The Ford E-Transit Explained

By Gary S. Vasilash

Imagine: a 266-hp electric motor that generates a maximum torque of 317 lb-ft located between the rear wheels for operational performance. . .and it is in a cargo van.

That’s the Ford E-Transit, a Class 2b vehicle that comes in eight configurations: You can get it as a chassis-cab or a cargo-van, you can get three different roof heights, you can get three different wheelbases.

The 68-kWh battery is good for about 126 miles. Pulling into a DC fast charger will bring the battery from 15% to 80% in 34 minutes. Plugged into a Level 2 charger will take it from 0 to 100% in about eight hours.

Tim Baughman of Ford Pro North America sees a transition to electrification in commercial applications and acknowledges that there are some applications that are not necessarily applicable. (Image: Ford)

The e-Transit is a work truck, something that Ford knows more than a little something about. As Tim Baughman, general manager of Ford Pro North America—and know that Pro is the organization that focuses on the commercial side of things for the Blue Oval—points out, Ford has about 40% of that market, the leader in the space.

So as they were developing the E-Transit they had the opportunity to talk with the people who get fleets of vehicles of this type, whether it is a handful or a lot-full, so that their interests and concerns could be taken into account.

One of the things that they did when developing the E-Transit was to pretty much take the existing gasoline-powered Transit and use it for the electric truck. (There is the addition of an independent rear suspension for the E-Transit because things like battery packs are rather heavy.) While some might think that this is something of a quick-fix approach to getting an electric cargo van out there, as there are things like the BrightDrop ev600 and the electric Amazon delivery van being built by Rivian, Baughman points out that by having the same interior dimensions and mounting points, it is much simpler for upfitters to configure the e-Transit because of their experience with the Transit.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” there is a comprehensive examination of the Ford E-Transit as Baughman talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chad Kirchner of EV Pulse, and me.

Not only do we discuss the truck itself, but the Ford Pro software solutions that the organization has developed in order to do things like track and charge vehicles in order to keep the fleet up and running at its maximum efficiency, again taking into account Ford’s experience in this commercial space. And you can see it all here

The Future of Engines Examined by James Martin of IHS Markit

By Gary S. Vasilash

Motor racing is a space where many OEMs have the opportunity to test out new technologies and to obtain learnings about performance at the edge.

Mazda Motor Corp. is participating in the Japanese Super Taiku Series, endurance racing that consists of seven rounds, including a race titled the “24 Hours of Fuji” (what a great name!).

Mazda is campaigning the Mazda2 Bio concept. This is a Mazda2 production car that has a Skyactiv-D diesel engine under its hood.

What makes this conceptual is that it will be running on bio-fuel, a product called “Susteo” that was developed by Euglena Co. Ltd.

This biofuel is made from things like microalgae fats and used cooking oil. Some biodiesels compete with food crops. Not this.

The fuel can be run in the diesel engine without modification.

The point is to help develop Mazda’s growing portfolio of vehicles that are meant to help the company reach climate neutrality.

There is a lot of discussion of powertrains for vehicles that can, like the Mazda2 Bio, use existing engines with varying degrees of modification rather than wholesale replacement, engines that can run on advanced liquid fuels or even hydrogen.

Let’s face it: There are lots of engine plants in the world, so keeping them running might be something that automakers would not be opposed to doing versus shutting them down.

However, as James Martin, associate director, IHS Markit Automotive Advisory Practice, an expert on powertrains, points out on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” if there is combustion involved—whether it is spark- or combustion-ignited—there is going to be emissions.

So running hydrogen to power an engine and using hydrogen to power a fuel cell may both turn the wheels, but only the latter is going to be emissions-free.

Credit to Mazda for trying. But ultimately, the Super Taiku Series is likely to be powered by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Martin says that there is momentum behind electric vehicles that is unlikely to be stopped, particularly as automotive companies announce billions of dollars of investments and investors announce their support of these advances by supporting the shares of the companies that are making the transition.

However, Martin notes, this isn’t going to be a flip-the-light switch phenomenon. Yes, Ford will sell you a Mustang with a 760-hp V8 under its hood. And Ford will also sell you a Mustang Mach-E with a 314-mile all-electric range. And that is likely to be the case for some time to come. (Yes, the same holds for an F-150 with and without an electric powertrain.)

