Autofield Blog

Audi: To the Moon!

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. July 2015

The Google Xprize is not about the Google Car, though arguably it does have an automotive aspect to it.

That is, the $30-million competition is about going to the Moon. Yes, an actual space shot.

lunar audi

But that’s only part of it. The competitors must not only get to the surface of the Earth’s satellite, but they have to put a privately funded lunar rover on it.

And this isn’t a matter of demolition derby with the Moon. The lunar rover then must drive around on the surface—at least 500 meters—and transmit high-definition video and images back to the home planet.

First place: $20-million. Second, $5-million.

Which brings us more directly to the auto industry in the form of Audi.

Audi is working with a group of engineers, technicians and scientists who are operating under the whimsical name “Part-Time Scientists.” This is the only German team.

Explains Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi Board Member for Technical Development, “We are pleased to support the project with our know-how in lightweight technology, electronics and robotics.”

In addition, Audi’s Concept Design Studio is undertaking a redesign of the rover, reportedly to “ensure ideal lightweight construction conditions,” probably to make sure it looks cool. After all, it is going to be called the “Audi lunar quattro.”

The aluminum-intensive vehicle is solar powered. It has a maximum speed of 3.6 kmph (2.2 mph).

Takeoff is planned for 2017.

Electrochemical Contest

By: Gary S. Vasilash 30. June 2015

Although the number of EV-skeptics in the industry remains larger than one might expect, the commitment by automotive OEMs and suppliers to come up with the ways and means to advance alternative energy sources for vehicle propulsion is significant.


Elements of the VW e-Golf

Case in point: Volkswagen and BASF have announced that they will be awarding prizes for the fourth year running to scientists as part of its “Science Award for Electrochemistry.”

This is open to scientists from around the world and is focused on the development of high-capacity energy storage systems. Among the areas of interest are battery materials, cells, battery systems, production, and recycling.

The total prize money is €100,000, with the first-prize winner receiving €50,000.

While I don’t imagine we have a whole lot of scientists reading this, should you be interested in applying for the “Science Award for Electrochemistry,” you can do so at . The closing date for entries is July 24, 2015.

Who knows? You could revolutionize mobility.

Lincoln, Luxury & Auto’s Autonomous Future

By: Gary S. Vasilash 29. June 2015

Of all of the vehicles unveiled at the New York International Auto Show this past spring, arguably the one that has more than passing significance is the Lincoln Continental.

Lincoln Continental Concept

Although the car is a concept, it is far more than an idea or fanciful notion, it is more likely a thinly veiled version of what will become production reality as Lincoln works to reestablish itself among the ranks of the global luxury brands.

David Woodhouse is the director of Lincoln Design. He is working with his team to create a different sense of luxury, or at least different in the context that it isn’t about racing proverbial rings around the actual Nurburgring, as seems to be de rigueur for those in that vehicular segment.

Luxury, it seems, in the world of Woodhouse is something that is more sensual, captivating and, well luxurious than 0 to 60 times. (Isn’t it odd that muscle cars and luxury cars seem to be described in similar ways: it is about power and performance, not comfort and splendor.)

Woodhouse talks about Lincoln, the Continental and Luxury writ large on this week’s edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

In addition to host John McElroy and me, Woodhouse also talks with John Manoogian II, who started his career as a designer at Ford, and then spent 32 years at General Motors, where his final position was director of Exterior Design for. . .Cadillac. Yes, Lincoln’s crosstown rival. (Woodhouse acknowledges that one of the things that they’re doing at Lincoln is offering something that Cadillac is not.) Manoogian is currently a visiting professor at the College for Creative Studies.

2016 Chevrolet Cruze Front 3/4

In addition to Lincoln, McElroy, Manoogian and I discuss the new Chevy Cruze and Chevy Camaro Convertible, the Alfa Romeo Giulia (Manoogian’s comparison with the Cruze is not to be missed), and Ford’s new electric. . .bicycle.


And there is a surprising prediction about the transformation in the auto industry that is to occur in the not-too-distant future as a consequence of autonomy and carsharing. In a sense, for those in the auto industry, the show goes from luxury to dystopia, all in the space of an hour.

So click here and see what we all had to say.

Ford Gets Flexible on Mobility

By: Gary S. Vasilash 26. June 2015

Although there is a lot of attention on how technology is going to change mobility—as in, say, Big Data providing the means by which people will be able to access vehicles for short-term use by tracking vehicle location and availability or Autonomy, which will not only allow drivers to do something else than drive but also provide a better, more predictive traffic flow, consequently minimizing traffic jams and optimizing commute times—a recent announcement by Ford indicates that there is another part of its business that could have a more-immediate effect on different approaches to getting from one place to another.

Ford eBikes

Have you ridden a Ford, lately?

