Autofield Blog

Alcoa—Not Aluminum This Time

By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. October 2015

When you say “Alcoa” in this industry, the first thought of those in the steel industry probably runs to the 2015 F-150 and then to a word that we can’t use here.

2015 Ford F-150 frame and body

But it is interesting to note that in addition to aluminum sheet for automotive applications, the company makes a number of products that address multi-material fastening, and multi-materials is the direction that automotive construction is going, a direction that the aircraft industry is already taking.

That is, Alcoa signed a contract with Airbus that’s worth about $1-billion for its fastener products.


These fasteners will be used for products including the A350 XWB, the A320neo, and the A330.

Among the fasteners that Alcoa Fastening Systems & Rings produces are blind bolts, blind rivets, latching systems, inserts, studs, bolts, screws, nuts, lockbelt fasteners, pin fastening system, and panel fasteners.

Among the materials that these fasteners are produced with are stainless steel, titanium, and nickel-based superalloys.

All of which is to say that beyond the aforementioned sheet for body panels, it seems like the company is well positioned to putting materials together, as well.

Presumably, there may be some automotive applications in the offing at some point, as well.

Another Audi Diesel

By: Gary S. Vasilash 6. October 2015

When I saw the headline “Audi Faces Challenging Task in Japan” I immediately thought, “Uh-oh. More issues with the diesel engine”—because remember, Audi is part of the Volkswagen Group and as such, there is shared technology, such as, well, the diesel engines that have caused all manner of problems in Wolfsburg. . .and, arguably, Ingolstadt.

New Audi R18 e-tron quattro even more efficient

However, that wasn’t the “challenging task” being referred to. Rather, it is for next Sunday’s World Endurance Championship race the Fuji Speedway, where Audi will be campaigning its R18 e-tron quattro.

Still, one begins to think: the R18 e-tron quattro is a hybrid vehicle that combines an electric motor. . .and a diesel engine. In this case, a four-liter, V6 TDI engine that delivers 558 hp. (Not the 2.0-liter TDI that it has under the hood of the A3.) Audi has been running a racing diesel at Le Mans, for example, since 2006, and scored eight victories.

(One interesting aspect of the R18 e-quattro is that it uses an energy recovery system that takes energy from braking and stores it in a flywheel system that sits in the cockpit along with the driver (!) and is capable of storing up to 700 kilojoules of energy. This power goes back to an electrical machine on the front axle that can produce 272-hp.

Because of this setup, the rules demand that they had to restrict the amount of fuel used by the car by 2.5% per lap.

Describing the fuel efficiency of the R18 e-tron quattro up to this year’s 24 Hour of Le Mans, a statement from Audi says, “In 2006, Audi’s TDI engine debuted at Le Mans, followed by eight victories until 2014. While lap times continually improved, fuel consumption decreased by 38 percent during this period.”

No word on emissions.

Developing the 2016 Toyota Tacoma

By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. October 2015

“We’re engineers. We live for a challenge.”

So says Mike Sweers, chief engineer for Trucks at Toyota.

Tacoma Sweers

Mike Sweers and the 2016 Toyota Tacoma (Photo: Dewhurst Photography for Toyota)

The challenge he and his colleagues most recently took on was the 2016 Toyota Tacoma, the midsize truck (or “small pickup” or “compact pickup”) that’s basically dominated the segment for the past decade.

According to the most recent numbers from Autodata, through September, 133,672 vehicles in that category have been sold this year. Of that number, 63,232 are Tacoma, or about 47%--and realize that the new ones haven’t yet hit the showrooms.

(The trucks are now being built at Tacoma is assembled at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas (TMMTX) in San Antonio and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Baja California (TMMBC) in Baja California, Mexico.)

Sweers explains that the focus at Toyota is on QDR—quality, durability, and reliability. And that for a Camry owner, for example, that means something along the lines of having a car that needs only regularly scheduled maintenance and nothing major. For Tacoma owners, it means the ability to turn that odometer over 100,000 on roads that may only be hinted at without having to deal with anything major.

So they went at the development of this vehicle knowing full well that it has to deal with the most-demanding conditions, which meant engineering it with plenty of high-strength, and even ultra-high-strength steels—including hot-stamped 1480 MPa material, the first-ever use by Toyota.