This is what the future doesn’t look like–a Chevy LT5 crate engine. (Image: Chevrolet)

Internal combustion engines aren’t going away next week, but Martin points out that while there are likely to be some new engine programs, there are unlikely to be new engine platforms. That is, what’s there can be modified. What’s not there will not be designed from the proverbial clean sheet.

Martin talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Lindsay Brooke, editor-in-chief of Automotive Engineering, and me on the show.

Among the areas visited are what becomes of some existing engines and how OEMs can wind down their production—which turns out to be a tricky proposition (Martin, when he was at GM, worked on the LT5 Corvette engine program, a 375-hp, 5.7-liter small-block V8 that was produced for GM by Mercury Marine; Martin was there when the engine was taken out of production: you’ll be surprised at the complexity of stopping production).

And, of course, the landscape of electric powertrains.

You can see it all here.

LMC’s Schuster on the State of the Industry

By Gary S. Vasilash

There is pent-up demand. People are driving more. But. . .there are not enough vehicles out there to fulfill demand. There is that chip shortage accounting for the vast majority of vehicles not being on lots (an impact on the order of 85-90% of missing vehicles). According to Jeff Schuster, president of Global Forecasting, LMC Automotive, inventories will improve. Which will help that situation. Somewhat.

Because there is that other big issue that those who are in the market for a new vehicle: cost. (Latest average transaction price according to KBB: $46,404).

Schuster suggests that if prices stay elevated—and for the foreseeable future there doesn’t seem to be any driver for why prices would decrease—there are going to be plenty of people who are sitting on the sidelines, not going out and buying new vehicles.

So on the one hand, while OEMs and dealers are making profits by producing and selling high-ticket vehicles rather than more conventional family haulers (i.e., if there is a limited number of chips, then they get installed in the more-profitable vehicles); on the other hand there are people who can’t afford to buy something that has a price tag more analogous to luxury vehicles, so they are likely to figure out the ways and means to get transportation at a more affordable rate.

But here’s something to consider: What if an OEM decides that there could be an opportunity to sell entry-level vehicles, vehicles that have slim margins, but vehicles that could sell in large numbers? Schuster says this is not entirely outside the realm of possibility.

And what if said OEM happens to be one that isn’t particularly familiar to U.S. buyers: as in a Chinese company coming in with low-end vehicles? Schuster says that this is a possibility—yes, even despite the currently existing 27.5% tariff that is tagged onto vehicles imported to the U.S. from China. Apparently there is a lot of capacity to build vehicles in China, and so there could be an interest in keeping those plants running.

EVs? There will be more of them. (Which, Schuster notes, is something that isn’t going to reduce the price paid by consumers as they tend to be more expensive than comparable ICE-powered vehicles.)

Tesla? Yes, it will continue to grow. Schuster says that while it is ahead of other global automakers in terms of tech—a cycle or two ahead of others—LMC analysts anticipate that it will begin to lose some of its dominance in the EV space because of the other OEMs entering it.

Jeff Schuster has a whole lot more of interest to say about the state of the auto market today and in the near future on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.” He talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Reuters’ Global Automotive Correspondent and me.

And you can see it here.

What Happened to Local Motors?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Justin Fishkin was the chief strategy officer at Local Motors for seven years (2011 to 2018), then senior advisor for the firm for two years after that.

Local Motors seemed to have it all going for it in terms of what it was doing and how it was doing it.

It was crowd sourcing design. It was using 3D printing to the extent that others were only dreaming about. It was developing vehicles fast. It was putting autonomy into application. It was creating mobility systems.

Olli: Electric. Autonomous. Built in a microfactory. (Image: Local Motors)

From Wired to IMTS Today and an array of media outlets in between, Local Motors was the “it” company in the transportation field.

And a few weeks ago word leaked out that Local Motors was closing up shop.

So on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Fishkin talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Roadshow by CNET and me about what the company set out to do and what conceivably happened.

