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Friday
Oct242014

Hyundai’s Home at the Nurburgring

There is no doubt that the largest failing of Hyundai vehicles has been ride and handling. Say what you will about the bang you get for your buck in terms of styling, features, etc., the fact is that most Hyundais ride and handle like cheap knockoffs. For years it was commonplace to attend the launch of a new Hyundai vehicle, meet the current head of vehicle dynamics, highlight the various problems with the way the car drove, and wait until the next launch to do it again. It got to the point that I began to wonder when, if ever, Hyundai would wake up to the fact that its vehicles didn’t match up.

This continued until the launch of the 2015 Genesis Sedan. Early in its development, Hyundai boasted about its commitment to testing its vehicles at Germany’s famed Nurburgring. Not only did Hyundai put up an $8.4 million, nearly 12,000 ft.2 test center onsite, it hired a professional test driver to help with the testing and development. And now, one year after the test center opened its doors, Hyundai has released a few facts about what goes on at the Nurburgring.

More than 20 models have covered in excess of 49,000 miles and 4,000 laps in the past year. Hyundai claims its Accelerated Durability Test can simulate a vehicle’s lifecycle in four to six weeks, and covers 110 laps per week. Six professional test drivers push each vehicle to 90% of its limit, and test results are shared with Hyundai’s R&D centers around the world.

Perhaps one of the things that was shared with these units was just how much knowledge is necessary to build a car that can turn quick laps of the ‘Ring, and still be pleasant to drive. Whatever the case, it didn’t take long for Hyundai to tap Lotus engineer Matthew Becker for the job of making the Genesis Sedan both quick and supple. It seems like there’s a bit more to it than just testing new vehicles in Germany. — CAS

Friday
Oct242014

Reevaluating the BMW X6

Rather than reiterate what I wrote earlier about BMW’s X6, I refer you to the original article (here). It makes the point while analyzing why BMW would seek to repeat the same “mistake” with the X4. For another opinion on the X6, the folks at XCar examine BMW’s large SUV coupe, and wonder if the critics haven’t got it all wrong. — CAS

Friday
Oct102014

Of Mid-Engined Corvettes and New Ford GTs

By Christopher A. Sawyer 

Oddly, sometimes life does imitate art 

Here we go again. GM is reportedly readying a mid-engined Corvette, and Cadillac will get its own variant, shades of the Cadillac Cien and its mid-eneinged (yet still unseen) Corvette donor vehicle.Almost two years ago I wrote a story about an item that had appeared in one of the monthly magazines about a 5.5-liter V8 with stop/start technology that would be used in an entry-level version of the C7 Corvette. I didn’t buy it, but the rumor jogged a memory of my time at Automotive Industries magazine where the late Gerry Kobe educated me on the occasional need to create three stories from no story. (You can read the original article here.) At the end of the article, I ran a piece I had created for a former boss when I was called upon to sub for him. It was a fictitious piece about a coming mid-engined Corvette that used rumors at the time and insider information to create a credible story. Only it wasn’t true. 

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Friday
Oct102014

VW’s U.S. Prospects: The More Things Change…

By Christopher A. Sawyer 

You’ve got to wonder what goes on inside VW’s headquarters in Germany. If it’s not buying up every automaker it can, it’s claiming that it will become the world’s biggest automaker by 2018. And it will do this, in part, by increasing sales in the U.S. to 800,000/year by that time. 

For a while, the company seemed to be on its way. The Jetta launched as a conservative but price competitive compact sedan. It followed with a U.S.-specific Passat sedan built at a ground-up production facility in Chattanooga, TN. Like the Jetta, this car was handsomely conservative, and priced more like a mainstream product than a German car. Then VW pulled a rabbit out of its hat: the CrossBlue SUV. Could there be any doubt that it would slot into Chattanooga alongside the Passat, and place VW firmly in one of the fastest growing segments? 

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Friday
Sep262014

Creating a Car Company From Scratch

By Christopher A. Sawyer 

Ansar Ali. Ex-Ford, ex-Lotus, ex-Caterham and reluctant cheese magnate turned CEO of Zenos Cars.“I’m a mechanical engineer by first degree,” says, Zenos Cars CEO Ansar Ali “and a pretty bad one at that. So, like any engineer who realizes he’s not going to be a good one, I went and got an MBA. While I was in business school, I was recruited by Ford, and I joined the company in 1991, and had seven great years.” That’s when Ali became involved in the family business, something he calls a “cardinal mistake”. According to Ali, “My uncle had a very large cheese making business, and he asked me to join with a view of taking over. We made 10 tons of cheese per day, and this caused me to lose any desire I ever had to eat the stuff. After a couple of years, I decided this wasn’t for me.” 

Recruited by Lotus in early 2000, Ali was general manager of the U.K. and Europe, and thought he was joining the company at one of its high points when Managing Director Chris Knight suddenly put him charge of cleaning up after the M250 sports car program was canceled. “There was quite a lot of fallout with the dealers, customers and PR, and from 2000-2005 I went through three MDs, Chris Knight, Victor Kiam and Kim Olgaard-Nielsen. (Olgaard-Nielsen’s reign often was referred to by Lotus insiders with a Star Trek mindset as the “Wrath of KO-N.” He was not well liked.) 

It was at this point that Ali crossed paths with Mark Edwards, who would later help run the show at both Caterham and Zenos Cars. “He was sort of Chris Knight’s righthand man, and we got to know each other when Chris was putting together various cost-down, cash flow and other firefighting teams to stem the bleeding. Mark, a production engineer by degree, was pulled out of one of these task forces, and became Knight’s go-to troubleshooter. If there was a problem, he would parachute in.” Like Apple’s legendary CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs, Edwards is a binary, all black or white, manager who shakes things up by drilling down to the essentials. “We complement each other very well,” says the loquacious, always smiling Ali. 

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