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.

Engineering the Jeep Renegade

By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. March 2015

Art Anderson is the chief engineer for the 2015 Jeep Renegade, the newest, smallest Jeep in the brand’s lineup. This is no “baby Jeep.” It has the capability and performance that one would expect from a Jeep, it can be optioned up to have all of the technologies and accessories that one would expect for a class-above vehicle*, yet it has a footprint that is more internationally appropriate than its larger brethren.

2015 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

Which is important, because the Jeep Renegade, which is produced in a plant in Melfi, Italy, not in Toledo or Detroit, is a global vehicle.

You can learn about the Renegade in the cover story of the March 2015 issue of Automotive Design & Production (or simply click here and see the digital version thereof).

And you can learn even more about it from Art Anderson himself, as he appears on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Anderson talks with Brent Snavely, business and auto reporter for the Detroit Free Press, Joe Szczesny, auto writer for the Oakland Press, and me.

John McElroy was on his way back from the Geneva Motor Show and consequently back in the studio. But even though Snavely, Szczesny and I weren’t in Switzerland, we did talk about some of the new cars that were unveiled there.

In addition to which, we took a look at the February sales numbers, which generally show that were it not for their light truck offerings, a whole lot of OEMs would be stuck with dealer lots full of unsold inventory of sedans, which aren’t having much traction in this period of low gas prices.

2015 GMC Yukon XL Denali

Yukon XL sales are up 103.5% for the year

(Here’s an example of the strength of crossovers and SUVs. GMC is GM’s truck brand. It has seven vehicles—a van, crossovers, SUVs, and pickups—in the market. Of those seven vehicles, only one, the Savana van (which is having its proverbial lunch eaten by the likes of the Ford Transit Connect), is down in sales. For the month, its sales in February 2015 are up 19.3% compared to February of last year. The other three GM brands offer a mix of cars and light trucks. Chevy February/February sales were up only 3.8%. Buick’s were down by 9.2% and Cadillac’s were off by 12.6%. This was GMC’s best month since. . .2002)

*Although Anderson talks about “class-above” and “best-in-class,” he readily admits that there really isn’t anything like the Renegade available in the market. One vehicle that he brings up as a possible contender is the Kia Soul, but while the Soul may be competitive from the standpoint of its exterior shape and its interior cargo capacity, the Soul is an urban car, not something one is going to take on mountain adventures.

 

Hyundai: To the Moon!

By: Gary S. Vasilash 6. March 2015

Hyundai has been offering its Tucson Fuel Cell crossover in Southern California since June 2014.

This is certainly rocket-science technology, but down to Earth in the sense that it is accessible to non-astronauts.

2014 Tucson Hydrogen Technology

And economically it is amazing: There’s a 36-month lease that requires $2,999 at signing, then $499 a month. That includes maintenance and all the hydrogen you can use. (The maintenance is undoubtedly thrown in for the simple reason that it permits the people at Hyundai to know precisely what’s what with its vehicles.)

This isn’t exactly beta testing because this is essentially a straight-up transaction, albeit one for futuristic technology. The vehicle travels approximately 265 miles on a tank of hydrogen. It takes only about 10 minutes to refuel. The emissions are merely water vapor.

2015 Tucson Fuel Cell

Notably, for those of you who are concerned that this ecologically friendly vehicle would be as exhilarating as overcooked oatmeal, know that as soon as the accelerator is depressed, there’s 221 lb-ft of torque at the ready. Compare that with a conventional 2015 Tuscon with a 2.4-liter gasoline direct injection four cylinder engine: it has maximum torque of 177 lb-ft, and it doesn’t get there until 4,000 rpm.

Admittedly, there is a small number of Tucson Fuel Cell vehicles out there right now.

About 60.

Still, the folks at Hyundai are fairly chuffed at the miles these people are racking up. It is calculated that the drivers have accumulated more than 238,900 miles.

That, Hyundai points out, is the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

HYUNDAI TUCSON FUEL CELL DRIVERS FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ACCUMULATE SUFFICIENT MILEAGE TO REACH THE MOON EMISSIONS-FREE

However, that isn’t as incredible as it might seem.

The vehicle has been out there since June 2014. So let’s call it six months because we’ll spot them two months for the roll out in dealerships.

