Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Woman’s Touch, Still a Rarity in Car Design

Steve Fecht for Chevrolet

FOR Monika Zych and Sandy McGill, becoming car designers for BMW started with Matchbox toy cars, racing the tiny replicas around the living room as little girls.

                    Darren Yasukochi/BMW Group                                        DesignworksUSA
Helen Emsley, who headed a team that designed the interior of the 2014 Corvette and was recently appointed executive director of GMC design and user experience, spent her childhood afternoons in the local railroad museum, sketching design legends like the Flying Scotsman.
Kimberly Wu, who worked for Honda, jokes that, with a father and grandfather working in design and engineering, “we have gasoline in our veins.”
At the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., John Krsteski, a car design instructor, said he was seeing more women interested in the field. “We’ve gone from one in 15 students being female to having two or three each year,” he said.
But women in the car-design world are still often relegated to automotive interiors, not the sexy exteriors that can represent a brand for decades. “There are some women in design, but the plum jobs — the exterior — are still designed almost entirely by men,” said Tara Weingarten, a longtime automotive journalist and founder of, a website for female drivers. “I can’t think of any who are the lead designers on exteriors. All the upper management in the industry is a men’s club. The glass ceiling is really there.”
The redesigned BMW Z4, introduced in 2008 and still in production, remains an automotive rarity, a car designed by two women. Its interior was designed by Nadya Arnaout and its sculptured exterior by Juliane Blasi. The Volvo YCC concept car was also designed by an all-female team, with customized seats and storage for the female driver.
“I think interior car designers require a completely separate, if not more challenging, skill set than those of exterior designers,” Ms. Wu said. In addition to styling a vehicle’s interior, “interior designers are responsible for considering the ergonomics and human factors involved with a driver’s experience.”
“Interior car design tends to seem less formulaic as well,” she added. “There is room for technological advances that may not be possible on the exterior.”
Ms. Weingarten, citing figures from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, said more women than men had driver’s licenses now. Her site, which she designed to be “a Motor Trend experience without the jargon,” reviews four to five new cars each week, from Ferrari to Toyota.
A car columnist for Newsweek for 15 years, Ms. Weingarten grew up steeped in the Los Angeles car culture. “Women very much influence car-buying decisions, especially for family vehicles.”
Female drivers want a car that meets their needs for fuel-efficiency, and in colors and styles they find appealing. “Women — not all, of course — like cute cars, like the last-generation VW Beetle especially, the current Fiat, and the BMW 1 Series,” Ms. Weingarten said. But creating a car designed only for women is a nonstarter, she added.
Dodge came out with a car called La Femme in 1955. “It’s hysterical,” she said. “Women didn’t go for it.”
Women want reliability from their vehicles, but they also really want a place to store their purse or laptop while driving, designers agree. Toyota, which won Ms. Weingarten’s praise for designing well for female customers, has added “a huge space” in its 2014 Highlander S.U.V. for this purpose, she said.
“If we could start over and really see what women want in the interior, it would be far simpler and less superfluous in terms of gadgetry and controls,” said Chris Chapman, chief designer for Hyundai Design North America.
Mr. Krsteski, also a design manager at Hyundai Design North America, in Irvine, Calif., sees in his classrooms the value of women’s ideas in the industry.
“Women bring another level of attention to detail and the complexity of colors,” he said. “A lot of the male designers focus on the big picture but not the finer detail development, while a lot of the female designers I’ve had enjoy working it out to the very last stitch.”
Ms. Wu, a former student of Mr. Krsteski, agreed, saying, “I do think women inherently have a different sensibility when it comes to aesthetics.”
“Our approach towards form, surfaces, details and colors are all factors that potentially set our work apart,” she said. “In a sense, I found it liberating to work in a male-dominated field. It was an opportunity to stand out and a challenge to identify myself outside of the work I was so conditioned to seeing. Within a working group dynamic, I’ve found it really crucial to have a female perspective analyzing a project brief among male designers.”
Kerrin Liang is one of four female designers at Hyundai’s California design office. “At Hyundai in Korea, there are many more,” Mr. Chapman said. “Still, they primarily occupy positions in color and material development, and not the design department in terms of shape and geometry.”
Ms. Wu worked for four years at Honda’s Advanced Design studios as a contract exterior designer, both in California and Tokyo. “The majority of my automotive designs were for the company’s internal projects,” she said. “The advanced studios I worked for at Honda primarily focus on future concepts that may or may not evolve into some of the cars on the road you see today.”
To work in car design requires a blend of passion and patience, since the final product typically takes three or more years from inspiration to finished automobile and is subject to the opinions and needs of many others, from engineers to marketing departments.
Female car designers agree that having encouragement — whether from their relatives, friends or nurturing professors — can make this lesser-known career choice more appealing.
“I’ve been very fortunate in that my parents have always fostered an unrestricted accessibility to the arts,” said Ms. Wu, who now runs a company designing handbags and other products with her sister and works as an illustrator and design instructor. “My sister and I were exposed to several creative outlets at a young age — ceramics and painting were among our favorites.”
She was also lucky to have had ZhaoPing Wei, a visual development artist at DreamWorks, as a mentor.
“I began taking drawing lessons from him at 8, then on and off through college,” she said. “He’s taught me volumes through the years on design. There are underlying shapes to everything we see around us, and I learned how to reduce a design down to a fundamental idea and form, then build from that.”
Do female drivers benefit when a vehicle is also designed by women?
“The female voice has become stronger in car development as their purchasing power has risen, along with their prominence in the historically male-dominated corporate world,” Mr. Chapman said. “There are more women these days getting college degrees than men. This certainly has a positive impact on overall product development in terms of balance.”
Ms. Wu said: “The area where I can see this most obviously manifested is in the car interior. Women have needs and a desire for more options in the interior that men often are less opinionated about.”
Ms. McGill is a lead designer at BMW Group DesignworksUSA, and Ms. Zych is its studio director, having designed the user interface in the interior of the BMW i Series cars. Designing a car interior means working with manufacturers of paint, wood, leather, carpet and textiles, often beginning with a large library of samples, Ms. McGill said. “Our inspiration may come from anywhere. A Loro Piana cashmere might inspire the interior of a Rolls-Royce where we might include wool or cashmere.”
When Ms. Emsley, whose work at GMC now includes pickup trucks, crossovers and full-size S.U.V.’s, reimagined the interior of the Corvette, “we knew we really had to change it. The interior was good but not that good. I formed a team, and I wanted new, young people to have a chance to work on a Corvette. Ten studios around the world contributed their ideas. In the end, we had three sketches we really liked, two local and one from China.”
“I really pushed for great materials. If it looks like it’s aluminum, it is aluminum. If it looks like carbon fiber, it’s the real thing. Can you imagine the headlines if we got it wrong? ‘British woman kills the Corvette!’ ”

