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.

Land Rover Off Road; No Driver

By: Gary S. Vasilash 23. June 2015

A few years back I had the opportunity to drive—with, I am not ashamed to admit, really white knuckles—the Poison Spider Mesa trail in Moab, Utah. The good news for me was that I was behind the wheel of a Dodge Power Wagon. The not-so good news for me was that there was a sudden rainstorm that blew through, creating fast-moving creeks where there were none before and making the already challenging terrain slippery.

When faced with sketchy obstacles a spotter would get in front of the vehicle, just a few feet ahead, and I remember fearing that I’d hit the gas a bit too aggressively and the tires would grip and. . .

Remote controlled Land Rover

 

Jaguar Land Rover has developed a smartphone app that allows a driver to be outside of a vehicle and yet control it—steering, braking, accelerating. Meaning that a driver could be the spotter.

Of course, this technology in the Remote Control Range Rover Sport research vehicle is more likely to end up in consumer vehicles used to maneuver into and out of parking spots at the local upscale mall than in some locale where mules and goats are more comfortable in.

But this is Land Rover, so they’ve got to be off-road capable.

It should be noted, this is still developmental. You can’t go to your local Land Rover dealership and select the “Remote Control option.” At least not yet.

According to Dr. Wolfgang Epple, Director of Research and Technology, Jaguar Land Rover, “Because our customers drive in all terrains and in all weathers, any future autonomous Jaguar or Land Rover must be as capable on rough tracks and unpaved roads as it would be on city streets.”

They’re working on creating a vehicle with sensor fusion—radar, LIDAR, cameras, ultrasonic, structured light—such that the result would be autonomous driving capability not dependent on lane markers and able to deal with prevailing weather conditions.

“Our research engineers have a nickname for a car with this level of capability,” Epple said. “The ‘Solo Car.’”

Presumably, a driver would have to be at least in it.

How to Design a Ford GT

By: Gary S. Vasilash 22. June 2015

When Craig Metros returned to Dearborn from a multiyear stint in Australia for Ford Design, he found himself engaged in a project that probably has more resonance—far more for automotive enthusiasts the world over—than an aluminum F-150: the Ford GT program.

That’s right. The third take on the Ford GT. There was the legendary first generation, the GT40. It is chronicled for its performance at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, as it handed Enzo Ferrari his posterior, with GTs finishing 1-2-3.

Oh, and it also won the race in 1967, 1968, and 1969.

Ford GT - FIA World Endurance Championship

The Ford GT: Introduced at Le Mans.  Going back 50 years after the gen-one car took the podium.

The GT moniker went into hiatus until model year 2005. Then a car developed under the direction of Camilo Pardo was revealed. It had a two-year run, with about 4,000 sold. While this car is certainly raced, it was really developed to be more of a tribute car to its forerunner, a car that could be pulled up anywhere that jaws can be dropped—and dropped they were (and are).

But when Ford started developing the 2016 GT, this time it was with racing in mind, and not just any race: Yes, it is going to Le Mans, where the racing version of the car was unveiled on June 12.

Metros, Ford exterior design director, The Americas, tells John McElroy of Autoline, Todd Lassa of Automobile and me: “From day one, we wanted to do a race car.”

Ford GT - FIA World Endurance Championship

Metros says the plan view is his favorite for the GT

And so the study in carbon fiber (and aluminum), a car that has not only aerodynamic functionality but a sensuous surface (“We put the sex in the surfacing,” Metros said, explaining how there was a considerable amount of work performed in the wind tunnel, after which the design team got to work on the results so that the hard edges didn’t necessarily look harsh), was developed.

Metros explains how the design of the 2016 Ford GT came to be—some of the aero features, like the flying buttress form from the rear fenders to the cockpit, were design led but engineering useful—and about how the excitement of the crowds in Le Mans when the car was unveiled proved to him that the vehicle truly has iconic status.

Ford GT at NAIAS

The consumer version, introduced at the 2015 NAIAS

In addition to which, McElroy, Lassa and I discuss various subjects, including the recent J.D. Power Initial Quality Study and whether the miles-per-gallon figures on new car window stickers (a.k.a., monroneys) are accurate.

And you can see it all right here.

 

Volt Power

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. June 2015

This is the new General Motors Enterprise Data Center located at the Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan, a complex west of Detroit:

VoltBatteriesDataCenter04.jpg

Photo: John F. Martin

This is the first-generation Chevrolet Volt, a 2015 model:

2015 Chevrolet Volt

What does the building have to do with the car?

