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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.

Volvo: XC90 to Provide Traction?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. September 2014

Volvo introduced its first XC90 in 2002. There have been a lot of changes in the market—and to Volvo—since then, to put it mildly.

And it is now launching its second XC90 crossover.

XC90

To make it more special, last week it offered 1,927 vehicles—the number signifying the year Volvo was established—for sale on line.

These individually numbered “first edition” cars have a special badge on the tailgate as well as special door sill plates.

The 1,927 vehicles were sold out in 47 hours.

Said Alain Visser, senior vice president, Marketing, Sales and Customer Service, Volvo Car Group, “We are very pleased, but not really surprised.”

He ought to be.

Last month in the U.S., according to Autodata, Volvo delivered a total of 4,960 vehicles, cars and crossovers. The single biggest seller was the XC60, of which 1,792 were delivered.

While the First Edition sale was global, according to Volvo, the greatest number purchased was in the U.S. With the company’s sales off 10.5% year-to-date, the 1,927 is impressive.

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Breaking Down the Numbers—the August Auto Sales Numbers

By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. September 2014

This is Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey. If you watched football on TV this past weekend, chances are better than good that you saw McConaughey. Oh yes, and the Lincoln MKC.

Lincoln Launches MKC Campaign Featuring Matthew McConaughey

McConaughey is appearing in a series of advertisements for this compact crossover. Jon Pence, chief creative officer of Hudson Rouge, the outfit that produced the ads, said that McConaughey is “authentic” in the sense that he certainly seems to believe in the brand and, presumably, the MKC.

The point of this is not the actor, not the reality, but the MKC.

Because last week, the industry reported its sales numbers. And the numbers for Lincoln were probably not what the people at the brand hoped for. At least that’s what I think. Joe White of the Wall Street Journal is not so sure.

According to numbers from Ford comparing August ’14 with August ‘13:

MKZ -22%

MKS -48%

MKX -5.6%

MKT -43.2%

Navigator -12.9%

Not good.

But they’re rolling out with MKC. In August, 1,760 were sold. As this is, as the Lincoln folks like to say, “the first-ever Lincoln MKC,” there is nothing to compare it with.

John McElroy, host of Autoline After Hours, notes that it is not a good thing for the MKZ’s numbers to be off, that the brand needs momentum in the car category.

But then Joe White comes back with an interesting observation. Take the number of MKZs sold last August—3,652—and subtract the number sold this August—2841. That is a difference of 811. So, in effect, he suggests, it may be that the people who might have otherwise gone for an MKZ went for an MKC, so the company comes out ahead.

As is the case of a comeback that you’d wished you made but only came up with it a few hours later, given that a competitor, say, Audi, had a sales increase of 22.1% in August compared to Lincoln’s 0.6% decrease, that it sold more than twice as many vehicles—17,101 vs. 8,146—then the people who are sitting in the top-level offices at the Ford Motor Company are going to have to think long and hard about things, perhaps chanting “China, China, China,” where Lincoln is supposed to do very well.

But then Dave Sullivan, an analyst at AutoPacific, points out, in real-time, not ex-post-facto like my Audi observation, that there is a hefty tariff placed on vehicles imported into China, and as the MKC is currently being built only in Kentucky, and the competitors (e.g., Audi) have joint-venture operations in China so they’re not paying the toll, even that could be problematic for Lincoln.

If you’re interested in the dissection of the sales numbers, then watch White, Sullivan, McElroy, and me in this edition of Autoline After Hours.

And we do talk about things other than the sales numbers, like Elon Musk’s announcement that Telsa is going to build a $500-million battery plant in Nevada and the fact that Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn seems to be losing top-staff at a remarkably brisk pace:

Cleveland Rocks (No, Not That One)

By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. September 2014

And for an entirely different reason, as well.

The Cleveland in question is not the Drew Carey hometown, but rather one in North Carolina.

And last week, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) announced that it had produced its three-millionth vehicle at its plant in Cleveland.

Freightliner Cleveland

The truck in question is a Freightliner Cascadia Evolution.

The Cascadia Evolution was launched last year, and since then, more than 50,000 have been ordered.

The truck is equipped with a Detroit engine, of which more than 250,000 have been produced. The Detroit engine is made by DTNA’s Detroit Diesel operation.

Detroit Diesel is not exactly in Detroit. Rather, it is in Redford, Michigan. But it has a mailing address in Detroit, and the east side of the complex is in Detroit.

In addition to engines, they produce axles at the Detroit Diesel plant, cleverly named “Detroit” axles. Since they started making the truck and bus axles there in 2003, they have produced more than a million of them.

2014 Toyota 4Runner SR5 Premium

By: Gary S. Vasilash 4. September 2014

Back in 2002 at the North American International Auto Show, Ford rolled out with a concept truck, the Mighty F-350 TONKA. That’s “TONKA” as in “toy.” But this was a real, full-size truck. J May, then vp Design, at Ford, said, “We’ve had fun bringing to life a full-size pickup that reminds kids of all ages of the trucks they used to love to punish in their sandboxes.”

