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.

Sales, Testimony & Telematics

By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. April 2014

If March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, it turns out that auto customers didn’t get the animals right, because auto sales for March roared out like a bull, as what was probably pent-up demand throughout large parts of the country caused by months of being kept inside due to unpleasant climatic conditions was released.

According to Autodata, total U.S. light vehicle deliveries in March were 1,537,288 vehicles, up 9.8% from March 2013. Which is certainly nothing to sniff at.

Not only were sales numbers released last week, but Mary Barra, GM CEO, probably had an opportunity that she’d never dreamed of when she was offered the job to head the automaker: A grilling on Capitol Hill by law makers who were intent on grandstanding finding out about the defective ignition switches on 2.6-million cars.

These topics, and others, are discussed by John McElroy of Autoline; Mike Austin, automotive editor of Popular Mechanics, and me on “Autoline After Hours.”

Blue Link

Then Barry Ratzlaff, executive director, Customer Connect and Service Business Development, Hyundai Motor America, joins the group to talk about Blue Link 2.0, the in-vehicle telematics platform that the company is launching in the 2015 Genesis. The new system includes such things as destination search through Google, remote start (there is embedded tech in the vehicles that allows not only remote start, but the ability to read diagnostic codes that is useful for advising the driver of necessary service requirements), and automatic collision notification and emergency assistance.

One of the things that’s interesting about Ratzlaff’s position is that his focus is on finding use for the customer, not on the wizardry of the technology in and of itself. What’s more, he emphasizes that Hyundai is a car company, not a telematics/infotainment firm, and so the company is focusing on working with partners who do a better job in that space that they are likely to (in addition to Google, they’re offering Apple Siri Eyes-Free integration with iOS devices and Hyundai has also announced its plans to integrate Apple CarPlay).

All of which is to say that Ratzlaff has a perspective on the subject that you don’t often hear, as OEMs seem to be hailing telematics as the best development for cars since tires, and he is saying that it is best to focus on actual needs and desires, and then work to implement it in as seamless a way as possible, even if this means that this isn’t a Hyundai-only development. And you can hear—and see it—here:

 

Process, Procedures & Punctuation

By: Gary S. Vasilash 4. April 2014

This is Mary Barra, GM CEO in Washington on Tuesday. April Fool’s Day.

GMBarraHouseTestify12.jpg

(Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt for General Motors)

Ms. Barra is nobody’s fool.

But she certainly is a person who got a job last January that is like that Chinese character that is opportunity/curse.

She began her testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation saying:

“More than a decade ago, GM embarked on a small car program. Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that program, but I can tell you that we will find out.

“When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators, and with our customers.

“As soon as l learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation. We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed. We did so because whatever mistakes were made in the past, we will not shirk from our responsibilities now and in the future. Today’s GM will do the right thing.”

“Today’s GM.”

Ms. Barra joined GM as a co-op student in 1980. Which means that she was there for “Yesterday’s GM,” too.

Last month, Ms. Barra named Jeff Boyer the company’s first-ever vice president, Global Vehicle Safety. His job is to make sure that problems like those associated with the Cobalt and Ion and on and on and on never happen again. Jeff Boyer joined GM as a co-op student in 1974. Which means that he was there for “Yesterday’s GM,” too.

I am confident that Ms. Barra and Mr. Boyer are good people. Well meaning people. People who care about how the corporation that they have dedicated the better part of their lives to is perceived. And how the products they design, develop, engineer, and manufacture perform.

But I am also confident that when people are within an organization for a long time, there is a certain institutional myopia that sets in. There is a certain ingrained notion of “this is how we do things.”

I know that I’ve been with Automotive Design & Production for such a long period of time that all of my real or imagined “free-thinking ability” notwithstanding, if someone were to come in from the outside and say, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know that you don’t double space after periods, anymore?” I would probably not take it well. But I wouldn’t know that because that is something that I didn’t pay attention to, as I was trying to write things that are good. (And even though that did happen, know that as I wrote this, I consistently double spaced after each terminal punctuation mark.)

Sometimes to get to “Today’s Anything”—corporation, publication—it takes an outside perspective.

And that is something that I think Ms. Barra needs for “Today’s”—and “Tomorrow’s”—GM.

Ford Turns Down the Volume

By: Gary S. Vasilash 3. April 2014

Although MyFordTouch has been roundly derided for a variety of reasons ranging from difficulty to downright disfunctionality, there is one product beginning with an attributive adjective that seems to be useful for parents of teens and operators of contracting businesses alike, which seems to indicate that all is not lost vis-à-vis Ford’s telematics undertaking.

2014 Ford Mustang MyKey screen in a 2014 Mustang

It’s MyKey which provides the ability for someone in charge (e.g., adult, business owner) to set up the vehicle so that:

--The top speed is limited. 80 mph is the overall maximum (not that we’re aware of anywhere where one can legally drive 80, you never know when you need to put the pedal to the metal).

--The audio system is limited to 45% of max volume so that one can actually be aware of things like sirens and horns being sounded.

--Incoming phone calls are directly routed to voicemail, thereby making sure that one concentrates on driving, not what they’ll be doing after they get off of work.

While Ford initially seemed to target MyKey to parents of teens, thereby creating nearly eternal enmity among teen drivers of their parents Mustangs and Taurus SHOs, now they are focusing on contractors, too, putting the telematics system on, for example the 2014 Transit Connect.

