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A Lot of Air at Nissan

By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. April 2014

This tubing doesn’t look like much:

Nissan's air leak detection squad

But it really represents just a few feet of the miles of tubing that the Nissan Energy Management Team inspected as they started checking out the compressed air tubing that is used at its manufacturing plants in Smyrna and Decherd, Tennessee, and Canton, Mississippi.

The team was checking for leaks. And they found leaks. In fact, the Nissan Energy Management Team calculated that more than 20% of the compressed air used in the factories was being wasted.

So they plugged the leaks.

As a result, they’ve determined that they saved 11,300 megawatt hours of energy in 2013.

Said John Martin, Nissan senior vice president, Manufacturing, Supply Chain Management and Purchasing: “We saved enough energy to power more than 700 homes for a year, offset the greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 2,800 tons of landfill waste or better yet, to drive the all-electric Nissan LEAF around the earth more than 40,000.”

That tubing looks a little different now, doesn’t it?


More from Less at Ferrari

By: Gary S. Vasilash 17. April 2014

Can you make more by doing less?

Apparently, Ferrari management not only thinks so, but are delivering on that notion in a rather big way.

Last week the company announced that it will be paying its employees a production bonus of 4,096 euro. That’s about $5,650 U.S. Or, the company calculates, about 20% of a recent hire’s annual salary. (Which just goes to show you that they may be able to build them, but they’re unlikely to be able to afford to buy them.)

Ferrari Factory Making it in Maranello

The less part is this: Ferrari came up with a plan in 2013 to maintain its production volume to under 7,000 units per year. The objective is to maintain exclusivity and vehicle value. They’re going to be doing this into 2015.

One consequence of this strategy is a revenue increase of 5%.

It will be interesting to watch what happens next year. Will they stick to the discipline of producing exclusive cars, or will they let the proverbial floodgates open?

2014 Chrysler Town & Country S

By: Gary S. Vasilash 16. April 2014

One of the most profound mysteries of our time is why people don’t like minivans.

The usual explanation is that there is a stigma attached to that body style, one that says, in effect, that one is a grownup. Yet the same person who has enough sense not to wear a tube top or a muscle shirt after the skin isn’t as taut as it once was still thinks that by buying a full-size SUV (to meet the three-row seating requirement of the family and/or members of the baseball or soccer team) they are somehow still bathing in the fountain that Ponce de Leon never found.

2014 Chrysler Town & Country 30th Anniversary Edition

The people who buy those full-size SUVs (to say nothing of the midsize SUVs with that structure that is alleged to be a third row) ought to have to spend a couple hours back there and see how effective it is. The word “comfort” doesn’t even apply.

Chrysler introduced the minivan in 1983. This means that it is over 30. Most of the people who ought to be buying minivans are probably in that demographic, too.

1984 Plymouth Voyager 1984 Plymouth Voyager—the Original

Because Chrysler was the pioneer in this space, it is easy to understand that it has unmatched knowledge of the characteristics of what makes a good minivan. Indeed, there is probably tribal knowledge throughout the HQ building in Auburn Hills that is so engrained that it isn’t even conscious. They simply know minivans.

Realize that while Chrysler has gone through all manner of ownership contortions over the years that the minivan has been around, it is the only one of the once-Big Three that still produces the product for the U.S. market.

GM bailed in 2008, after bizarre (the “dust buster” style) and pathetic (the “crossover sport vans,” because consumers could be fooled that their minivans were really something else) attempts.

For Ford it was the Aerostar, the Windstar, then the Freestar. It was the deathstar for the minivans in 2007, the end of the run.

But Chrysler endures and its competitors are now Honda with the Odyssey and Toyota with the Sienna. With those two vying for customers who are sufficiently comfortable with their chronology to opt for automotive utility, you know that Chrysler has had to up its game, not rest on its laurels.

2014 Chrysler Town & Country 30th Anniversary Edition

Now this is not to say that Chrysler hasn’t done I what I consider to be some silly things in the minivan space. Like the Town & Country S.

