Lincoln Approaches 100

Yet it is working to maintain freshness and relevance in the market by paying attention to the market

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the aspects of vehicle ownership that probably doesn’t receive as much attention as it ought to is the act of ownership itself.

As in purchasing the vehicle. Then the on-going owning of the vehicle.

To be sure, the product itself has to be worth acquiring. Features, functions, capabilities and the like. Style and technology.

Lincoln, which is now predicated on a lineup of SUVs, is going to be launching an electric vehicle next year and will be offering a fully electrified lineup by 2030.

Lincoln is readying the launch of the Lincoln Intelligence System, a cloud-based system that provides extensive capabilities for its vehicles, including over-the-air updates.

Lincoln will soon be launching its Lincoln ActiveGlide hands-free driving system.

And there is more.

But one of the more interesting aspects of what Lincoln has been steadily doing is providing excellent customer—it calls its purchasers “clients”—service. According to a recent J.D. Power survey, Lincoln is number-one in sales satisfaction among luxury brands.

2022 Lincoln Navigator (Image: Lincoln)

It has developed what it calls the “Lincoln Way,” which is a customer-centric approach to the buying and ownership experience, which it is initially launching in China—an important market for the brand—and then will roll out in North America.

Michael Sprague is Lincoln’s North America Director, which means he is in charge of marketing, sales and service for the marque in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Sprague talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me about what Lincoln is doing to help increase the momentum that it is building with not only vehicles like the Navigator, but with its approach to the customer both during and after the sale.

Sprague is one of the most thoughtful and articulate people in the industry, so his observations about the brand—which will be 100 next year (at least will have been part of Ford for 100 years, since it was founded by Henry M. Leland in 1917, and he sold it to Ford in 1922. . .and it is worth noting that Leland had earlier founded another company: Cadillac)—are worthwhile for those with interest in the industry.

In addition to which, McElroy and I talk with Patrick Lindemann, president, Transmission Systems, E-Mobility, Schaeffler, and John Waraniak, CEO, Have Blue, about the Indy Autonomous Challenge, which will be run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 23.

This race will pit 10 vehicles, all Dallara AV-21s, that have been engineered by student teams from around the world, in a race with $1-million going to the winning team.

No, it will not go to the winning driver, because as the name of the race indicates, there are no drivers, this is an autonomous event.

And you can see all of this right here.

Developing the 2022 Nissan Frontier

It was a long time coming. Here’s how they delivered

By Gary S. Vasilash

If you go way back in time—to 1959—Nissan (a.k.a., Datsun) introduced its first compact pickup truck in the U.S., the Datsun 220.

Which is to say that the company isn’t a stranger to the segment or the market.

1997 saw the first-generation Nissan Frontier pickup, which was offered as a 1998 model year truck.

The second-generation Frontier, a MY 2005 unit, was introduced in 2004.

And while there have been modifications and improvements over the years, there wasn’t a third-generation Frontier until now, the MY 2022 Frontier.

Third-generation, 2022 Nissan Frontier. (Image: Nissan)

The Frontier is in a segment that has certainly changed during its history. Both GM and Ford had midsize products, which they both removed from the market before re-entering it.

Toyota, with its Tacoma, has just kept at it, year after year, leading the segment in sales.

As this is an important segment for all involved, Melaina Vasko, Vehicle Performance Manager, Nissan Frontier, says that as they developed the 2022 model they were certainly cognizant of the competition, but, at the same time, they were not going to overlook the fact that during its run to date there have been more than four million Frontiers sold in the U.S.

So she and her development team spent time learning from customers, learning what they wanted and thinking about what they could bring them.

One of the things people are absolutely interested in is a truck that can fit into a garage. The Frontier with a short wheelbase is 210.2 inches long; the long-wheelbase version is 224.1 inches. The vehichle is either 73 or 74.7 inches wide (the more rugged trims have brawnier shoulders); the height variations range from 71.6 to 72.9 inches. There are two bed sizes: 59.5 inches for the standard version and a 72.7-inch long bed.

Vasko explains on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” how the 22 Frontier was developed with an eye toward providing capability, drivability, comfort, technology, and style, and how these are addressed with the new vehicle.

She talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Brett Smith of the Center for Automotive Research, and me.

It is notable that this is a vehicle that was a long time coming, longer than most vehicles that you can probably think of.

Consequently, the amount of attention to the execution is certainly something that is different than, say, a model that is turned over every five years.

One of the things that Vasko told her team, one of the things that should be important to anyone in any endeavor, is simply this: “Try.”

