Does Clay Modeling Matter in the Age of the Metaverse?

By Gary S. Vasilash

The metaverse notwithstanding, when it comes to developing the designs of most vehicles—particularly when those vehicles are intended to be things that are duplicated thousands of times over several years—there is something to be said for physical objects.

To be sure, there are software design packages that designers use to create designs to a degree that are not merely photorealistic, but which can be manipulated in VR space.

These designs seem real. But those designs aren’t real.

Crossovers, cars and trucks, unlike digital models, exist in real reality, not virtual reality.

The sun shines on them. Clouds occlude the sun. Shadows form. Surfaces pop or fade.

Vehicle designs will exist in the tangible world.

So while there are vehicles that are completely designed in math (after all, that’s what software is), there are more vehicles designed with the aid of clay.

Clay milling a Rivian. (Image: Rivian)

Yes, that substance that you may remember playing with as a child.

Well, not exactly that, as there is a variant of the material that is formulated to be used in automotive design studios.

But substantially the same.

The material is used to create full-size models of vehicles.

In order to make one of these models in a reasonable amount of time the clay is milled with cutting tools.

The producer of clay milling machines (as well as a number of other machine tools that are used on metals) is TARUS. In fact, the company invented the clay mill in response to a request from General Motors.

Does the clay mill still matter?

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we decided to find out. So we asked Doug Grieg, Jr., co-owner of TARUS. To get some good perspective, “Autoline’s” John McElroy and I are joined by John Manoogian II, who had spent 35 years at GM Design, with his last position being director of Exterior design for Cadillac.

Anyone who wants to know the ground truth about automotive design cannot miss this show, which you can see right here.

Kemal Curic Talks Lincoln Star Concept

By Gary S. Vasilash

Lincoln, like other brands, is working to redefine itself by developing electrified vehicles. One of the advantages that Lincoln has in this regard is that (1) it is the luxury brand of the Ford Motor Company, which is devoting serious resources to creating vehicles of this type so it gets a big lift from its parent company and (2) as it is a luxury brand, there is more headroom vis-à-vis pricing because let’s face it: electric vehicle technology is still expensive, so putting it in vehicles that appeal to customers (or “clients” as Lincoln people may refer to them) that can afford more is the right move.

Lincoln plans to have three electric vehicles in its showrooms by 2025. Odds are all or some will be variants on what exist there right now (which makes sense: the Nautilus actually had a 7.5% sales increase in 2021, a year that otherwise was rife with minus signs).

But Lincoln has unveiled what Kemal Curic, global design director, Lincoln, refers to as a “moonshot,” the Lincoln Star Concept.

The Lincoln Star Concept: the essence of electric luxury. (Image: Lincoln)

The “star” refers to the graphic logo that Lincoln uses. Picture the basically rectangular badge with the cross in its center more square-like and extend the arms of the cross out beyond the square with pointed ends: It then becomes something that is like a North Star image. The North Star (a.k.a., Polaris) is the brightest star in the night sky and as such has long been used as a point of navigation: the Lincoln Star Concept is the direction that Lincoln is heading toward.

What’s more, a star is about light, and if there is something striking about the Lincoln Star Concept is that whether it is on the front fascia or in the cosseting cabin, animated light is an absolute key feature.

In this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Curic talks to John McElroy and me about the Lincoln Star Concept: the whys, the hows and the wherefores, about how they are using advanced technology (e.g., using 3D metal printing to create the A- and D-pillars that have an organic form that allows the driver to have less-obstructed views), to imagine what could be in Lincoln’s future.

An interesting point that Curic makes about developing the vehicle, which is certainly applicable to other things, not just vehicles, is that they worked to subtract things, to create something more essential in the context of revealing the essence of luxury rather than obscuring it with what are superfluous features.

You can learn about this and other aspects of the Lincoln Star Concept from Kemal Curic by going here.

David Woodhouse of Nissan Design America on Nissan Design

By Gary S. Vasilash

David Woodhouse is Nissan Design America vice president of Design, a position that he’s held since June 2019. Prior to joining Nissan Woodhouse held a number of senior design positions at Ford, including as director of Design at Lincoln and design director for its Global Strategic Design function.

Put simply, Woodhouse is well versed in automotive design. (He also races, so this is more than theoretical to him: he knows what makes something good.)

He began his professional design career in 1994 (at BMW), so he’s been around long enough to know what’s going on without having been around so long that he isn’t resistant to what’s going on.

