Blog Posts by Gary S. Vasilash : Automotive Design & Production

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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.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-road 4×4 Double Cab

21. July 2016

The thing about the Toyota Tacoma is that it is built for banging around, and it is not sorry.

That is, there has been the, in effect, gentrification of pickup trucks. They’ve gone upscale. To be sure, people like comfort and amenities. Seats that are easy on the posterior. Things like navigation and satellite radio. An interior that doesn’t seem to have been put together from the Vinyl-o-Rama outlet mall.

However, it seems as though the proverbial pendulum has swung to a place where not only are crossovers and SUVs the new sedans, but pickup trucks are the new sedans, too.

This is not to say that pickups of any type have lost their capability, because they all still have beds on the back to handle stuff of various sizes, masses and consistencies. And all are offered with a 4×4 optional capability, so there is more than the average amount of capability, certainly more than in the family midsize sedan (with the 4×4 capability being about handling terrain, not getting away from stoplights with alacrity).

But I’ve certainly gotten the sense from several pickups that they’ve become the sorts of things that you don’t want to climb into with dirty shoes, to say nothing of boots. They’re really nice inside. You might even wear a cravat while driving one. And break out the Grey Poupon.

Which is not to say that the interior of the Tacoma seems like a construction site trailer’s environs. In fact, whether it is the seat material or the thoughtfully designed (thoughtful, but ruggedly designed: we’re not talking eggheads here) instrument panel, the Tacoma is well done. But it is something that you’re going to clamber into after hunting or fishing or surfing or whatever and not give it a second thought, not think about how your mother once kept you off the furniture with your dirty jeans—even if you thought they were clean.

Now the truck in question has the word “off-road” in its name, so you know that they’ve done more than a little something that makes it capable of eating dirt. Like specifically tuning the suspension and adding Bilstein shocks.

The TRD stands for “Toyota Racing Development,” and while TRD is most certainly involved in series like NASCAR Sprint Cup, it really made its bones in off-road racing.

Hmm. . . “Tacoma TRD Off-road”. . . .

One thing that I found appropriate for the vehicle—and hell on my left calf—was the clutch for the six-speed manual transmission. Let’s face it: If you’re going to go slamming and banging where there is no asphalt, chances are you’re also going to be slamming and banging a shift lever.

It features 4WDemand part-time 4WD with an electronically controlled transfer case and Automatic Limited Slip Differential (Auto LSD). And for the Tacoma you can get a locking rear differential, Hill Start Assist Control (HAC), Clutch Start Cancel, Active Traction Control, and Crawl Control.

The truck has a 278-hp 3.5-liter V6 that provides 265 lb-ft of torque, so it has the muscle to move. The double cab truck can tow 6,400 pounds if you get the tow prep package (Class IV towing receiver hitch with transmission oil cooler with water and air cooler, 130-amp alternator, 4- and 7-pin connector, and Trailer-Sway Control).

Yes, there are amenities in the truck. Like Entune Premium Audio and the Integrated Navigation and App Suite that’s shown on a seven-inch touch screen.

Crank the tunes and go. Like mad. But safely. (Yes, like even the more, ah, refined Toyotas the Tacoma comes with the Star Safety System, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop brake override technology (SST).)

Bottom line is that there are cushier trucks that you can select. Heck, if you’re looking for plush, Toyota has a Tundra 1794 Edition that will make you feel like you’re back in the Wild West—and happened to own the town.

But the Tacoma TRD Off-road 4×4 Double Cab is a blast—and the people at Toyota seem just fine with that.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.5-liter V6

Horsepower: 278 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 265 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Rack-and-pinion power

Wheelbase: 127.4 inches

Length: 212.3 inches

Width 74.4 inches

Height: 70.6 inches

Seating capacity: 5

Curb weight: 4,445 pounds

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 17/20/18 mpg

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Cue the Anthem-Like Music

20. July 2016

If this wasn’t the Summer of the Superhero—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; Capital America: Civil War; X-Men: Apocalypse—we might not have written about this, but given this image:

how could we not?

No, it isn’t a badge for Neutron Man or Nepenthe Woman, but signifies a new portfolio of polyphthalamide (PPA) materials, Ultramid Advanced N.

And beyond that clever graphic, it is worth noting that this material portfolio, developed by BASF, is said to have properties that make it highly useful in automotive applications, both under the hood and in the transmission, applications that require constant mechanics up to 100°C (glass transition temperature: 125°C), chemical resistance and low water absorption as well as low friction and wear, applications like gear wheels and other wear parts.

In the chemical resistance arena, the Ultramid Advanced N can deal with

Ultramid® Advanced N is extraordinarily resistant against chemicals, hot oil, coolants such as Glysantin (BASF’s engine coolant), calcium chloride, and fuels with a high methanol content. (The particular PPAs are provided with the necessary stabilizers to meet the requirements of the application.)

