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.

Electric Vehicle Market in the U.S.: EVs Gaining Traction

By Gary S. Vasilash

Last week Stellantis announced a $2.8-billion investment in Canada. Investment will be made in the Windsor Assembly Plant to set it up to produce a new multi-energy vehicle architecture. . .with one of the energies being electricity.

There will be spending at the Brampton Assembly Plant—currently the home of the Dodge Charger and Challenger (and Chrysler 300)—where a vehicles based on a new architecture will be produced starting in 2025. An electrified architecture.

And there will be some spent on expanding a battery lab.

In ordinary times, $2.8 billion would be the stuff of amazement.

But now it is basically table stakes as automakers build new factories or transform old ones for electric vehicle production. As well as making investments related to battery development and production.

GM has announced it is investing $35-billion by 2025 for electric vehicles.

Ford has announced that it will be spending $50-bilion through 2026 for the same.

S&P Global Mobility, according to principal automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley, anticipates that sales of electric vehicles in the U.S. will be on the order of 35.7% of the market by 2030.

In 2021 that number was about 4%. So within the next eight years there will need to be a rise of about nine times where they are now.

But according to Brinley and Mike Jackson, executive director of strategy and research for the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA), it seems highly likely that this will be the case.

The how and why this will occur are discussed on this edition of “Autoline After Hour,” where Brinley and Jackson talk to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me.

And you can see it all here.

Racing & Electricity

By Gary S. Vasilash

In 1901, a year after the Detroit Automobile Company failed, Henry Ford looked for a way to attract investors for his next corporate endeavor for car manufacture.

Ford said, “I never thought anything of racing, but the public refused to consider the automobile in any light other than a fast toy.”

So he went racing.

On October 10, 1901 Henry won the race held at the Grosse Pointe Race Track.

Ford won the race.

And retired from racing.

In 1903 he obtained the financial backing he needed to establish the Ford Motor Company.

And you know the rest.

Motor sports has been part and parcel of the development of automotive technologies. Things are tested on the track that then—assuming that (1) they work and (2) are applicable—make their way to consumer products.

Vehicle manufacturers sometimes embed engineers on race teams not only for the technology part of the undertaking but in order to get them to understand the mindset of doing things quickly.

Nowadays it seems that there isn’t any weekend during the year where there isn’t a car race going on somewhere in the world.

The noise. The smell of petroleum products and burnt rubber. The crowds.

It is really quite a phenomenon, and while The Indianapolis 500 calls itself “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” that is clearly nothing more than a matter of degree because even races at a dirt track in the middle of nowhere is in itself something of a spectacle.

But now the industry is undergoing a change to electric vehicles. And while there is a sanctioned series—Formula E—there is nothing like the expanse of gasoline-powered racing.

A question is will there ever be? And if there is, will those who are enthusiastic fans of motorsports that have come to be known over the past 120 years be at all interested.

So on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk about it with car racer and automotive critic for the Detroit News, Henry Payne, and muscle car enthusiast Mike Musto of Hemmings.

And it seems as though the answer is. . .probably not.

You can judge for yourself by watching it here.

The Amazing Singer Vehicle Design

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although the Porsche 911 circa 1989 to 1994 is a beautiful car, the people at Singer Vehicle Design can make it even more stunning.

The team—who are located both in LA and the UK (in Oxfordshire, where you’ll find lots of people who know things about performance vehicles)—do a comprehensive transformation of the vehicle, going down to the bare metal of the chassis and then reconstructing it with everything from new carbon fiber body panels to different seats.

(Image: Singer Vehicle Design)

There is, in effect, a menu that those who are looking to have their Porsches transformed: Classic Study, Turbo Study and Dynamics and Lightweighting Study. The first two, according to Mazen Fawaz, CEO of Singer Group, list for some $800,000 and the last-named $2-million.

Somewhat stunning, right?

But Fawaz notes “Demand is skyrocketing.”

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Fawaz, who became CEO in January 2020, explains the method that the company takes in transforming the cars, which takes multiple months (someone who is booking a restoration had better not be in a hurry as there is a long line of orders there already), as well as why there is a focus on the 964 Porsche 911 rather than other models.