Nissan—including Infiniti—is an interesting place to be as it is a full-line manufacturer with utes, pickups, sedans, sports cars, and EVs in its portfolio. There’s the Nissan Versa at one end of the spectrum and the Infiniti QX80 at the other.

2023 Nissan Ariya interior (Image: Nissan)

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Woodhouse talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Eric Noble, founder and president of automotive consultancy The CARLAB, and me about some of the new developments at Nissan—like the electric Ariya and the forthcoming Z—and his view in a more macro sense of what’s going on in car design.

In something of a departure from other interviews, Woodhouse also answers a couple questions from transportation design students at ArtCollege School of Design (Noble is on the faculty there).

One of the intriguing things about Nissan’s design approach is that they are embracing the heritage of the company, using what Woodhouse calls “J DNA,” with the single letter standing for “Japanese.” For example, the interior of the Ariya is meant to be comfortable like the room of a house, so the Japanese Omotenashi approach to hospitality was taken into account when executing the interior design.

During the second half of the show, McElroy, Noble and I discuss a variety of topics, including Ford’s separating its ICE and EV operations, the February vehicle sales (a SAAR of 14 million: not good), the consequences of rising petroleum prices due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the competitive space in electric vehicles (with this last bit being somewhat. . .lively).

And you can see the whole show right here.

Cadillac LYRIQ: Hitting All the Right Notes

An up-close look at the exterior and interior design of what will undoubtedly become the flagship of the Cadillac lineup (sorry, Escalade)

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Cadillac LYRIQ is certainly the most important Cadillac vehicle to be launched since the Cadillac CTS appeared in 2003. Arguably the LYRIQ, an electric vehicle, is one of the most important products that General Motors is putting on the market because it truly marks a commitment to contemporary EVs that it has announced are coming.

The 2023 LYRIQ, which will be on the market in the first half of 2022, is the real thing.

The fresh face of Cadillac. (Images: Cadillac)

Yes, it will be beaten to showrooms by the GMC HUMMER EV, but that is arguably a niche vehicle. A niche vehicle with people with deep pockets: the first edition, for which all of the reservations have been spoken for, has an MSRP of $112,595.

The LYRIQ will start at $58,795. The reservations for the first edition of the crossover were full. In 10 minutes.

The LYRIQ has an estimated range of over 300 miles from the 100.4-kWh Ultium battery pack. It is a rear-drive vehicle. The Ultium drive unit will provide ~325 hp.

On the inside there is a 33-inch diagonal screen that stretches across the instrument panel, a 19-speaker AKG Studio audio system, eight-way power driver and front passenger seats, and other accoutrements that are characteristic of a vehicle that is a showcase for the brand.

An interior so well crafted, you might not want to leave when your trip is complete.

On the exterior there is a illuminated black crystal front grille that illuminates in an orchestrated manner, a grille that is certainly a signature of not only the vehicle, but of the level of creativity, imagination and technology that may become known as what Cadillac is all about.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” we learn about the LYRIQ, inside and out.

We—“Autoline’s” John McElroy, Henry Payne of The Detroit News, and me—are joined by Brian Smith, Cadillac exterior design director, and Tristan Murphy, Cadillac interior design manager.

What is notable about LYRIQ, even if you put aside that it is an EV, is that this is a vehicle that was a total clean-sheet design. They were creating something absolutely new, something that wasn’t a variation on a theme.

The charter was to create a vehicle that would not only show the world of electric vehicles that Cadillac has arrived, but the world that drivers live in too: This is meant to be a vehicle that not only will people like driving, but be one that they’ll be proud to be seen in.

Three of the words that Smith and Murphy use to characterize what the LYRIQ represents are performance, technology and craftsmanship.

The best of right now with the attention of detail that often seems to be lost.

===

Then, for the second half of the show, McElroy, Payne and I, all jurors for the North American Car, Truck & Utility of the Year (NACTOY) awards, talk about the vehicles that we had the opportunity to drive earlier in the week, all semifinalists for the 2022 awards.

The vehicles include:

  • Audi A3 and S3
  • Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing
  • Genesis G70
  • Honda Civic
  • Mercedes S Class
  • VW Golf and GTI
  • Ford Maverick
  • Hyundai Santa Cruz
  • Nissan Frontier
  • Toyota Tundra
  • GMC HUMMER EV pickup
  • Rivian R1T
  • Ford Bronco
  • Genesis GV70
  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Jeep Wagoneer & Grand Wagoneer
  • Kia Carnival
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • VW ID.4

And you can see it all here.

