Saving Cadillac

By Gary S. Vasilash

John F. Smith worked at General Motors at the same time that John F. Smith worked at General Motors.* The latter was to become GM CEO. The former was appointed by the latter to a number of executive positions within GM.

Perhaps the most notable was in 1997, when he was named head of Cadillac.

Things weren’t great at that brand back then. Hard to believe, but there was something that is now intrinsic to Cadillac that was absent: the Escalade, the massive truck-cum-SUV that has had visual presence on the road for a little more than two decades now.

The original Escalade. (Image: GM)

The Escalade was to come to be under John Smith’s period at Cadillac, helped into existence by the other John Smith, who was known as Jack.

John Smith talks about his career at Cadillac in this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” as well as a book he has recently had published about some of his adventures in the auto industry, Fin Tails: Saving Cadillac, America’s Luxury Icon (see how important Escalade was/is?).

Also on Smith’s resume are positions including vice president of Planning at General Motors International Operations in Zurich as well as president of Allison Transmission. Which is to say that he has a broad perspective on the auto industry, one broader than just Cadillac.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Smith spends the hour talking with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Doron Levin, who, among other things, writes about the auto industry at Saving Alpha and me.

And you can see it here.

*Given that “Smith” is the most common surname in the U.S., and “John” has been in the top 10 until 1987, this isn’t exactly surprising.

The Tricky Challenge of Meeting the EV Future in the (Mainly) ICE Present

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the things that isn’t often considered when OEMs announce still another new electric vehicle is that just as is the case with their vehicles with internal combustion engines, suppliers make a considerable number of the parts and systems that go into those vehicles.

This puts suppliers in something of a tricky situation because chances are they have the capacity to produce parts for ICE vehicles and now, assuming that they want to continue to have business, they have to acquire or develop the wherewithal to make the EV componentry.

And let’s face it: this EV transition isn’t going to happen overnight, so there is still the need to supply the things for the ICE vehicles.

Consider the situation at GM, an example that is simply representative of the industry as a whole.

Buick has four vehicles in its lineup and zero EVs. Cadillac has seven and one EV. Chevy has 18 vehicles and one (or two if you could the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV as two, but they count it as one). And there is GMC with eight vehicles and one EV.

It should be noted that there were 22,830 EVs delivered in the U.S. by GM through Q3—out of a total 1,650,827 vehicles.

Still, suppliers see the proverbial writing on the wall and as such they are looking to what they can do to make the transition to electric.

One of the top global auto suppliers is Schaeffler. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk to Jeff Hemphill, chief technology officer of Schaeffler Americas.

Hemphill explains how the company is making the transition to electrification, providing everything from motors that are used in hybrid systems to complete e-axles for battery electric vehicles. The company is both responding to what OEMs want and working to develop the tech that is expected to be needed.

(Remember: EVs are still pretty much a nascent technology for most OEMs–and suppliers–even though it seems fait accompli.)

Hemphill talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Mike Austin of Guidehouse and me about how the company is working to provide OEMs with what they need now—and will need tomorrow.

And you can see it all here.

Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis on the Transition to Electric

By Gary S. Vasilash

Perhaps more controversial than Dylan going electric in 1965. . .

If you think about “Dodge,” you have a pretty good idea of what it is: A lineup of muscle cars. It is a brand that has pared itself down to an essence, as things like the Journey and Caravan have gone away, leaving the bulk of the brand on the shoulders of two vehicles, the Charger and the Challenger. (The Durango is still in the showroom.)

The positioning of the brand is unapologetically the “Brotherhood of Muscle,” although all genders are encompassed within the club.

Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept: Dodge goes electric. (Image: Dodge)

One might think that this whole muscle car thing is an anachronism. HEMI engines don’t seem to a thing that would resonate in the age of Greta Thunberg.

However, in the first half of 2022, Dodge outsold Chrysler, Fiat and Alfa Romeo combined: 84,761 to 73,010.

There is a defined niche of buyers for whom muscle cars matter. And they buy them.

Although the platform underpinning the Charger and Challenger is, by contemporary standards, vintage, the people at Dodge have kept things going by introducing special editions and packages for the cars (e.g., the SCAT Pack Swinger, a tribute to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s).

Tim Kuniskis is the CEO of Dodge. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” he explains how Dodge will keep being propelled forward with cars even though he admits “cars are dead”—albeit dead for those who don’t necessarily consider their vehicles to be a representative of who they are. The Brotherhood of Muscle knows what matters to them and prove it every day.

Still, Kuniskis and his team are fully aware that the market is changing, moving away from HEMIs to electric propulsion.

So rather than pretending that it is otherwise, they have rolled out with “Last Call” editions of the Charger and Challenger and revealed the bad-ass battery electric Charger Daytona SRT Concept.

They are putting the proverbial pedal to the metal as they drive toward an electric future.

As Kuniskis points out in the show, people who drive muscle cars think somewhat differently than ordinary car consumers.

For example, do you think someone with a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI Hellcat high-output V8 under the hood—a 797 hp or 807-hp engine, depending on package—is at all concerned with the fact that they may get a combined mpg of 15? Given that, what is the likelihood that someone getting an electric muscle car is going to be concerned whether the range is 300+ miles or a fraction of that—as long as the car moves like a bat-out-of-hell (which explains why the propulsion system in the concept is named “Banshee”)?

