5, 1998 Design News
ANNUAL AUTO ISSUE
In Accord with the road
Design News readers select
the Honda Accord as their number-one choice in the 19th
Annual Auto Survey
Christine M. Ferrara, New Products
You knew they were everywhere, and now you know why:
The Honda Accord is the car readers would pick if they
were buying a new car today, and the most popular model
already being driven by respondents, according to the
19th annual Design News Auto Survey.
The sedan edged out last year's new-car winner, the
Ford Explorer, which fell to third place. The Toyota
Camry held onto its number-two position from last year.
The Accord's ascent may be due to a return to practicality.
SUVs have been slammed for lousy gas mileage--the Ford
Explorer averages about 16 mpg--and poor safety records.
According to federal statistics, more Americans die
in crashes involving a car and a light truck than in
crashes involving two cars.
The Honda Accord, on the other hand, is a perennial
favorite among car ratings groups such as Consumer
Reports, which has consistently given it high marks
for reliability, safety, and gas mileage.
Indeed, these factors are also important to design
engineers. When asked to rank the top six features for
their next new car, 33% cited reliability as their top
priority, followed by price (22%), appearance (14%),
inside comfort (11%), and safety (9%).
Although the Honda Accord is the number-one model readers
drive, if you total the different Ford models readers
drive, Ford emerges as the top manufacturer. Twenty
percent of readers drive such models as the Ford Taurus/Taurus
SHO, Ford Explorer, and various Ford pickup trucks.
Ford also is number one as the automaker from whom engineers
would buy a new car at 15%, with Chevrolet again in
second place at 13%. And Ford took top honors as maker
of the best-engineered U.S. car. The best-engineered
model, say readers, is the Ford Taurus/Taurus SHO.
Of course, there's always room for improvement. Forty-one
percent of Design News readers said Chrysler
vehicles have shown the most improvements in quality
and performance in the past five years. Second place
went to Ford (20%), and GMC took third (11%).
The automaker worldwide that shows the best combination
of technical know-how and business acumen is Mercedes-Benz,
according to 20% of readers. Chrysler and Ford tied
for runner-up at 15%.
Best in class. Not everyone can afford
a Mercedes. In the economy range (less than $15,000),
the Honda Civic edged out last year's winner, the Saturn,
with 17% of the vote as the best model. The worst car
in this range went to the Hyundai line, at 26%.
Readers say the best mid-range car ($15,000-$25,000)
is the Toyota Camry at 18%, which beat out last year's
winner, the Ford Taurus/Taurus SHO (8%). The omnipresent
Honda Accord took second place (16%).
As for the best manufacturers of cars costing more
than $25,000, top honors went to Mercedes-Benz, with
13% of the vote. Second place went to Lexus (9%). Worst
in class went to BMW at 8%, followed by Cadillac and
Chrysler tied at 5%.
The best maker of luxury cars for less than $45,000,
according to readers, is Lexus, at 19%. Mercedes-Benz
is the best, say 10%, while Cadillac got 6% of the vote.
Dream on. If price and practicality
were no object, what kind of car would you drive? A
Mercedes-Benz was the most frequently quoted answer,
at 7%, which tied with last year's winner in this category,
the Chevrolet Corvette. Five percent of Design News
readers chose the Dodge Viper.
Indeed, for the luxury-minded Mercedes buyer, the company
has responded with the S500 Grand Edition. Mercedes
plans a production run of only 600. What makes them
so special? The Grand Edition boasts an optional 3.2l
in-line V-6, a potent 4.2 and 5l V-8, and a 6l V-12.
Driver and passengers are coddled in premium parchment
leather while listening to a 11-speaker Boser Beta sound
system. Okay, what's the damage? Base MSRP is $89,500.
Back in the real world, one of the biggest automotive
concerns is safety--9% of respondents named it as the
most important feature their next new car must have.
In the survey, 35% say Volvo makes the safest production
car; 23% say Mercedes-Benz does.
In the same vein, 74% of readers say that front driver
and passenger airbags are the most important technology
for making driving safer. Side-impact airbags took 63%
of the vote, while computer interlocks to prevent operation
by drunk would-be drivers took 57%.
When asked what engineering features would be a "must"
in their next new car, top answers included: antilock
brakes (28%), dual airbags (22%), all-wheel drive (16%),
cruise control (12%), and a rear window defogger (7%).
Looking ahead. Looking to future car
features, engineers see several innovations on the horizon.
Collision avoidance systems were at the top of the list
at 42%. Multiplexed wiring systems weighed in at 29%.
Active noise cancellation systems are an innovation
that 14% of respondents would like to see in new cars.
Another feature that may appear on future cars is trunk-release
switches. A National Traffic Safety Administration study
is underway due to an increase in the number of children
dying from heat after being trapped inside car trunks.
It will evaluate the use of the switches for children
and crime victims put in the trunk by their attackers.
Detroit faces many challenges. All of these innovations
will cost money, as design engineers well know. Reducing
vehicle manufacturing cost is the biggest challenge
survey respondents named at 27%, while 24% indicated
the top challenge would be environmental regulations.
Twenty percent of respondents said alternate fuel is
Detroit's biggest hurdle.
Electric vehicles may come into play in the future
too. In late 1997, Arthur D. Little Int'l Inc. (Cambridge,
MA) developed a fuel reformer that can extract hydrogen
from fossil fuels and power PEM fuel cells (see DN 6/22/98,
p. 90). However, engineers remain skeptical. In the
survey, 52% would not consider buying an electric vehicle
today, 30% would buy one, and 18% were on the fence.
What would make an engineer shell out money for an
electric vehicle? Longer distance between charges, said
78%, while 64% said longer-life batteries. A lower purchase
price would persuade 56% to buy an electric vehicle.
As for cost, 46% think that a $10,000-$19,999 price
range would make buying an electric vehicle a viable
alternative. A $5,000-$9,999 range would convince 18%,
while 14% wouldn't buy an electric vehicle at any price.
Hybrids, another up-and-coming technology, use both
gasoline and electric motors. Forty-eight percent of
Design News readers would consider buying one,
31% would not consider it, and 21% are unsure.
But will hybrids be an option? Maybe. Toyota recently
announced a four-door, hybrid compact sedan called Prius,
which averages 60 mpg. Prius will be available in America
late in the year 2000. In Japan, more than 7,700 are
already on the road.
An engineering eye on the future
The cost factor dogs Detroit's automakers. The most
important engineering challenge the Big Three face in
the next 10 years is reducing vehicle manufacturing
cost, say 27% of respondents. Environmental regulations
will be the biggest challenge, say 24%, while alternate
fuel weighs in at 20%.
Most Important Engineering Challenges
Percent of Respondents
Reducing vehicle manufacturing costs
Each year, one out of every eight and a half Americans
is involved in a car accident. That's probably why 42%
of engineers polled in the Design News 19th annual Auto
Survey said that collision avoidance systems were the
innovation they would most like to see on all new cars.
What else strikes their fancy for automobile future
features? A multiplexed wiring system, at 29%, followed
by active noise cancellation systems at 14%. Engineers
also named innovative engines, greater use of ceramics,
composites/innovative materials, and drive by wire as
hoped-for future innovations.