Autofield Blog

Nissan Grows in Tennessee

By: Gary S. Vasilash 20. March 2015

This is the Nissan Vehicle Assembly and Battery Plant in Smyrna, Tennessee:

Nissan Smyrna, Tenn. Vehicle Assembly Plant (2015)

Outside Nissan Smyrna

The assembly plant measures 5.9-million square feet. Inside, they’re building the Altima, Maxima, LEAF, Rouge, Pathfinder, and Infiniti QX60. Last year the people in the plant manufactured more than 648,000 vehicles, which, according to Nissan, makes it the highest-producing auto assembly plant in North America. Nissan has invested $6-billion in the facility.

Earlier this week, Nissan announced that a $160-million, 1.5-million square-foot integrated logistics center will be built on the site.

Said José Muñoz, Executive Vice President, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. and Chairman, Management Committee, Nissan North America, Inc., "This project is a key component to the long-term sustainability of our U.S. business as we close in on a goal of 10% U.S. market share."

According to Autodata, through February, Nissan North America’s share of the U.S. market is 9.2%.

Nissan Celebrates 30th Anniversary of U.S. Manufacturing with Creation of 900 Jobs

Inside Nissan Smyrna

Presently, 85% of the vehicles that Nissan sells in the U.S. are manufactured in North America.

The Smyrna plant opened in 1983. That was the year that Motorola introduced the DynaTAC phone, the world’s first commercial cellular phone, and Microsoft introduced Word. In 1983 the Space Shuttle Challenger had its first flight, and Michael Jackson introduced his moonwalk.

Who then would have imagined that the Nissan plant would be so extensive and productive?

2015 Chevrolet Trax LT—FWD

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. March 2015

The terms that Chevrolet uses to describe the Trax are: “city-smart global SUV.”

If we break that down, then “city-smart” is a term for this being a car for the urban environment. Which means “small.”

“Global” means that vehicle, which is produced in a plant in Bupyeong, South Korea, is not only available for sale in the U.S., but 66 other markets, as well.

2015 Chevrolet Trax LTZ

“SUV.” Well, this is a bit of a tough one.

There is a notion of what a sport utility vehicle that some of us have. For one thing, they tend to be big. For another thing, they tend to be body-on-frame. A Chevy Tahoe is an SUV. A Chevy Suburban is an SUV.

But the Chevy Trax?

Well, that’s how it is defined.

What I find interesting is that in the specs for the Trax, like for the Tahoe, there is a dimension cited that isn’t included in the numbers for cars: Minimum ground clearance.

For the Trax that number is 6.2 inches. (Tahoe: 7.9 inches.)

Yes, the Trax is higher than a comparably sized sedan, but you surely don’t need a running board on the side to climb in.

2015 Chevrolet Trax LT

The Trax is kin to the Buick Encore, which has experienced solid success in the market over the past couple of years. The Trax will probably have the same sort of sales on the Chevy side of the organization as people are looking for something that’s comparatively small (we’re not talking about a variation on the Chevy Spark here) yet which has utility in the form of cargo capacity: on the order of 48.4-cubic feet.

The vehicle is comparatively wide for its size (i.e., the wheelbase is 100.6 in., and the front and rear tracks measure 60.6 in.), so that, along with MacPherson-strut front suspension and a compound crank setup in the rear, mean that when driving the car, it doesn’t feel as though this is something that would go careening should it get into the vortex of a semi on a freeway.

The fact that it has a 138-hp, 1.4-liter turbocharged DOHC I4 means that you can actually get on said freeway without fear of being run over.

And while on that subject, it should be noted that 66% of the body structure is high-strength steels and there are 10 standard airbags (including side curtain, knee, and rear-seat mounted thorax airbags), so small doesn’t mean not safe.

2015 Chevrolet Trax

Infotainment is not overlooked in the Trax, as there is a standard Chevrolet MyLink system with a 7-in. diagonal color touch screen and standard OnStar 4G LTE with a WiFi hotspot. But what there isn’t for the audio system is a single knob.

