Autofield Blog

Red Bull Takes It to the Soapbox

By: Gary S. Vasilash 22. May 2015

To say that Red Bull is a brand that has far exceeded its canned beverage is an understatement.

From Formula One to people jumping out of airplanes at insane altitudes, Red Bull has been behind it.

And it is going to be rolling into Cincinnati on August 29 for the Red Bull Soapbox Race.

Mayor Martin Eurlings of the city Valkenburg aan de Geul performs at the press track explanation for the Red Bull Soapbox Race (Red Bull Zeepkistenrace) in Valkenburg, The Netherlands on April 16th, 2015 // Marcel van Hoorn / Red Bull Content Pool // P-20150416-00279 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to for further information. //

This isn’t what some of you may remember from your days in scouting.

Rather, they’re looking for people who are 18 and older to compete.

The teams will campaign cars that are human powered and measure less than 6-feet wide, 6-feet tall, and less than 12-ft long. Maximum mass, sans driver, is 176 pounds.

Clearly, these aren’t the models of your youth.

As they explain how one goes about winning:

1. Speed

Not to state the obvious, but this event is, first and foremost, a race, therefore, the fastest one across the finish line is definitely going to be looked upon favorably.

2. Creativity

It’s not enough that it actually moves. What we’re looking for is the outrageous, the preposterous, the ostentatious! Your soapbox should be an extension of you, so have fun when you design it. Be wild. Be crazy. Be anything you want. Just do not be ordinary.

3. Showmanship

We said the first one to cross the finish line will be looked upon favorably, we didn’t say they’d win. That’s because when it comes to Red Bull Soapbox, speed is nothing without a little personality. So, wow us with your stage routine, impress us with your charisma and of course, dazzle us with your showmanship.

They’re taking registrations until June 21, so step on it.

You can learn more at:

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2015 Toyota Camry XSE

By: Gary S. Vasilash 21. May 2015

Last year, Toyota delivered 428,606 Camrys.

The year before that, 408,484.

The year before that, 404,886.

And on it goes.

According to Toyota, it has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for 13 consecutive years.

This is somewhat of a blessing and a curse for Toyota.

Camry 2

The blessing part is obvious: Toyota has sold a lot of cars.

The curse: There are a lot of people who opine about cars who mistake the car’s success for some sort of mediocrity. They decry the Camry as being an “appliance.” Part of this is based on the fact that it exhibits the sort of quality, durability and reliability once characteristic of appliances. (Anyone who has purchased an appliance of late knows that the QDR is pretty much MIA.)

For most people who buy a car (which is pretty much a separate set from the aforementioned opiners), QDR is more than slightly important. After all, they have to do things like get the kids to school and themselves to work. Consequently, they’d like their car to work, day in, day out. Amazing warranties that some vehicle manufacturers offer seem like a good thing until you realize that in order to have your car fixed it (1) has to break and (2) you have to take it into a dealer to get it fixed, which means that you’re having to juggle the kids as well as your daily commute.

Remember back at the end of 2009 and 2010 when Toyota was beset with recall problems?

It’s interesting to note what Don Esmond, then-Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., had to say on a sales call to reporters and analysts regarding how sales fared in what was certainly a dark period for the car maker: “Let’s not forget that 2010 was essentially an 11-month year for us, as we stopped sales and production last January on some of our core models”—including the Camry—“to focus all of our company’s efforts on servicing customer vehicles.
“Now I know the common perception is that Toyota has been reeling this year as a result of those recalls.
“But in fact, the final results include some remarkable accomplishments any company would love to report.”

If you do the math, the 13-year run of the sales success of the Camry is included in 2010. That year it delivered 327,804 vehicles.

Yes, the reputation of the car is that good.

The other part of the “appliance” knock goes to the point of exterior design. Chances are, you don’t get too excited about the styling of the white goods in your laundry room.

And that’s pretty much a far criticism of the Camry. Its styling hasn’t been all that impressive through the years.

But then one must take into account the fact that the vehicles that it competes with in the market, with few exceptions (e.g., Mazda pretty consistently with the 6; Ford with the Fusion starting in model year 2013), haven’t exactly been the sorts of things to get anyone’s pulse racing.

Camry 3

Last year, the people at Toyota decided that it would make major changes to the Camry, at least visually. That means that there was a near total transformation of the exterior panels (they kept the roof, in case you’re wondering). And the car looks anything but appliance-innocuous.

This is especially the case in the XSE trim. This is the “racy” variant of the Camry, with things like black sport trim and black-painted 18-inch alloys on the outside and sport seats trimmed with ultrasuede and red-thread stitching on the inside.

Camry 4

The vehicle has a 268-hp V6 that isn’t going to win many drag races, but provides more than enough response such that you may smile to yourself after you drop the kids off. (Remember: this is a five-passenger, front-drive, midsize car, not a European sport sedan.)

The vehicle as-driven had the optional technology package consisting of a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. It is probably the best $750 you’ll ever spend on a vehicular option package.