Ordinary EV buyers are largely concerned about range. Dodge EV buyers will focus on performance. (OK: some of them will be concerned with range, but they’re going to want to make sure that their cars seem to be hellacious performers.)

Kuniskis talks about the present and the future of Dodge with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Edmunds, Mike Musto of Hemmings and me.

Even if you aren’t particularly interested in muscle cars per se it is a fascinating look at how a brand that is as intensely focused on one segment as Dodge can make a transition to a different technology model without disaffecting its customer base.

One can imagine that the Dodge switch to an electric future will become a business school case study, which you can learn about now, for free, here.

On the 2023 NACTOY Semifinalists

Since 1994 the North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year (NACTOY) Awards have been presented by a group of journalists, all of whom work for a variety of outlets, print, digital, television, audio. They determine what are the most important vehicles introduced during a given year, vehicles that are deemed to be ones that consumers ought to pay attention to when they are in the market.

Last week at the North American International Detroit Auto Show the semifinalists for the 2023 awards were announced.

They are:

Car:

  • Acura Integra
  • BMW i4 eDrive40: Sedan
  • Genesis G80 EV
  • Genesis G90
  • Mercedes-Benz C Class
  • Mercedes-Benz EQE
  • Nissan Z
  • Subaru WRX
  • Toyota Crown
  • Toyota GR Corolla

Truck:

  • Chevrolet Silverado ZR2
  • Ford F-150 Lightning
  • Lordstown Endurance

Utility vehicle:

  • Audi Q4 e-tron
  • BMW iX xDrive50
  • Cadillac Lyriq
  • Genesis GV60
  • Honda CR-V
  • Honda HR-V
  • Kia EV6
  • Kia Sportage
  • Lexus RX
  • Mazda CX-50
  • Nissan Ariya
  • Rivian R1S
  • Volvo C40 Recharge

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Jill Ciminillo of “Pickup Truck + SUV Talk,” Bengt Halvorson of Green Car Reports and I—all NACTOY jurors—talk about the nominees, most of which all or some of us have had first-hand experience with. (The others we will when we drive them next month during a comparison drive.)

And you can see it all here.

Mike Ramsey on Autonomy and Electrification

By Gary S. Vasilash

Mike Ramsey, as a vp and analyst for Gartner on the topics of Automotive and Smart Mobility, spends his time researching and thinking about those two topics and consulting with a wide array of people in the auto industry on the subjects. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Ramsey talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me about, primarily the subjects of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and electric vehicles (EVs).

Although AVs are getting far less attention than EVs, Ramsey suggests that work continues apace on the development of the technology. One of the factors that is going to play a big difference for the greater availability of AVs, Ramsey says, is a decrease in the cost of sensor technology (e.g., lidar). This will help make the calculations for the function more in line with what are automotive economics.

Ramsey suggests that with the amount of data that Tesla is collecting from its vehicles it may be in a prime position to make the move to actual full self-driving capability—but Ramsey underscores that it is probably not going to be with the present setup of sensors that are currently used for the various Tesla models.

EVs are going to be more widely accepted, Ramsey says—but this will require that the price points of the vehicles have to go down in order for people to be able to get into the vehicles, with most of the models out there being in the luxury pricing strata.

Another thing that needs to be addressed vis-à-vis EVs is the charging infrastructure, which many consumers have found to be quite disappointing. Ramsey thinks that automotive OEMs are going to have to think long(er) and hard(er) about what their role in charging needs to be because no matter how good the product is, if the charging experience is a negative one (a recent J.D. Power study on charging found that people are not exactly pleased with their experiences), then that will reflect poorly on the whole undertaking.

You can see the show here.

Sandy Munro on Tesla and Other Electric Vehicles

By Gary S. Vasilash

Sandy Munro is a Tesla teardown artist.

“Teardown” as in Munro and his team at Munro & Associates taking apart Teslas—and other electric vehicles—and then carefully cataloging and assessing each element that goes into making an entire vehicle.

Munro brings to the activity a 30+ year understanding of what it takes to build a vehicle with best practices. And because he is deeply versed in things like design for manufacturing, he is able to identify where those best practices aren’t being performed.

While Munro had done extensive work on analyzing vehicles that have internal combustion engines, he says that that is behind him for the simple reason that he believes that electric vehicles are going to take a considerable portion of the new vehicle market.

He says that somewhat analogously to Moore’s Law in computing, there is Munro’s Law that has it that if 2022 has electric vehicles at 5% of the new car market, then it will be 10% in 2023, 20% in 2024, 40% in 2025, 80% in 2026.

Given the amount of money global OEMs are spending on developing battery production capacity, it seems that they don’t disagree with Munro.

One of the interesting things that has happened to Munro’s career is that whereas the suburban Detroit firm that he heads once performed its work in relative obscurity, some of the work that the company is doing—like his teardowns of the Model 3 and Model Y—have been put on a YouTube channel, which has led Munro to considerable fame or notoriety—depending on your point of view—particularly within the Tesla community.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Munro talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me on a variety of subjects, including his fame among nine-year-olds. Seriously. (Munro points out one reason why an increasing number of EVs will be sold is predicated on kids influencing their parents, and he thinks that OEMs who ignore the young do so at their peril.)

You can watch the entire show here.

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.