Autofield Blog

Built in Detroit

By: Gary S. Vasilash 4. August 2015

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, while flipping through the Times, I had one of those “damn, I can’t believe I’m seeing this” moments.

It was an ad.

It was this:


An ad for a Detroit-built product that’s on offer at a jewelry shop in Beverly Hills.

Here we are, entering the age of the Apple Watch, and smack-dab in the middle of it is an analog timekeeping device that’s out of Detroit.

Clearly, a Shinola watch is an aspirational object.

And when I sat on the plane going back to Detroit, I noticed that there were more than a few ostensible Millennials, women and men, who had Shinolas on their wrists.

The point here is not to shill for Shinola.

It is to make the point that here we are in 2015 and Detroit is being presented in not merely a good light, but a klieg light.

And it makes me wonder why the Detroit automakers don’t somehow capitalize on this, as well.

Yes, Chrysler went down this road with its 2011 Super Bowl ad with Eminem. It kept it up for a while with the likes of Ndamukong Suh and John Varvatos.


But somehow this Shinola ad does a better job of telegraphing the message: this is well-built and if you have one, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Stuttgart, Ingolstadt, Tokyo, or elsewhere, you can wear it with confidence and pride.

Shinola is based in the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education in Detroit. It is a building of the College for Creative Studies. Plenty of designers who are working in Dearborn, Warren and Auburn Hills—to say nothing of Stuttgart, Ingolstadt, Tokyo, and elsewhere—studied at CCS.

That building, the Argonaut Building, was designed by the legendary Albert Kahn. It once housed the General Motors Research Laboratory.

You don’t get much more Motown than that.

And there’s Shinola. “Built in Detroit and Made to Last” is one of their slogans.

Shinola is capitalizing on Detroit. On it heritage of making stuff. On its growing reputation of a city where there is literally a rebirth of arts and culture, where arguably the word “renaissance” isn’t just appended to the name of a building. (Yes, a building that was initiated by the efforts of Henry Ford II and is now the headquarters of GM.)

Why the auto makers don’t do this is a mystery to me. They may want to resonate in New York and Los Angeles. But the people who matter there resonate with Detroit.

Brembo. Yes, We’re Talking Brakes

By: Gary S. Vasilash 3. August 2015

It’s the classic story of a tinkerer in a garage starting something and then having it go big. Really big. Internationally big. So big that even people who don’t know much about the technology know what it is. Or at least recognize it.

It’s a story that started in a small workshop outside of Bergamo, Italy, in 1961. It was called Officine Meccaniche di Sombreno.

The issue was one of securing brake discs when there weren’t many readily available with the right characteristics. That was in 1964.

By 1975, Enzo Ferrari paid a visit to the operation. And the rest is history.

Brembo.  Brakes.

Who doesn’t recognize this:

Brembo 2

Dan Sanberg is president and CEO of Brembo North America, which is headquartered in Plymouth, Michigan. About an hour-and-a-half west there’s the manufacturing facility in Homer, Michigan, where, Sanberg says, they’re manufacturing discs, calipers, and corner modules. Where they’re investing $100-million for a casting facility. Yes, that’s right: they’re going to be casting iron and aluminum in Michigan.

Brembo is all about premium braking technology. Braking systems for Ferrari, of course, but also cars like the Viper and the Corvette.

Of the company’s 7,700 employees around the world, 10% are hard at it, working on R&D.

And Sanberg points out that because this is an Italian company, aesthetics matter. Yes, there are people back in Italy who look at the calipers from the point of view of strictly their artistic appeal.

Sanberg talks about trends and development in such things as materials and applications, about the challenges and the future of braking systems on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Host John McElroy, Richard Truett of Automotive News, and ask Sanberg about what has got to be the most-storied brake company on the planet (its brakes have been on vehicles—cars and motorcycles—that have won more than 300 championships since the company first went racing—Formula One racing—in ’75.

In addition to which, McElroy, Truett and I discuss a number of other subjects, including the IIHS testing of the Ford F-150, which Automotive News played an important role.

IIHS photo

(IIHS photo)

That, the calculations of fuel-cell-generated water, FCA’s earnings and much more are discussed right here:



Diesels Come to Colorado & Canyon (This Fall)

By: Gary S. Vasilash 31. July 2015

That the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize trucks—which have helped increase truck sales as they proven a supplement, not a detriment, to Siliverado and Sierra sales—were going to have a diesel was known from the get-go.

