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.

2015 Honda CR-V Touring

By: Gary S. Vasilash 13. May 2015

As I sat in the driver’s seat of the 2015 Honda CR-V, it occurred to me that this is probably the sort of vehicle that pretty much answers the needs of most people. At least those who aren’t looking for a luxury marque, although given that the Touring trim level brings to bear leather trimming or wrapping of seats and steering wheel and shift knob, a seven-inch touchscreen for infotainment purposes, powered moon roof and tailgate, as well as an array of other amenities, were the Honda badge ignored, then even many looking for luxe might be taken.

2015 Honda CR-V

I mean, there are forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, lane keeping assist, and land-departure warning on the safety side of things, as well as adaptive cruise control on the convenience side of things.

And there is all-wheel drive ready to kick in whenever the conditions call for it, which pretty much means that it is that little extra level of security that some people (especially those in the states where the winter of 2014-15 was seemingly unending) like to have.

The package is well thought-out (with one exception) and well executed. It provides the higher visibility that many people are looking for and cargo capacity in a compact footprint.

2015 Honda CR-V

It’s one of those things where you think that it is really all you need.

And it seems that there are plenty of people who agree with that point of view, because it so happens that the CR-V is the best-selling vehicle in the Honda lineup (through April, 102,579 were delivered, compared with 95,896 Accords and 95,102 Civics), and according to Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager of Honda Div., it is the best-selling SUV in the U.S., period. (In addition to which, Conrad notes that the CR-V is the Motor Trend 2015 Sport-Utility of the Year.)

The vehicle has a 185-hp engine, which provides enough power to do what vehicles of this type are meant to do (let’s face it: no one is going to take it on a track or even try to beat the guy behind the wheel of a Mustang at a light). It has a continuously variable transmission that helps in the mpg category (stickered at 28 mpg, combined) because even though gas prices are currently below $3-gallon, about a dollar (on national average) lower than they were a year ago, people still would like to spend more on beverages at Starbucks than on fuel at a BP station).

The vehicle was refreshed last fall, so the look is stylish and contemporary.

There is seating for five, and if you’re driving with the rear seat ready for people, then there is 35.2-cu. ft. of cargo behind it. If you skip the possibility of people back there and quickly flip the back of the rear seat forward, then there is 70.9-cu. ft. at your disposal.

2015 Honda CR-V

The funny thing about the CR-V was that I found my primary problem with the vehicle is a little thing. And it is little both objectively and metaphorically. The “Power” button on the infotainment head unit measures some 10-mm square. It is hard to describe just how small that is. I would find it too small on an audio system on my desk, to say nothing of something that weighs 3,624 lb. And I am still of the tribe that thinks that knobs for purposes of audio adjustments are a good thing, which the designers of that head unit apparently disagree with. (There are controls on the steering wheel that allow the adjustments, but let’s say that your front passenger wants to change the station or crank it up—yes, it can be done with pokes and swipes, but the ergonomics of the knob make just so much more sense.)

2015 Honda CR-V

Once people talked about getting a “family sedan.” It seems that with vehicles like the CR-V, that’s now the “family crossover.” Yes, there are bigger vehicles than the CR-V (like the three-row Honda Pilot), but given that the size of the average U.S. family is 3.13 people (hard to imagine how that fraction is calculated in the real world), so the CR-V is just right.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.4-liter DOHC I4

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 185 @ 6,400 rpm

Torque: 181 lb-ft @ 3,900 rpm

Transmission: Continuously variable

Steering: Electric-assisted rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 103.1 in.

Length: 179.4 in.

Width: 71.6 in.

Height: 65.1 in.

Passenger volume: 101.5 cu. ft.

Cargo volume: 35.2 cu. ft. behind second row; 70.9 cu. ft. seat folded

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 26/33/28 mpg

 

Don’t Underestimate Electrification

By: Gary S. Vasilash 12. May 2015

Given the decrease in hybrid and electric vehicle sales, largely predicated on reduced gas prices, people are fairly certain that the entire category is ready for a tumble.

Prius

Take the poster-child vehicle for electrification, the Toyota Prius. Through April, there have been 55,535 Prius models delivered in the U.S., which is down 9.9% compared to the same period in 2014. However, when you compare that number to the delivery numbers for some other small cars, it doesn’t look so dire.

For example, there have been 33,686 Dodge Darts delivered, and that is up 52%.

If you add together all of the Buick passenger cars—the LaCrosse, Regal and Verano—you come up with a total of 31,846, or 57% of the sales of the Prius.

The Ford Mustang is on fire, up 60% this year, and its sales are 42,955.

So this whole death of the hybrid may be greatly exaggerated.

And it should be noted that the Prius is long in the proverbial tooth, with a new one to be launched later this year. Everyone likes new.

Another way of looking at this electrification situation comes from a study done by IHS of the automotive powertrain semiconductor market. They found that there was 8.3% growth in 2014.

IHS

Notably, they are projecting that given the demand for plug-in hybrids and stop-start systems, there will be a compound annual growth rate of nearly 6% per year for the next five.

In terms of valuation, that’s from $7.2-billion in 2014 to $9.5-billion in 2019.

Said Ahad Buksh, automotive semiconductors analyst at IHS, “Propulsion systems for electric and hybrid vehicles demand, on average, 10 times more semiconductor content than a conventional engine. Without electrification, the powertrain semiconductor market would have only grown 3.1% annually for the next five years, whereas electrification is now accelerating the market at 6% growth rate annually.”

Autonomy & Beyond!

By: Gary S. Vasilash 11. May 2015

Autonomous vehicles have long seemed to be something that we would experience “In the FUTURE!” (imagine those words intoned by someone with a booming voice, like in a movie trailer).