One of the primary factors, Fishkin suggests, is that there was a case of mission creep in that the company found itself stretching in different directions as different constituents became involved in the company.

They went from crowdsourcing designs that led to vehicles like the Rally Fighter, 3D printing an entire vehicle (the Strati) then creating Olli, a compact people-mover with autonomous capabilities, and along the way created fans and attracted companies that wanted to get some of the “stuff” that was allowing the company to do what it was doing.

An early intention was to have micromanufacturing capabilities set up as a network such that there would be the development of vehicles that would lend themselves to specific markets. The company ended up having two, in Chandler, Arizona and Knoxville, Tennessee

It also built a demo microfactory in National Harbor; GE Firstbuild built a microfactory in Louisville, Kentucky, with Local Motors’ assistance.

In addition to GE, Local Motors worked with companies including Airbus and Siemens. All of which is to get to the point that this was something real, not speculative.

Its Olli had deployments in Buffalo, New York; Turin, Italy; Sacramento, California; Arlington, Virginia; Holdfast Bay, Australia; Akron, Ohio; Dunedin, Florida; Jacksonville, Florida; Clarksburg, Maryland; Yellowstone, Wyoming; Thuwal, Saudi Arabia; Durham, Florida; Marysville, Ohio; Neustadt, Germany; Jacksonville, Florida; Palo Alto, California; Concord, California; Ghent, Belgium; Lake Nona, Florida; Peachtree Corners, Georgia; Peoria, Arizona; Whitby, Canada; Toronto, Canada; and Crozet, Virginia, yet in the broader scheme of things, that is but a handful of places.

Fishkin also talks about his current activities with a startup Future/Of, which is helping, well, startups. One of the companies Fishkin is working with is Biliti, Inc., a company that is producing electric three-wheelers for last-mile transport.

But not just startups, he notes. As he puts it, “Future/Of works with organizations to scale disruptive business models and frontier technologies.” Which established companies can benefit from. And NGOs.

Still, in the context of Local Motors and where it came to, the question becomes where will micromobility and distributed microfactories go? This is a question that Fishkin help provide some solid perspective on.

And you can see it right here.

Engineering the ’24 Chevrolet Silverado EV

By Gary S. Vasilash

“Let’s determine what must be true to make it happen—and then let’s make it happen.”

Although it sounds rather simple, what Nicole Kraatz is referring to is the approach that she and her team took to product development under the restrictions that were presented to them because of COVID-19.

Business wasn’t as usual.

And what they were, and are, developing is something that is unlike what had been done before and absolutely important in the offerings of GM:

Kraatz is chief engineer of the Chevrolet Silverado EV.

Imagine: they had to develop a new vehicle while, in many cases, working at their kitchen tables, not the engineering center where there is immediate access to people and tech, not situations where you have to ask the kids to stop streaming because the Internet connection is wonky.

Determine what needs to be done. Then do it.

///

Pickup trucks are essential to the offerings of Chevy in particular and GM in, well, general.

In 2021 Chevrolet delivered a total 1,437,671 vehicles, of which 529,765 were Silverados.

GM sold a total of 2,218,228, vehicles, so Silverado is nearly a quarter of all of its sales.

2024 Silverado EV RST, style meets capability and electricity. (Image: Chevrolet)

In addition to which, GM is committed to transforming its vehicle portfolio to all-electric in the years to come, and is in the process of spending some $35-billion in transforming from combustion, including $2.2-billion at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, which has been transformed to Factory ZERO, where the Siliverado EV will be built.

The 2024 model is interesting compared with the cross-town rival’s F-150 Lightning in that the Chevy is a new vehicle from the tires up, with nothing being brought over from the conventional truck, while the Ford is largely the combustion-based truck that is electrified.

(In the case of the Chevy, the Ultium platform is being used, an all-new EV battery-based architecture that provides a range of modularity such that pickup trucks and midsize SUVs—as in the Cadillac Lyriq—and other vehicles can be based on it.)

The Silverado EV will come in two versions at the start: the WT and the RST. The former is the work truck version, the sort of thing that contractors would be interested in as it will offer 8,000 pounds of towing and 1,200 pounds of payload.