When things seemed more than difficult, perhaps teetering on the edge of what might be considered impossibility, they were encouraged to try.

Without trying, they wouldn’t have been able to deliver on the 2022 Frontier.

And you can see the show right here.

Safer Is Better

Technologies that are beneficial when you’re behind the wheel or simply a rider

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the factors of an electric vehicle that is often overlooked—unless you happen to be a first responder—is that when there is an accident and the vehicle needs to be quickly accessed, said vehicle can be “hot”—not (necessarily) a battery fire—but as regards the electrical current that is running through the vehicle.

Device is pyrotechnically actuated to severe the high-voltage line in an EV should there be an accident. (Image: Joyson Safety Systems)

So to address this potential hazard, Joyson Safety Systems developed a pyrotechnic device that is triggered by a vehicle’s ECU in the event of an accident and cuts the electric high voltage connection within a matter of milliseconds.

This is just one of the clever products that has been developed by Joyson. Some of these devices are in use on vehicles right now (e.g., Tesla put that high voltage electric line cutter into vehicles in 2017; the system that monitors whether a driver is paying attention when GM’s Super Cruise is activated is a Joyson development, as well).

So to discuss these and other developments, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we are joined by Jason Lisseman, vice president, Global Product Line, Integrated Safety Systems, Joyson Safety Systems. Lisseman talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Bengt Halvorson of Green Car Reports, and me.

One of the more interesting—and unusual, though absolutely useful—developments Lisseman describes is a sensor that detects and classifies the air quality within a vehicle.  As he explains, as there are shared, autonomous vehicles, it may be that whomever was in the vehicle before you was rather, um, fragrant, and so having a sensor that will be able to make a determination that the interior is odiferous and need some attention before other passengers climb in can make a big difference.

In addition, McElroy, Halvorson and I discuss a variety of other issues, including the GM battery problem with the Bolts, public charging issues and much more.

Which you can see right here.

Mobility in Michigan

The auto industry is changing. And Michigan is doing so right along with it

By Gary S. Vasilash

To be sure, the world is chasing advanced mobility solutions, things that will include cars and trucks as we know them—more or less—as well as other modes of transportation, be they electric scooters or air taxis.

Of the places in the world where this is probably focused on more than almost anywhere else is Michigan, given that the southeastern part of the state is where cars and trucks as we know them originally emerged in sufficient numbers that, well, we know them. (While Henry Ford didn’t “invent” the automobile nor the truck, what he did do was create a system whereby those things became accessible to regular people: manufacturing operations may not be the sexiest of things, that’s how Ford, as the phrase has it, “put the world on wheels.”)

Detroit Smart Parking Lab (Image: Ford)

Certainly there are other places where mobility is of intense interest, whether it is Silicon Valley or Stuttgart.

So the state of Michigan appointed its first chief mobility officer, Trevor Pawl. And we have him on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Pawl’s undertakings in this position are wide ranging.

For example, the State announced it is working with Ford, Bedrock and Bosch to launch what is described as “the nation’s first-of-its-kind, real-world test site for emerging parking technology.” Yes, parking. It is the “Detroit Smart Parking Lab.”

About a year ago the state announced that it would be building what is described as “a first-in-the-nation connected and autonomous vehicle corridor” between Detroit and Ann Arbor, again working with a number of partners (including Ford—that company is serious about the future of transportation).

And Pawl and his team are working on the ways and means to get seniors and the disabled to where they need to go. They are working on the build-out of charging infrastructure.

And a whole lot more.

Pawl talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley of IHS Markit, and me on the show.

And you can see it all here.

Charging EVs With Green Energy

An invention that could make more people use environmentally benign charging for their electric vehicles

By Gary S. Vasilash

While some people buy electric vehicles because they are fashionable or because they like the performance or because they detest the smell of gasoline and beef jerky, some other people buy EVs because they are environmentally sensitive and have read studies or heard that guy in a Starbucks holding forth about how EVs are better for the environment than combustion cars.

While that is true—or so the studies and the guy in Starbucks seem to indicate—there is also an issue that these people need to take into account, which is that a lot of electricity is generated by activities like burning coal. Again, while in the long run the EV—even with the sketchy source of power—is better for the environment, there is better. . .and there is better.

And Jim Bardia of Change Wind Corp. has the proverbial better idea.

It is generating electricity for electric vehicles with wind and/or solar power.

While that in itself is not unique, the approach he is taking certainly is.

