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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.

Fiats, Disruption & Other Automotive Excursions

By: Gary S. Vasilash 15. December 2014

When you think of Fiat in the U.S. market, you probably think first of the diminutive 500 (139.6 in. long) and its variants such as its Abarth trim. You might think of the 500L, a bigger version (167.3 in. long) of the small car.

The thing that both of the cars share is distinctive Italian design. (Interestingly, the Fiat 500 for the U.S. market is assembled in a plant in Toluca, Mexico, and the 500L in Kragujevac, Serbia.) So the choice is whether one is interested in extreme maneuverability with one’s charm or reasonably robust capacity.

500X

Questa non è la Fiat di tuo padre

But as Matt Davis, head of Marketing for Fiat Brand North America, explains, there is a third vehicle that they’re going to be bringing to the lineup in the second quarter of 2015, a 500 model that has notable capability.

It’s the Fiat 500X.

Davis references it as a “UV,” as in “utility vehicle.”

It is a B-segment crossover vehicle, one that is available with all-wheel-drive, a car that is bigger than the 500 and slightly smaller than the 500L (it is 167.2 in. long), but which provides a discernably higher H-point, the desirable attribute that many people are looking for.

According to Davis, speaking to Stephanie Brinley of IHS Automotive, Chris Paukert of Autoblog and me on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” (John McElroy was away, so I handled the helm, as it were), the 500X is the first model that is being offered in the U.S. market by Fiat that was developed with input from designers and engineers from the U.S. (Realize that the 500 and 500L are essentially European cars that were homologated for the U.S. market; Davis says people from Auburn Hills went to Italy to work on the development of the 500X. And it is worth pointing out that the 500X shares underpinnings and all-wheel-drive capability with the forthcoming Jeep Renegade, so this is certainly a car that was crafted with considerable attention for the American customer.)

Although this small crossover segment is going to become increasingly competitive—Honda will be bringing out the HR-V, Mazda the CX-3, and sales Buick Encore are up 57.4% this year over last—Davis is confident that because of the Italian pedigree of the 500X, they’ll have a hit on their hands.

The 500X, incidentally, not only has Italian design (penned at Centro Stile in Turin, Italy), but is also being manufactured in Italy, at a Fiat plant in Melfi.

In addition to the discussion of the Fiat 500X and Fiat in general, Brinley, Paukert and I also discuss the challenge that Uber is facing and its potential effect on mobility, why Tesla hasn’t scheduled a press conference at the 2015 North American International Auto Show, and whether the judges of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards (of which Paukert is a judge) got it right with the car finalists Hyundai Genesis, Ford Mustang, and Volkswagen Golf and truck finalists Lincoln MKC, Chevrolet Colorado, and Ford F-150.

And you can see it all here:

Half a BRIC Short

By: Gary S. Vasilash 12. December 2014

It wasn’t all that long ago that economists were rhapsodizing about the powerful potential of the BRIC countries—that’s Brazil, Russia, India, China—about how the BRICs were going to leave the Western countries in the dust.

Volkswagen Group announced this morning that it has had a record sales performance from January to November 2014, with deliveries of 9.08-million vehicles during that period.

“The ten-million mark is within reach in spite of all of the uncertainties in the global automotive sector,” said Christian Klinger, group board member for Sales.

Wolfsburg

Golf production in Wolfsburg, Germany

In Western Europe, sales were up 7.7%.

In Germany—which is calls out separately, given that it is, after all, the home base—sales were up 5.0%.

In Central and Eastern Europe, sales were up 1.3%.

In Russia—the R in BRIC—sales were down 12.9%.

In South America, Volkswagen Group sales were down 19.7% overall, with sales in Brazil—the B in BRIC—were down 15.8%.

So we have two of the four not performing well.

Things, admittedly, were better in the I and especially C.

In the Asia-Pacific region, sales were up 11.7%.

In China, deliveries increased 12.9%. China is now the Volkswagen Group’s single biggest market.

So there you have it. Half a BRIC.

Those economists are about on par with weather forecasters.

Bentley Motors Is Bullish

By: Gary S. Vasilash 11. December 2014

Bentley, according to Autodata, delivered 323 vehicles in the U.S. in November, which is precisely the number it delivered in November 2013. And year-to-date, its deliveries are 2,591, up from 2,522 for the same 11-month period in 2013.

Last year, on a global basis, Bentley sold 10,120 units, a record then, and one that it plans to break this year.

(Last month, Buick sold 19,143 vehicles in the U.S. Not exactly a fair comparison, but. . . .*)

Bentley SUV

Tease of forthcoming ultra-lux Bentley SUV

That said, either there must be plenty of upside in the luxury market, because this Volkswagen AG company has announced that it is making a £40-million investment on its HQ campus in Crewe, UK, for a 45,000-sq. meter research and development center that will house some 1,300 engineers.

This £40-million is on top of the £800-million that they are in the process of spending over a three-year period.