(One thing to consider is that there is a finite production run of the vehicles—on the order of 40,000 units—so there is a built-in boundary of what can be recreated by Singer. What’s more, while the demand for Singer’s services is high and the order books in robust shape, presumably there is only a certain number of people who can afford the price of exclusivity.)

Joining “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me is Mike Austin of Hemmings.

Here’s something interesting to know about Singer Vehicle Design: the company was established in 2009 by Rob Dickinson, a car designer turned rock musician, turned back into car designer. Dickinson was the lead guitarist and vocalist for the British band of the ‘90s, Catherine Wheel. Catherine Wheel’s style of music includes audio distortion.

But the thing about the vehicles to roll out of the Singer operations: there is an aesthetic purity to them, the absolute opposite of distortion.

And you can learn all about it here.

Mark Reuss on GM’s Electric Transformation

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although it is now common to hear people say the auto industry is undergoing the biggest transformation since it became an industry rather than an undertaking by a whole bunch of people who were taking a flyer at building cars—most of whom moved on to other things, including bankruptcy court—unlike many other things that everyone says, it really is true:

Uniformly—from the US to Europe to Asia—OEMs are spending billions of dollars to transform their operations from being focused on vehicles that burn gasoline to vehicles that run on electricity.

Think about that for a moment: These are companies that have been essentially doing one thing for decades: developing and producing internal combustion engines. Yes, these engines get wrapped and outfitted with the other things that make up a car or truck. But when it comes to what makes one vehicle manufacturer different than another has long been thought to be their engine technology.

(One could make the argument that this was changed by Toyota when high quality became a metric that appealed to buyers, and while that is undoubtedly true for a percentage of vehicle buyers, there are still those who want a HEMI or an EcoBoost. BMW didn’t proclaim itself to be the producer of “The Ultimate Driving Machine” because of the shape of its grill; it was what’s behind the grill that mattered.)

General Motors is in the process of spending some $35-billion on EVs—a spend by 2025. The company plans to have capacity to build 1-million EVs by that time. By 2030 it plans to have 50% of its North American production capacity dedicated to EV production.

This work being undertaken at GM isn’t just designing and engineering the vehicles, but in developing the batteries that go into them (Ultium batteries). Think about that for a moment: the batteries store the energy that power vehicles analogously to gasoline in a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. GM didn’t get into the gasoline business. In addition to which, GM announced that it is spending $750-million in North America to build out charging stations. Again, there are no gas pumps that have GM logos on them.

But this is the level of transformation that the automaker is undertaking.

On this special edition of “Autoline After Hours” GM president Mark Reuss spend the hour talking to John McElroy and me about the corporation’s electric transformation. It is an in-depth discussion of the changes that the company is proactively making. Reuss explains why they are making batteries, how they are competing in the EV market, why vertical integration matters, why vehicle-to-grid is an important development, and more.

And you can see it all here.

An Electric Transformation at The Shyft Group

By Gary S. Vasilash

Companies that make vehicles that you recognize generally have names like “Ford” or “Mercedes.”

Companies that make vehicles that you recognize for who is driving them, like FedEx or UPS, but don’t know who made them, are companies like The Shyft Group, which is a specialty vehicle manufacturer that produces trucks that are used by commercial companies and municipalities and the like.

The company has long specialized in special builds. It has some 3,800 employees in facilities that stretch from Maine to California.

And odds are, you’ve not heard of it unless you are involved some way in logistics. Or you happen to own a vehicle that has rolled out of Spartan RV Chassis.

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One of the consequences of the pandemic is that there is a considerable increase in the number of last-mile deliveries, whether this takes the form of Amazon Prime or Uber Eats.

According to the World Economic Forum, in 2020 there was a 25% rise in consumer e-ecommerce deliveries, which is far from a non-trivial rise. And presumably that has done nothing but increase in the subsequent months.

In addition, the WEC found that there have been increasing commitments by both companies and municipalities to make emissions-free deliveries. Switching away from gasoline and diesel fuel.