(The name of his unit isn’t particularly exceptional, however: Wind & Solar Powered Tower.)

He has designed a wind mill that, unlike the pinwheel style we’re all familiar with from charming postcards from Holland or those unsightly windfarms outside of Palm Springs, are axially oriented: think of a can with sections cut out that is centered on a post stuck in the ground that spins when the wind blows. More: the top of the setup is covered with photovoltaic cells that catch the sun. The post is hollow so all of the collected energy is sent down to the equipment at the bottom (including battery storage) that allows electric vehicle charging.

(OK: if you’re thinking about a can on a stick that somehow was engineered to generate electricity, that would be a scale that might work with a Hot Wheels car. Barida is talking about something that is, well, massive, for grown-up vehicles, as in generating 52.2 kW per hour and being capable of an output of 480-volt DC fast charging.)

In this arrangement the devices can be located in parking lots of everything from car dealerships to shopping malls to football stadia.

While it doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to the “grid” (which, as many people have learned this summer, isn’t exactly the most robust of things), Bardia says that it is beneficial to connect to it because excess power can be sold back to the utilities.

Bardia talks about this clever idea on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Roadshow by CNET, and me.

And Paukert, McElroy and I talk about a number of other issues, including whether Geely is one of the most interesting vehicle companies in the world, the Biden plan for 50% EVs by 2030 and the EPA regs that may make >30% EVs by 2030 a necessity for OEMs, and a whole lot more.

All of which you can see here.

Why 2030 Isn’t Going to Be All That Different from 2020

Yes, there will be more electric vehicles. But not all EVs. So internal combustion engines need improvement.

By Gary S. Vasilash

Bosch, Sujit Jain, president, Powertrain Solutions for Passenger Cars, Commercial & Off-Road, and Electric Vehicles at the company’s North American operations, points out, has been advancing—and producing—technologies for the auto industry essentially for as long as there has been an auto industry.

And today isn’t any different.

The company is not only making massive investments for developing and utilizing Industry 4.0 capabilities, but it is investing heavily in the development and production of everything from microprocessors and fuel cells in order to advance the functionalities and performance in the auto industry.

It is committed to the electrification of vehicles, whether this makes the form of hybrids, full battery electrics or fuel cell powered vehicles.

But while Jain says company projections have it that the number of battery electric vehicles in the U.S. will grow from about 2% of the market in 2020 to 30% by 2030, that still leaves 70%, the large percentage of being combustion engines. Yes, they may be hybrids, but there is still gasoline or diesel being burned.

So one of the things that Jain and his colleagues are doing is developing the ways and means to increase the efficiency of those engines, both in terms of performance and emissions reduction.

Some of the things that they are pursing, Jain says on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” include synthetic fuels, electrically heated catalysts to reduce cold-start emissions, and hydrogen fuel injection (i.e., instead of a hydrogen fuel cell, this would be a combustion engine running on hydrogen).

Jain talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Kelsey Mays of Cars.com, and me on this show.

After Jain’s segment, the three of us talk about a variety of subjects, including former Nikola head Trevor Milton being charged with three counts of criminal fraud related to the company he founded; Tesla’s Q2 financials ($1.14-billion in GAAP net income), the possible consequences of it opening up its charging network to other brands, and the move from upscale-shopping districts for its stores and galleries to lower-end real estate; Magna’s growth and technological breadth; and more.

And you can see it all here.

Recycling Li-Ion Batteries

Sure, the electric vehicle market is growing. But there’s the non-trivial issue of critical materials for the batteries for all of those new cars, trucks and SUVs. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

Ajay Kochhar, CEO and co-founder of Li-Cycle, points out something that should give everyone a bit of pause when it comes to the burgeoning electric vehicle market: In 2013 there were three electric vehicle battery plants. In 2021 there are 225 existing on the way.

According to the Critical Materials Institute, which is under the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the definition of critical material is: “Any substance used in technology that is subject to supply risks, and for which there are no easy substitutes.”

Things like lithium used in batteries. Or nickel. Or cobalt.

Lots of battery plants. Not a whole lot of readily available—to say nothing of environmentally available (mining is not necessarily conducted in places where there is more concern with getting the stuff out of the ground than how that ground will be after the important stuff is removed in an environmentally benign manner)—critical materials.

Kochhar and his colleague Tim Johnson once worked on the lithium-extraction part of the business, Kochhar says on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.” He also points out that there is a whole lot of work that occurs between the extraction of lithium and it ending up in a battery (here’s something amusing: cylindrical cells are sometimes referred to as “jellyrolls” and the pouch-style batteries as “chocolate bars”).