Bentley is also creating 300 additional jobs, in engineering, manufacturing, quality, sales, marketing, and product management.

One driver of Bentley’s bullishness is the ultra-luxury SUV that it plans to have available by 2016.

*A more-fair comparison would be with Rolls Royce, the BMW company. In November, according to Autodata, there were an estimated 62 Rolls delivered, which is one more than it delivered in November 2013. And year-to-date, its deliveries are 744, staunchly up from 404 for the same 11-month period in 2013.)

2015 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SE w/ Connectivity & Nav

By: Gary S. Vasilash 10. December 2014

The Volkswagen Jetta just may be the quintessential car.

It is the sort of straight-up car that looks like a car, drives like a car, has sufficient room for people and cargo as a (compact) car.

It just is, well, a car.

And I mean that in a good way.

Jetta 1

There is nothing flashy about it. Nothing trendy about it. Nothing that says “Hey, look at me!” about it.

Which some people might not find all that engaging as they are more interested in what a car says than what a car does.

But if you’re more interested in speaking for yourself rather than letting an object speak for or about you, if you’re interested in a car that does what a car should with evident competence, then maybe the Jetta is a car that you ought to take a look at.

Jetta 2

It is a four-door sedan. The car that I had was painted “Platinum Gray Metallic.” It is gray. A nice gray. But an anonymous gray. The interior is black. A leatherette. Not real leather. It seems like real not-top-quality leather. The black plastic materials throughout the cabin have nice texture and graining. They are accented with trim that is a patterned silver metallic plastic material. The backlighting of the gauges and whatnot are red. It is sort of darkroom chic.

The four-cylinder, direct-injected turbocharged engine is mated to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Sometimes turbocharged engines have a distinctive lag. This 170-hp engine doesn’t. Sometimes dual-clutch transmissions provide a herky-jerky feeling when shifting. This one doesn’t. The engine is nicely responsive. The transmission is seamless.

Again: just what you’d expect from a compact car.

There are some nice touches. Like active grille shutters which improve aerodynamics and contribute to the highly respectable fuel economy rating (25/37 city/highway). Like the available Lighting Package (a $995 option on this trim level—and that name up there in the headline is the actual name of the vehicle, ampersand included) that has bi-xenon headlamps with dynamic cornering (turn the wheel and the lights shift in that direction) along with 15 LEDs in an L-shape for the daytime running lights.

Jetta 3

Nowadays I am surprised if I get into a car that costs more than $20,000 (the MSRP for this one is $23,650) and discover that it doesn’t have automatic climate control. I was surprised with the Jetta.

The trunk is capacious, and at 15.7-cu. ft., it is said to be “class leading.” The other members of the class include the Civic, Cruze, Dart, Focus, and Corolla.

While it might seem as though I am damning the car for being inconspicuous, that is far from being my intent. I actually like the car quite a bit because it is so forthrightly what it is.

Jetta 4

It strikes me as a no-nonsense car but not something that is a punishment or a penalty. Rather, it seems to have been developed by people who said, “What do most people really need in their daily transport existence? Let’s answer that question and deliver on those requirements.”

And that they have.

Selected specs

Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged I4

Material: Cast iron block, aluminum head

Horsepower: 170 @ 4,800 rpm

Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electrical power-assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 104.4 in.

Length: 183.3 in.

Width: 70 in.

Height: 57.2 in.

Seating capacity: 5

Passenger volume: 94.1 cu. ft.

Cargo volume: 15.7 cu. ft.

Curb weight: 3,124 lb.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 25/37/30 mpg

Luxury/Cars/Cars/Luxury

By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. December 2014

In a recent interview with Automotive News, Ewe Ellinghaus, chief marketing officer at Cadillac, said, “Johan de Nysschen, my boss, and I always say we want to build the first luxury brand that just happens to make cars.”

Seems like he may have missed the chance on that one.

When Mercedes rolled out the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class at the Los Angeles Auto Show (where Ellinghaus was interviewed), they also displayed the “Driver’s Choice Collection.” This collection, developed with license partner MAYBACH—ICONS OF LUXURY (doesn’t it seem a little down-market for an outfit to use all capital letters for its name?), is said to “meet the most exacting demands in terms of design, materials and craftsmanship.”

Seems like there’s that luxury brand putting out an array of lux goods—including cars.

Driver’s Choice Collection

And you thought that Prada bag was special

There are various suitcases and messenger bags, belt buckles and cuff links, and two handbags, “Handbag THE ICON I” and “Handbag THE BARONESS I.” (Presumably there will be THE ICON II and THE BARONESS II at some point.)

There is even a blanket, for which “a wonderful pure-new wool was created.”

Cadillac was down 18.7% in November compared with November 2013, and is down 5.9% year-to-date.

Meanwhile, Mercedes was up 0.6% in November (not including the numbers for Sprinter and smart) and is up 6% for the year.

Clearly, it can afford to concentrate on things like THE BARONESS, while Cadillac really needs to focus on building cars that just happen to be luxury.




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