Audi previews 2135 model year car in 'Ender's Game'

We're sure many of you have read Orson Scott Card's award-winning science fiction novel "Ender's Game," but we're pretty sure that few of you ever imagined an Audi in that fictional universe. Granted, we do occasionally feel that some fiction novels (OK, many fiction novels) could benefit from gratuitous and prolonged appearances of sports cars in the story, but our daydreams are rarely rewarded. That is not going to be the case with the film "Ender's Game," which opens in the U.S. on Oct. 31. as Audi has collaborated with Digital Domain, the effects house used by the production company, in creating a futuristic Audi Fleet Shuttle Quattro that will appear in the film and will be driven by Harrison Ford.

Even though Harrison Ford will appear to be driving the car created for the film, he'll actually be sitting in a contemporary Audi, which will be replaced by a digital model of the futuristic Audi in post production. Now that you have read that, will your suspension of disbelief fall apart as you're watching the film? Hopefully not, especially given the fact that the story revolves around a race of giant insects referred to as the "Buggers" intent on wiping out Earth. So the appearance of an Audi will hopefully only buttress the film's plausibility and realism, we feel.
The last time we saw futuristic Audis in a Hollywood production was nearly 10 years ago in the 2004 Will Smith film "I, Robot." And now that we've looked back at the photos of the Audi RSQ that had a cameo in that film, we can't really say that a great stylistic leap took place from the RSQ seen in "I, Robot" to the car previewed in "Ender's Game."
We'll leave it up to you to decide if car design has advanced between 2035, the year that "I, Robot" is set in, and the 2130s when "Ender's Game" supposedly takes place.
Read more: 

Monday, August 19, 2013

GM Expands Tennessee Factory

General Motors plans to spend $167 million in production capacity upgrades for its Nashville, Tenn. factory, the Associated Press reported.

