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Urban Audi

By: Gary S. Vasilash 20. November 2014

The third annual Audi Urban Future Award was recently presented in Berlin to a team from Mexico City. That team, headed by architect and urban planner Jose Castillo, beat out competitors from Berlin, Boston, and Seoul.

Castillo and his team had some strong impetus from trying to find a solution to urban mobility because, according to the IBM Commuter Pain Index, Mexico City is, well, the most painful in the world for commuters.

Audi Urban

So the team developed an operating system for urban mobility that is based in large part on turning commuters into what’s called “data donors.”

Simply, by having commuters provide information to an on-line data platform, the aggregated data can then be used to develop forecasts for commuters to reduce the pain of commuting.

Annegret Maier, head of Data Intelligence at Audi, said, “The team from Mexico City has succeeded in collecting reliable data in a user-friendly way. On the basis of these data, in future we can develop tailor-made mobility services.”

Audi CEO Rupert Stadler presented Audi’s vision of the future of mobility at the award ceremonies.

Stadler stated, “The car has to be seen once again as a desirable object of progress. To achieve this, we have to tear down the walls between infrastructure, public transportation and individual traffic.”

Stadler admitted that there are issues related to cars, particularly in the growing number of congested metropolises around the world, but said, “We have a responsibility for the problems that the car causes in mega-cities today, and will take an active part in solving these problems by means of our development work. To do this, we need local government, project developers and industry to work together.”

So just as the winning team came up with the notion of data donors, Stadler seems to be calling for cooperative concerns, public and private.

Among the things that Audi is working on are self-parking cars, which are said to be capable of reducing the amount of space required in parking garages such that a garage could accommodate two-and-a-half more cars, as well as systems that allow the car to obtain information from traffic signals so that the car’s speed and location are optimized, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 15%.

Stadler said, “Our ambitions don’t stop at the car – they include its surroundings. Urban solutions will be a decisive business factor for us. If ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ leads to a better experience of urban life for our customers, we will have achieved our goal of success that is sustainable in every way.”

Porsche Builds Green

By: Gary S. Vasilash 20. November 2014

When you think “Porsche,” you probably don’t think fuel efficiency.

But you probably also don’t read press releases.

It is worth noting that the “boiler plate”—the stuff that is put at the bottom of documents of various types that provide descriptions or detail exceptions or whatnot—on the bottom of news releases from Porsche includes the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of each of its vehicles.

(E.g., “Porsche 911 series: Fuel consumption, combined: 12.4–8.2 l/100 km; CO2 emissions 289–191 g/km; efficiency class: G–F)

Yes, they are that serious about sustainability.

Porsche engine plant

Design of a new Porsche engine plant that is planned to open in 2016

So much so that as they begin construction of an 80-million Euro plant in Zuffenhausen, which is expected to be ready for production in early 2016, they are making sure that it meets the requirements of Deutsche Gesellschaft für nachhaltiges Bauen (DGNB), the German Sustainable Building Council.

They delivered a master plan for the “Werk 4” site (which measures some 69 acres and will include the new, two-story engine plant) to the DGNB and received the organization’s “Pre-Certificate in Gold” on first submission.

According to Porsche, the plan attained top marks in the rating’s ecological, technical, economic, process quality categories.

When in operation, the plant will employ approximately 400 people.

2014 Hyundai Elantra Sport

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. November 2014

A word about the 2014 Elantra Sport.


OK, maybe that’s two. Or one-and-a-half.

Elantra 1

But it has always been my impression—and let’s face it, taste about design is merely a matter of subjectivity, it can’t be quantified—that when it comes to the Hyundai Fluidic Sculpture design language, which was first displayhed on the previous-generation, MY 2011, Hyundai Sonata, the Sonata was too long, which made the swooping forms along the body side too lazy.

The Elantra, however, is taut.

Elantra 2

And the design language looks great in the execution.

I would go so far as to say that in the compact category there isn’t a better exterior design out there.