Designing the 2022 Ford Maverick–& About Electric Pickups

A wide-ranging discussion that’s concentrated on pickups

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although “essential courage” may sound a bit exaggerated when it comes to the design theme for a vehicle, Scott Anderson, design manager at Ford, explains how that term describes what the team did in developing the design of the 2022 Ford Maverick—the interior design, in particular.

The Maverick is a compact truck. Unibody, not body-on-frame, like its sibs, the Ranger and the F-150.

While those two vehicles are designed and engineered primarily for those who are focused on, primarily, vocational uses (OK: there are plenty of people who buy pickups and never use the beds for anything beyond groceries or Christmas trees), the Maverick is designed and engineered mainly for urban dwellers who like to do recreational things (the Maverick can tow 4,000 pounds: like a small trailer) and whose recreation may include making things, not only with sheet metal and 2x4s, but also 3D printers.

It is a different proposition.

One of the things to know about the Maverick is that in the base model, which has a starting MSRP of $19,995, has a hybrid powertrain.

And as has long been the argument by some OEMs that have not gone the hybrid route, the nature of that, which combines an internal combustion engine (in this case a 162-hp 2.5-liter four) and an electric motor and battery (all in for the Maverick: 191 hp), hybrid powertrains are more expensive than, say, a 162-hp 2.5-liter four all by itself.

But the base Maverick is a hybrid and the base Maverick starts at under $20K.

And because it is a truck and because Ford has a lot riding on its reputation of building trucks (i.e., “Built Ford Tough”), there could be no skimping on the engineering of the Maverick.

So no surprise they had to do some things differently on developing and executing the interior.

Functional design and clever use of materials in the ’22 Ford Maverick. (Image: Ford)

For one thing, Anderson says, they decided that they would be honest about the use of plastic. They wouldn’t make it appear as though the material is something that it isn’t—but at the same time, they made it appear, through color and texture choice, as something both interesting and fit-for-purpose.

In addition, they did lots of observation about how people use their interiors, including storing objects of various sizes and configurations and so make the means to accommodate them, even if it meant things, as in the case of the front arm rests, are not what is typical: the front arm rests are truncated so as to make it more convenient to have large water bottles in the map pocket below.

So there is the essential part. And the guts, because when you decide that fasteners, for example, are going to be part of the design, not something hidden (often in a half-assed manner), then you’ve got to stand up for it.

Anderson talks about all this and more on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with Rain Noe of Core77, freelance writer Mark Williams and me.

In addition, Noe, Williams and I discuss the coming onslaught of electric trucks, including the F-150 Lightning, the Rivian R1T, the HUMMER EV pickup, the Bollinger B2, the Silverado electric, the Tesla Cybertruck, and the Lordstown Endurance.

And you can see the show here.

2022 Toyota Tundra, Briefly

There hasn’t been an all-new Tundra since 2007. So given that they’ve been working on it for a while. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

The specs speak for themselves. Especially for the 2022 Toyota Tundra with the i-FORCE MAX powertrain, which takes the standard 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 (389 hp; 479 lb-ft of torque) and hybridizes it so that it produces 437 hp and 583 lb-ft of torque.

Yes, another full-size pickup truck with a hybrid.

But what is different about this approach being taken by Toyota is, explains Mike Sweers, senior vice president, Product Development Office and F1 Platform (i.e., what the new Tundra is based on) engineer, is that rather than trying to boost the fuel efficiency of the truck, the objective is to provide what he says most serious truck users are looking for, which is more power. (There is a 10-speed automatic for both engines.)

While the Tundra can certainly tow–as in up to 12,000 pounds–the vehicle is meant more for those who do recreational towing than commercial–which is more about the nature of the Toyota brand than anything having to do with the capability of the truck, because it is engineered to be fully capable–and then some. (Image: Toyota)

Framed

The thing about the ’22 Tundra is that there is a focus on overall robustness. They went from C-channel frame cross members to boxed, for example. While that improved stiffness, there was consideration taken for those who ride on a regular basis—loaded or unloaded—so there is a multilink rear suspension with the shocks mounted outside the frame rails to help improve the handling and ride comfort. (Even more comfort is provided by the available air suspension system that provides both manual and automatic leveling.)

The new Tundra can tow up to 12,000 pounds—which is an increase of 17.6% compared with the previous generation—and the load in the bed, which is based on sheet molding compound, which has been used on the Toyota Tacoma with excellent results, is 1,940 pounds, or an 11% increase.