The investment is in addition to a previously announced $183 million worth of upgrades planned for the facility, which was idled amid the economic downturn in 2009, AP said. The plant was reopened following a 2011 contract agreement with the United Auto Workers that included salary concessions for entry-level workers.

The new spending is expected to create or keep 1,800 jobs, but GM did not comment on how many new workers would be hired, AP said.

While the company also wouldn't identify the new vehicles that would be built there, the facility currently produces the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossover SUVs. These vehicles were last updated in 2009, AP said.

The plant produced more than 3.7 million Saturn cars between 1990 and 2007. Most of the facility's workers were then furloughed while the plant underwent a $600 million overhaul to build the build the Chevrolet Traverse crossover.

At its peak, the facility employed nearly 8,000 workers. By 2009, that number was down to about 630. The plant, which also makes four-cylinder engines, currently employs 2,000 people, AP said.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Montoya seeking 'winning car'

Juan Pablo Montoya, NASCAR, Foxsports.comJuan Pablo Montoya isn’t sure what lies ahead for him in racing.
But his first requirement for any potential suitor, whether it’s in NASCAR, IndyCar or Grand-Am would be to give him the opportunity to drive “a winning car.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do but I want to be in a winning car,” Montoya said. “It was a fun seven years with the Target car and (team co-owner) Chip (Ganassi) and everything. We worked really hard, we had our ups, our downs but at the end of the day, I want to win races. He wants to win races. And we wanted to try something different.
“It could be with Chip. It could be with somebody else. With Chip, something we said is ‘number one, we want to keep our friendship.' We are really good friends. We have a good relationship and that was it. It’s not that bad.”
While Montoya was disappointed by the company’s decision not to renew his contract to drive in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series beyond this season, he didn’t appear to be surprised. Certainly, over the last seven years Montoya’s equipment at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has been hit or miss. The driver has revolved through five crew chiefs and six teammates in that time period and, over the last year, endured a complete overhaul of management and his race team. It stands to reason that part of the lack of stability can be traced to the transient nature of the No. 42 team.
Still, it’s curious why a driver with Montoya’s immense talent in open-wheel racing — seven wins and 30 podium finishes in Formula One, an Indy 500 win, a Champ Car title and three Rolex 24 victories in seven starts — never fully acclimated to stock cars. His strength was on the road courses.
On Friday, five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said that it took him roughly five years to acclimate to the different NASCAR tracks and procedures that accompany the season. Montoya didn’t seem to think that was part of the problem.
“A lot of it was learning (how to drive the cars) at the beginning,” Montoya said. “But I picked it up pretty well. I ran pretty well. I made the Chase (for the Sprint Cup) in my third year. One of the hardest things is the amount of changes. There was never ever consistency and that was one of the hardest things. They weren’t doing it on purpose. They were just trying new things to make things better. The problem is every time you make changes, it makes it harder.”
Certainly, there would be opportunities for Montoya in open wheel if he pursued that path — perhaps even with current team owner Ganassi. When asked whether Montoya has spoken to prospective employers in NASCAR, he replied, “ages ago."
“I’ve been looking at my options for a while,” Montoya said. “I wanted to make sure we had the door open to stay at Ganassi if the opportunity was here.
“I have talked to a lot of people, put it that way. I don’t want to be specific about anybody. I know some people are interested and I just want to make sure whatever I do, as I told you, I have an opportunity to win races. I grew up winning and I’ve won at everything. I won some races here, but I miss dominating.”
Montoya will attempt to take the high road for the remainder of the season. He’s not changing his philosophy regarding life — or racing. Montoya just wants to have fun — and win.
“Right now, it’s actually fun," he said. "I’m really good friends with everybody on this team. They mean the world to me. We still have a lot of racing to go. Number one thing is keep enjoying racing and go hard at it every week.”
Article by Lee Spencer of
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chrysler Posts Higher 2Q Profits, Adjusts Forecast