This is all the more impressive in that it is a sedan not a five-door, and oftentimes when you get to a smaller car and try to make it look stylish it ends up appearing. . .odd.

(Case in point: the Ford Focus. There is the hatch. . . .

2014 Ford Focus

And then there is the sedan. . . .

2014 Ford Focus

Somehow the latter doesn’t seem fully resolved.)

The rest of the Elantra is fine, too. The 2.0-liter engine and the six-speed automatic. The leather seating surfaces and the aluminum pedals.

Elantra 3

Elantra 4

But it all comes down to the design, which is still superb even though it’s been out there since MY 2011 and retains the same essential styling even in MY 2015.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC I4

Materials: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 173 @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 154 @ 4,700 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Rack-and-pinion, motor-assisted

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Overall length: 179.1 in.

Overall width: 69.9 in.

Overall height: 56.3 in.

Coefficient of Drag (Cd): 0.28

Passenger volume: 95.6-cu-ft.

Cargo volume: 14.8-cu-ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 24/35/28 mpg

Black Label: Lincoln Elevated

By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. November 2014

By all measures that really matter—and those are predicated on sales numbers—Lincoln is most certainly on the proverbial roll. Andrew Frick, group marketing manager, points out that Lincoln sales are up 14.5% for the year and were up 24.6% for the month of October.

Lincoln’s strength is largely predicated on two vehicles, the MKC crossover and the MKZ midsize sedan. Especially the MKC, which is new to the market this year, but the incremental volumes are nontrivial.

Black Label 1

Lincoln MKC Black Label with exclusive Chroma Couture exterior paint. No, we don’t know why someone would park it in a house. But it looks like it fits. The color is part of the Indulgence theme.

Although the MKC wasn’t available until May, through October, 8,615 units have been sold. Realize that there are several factors that need to be taken into account when looking at that number. For one thing, it is a matter of building volumes in dealerships, so it isn’t like there was the sort of availability for vehicles that one would have after, say, a year in the market. For another thing, this is an all-new vehicle, so there needs to be awareness and consideration built. That said, in October, 2,197 MKCs were sold.

Considering how well those two vehicles are doing—it should be noted that MKZ sales are up 9.7% for the year, and Frick points out that transaction prices are up on the order of $5,300 per unit—it should be no surprise that Lincoln, as it is undergoing a profound transformation, has made those two the first undertaking for its new “Black Label” undertaking, initiative, experience, or whatever else you’d call an uncharacteristic, upscale approach to selling motor vehicles—and “selling” almost seems to be too garish a word in the Black Label context.

Black Label 2

Jet Black Venetian leather and Foxfire accents. The seats in Black Label vehicles have different foam and sewing patterns than the standard MKC and MKZ offerings. Note the geometric pattern of the perforations.

Keep in mind that Lincoln has an opportunity, in a sense, that more-established premium brands don’t have for the simple reason that they are more-established and therefore have their routines generally set in place. Lincoln is something of a challenger brand, which seems somewhat odd, given that it has been a part of Ford since 1922 and never stopped being in business. Still, over the past several years the brand languished and was hit by the Great Recession and only recently has become a focus of the parent company, which realizes that having a premium brand is pretty much essential in today’s market.

Lincoln customers—and it should be noted that Frick and Paul Bucek, Black Label Operations Manager refer to these people as “clients,” which may seem like a small thing, but how you describe something or somebody makes a huge difference in the treatment received—now have the opportunity to buy an MKC or an MKZ in a way that it unlike most auto transactions and to become the members of something of an elite club.

Black Label 3

Black Agento wood is, explains Janet Seymour, who is in charge of Black Label Colors and Materials, “designed.” Note the angle of the stripes on the wood (yes, that is wood). This is created though a meticulous lamination process such that all of the wood trim has the same pattern which is in one sense very organic, but in another, an artifice.

