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.

VW Hits 500,000 in Chattanooga

By: Gary S. Vasilash 24. July 2015

The Volkswagen Plant in Chattanooga went into production in April 2011. Its initial objective was to produce the Passat sedan that was developed specifically for the North American market (as in other global markets have a different Passat).

Passat 2015

When the car first hit the roads, it gained plenty of favor, such as being named the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year, among other accolades.

Unfortunately, the Passat hasn’t been performing particularly well in the U.S. market. Through June 2015, sales of the car were off 15.2% from the same period in 2014. And if we look back to how it fared in the first half of 2014, it was down 11.3% from the first half of 2013.

Not good.

Anyway, the men and women at Volkswagen Chattanooga deserve a tip of the proverbial hat because on Wednesday of this week they produced the 500,000th Passat.

VW plant

Very good.

Volkswagen Group knows that they’ve got a fine manufacturing facility there in southeastern Tennessee because they are investing $900-million to expand the plant to build a seven-seat midsize SUV. The start of production is planned for late 2016.

There are some 2,400 people working in the plant. The expansion will add 2,000 more.

A Red Dot for a Robot

By: Gary S. Vasilash 23. July 2015

When we’ve written about the Red Dot Awards in the past, it has typically been about Peter Schreyer managing still another win for Kia.

But it came to our attention that a product that is found in factories producing stampings for parts has achieved a Red Dot Award.

It is the Crossbar Robot 4.0 from Schuler.

Schuler

According to the jury: “The smooth surfaces of the industrial robot appear immaculate and fluid. The bright white communicates cleanly executed workflows.”

What the jury probably doesn’t know is that the Crossbar Robot is used to automate press lines—be they mechanical or hydraulic, new lines or retrofits—and can handle up to 15 parts per minute.

They’ve developed new variants of the material handling device: the Crossbar Robot 4.0S, with an additional shift axis, and the Crossbar Robot 4.0H, which can handle hot-stamped parts.

Yes, even industrial equipment can have first-rate designs.

2015 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance

By: Gary S. Vasilash 22. July 2015

Back in the day when there were Yellow Pages—yes, there still are Yellow Pages, but one is undoubtedly more likely to avail oneself of Google or Yelp—companies sometimes created names that would allow them to show up early in the listings. That is (for those of you who are unfamiliar with the way the YP is organized), if a company is in the repair business, it might want a name like “AAAA Repair” because that would show up before “Bob’s Repair.” “Awesome Pizza” would precede “Giuseppe’s Pies.”

Whether or not it actually worked is something else entirely. But the early initial letter certainly got a company ahead of the others.

Acura probably wishes that there were more people who used a Yellow Pages when looking for a car. Somehow, when you ask someone to name luxury brands—even Japanese luxury brands—Acura gets left off the list. BMW or Mercedes. Lexus or Infiniti. Audi. Cadillac. Even Lincoln.

2015 Acura TLX

But its relative longevity notwithstanding (Acura was introduced in 1986—Lexus three years later), somehow it has managed to elude the attention, and the sales, that its competitors have racked up.

Which is really a shame, because the company makes some damn fine vehicles.

Case in point: the TLX.

The TLX is a midsize sports sedan. One of the things that Honda has long been known for is its powertrain technology and. . .

“Wait a minute,” you say. “This is a story about Acura. Why are you now talking about Honda?”

Well, as Toyota is to Lexus, Nissan to Infiniti, and VW to Audi, Honda is to Acura.

And Honda is a world’s class powertrain developer. While there are people who actually work for “Acura,” one shouldn’t forget the roots of where they come from. And in this instance, it is a good thing.

Because this is the “sports” sedan territory, the TLX is this particular case has a considerable amount of powertrain and driveline technology that makes the vehicle, well, sporty. As in a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 290 hp and which is mated to a nine-speed automatic (yes, there are paddle shifters).

2015 Acura TLX

In addition to which, there is SH-AWD, which is “Super Handling-All Wheel Drive,” which is better known by its acronym, as the other version sounds like something that might come out of Nintendo.

The all-aluminum engine features direct injection and variable cylinder management, which means that when cruising along at highway speeds, for example, three of the six cylinders can be shut off to save fuel. And speaking of shutting things off, there is idle-stop capability (a.k.a., a “start-stop system”), which means when, say, at a stop light, the engine will shut off, again for purposes of fuel savings.

One of the problems that vexes some start-stop systems is that upon restart it can be a jarring event. So Acura has deployed a 28-Volt “Active Control” engine mount that counteracts those sudden vibrations.

As mentioned, the nine-speed transmission has paddle shifters. What is in some ways more interesting, and which will be used each and every time you drive the TLX, is an electronic pushbutton gear selector mounted on the center console where the shift leaver would otherwise be located. This not only opens up space, but it also makes for a more attractive control layout.

SH-AWD is a torque vectoring system. Acura has been working SH-AWD for a number of years and has used it to great effect in the MDX SUV. This hydraulically controlled system is most helpful in cornering situations—at high speeds or low—by transferring torque to the wheel that needs it the most.