Strength can be added via long or short glass fibers. There are flame-resistant grades.

All of which makes the material seem, dare we say, sort of. . .super.

Perhaps they should have used a colon in the name, as is the case in all of those movies, as in Ultramid: Advanced N.

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2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid Limited

19. July 2016

According to an estimate from Inside EVs, a web publication dedicated to all things electric vehicle, there were an estimated 1,360 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrids delivered during the first half of 2016. This more or less puts it in the middle of the pack, with the Mitsubishi i-MiEV at the bottom with 20 for the first half (the Mercedes GLE 550e is actually at 19, but that’s for one month) and the Tesla Model S at the top, with 12,090.

According to Autodata, the total number of Sonatas delivered in the U.S. during the first six months of 2016 is 104,401, so you can see that the plug-in is but a fraction of the Sonata sales. (In fact, the entire list of vehicles on the Inside EVs chart accounts for just 64,802, so the Sonata handily outsells the entire fleet.)

Now it should be stressed that this is a plug-in hybrid. Which means that yes, there is a plug. Plug it into a regular 120-v socket and you’re going to get the battery charged in about nine hours. Use a Level two 240-v charging station and you’re talking about a full charge in something under three hours.

And that charging gets you an estimated 27 miles of electric driving. No gas.

The Plug-in Hybrid has a 9.8-kWh lithium polymer battery pack. Attached to the six-speed automatic transmission is what Hyundai calls its “Transmission-Mounted Electrical Device” (TMED) which is a 50kW electric motor. The device is in place of a torque converter. It powers the vehicle in EV mode.

Because this is a hybrid, not a full electric vehicle, there is an internal combustion engine, a 2.0-liter, 154-hp, gasoline direct injected four. (When both the engine and TMED are powering the Sonata, the total system output is 202 hp.)

Now here’s where things get a little confusing. There is a Sonata Hybrid. Period. No plug. Just a gasoline fill nozzle.

It has a lithium-polymer battery pack, but it is smaller, 1.62 kWh capacity. It has a TMED, but it is smaller, 38 kW.

The engine under the hood is the same for both vehicles.

Whereas the Plug-in can propel you down the road purely on electricity for 27 miles, the electric motor in the Hybrid provides tractive power that is supplemental, not primary.

So an advantage of the Plug-in is that 27 miles. After that onboard battery charge is depleted, then the Plug-in performs precisely the same way as the Hybrid.

However, there is a bit of a sacrifice to be made for those opting for the Hybrid, which is that the 9.8-kWh battery pack has to go somewhere. Given that the 1.62-kWh battery pack of the Hybrid is roughly a fifth of the size of the other one, it can be more conveniently packaged: it goes under the floor of the trunk. That leaves 13.3-cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk.

However, the 9.8-kWh battery pack is, in effect, in the trunk. So there’s just 9.9-cubic feet of cargo room, so I discovered that it is a good thing that there is a roomy back seat in the Sonata because I had to use it once the trunk was filled—and trust me, it’s not like I was stocking up on paper products at Costco.

It should be noted that in addition to the electric range that the Plug-in provides, it has more pep under the throttle: whereas, as mentioned, the total system output is 202 hp, the total net power for the Hybrid is 193 hp. (However, the Plug-in weighs about 250 pounds more, so. . . .)

OK, to the Plug-in.

If you’re the kind of person who simply wants to buy a car without having to go through all of the rigmarole of picking this option or that, opt for the Limited trim.

Then you get things including but not limited to: Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross-traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist; Rearview Camera; Forward Collision Warning (FCW); Lane Departure Warning (LDW); Smart Cruise Control with stop/start capability; Rear parking sensors; Automatic High Beam Assist; Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system; Hands-free smart trunk; Chrome exterior door handles with welcome light; Proximity Key entry with push button start; 8-way power driver seat with power adjustable lumbar support; Heated and ventilated front seats; 8-inch touchscreen navigation; Infinity AM/FM/Sirius XM audio. . . .

And there’s a lot more included but I simply tired of typing it all.

Styling is pretty much that of a standard Sonata.

I was in a parking lot, getting out of the Plug-in while a guy was getting into his car adjacent to me: he was driving a new Genesis. He smiled and nodded. Yes, Hyundai owners unite. Actually, I think that he thought that it was a Genesis, too.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC, GDI I4

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 154 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 140 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm

Electric motor: 67 hp @ 2,330-3,300 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Motor-driven rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 110.4 in.

Length: 191.1 in.

Width 73.4 in.

Height: 57.7 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.24

Passenger volume: 106.1-cu. ft.

Cargo volume: 9.9 cu. ft.

