Environmental Stats

Sure, U.S. voters don’t like greenhouse gases. But others ought to dislike them more and do something about it

By Gary S. Vasilash

While cars and trucks are certainly not the only contributors to noxious emissions, they provide more than a minimal amount, to understate the case. Wildly.

So with that in mind, it is interesting to look at some of the stats from a survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

The survey was conducted among registered voters in the U.S. from March 18 to 29, 2021.

Among the findings:

  • 61% think the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of whether other countries do or not
  • 65% think the U.S. should be doing more to address global warming
  • 71% think other industrialized countries—as in England, Germany and Japan—should be doing more to address global warming.

And there you have it: Someone else should do more to take care of the problem.

Ford Making a Big Bet on a Sure Thing

Let’s face it: the future of personal transportation isn’t gasoline or diesel fuel

By Gary S. Vasilash

Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product platform and operations officer (think of him as the guy who is in charge of product development) points out that the company has announced that it is in the process of investing $22-billion in electrified vehicles through 2025.

And because making a transformation from a dependence on engines that run on liquids to motors that run on electricity is no mean feat, Thai-Tang says that the company is kicking in an additional $185-million, this for developing and equipping a 200,00-square-foot facility that will be known as “Ford Ion Park.”

That’s ion as in a net electrical charge.

The learning lab, which is going to be located somewhere in southeastern Michigan (let’s see: Ford HQ is in Dearborn; it has a Battery Benchmarking and Test Laboratory in Allen Park; it is restoring the Michigan Central train station in Detroit where it will be creating an innovation hub), will be a place where they will be able to not only determine the best ways and means to develop batteries—lithium-ion and solid-state types—but also how to pilot the production of them.

Don’t try this at home! Mary Fredrick, Ford battery validation engineer, and Dane Hardware, Ford design and release engineer, measuring the voltage of a battery at the Ford Battery Benchmarking and Test Lab. (Image: Ford)

There will be some 150 employees (manufacturing, engineering, product development, purchasing, quality, planning) at the site.

Given the success of things like the Mustang Mach-E, which Thai-Tang says is on dealer lots for about a week before it is snapped up by a customer, an inventory turn time that is nothing short of astonishing in an industry that typically has vehicles on dealer lots for a few months, not a few days (although this has been changed by the global microchip shortage that came right on the proverbial heels of the factory shutdowns last year caused by COVID-19), Ford sees that there is a need to get the wherewithal to produce more EVs (an electric Transit is coming later this year; the electric F-150 by mid-22), and so it is creating the capacity that will allow it to ramp batteries faster.

Thai-Tang notes, of the overall drive toward electrification: “We will no longer take an approach of hedging our bets.”

With the billions it is spending, seems like it is pretty much pushing in a lot of chips.

Another Surprise from Porsche

An exercise in cognitive dissonance?

By Gary S. Vasilash

If nothing else, the people at Porsche are imaginative when it comes to promoting its brand.

The latest effort is even more surprising than the hiring of the Science Guy:

A 212-page book titled. . .Hip-Hop Culture—A Road Trip through Europe.

The book is based on a pre-COVID trip that Niko Hüls, publisher of a hip-hop magazine, Backspin, took with people from Porsche.

Hüls and a Cayenne. (Image: Porsche)

The travels gave rise to profiles of hip-hop artists including Kool Savas (Berlin), Lord Esperanza (Paris), Edson Sabajo (Amsterdam), Falsalarma (Barcelona), Lars Pedersen (Copenhagen) and the Flying Steps (Berlin).

In what may be the understatement of the year, Sebastian Rudolph, Vice President Public Relations, Press, Sustainability and Politics at Porsche AG, said, “Hip-hop and Porsche – at first glance, this may seem a surprising combination.”

He added, however, “But this pairing stands for diversity and cultural values.”

The book is available from Back to Tape.

All proceeds from the book are being donated to Viva Con Agua.

Henry Ford’s Soybean Suit and Other Material Marvels

You’d be surprised at what can be done with what might otherwise seem to be organic waste. Like using it to create car parts

By Gary S. Vasilash

Dr. Deborah Mielewski is a Technical Fellow at the Ford Motor Company.

Two things to know about that: (1) Ford employs about 87,000 people in the United States (more if the people from elsewhere are added, but she works in Dearborn, so we’ll use that number). (2) There are 16 Technical Fellows at Ford.

Yes, she is a rare individual.

She obtained her PhD in Chemical Engineering.

You might be thinking: “Technical Fellow. . .one of 16. . .chemical engineering. . .snooze.”

And were you to be, you’d be wrong.