The TLX is a clean-sheet car for Acura, meaning that there is an all new platform that was developed to help make Acura more competitive in the sport-sedan territory. There is four-wheel independent suspension (MacPherson struts in the front and a multi-link setup in the rear). The car uses a cast-aluminum and steel front subframe that’s mean to keep the driver and passengers from feeling jolted by the road surface. In addition to which there are amplitude reactive dampers that deploy two separate damping pistons, one to accommodate minor inputs in ordinary driving and the other to handle damping when the car is being driven hard.

A point of the TLX is that it can be driven hard, but when doing so it isn’t a situation where you feel like you are exhausted from the experience.

2015 Acura TLX

Acura apparently recognizes that cars are most often driven by regular people under regular circumstances, as opposed to actual or would-be race drivers who live on a mountain top that can only be reached by roads with more twists and turns than a ziggurat. One indication of this is that driving modes can be selected via pushbutton that include ECON, Normal, Sport, and Sport +, with the first being a means to optimize fuel efficiency; Sport adjusting the throttle, steering and SH-AWD rear-wheel torque vectoring; Sport + also adjusting transmission mapping.

The interior is well executed. Acura interior designers call their approach to the front seats “dual personal structure,” which pretty much means that what the driver needs is readily at hand, and the center console can be accessed by either the driver or the passenger. I found the lines on the instrument panel to be well thought-out—it seems as though someone was really paying attention to their task and executed well.

Yes, there are screens, an eight-inch color screen high in the instrument panel and a lower seven-inch screen that has menus in place of a plethora of buttons. (Although there are still buttons.)

The vehicle as driven has the “Advance Package,” which includes things like collision mitigation braking (if you don’t pay attention to its alert that you’re going to bang into something, it will apply the binders itself), adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow (let’s face it—what’s more tedious than slow going?), lane departure warning, and more. And, of course, there is all of the other now-obligatory tech on offer (e.g., navigation, Sirius XM, etc.).

From a styling standpoint, the TLX seems to be a design with more confidence, which means dialing back on some of the “look-at-me” characteristics of previous generations of Acura cars and trucks. To the company’s credit, it doesn’t seem as though it is trying to be something from another brand. It is as though after all these years, Acura is really coming back into its own.

Sedans are facing rough sledding in the market right now as it is smooth going for SUVs, especially for compact SUVs like the Acura RDX. But for those who are in the market for a luxury sport sedan, it is certainly well worth it to start at the beginning of the alphabet and to check out Acura.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.5-liter SOHC, DI V6

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 290 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 267 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic

Steering: Electric power assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 109.3 in.

Length: 190.3 in.

Width 73 in.

Height: 57 in.

Passenger volume: 93.3 cu. ft.

Curb weight: 3,774 lb.

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

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Ground Control to Ford Mustang

By: Gary S. Vasilash 21. July 2015

The NASA Apollo program was instituted to land people on the Moon.

There were a total 11 spaceflights. The first four were to test equipment. The following seven were to put astronauts on the moon. Six of the seven succeeded. The other one, Apollo 13, turned into an Academy Award-nominated movie (it did win two, for sound and editing).

Here’s an amazing thing: the first Apollo flight was in 1968.

In 1969 Neil Armstrong stepped on the lunar surface.

Talk about fast product development.

The last Moon landing was in 1972.

In case you’re wondering about the relevance of this, it’s that Ford has designed a special-edition Mustang that will be auctioned this week, on July 23, at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015 aviation event.

Apollo Edition 2015 Mustang

It is the Apollo Edition Mustang.

Ford Design Manager Melvin Betancourt led a team that created the car, based on a 2015 Mustang GT with a 5.0-liter engine, with a special white and black paint scheme, a carbon fiber front splitter, rear diffuser, rocker moldings and accent treatments, and LED underbody lights (for that atmospheric re-entry look).

Ford board member Edsel B. Ford II explained the rational for this special vehicle: “The Apollo program delivered astonishing innovations in technology and achieved a national goal of landing the first human on the moon. The entire program was extraordinary—one of our nation’s greatest technological achievements. With this year’s stunning Apollo Edition Mustang, we salute that spirit of American ingenuity with the quintessential American automobile—Ford Mustang.”

Apollo Edition 2015 Mustang

We’ll give Mr. Ford a pass for his braggadocio, as the proceeds of the auction of the car will go to EAA youth education program, and here’s hoping some of those young people will get the U.S. back to a vigorous manned space program.

Porsche Experience Center: Drive or Eat?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 21. July 2015

This is a Porsche Panamera GTS on the low-friction surface of the 1.6-mile track that’s on the grounds of the $100-million Porsche Experience Center:

Porsche 1

The Experience Center, which is on 27.7-acres hard on the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, includes the track (there are 77 cars that can be driven; you can look into booking one via www.porschedriving.com), Porsche Cars North America headquarters, a technical training center, classic car restoration center, vehicle gallery, a business center where rooms can be rented, and more.

The company expects some 30,000 people to visit the site on an annual basis.

Of course, Porsche being, well, Porsche, the latest addition to the complex—which opened in May—is Restaurant 356, about which Andre Oosthuizen, vice president of marketing for Porsche Cars North America says, "At Restaurant 356, our guests will enjoy elegant dishes that honor Atlanta's global flavors, while culminating a unique Porsche experience."

Porsche 2

The restaurant overlooks the track.

Here’s betting that when someone considers booking a table at Restaurant 356 or track time with a 911 Turbo, chances are it will be the latter, not the former.




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