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.

Audi’s Advanced Diagnostic Robot

By: Gary S. Vasilash 25. August 2014

Audi of America has been on an impressive upward trajectory for some time now. Through July 2014, it had 43 consecutive months of record sales.

This means, of course, that there are more Audis on the road. And while the company is building them with high levels of quality, things can and do go wrong, which means that Audi customers—like the customers of any other brand—can find themselves in the dealership.

Audi art

Jamie Dennis, Audi Quality & Technical Service Director, explains that most problems can be handled by the technicians in a given dealership’s service bay. Sometimes, however, problems are elevated such that one of 20 Technical Field Managers needs to come out and lend some expertise to the problem at hand.

Given that they’re working hard to improve the customer experience, given the increasing number of Audis on the road, and given the fact that there are a limited number of the specialists, Dennis and his team decided that there had to be another way.

And so the Audi Technical Support team took a page from the medical community, and worked with VGo, a provider of robotic telepresence systems, and developed “ART”: Audi Robotic Telepresence.

Explains Brian Stockton, General Manager, Technical Support, Audi of America, “The device will give local service technicians valuable one-on-one interaction with their counterparts at Audi of America, which will not only benefit the speed and depth of service at the dealer level, but create an improved ownership experience for the customer in general.”

ART is a remotely controlled robot that is activated once the dealer-based technician decides that it is necessary to get some addition help from Audi of America. There is a screen where the “face” might be about the size of a small tablet computer; within the screen there is a small picture-in-a-picture, showing the technician back at HQ. There are both a borescope and a hand-held camera. The remote technician guides the person in the service department through the diagnostic analysis. When, for example, the borescope goes into a cylinder, the on-site technician sees the image on the ART screen and the remote advisor sees it on his, too, as there is a WiFi connection via the dealership’s secure network.

Dennis explains that this development was done by Audi of America and the people back at Audi in Ingolstadt are most impressed, seeing the potential for ART not only in dealerships, but actually for diagnostic maintenance personnel on the factory floor.

All this and discussions of automotive R&D spending, Mark Reuss on Tesla, and a whole lot more on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” when John McElroy and I are joined by freelance auto journalist Mike Strong.

It’s just a click away:


A Cleaner Audi TT

By: Gary S. Vasilash 22. August 2014

You may recall the contaminated water emergency that occurred earlier this month in and around Toledo, Ohio. The cause were toxins generated by algae, which bloomed in abundance due to the run off of things like fertilizer and other chemicals.

It’s called “eutrophication.”

Which I didn’t know until I started reading about the forthcoming Audi TT and the lifecycle assessment that Audi has conducted on the coupe.

Audi TT

Said Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, board member for Technical Development at Audi, “Our goal is to reduce significantly the overall emissions of each model compared with its predecessor. However, it’s not just a matter of what comes out of the exhaust pipe. At Audi, we look at the entire product and process chain associated with mobility.”

Turns out that nitrogen oxides can contribute to the potential of eutrophication, as well as petrochemical ozone creation and acidification.

TT materials

Yes, this is in German, but you can probably figure out the steel and the aluminum.  Or you can just use Google Translate.

One of the ways that Audi addresses environmental impacts with the new TT is through lightweight construction. The new car weighs 2711.69 lb., which is 110.23 lb. lighter than the car it replaces.

To achieve a light structure, the company is using high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels for the front end and underbody and aluminum for structural and add-on parts.

They reckon that in the manufacturing process for the TT they’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 9%, or 1,763.7 lb., and that overall, the third-gen TT has a lifecycle savings 6.05 tons of greenhouse gases.

Were there more companies like Audi, chances are concerns about drinking water would be less of a consideration.

Sun Power

By: Gary S. Vasilash 21. August 2014

One thing that you don’t hear about much anymore is the use of solar cells to power vehicles. Which is somewhat odd, given that the sun burns hydrogen, and hydrogen is the so-called “end-game” for automotive fuels. . . .

Certainly, photovoltaics have their limitations, especially when the sun goes behind a cloud or for several months running in places ranging from Alaska to Detroit (in winter).


But that said, there are also plenty of places where there is a considerable amount of sun for a considerable amount of time. Like Arizona, for instance.

Solar-powered cars came to mind because the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) announced that it set the Swedish fuel efficiency record during the Shell Eco Marathon with a solar-powered car, the Elba.

The Elba didn’t finish first but fifth.

Still, according to the KTH, the car set a record of 181.5 km/kWh. Translating that to MPGe, that’s 3,801.

Which is a heck of a distance by any measure.

The solar cells for the Elba were produced by a Swedish company, Midsummer (presumably that has something to do with the long summer days in Sweden), which produces production lines for making thin-film solar cells.

Midsummer production system

Speaking of the CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, selenium) cells, Alex Witt, Production Manager at Midsummer, said “The only possible solar solution that would integrate in Elba's aerodynamic shape was Midsummer's flexible thin film solar cells on stainless steel, which could easily follow the curved body of the vehicle without cracking. This solution would have been impossible with silicon solar cells as they crack easily.”

Chances are better than good that outside of things like Eco Challenge races we’re not going to see a whole lot of photovoltaic-powered cars, but it is a compelling thought.

2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring Five Door

By: Gary S. Vasilash 20. August 2014

When you go into a restaurant or bar in, say, France or Italy, you’ll undoubtedly discover that you can order the house wine and it will be both comparatively cheap and comparatively wonderful. But when you go to a gas station, you’ll discover that the number of euros that you’re paying for a liter of gas is enough to make you want to go back into aforementioned bistro.