 

Smells Like Teen. . .

By: Gary S. Vasilash 2. April 2014

Over at autoextemist.com, my colleague Peter DeLorenzo often rails against what he considers the democratization of luxury. The point being that in the automotive world, there once was a notion of what luxury meant, and that tended to have more than a little something to do with the notion of exclusivity, not everybody.

One of DeLorenzo’s targets in this regard is Mercedes. As he wrote last November: “Let’s not forget that once upon a time, when it wasn’t so obsessed with being the all things to all people car company that it is today, Mercedes-Benz was considered to be a maker of exclusive luxury cars. That was back in the day of the imperious - and perfectly rendered - ad theme ‘Engineered Like No Other Car in the World,’ which came with the belief that driving a Mercedes was truly something special and was coveted by the well-heeled who could actually afford one and the rest of us with aspirations of wheeling that level of luxury some day.”

Merc scent

That criticism came to mind when I saw an option that Mercedes is offering to its German customers of the new C-Class, the “Air-Balance” package. This package consists of an air filter, ionizer and a “fragrance system.”

Said system is based on 15-ml glass flasks of scent. The available fragrances are “Freeside Mood,” “Nightlife Mood,” “Downtown Mood,” and “Sports Mood.” They are housed in the glovebox, then wafted into the interior of the car.

As this is a Mercedes C-Class, it seems somewhat downmarket. But then it should be noted that a similar system is available for the S-Class, and that car is nothing but upscale.

But all in all, I can’t help but think of this.

2014 Cadillac CTS 3.6-L TT Vsport

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. April 2014

I mentioned to an auto executive who doesn’t work for Cadillac that I was driving the 2014 CTS, the North American Car of the Year (NACOTY). And he admitted that he was looking forward to the opportunity of driving one himself. He said that he was “incredibly impressed” with the body fits and the curb weights. He was also piqued because of the “love-fest” editorial coverage of the car—as in not only the NACOTY judges, although presumably most of those journalists rhapsodized about the car in their own outlets.

2014 Cadillac CTS

It had been a couple of months since I first drove the CTS on twisty, turny, elevation-changing roads in California. Now I was going to have the car in snow-covered, freezing, pothole strewn, and straight roads in southeast Michigan.

And damn if I didn’t crack a smile that didn’t want to go away when I drove out of the parking lot.

Sign me up for the love-fest.

This really is a wonderful car.

2014 Cadillac CTS

What made matters more impressive is the fact that I had just been driving another luxury car with—somewhat—sporty performance. And the distance between the two was rather noticeable in a variety of ways, not the least of which was the powertrain response. The One that Will Go Unnamed (TOWGU) has a V8 and the CTS as driven has a twin-turbo V6. One was stately. The other was bat-out-of-helly.

TOWGU has a really refined interior with acres of leather and a grove worth of trees, too. Yes, yes, the Cadillac has “hand-stitched” leather. No, this doesn’t mean that some person is trying to force a needle through cow hides (I remember back in the day trying to sew a patch on a jean jacket and I put my thumb out of commission for quite some time, and that was just denim.) Rather, a real person is using a sewing machine to put the various trim bits together to create an engaging whole. But even in the last-generation CTS (this, by the way, is the third), hand-sewing and wood and metal notwithstanding, the interiors just left me feeling as though it was still an exercise in trying to achieve three-quarters premium.

2014 Cadillac CTS

The 2014 CTS has an interior execution that I suspect that even people at Audi are impressed with. There is a certain substantialness to all aspects, from the steering wheel to the seats, from the leather and wood trim to the lining in the door pull pockets.

(Here’s the obligatory complaint about the CUE—Cadillac User Experience—infotainment interface. There is an eight-inch color screen that has capacitive sensing capability, just like a smart phone. It is used for entertainment. Navigation. HVAC. Hands-free calling. If you are, say, using the navigation screen and want to change the radio station, then as your finger nears the screen virtual buttons pop up across the top of the screen: you select the one that looks like a speaker, and it brings you to the audio page. Were this a smart phone in the palm of your hand, it would be good. But as this is a screen in a 420-hp vehicle, the whole touching and swiping and swiping and swiping and swiping and---!!!!! doesn’t work out so well. Here thinking that the next-gen CUE has a truly revolutionary addition: a knob that rotates. Maybe even more than one.)

2003 CTS Then

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport Now

At the risk of committing some sort of sin of design relativism, it is absolutely remarkable to look at a first-gen CTS (2003) and the current model. As you may recall, the first-generation CTS was used in the 2003 film The Matrix Reloaded. The objective was to have a car that looked futuristic, and it did. Funny how the future ages. The first-gen is Bill Logan to the third-gen’s Neo. It has profoundly greater presence, angularity and yet fullness. Eleven years from now it will probably look contemporary.

Yes, a lot to love.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 w/DI and VVT

Horsepower: 420 @ 5,750 rpm

Torque: 430 lb-ft @3,500 to 4,500 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and head

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic w/paddle shift

Steering: ZF rack-mounted electric powered assist

Wheelbase: 114.6 in.

Length: 195.5 in.

Width: 72.2 in.

Height: 57.7 in.

Passenger volume: 97-cu. ft.

Trunk volume: 13.7 cu. ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 16/24/18 mpg




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