A starting point is shopping for the car. Black Label intenders can actually have a Black Label-trained sales professional come to their home or office at a time that is convenient for the customer client. (That part about being convenient for the client bears repeating. Black Label is, in large part, focused on the person who is going to be purchasing the car, which is in and of itself atypical.) The sales person will have an oversized metal briefcase with them that contains material samples (leather that is based on the hides of less than 1% of all those that are otherwise considered automotive grade; Alacantara; woods, both natural and designed) and color samples, that have been curated by Janet Seymour, Color and Materials Design Manager, and her team to be appropriate for the vehicles.

Because there are a multitude of possible choices (e.g., exterior color, headliner color, trim color, seat color) that could conceivably be overwhelming—and which, Seymour notes, might seem right at the time but not in a year or two down the road), the designers have created four design themes—Indulgence, Oasis, Modern Heritage, Center Stage—that help organize and simplify the selections. (And presumably this helps immensely vis-à-vis supply and logistics, given that Frick estimates that the take rate for Black Label will be on the order of 5 to 6% of overall sales, so complexity needs to be managed.)

Black Label 4

Call it discrete. The black “Z” badge and special wheels are the primary cues of a Black Label vehicle. Car cognoscenti may also note that there are six specials colors for the vehicles, too (this one being Confidential White).

Even though home and office visits are possible, there is also dedicated space within a certified dealership for Black Label. Once someone gets a Black Label vehicle—and it should be pointed out that while it is just MKC and MKZ right now, next up will be MKX, followed by whatever it is that Lincoln will come out with—then there is an extended warranty, free carwashes, and even the opportunity to dine at restaurants that are part of the Black Label experience. This goes beyond the seats having different foam and stitching in a Black Label vehicle compared to the conventional version; Frick uses an analogy that it is like getting a suite with club-level access in a Ritz-Carlton versus a room: both are certainly top notch, but one is that much more. (Yes, there is a premium for a Black Label vehicle; either can be had with an upcharge of $5,995, which, arguably, dare I say, is a “bargain.”)

Lincoln isn’t the only car company that offers its buyers to have special paint and fabric and amenities. But it is likely the only one who recognizes that in order to gain share in the market, having first-class vehicles is only the starting point, so with Black Label it is going well beyond the baristas and biscotti.

Magna & the Challenges of Modern Automotive Manufacturing

By: Gary S. Vasilash 17. November 2014

Magna International is the third-largest automotive supplier on the planet. And that “international” in its name is completely credible because the company has 312 manufacturing operations and 83 product development, engineering and sales centers that are variously located in 29 countries.

In addition to which, it is interesting to note that Magna supplies components and systems inside and out, top to bottom, from hot-stamped steel beams to vision systems, from exterior body panels to seats. Arguably, it has the capabilities to actually build a car or truck on its own. Of course, that wouldn’t make sense from the standpoint of going into competition with its customers, among which are essentially every OEM in the world. And it should be noted that Magna does contract manufacturing, as in the Mercedes G-Class and the MINI Countryman and MINI Paceman, all it its plant in Graz, Austria.


Given that breadth of knowledge and capability within Magna, we decided it would be interesting to gain some insights on the trends and development from a man who is helping promulgate them throughout the industry, Swamy Kotagiri, Chief Technology Officer at Magna, so we sat down and talked to him on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Kotagiri provided insights on a variety of things ranging from the seeming material of the moment, aluminum, to the need to reduce parasitic losses throughout the car (be it powering wheels that don’t need to be under power or pumps that don’t need to be operating).

What does he number among the biggest challenges of the industry right now?

You may be surprised to learn: Joining. That’s right, putting things—particularly things that are made of different materials—together.

golf family

In addition to which, Autoline’s John McElroy, Drew Winter, editor-in-chief of Ward’s Auto, and I discuss a variety of industry developments, including the management changes at Ford (Farley goes to Europe, Odell moves from Europe to the U.S.), Motor Trend’s selection of the Golf “family” for Car of the Year, and a whole lot more.

Which you can see here:

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