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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.

Built Ford Tough

By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. April 2014

One of the concerns that some people have expressed about the forthcoming Ford F-150 pickup is that whether it is the same type of material used for some military vehicles or not, the fact that aluminum is being used for the body might mean that it isn’t up to the sort of abuse that light trucks generally get.

So Ford engineers went to town on testing the vehicle. As Pete Reyes, F-150 chief engineer put it, “We challenged the team to torture the truck harder than any F-150 before it.”

They built a special test rig that twists and turns (up, down, side-to-side, and length-wise) the truck in seven directions. Five days on that was equal to the abuse of 225,000 miles.

2015 Ford F-150 Platinum

They took it out to their proving grounds in Romeo, Michigan, where it suffered abuse like the Silver Creek durability course, that has one section with 15 types of potholes and another section made with broken pieces of concrete. Driving 500 miles on that is equivalent to 20,000 miles on real roads. They ran it up grades. They ran it over twist ditches. They ran it over gravel. They ran it through salt baths and even used an acidified spray.

But the test that really put the aluminum to the test is that they dropped 55-gallon drums into the bed of the truck on an angle so the rim of the drum would impact the bed. Adjustments to the bed were made as required so that the truck can deal with the kind of things that it is likely to encounter in real-world situations (which will no dobut include everything from gravel loads to 55-gallon drums), probably within a few hours of someone's new 2015 F-150 rolling off the lot.

2014 Audi A6 TDI quattro Tiptronic

By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. April 2014

The Audi A6 had emblazoned on its front doors in a font that myopics could read: “TDI Clean Diesel.” Which, for a number of reasons, is a good thing. For one, anyone who’d look at this handsome sedan would probably never imagine that it would be powered by a diesel engine, as diesels, at least in the minds of many Americans, are still those clattering, noisy, smelly things that contractors have in pickup trucks (the big rig implementation goes without saying). In Germany, you’d be hard pressed to find a car like the A6 that doesn’t come with a diesel. Perhaps things will change in the U.S., at least to the extent that the German OEMs continue to offer compression ignition options for their cars, not just trucks. (Quick: name the U.S. domestic car that’s available with a diesel? Chevy Cruze. That’s it. And if you want to buy a light-duty truck with a diesel, again the choice is singular: Ram 1500. Utility? Jeep Grand Cherokee. That leaves two more fingers to count on. Clearly, U.S. OEMs are not sold on diesels. And the Japan-based brands are pretty much hybrid-centric when it comes to their powertrain alternatives, as you can buy a Lexus, Acura or Infiniti with a hybrid, no problem.)

A6 1

The second reason why that labeling (which, by the way, you’re not going to see offered in the Audi spec sheet as an optional graphic—thankfully) was helpful is because it reminded me that it was a diesel. There was no other cue. No clattering of the high-pressure injectors. No smell of diesel exhaust. Nothing. One might argue that the performance, as in good low-end torque, should have been a cue, but I figured that it was a German sedan built for the Autobahn, so performance low, medium and high should be notable across the board. One might argue that the general miles per gallon in the high 20s range should have been a giveaway, but again I figured that with contemporary spark-ignition engines being as good as they are, that was nothing of real particular note.

There was one giveaway, however, which is that on the gauge cluster in the top left-hand corner, there was a range estimation. When I first got in the car, it read “560 miles.” Here’s the thing: yes, diesels are more expensive, both to buy straight up and to refuel (diesel fuel, at least around southeastern Michigan, tends to have a hefty premium on the price of premium). But the amount of refueling that you’ll do with a diesel is going to be significantly less than if the car was powered by gasoline, so saving yourself time visiting your local gas station is probably a benefit that is sometimes overlooked.

A6 2

As the A6 is an Audi, and as Audi is to interior design what Apple is to consumer electronic design, it is well executed in terms of the quality of the materials deployed and the way that the edges come together thoughtfully and cleanly. Yes, the navigation system does have Google Earth, but frankly, after the novelty wore off, I found myself going back to a more ordinary navigation screen, as glancing at a map strikes me as being more informational than trying to suss out things on a screen (e.g., at some point you really don’t need to see trees and parking lots and what not in pictorial representation). And while on the subject of interfaces, it did seem to me that the guys in the Audi lab in Silicon Valley ought to spend a little more time working on the ergonomics of the system, as in some ways it seemed like this was essentially knob-and-button based tech wrapped in high-tech packaging: mind you, I am all for knobs and buttons, but it seems that there could be better graphic execution, even for doing simple things like setting presets for your favorite radio stations.

A6 3

Credit must be given to Audi for paying attention to the fact that when drivers are doing something like backing up, paying attention is an important thing for the driver to be doing: not only is there the rear camera with the relevant lines about where the car is maneuvering and an array of sensors, but the audio is muted. Nice touch that.

And overall, a nice car. Of course, it should be noted that nice in this case comes at a price, as the base is $57,500, there’s $895 for destination, and throw in a couple packages, and before you know it you’re above $66K. But this A6 seems like a car that will have plenty of years ahead of it.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged V6 diesel

Horsepower: 240 @ 3,500 to 3,750 rpm

Torque: 428 lb-ft @ 1,750 to 2,250

Materials: Cast iron block, aluminum heads

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, Tiptronic

Wheelbase: 114.7 in.

Length: 193.9 in.

Width: 73.8 in.

Height: 57.8 in.

Curb weight: 4,178 lb.

Trunk volume: 14.1 cu. ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 24/38/29 mpg

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When the Rain Comes. . .

By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. April 2014

If past is prelude, then we can pretty much look forward to the Polar Vortex being replaced by the Tropical Monsoon or something along those lines, meaning April Showers 2.0.

Which leads to an explanation of how automatic windshield wipers work on the remarkably popular Buick Encore small crossover.

2014 Buick Encore with Rainsense GM’s rain sensor technology global design engineer Matt Piazza

One might wonder whether there is a sensor that detects moisture which leads to the activation of the wipers. And one would be wrong.

Actually, the rain sensor is actually a light sensor that’s located behind the rearview mirror, mounted on the windshield at a 25- to 30-degree angle.

The sensor, about the size of a wristwatch (or, about 2 in. in diameter, as wristwatches are rapidly giving way to smartphones and other non-wrist-based devices that offer time among other functions), actually uses infrared light beams to detect water droplets on the windshield. The sensor takes measurements at a rate of every 40 milliseconds.

Not only does the sensor detect the droplet, but size and frequency, as well, thereby providing data that is then used to trigger the wipers.

According to Matt Piazza, General Motors global design engineer for rain sensor technology, “Each vehicle is unique and there are a lot of factors like windshield pitch, rain intensity, vehicle speed, and light conditions that all have to be accounted for and validated.”

The “Rainsense” system for the Encore was engineered by GM with sensor supplier Hella Electronics.

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.


(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.

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