The RST is the truck that someone will boast to their neighbors about was it offers everything from four-wheel steering to automatic adaptive air suspension, and when the Wide Open Watts mode is activated, it will have a 0 to 60 mph time of less than 4.5 seconds. (Remember: this is a full-size pickup truck.)

Both will have an estimated range of 400 miles on a charge and be capable of handling DC fast charging (up to 350 kW).

The Silverado EV represents an opportunity to Kraatz and her team to take the learnings of more than 100 years of GM trucks and make it something new.

Kraatz talks all about the Silverado EV on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with John McElroy, Joann Muller of Axios What’s Next, and me.

And you can see it here.

Car Buying in America

By Gary S. Vasilash

In 2019 some 148,000 went to a facility in Wolfsburg, Germany. Not surprisingly, COVID 19 reduced the numbers (97,570 in 2020).

The reason those people went to Autostadt was to pick up their new Volkswagen.

And while there they could visit a museum, walk through vehicle pavilions, eat everything from light fair to fine dining, and even stay at a Ritz-Carlton. They could even attend concerts.

Autostadt is the world’s largest auto delivery center.

Volkswagen has turned getting a vehicle into an amazing experience.

People don’t have to pick up their VWs at the Autostadt. It is a choice.

(While I’ve never personally picked up a car at Autostadt, I’ve been there on more than one visit to Wolfsburg and it is remarkable.)

There is nothing like it in the United States.

One of the towers at Autostadt where vehicles are located before delivery. (Photo: Landmann, Lars)

There are factory-owned dealerships in Germany. Meaning, for example, VW-owned.

There are no factory-owned dealerships in the U.S.

Why? Why isn’t there a Ford Factory Store in Dearborn where you could go pick up an F-150 that has been built for you, a facility that is affiliated with the Henry Ford so that there would be the opportunity to have a complete experience beyond the vehicle delivery alone?

Simply because of dealer franchise laws in all 50 states.

Did you ever wonder why you can’t but a vehicle from Amazon?

The same reason. The franchise laws.

What’s the rationale?

According to the National Auto Dealers Association:

“automobiles are sold through franchised dealers because that business model is a good deal for everyone. Consumers are given extra protection in the marketplace, local communities benefit when local businesses compete to sell and service great products, and manufacturers get to invest their capital into designing, engineering and marketing great products in lieu of low-margin retailing. For these and other reasons, state legislatures have passed laws that promote the buying, selling and servicing of cars through local franchised dealers.”

Tim Jackson, the president and CEO of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, simplifies that as “Win, win, win.” A win for the OEM. A win for the consumer. A win for the community.

And, as anyone who has bought a vehicle within the past several months from a dealer knows, a win for the dealership, as they have racked up record profits.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Jackson explains why dealers are a good deal for consumers to “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Alexa St. John of Business Insider, and me.

Although there are surveys indicating that people do want to purchase on line and to get vehicles delivered where and when they want them rather than having to go through a dealership, Jackson, not surprisingly, argues that dealerships will continue to play a role in the transaction.

Of course, perhaps trying to emulate Tesla, which doesn’t have franchise dealers, it seems that more and more startup companies (e.g., Lucid, Rivian) are foregoing the franchise model.

Here’s a thought: Aren’t all traditional OEMs doing their damnedest to compete with Tesla on product?

Might they not rethink their model of getting products to consumers?

Well, there are all of those laws that makes that difficult to achieve, to say the least.

But I’m willing to bet that the Germans who have had the Autostadt experience think far more of VW than anyone who has picked up a car from their local dealer, cappuccino machine notwithstanding.

You can see the show here.

Remarkable Rotary Engine and Agreeable NACTOY Jurors

Power in a small package. Jurors before casting their ballots

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Omega 1 is a highly efficient engine, one that can produce 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. Yet it weighs just 35 pounds.

While it is a combustion engine, it doesn’t have pistons. Doesn’t have crankshafts.

Rather, the output from the engine comes from a single rotating power shaft.

Yes, the configuration of the engine is predicated on rotary motion. In fact there are no moving parts besides the rotational elements.