Consequently, this has led to the increase in the development and availability of electric trucks.

No, we’re not talking about Ford Lightnings, but in cargo vehicles.

The Shyft Group, having made thousands of vehicles with internal combustion engines for these commercial and municipal applications, has recently launched a new division, Blue Arc, and along with it announced the development of an electric Class 3 delivery vehicle.

Blue Arc EV chassis (Image: Blue Arc)

The vehicle ranges from 14 to 18 feet in length and provides payload capacities up to 5,000 pounds.

It is working with proven suppliers, such as Proterra for its batteries and Dana for its e-axle.

The Blue Arc vehicle was designed from the ground up, and as Shyft has customers in the cargo-delivery space, its designers and engineers created a vehicle that can be readily integrated into those customer operations.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Daryl Adams, CEO of the Shyft Group, talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer Mark Williams, and me about how the development of the Blue Arc truck occurred—in a really fast nine months.

Adams describes Blue Arc as the “anti-startup startup,” as it knows the jobs to be done and has built the truck to do them.

It is an interesting discussion of how a company that has a long-standing customer base recognizes the changing needs of those customers and has quickly changed to help address those needs.

And you can see it all here.

Talking Tech With NVIDIA

By Gary S. Vasilash

NVIDIA is a company that was once familiar primarily to gamers because of the GPU chips that it had developed that made rendering both fast and highly detailed.

Now NVIDIA is as familiar to those in the auto world, as it is working with Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes, Volvo and more.

Lucid Motors is using NVIDIA tech in its Air. BYD has announced it is working with the company, as well.

NVIDIA developing maps for autonomous driving operations. (Image: NVIDIA)

What’s interesting is that these companies are using NVIDIA tech to build systems that provide the characteristics that they are looking for to make their vehicles distinctive.

NVIDIA is not merely producing processors that have massive processing capability—the Jetson Orion operates at up to 275 TOPS—that’s trillion operations per second—but it is developing software that will help facilitate autonomous driving operations.

The company has developed a mapping system that not only features information collected by specific vehicles, but which takes in crowdsourced information so that there is an accurate representation of what is going on: say a construction zone has popped up since that information was collected. The system has it.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” NVIDIA vice president of Automotive Danny Shapiro discusses what the company is doing and how it is doing it.

Arguably NVIDIA is at the forefront of developing the technology that will change transportation in many ways.

He talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joe White of Reuters and me.

And during the second half of the show McElroy, White and I discuss a variety of topics, including the opening of the Tesla plant in Berlin, the speculation that Porsche might build the long-rumored Apple car, the announced range of the Ford F-150 Lighting, and a variety of other subjects.

And you can see it all here.

Getting It Fixed

By Gary S. Vasilash

One aspect of contemporary vehicles is that there is plenty of tech on board, which not only provides an array of consumer benefits, from safety to entertainment, but which also makes them comparatively more complicated to diagnose what has gone wrong when something inevitably does, and it is just as tricky to fix it.

There is something else about today’s motor vehicles that may not be even known by the owners: many of them are transmitting information about their state of being to the OEMs. This information—say about a fault of some sort—can then be used to send a message to the owner saying, in effect, “Something is wrong with your vehicle; go to your dealer to get it taken care of.”

The information about the fault is then shared with said authorized dealer. “Authorized,” of course, means approved by the OEM in question.

Local repair shops?

Nope.

What’s more, as Gabrielle Hopkins, vice president of Federal Affairs, Auto Care Association, which represents the automotive aftermarket, including service, maintenance and repair shops, points out, not only are the independents kept out of the loop when it comes to this telematics information, but there are typically special tools that are necessary to access and repair vehicles that these outlets can’t get.

They are restricted to the “authorized” service centers, typically found within dealers’ organizations.

While there are all manner of arguments put forth as to why this is the case by the OEMs—e.g., they want to protect the intellectual property that is represented by the operating systems developed for their vehicles; cybersecurity issues might arise—this essentially means that there is a protected ecosystem that keeps the independent shops from being able to fix vehicles.

