Autofield Blog

Gary S. Vasilash


Gary S. Vasilash is the founding editor of Automotive Design & Production (AD&P) magazine, a publication established in 1997 by Gardner Publications with the cooperation of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He is responsible for the editorial management and direction of the monthly magazine. Vasilash continues to write a monthly column for AD&P and contributes several stories to each issue.

Vasilash has more than 20 years of experience writing about the automotive industry, best practices and new technologies. His work has appeared in a variety of venues, ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Lightworks, a journal of contemporary art. He has made numerous presentations at a variety of venues ranging from the annual meeting of the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) to the Center for Constructive alternatives at Hillsdale College.

Prior to his present position, Vasilash was editor-in-chief of both Automotive Production and Production magazines—predecessors to AD&P. He joined Cincinnati, Ohio-based Gardner Publications in 1987 as executive editor of Production magazine.

Prior to that, Vasilash had editorial positions with the Rockford Institute and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and a Master of Arts degree from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He is a member of the Automotive Press Association.

2014 Hyundai Elantra Sport

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. November 2014

A word about the 2014 Elantra Sport.

Bull’s-eye.

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.

cosma

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:

The Gamification of the Auto Industry

By: Gary S. Vasilash 14. November 2014

One of the issues that is often raised among people who work in the auto industry is that young people are not as interested in cars as they once were—or as interested in cars as those who are talking about the present disinterest were when they were young.

As more than one person has put it, “Back in the day cruising drive-ins was the way to connect with friends; now it is a matter of touching a few virtual keys on the face of an iPhone.” When you hear designers and engineers saying something along these lines, you also see the wince in their faces.

One of the ways that car makers are trying to connect is through getting their cars into video games. Young people may not want to deal with the hassle of a physical car, but there is nothing like throwing a digital version around on tracks and streets that they will never see with little downside except, perhaps, a bruised ego.

Chevrolet to Show Chaparral Vision Gran Turismo Concept

Chaparral 2E

PlayStation is celebrating the 15th anniversary of Gran Turismo. As part of its festivities, it asked car makers to provide a look at the future of automotive design.

One of the cars that changed the face of racing was the Chaparral, which roared out of Texas in the 1960s. Chaparral Cars worked with Chevrolet Research and Development to develop awesome cars like the Chaparral 2E, which appeared in 1966.

It could be argued that racing is gaming in the real world.

Anyway, GM’s Advanced Design Studio, with input from Jim Hall, one of the cofounders of Chaparral Cars (back in 1962), designed the Chevrolet Chaparral 2X VGT concept that will be revealed next Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Chevrolet to Show Chaparral Vision Gran Turismo Concept

The Chevrolet Chaparral 2X VGT concept is under that cover.  It will be revealed November 19

Ed Welburn, head of GM Global Design, said of the Chevrolet Chaparral 2X VGT concept, “It will serve as an example of what our designers are capable of when they are cut loose, no holds barred.”

He described it as “A fantasy car in every sense of the word.”

And it will be part of an online update for Gran Turismo 6.

What’s interesting about this is the fact that concept cars of the “no holds barred” variety are becoming few and far between. Most “concepts” at shows are just a bit this side of near-production designs.

But it is just as well that Sony contacted OEMs like GM and asked for something that would show what the future of cars—at least of a racing variety—might look like.

Enjoy Italy

By: Gary S. Vasilash 13. November 2014

This gets a little complicated, but it deals with transportation in Italy, so hang on.

There is Enjoy. Enjoy is a service provided by Eni. Eni is an integrated energy company. Enjoy is a car-sharing service. So there’s gasoline and cars.

One of Eni’s partners in this service is Fiat. Gasoline and the provider of cars.

Fiat

Another is Trenitalia. Trenitalia is the primary train operator in Italy. So there’s travel by train, then travel post-train trip via a car that’s filled with gas.

Enjoy opened earlier this year in Milan and Rome with a fleet of Fiat 500s. It opened earlier this week in Florence. Again, with 500s.

There are some 185,000 members of Enjoy in Milan and Rome, who accounted for some 1.5-million rentals.

Those who have signed up for Enjoy can either reserve a car online or pick one up that happens to be available on the street. In Florence the Enjoy 500s can be driven in the limited traffic zone in the city center. What’s more, they can be parked in a variety of places, including those that are otherwise reserved for residents. Certainly that will make the Enjoy driver happy. Probably not the residents.

The fees are said to be highly competitive with alternatives, coming in at 25-cents a minute for the first 50 km that the vehicle is in motion, after which there is a 25-cent per kilometer fee added to the time fee. The cost of having a parked Enjoy 500 is 10 cents a minute.

Here’s the thing: Eni is going to sell gas to individuals who own or lease cars as well as to the Enjoy members (the aforementioned fees include insurance, fuel, parking, and maintenance costs). Trenitalia has Enjoy vehicles outside of the main train stations, which means that its customers can have more seamless mobility.

But what about Fiat? If people choose to join Enjoy and not buy a 500, then presumably there are going to be fewer 500s sold then there otherwise might be.

And with the proliferation of car-sharing services around the globe—and certainly not just in Italy—things are going to get a little complicated for all OEMs.




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