, incidentally, is officially “Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca,” so probably the CX-5 did carve said turns, but it has probably carted more groceries). The Grand Touring trim that I drove has leather trim, which is nicely done without being something you’re overly concerned might get scratched or scuffed: You are meant to drive this vehicle, not coddle it.

About that SKYACTIV Stuff. The CX-5 features SKYACTIV-Chassis, which means that it has a front strut suspension and a multilink rear setup. It features SKYACTIV-Body, which means that it has a structure than is 8% lighter than a comparable non-SKYTACTIV structure. This is accomplished largely through the use of high-strength steel, which accounts for 61% of the SKYTACTIV structure.

And it has a SKYACTIV-G (as in “gasoline”) engine, in the case of this vehicle, a 184-hp, 2.5-liter, four. It is mated to a six-speed automatic. (There is also a 2.0-liter engine available for the CX-5.)

Mazda 2

Models with the 2.5-liter are available with Active Torque-Split All-Wheel-Drive. AWD systems, useful at times, add mass all the time. Mass means reduced fuel efficiency.

The 2.5-liter CX-5 without the AWD system has fuel economy of 25 mpg city, 32 highway, and 27 combined. Yet the clever Mazda engineers have done such a good job with their SKYACTVITY that even with the AWD system, there is only a reduction of 1 mpg in both city and highway numbers (which, consequently, takes away two from the combined figure).

The story of what Mazda is doing in its product development includes a huge chapter on how it is looking at each and every element and working to make it as light and as efficient as possible.

There are lots of things that can be said about vehicles, but it is often the little things that really matter to someone who is going to be living with a vehicle, little things that probably mean more in the long run than a whole list of bigger things (e.g., the CX-5 I drove had a technology package with radar cruise control, which is certainly something that one doesn’t often find in SUVs with a starting MSRP of $29,470, but which is becoming somewhat common).

The CX-5 I drove didn’t have a powered hatch. You have to reach up and pull it closed. This is probably something that an owner is going to do hundreds—if not thousands—of times during ownership of the vehicle (there is 34.1-cu. ft. of cargo capacity behind the second row; 64.4-cu. ft. folded).

I reached up, pulled, and the hatch and hinge were balanced such that my effort was absolutely minimal and its closing was secure. And it occurred to me that someone thought long and hard about that hatch and how it closes. That is the sort of thing that is indicative of a vehicle that is undoubtedly well thought-out throughout.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.5-liter DOHC I4

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 184 @ 5,700 rpm

Torque: 185 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electric power assisted

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Length: 178.7 in.

Width 72.4 in.

Curb weight: 3,560 lb.

Coefficient of drag: 0.33

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 21/31/25 mpg

GM Invests Big in Full-Size Trucks

By: Gary S. Vasilash 28. May 2015

At the GM Fort Wayne Assembly Plant in Indiana, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups are produced.

Which is a pretty simple statement to make.

But know that at the 3.03-million sq. ft. facility, at which some 3,800 people work, they’re building 4WD, 2WD; V6, V8 conventional, V8 flex fuel, V8 active fuel management, V8 diesel; LD short box on Regular Cab; short and long box on Double Cab; 4WD HD Regular Cab long box; HD ¾-ton Double Cab short and long box; HD 1-ton Double Cab long box, Single Rear Wheel and Dual Rear Wheel for both the Chevy and the GMC vehicles.

Yes, that’s a lot of complexity.

General Motors spent $4 million at its Fort Wayne Assembly facility to implement a system called "Box Swap," and retained 3,300 jobs at the plant in the process. The "Box Swap" enables the paint shop to accommodate the extra length of an extended cab pickup with an eight-foot box. The system works by swapping the six-foot box from a regular cab with the eight-foot box from the extended cab, painting the trucks, then swapping the boxes back. The plant builds more than 1,400 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full size pickup trucks each day. (Photo by Shane Pequignot for General Motors)

The light-duty truck is an essential part of GM’s North American sales. Which goes a long way to explaining why the corporation announced this week that it is investing $1.2-billion in Fort Wayne.

“Truck customers demand top quality,” said Cathy Clegg, GM North America Manufacturing vice president. “The upgrades at Fort Wayne Assembly will enable our team to continue delivering them for years to come.”

And the investment is going to take years to deploy.