Strong sales across the Ram and Jeep product lines in the U.S. helped boost second-quarter sales for Chrysler Group LLC, Bloomberg News reported.
However, spending associated with product launches and weak sales for its European brands compelled the company to cuts its full-year forecast, Bloomberg said.
Chrysler’s 2Q net income rose to $507 million from $436 million a year earlier, while net revenue increased 7.1% to $18 billion, Bloomberg said. Chrysler’s U.S. deliveries gained 8.9% in the first half of the year to 908,332 cars and light trucks, helped by a 23% gain for the Ram division and a 7.6% increase for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Bloomberg said.
Overall vehicle sales 10%, to 643,000 units versus 582,000 a year ago, and were driven largely by a 17% gain in the company’s U.S. retail sales, Chrysler said. Weakness in the company’s European operations dragged down the overall results, as did spending associated with upcoming product launches, Bloomberg said. Among those launches is the upcoming release of the new Jeep Cherokee.
Due in part to these factors, Chrysler reduced some of its full-year guidance. Chrysler now forecasts operating profit of $3.3 billion to $3.8 billion, compared with a previous target of about $3.8 billion. It now expects net income of between $1.7 billion and $2.2 billion, down from an earlier expectation of about $2.2 billion. And the company now predicts vehicle deliveries of about 2.6 million vehicles, compared with a range of 2.6 million to 2.7 million.
“The timing of product launches and capacity increases causes this year’s performance to be biased to the second half,” Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a statement. “A continued aggressive drive for excellence and flawless execution will be essential to attain the targets we’ve set for ourselves.”
Marchionne wants to buy the 41.5% of Chrysler Fiat doesn’t own and forge a global manufacturer able to challenge General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG. Fiat, which is based in Italy, rescued Chrysler through a government-brokered alliance in 2009. Marchionne obtained control of Chrysler without paying cash by pledging Fiat’s vehicles, technology and managerial expertise to the company.
Since then, Chrysler has emerged as the financial power of the Fiat-Chrysler alliance. Without Chrysler, Fiat would have reported a loss for 2012, Bloomberg said.
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Chevy Sends Service Trucks to Classic Car Event

Chevrolet is dispatching five rescue trucks to the annual Woodward Dream Cruise classic car event this weekend to help participants who experience trouble, the manufacturer announced.
Chevrolet is bringing a fleet of five Silverado pickups equipped to handle routine break-downs to the annual event, which is expected to draw 40,000 classic vehicles and 1.5 million visitors to the area.
During the week-long event, spectators line Woodward Avenue as classic car aficionados drive their vehicles along the route. In the 1950s and 60s, Woodward was often used by automakers to test out their latest models.
Chevrolet, which is a sponsor of the event, will be on hand Saturday, Aug. 17 – one of the busiest days – to help drivers in need. In addition to the trucks, the manufacturer will also set up two service locations along the road. ASE-certified technicians from five area Chevrolet dealerships will handle the repair issues, the manufacturer said.
This is the second year Chevrolet has sent a support team to the event. Last year, the squad helped more than 25 cruise participants, prompting Chevrolet increase the number of roaming vehicles two to five, it said.
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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

50 Unusual Car Facts from around the world

So many interesting, and strange, things have happened in the automotive industry over the course of time.  Ranging from the price of different cars to the height of the world’s lowest street-legal vehicle, weird things tend to keep us intrigued in the car world.  Below are 50 quirky car facts that were put together for you viewing pleasure. 


1902 – The first speeding ticket was issued; most cars could barely reach 45 mph.

82 YEARS – the number of years Mr. Allen Swift, of Springfield, MA drove his 1928 Rolls-Royce Roadster.

1896 – the first road traffic death.

1907 – the worlds first purpose-built racing circuit, Brooklands, opened in Weybridge, Surrey.
42 SECONDS – the fastest time for removing a car engine, and replacing it, using a Ford Escort, on 21 Nov. 1985.

1927 – the first electric traffic lights were launched in Wolverhamption.

THE DASHBOARD – was originally a piece of wood attached to the front of a horse-drawn carriage that would prevent mud from splattering the driver as the horse galloped.

1969- the first automobile accident; the damaged vehicle is still preserved in the Conservatoire Nationale des Arts et Metiers in Paris.

1935 – the first coin-operated parking meter was installed in OKC.

19 INCHES – the height of the world’s lowest street-legal car.  The “Flatmobile” was built by Perry Watkins from Buckinghamshire.

