Tesla’s Loyalists

By Gary S. Vasilash

Tom Libby, associate director and loyalty principal, S&P Global Mobility, thinks that what are ordinarily considered “conventional” or “traditional” automakers have a problem. This isn’t a problem that happened yesterday or last week. It is a problem that has been there for a few years now. A problem that execs at those companies talk about a lot and have made efforts—and for a long time these efforts were not much beyond lip-service—to address it. A problem that is now garnering sufficient attention, though results will vary.

The problem is Tesla.

Tesla vis-à-vis owner loyalty.

Libby charts owner loyalty to a brand. With regard to luxury brands including BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Lexus and Tesla, owner loyalty has been declining. Yet Tesla’s decline still puts it in a position that is much higher than the others. People who buy a Tesla often by another Tesla. The same isn’t as much the case with others. Tesla even takes market share from a number of mainstream brands, as well.

The loyalty rate for the Tesla Model 3 this past March was 76.6%, the sort of figure that program managers at other OEMs wish they had.

Libby says, however, that the Porsche Taycan, which has been available on the market for a few years and the Mercedes EQS, a new entrant, are gaining loyalty.

But if you take into account all of the other models being offered by other OEMs—remember: both luxury badges and well as mainstream—then the dominance of Tesla is rather astonishing.

A question that arises is whether, as other OEMs come out with more-compelling EVs (e.g., while the Cadillac LYRIQ has much to be said for it, remember that GM also foisted things like the Spark EV on the market as though it had relevance when things like the Model S and Model X were on offer: not that there was cross-shopping between those two Teslas and the tiny Chevy, but keep in mind that people were aware of what was being put out there by whom, so Tesla gained share of mind) whether Tesla’s loyal following will peel off.

Let’s face it: there is something to be said about gravity.

You can see the conversation with Libby on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joe White of Reuters and me here.

Magna’s Massive Reach

By Gary S. Vasilash

When the phrase “the company started in a garage” is used, odds are the conclusion is that the company in question is based in Silicon Valley, which is somewhat an odd mental leap because, well, garages tend to be places where work is done on steel not silicon.

Magna had its start in a garage in 1950. Yes, bending metal.

But today it is a $36-billion company with 161,000 employees who work in 34 countries around the world.

While it still works metal, it is one of the leading technology suppliers to the auto industry, whether this takes the form of electrified powertrains or digital radar systems.

Yes, it also works with silicon.

Surround-view system developed by Magna deployed in 2022 Toyota Tundra. (Image: Magna)

And one of the more fascinating aspects of Magna is that not only does it supply components and systems for use by OEMs to produce vehicles, but it manufacturers complete vehicles for those OEMs, having built more than 3.7-million vehicles. The forthcoming Fisker Ocean? It will be built by Magna. (And Magna is deeply involved in the engineering for that EV, as well.)

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we are joined by Boris Shulkin, executive vp and Chief Digital & Information Officer, at Magna.

Shulkin, whose job ranges from identifying companies to work with (or invest in) to cybersecurity, has a broad view of the auto industry, given that Magna has operations that make everything from automotive seats to cameras.

He provides a fascinating look at a company that is involved in an array of facets of the auto industry.

Shulkin talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Craig Cole of EV Pulse, and me.

And you can see it all here.

It is a started-in-a-garage company unlike those you’re probably more familiar with.

The Other EV Battery

When you think about electric vehicles and batteries, you probably think of those massive lithium-ion units that are driving the electric motors. But there is more that needs electricity on board EVs beyond the motors, like, say, the audio system. And this leads to something that you’re undoubtedly familiar with–more or less—if you pop the hood on an old Chrysler or a new Chevy and damn near everything in between: a 12-Volt battery. Yes, batteries like that–more or less–are in EVs, too.

Clarios builds >150 million vehicle batteries per year. About a third of all the batteries produced in the world

It has batteries in cars old and new. Including EVs.