2016 Chevrolet Colorado 2.8L Duramax Turbo Diesel

And now details have been revealed about the 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder turbo-diesel that will become available this fall in a range of vehicle configurations (Colorado: LT and Z71 Crew Cab models, with 2WD or 4WD; Canyon: SLE and SLT Crew Cab models, with 2WD or 4WD). It is priced $3,730 more than a comparably equipped 3.6-liter gasoline-powered V6 model.

The engine is SAE-certified at 181 hp (135 kW) @ 3,400 rpm and 369 lb-ft of torque (500 Nm) @ 2,000 rpm. (They’re still getting the fuel economy numbers validated; they should be good, to say the least.)

It features an iron block and an aluminum DOHC cylinder head. There are forged steel connecting rods and crankshaft. There is a variable-geometry turbocharger. The oiling circuit has a dedicated feed for the turbocharger so that there are increased pressure at the turbo and faster oil delivery.

According to General Motors, the Duramax 2.8-liter engine is the “cleanest diesel truck engine” the corporation has ever produced.

One contributing factor to the comparative cleanliness is a cooled exhaust gas exhaust gas recirculation system (EGR).

2016 GMC Canyon 2.8L Duramax turbo-diesel

Across town from GM, over at Ram, the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel—which is a full-size truck, not midsize, and which is powered by a 3.0-liter diesel that produces 240-hp and 420 lb-ft of torque and provides a remarkable 28 mpg—is proving to be a remarkable success for the truck brand, as they’re working toward the diesel accounting for as much as 20% of the sales volume of the Ram 1500, which is showing steady sales increases month after month.

GM is probably hoping that it will do at least as well with the Duramax.

The Automotive Future Is Closer: Mirai Is Available for Order

By: Gary S. Vasilash 30. July 2015

The digital order book (i.e., you go through a website) for the hydrogen-fueled Toyota Mirai opened last week, and if you happen to be someone who qualifies to get the car (they are not planning on making a whole lot of them initially, so they want to make sure as much as possible that there is congruence between the buyer and the vehicle), then you’re going to be getting the future of automotive transportation at a fairly aggressive price for what is undoubtedly a vehicle that costs far, far more than it is stickered for. Let’s face it: the Mirai really is rocket science that has been mass productionized, and it is hard to imagine that that’s anything but, well, inexpensive.


The future really is now

That is, the MSRP for the sedan is $57,500. Naturally, there is a delivery charge, $835. (While not an apples-to-apples comparison, know that SpaceX charges $61.2-million for a Falcon 9 launch.)

But the Mirai price gets you a car that has an estimated 312-mile range, based on an EPA estimated 67 mpge city/highway/combined, which is more useful than a space launch.

That range, according to Toyota, makes it the electric vehicle that can travel the furthest.

(“Electric vehicle?” you wonder. “I thought it was a hydrogen-powered car.” The hydrogen is used to create electricity, which powers a 113-kW AC synchronous electric generator.)

There are plenty of benefits to early adopters that Toyota is offering, ranging from financing support to free hydrogen for 3 years (or $15,000, whichever comes first).

And the state of California might offer you a $5,000 tax credit. Assuming you live in California.

Which you will need to in order to get a Mirai.

There are currently eight dealers who handle the Mirai. Four in southern California. Four in northern.

And right now there are eight public refueling stations.

No wonder Toyota is calling the early adopters “Trailblazers.”

(To be fair, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, there are an additional 48 stations under development.)

When you’re going to have someone discuss your new vehicle, who better than a theoretical physicist? Here is Dr. Michio Kaku at the 2015 CES discussing the future of transportation at a Toyota event:

Mirai 2

(Cue the Thomas Dolby music)

2015 Kia Soul EV+

By: Gary S. Vasilash 29. July 2015

The Kia Soul EV—as in “electric vehicle”—takes the already well-done Soul and provides a slightly different spin on it.

2016 Soul EV

The difference is not simply the fact that it has an AC synchronous electric motor that produces an equivalent 109-hp under the hood.

One pleasant difference is in the cabin, where there is the extensive use of bio-based plastics. Such things as the door panels, headliner, seat trim, and more—in all, 19 different parts—are made with plastics derived from cellulose and sugar cane. The result is an overall freshness and modernity. This may be a car that is “green” because it is a zero-emission vehicle, but it is not “green” in the sense that it is “frugal” in a way that makes the interior about as exciting as a bowl of oatmeal. Quite the contrary. It has all of amenities that you’d expect—maybe some that you don’t (e.g., heated seats). Overall, I like it better than the versions with the 1.6- or 2.0-liter internal combustion engine.

