Design News readers evidently agree that Ford indeed does have a better idea—sort of.
That's among the conclusions from the most recent survey of this magazine's readers on automotive technology:
Most drive Fords—either a Taurus, an Explorer, or one of the F-Series trucks.
The majority think they're the best-engineered U.S. cars.
And if they were shopping for a new car today, most would buy a Ford.
Those first two results mirror last year's survey findings. And, except for a couple of years, readers over the last decade have said that Fords were the cars they would buy if they were in the market.
dominance among engineers
19 —percentage of engineers that think Fords are the best engineered US passenger vehicles
17 —percentage of engineers that drive a 1999 or 2000 Taurus, Explorer, or pick-up truck
14 —percentage of engineers that would buy another Ford if buying a vehicle today
10 —percentage of engineers that think the Ford Focus is the best passenger vehicle on the market today for under $15,000
Yet, at the same time, readers in this year's survey said that Ford Pintos, Mustangs, and Escorts were among the worst cars they ever owned.
What's more, Ford ranks way down the list of readers' dream cars. That list, as usual, is headed by Mercedes.
Other significant results from the 2000 Design News reader survey on automotive technology:
Readers definitely would use the Internet to get information on new cars and to locate dealerships.
They wouldn't buy a car over the Internet.
And overwhelmingly, they don't want a built-in PC in their cars.
For the many who like their Fords, their passion is based on practical concerns.
|PC in your
Eighty-two percent of respondents to the Design News survey said "no," they don't want a PC in their next car. "If I'm driving alone, I can't operate a PC and the car at the same time," says Mike Clark, a senior staff engineer at Lockheed-Martin. "If I'm the passenger, I'd rather relax," he says.
Russell Grimes, a Uniloy Milacron project engineer, is one of the 18% of respondents that would like a PC in his next car. "It might be nice to check or send e-mails from the road and pull up maps in case you get lost," he says.
Among the 18% that would want a PC in their next car, 82% wanted the PC for navigation, 66% for e-mail, 48% for Web navigation, and 22% for games and entertainment.
"When we mention PCs, people immediately think about the PC they use at work," says Afaf Farah, a Ford manager in the design department. "PCs in Fords are part of a total system that includes global positioning systems, telephones, and other conveniences. It's not about typing up a proposal in a Word document."
"My Ford Probe had the right combination of features at a price that I could afford," says Craig Finch, an engineer with Sawtek, Inc. "I like the ergonomics of it. Everything was right where I thought it should be. I also like the way it handled," he says.
Russell Grimes, an electrical project engineer with Uniloy Milacron, likes his Ford Ranger XLT pick-up truck for several reasons. "I picked my truck because it is durable," says Grimes. "Also, when I do maintenance on the truck, the design makes it easy to get to the parts that need to be replaced without using special tools or being a contortionist."
When it comes to reader rankings of cars in various price classes, Ford received mixed reviews.
In the category of cars priced under of $15,000, the Honda Civic finished first with 16% of the vote. The Ford Focus captured 10% of the votes, and the Saturn came in a close third, with 9% of the vote.
Worst passenger vehicles under $15,000 were the Kia, Hyundai, and the Dodge Neon, according to the survey. While 10% of respondents said the Ford Focus was one of the best cars on the market today, another 4% voted it one of the worst.
In the $15,000-$24,000 price range, engineers like Hondas and Toyotas. The Honda Accord took the checkered flag with 11% of the vote. The Toyota Camry took second place with 10% of the vote. However, when combining the Camry's 10% with the 8% of votes that went to other Toyota models in the same price range, Toyotas captured a full 18% of all votes. Surprisingly, the survey indicates that although Design News readers prefer domestic cars, they believe that Japanese cars are the best cars for the money.
engineered U.S passenger vehicle
Who makes the best engineered cars? Here is the list of top choices among survey respondents.
Best engineered Import
The Ford Taurus, the same car that engineers drive more than any other, was ranked 4 th in the $15,000- $24,000 price range with only 5% of the vote. Even more surprising than the apparent inconsistency between what engineers buy and what they pick as best in this class is that the Ford Taurus was also voted the worst new passenger vehicle in the same price range. With 11% of the vote, the Taurus surpassed Hyundai and Kia as the car engineers considered the worst car in the class.