Tugged

While on the subject of towing, it is worth knowing that there are two Tow/Haul modes. Activate the standard mode and the throttle response in increased. Activate the Tow/Haul+ mode and that response is amped up even more—and speaking of amps, the trucks with the hybrid powertrains have the electric motor constantly in operation during Tow/Haul+ and the engine Stop-Start function is deactivated.

And there is another towing-related aspect to the ’22 Tundra: Its design.

According to Adam Rabinowitz, chief designer at Calty who led the exterior design team for the truck, “We wanted to make it look like a premium towing machine.”

Toughened

Rabinowitz explained that the truck design is meant to deliver on it being more recreational than commercial—as in people with boats and trailers rather than people with tool trailers or earth movers.

And while they worked to show that it is tough enough to take it (e.g., there is a beam shape on the body side that is meant to convey the image of the truck’s frame), they also worked to assure that it looked sufficiently high-tech, such as through the use of the slim, high-mounted headlights.

Locked In

Benjamin Jimenez, studio chief designer at Calty, who led the interior design, echoed that “this is more of a recreational truck, so our approach was different than that of our competitors,” said that unlike the competitors, who generally use a vertical layout to the elements of the interior, they opted to go horizontal with all elements of the interior interlocking (e.g., doors with IP and trim) to provide a strong look: “We didn’t want this to feel weak in any way,” Jimenez sad.

Another way of indicating that the ’22 Tundra is more for adventure than work: upon startup, there is an image of one of five national parks indicated on the gauge cluster.

What Is an Automobile?

A brilliant take written because of the Automania exhibit at MoMA

“There are few consumables that have been designed since their inception to capture every sense and sensibility that humans have more than the car. It is the most practical yet mythic of inventions. It is machine and art. It is the product of genius and object of desire. Yet it is also a tool, and as such promotes good and destroys worlds.”—Steven Heller, Print

The Emerging EV Challenge

Incumbents will gain some share. But it is going to take a lot of work to get it

By Gary S. Vasilash

When GM announced its sales for the first half of 2021, the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the new variant the Bolt EUV did quite well. Comparatively speaking.

That is, sales were up 142.4% compared with the first half of 2020.

Of course, 2020 was the COVID year, so the sales of pretty much every vehicle has shown robust signs of sales, but few with such a high percentage rise.

That said, the total number of sales for the two models in the first half of 2021 was 20,288. To put that number into context, realize that the company sold 31,886 Malibus during the same period—and that represented a decline of 33.5% for the stalwart sedan.

And to put the Bolt EV/EUV sales into context, know that in the second quarter alone of 2021 Tesla delivered 199,360 Model 3 and Model Y units—or looked at another way, Tesla sold in three months 179,072 more vehicles than Chevrolet did in six months.

“IONIQ 5 introduces the Hyundai brand to a while new set of buyers, Jose Munoz ,president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America, said of the forthcoming EV. Buyers matter. Especially new ones. (Image: Hyundai)

General Motors has a lot of commitment to EVs going forward, In November 2020 it announced that it would have 30 new EVs on the global market by 2025, of which two-thirds would be available in North America. Then in June 2021 it announced it was adding commercial trucks to the North American mix, as well as additional EV production capacity.

In the GM boilerplate it describes itself as “a global company focused on advancing an all-electric future that is inclusive and accessible to all.”

Last week Mercedes announced its all-EV approach by 2030.

But presumably this is not a plan that is “inclusive and accessible to all.”

Also last week GM announced a recall of 2017-2019 Bolt EVs. A problem with the vehicles potentially bursting into flames.

This is the second time these models have been subject to a recall, with the first being in November 2020.

The new GM EVs that are on the way will not have the same battery system used by the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV. It is an all-new design.

However, GM is not exactly in a position to make that as a benefit of the new vehicles because it would throw some serious shade on the Bolts.

Perhaps the limited sales of the Bolts works in GM’s favor because if the number of recalled vehicles was larger, if there were more people aware of the problem, then it would have even more work ahead of it trying to convince people that it, too, can make EVs with the best of them.

It is widely known that Tesla owners give Tesla a pass in a way that traditional OEMs have never gotten, nor will they. If there are manufacturing defects, shrug. If there are performance problems, shrug. If owners learn of those who are using the so-called “Autopilot” system and run into the side of a semi, a moment of silence followed by a shrug.

If any of these things are related to a traditional OEM: Wailing and gnashing of teeth by the customer base—and that’s just the start.

To be sure there will be more people buying EVs from the traditional brands. While in some cases it may be because the vehicles look damn good—Audi is certainly staking a claim in the design space—in more cases it will probably be predicated on the availability that can come from volume: not only availability in terms of the vehicles being on lots, but availability in terms of economies of scale helping reduce prices.