The 238,900 miles translates into 39,816 miles per month. Given 60 Tucson Fuel Cells, that translates into 664 miles per vehicle, or about 2.5 tanks of hydrogen each per month.

Not exactly the proverbial Moonshot, but laudable nonetheless.

Hollywood vs. Detroit

By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. March 2015

Sometimes it seems that other industries are in some ways more progressive than auto.

To which one could respond with a great big HA!

Consider, for example, Hollywood.

That’s really a place where there are forward thinkers and innovators and imaginative leaders and whatnot, right?

Well, shortly before the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) named General Motors one of the 2015 “Top Companies for Executive Women,” the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA released its “2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.”

And among the findings: Film studio heads were 94 percent white and 100 percent male.”

This is a picture of Alicia Boler-Davis (left) and Mary Barra (right):

GM Named One of the 2015 Top Companies for Executive Women

Photo: Monica Morgan

Boler-Davis is senior vice president, Global Connected Customer Experience at General Motors. (As an industry colleague pointed out to me, when it comes to titles at GM, “Global” is essential for those who matter.)

Barra, of course, is GM CEO.

Yes, here are two women who matter in a BIG way at GM.

There is something else that is worth pointing out about these two executives.

It is sometimes seemingly the case that “manufacturing” and “production” are simply necessary but not particularly important parts of this business.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Bohler-Davis started at GM in 1994. As a manufacturing engineer. She was to go on to other manufacturing roles (e.g., plant manager at Lansing Consolidated Operations, Arlington Assembly, Orion Assembly, and Pontiac Stamping) during her career. Now, a direct report to Barra, Boler-Davis is charged with providing customers the best service and experience in the business.

Barra started at GM in 1980 as a co-op student at what was then General Motors Institute. Along the way, she, too, held many manufacturing positions, including plant manager at Detroit Hamtramck Assembly, and vice president, Global Manufacturing Engineering. (Note “Global.”)

And now she runs one of the biggest car companies on the planet.

If you ever think that auto is behind the times, think again.

And congratulations to General Motors.

 

2015 Buick Regal AWD GS

By: Gary S. Vasilash 4. March 2015

The recent Buick TV ads—the one with the creepy neighbors with high-powered binoculars (!) looking at the new Enclave (yeah, like you want the Peeping Tom community to be admiring your new wheels); the clueless friend and the remarkably clueless parking valet each trying to find the Buick in question (would you trust your car to a valet who doesn’t have the sense to hit the fob before running back and forth like a proverbial headless chicken?)—miss the point about Buick.

Making the point that one’s car is likely to go unidentified is not a good thing. Most people would like friends, relations, perfect strangers, and anyone else to know that they are driving whatever car is theirs.

2015 Buick Regal GS

The whole notion of “That’s a Buick!?!” says primarily to people who remember the division as a purveyor of land barges and rolling Barcaloungers “Yes, we realize that they used to be such; now they are not that, they’re something else, but we’re not going to tell you what that is.”

They say to people who don’t remember the division, well, not a whole lot, except that the vehicles have a certain vehicular anonymity. Which they don’t. They’re better than that.

Like the Buick Regal GS. It is a good car. A handsome car. A car that has technology under the hood. A car that has technology on the dash. A car that has the performance befitting someone who drives to work on a daily basis and takes a long ride Up North on an occasional basis. A car with comfort. A car with style. A car where even the details—like a nicely finished trunk—count.

2015 Buick Regal GS

This is a car that Buick ought to be proud of.

This is a car that someone who wants to buy a premium car can be proud of.

This is a car with presence, not anonymity.

This is a car that, really ought to have a whole lot more traction in the market.

Yes, according to Autodata, the Buick Regal gained considerably in 2014. It finished the year at 22,560, up 20% from its performance in 2013.

However. . .

Among the cars the Regal is compared with is the Acura TLX. The TLX went on sale in August 2014. And by year’s end, 19,127 of them had been sold. So that’s about 85% of Regal sales in seven fewer months.

Another is the Audi A4. There were 28,764 sedans delivered in 2014, according to Autodata.

And then there’s the Lexus IS (250 and 350), of which 51,358 were moved in 2014.

Now, I am not necessarily comparing the Regal GS to any of those cars.

But I am saying that Regal sales are better but, again, Not Good.