2016 Soul EV

The interior, that is.

There is an 8-inch capacitive touch screen display that provides an array of functions, one of which is navigation that provides a list of where one can get the 27-kWh air-cooled, 200-Watt-hour/kg lithium ion polymer battery, which is located under the floor so it is not truncating storage space, charged.

2016 Soul EV

Amusingly enough, however, while driving along it indicated a charging station that happened to be. . .at a Nissan dealership. Probably not where you want to go with your Kia.

The charging procedure is straight-forward. You release the lid on the charger ports that’s located in the center of the grille. There are two charging ports, a SAE J1772 port for Level 1 and Level 2 AC, and a CHAdeMO DC fast-charging port (480 V). Plug in and information as to how long it is likely to take to charge—according to Kia, “recharging times vary from 24 hours for a fully depleted battery using a standard 120-V outlet to under five hours when plugged into a 240-V outlet.  An 80-percent charge can be achieved from empty in as little as 33 minutes with a 50 kW-output DC fast charger”—is displayed on a 3.5-inch OLED screen.

And that screen may provide some surprising information.

The Soul EV has a EPA estimated range of 93 miles. That’s the combined number.

2016 Soul EV

Just as in your gasoline-fueled car, there are a lot of factors that come into play regarding the vehicle’s range. For example, as it was summer when I was driving the car, I had no need to activate the aforementioned heated seats. The air conditioning is another story.

And when I turned the air conditioning on, I saw that the mileage range immediately dropped by two miles.

While on a theoretical basis I am completely in favor of things like EVs, I must admit that the whole time I had the car I was thinking about the amount of juice in the battery.

When you think about buying a car, changes are—and these chances are high, given the exceedingly small number of electric vehicles sold in the U.S.—that refueling is not something that you think about. An exception might be if you are contemplating purchase of a diesel vehicle. But absent that, you take for granted that the Shell or BP or Whatever station is seemingly everywhere so that if you think about fuel at all vis-à-vis a new car purchase, it is probably only in the context of fuel economy.

That is not the case for an EV. Not by a long shot. While 120-V plugs are certainly common, they tend to be inside of buildings, which makes them ideal for charging phones on the go but not so much for EVs. And while there is a growing number of recharging station in the parking lots of malls, colleges and office complexes, the number is still small, and those that I found in the western suburbs of Detroit were Level 2 chargers, which means 220 V. That’s better than what you have at home (with the exception of the outlets for your major appliances, and this whole thing might take us to the description of a car as an appliance in a very tangible way). But 220 V is still something that requires hours of plug-in time. If I happen to go to a charging station at a mall, plug in and then go to a movie and you drive up in need of a charge, you’re going to be out of luck. While this may not be a problem right now (I went to five different charging spots over the weekend in in all cases I had the only car there), what happens if EVs become very popular?

2016 Soul EV

Even if you use an EV for short hops around town, those short hops add up quickly, especially if you have the HVAC system activated. When your range is on the order of – miles, those runs to school and the grocery store make the range numbers fall precipitously.

And recharging an EV is not as quick and convenient as going to the Shell or BP or Whatever station.

This is the proverbial Achilles’ heel for the Soul EV and its brethren in this space, with the exception of a Tesla Model S, as it has a range of 230 miles. But then it has a starting MSRP of $70,000, so you could buy (almost) two Soul EV+s for that money (MSRP: $35,700).

Yes, I know there are statistics that indicate the average driver travels fewer than 40 miles per day, but it is the notion of not having the ability to plug in somewhere that’s concerning. At least for me.

The car itself is one thing. A good thing. But the infrastructure and the battery (i.e., recharging) are something else, entirely.

Selected specs

Motor: AC synchronous permanent magnet electric

Horsepower: 109 hp

Torque: 210 lb-ft

Transmission: One-speed gear reduction

Battery: 27 kWh lithium ion polymer

Steering: Electric power assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 101.2 in.

Length: 163 in.

Width 70.9 in.

Height: 63 in.

Passenger volume: 97.1 cu. ft.

Curb weight: 3,289 lb.

EPA estimated range: 93 miles

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