But given the delta between Model 3/Y sales and Chevy Bolt EV/EUV sales, I can’t help but think that the traditional OEMs may have a bigger problem on their hands than they might expect.

Although Hyundai has certainly been in the U.S. market since 1986, arguably it is still a challenger brand in the market compared to those that have been around for 100 years or more.

While its sales numbers are still modest in the U.S. vis-à-vis the established players, in the first half it sold 407,135 vehicles, or 49% more than it did in the first half of 2020.

Hyundai has been offering hybrids, EVs and even fuel cell vehicles in a way that many traditional OEMs don’t match.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that the same people who buy Samsung phones rather than iPhones would be more likely to go with a Hyundai than a Chevy. (If we go back to the aforementioned design advantage, Hyundai is certainly proved that point.)

So a chunk of the traditional goes there.

Then there are the new entrants. Lucid. Fisker. Lucid is staring at a high price point (think of it as a Cadillac competitor) and Fisker is more in the middle. Both of those companies have announced that they are working on what could be described as vehicles that are more inclusive and accessible.

While it might seem that the incumbents have the advantage simply because of their name recognition and availability, IBM doesn’t make PCs; when’s the last time you bought an image-related product from Kodak; and although a Pan Am shuttle took people to a space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pan Am went out of business in 1991.

Automotive Encyclopedias

A historian and a design strategist walk into a virtual studio. . . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

If a person who was interested in a career in the auto industry did just one of the things that Karl Ludvigson has done in his time on the scene, that would be a notable accomplishment.

Ludvigson has been a:

  • Designer at General Motors
  • PR guy at GM
  • VP of Corporate Affairs at Fiat Motors of North America
  • Technical editor of Auto Age and Sports Car Illustrated
  • Editor-in-Chief of Car and Driver
  • VP of Ford of Europe

And there are more items on his resume.

In addition to which he has been deeply involved in motor sports, which has given rise to a book shelf worth of tomes on racers including Jackie Stewart, Juan Manuel Fangio, Emerson Fittipaldi and more.

He has written another shelf’s-worth on companies including Porsche and Ferrari, on specific vehicle, and even on vehicle components.

His knowledge of the auto industry is, in a word, breathtaking.

Ostensibly, Ludvigson came on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” to promote his most-recent volume, Fast Friends, in which he writes about an array of people who he had the opportunity to know. But functionally, Ludvigson shares a portion of his wealth of knowledge not only about people he has known, but about the design and development of a number of important vehicles.

Joining him on the show—in addition to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me—is Jim Hall, a walking Wikipedia of automotive knowledge and recent GM retiree, who was working on strategic design before he departed the automaker.

This is a show where the depth of discussion of, primarily, the recent past of the auto industry is discussed, although how those developments have come to affect what is on the road today is revealed, with a particular emphasis on automotive design, which Ludvigson and Hall are particularly well-versed in.

And while this may sound as though it may be a dry recitation of what once was with a glance at what is, know that it is anything but.

And you can see the show in its entirety here.

BMW and Sea Ray: Design Development

Boats and cars just seem to go together

BMW owns Designworks, which has a studio in Newbury Park, California. Newbury Park is not on the Pacific. But not far from it, either.

Designworks designs a variety of things, including, well, BMWs. But it has also collaborated with airlines, the North Face, and other companies for which they’re not designing cars.

The latest company: Sea Ray.

The boat producer.

Designworks collaborated with Sea on the Sundancer 370 Outboard. The Sundancer series is celebrating its 45th anniversary.

Sea Ray 370 Outboard (Image: BMW)

Charlie Foss, Sea Ray Design Director, said, “Working together with Designworks, we were able to produce a fresh set of design principles that pay homage to our brand’s past which indicating the future, resulting in a look that is undeniably Sea Ray. An output of the collaboration was the definition of four key design characteristics to inform Sea Ray models moving forward: sleek, confident, athletic and distinctive.”

Beyond BMW’s ownership of Designworks, there is another connection between Sea Ray and automotive.

Foss: “Automotive-inspired design is part of the Sea Ray history, dating back to collaboration with Harley Earl Associates in the early 1960s.”

About Earl

Earl was the first head of the General Motors Art and Color Section, established by Alfred P. Sloan in 1928. Earl headed GM design until 1958. He turned 65. He had to retire. (He was succeeded by Bill Mitchell.) And then he established his own firm. Earl died in 1969, age 75, in West Palm Beach, Florida. Which is on the Atlantic.