(Image: Clarios)

While your car likely has a typical lead-acid battery in it, if you have a start-stop system built into the powertrain system, it is has an absorbent glass mat (AGM) battery on board. It is engineered to withstand that regular starting and stopping.

Mark Wallace is the CEO of Clarios. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Wallace explains the why and how of AGM batteries in EVs. Clairos has developed what it calls a “Smart AGM” battery for EV and plug-in hybrid applications that provides real-time communication with the vehicle system to assure overall performance.

And, of course, he talks about more conventional batteries, too.

While “lead-acid batteries” sound like they are an environmental nightmare, turns out that those batteries are made with 99% of materials that can be recycled or reused and 90% of the batteries produced are made from recycled materials.

Wallace talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer Sebastian Blanco, and me on the show.

And you can see it here.

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.

Why Connecting Brakes to the Internet Is a Good Idea

By Gary S. Vasilash

Nowadays, more and more devices are being connected to the internet, from thermostats to doorbells to refrigerators to traffic signals to car brakes.

Brakes?

Yes, explains Rich Nesbitt, head of Product Management, Chassis Systems Control, Bosch, the brakes that the company is producing are ready to be connected to the ‘net. Whether they’ll be connected or not is a decision, of course, of the OEM deploying that brake capability.

(Image: Bosch)

Nesbitt says that the connectivity provides advantages during the development of the braking system, as information can be readily collected and then deployed by the engineers.

It can also provide benefits for the driver, whether it is monitoring the brakes so as to determine when service will be required or, taking advantage of vehicle-to-infrastructure connection, providing information about the road conditions ahead.

And it can provide benefit to the OEM, as this is still more data that can be harvested from vehicles for purposes of monetization.

Nesbitt talks about the hows and why of internet-enabled brakes on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Jack Keebler, journalist and consultant, and me.

In addition to which, McElroy, Keebler and I talk about a number of other subjects, including Ford’s recent recalls, vehicle affordability (or lack thereof), the consequences of high gas prices on sales of pickups and large SUVs, and other subjects.

And you can see it all here.

The Return of the Acura Integra

By Gary S. Vasilash

Acura has been around since 1986. When the luxury and performance division of Honda appeared on the American landscape it came with two vehicles, the Legend at the lux end and the Integra at the performance.

The Legend lasted for two generations. The Integra ran for four consecutively, wrapping up in model year 2006.

But now the Integra is back for its fifth.

A lot has happened in the auto industry since 1986. Heck, a lot has happened since 2006.

A big part of the change is the comparative collapse of the car and the explosive growth of the crossover.

This change is quite evident in the Acura sales.

From January 2022 through the month of May it sold 12,216 cars. That includes the ILX, NSX, TLX and Integra (which was new in May, so there were only nine sold).

During the same period Acura sold 33,460 crossovers. That includes the RDX and the MDX.

So essentially, cars account for about a third of the brand’s sales.

Here’s another set of figures that makes one scratch one’s head:

In a 2020 CarMax survey, the retailer found that while 93.6% of customers wanted Bluetooth in their vehicles, only 2.5% were interested in a manual transmission.

2023 Acura Integra: Engineered to be driven with brio. (Image: Acura)

While the 2023 Integra, which has a VTEC-enhanced 1.5 liter turbocharged engine that produces 200 hp at 6,000 rpm and 192 lb-ft of torque at from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm, has a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT), the option for the car, in the up-trim A-Spec package, is a six-speed manual. . .and the Acura folk anticipate a 65% take rate for the manual.

So to learn more about the new Integra we talk with Emile Korkor, Assistant VP, Acura National Sales, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Korkor emphasizes that Acura is about performance, and the new Integra is engineered for that cohort of buyers who are interested in performance cars.

An interesting aspect is that the car starts at $30,800 so it is certainly affordable. The A-Spec with Technology Package, adding in the six-speed, has an MSRP of $35,800. Again, affordable.