So Kochhar and Johnson established Li-Cycle, which is dedicated to recycling lithium-ion batteries in a safe manner.

(image: GM)

Kochhar says that they are able to recover approximately 95% of the important materials—like lithium, nickel and cobalt—from the batteries, which can then go back into the production of new batteries.

This past May Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, announced that it had selected Li-Cycle to recycle up to 100 percent of the material scrap from battery cell manufacturing from its battery-manufacturing facility in Ohio. This will include things like offcuts and scrap, which, Kochhar says, may be comparatively small, but given that the plant in Lordstown will have a capacity of >30 gWh, it is a non-trivial amount.

While Kochhar acknowledges that even within the next 10 years the amount of recycled critical materials from batteries will be limited—perhaps no more than 20%–there is an important need to do this.

Kochhar talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joann Muller of Axios What’s Next, and me.

And you can see it here.

How the Ford Maverick Was Developed

An up-close look at bringing the clever small truck to the market

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Ford Maverick is what is being called a “white space” vehicle, a small—199.7-inch long—pickup truck with four doors and seating for five. As a point of reference, a Ford Ranger is 210.8 inches long and an F-150 is 231.7 inches long.

It will come standard with a hybrid powertrain that will provide an estimated combined fuel efficiency rating of 37 mpg. And the standard model has a payload capacity of 1,500 pounds and is capable of towing 2,000 pounds.

(Image: Ford)

The starting MSRP for the Maverick is $19,995.

And when asked whether this is some sort of artificially low price, both Chris Mazur, Maverick chief program engineer, and Trevor Scott, marketing manager for the Maverick (and Ranger), unambiguously maintain that this truck is the real deal.

It is, they say “Built Ford Tough.”

That claim is fairly bedrock for the Ford truck lineup so you can be confident that they’re not going to be using it unless there is confidence that they’re going to deliver with this pickup the same way that’s done for the other Ford trucks.

The interesting thing about the Maverick is how it was developed—done in a way unlike has been the case at Ford (as well as other companies that develop, well, anything). And this approach has not only led to the various innovations that are part of the Maverick, but also contributes to the cost-efficiency that the MSRP underscores.

One of the things about the truck is that the team, observing the way that real people use their trucks (not that the people on the team aren’t real people, too) is that many of them hack solutions, whether it is drilling holes in the sidewalls of the box to access electricity or jury-rigging the means to secure a mountain bike in the back. So Mazur says that they thought about that and have made power access simply available will provide CAD files that will allow owners to 3D print tooling for things like attachments.

It is almost that DIY ethos that is characteristic of the product development.

When the development started—pre-COVID—it was decided that there would be a cross-functional team consisting of representatives and participants from all functions that would be necessary to get the job done.

All of the participants wouldn’t just be in the same email group—they would be in the same room. Finance. Manufacturing engineering. Everyone was there. If there was a question to be answered, there was the person—right over there—who probably had the answer.

And they worked to be fast. Their “audacious goal” was to cut 25 months out of the development program.

They made quick models. They plastered the wall with documents and Post-It notes.

When it was time for the upper management reviews, it was there in the room, with the working documents and models and whatnot. Binders and PowerPoints were not on the schedule.

And when COVID hit and the people left the room for their own houses, they were still a team that knew one another, knew who to talk to to get answers, knew who was involved in what aspect of the development.

They were able to get things done.

They didn’t hit the 25-month goal, Mazur admits.

But they took 20 months out of the process.

Remarkable by any measure. And they had a pandemic to contend with.

Realize that as Ford has decided that things like trucks are important to its offering in a way that cars no longer are, the Maverick is a key vehicle in its product lineup.

Mazur and Scott are our special guests on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

John McElroy and I are joined by Mike Martinez of Automotive News, who covers Ford.

It is a full hour devoted to the Maverick.

If you have any interest in the truck or in an innovative approach to development, you’ve got to watch this show because you’re not likely to ever get a better sense of how the Maverick has been created.

You can see it all here.

Alfa in America

How the brand will move forward in an important market

By Gary S. Vasilash

Alfa Romeo has been around since June 24, 1910, or for 111 years (as of then).

The brand, especially in Europe, has been widely known for its performance vehicles, performance not like a Dodge Charger Hellcat, but as something that is more at home powering through twists and turns.

There are solid enthusiasts for the brand—the “Alfisti”—with some two million active on Facebook and Instragram, lauding what it stands for and what it produces.