Yet thanks to some very clever technologists, engineers and programmers at OEMs, supplier companies, and, well, Google, autonomous vehicles are quickly becoming everyday reality.

Google car prototype drawing

A Google artist’s rendition of a self-driving Google car

A recent example of the magnitude of autonomy—literally and figuratively—is the Freightliner Inspiration, which had its global introduction last week in Nevada, a state that is allowing this vehicle to run on its public roads.

The truck is an on-highway rig powered by a Detroit DD15 engine, producing some 505 hp. It is a Level 3 autonomous vehicle. Meaning that it can accelerate, brake and even steer without driver intervention. (And it is “smart” enough to tell the driver when intervention is required.)

World Premiere Freightliner Inspiration Truck

See that semi?  It is an autonomous Freightliner on a public highway in Nevada

On this episode of “Autoline After Hours,” host John McElroy, IHS Automotive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley, Automobile magazine Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa, and I discuss the present and, yes, future of autonomous vehicles. (Yes, it seems that even a keen driving enthusiast like Lassa sees that self-driving cars are going to become more ubiquitous.)

Speaking of auto enthusiasm, we also look at the solid sales of muscle cars in the U.S. Is it just because gas is cheap?

And we note, with sadness and some stories, about the passing at age 88 of automotive legend Denise McCluggage, who, if you never watched her compete on a race track or read her columns in Autoweek, is one of the auto industry’s most fascinating individuals.

One thing that does come up during the show is a discussion of tool and die maker Riviera Tool of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was acquired by Tesla, not Magna, as I mistakenly maintain. Mea culpa.

You can see it all (including my boo-boo) here:

 

Ford F-150 Goes CNG

By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. May 2015

Although the price of gasoline is still rather inexpensive—according to GasBuddy.com, the national average price of a gallon of regular stands at $2.62 this week, though the petroleum analysis firm points out that the price of gas is in the process of climbing—there is another option that remains (1) less expensive and (2) helps reduce emissions.

It’s compressed natural gas (CNG).

2016 Ford F-150

And this past Monday Ford announced that it is offering the 2016 F-150 with a gaseous-fuel prep package such that 5.0-liter, V8 half-tons will be able to run on CNG or propane.

Jon Coleman, Ford fleet sustainability and technology manager (realize that this is primarily of interest to those who have fleets of pickups), said, “We surveyed customers likely to use natural gas or propane, and 72% told us they want to have these alternative-fuel capabilities available on F-150 with the 5.0-liter V8 engine. We expect the gaseous-fuel prep package will be even more popular than it was on the 2014 F-150 with the 3.7-liter V6 engine, given the capability of the 2016 F-150 5.0-liter V8.”

At the factory, the intake and exhaust valves and valve seats are upgraded to accommodate the gaseous fuel. Then the truck owner selects to have additional work—fuel tanks, fuel lines, and unique fuel injectors installed—done by a “Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier.”

This upfitting runs from about $7,500 to $9,500, depending largely on the tank size.

Given that premium, that’s probably why this is something that fleet operators do rather than the guy next door.

According to Ford, as of April 30, the average price of CNG was $2.11 (that is, the gasoline equivalent was). What’s more, it “is as low as $1 in some parts of the country.”

$1!

Consequently, the operating costs can be lower than gasoline (or diesel) powered vehicles.

Last year Ford sold 16,821 commercial vehicles with CNG/propane prep (in addition to F-150s, it offers Super Duty, Transit and Transit Connect). It anticipates greater sales this year.

The vehicles offered are:

  • 2016 F-150 with 5.0-liter Ti-VCT V8
  • F-250 and F-350 Super Duty pickup with 6.2-liter V8
  • F-350 to F-550 Super Duty chassis cab with 6.2-liter V8 or 6.8-liter V10
  • F-650 and F-750 chassis cab with 6.8-liter V10
  • F-53 and F-59 stripped chassis with 6.8-liter V10
  • Transit Connect van and wagon with 2.5-liter I-4
  • Transit van, wagon, cutaway and chassis cab with 3.7-liter Ti-VCT V6
  • E-Series cutaway and stripped chassis with 5.4-liter V8 or 6.8-liter V10

Notably, in 2010, the only vehicle that was offered with the factory prep was the E-Series van—which is in the process of being phased out (through April Ford sold 18,710 E-Series vehicles in 2015, down 54.2% from the same period in 2014).

Autodesk, Microsoft & 3D Printing

By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. May 2015

“3D printing is incredibly promising, but also still too complex and unreliable,” said Samir Hanna, vice president and general manager, Consumer and 3D printing, Autodesk.

Autodesk, however, is extremely bullish on the technology, so it is working to make it less complex and more reliable.

Autodesk Spark

So in an effort to make that happen, it has announced that it is embedding its Spark 3D printing platform in Microsoft’s Windows 10. What’s more, it is making Spark APIs free (terms and conditions apply, of course) to the Microsoft developer community.

According to Hanna, “This relationship”—as in Autodesk and Microsoft—“is a key step in making 3D printing easier and more accessible to businesses and individuals alike."

Autodesk and Microsoft are also founding members of the 3D Manufacturing (3MF) Consortium for creating and supporting a standard 3D interchange and printing format.

Said Steve Guggenheimer, Corporate Vice President of Developer Platform & Evangelism and Chief Evangelist for Microsoft, "We’re approaching a tipping point with 3D printing, which means there is a huge market opportunity waiting for companies developing applications for Windows 10. By providing the 3D printing building blocks found in the Spark platform and optimizing it for Windows 10, Autodesk has empowered our global developer community to confidently enter this new world of additive manufacturing.”

Given that the image that accompanied the announcement appears to be a spark plug, presumably there is some automotive potential in all this.




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