The love/hate relationship with the Taurus and other Fords is also evident in the attributes engineers selected as most important. Both Ford lovers and haters place reliability at the top of the list of most important attributes. However, when asked to rate the importance of safety, 53.8% of Ford-lovers consider safety to be the second most important attribute. Only 45.2% of Ford-haters considered safety as the second most important attribute.
Ford-haters also consider handling and efficiency important. While 42.9% of Ford haters indicated that handling is very important to them, only 34.6% of Ford lovers agreed. Likewise, 45.2% of Ford haters consider appearance very important and less than 20% of Ford lovers agree.
Moving higher up on the price ladder, BMWs are ranked first in the survey's best cars in the $25,000-$44,999 price range. Mercedes-Benz ranked second with 6% of the vote. The Chevrolet Corvette ranked third with 5% of the vote.
innovations in the next 5 years
When asked what innovations in suspension and steering we are likely to see in the next five years, 17.6% of respondents say active suspension is most likely. Other top responses included a drive-by-wire system; automatic, self-correcting, and power-assisted steering; and computer control.
Survey respondents also indicated that power train innovations expected are hybrid propulsion systems, improvements in fuel efficiency, and alternative fuel and engines.
Steve Hostetler, an engineer at Ingersoll-Rand, is one of the survey respondents who believe Chevrolet Corvettes are the best cars on the road. He owns a '78 Corvette and is thinking about buying another. "I rebuilt the engine in the Corvette I own now," he says. "I've just always liked GMs, both Corvettes and Cavaliers. I like their dependability."
Worst passenger vehicles in the $25,000-$44,999 price range include GMCs and several Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs). Mike Clark, a senior staff engineer with Lockheed-Martin doesn't agree. His SUV is a GMC Yukon. "I look at reliability, cost, and comfort, in that order," says Clark. Even if price were not an issue in his selection of a passenger vehicle, he says he would still choose a Yukon.
In the $45,000 or more price range, Mercedes-Benz blew the competition away. Twenty-eight percent of the Design News survey respondents voted Mercedes-Benz the best on the market.
The closest rival in this class is the BMW with 8% of the vote. The Mercedes-Benz S-class captured an additional 5% of the vote, giving Mercedes-Benz nearly a third of all votes.
So, who do engineers think builds the best-engineered passenger vehicles? Ford received nearly 20% of the vote. Cadillac was second with 15% of the vote.
While Mike Clark and other engineers like their Chevys, other engineers admitted that the Chevrolet Vega, Chevette, and Camaro were the worst passenger cars they ever owned.
Carl Collins, an engineer with Tower Automotive—a Tier 1 supplier of carriages and sub-assemblies to GMC, Ford, Toyota, and Daimler Chrysler—was not among those engineers who dislike Chevys. "Even though they might not be glamorous, they are sturdy," says Collins. He sites durability and serviceability as the main reasons he likes Chevys. "I like the fact that most shops could handle any repair I might need. And now that I have a wife and four kids, I'd rather buy a Chevy with the road-side assistance program and know that Chevrolet would take care of them if there were any problems."
What matters most
Many factors go into the decision to buy a car. Price, reliability, safety, appearance, fuel efficiency, and warranty are among the top attributes that survey respondents say influence their decision-making process. With 12.1% of the vote, fuel efficiency is the attribute engineers would most like to see in all new passenger vehicles. Another 7.5% would like to see alternative fuels and fuel cells in new passenger vehicles.
Although most engineers indicate that reliability and safety are primary reasons they selected the cars that they currently own, David Coffin, a design manager at Warner-Lambert says there is more to the selection process. "I like a car with good handling," he says. "Unless one lives close to the German Autobahn, it's impossible and illegal to go fast in a straight line. Better to go fast around curves where you can sometimes do this legally!"
The purchase of a new vehicle is little like the design of a product. Engineers gather all available data, begin weighing one option against another, and make a series of trade-offs in the process.
the safest vehicles?
Safety ranks second behind reliability as a primary concern when purchasing a car. Here's a top ten list of the cars voted safest.
The top ten innovations and technology engineers considered most important for improving safety are:
Crash-resistant vehicle structure
Front driver and passenger airbags
Side impact airbags
Uniform bumper height
Computer interlocks to prevent operation by drunk drivers
Collision avoidance system
Infrared night vision
Hands-free cellular telephone