Look at it this way: Many people say that the Chevrolet Volt is pretty much like an anchor rather than a lightning bolt. And in 2014 its sales were off 18.6%. Yet there were 18,805 sold, or 83% of the number of Regals, and industry observes tend to make a “pffutt” sound of dismissiveness when it comes to the Volt, so, again, there really should be more performance from the Regal in the market.

BuickAWD118.jpg

The vehicle as driven had a 295-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. What was really nice was the fact that it has all-wheel-drive, because we’re talking about a snowy Detroit winter in this case.

For those who have a default mode to check out Consumer Reports before buying a new vehicle, know that the Regal is now one of its Top Ten Picks for 2015, taking the “Sports sedan” category. They go so far as to write, “Close your eyes, and you’ll think you’re driving an Audi—a very good Audi at that.” (The Regal is based on an Opel platform, so there is that Germaness to it.)

However, one of the points about the Regal that really surprised many people of my acquaintance is that the midsized sedan is priced like an Audi.

2015 Buick Regal GS

This car has the GS trim package, which means that there are some sporty touches to the front and rear fascias; exclusive 19-in. alloy wheels; the Buick “Interactive Drive Control,” which allows making a drive mode selection; a front suspension setup (“HiPer Strut”) that helps minimize torque steer; and other features. It is an AWD car with a Haldex system. And there is the technology like the OnStar 4G LTE hotspot for those who just can’t stop Instagramming or whatever.

The MSRP for the model: $39,810.

Then the car in question had a couple of tech packages that provide things like adaptive cruise control, automatic collision preparation, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, etc. One package is $1,195. The other is $1,040.

Then there is the power moonroof that adds $1,000 to the sticker.

And the paint—Black Diamond Tricoat—is $995.

Add a $925 fee for delivery, and you’re looking at a total of $44,965 for the Buick.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m not confident that “Buick” currently has the resonance of “Audi,” Consumer Reports notwithstanding. This is one of those cases where it seems that the people who are making pricing decisions at GM need to understand that they’ve got to establish and earn their place among the Audis and Lexuses, it just can’t be decided that they’ve got the goods, so they’re going to price accordingly.

But if you can swallow a sticker just this side of $45,000 for a Buick (arguably an import, because it is produced at the GM plant in Oshawa, Ontario), then the Regal GS AWD won’t disappoint.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC turbocharged I4

Material: Cast aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 259 @ 5,300 rpm

Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 3,000-4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Belt-driven electric power steering

Wheelbase: 107.8 in.

Length: 190.2 in.

Width: 73.1 in.

Height: 58.4 in.

Curb weight: 3,981 lb

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 19/27/22 mpg

 

Passat (the German One) Gets iF Gold

By: Gary S. Vasilash 3. March 2015

The internationally renowned iF Design Awards were presented last Friday in Munich, and the eighth-generation Volkswagen Passat took the gold in the “Automobile/Vehicles/Bikes” category.

Passat

Explaining the selection of the Passat, the award committee said, “Reinterpreting such a classic brand requires a great deal of sensitivity. We were fascinated by the consistency—in the sense of form follows function’—with which the pure and expressive design language has been applied throughout the whole concept, in both the interior and the exterior. The Volkswagen Passat unites minimalism with strong detailing. Practical use is combined with the highest level of elegance.”

The award was accepted by Klaus Bischoff, head of Volkswagen Design. (It is interesting to note the consistency with which that design aesthetic has been maintained by Bischoff and his team, as can be seen in this piece from 2008.)

What’s somewhat ironic about this award is that for model year 2012, Volkswagen decided, for a variety of reasons, that they needed to have a Passat for the U.S. What’s more, the company even built a factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to produce the U.S. Passat. The underlying idea was that they needed a “Camry fighter.”

So out came the 2012 Passat, which was different than the model on offer in Germany and elsewhere, although it was made available in other markets, like South Korea, too.

The 2012 Passat did well, initially, even being named the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

But it never really became a Camry fighter of any magnitude.

According to Autodata, last year Volkswagen of America delivered 96,649 Passats. Toyota delivered 428,606 Camrys. In fact, Autodata numbers show that the entire Volkswagen division delivered 366,970 vehicles in 2014, or 61,636 fewer vehicles than the number of Camrys alone.

Maybe they should have stuck with the German version.




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