What constitutes the more “sinister” minivan, undoubtedly meant to appeal to the male demographic, the guy who really wants a Charger but has too many payments on his charge card thanks to the kids always needing new shoes, is that there is an abundance of black, inside and out. There are a black chrome grille and a black rear fascia step pad. There are blacked-out headlight bezels and polished 17-in. aluminum wheels with black painted pockets. There are black Torino leather seats with black Ballistic cloth seat inserts and piano black gloss trim appliqués. And there are “S” logos on the seats and even in the instrument cluster.

2014 Chrysler Town & Country 30th Anniversary Edition

There is also a “performance suspension,” but unless is running some sort of junior gymkhana in the high school parking lot. . . .

So let’s not get silly with the S. Let’s just say that Chrysler builds seriously fine minivans and the Town & Country is one of them. If you like the look, go for it. If you don’t, there are Touring and Limited models, too.

Maybe if you buy one, people won’t think you’re young. Maybe they’ll think you’re sensible. Perish the thought, eh?

Selected specs

Engine: 3.6-liter, DOHC, V6

Horsepower: 283 hp @ 6,400 rpm

Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and heads

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 121 in.

Length: 202.8 in.

Width: 78.7 in.

Height: 69.9 in.

Curb weight: 4,652 lb.

Passenger volume: 163.5 cu. ft.

Max. cargo volume: 143.8 cu. ft.

Passenger + cargo volume: 195.8

EPA: 17/25 mpg city/highway


Ultimate Lawn Care

By: Gary S. Vasilash 15. April 2014

This man is obviously quite interested in the length of his lawn, something that many of us will be in the not-too-distant future:

Honda mower 1

But the point is not the man or the lawn, but the mower.

Actually a Honda HF2620 Lawn Tractor that was reengineered. Reengineered with a custom-made 4130 chromoly chassis. With a fiber-glass deck. With a suspension and wheels from a Honda all-terrain vehicle. With a 1,000-cc engine from a Honda VTR Firestorm motorcycle.

Honda mower 2

The mower weighs 308 lb.

That said, it does cut grass. There are two electric motors located on the cutter deck that spin a 3-mm cutting cable at 4,000 rpm. Which would make quick work of one’s lawn.

And quick is the point of this mower.

It is the world’s fastest lawnmower according to Guinness. It averaged 116.57 mph in a run last month at the IDIADA Proving Ground in Tarragona, Spain.

It is setup to have a top speed of 130 mph.

Could it be that they have too much time on their hands?

Svensson on Ford Design & More

By: Gary S. Vasilash 14. April 2014

This is Chris Svensson:

Christopher Svensson

He grew up in the U.K., in Sunderland. He said that even as a little kid, his goal was to work at Ford. His dad worked there. There were Fords in the garage. His first car was a Ford.

He also, he explained, happened to be a good artist.

So one thing led to another, and Svensson, having gotten degrees in Design from Coventry University and the Royal Academy of Art, joined Ford in 1992. In Germany.

He’s been with Ford ever since.

In June 2010, Svensson was named design director of Ford Asia Pacific and Africa, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Ford moved him to Dearborn in 2013, as exterior design director, The Americas. (“The Americas” means North and South America for Ford.)

This past January, Svennson was named Design Director, The Americas.

Seems like Svensson’s childhood objective is paying off.

Svensson, on this episode of “Autoline After Hours,” talks with Chris Paukert of Autoblog, and co-hosts John McElroy and me about a variety of products, ranging from the way that design/engineering/manufacturing are integrated to how technology—from sensors to alternative powertrains—are having an effect on how cars are designed.

And Paukert, McElroy and I discuss a variety of issues, from GM’s continuing recall and reputation problems to hybrids and diesels.

1964 World's Fair Ford Exhibit 1965 Mustang The Mustang at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York

1964 World's Fair Ford Mustang Introduction The media introduction of the original Mustang in 1964.  Yes, that man is Lee Iacocca.

[If you are reading this on April 14, you may be interested to know that Svensson is setting off today from Dearborn to New York City in a 1965 Mustang—built, he points out in 1964, so it is of the original year—that he’s had restored, driving along the original route that was taken by Ford 50 years ago for the Mustang, a car that, Svensson points out, is one of the few nameplates with uninterrupted production for 50 years (the other? The Porsche 911).]



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