It may be that interior designers may think that it is cool to have the same sort of interface that one deals with on a smart phone or tablet, so things like knobs seem oh-so inappropriate. However, there are some things that make ergonomic sense based on the context in which they are used, and you’re not using (or ought not to be using) your smart phone or tablet at 70 mph, so under those conditions a knob is more sensible.

Speaking of design, this is where I find the Trax to have something of an Achilles’s heel. Inside the car, it is roomy for such a diminutive vehicle and the materials, while not in the deluxe category, are certainly considered. It puts it well within the category of being basic transportation that doesn’t make you feel as though you don’t want any of your friends to see the inside of your car because it is so economical. That’s not the case at all.

But the problem is getting people into it because they have to get past the exterior body panels. Overall, these are highly undistinguished.

While I am not a fan of the Buick Encore, and while I understand that Buick is a step above Chevrolet by its ranking in the corporate hierarchy, while I know that that means that it can get additional chrome bits that are not within the purview of the Chevy, the exterior brings to mind a statement that Ford’s previous head of Design, J Mays, used to say, which was, in effect: It costs you as much to bend a piece of metal into a good design as it does to bend a bad one.

With the Trax, they did not bend it like Beckham. Overall the effect is rather bland. And that’s not what you want to have sitting in your driveway.

If the purpose of the Trax is, in part, to attract a younger demographic, then the folks at Chevy ought to be looking at companies like Kia. The Kia Rio is the sort of car that the Trax competes with, and it has much more visual style than the Trax, so clearly it is not an issue of bending sheet metal in South Korea (where the Rio hails from, as well). And while one might say that even in the five-door version the Rio is more sedan-like than the Trax, that would bring us to the Kia Soul, and when it comes to presence with that vs. the Trax. . . well, let’s just leave well enough alone.

Selected specs

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged DOHC I4

Material: Cast-iron block and cast-aluminum head

Horsepower: 138 @ 4,900 rpm

Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 1,850 rpm

Transmission: Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed automatic

Steering: Column-mounted electric power; rack and pinion

Wheelbase: 100.6 in.

Length: 168.5 in.

Width: 69.9 in.

Height: 65.9 in.

Passenger volume: 92.8 cubic feet

Cargo volume behind rear seat: 18.7 cubic feet

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 26/34/29 mpg

Making IndyCars Cooler Through Technology

By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. March 2015

IndyCar races aren’t once they once were, at least when it comes to popularity.

Yes, that may be an opinion, but it is also borne out by some numbers aggregated by Statista. In Spring 2009 there were 13.14-million viewers of the races on broadcast TV. By Spring 2014, that number was down to 9.06-million.

However, thanks to the designers and engineers at Honda and Chevrolet, that may change.

They have created aero kits for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series that are, in a word, bad-ass.

Just look at this:

Honda Aero Kit

Honda Performance Development utilized Driver-In-Loop simulators to determine the direction of the development prior to creating full-size components for the Dallara Indy car chassis.

Then they built pieces that were tested in full-scale wind tunnel. Then they moved on to proof-of-concept correlation of actual tests on tracks conducted along with the Andretti Autosport team.

In all, there are approximately 200 pieces in the Honda kit.

Similarly, the people at Chevrolet Performance Vehicles and Motorsports undertook a rigorous development process for its composites-based aero packages.

Chevrolet-powered racecars in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series will feature new Chevy-developed aero packages for road courses and short oval competition.

This was a nine-step process:

1. Perform baseline analysis of the DW12 car aerodynamics

2. Establish goals for things like downforce, drag and engine performance

3. Develop design concepts with computer-aided design (CAD)

4. Analyze structural properties with finite-element analysis (FEA)

5. Simulate aero properties with computational fluid dynamics (CFD)

6. Produce test parts (including 3D printing)

7. Conduct tests of 50% model in rolling-road wind tunnel

8. Conduct tests of full-scale model in rolling-road wind tunnel

9. Conduct track testing (including Homestead-Miami Speedway, Circuit of the Americas, Texas Motor Speedway, and Phoenix International Raceway) with prototype aero kit.

