Add ‘Frugal’ to Your Lexicon

It’ll never replace “fun to drive” as the most hackneyed phrase ever uttered in automotive circles, but “frugal” is popping up in conversations at MBS.

At one session, Warren Harris, president and chief operating officer of Tata Technologies, allows that Tata was able to keep costs down on its $2,500 Nano minicar, in part, thanks to “frugal engineering.”

Moments later at the same session, Susan Brennan, vice president-manufacturing for Nissan North America, is asked how the auto maker can build Leaf electric vehicles on the same line as the Altima and Maxima.

“It gets back to simple, frugal methods in getting parts to the line,” she says.

Webster’s says frugal “is characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources.” And we always thought it meant “penny-pinching.”

What’s in a Name?

Brazil, Russia, India and China, popularly known as the BRICs, are the world’s four major emerging markets the global auto industry likes to talk about.

However, most admit China is king.

“I don’t know who called it BRIC,” says Tim Dunne, director-global operations at J.D. Power and Associates. “I like to call it CRIB.”

‘It’s All Good’

Larry Nitz, GM executive director-hybrid and electric powertrain engineering, drove a Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle to the MBS here with kilowatts to spare.

Nitz tells Ward's he picked up the Volt out of a captured test fleet with just 6 miles (10 km) of electric charge remaining on the battery for his 225-mile (362-km) trip to Traverse City from the GM Proving Ground in Milford outside of Detroit.

"It's all good," he says of the trip, noting the range-extending internal combustion engine "seamlessly" engaged to give him the juice to get to the conference.

And he's not plugged in now. "I didn't make any effort to (recharge the battery)," Nitz says. "Don't have to. It's not a concern. I don't have to worry about getting home.

"Some of these other (all-electric) cars (are you listening, Nissan?), it will take you two days to get up here, because you've got to stop and recharge and stop and recharge. Where are you going to charge along I-75 (freeway)? Totally impractical."

Perhaps, but Nitz declines to say what fuel economy the Volt achieved on the way up to Traverse City. "That one is a secret," he says.

No No Nano

India’s Tata Motors has been widely applauded for developing a minicar with a $2,500 sticker price.

But when Tata Technologies, its engineering services unit, imported a Nano for exhibition in the U.S., it prompted a serious case of shipper shock.

“The shipping costs were three times the price of the car,” Warren Harris, COO of Tata Technologies, quips during a Q&A session at the MBS.

Carrot and Stick

Volkswagen Group of America will meet with suppliers in Chattanooga, TN, Thursday to explain the unique demands that VW makes on parts producers in terms of quality, logistics and tooling.

That’s the price of entry to supply the Passat sedan replacement, says Tom Loafman, director of purchasing.

All the hoops may be worth jumping through, he hints, because the auto maker is thinking about adding an A-segment entry-level vehicle and an A/B small utility vehicle to the factory.

And there is an engine plant in the works that will supply both Chattanooga and VW’s plant in Puebla, Mexico.

Sorry About That, Don

Don Smith is the true father of what has become the CAR Management Briefing Seminars. Ward’s erred in giving the mantle to Dave Cole, now CAR chairman. Cole’s participation dates to 1972, and his name has become synonymous with the conference.

But Don Smith, then-director of the University of Michigan Institute for Science and Technology, convened a small group of 30 or so OEM and supplier attendees at the Park Place Hotel here in 1965.

“It was just me and a bunch of friends,” says Smith. “I was trying to get (work) for our faculty.” Why in scenic Traverse City? “It was a great place for a vacation,” he laughs.