Mielewski, whose focus is on sustainability, is one of the most enthusiastic and engaging individuals who talks about the environment and recycling and closed-loop processes who isn’t on the Discovery Channel or some outlet like that.

In fact, she probably ought to be.

But for the Earth Day episode of “Autoline After Hours” we have Debbie Mielewski talking about what she and her colleagues are doing in the lab to help make the crossovers, trucks and cars that Ford produces more environmentally sound—and doing so in ways that are not, well, what you might imagine.

One of her earlier undertakings was to develop seat foam using soybean oil. Unbeknownst to her at the time, Henry Ford had been a big proponent in using soybean oil for a number of applications, such as in paint and for body panels.

Ford was once so big on soybean that it built a processing plant on the grounds of the Rouge Complex in Dearborn. (Image: Ford)

The foam that they were creating in the lab took a while to come to a usable form (to say nothing of finding a way to attenuate the rather unpleasant fragrance emitted), but they worked at it and the material debuted on the 2008 Mustang.

Then they’ve had a variety of other atypical materials that they’re using.

She says—at least partially in jest—that while driving home from work one Friday night she thought about having a margarita when she got home. And that she would get in touch with Jose Cuervo on Monday to find out whether there might be some materials they could source (other than tequila, that is).

To obtain the juice that turns into the beverage the heart of the agave plant is roasted, ground and compressed. And then there is a whole lot of plant matter, fibrous, left over. While the Jose Cuervo company uses some of it, as do local artisans, there is still a large quantity left over.

The Ford scientists determined that the fibers are good for plastic reinforcement.

She says she likes coffee. Thinking about that led to the discovery that when coffee beans are roasted, their skin, chaff, comes off. Millions of pounds of the stuff. Ford and McDonald’s are working together to use the chaff as a composite reinforcement material instead of the traditional talc. It is lighter. Better. And is otherwise waste.

Wheat straw. Dandelions. Shredded paper currency. These and a whole lot more are being used and investigated by Mielewski and her team.

She tells a story about telling one of her colleagues to go collect some of the post-processed hemp at a Detroit medical marijuana distributor. (He was a bit reticent. . . .) Another fiber that may have application in automotive component production.

This is a fascinating look at a subject that will become only more important explained by someone who has spent more than 30 years of her career working on it.

Mielewski recalls that early on, when some of her other colleagues from the more traditional product engineering teams looked askance at her presentations, Bill Ford, known for his environmental leadership, had her back. Now the whole approach is becoming more pervasive. And not just on April 22.

“Autoline’s” John McElroy, Christie Truett from Wards Intelligence, Lindsay Brooke of Automotive Engineering and I talk with her.

And you can see it here.

Architecting a Rolls

This is no ordinary Rolls-Royce, which begs the question as to whether any Rolls is an ordinary Rolls

By Gary S. Vasilash

A Rolls-Royce Dawn, a 563-hp convertible, will set you back at least $356,500. (Well, probably not you necessarily, or the readership demographics of this site are far more elevated than I think.)

And you can reckon that Rolls-Royce Dawn that has been personalized through the firm’s Bespoke Design operation would ratchet that number up significantly. Especially if the person with whom the Bespoke team worked with is Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

Kengo Kuma and the special Rolls (Image: Rolls-Royce)

Yet Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Kengo Kuma have collaborated on a Dawn, one influenced by Kuma’s architectural design of a luxury residence in downtown Tokyo named “The Kita.”

The vehicle is for the owner of a multilevel penthouse in The Kita.

According to the 2020 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Tokyo is the third-most expensive place in the world to live (Hong Kong is #1 and Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, is #2).

Presumably if you can afford a penthouse at The Kita the price of even the most luxurious Rolls-Royce is, for you (again, not you), the sort of money that you’d find under the tatami.

Cadillac Prepares to Produce the LYRIQ

This electric crossover is the start of a new approach at Cadillac

By Gary S. Vasilash

 Cadillac has revealed the production version of what will become the first of its electric onslaught, the 2023 LYRIQ. With the exception of those who are exceedingly focused on such things, the LYRIQ production version looks essentially like the LYRIQ show car.

Jamie Brewer, the vehicle’s chief engineer, says that they were able to accomplish this by working very closely with not only the design team, but manufacturing, as well as the suppliers.

2023 Cadillac LYRIQ. Strange spelling. Cool crossover. (Image: Cadillac)

It is also interesting to note that the vehicle is going to be delivered nine months earlier than had been initially announced. According to Brewer they were able to achieve this through a virtual development process, in which there was extensive digital simulation and testing such that when they did their first pre-production builds there was “high fidelity” between what was expected and what was achieved.