One of the consequences of high gas prices throughout western Europe is that there is an array of small cars that have plenty of style. Panache. Capability.

MY2014 Mazda 3

Sure, we may see the large German executive sedans, but what is the number of executives in any given organization as compared with the people who actually do the work? And there are also the sport sedans that allow drivers to pass people on the Autobahn and to carve their way through precipitous mountain passes with élan, but, again, how many people spend a considerable amount of time driving in conditions where they only wish they could go fast enough to get somewhere near the speed limit, and what is the percentage of people who drive through the Alps versus flatlanders?

All of which is to say that the real action is in the small car category. Regular people (that’s as in you and me) buy those cars in Europe, which is why there are impressive compact Peugeots and VWs and Renaults and Fiats.

Given that these smaller cars are as mainstream as midsize cars are in the U.S., one consequence is that the automakers, knowing that this is where they’re going to make money because this is where the action is, charge what may seem to be high vis-à-vis what we would pay for a small car in the U.S. Of course, before there were efforts like “One Ford,” where cars that were developed for Europe were found on the roads of America, most U.S. small cars were, to use a term that is insufficiently strong but an indicator of where I am going with this, crap. That’s because in the U.S. for a long time, small cars were pretty much an after-thought. (Consider the greatest number of entries on the GM recall list and you’ll discover that it doesn’t consist of pickups and SUVs or large Buicks and Cadillacs, but things like the Cobalt and Ion. Clearly, not top-of-mind cars for the corporation.)

This is a long way around to get to what is my point about the 2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring Five Door. It reminds me of a European car. Small, nimble. And I would argue that it is by far the most stylish compact out there. And it is priced like a European car, too. The base MSRP for the vehicle I had is $26,495, and once the options were added in, with the biggest number coming from the Technology Package that adds a considerable amount of advanced content (e.g., regenerative braking; lane departure warning; adaptive cruise control) such that the $2,600 almost seems like a bargain (seriously), I was looking at a sticker reading $30,415.

MY2014 Mazda 3

You can most certainly buy a bigger car for that money. But I think you would be hard pressed to buy a better car for that money.

As mentioned, the design is the sort of thing that one might associate with a concept car, something where there are lines and shapes in the sheet metal that you figure are simply one-offs for a display, but there’s the car, ready to go with the panels stamped, welded and painted.

MY2014 Mazda 3

Inside, the trim level brings leather trimmed sport seats which are supportive while still being comfortable, pushbutton start, rear seats that fold down so there is a fairly capacious cargo capacity (47.1-cu. ft.), paddle shifters, and more. The materials are class-above in their quality.

I took the car on a run down I-75 to Cincinnati and back and found that the car is solidly planted, not buffeted by the string of semis, and the 184-hp engine more than capable of providing the power to really move the car when needed (e.g., like pulling out of one of those seemingly endless construction zones). In addition to which, I averaged 35 mpg, which is better than the sticker combined number (32 mpg), and while I never saw the 38 mpg highway, I also pretty much found the car to be performing above the 28 mpg city number.

MY2014 Mazda 3

There are car companies that are talking about “transformation,” and several of them seem to just be talking. But clearly, with a car like the Mazda3 (and the Mazda6), Mazda is undergoing an impressive transformation, one that is providing consumers with cars that look as cool as they drive. While I’m guessing that the car would do well on the Autobahn and wending its way through mountain passes, for those of us on Wooster Pike and I-275, it does exceedingly well, too.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.5-liter four

Horsepower: 184 @ 5,700 rpm

Torque: 185 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and head

Transmission: Six-speed, electronically controlled

Steering: Electric power assisted

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Length: 175.6 in.

Width: 70.7 in.

Height: 57.3 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.28

Seating capacity: 5

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 28/38/32 mpg

The Rich Are Different

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. August 2014

Thomas Keller is the man who established The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California. Even though it has been in operation since 1994, Chef Keller’s creation is as difficult to get in today as it was back in the day.

Keller’s culinary skills are well acknowledged. Here he is at work:

On August 15, 2014 during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the world’s premier celebration of the automobile, renowned Chef Thomas Keller was among the first exclusive owners to take delivery of the all-new BMW i8, a revolutionary plug-in hybrid sports vehicle, at the BMW Villa in Pebble Beach, CA.

What’s interesting to note, is that Keller, in the picture, is working at a dinner hosted by BMW last week during the Pebble Beach Concours d ’Elegance in Carmel, California.

What’s even more interesting to note is that Keller was performing his artistry in relation to his becoming one of the first people to get delivery of the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car:

On August 15, 2014 during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the world’s premier celebration of the automobile, renowned Chef Thomas Keller was among the first exclusive owners to take delivery of the all-new BMW i8, a revolutionary plug-in hybrid sports vehicle, at the BMW Villa in Pebble Beach, CA.

Others receiving the car in this first batch in the U.S. includes Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Corp., Penske Automotive Group, and Team Penske, and Tony Fadel, founder and CEO of Nest, which Google purchased earlier this year for $3.2-billion.

Even though the i8—which is a carbon-fiber-intensive vehicle that accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, has a governed top speed of 4.2 seconds, and which also is rated at 76 MPGe—has an MSRP of merely* $135,700, clearly the list of those receiving the cars is as difficult to get on as an 8 pm reservation on a Friday night at The French Laundry.


*Relatively speaking, that is.

« Prev | | Next »

RSS RSS  |  Atom Atom