This:

Used Chevy Volt Batteries Help Power Milford IT Building

Photo: John F. Martin

GM is using five Volt batteries in combination with a 74-kW ground-mount solar array and two 2-kW wind turbines to generate what they estimate will be some 100-MWh of energy on an annual basis, enough juice to provide the energy needs of the office building and the lighting in an adjacent parking lot:

VoltBatteriesDataCenter03.jpg

Photo: John F. Martin

According to Pablo Valencia, senior manager, GM Battery Life Cycle Management: “This system is ideal for commercial use because a business can derive full functionality from an existing battery while reducing upfront costs through this reuse.”

One reason why they’re looking at reuse of the batteries is because the second-generation Volt will become available later this year.

One might make a comment about the presumed number of available batteries (last year, Chevrolet delivered 18,805 Volts, down 18.6% from the 23,094 units in 2013, which, in terms of passenger cars, puts it ahead only of the SS, of which 2,479 were delivered in 2014, but that’s a 493.1% increase over the previous year).

But one won’t.

Do You Believe the Sticker Numbers?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. June 2015

One thing that you may not know about Detroit is that the Detroit Salt Company has a salt mine 1,200 feet below the surface of the city.

The salt mine measures some 1,500 acres and there are more than 100 miles of underground roads.

salt

I sometimes think about the Detroit Salt Company when reading the window stickers (a.k.a., monroneys) for the cars we have an opportunity to get into.

As in thinking about the numbers in the “Fuel Economy and Environment” box with a huge grain of salt.

Generally, the numbers are close. As in hand grenades and horseshoes.

Turns out that plenty of Americans don’t believe the stickers.

(I end up having the opportunity to drive many more cars than the average American, so consequently my disbelief is underscored by my own anecdotal experiences.)

“For years, we’ve heard that drivers question whether the fuel economy rating for their vehicle is accurate,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director, Automotive Engineering and Repair. AAA conducted the study showing the skepticism.

So, “In the interest of our members, AAA aimed to address this issue with a multi-phase testing series designed to uncover the real reasons behind fuel economy variations.”

Turns out that the sticker numbers are really pretty good. What’s more, based on an analysis of 37,000 records submitted to the EPA, which represent more than 8,400 vehicle make, model and year combinations, plenty of drivers seem to be getting miles per gallon runs better than those on the sticker.

As in those with diesels getting 20% better fuel economy than the EPA said and those with manual transmissions getting 17% higher fuel economy.

It does occur, however, that those who self-report their fuel economy are likely to be people who are really keen on their driving performance.

And that’s one factor, according to the AAA, which conducted its own real-world and dyno testing of vehicles to make a determination of the validity of the monroney numbers, that plays a role in what fuel economy is achieved.

Hard acceleration, heavy braking, idling, and environmental factors also play roles in MPGs.

It is interesting to note that minivan owners reported fuel economy equal to or lesser than the EPA numbers.

Elon in Automotive

By: Gary S. Vasilash 17. June 2015

Elon Musk, some people will have you believe, is both conniving and stupid in equal parts. Which seems to be an odd combination. Generally someone who is clever enough to be deviously clever is too clever to be dumb.

As evidence of the first, they point to a battery swap station that Tesla established in Harris Ranch, California, which is all-but unused. BUT. . .it allows Tesla to collect ZEV credits that it can then sell to other OEMs who are in need of them.

Musk

Photo: JD Lasica

And as for the dumbness, it turns out that with the announcement of the Tesla Model X, some people are shifting their orders from the more-expensive Model S to get the forthcoming all-new vehicle. (A somewhat related speculation regarding Tesla is that once companies like Audi and Mercedes get into the electric vehicles, Musk and Tesla are going to be left by the side of the proverbial road.)

While I am certainly not in favor of untoward shenanigans, and while I am not 100% convinced that the ploy is nothing but mendacious, it does occur to me that if we go back to the early days of the auto industry, the likes of Henry Ford, the Dodge Brothers, John D. Rockefeller, and other pioneers bent the rules in order to establish the industry and the infrastructure that we know today. While we might like to think that they were all, one and all, straight arrows, that simply wasn’t the case.

So while some have questioned the legitimacy or credibility of Tesla as a “car company,” is what is claimed about Musk in this regard is true, then certainly he is a true heir to those who created what he is advancing.

As for the issue about people ordering the X rather than the S: this is simply what tends to happen in any case when there are new, desirable products.

Presumably the sales of the Apple iPhone 5 did less well than they had before the iPhone 6 was officially announced. (Although one could make the counter argument that Apple was able to make more on the 6 than on the 5 and that Tesla will make less on the X than on the S. So if we follow this logic, then it seems that the only thing that Tesla could do is continue to create more and more expensive vehicles. Sure.)

Which leads to another consideration about Tesla:

Isn’t it cool that an advanced, technological suite of automotive products, products that are admired the world over by people in the auto industry as well as by regular people, come from an American company and not from Germany or Japan?

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