Andrew Smith, executive director of Cadillac Design, and his team certainly had a big challenge in front of them, given that this is the first of the electric vehicles that will define Cadillac’s future.

Smith said he told the design team that they were to develop a “Cadillac that happens to be an electric vehicle.”

He also suggested that they are taking a somewhat different approach to creating models for the brand than some of its competitors do.

“Cadillac is a fashion brand,” Smith says. “Fashion is about change.”

While he says that there are a set of core values and principles, Cadillac design is not about making variants of different sizes and architectures of the same basic thing.

From a functional point of view the LYRIQ has an Ultium 12-module, 100 kWh battery pack and a rear-drive Ultium Platform. Brewer says that the LYRIQ development team and the Ultium development team sat with one another such that they were essentially the same team. She says that by having this close collaboration they were better able to optimize the systems for the vehicle.

The LYRIQ will have an estimated 340 hp and a 300-mile range on a full charge.

It offers high-speed DC fast charging at 190 kW, which means that about 76 miles of range can be achieved in 10 minutes. There is a 19.2-kW home charging module that is capable of providing 52 miles of range per hour of charging.

The vehicle is to start production at the GM plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, in Q1 2022 and become available during the first half of the year. The starting MSRP is $59,990.

According to Rory Harvey, vice president of Global Cadillac, the brand intends that from now on when there are new vehicles developed they, like the LYRIQ, will be EVs, not powered with internal combustion engines.

Of course, that is probably predicated on the acceptance of EVs by the market.

Should the LYRIQ be prelude to what’s to come, they probably won’t have an issue.

Bill Nye, Porsche Guy

Guess this means the big time for the quirky science enthusiast

By Gary S. Vasilash

Bill Nye is not a real doctor, nor does he have a master’s degree—in science. (A BS in mechanical engineering from Cornell.)

But he has made science interesting to the young and old alike.

There he is, always wearing a bowtie (and a suit or lab coat) rolling out in an understandable manner the science behind everyday life.

Well, he is wearing the bowtie. (Image: Porsche)

And he does so in a way that he seems to be the lovable everyman teacher from one’s middle school.

One of the things that a lovable everyman teacher from one’s middle school probably could only dream of is a Porsche Taycan.

But Nye has been hired by Porsche to create a YouTube channel for a series of shows that explain what makes the $79,900 electric Porsche special.

For some people what makes it special are:

  1. It is a Porsche
  2. It has a starting price of $79,900 and goes to $185,000.

It is worth noting that Porsche had also hired Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter to star in a video, “Going the Distance,” during which they take a road trip in SoCal in Taycans.

While that is somewhat understandable (e.g., getting on the accelerator really does earn a “Whoa!”), it is somewhat sad that Bill Nye has gone Hollywood.

Of course, were he Bill Nye Math Guy he would be able to explain the likely sudden increase in his bank balance.

Geely Taking to the Air in China

Let’s face it: there are plenty of traffic jams on the ground. Meanwhile, in the sky. . . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

While plenty of companies, including Geely, are showing off electric vehicles at the Shanghai Auto Show, there is one vehicle that is particularly intriguing in the Geely Technology Group exhibit: the Volocopter 2X.

The Volocopter 2X in the Geely booth at the Shanghai Auto Show. (Image: Geely)

It is an electric air taxi.

The category is called “urban air mobility” (UAM).

The objective is to provide transport services, like a cab, but in the air.

Geely, which invested in Volocopter in 2019, and Volocopter have agreed to a joint venture through which they’ll be offering UAM services in China.

Said Florian Reuter, CEO of Velocopter, “Geely’s market leadership in China and forward-thinking approach to expanding mobility options make them a great strategic investor. They are an invaluable partner for bringing urban air mobility to China—one of the most promising markets for the UAM industry globally.”

The 2X is a two seater.

It has flown test flights in China, and is the model that they’ll be starting service with.

It has 18 rotors and nine exchangeable batteries, which is said to provide redundancy in case of failure during service.

Volocopter is presently working on a fifth-generation model, the VoloCity, which has a speed of 110 km/h and a flight duration of 35 minutes.

About the 2022 Lexus ES

Yes, sedans matter. Done right.

By Gary S. Vasilash

Lexus has revealed the major midcycle update of the seventh generation ES, which appeared in 2018. The ES is a sedan. The ES is one of the fundamental products of the brand that we now know as Lexus. In 1989 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Lexus was introduced to the world with two models: the LS 400 sedan and the ES 250. While many associate Lexus with the wildly popular RX crossover, it wasn’t introduced until 1989.