No, it is not the Ford just-introduced MoDe:Flex electric bicycle, the third bike that Ford has introduced this year. This bike is designed so that it can be folded up and stored in a Ford vehicle (and recharged while being stored). In addition to which, it can be quickly converted to road, mountain or city driving. It’s not that Ford is getting into the bicycle business per se, but they are using the bike as a means by which commuters can get to the proverbial “last mile” on a trip. (To keep one’s colleagues and coworkers more pleasantly oriented toward one who has, indeed, used the MoDe:Flex to get to work, there is a smartwatch running the MoDe:Link app, which includes a “no sweat” mode: it checks the rider’s heart rate and then has the bike provide additional electric motor assistance to the ride, consequently reducing potential perspiration during the ride.)

No, the big, sooner change is likely to come from. . .Ford Credit.

That’s right, the lending arm of the vehicle manufacturer.

Ford Credit is piloting a program called “Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing.”

This is being conducted in the U.S. (Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Chicago and Washington, D.C.) and London.

Ford Credit is asking select customers to “rent” their Ford Credit-financed vehicles to a group of prescreened drivers. The connection between the renters and buyers is made via the Web.

Explains David McClelland, Ford Credit vice president of marketing, “Consumers tell us they are interested in sharing the costs of vehicle ownership, and this program will help us understand how much that extends to customers who are financing a Ford vehicle.”

In other words, you buy a car and then rent it when you aren’t using it, thereby getting money that can be used to pay off the loan.

McClelland points out, “As most vehicles are parked and out of use much of the time, this can help us gauge our customers’ desires to pick up extra cash and keep their vehicle in use.”

Arguably, if this was to catch on in a big way, there could be a need for fewer cars or trucks, as if people knew that had ready access to short-term rentals, they might forego that F-150 that they might need periodically for mulch hauling or other occasional use requirement.

But Ford must get credit for understanding that if it doesn’t prepare itself for the mobility space, it might find itself on the outside looking in.

2015 Lexus LX 570

By: Gary S. Vasilash 25. June 2015

The owner of a Lexus LX 570 ought to be someone who:

1. Is wealthy

2. Has a lot of kids

3. Tows a horse trailer or yacht.

This is not a multiple choice selection. All three, or variants thereof, are required of someone who would be behind the wheel of this eight-passenger uber-lux SUV.

Let’s take them in order.

LX 570 1

1. The base price of the vehicle as driven is $82,930. That’s before options. Options like $1,510 for semi-aniline lather; heated and ventilated front seats; second row heated seats; heated steering wheel, etch. Then kick in $2,350 for the Mark Levinson audio system including DVD playback capability. There’s “Intuitive Park Assist” with wide-view front and side monitor (a.k.a., cameras). That’s $1,000. Finally, there is a dual-screen DVD rear seat entertainment system with wireless headphones, adding $2005 to the tab.

Put in $925 for delivery, and the sticker is $90,720.

Presumably, there are more options to be had. For example, I was surprised to find that it doesn’t have blind-spot warning. You’d think for +$90K you would have a system that would provide an audible warning in the voice of a British butler.

2. Words like “capacious” and “cavernous” come to mind. The inside of this beast is big. It is also sumptuous. There are three rows of furniture in the LX570. Clearly, these are places where people ought to sit. They are comfortable. There is roominess. There is a power-sliding second-row seat. Thanks to an aforementioned option, there is entertainment. So the LX 570 is suited for lots of kids. Or absent that, lots of grownups. But let’s face it: Someone is more likely to be traveling around on a regular basis with children on board rather than a gaggle of adults.

Lexus 570 2

3. The nomenclature of the SUV, at least the numeric part, the “570,” goes to the fact that his vehicle has a 5.7-liter V8 engine. It produces 383 hp and 403 lb-ft of torque. This is a real-life off-road capable vehicle, not a vehicle that looks like one. It has a Torsen limited-slip locking center differential. There are switches on the center console for making adjustments like Crawl Control and Hill-start Assist and other things that you don’t want to even know about unless you are someone who takes their luxury vehicle in places were only goats should tread. It is the sort of capability that you like to have because, well, you have it. Just in case. The LX570 has the wherewithal to tow 7,000 pounds. Now that capability is something that is likely to be used by those with a Missouri Fox Trotter or something from Meridian. (If you don’t know, well, you don’t know.)

Lexus 570 4

One of the funniest line items in a spreadsheet detailing the various specifications of a vehicle is included in the one for the Lexus LX570:

Top Track Speed: 137 mph—electronically limited

While the entire notion of something of this magnitude being on a track is something that is borderline inconceivable. Something like this rolling in a stately manner up I-75 to a manse in Harbor Springs is readily imaginable.

Selected specs

Engine: 5.7-liter V8 w/dual variable valve timing

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 383 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 403 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Hydraulic power with variable gear ratio

Wheelbase: 112.2 in.

Length: 197 in.

Width: 77.6 in.

Height: (w/std. roof rack): 75.6 in.

Curb weight: 6,000 lb.

Coefficient of drag: 0.35

Cargo volume (seats in place): 15.5-cu. ft.

Cargo volume (2nd & 3rd row adjusted): 83.1-cu. ft.

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 12/17/14 mpg

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