They’re going to be building a new paint pre-treatment facility that will feature thin-film capability. They’re installing e-coat paint equipment that will allow customized processing for each vehicle style and radiant tube ovens (using GM’s own patented technology).

And in non-paint technology, there’s equipment that facilitates handling the variations of cabs and boxes that are being fitted to chassis, as well new skillet conveyance systems for instrument panel build.

The body shop is being expanded, new material sequencing centers will be setup, and the general assembly area will be upgraded.

Work is to commence next month.

Completion will take several years.

Let’s face it $1.2-billion is several dollars.

Hyundai Launches Android

By: Gary S. Vasilash 27. May 2015

The interfaces for most automotive infotainment systems are, well, to put it nicely, something that, if they were on the screen of your smartphone, you would find to be so unacceptable that you’d find yourself wanting to take said smartphone and throwing it at the nearest available wall.

Which is why Hyundai deserves great credit for launching Android Auto on its 2015 Sonata with Navigation vehicle.

The company announced yesterday that existing vehicles—as in those people have already purchased, not just those at dealerships—qualify for a free Android Auto software update at Hyundai dealerships.

Android Auto in the 2015 Hyundai Sonata

Explaining the rationale behind the deployment of the new tech, Dave Zuchowski, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, said, “Android Auto aligns with Hyundai’s core interior design principles of safety, intuitiveness and simplicity.”

And with Hyundai’s general approach of offering things that are generally associated with high-end vehicles in its mass-market cars, like the Sonata.

Android Auto is based on running Android 5.0 Lollipop (or higher) on their smartphone. For the first use, the driver connects the phone to the Sonata’s USB port with a cable, and the phone then prompts the download of the Android Auto companion app from the Google Play store. That pretty much sets the whole thing up.

Subsequently, voice, steering wheel controls or the touch screen can be used for applications ranging from Google Maps to phone calls. And yes, there is an array of third-party apps, like Spotify, Stitcher, Skype, etc.

Hyundai plans to roll out Android Auto on other vehicle lines in the months ahead.

Zuchowski: “We launched this highly anticipated feature on our best-selling Sonata, adding to our promise of value. With the launch of Android Auto, we provide more owners with the experience of cutting-edge technology.”

And they offer those owners with a whole lot less frustration in trying to use their infotainment systems.

Richard Rawlings, Fast N’ Loud & Other Entertaining Things

By: Gary S. Vasilash 26. May 2015

“We really are building ‘em.

“Really are selling ‘em.

“TV has to keep up with us.”

That’s Richard Rawlings, the man behind Fast N’ Loud on the Discovery Channel.


Kaufman (left) and Rawlings (right).  Fast N’ Loud, both.

He and his crew at Gas Monkey Garage—with the remarkable Aaron Kaufman, builder extraordinaire*—are taking cars that are really in need of restoration and turning them into the kinds of cars and trucks that plenty of people lust after. They find ‘em, fix ‘em and flip ‘em.

And they do it fast, putting in plenty of hours, day in, day out. While some shows showing people making things seem to be happening quickly, the Gas Monkey gang, Rawlings says, really are making it happen.

Rawlings talks about the Gas Monkey Garage, Fast N’ Loud the show and the book, and how he has become an entrepreneur with interests ranging from music venues to a branded tequila on this edition of Autoline After Hours.

John McElroy of Autoline, Mike Austin of Autoblog, and I have the opportunity to talk to Rawlings, who joins us from Gas Monkey HQ in Dallas via Skype.

It is informative—and refreshing, as Rawlings, even though a major success, has a regular-person point of view (i.e., speaking of the genesis of his show and how there is a comparative affordability to what they do, he remarks, “Damn, I can’t have a $230,000 motorcycle,” referring, without mentioning it, to another show about vehicle builds).

In addition to which McElroy, Austin and I compare the stats of the 2016 Camaro with the 2015 Mustang, look at how you can lease a car for less money than you might spend at Starbucks, and a variety of topics.

2010 Chevrolet Camaro RS computer generated image

2015 Mustang Media Drive in L.A.

All of which you can see right here:


*Asked about what happens in the event that there is no available part for a particular vehicle being produced, Rawlings says that Kaufman simply makes it. What’s more, even if there is a part available, Kaufman often decides that he can make a better one, and so he does.


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