Without the ES, arguably, we wouldn’t have the Lexus that we now know: Let’s face it, while the top-of-the-line LS is notable, its sales potential is limited. (That is: the starting MSRP for an LS is $76,000, while the starting price for an ES is $40,000. The difference is not trivial.)

The 2022 Lexus ES. Yes, people still like to drive cars. (Image: Lexus)

Lexus has seven cars in its lineup: IS, RC, ES, GS LS, LC and LFA. In 2020 there were 68,205 Lexus cars delivered. Of that number, 43,292 were ES models. Second to it is the IS, at 13,600.

Of course, the brand that made luxury crossovers a thing has five models in the SUV category. In 2020 it sold 206,836. Of that number, 101,059 were RX models. Second to it is the NX, at 55,784.

While it is clear that the crossover is certainly bringing in more buyers, note how important the ES is to the overall car sales: 63% of the total. The RX represents about 49% of the crossover total.

So for 2022 the brand has made some modifications, such as making its Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 as standard equipment (among its elements: Pre-Collision System (PCS) that uses enhanced sensors; it includes Frontal Collision Warning (FCW), Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Pedestrian Detection and Bicyclist Detection, and Intersection Turning Assist (under certain conditions it will recognize an oncoming vehicle when performing a left-hand turn, or a pedestrian when performing left and right-hand turns; it activates PCS if needed)).

They’ve modified the instrument panel design, doing such things as moving the center screens (standard 8-inch and optional 12.3-inch) forward 4.3 inches for easier accessibility.

On the outside there are new grille patterns. There are new wheels.

They’ve modified the ride and handling characteristics thanks to things like the use of a new rear suspension member brace. They’ve updated the braking system. . .and even enlarged the size of the brake pedal.

They’re even offering an FSPORT accessory and handling package for the hybrid version of the ES.

Lexus is putting a lot into the ES.

Look at those numbers for last year.

And consider this: in 2020 there wasn’t a single Cadillac model—not a car, not a crossover, that had sales of 43,292. The closest is the XT5 crossover, at 35,223.

Yes, the right sedan can matter.

Audi’s Approach to Electric Vehicles

The Audi RS e-tron GT produces 590 hp, net. Just sayin’. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

There are 14 vehicles in the Audi of America lineup. The best-selling model during Q1 was the Q5 crossover, with 14,731 units delivered. The vehicle that had the least amount of sales is the R8 sports car, at 148 units. This gives you a sense of the spread from top to bottom, as Audi sold 54,840 vehicles.

What is surprising is how well the e-tron and e-tron Sportback—electric vehicles—did for the brand, with the former accounting for 3,474 units and the latter 850.

Put another way, electric vehicles are a solid contributor to Audi’s overall sales.

The Audi Q4 e-tron. Part of the company’s electric offensive. It plans to have more EV models for sale in the U.S. by the end of 2021 than any other OEM. (Image: Audi)

And that number is likely to do nothing but increase. This summer the e-tron GT electric sports sedan will launch. With a starting priced of $99,990, odds are the numbers will be low. But there will be numbers.

But before the year is out, there will be two more models added to the electric Audi lineup, the Q4 e-tron and the Q4 Sportback e-tron.

Notably, the Q4 e-tron, a compact crossover, will have a starting price of under $45,000. And then there could be incentives and credits that could put people in an electric Audi for much less.

To learn about what Audi is doing in the EV space, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk with Matt Mostafaei, the Audi e-tron product manager. (The “we” consists of “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Stephanie Brinley of IHS Markit, and me.)

Mostafaei explains that one of the biggest challenges that they face with regard to getting more people to buy an e-tron is a lack of familiarity that they have with EVs. He suggests that once they’ve an understanding of the advantages that can be realized—like plugging in one’s vehicle at night, analogously to plugging in a phone, so as to have a full charge every morning—as well as the driving dynamics that are provided by an EV*, this will change.

While Tesla is certainly the dominant player in the category, and while Mostafaei says that they’d be glad to have Tesla owners or intenders come into Audi dealerships, he maintains that there is a far greater number of potential customers than just those who have gone the Tesla route.

Just think of all of the people who fuel their vehicles with gasoline. That’s a market.

Audi isn’t adding all of those EVs to its lineup just to be au courant.

As Mostafaei puts it, they see where the market is going and they’re going to help drive it forward.

In addition to which, McElroy, Brinley and I discuss a number of other vehicles, electric and otherwise, as well as the benefits OEMs—and consumers—can realize from tech like Ford’s just-introduced BlueCruise hands-free driving technology, and autonomous driving tech that will be shuttling people in Dubai—and which is shuttling pizzas in suburban Houston.

And you can see it all here.