It can be fueled with gasoline or hydrogen.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we are joined by Matthew Riley, the founder, CEO of Astron Aerospace and inventor of the Omega 1 and Chris Theodore of Theodore & Associates and technical advisor to Astron.

They explain the way this engine works.

Astron Omega 1. Looks complicated. But simpler and lighter than a reciprocating engine. (Image: Astron Aerospace)

Given the name of the company, there is a focus on use in aircraft applications. For example, drone use would be certainly something that this lightweight engine would lend itself to.

But it also is conceivably applicable to automotive applications: Think of how it could be used to power a vehicle using hydrogen as fuel—there would be no need for a fuel cell to transform the hydrogen.

Then on the second half of the show “Autoline’s” John McElroy and I are joined by Matt DeLorenzo of Kelley Blue Book and Jack Nerad of “America on the Road Radio.” All four of us are jurors for the North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year (NACTOY) awards and will soon be voting on the winners for the 2022 awards.

The finalists are:

CAR

  • Honda Civic
  • Lucid Air
  • Volkswagen GTI/Golf R

TRUCK

  • Ford Maverick
  • Hyundai Santa Cruz
  • Rivian R1T

UTILITY

  • Ford Bronco
  • Genesis GV 70
  • Hyundai IONIQ 5

The four of us discuss which vehicles are likely to win.

The surprising part of the discussion is how much agreement there is, with little in the way of dispute.

But you be the judge by watching it here.

Innovation, Static Practices, & How Tesla Has Disrupted the Industry

There are certain things that traditional OEMs care about that Elon Musk and his team will get to—after they accomplish the important things

By Gary S. Vasilash

In 1997 a book by Clayton Christensen was published that had a thesis that was not something that many people in companies really wanted to accept:

It essentially says that there are incumbent companies—think of the long-in-business vehicle manufacturers—who basically provide incremental improvements to their products. Things get better. Just a little bit better. Other companies are doing the same thing, so a given company really doesn’t need to concern itself with doing anything but slightly adjusting the dial. They may improve their existing processes to make their production more efficient, the production of their existing (though improved to some degree) product.

Then a new entrant comes into the field. A new entrant that can pretty much be ignored. (Or so it seems.) That’s because they’re in a space that isn’t particularly valuable (e.g., low margin). Or they provide a product that underperforms the existing. Or they are providing a product that no one has asked for.

The concept, and the title of the book: The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Actually, the one who has a dilemma is the one who isn’t innovating but trying to continue the existence of the status quo.

No one ever got fired to trying to improve margins on an existing product, so that’s pretty much what executives do: invest in improving the existing product. After all, there are all of those sunk costs in equipment and process and knowhow that have to be taken into account.

But then, not immediately, but eventually, the product that could otherwise be ignored, is transformed such that it becomes something to be reckoned with.

Case in point: Tesla.

When it introduced the Roadster in 2008, a essentially a Lotus Elise with an array of lithium-ion batteries that were otherwise found powering laptop computers back then, a two seater that had a price of over $100,000, Tesla was pretty much considered to be a company that was a niche of niche: after all, roadsters don’t have a whole lot of demand, and in 2008 a roadster with an electric powertrain was simply ridiculous.

As time went on, the incumbents looked at what Tesla was doing and didn’t think much. Yes, the Model S may have had remarkable performance, but what about the build? The Model X had doors that were visually impressive but functionally not up to snuff. The Model 3 was impressive, but as everyone knew, Tesla wasn’t profitable, so anyone could build unprofitable vehicles. The Model Y had interior fits that were not the sort of thing that one would expect from a vehicle with its price point.

But also as time went on, more and more OEMs began to realize that not only was Tesla immensely popular among consumers in a way that was beyond the wildest dreams of anyone in the car industry, but that it wasn’t going away.

So they began to roll out an EV here and an EV there, all of which were claimed—publicly or implicitly—to be “Tesla fighters.”

Seemingly that hasn’t worked out.

The innovator’s dilemma in action.

Jeff Stout is executive director for Yanfeng Automotive Interiors and a student of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Stout joins “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Craig Cole of Roadshow by CNET and me in a spirted discussion that largely focuses on what Tesla does and doesn’t do, which leads to a variety of related subjects including whether electric vehicles will become the dominant type on the roads and whether autonomous vehicles are going to occur in a meaningful way in a bounded amount of time.