Two points about this:

1. Clearly, Honda and Chevy are serious about IndyCar racing given the time, effort, energy, and investments they’ve made for these aero kits

2. Clearly, these kits make the cars look a whole lot more fierce, which has to attract more attention to the series.

Happy MX-5 Day! Don’t Drink & Play

By: Gary S. Vasilash 17. March 2015

Although today is St. Patrick’s Day, there is a celebration of another sort going on among the gaming community thanks to Mazda and Microsoft: The 2016 MX-5 Miata, which won’t launch in the U.S. until this summer (although it went into production March 5 at the Mazda Ujina Plant #1 in Hiroshima), is being made available today, for FREE, at least digitally for the Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox One.

Miata Forza

The 2016 model is joined with other Miatas of the past in the MX-5 pack. Also included are the 2010 MX-5, Super20 SEMA concept car, 1990 MX-5, and the 2005 MAZDASPEED MX-5.

(For those of you who may be interested in the game, long into Xbox Live on your Xbox One, then go to the Mazda landing page.)

For those of you who are interested in the car from the standpoint of physical reality, know that Mazda has announced, for the first time, the curb weight of the 2016 car. With a manual transmission, it comes in at 2,332 lb. With an automatic, 2,381 lb. By way of comparison, a 2015 MX-5 with an automatic weighs 2,542 lb. A Sport manual 2,480 and the other trims 2,511 lb. This lightweighting is part of the SKYACTIV Technology initiative that Mazda is pursuing across the line.

For those of you who are interested in games and the physical reality of the 2016 MX-5, know that starting today, until Thursday April 30, there is a “Time Trial Rivals Contest” running, and the grand prize, which will be awarded in June, is a real car. (To participate you’ve got to log into Xbox Live through an Xbox One console, go to the Games, Music, Movies, or Apps channel, click into a Mazda MX-5 ad, then register and. . .at that point you should get it. And if you want a car, you’ll figure it out.)

Corvette: What You Need to Know Now

By: Gary S. Vasilash 16. March 2015

Tadge Juechter, Corvette chief engineer, arguably “made news” on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Juechter said—to host John McElroy, Todd Lassa, executive editor of Automobile, and me—that there is no mid-engine Corvette under development.

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

One of the reasons why, Juechter explained, is an issue of packaging. No, not packaging the drivetrain. But packaging the overall vehicle such that it is something that ordinary people can use as a daily driver, use in the context of having the capability of going to the market and being able to come home with more than a can of tuna.

Realize that last year GM delivered 34,839 Corvettes.

To put that number in context:

According to Autodata, last year, Porsche sold a total 23,561 vehicles.

That’s 911 Carrera/GT3, 911 Turbo/GT2, 918 Spyder, Carrera GT, Boxster, Cayman, and Panamera combined.

Yes, all things considered, the Corvette is a high-volume vehicle.

Another set of numbers to look at is to compare Corvette to Cadillac cars. Last year Cadillac delivered 24,335 XTSes, 29,890 ATSes, and 31,115 CTSes. Which is to day that the Corvette outsold every one of those.

So perhaps it isn’t surprising that Todd Lassa speculates that maybe the mid-engine car that may be under development at GM could be for. . .Cadillac.

However, Juechter said that no one has talked to him about that, so wouldn’t it seem odd—or borderline criminal—for a sports car to be under development at GM and that the people involved wouldn’t consult with the guy who has more real-world experience in that realm than probably anyone else in the corporation?

Juechter brought a 2015 Corvette Z06 Convertible—the first Z06 Convertible since 1963, when, Juechter said, they built one—to the studio.

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

He explained that when the C7 was under development, it was that car that the engineering was predicated on, so all other models (including non-Z06 Stingrays) benefit from the requirements of the convertible.

Juechter talked about why there is no all-wheel-drive in the Z06 (the engine is too low to accommodate a prop shaft to the front axle), why there is an 8L90 eight-speed paddle shift automatic and not a dual-clutch transmission (torque and packaging), and much more.

If you’re at all interested in Corvettes or product development, you’ve really got to watch this one.

In addition to which, McElroy, Lassa and I talk about some of the developments at the Geneva Motor Show and a whole lot more.

So here you go:


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