Hopkins and her colleagues are lobbying on behalf of the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act, which the Auto Care Association, CAR Coalition and Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association explain, in part:

“The legislation would prohibit impeding the vehicle owner or a repair shop from obtaining service information, tools, or parts, including the ability for a vehicle owner to choose aftermarket parts needed to fully maintain and repair a vehicle.”

Let’s face it: Vehicles aren’t going to get less complicated.

Limiting choice generally means that prices are higher.

And as has been seen during the pandemic, there are limited resources at a given dealership for repair, so should one need something fixed sooner rather than later, the availability of more repair options rather than fewer is a consumer advantage.

Of course, the OEMs and the dealerships may not care much about that.

Learn more from Hopkins on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” where “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Richard Truett of Automotive News and I talk with her.

You can see it here.

Oliver Schmidt & VW Dieselgate

By Gary S. Vasilash

Diesels have had a popularity in Europe that has never been the case for the U.S. Outside of pickup trucks purchased by contractors rather than by those who simply want a pickup truck because (a) it is a truck or (b) there is that need to buy mulch every now and then, the diesel has had the approximate popularity of manual transmissions in the U.S.

Volkswagen executives in the mid-00s thought that they might be able to gain some market share in the U.S. market were they to develop a “clean diesel”—one that didn’t have the smelly exhaust associated with diesels (it is somewhat inexplicable how Europeans didn’t seem to mind) yet would provide the oft-touted low-end torque seemingly beloved by everyone, as well the kind of fuel efficiency that the compression ignition engine would provide.

So the EA189 engine was developed. But it turns out there was a non-trivial problem with it: It wouldn’t meet the U.S. emissions requirements. VW obviously couldn’t sell a whole lot of Jetta TDIs in the U.S. with that problem.

So the engineers in Wolfsburg came up with what can innocently be described as a “work-around,” or what is now a term of art, “defeat device.”

But it wasn’t a device as in something physical that was stuck in the tailpipe.

Rather, it was software. The software was developed so that it was able to determine whether the vehicle in question was being tested or not. If it was being tested, then it adjusted things so that there wouldn’t be excessive emissions.

Otherwise. . . .

Apparently the engineers who came up with this figured it would be a short-term “fix.”

But as those things happen, short turned into long.

So VW was merrily selling diesel-powered vehicles in the U.S. About 500,000 of them.

In 2014 the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) contracted with researchers at the University of West Virginia. The task was to check the emissions of the VW diesels.

So the researchers drove around in instrumented vehicles. . .and discovered the emissions were on the order of 35 times greater than was permitted.

In September 2015 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency served a “Notice of Violation” to VW telling the vehicle manufacturer that its diesel-powered vehicles were equipped with a defeat-device.

And so “Dieselgate” began.

The questions of “What did they know and when did they know it?” became the order of the day, with questions at all levels, including to the very top, to Dr. Martin Winterkorn, then CEO of the company.

And there were evident coverups galore, changes at the top, and fines that would make anyone gulp.

Oliver Schmidt had been assigned by VW Wolfsburg to move to the U.S. and take charge of the U.S. operation’s emissions office in 2012. This was before the shit hit the fan. But he was there when it did hit. And there were meetings that he’d participated in with various government officials, from the federal EPA as well as the California Resources Board (CARB).

He was transferred back to Germany and in January 2017, when he and his wife were going to be returning to Germany after their annual vacation in Florida, we was arrested by the FBI and charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S.

In December 2017 a federal judge sentenced Schmidt to seven years.

He managed to get transferred to German prison in September 2020. He was granted parole in January 2021.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk to Schmidt about Dieselgate and his time in prison.

Realize that this is a guy who is as far from being a criminal as you can imagine. A regular engineer in his early 40s.

And due to all manner of what can be described as “political machinations” within Volkswagen AG, he, not the people who were running the place, ended up behind bars.

Schmidt talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Brett Smith director of Technology at the Center for Automotive Research, and me in a conversation that is unlike any you’re likely to watch.

And you can see it 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.