And you can see it all here.

They’re Probably Not Throwing in the Mats

Challenges and opportunities in the dealer model and other contentious issues

By Gary S. Vasilash

Research from Cox Automotive, which is a source that dealers find exceedingly useful in their efforts to conduct their business, found that there is an increasing interest among customers to do more of their transactions digitally.

As in 80% of consumers would like to do part of the buying transaction on line. (Who doesn’t do research on the vehicles they’re interested in on line; who doesn’t want to get some of the “paperwork” related to the transaction done in the comfort of their own home rather than under the fluorescent lights of a dealership?)

And 25% of customers would like to have the whole thing done and dusted on line.

What’s more, KPMG conducted a global survey among executives in the auto industry—OEMs, suppliers, dealers, financial services providers, etc.—and they found (again, realize this is a global survey and the Cox Automotive survey in U.S. only):

  • 78% think the majority of purchases will be on line by 2030
  • 34% think that from 60 to 79% of the vehicles delivered will be direct to the consumer by 2030
  • 84% think vehicle subscriptions will be competitive to buying and leasing by 2030 and only 22% dealers are the best channel for subscriptions (OEMs are the biggest choice, 45%)

There is some concern that due to the reduced inventories that are a result of supply chain issues dealers—not all, but some, some that get attention—are increasing prices well above the sticker price.

If consumers were thinking there might be an alternative before this occurred, then those who were subjected to or simply heard about this behavior might be thinking harder about new approaches to getting vehicles (e.g., the Tesla approach).

This is one of the topics that is discussed on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Cars.com editor-in-chief Jennifer Newman, the Wall Street Journal’s vehicle expert Dan Neil, and me.

Other topics include whether Apple is going to get into the vehicle business (Neil and Newman both think that it is a when not an if), and whether electric vehicles are going to be the end of muscle cars as we know them.

And there’s much more in one of the more animated shows in some time.

Which you can see right here.

Developing the ’22 Toyota Tundra

The inside story from the vehicle’s chief engineer

By Gary S. Vasilash

Let’s face it: Trucks have a pull on people in a way that is almost unimaginable. Who—outside of someone who either has a vocational reason (contractor, landscaper, etc.) or who has an avocation that makes a truck a necessity (putting a snowmobile in the box; having the torque and capability for pulling a trailer)—really needs a truck?

If you take a look at the numbers of trucks sold the answer to that question seems to be “Damn near everyone.”

Toyota, while not the leader in the truck sales segment by any means, has long been building things that have remarkable capabilities, like the Land Cruiser that has been going to places in the world that are simply extreme.

Hybrids are generally associated with fuel efficiency. An objective of the hybrid in the Tundra is not to pay tribute to the Prius, but to provide the kind of torque that truck drivers like. (Image: Toyota)

It does build the midsize Tacoma which is a leader in that segment despite the best efforts of GM and Ford. Yet GM and Ford best Toyota in the full-size truck segment (with the Silverado, Sierra and the F-150).

But Toyota continues on with the Tundra. And has just launched an all-new truck which, coincidentally enough, now shares its underpinnings with the Land Cruiser.

One could argue that neither Ford nor GM has anything that is in the Land Cruiser category, so that is something serious to be said about the 2022 Tundra.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Mike Sweers, executive chief engineer in charge, among other things, of the Tundra, talks about how this new truck was developed with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joe DeMatio of Hagerty, and me.

Sweers is not only an engineer, but he happens to live on a small farm. Consequently, for him a truck isn’t just something he works on from the development point of view, but something that he uses in his off-hours. (Does someone who develops pickups and then uses a pickup at home ever really have off-hours?)

From how the suspension is setup so that it doesn’t “ride like a truck” to why they decided to use a composite box (e.g., it doesn’t break or corrode like aluminum and steel do) are among the topics that Sweers discusses.

And what is interesting to know is how a guy who really, really wanted a diesel (and Toyota has a new 3.3-liter diesel) discovered that a hybrid powertrain setup met his requirements for torque.

You can see it all here.