Tacoma in the dirt

One of the most amazing—yes, amazing—features of the Tacoma is Crawl Control. As you can see, this truck is up to its axles in sand. Through the use of Crawl, which controls both the engine and brake torque at each wheel individually, the vehicle will work its way out while the driver does nothing but control the steering as necessary. Think of it as autonomous extraction.  (Photo: Dewhurst Photography for Toyota)

And while on the subject of stamping—and know that the body panels are creased and formed in a way that contributes to the design brief that Sweers gave to the designers at CALTY in Newport Beach: “I want a bad-ass truck”—Sweers says, “We violate about. . .all of our stamping rules on this truck.”

Sweers had previously done the 2014 Toyota Tundra full-size pickup, and says that some of the learnings that they used in developing that truck for the Tacoma (e.g., the use of a three-piece rear bumper instead of one, which makes it easier—and less costly—to replace in case of damage).

Sweers talks about all this on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with host John McElroy, Chris Paukert of CNET and me. (Did you ever hear of an engineering team that had dirt, dust and sand sent to them in order to develop a truck that could deal with demanding conditions the world over? The Tacoma team did.)

Model X

Model X

In addition to which, John, Chris and I talk about the introduction of the Tesla Model X, the potential fallout of the continuing VW diesel debacle and more on the show.

And you can see it right here:



Bye-bye xB

By: Gary S. Vasilash 2. October 2015

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but you have to roll back the clock to 2003 to get to the first generation Scion xB. Who imagined (the people at Toyota I’ve talked with over the years about it certainly didn’t) that the boxy vehicle based on the Japan-market Toyota bB would become a success for the youth-focused brand?


While many Scions have come and gone over the years (xA, xD), the xB has been quite the stalwart.

But now it’s time to say goodbye. . .

Yes, the run of the xB is about to close.

So rather than go out by slipping behind the curtains, hoping no one will notice, Scion has had 686, a snowboard technical apparel company, to come up with what will be the final special edition model xB.

xB 1

The xB 686 Parklan edition, which was announced on Monday, will have limited production: just 686 will be produced (clever number choice, eh?).

The vehicle features seats that have the quilted patterning and cubist camo design of 686 wear, and like a jacket, there’s a zippered pocket on the driver’s side. The floor mats are all-weather, presumably for the melted snow from a day spent on the slopes. There are 686 logos on the 16-inch gloss-black alloy wheels. The car is painted Cocoa Bean Metallic with red accent lines, again glossing 686.

xB 3

“The xB has been part of Scion from the very beginning, and we wanted to give it a meaningful sendoff,” said Scion vp Andrew Gilleland.

Gilleland, incidentally, was named head of Scion last week.

xB 2

The Vehicular Art of. . .LEGO

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. October 2015

A couple years ago I took my elementary-school-aged nephew from Hawaii to The Henry Ford Museum. As his father had grown up in Detroit, I figured that he’d be exceedingly interested (well, as much as someone his age could be) in the remarkable display of cars through the ages that are on display: Roper, Duryea, Holsman, Oldsmobile, LaSalle, Essex, Willys-Overland. . . .

1909 and 1906 Fords

Photo: The Henry Ford

Or at least keen on the car that pretty much started it all in all 50 states and beyond, the Ford Model T.


He saw a sign that said there was a LEGO exhibit. And he made a bee-line across the museum to where there was a LEGO-built city.

That was the highlight of his visit.

(Seconded only by the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.)

Lego is not only of interest to10-year-old kids. It is a phenomenon that has people of all ages doing things that are, in a word, remarkable.

And for those of us who are interested in automotive design, a new book, The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling by Dennis Glaasker and Dennis Bosman (No Starch Press), is nothing short of incredible.


The cover shows a Kenworth K100E with a Miller Industries Century 1140 Rotator (yes, they get that detailed). It was constructed by one of the authors (Bosman). It is more than 2.6-feet long. He had to build a secondary frame to support the rotator body. And the rotator crane has a working three-stage boom and two winches.

There are a variety of other vehicles that have been built by LEGO enthusiasts from Jordan, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Great Britain, Poland, Italy, Latvia, Spain, and the U.S. These range from the Lida L-1300 TC combine (a piece of agricultural equipment from a Belarus manufacturer) to a Caterham Super 7.

For anyone interested in vehicle design, this whimsical book is worth far more than its $29.95 sticker price.

The publisher, No Starch Press, says it publishes “the finest in geek entertainment,” and if you’re an automotive geek, not only does The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling provide wonderful images of vehicles made of LEGO, but a chapter on how you, too, can build your own.

(Of course, when my nephew asks my brother for 6,500 LEGO blocks. . . .)


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