What those designers at Ford understood back then—and probably still do today, but can’t really admit it—is that for many people, cars and trucks really are nothing more than full-sized manifestations of things they used to play with when they were kids.

Sure, there are the fundamental requirements of capability and capacity when talking about things like trucks, especially when those vehicles are being used for purposes of work, but if we remove the purely utilitarian from the picture, then there is certainly a measure of personality that goes into one’s choice of vehicle.

4runner front

When I got into the 4Runner, the Mighty F-350 TONKA came to mind. This could be the Mighty 4Runner Lego, because there is—both inside and out—a certain blocky toy-like nature to the design, a pleasant, whimsical approach to the shapes of the headlamps and tail lamps, to the knobs and buttons and the entire instrument panel.

And this is a good thing. Mind you, this is not at all an issue of fragility or lack of substance or seriousness. But it seems as though the designers simply wanted to acknowledge the fact that whether you’re using the 4Runner to drive to work or you have it in 4Low to traverse the trails on a recreational outing, this is a truck that is about having fun. All too often, it seems, there is a tendency to want to avoid the idea that an automotive product is anything but all about whatever the opposite is of having fun.

4runner rear

“Cars, trucks and SUVs are for the grownups, damnit, and don’t you forget it!”, they seem to scold through their sheet metal and fabrics.

But when I climbed into the cabin—using the textured running board that had a Toyota truck pattern molded into it in such a way that it was both utile and moderately attractive—I got the sense that this is a vehicle that is capable of getting one to wherever it is that they need to get to, but it is also a vehicle wherein “enjoyment” is not something to be disturbed by.

It is a big toy. A toy that happens to weigh 4,675 lb., but a toy nonetheless.

While I can imagine several Toyota people gasping at such a description, this should be completely embraced in a positive way.

Toys that are well done have personality and resonate is a positive way with the people who play with them.

And the same goes with vehicles, even though “play with them” is probably not the descriptor that one would ordinarily use for a product that is strong, safe, and durable.

4runner inside

But isn’t that part of a vehicle that is off-road capable. Isn’t that part of the rationale behind buying a big vehicle like the 4Runner when you have absolutely no intention of ever driving on anything no more demanding than a gravel road?

OK. It’s got skid plates that cover the engine and front suspension, the fuel tank and the transfer case. It has a Torsen-type differential. There are hefty stabilizer bars fore and aft. There is 9.6 inches of ground clearance. The approach angle is 33 degrees and the departure angle is 24. Yes, it is capable.

It seats five. The two seats in the front are large and comfortable. The second row passengers are not in a penalty box.

There is a 4.0-liter six under the hood that produces 270 hp and 278 lb-ft. Given the aforementioned poundage, know that this is not something you’re going to be drag racing with. The combined mpg number on the sticker is 18; I managed 19, though I must confess I was trying. I suspect that had I not been paying attention to whether the little “Eco” light was illuminated or not, I’d have been lucky to get 18.

Again, don’t get me wrong: this is a substantial, body-on-frame vehicle. It is undoubtedly capable.

But it is also a giant toy. And that’s a good thing.

Selected specs

Engine: 4.0-liter, DOHC V6

Horsepower: 270 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 278 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and heads

Transmission: five-speed, electronically controlled

Steering: Power assisted variable gear rack and pinion

Wheelbase: 109.8 in.

Length: 190.2 in.

Width: 75.8 in.

Height: 70.1 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.36

Seating capacity: 5

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 17/21/18 mpg

“Open the Pod Door, Hal.” “I Don’t Understand You, Dave”

By: Gary S. Vasilash 3. September 2014

According to a recent study by J.D. Power—its 2014 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study—52% of the new-vehicle owners surveyed between February and May 2014 use an Apple iPhone OS. Chances are good that with the forthcoming announcement from Apple about a new phone that number will be even higher the next time out.

Apple

As for Android, 41%.

What’s interesting about this study of the audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation (ACEN) systems in cars is that people are not particularly happy with the systems that automakers have integrated.

Especially problematic is the voice-recognition system often touted.

Last year, they measured 7.6 problems per 100 vehicles related to voice-recognition.

This year, they measured 8.3 problems per 100 vehicles.

According to J.D. Power, the in-vehicle systems primary problems, as reported, are:

· Doesn’t recognize/misinterprets verbal commands (63%)

· Doesn’t recognize/misinterprets names/words (44%)

· Doesn’t recognize/misinterprets numbers (31%)

Said Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive at J.D. Power, “Voice recognition and device connectivity are often inherent to the technology design and cannot be fixed at the dealership, creating a high level of angst among new-vehicle owners.”

Angst.

That’s not a word often associated with a brand-new car.

Automakers are good (well, as J.D. Power IQS surveys show, in varying levels of goodness) at making cars and trucks. They are not as good when it comes to ACEN systems.

Which is probably why companies like Apple, with CarPlay, and Google, with the Open Automotive Alliance, are getting into the game.




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