22 HOURS, 10 MINUTES AND 33 SECONDS – the time it took for Hugh Edeleanu to drive a JCB from John O’Groats to Land’s End at an average speed of 40 mph.

FLAT, ASPHALT ROADS – were introduced for cyclists, not motorists as is commonly believed.

STOCK CAR RACING HAS ITS ORIGINS IN MOONSHINE RUNNERS – they modified their cars so that they could outrun police cars in Prohibition-era America.


$8.7 MILLION- the price of the most expensive car ever made, a 1931 Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupe

THE ICONIC ROLLS ROYCE HOOD ORNAMENT IS CALLED ‘THE SPIRIT OF ECSTASY’ – in 2008, a special edition diamond-encrusted version was designed, with an asking price of $200,000.

£38 – the cost to have someone else drive your car through a traffic jam in China.  The original driver is whisked away on a motorcycle.

5 SHILLINGS – the fine for the first motor offence in the UK, issued to petrol engine pioneer John Henry Knight in 1895 for not having a license.

£30 – the fine for using a car horn whilst stationary in the UK.  Taxi drivers beware!

1884 – the year the world’s oldest surviving car was built in France for the Count De Dion.  It was sold at auction in 2011 for $4.6 million.

$1,000,000 – the largest speeding fine ever, given to a Swedish man who got clocked at 180 mph in Switzerland, where fines are proportionate to income.


YOU CAN PLAY PONG IN A SAAB – the game is included as an Easter egg in the on-board computer.

19 PEOPLE – can be crammed into a Smart Car.

80% - of cars registered in Albania are Mercedes-Benz

HITLER – while in prison, wrote to a Mercedes-Benz dealership begging for a car loan.

HONG KONG – the city with the most Rolls Royce’s per capita.

VOLKSWAGEN – named many of their cars after winds.  Passat (after the German word for Trade Wind),  Golf (after Gulf Stream),  Bora (after Bora), Polo (after Polar Winds), and Jetta (after Jet Stream).

“IT’S A DOOZY” – the phrase has its origins in Dusenberg automobiles, which were regarded in the 1920s as the most luxurious cars in the world.

TOP SELLER – for 4 years the Ford Fiesta has been the best-selling vehicle in the UK.  Over 100,000 are bought each year.

DANGER! DANGER! – South African BMW’s can be equipped with flame-throwers to prevent car-jackings

KAZUNORI YAMAUCHI – the creator of the Gran Turismo videogames helped develop the Nissan GT-R and has been racing professionally since 2009.

FERRARI – produce a maximum of 14 cars per day.

TOYOTA – the world’s largest car manufacturers, every day produces 13,000.


99 DAYS – will be spent stuck in traffic by the average British driver over the course of their lifetime.

TEDDY BEARS – many British traffic police carry teddy bears to console children with after car crashes.

90% - of drivers sing behind the wheel.

THE “NEW CAR SMELL” – is composed of 50 volatile organic compounds.  Fortunately, they are non-toxic.

ELDERLY CAR – drivers over the age of 75 must display the Koreisha mark in the back of their vehicle in Japan.

PARKING – the average British car is parked up 90% of the time.

THE AUTOMOBILE – is the most recycled product in the world.

1 OUT OF 4 – cars produced in the world comes from China.

STEVE JOBS’ – car never had a license plate due to a loophole in Californian state law.

FRANCE – it is compulsory to carry a breathalyzer kit in France. 

SIX MONTHS – the time it would take to reach the moon if you could drive upwards at 60 mph.

960 MILLION HOURS – the amount of time Britons collectively waste in traffic jams each year.


MODERN F1 CAR – can drive upside down in a tunnel at 120 mph.

256 – the amount of times you can press an out-of-range car remote key before it will stop working.  This is due to the method of encryption between the car remote and the receiver in the vehicle.

60 MILLION CARS – are produced in a single year.  That’s 165,000 cars a day!

REMOTE KEYS – holding a remote car key to your head double its range because the human skull acts as an amplifier.

80% - of Formula One teams use an exhaust pipe coating originally developed for nuclear reactors.

GERMAN CARS – a car has been developed in Germany which is controlled solely by the thoughts of the driver. 

1 BILLION – cars are in active use across the world today.

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