Curb weight: 3,810 lb.

Fuel economy: Combined 40 mpg

Electric + Gasoline (EV mode): 99 MPGe

All Electric Range (AER): 27 miles

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Creating the 2017 Buick LaCrosse

18. July 2016

The Buick LaCrosse has been Buick’s top-line car since it was introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model sedan. During this period of time, plenty of things have changed in the market, particularly vis-à-vis the comparative ascent of crossovers vs. cars of all sizes and types, particularly in the midsize/large category, where the LaCrosse competes.

So when Jeff Yanssens, chief engineer of the fourth-generation LaCrosse, the 2017 model, and his team set out to engineer a car that would be class-leading, they certainly had their work cut out for them, given not only the crossover phenomenon, but the that includes a variety of vehicles including the Infiniti Q50, Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300, Kia Cadenza, and Ford Taurus.

Yet Yanssens tells us on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” that he had a team that was committed to creating a car that is class-leading.

“When you want to go from good to great,” he says, “you’ve got to pay the price. And you don’t go home at 5.”

No, you work at it and you keep working at it until you get it absolutely right.

One thing that comes out as Yanssens talks to Autoline’s John McElroy, Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific and me is that the development of the 2017 LaCrosse was driven by doing things right, not doing things because they’d be the most expeditious or economical.

Yanssens says, for example, that the vehicle is some 300 pounds lighter than its predecessor, and that while a lot of that is predicated by doing some three-million CPU hours of computer-aided engineering on a Cray computer, analyzing 200 variables and 150 parameters, some of it was achieved by putting in the lighter solution, such as the power window lift mechanism, even though there were less costly—but heavier—alternatives.  Realize that this is a steel-intensive vehicle—they didn’t opt the aluminum route for mass reduction—yet the structure is about 150 pounds lighter, again thanks to the engineering and processing of the new LaCrosse.

Realize that this is an all-new LaCrosse, inside and out, so whether it was the engineering of a second-generation 3.6-liter, 305-hp V6 or the eight-speed automatic’s toggle-pull shifter that opened up space for storage in the center console, whether it was stretching the overall length by a bit (0.6 inches) but the wheelbase by a lot (2.7 inches), they worked hard on the vehicle.

It is no secret that (1) China is important to General Motors and (2) Buick is big in China. That is, this past June, GM sold 86,054 Buicks in China and just 35,648 Chevys and 9,552 Cadillacs. (By way of context, know that for the first six months of 2016 Buick sales in the U.S. were a total 104,207 units, or just 17.5 percent more vehicles that were sold in China in one month.)

The 2017 LaCrosse is being built at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and at a facility in Shanghai.

Yanssens points out that the extended wheelbase facilitates ingress and egress into the back seat. Is that something that was done to meet the needs for the China market, he’s asked. He simply points out that people everywhere like the ability to climb into and out of cars without struggle, that it is something that is universal.

If you’re interested in learning how a new car is engineered, Yanssens provides a fascinating look into the process.

In addition to which, McElroy, Sullivan and I discuss a number of other topics, ranging from cybersecurity issues to the controversy surrounding the Tesla Model S fatal crash in Florida.

And you can see it all right here:

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VW Makes Environmental Strides—in Manufacturing

15. July 2016

While that whole diesel thing still may not be working out so well for Volkswagen Group—last week Reuters reported that the European Consumer Organization put out a statement citing a test by an Italian consumer group, Altroconsumo, that shows that a 2.0-liter EA 189 Euro 5 diesel engine in an Audi Q5 had 25 percent higher NOx emissions after the dodgy software had been removed than before it—but the manufacturing personnel at Volkswagen brand have been working hard at improving things on their end, as in improving the environmental correctitude of their operations by 25.3 percent and saving the company more than €100 million in the process.

The program they’ve been undertaking for the past several years is called “Think Blue. Factory,” and according to Peter Bosch, VW head of Optimization Strategy, Processes, Structures, “Investments in environmental technologies protect precious resources and avoid emissions, benefiting everyone. They also make economic sense. Since 2010, we have saved far more than €100 million.” Bosch added, “Over the next few years, we will make further substantial progress.”

Specific achievements between 2010 and 2015, based on production of vehicles and/or components, include:

· Energy consumption reduced 24.7 percent

· CO2 emissions down 29.1 percent

· Waste production down 46.5 percent

· Water consumption reduced 18.2 percent

· Solvent emissions down 8.2 percent

It should be noted that “Think Blue. Factory.” is not just about making massive changes, but small ones, ideas that plants across the Volkswagen network share. Some 5,000 ideas have been generated, of which 2.500 have been implemented.

It’s not just the tailpipe when it comes to emissions. Credit to Volkswagen for its “Think Blue. Factory.”

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