Korkor points out that this isn’t simply a car that is built to be quick, but that it has premium amenities, as well. After all, if you’re going to be driving it hard, you might as well get comfortable while you are doing it.

Korkor talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Eric Weiner of Hagerty and me.

In addition, McElroy, Weiner and I discuss a variety of other subjects, including why Honda, ford, VW, BMW and Volvo filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit regarding California emissions laws and other OEMs haven’t; whether pricing for electric vehicles is realistic (Sandy Munro, for example, suggests that the Rivian R1T, which starts at $67,500, should be selling for $100,000); and other topics.

Which you can see right here.

These Startups May Transform Auto

By Gary S. Vasilash

So what do:

  • A system that can defrost windshields on EVs 20x faster than the conventional HVAC system and use 20x less energy
  • A nanoparticle-based additive that improves electroless nickel and other plating processes for automotive part improvement
  • An EV charging station that is designed for implementation in places like underground parking garages in apartment buildings that is highly cost effective
  • A battery based on zinc that not only has potential to replace lead-acid batteries but has applicability in urban electric vehicles

Have in common?

All of these technologies were winners at the recent Global Automotive and Mobility Innovation Challenge (GAMIC).

And while the word “global” in the name of the event could be taken with a shrug because all manner of things nowadays use it even though there is nothing beyond a given country or two, know that:

  • The company with the windshield system, Betterfrost Technologies, is based in Canada
  • The nanoparticle additive company, coat-it, is in Poland
  • The EV charging station from HeyCharge hails from Germany
  • The zinc battery development comes out of Enzinc, based in the U.S.

Yes, that’s global.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” John McElroy and I spend the hour talking with Derrick Redding of Betterfrost Technologies, Katarzyna Zielińska and Marek Turkiewicz of coat-it, Chris Carde of HeyCharge, and Michael Burz of Enzinc—all startup companies

Not only do they discuss their various technologies, but they provide some insights into how they came to participate in this global challenge.

And you can see it all here.

How the 2023 Nissan Z Came to Be

By Gary S. Vasilash

The new 2023 Nissan Z—just “Z,” no more numerics—is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that produces 400 hp. Just the sort of thing to make the two-seater perform quickly. Compared with the last-generation model—the 370Z (obviously with the numerics)—there are increases in both torsional stiffness and body rigidity. That means that the vehicle has the sort of substance required to make it capable of being tossed through turns without a sensation that it is as sound as a plate of overcooked pasta.

2023 Nissan Z: A 400-hp sports car starting at <$40 K (Image: Nissan)

On the inside the car has an interior that is fresh and not at all fussy. As is the case of the exterior, there is a slight sense of throw-back, although it is difficult to put your finger on what makes it so. There is a six-speed manual transmission, which is something that was more common in cars of days gone by, but that’s not it. And given that there is a standard 8-inch infotainment display (there is a 9.0-inch unit with navigation available), that’s certainly not what gives this slight sense of days of retro. There is also a nine-speed automatic, which is certainly au courant.

Before the $1,025 destination charge, the Sport trim (there is the Performance trim above that) has a base MSRP of $39,990, which is a nice thing for Nissan to be able to boast about: A bona-fide sports car for under $40,000.

To get insights on how this vehicle was developed, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk with Melissa Lacko, an engineer with Nissan Research & Development in Stanfield, Arizona, who worked on the development of the vehicle.

She talks about various aspects of how the Z came to be, ranging from the interactions with the team in Japan to the time she and her colleagues drove to Bemidji, Minnesota for cold-weather testing—and the temp was below -20º, which is really something for an Arizona native to experience.

Lacko talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer and NACTOY president Gary Witzenburg, and me.

If you want to get a sense of what enthusiasm is for one’s profession, watch this show because Lacko is clearly engaged in what is a car that can be enjoyed by automotive enthusiasts.

And you can see it 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.

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.