Chances are, the Camry will rack up another sales record this year. And there will be a lot of people pleased that they made a good buying decision. Maybe not out-of-the-box, but chances are one that will keep them out-of-the-line-in-the-service-department.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V6

Material: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 240 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic w/paddle shifters

Steering: Electric-assisted rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 109.3 in.

Length: 190.9 in.

Width: 71.7 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.28

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 21/31/25 mpg

Art of the Bike: Ducati Diavel Titanium

By: Gary S. Vasilash 20. May 2015

Last November, Ducati, which, as you may recall, is owned by Audi, introduced the Diavel Titanium at the EICMA motorcycle show in Milan.

And now the bike has gone into production.


Limited production.

The company will be building 500 of them.

The Diavel Titanium does, indeed, use titanium. The lightweight metal is used for the tank covers and headlamp cover. A combination of titanium and carbon fiber are used on the passenger seat cover.

And on the subject of carbon fiber, the large air intakes are made of the material.

The exhaust pipes have a matt black ceramic coating. The forged wheels are aluminum.

Ducati 2

Overall, the bike weighs just 516 pounds. And given that there is a 162-hp engine, well, just imagine what 500 lucky riders are going to experience.

GM Commits Big to Tech

By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. May 2015

In an earlier day, corporations committed remarkable feats of architecture. Nowadays, there tends to be less of that, at least on a large scale. There may be a starchitect building here or there, but nothing that’s really huge.

(OK: as in all discussions, it seems, of things regarding design, there has to be a nod to Apple, which is building its new 176-acre campus, including a four-story building that was designed by Foster + Partners and is approximately a mile in circumference, in Cupertino.)

Back in 1949, when General Motors controlled the post-war automotive world, when it was a true global goliath, it set to work on a 326-acre site in Warren, Michigan, just north of Detroit. It started building its tech center. The lead architect was Eero Saarinen. The landscape architect was Thomas Church.

GM is investing $1 billion into its Warren Technical Center.  The Design Dome is one of many iconic buildings located on the campus.

The GM Tech Center opened in 1956.

And like any near-60-year old, it is been showing its wrinkles for the past several years.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the site many times, and while remarkable things occur at the facility that some 19,000 people go to work at each day, the buildings have become a bit tattered with time.

So the fact that GM announced last week that it is investing $1-billion in revitalizing the Tech Center is nothing short of impressive, extraordinary and respectable.

It would be all-too easy to turn a blind eye to the Tech Center, all too easy to think that it might be better to build anew in another place, possibly another country.

When announcing the investment last week, Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development and Purchasing and Supply Chain, said, “We will transform this campus into a collaborative workplace of choice for our current team and future talent.”

One way of interpreting that is, “We know that there are places like the being-built Apple campus or the Googleplex in Mountain View. We know that Silicon Valley may be more geographically appealing that southeastern Michigan. But we are going to take a remarkable place and make it even more remarkable so that people who might otherwise not even give doing R&D for GM a second thought will realize that the company is committed to the highest levels of excellence and performance in what we do and how we do it.”

The work will be done between now and 2018.

GM expects that some 2,600 new salaried jobs—in product engineering, IT and design—will be created at the Tech Center.

The Ins and Outs of the Cadillac CT6

By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. May 2015

According to Travis Hester, executive chief engineer, Cadillac CT6, the sedan that will become the flagship vehicle* for the brand when it is launched later this year, was actually started in 2010.  While that may seem like a considerable amount of time, realize that:

1. This is an all new architecture (code-named “Omega”)

2. This is a car that requires an array of all new processes (from spot welding aluminum to making large and complex high-pressure aluminum die castings)

3. This is a car that had to meet some serious requirements

Consider: the CT6 is a full-size luxury performance sedan.  It has a wheelbase of 122.4 in.; an overall length of 204 in.; and its width and height are 74 in. and 57.9 in., respectively.  The Cadillac CTS sedan is smaller, with a 114.6-in. wheelbase, 195.5-in. overall length, 57.2-in. height, and 72.2-in. width.  Yet Hester points out that the mass will be the same, at less than 3,700 lb.

Which means that from the point of view of size, it provides the space of the short-wheelbase BMW 7-Series, but at a mass less than a 5-Series.

What’s under the skin (literally) of this aluminum-intensive vehicle is something that Hester explains in this week’s edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Hester talks with host John McElroy, Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific, Lauren Fix the Car Coach, and me about how the engineers, designers, and manufacturing personnel set about to create the car that Cadillac literally and figuratively has a lot riding on.

In addition to which, after Hester leaves the set, the rest discuss a variety of subjects, with an especial focus on the all-new Volvo XC90, which McElroy, Fix and I had the opportunity to drive earlier in the week.

And you can see it all—including a Cadillac CT6 minus much of its stylish sheet metal—below.

*The CT6 won’t be the upper end point for Cadillac, as General Motors has announced it is investing more than $12-billion over the next five years to help reestablish Cadillac as the “Standard of the World.”

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