In the U.S., however, the numbers of sales aren’t particularly large. In the bizarre pandemic year of 2020 Alfa sold a total 18,586 vehicles in the U.S., which is just a couple thousand more than the number of Chrysler 300s sold—16,653—but realize that that car is 10 years old.

Still, Alfa’s 2020 U.S. sales were up 2%–and that it the only brand in the Stellantis lineup with a plus sign in front of its sales in 2020 vs. 2019, which is saying something.

For Q1 2021 Alfa is showing considerable strength (relatively speaking, of course), which a gain of 25% compared with Q1 2020, with 4,646 sold.

Giulia Quadrifoglio (Image: Stelllantis)

So if it is a good year, and if there is availability of product, then the brand is probably looking at sales of about 20,000 vehicles, primarily the Stelvio crossover, the Giulia sedan, and a smattering of Alfa 4C sportscars.

Larry Dominique was named senior vice president, Alfa Romeo Brand – North America in March 2021. He’s the guy in charge in the U.S. (as well as Canada and Mexico).

Prior to that he was the president and CEO of PSA in North America. In that role he didn’t bring Peugeots to the streets. But he helped launch Free2Move, a carsharing service that originally launched in Washington, DC, and has expanded to Portland, Oregon.

Dominique had been the president of ALG, the company that is largely responsible for establishing residual values for vehicles. And during that same period—2011 to 2015—he was the executive vice president of OEM, Data and Analytics for TrueCar.

His most notable stint, from 1989 to 2011, was at Nissan. His last position there was as vice president for Product Planning. While at Nissan he met Carlos Tavares, who was with the Renault-Nissan Alliance at the time—and who is now the first CEO of Stellantis.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Dominique spends the hour talking Alfa with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joe White of Reuters and me.

He talks about the challenges and opportunities of the brand.

One of the things that he emphasizes—a thing that is highly important not only for vehicle brands but for brands of any type—is that they have a clear understanding of what Alfa is—and what it isn’t.

He explains that his brief is not only to protect what “Alfa” is, but also to grow the brand without sacrificing that identity.

Dominique, who has a degree in engineering, is very methodical in his approach to boosting the brand.

But what is absolutely evident that he, too, has a passion for Alfa Romeo, which an important complement as he helps move it forward.

And you can see the show here.

How the Automotive Supply Base Is Being Transformed

Yes, there is still a need for some of yesterday’s tech in the auto industry today. But there is a greater need for tomorrow’s tech right now. And here’s what suppliers are doing to realize that

By Gary S. Vasilash

When people say that the auto industry is “undergoing the biggest transformation since its very beginnings,” they generally mean that the OEMs are having to vigorously change the product offerings that they are producing, putting plugs where they once had fuel filler ports, putting in drive motors where they once had engines, putting batteries in a place where there were once fuel tanks.

And that is just for the electric vehicle part of the change.

There are a variety of other factors that are driving change in automotive, such as the addition of automated driving capabilities and the need to address heightened expectations on the interiors of vehicles, whether this takes the form of things like comfort or infotainment.

By and large, the changes seem to be challenges for the OEMs.

Which is not entirely the case.

Let’s face it: most of what is assembled into a given vehicle is not produced by the OEM. It comes from suppliers.

So the transformation of the auto industry is having arguably a greater impact on the supply base as not only must it provide OEMs with what they want now, but what they will want in the future.

ZF ProAI automotive-grade supercomputer. (Image: ZF)

On this special edition of “Autoline After Hours” my colleague John McElroy and I talk with Martin Fischer, member of the Board of Management of ZF and president of ZF North America, and Phil Eyler, president and CEO of Gentherm.

ZF is one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers, and while historically—and currently—known for such products as its nine-speed transmissions, the company is undergoing a change as it focuses on domains including autonomous driving, electromobility, integrated safety, motion control, and digitalization and software.

Yes, the company has even developed an automotive supercomputer, the ProAI.

Then there’s Gentherm, which is a specialist in thermal electric devices. In 1996 the company launched its first heated and cooled car seat and in the subsequent years has taken a strong position in that market area.

Yet recently it has invested in technology for thermal management of electric vehicle batteries.

McElroy and I talk with Fischer and Eyler about how their companies are working through—and ahead of—demands—today’s and tomorrow’s—they are addressing as automotive suppliers.

Their approaches range from organizing skunkworks to create new products to taking existing technologies from other market segments, like medical, to apply to automotive applications.

You can see it all here.