For 1996: an Emphasis on VALUE

The 1995 cars were better than ever--but the 96s, as you'll see on the
next few pages--take quality and reliability to new heights.. The watchword
guiding automakers in this viciously competitive global economy is value.
Automakers have made enormous strides in performance, safety, and dependability.
And, they are providing more features for less cost. There is a proliferation of
more powerful, more fuel-efficient engines, smarter transmissions, better
suspensions, quieter bodies, and safer interiors. As for optional and standard
features: They've broadened to include such items as improved seats, stereos,
and even anti-theft systems.

All of this places more pressure on design engineers, as they wrestle with stricter regulations and shorter development cycles. "Today, we have to design a car on a tight budget and maximize what the consumer gets," notes Francois Castaing, vice president of vehicle engineering for Chrysler. "The old idea that you can add feature after feature for higher and higher prices--that just doesn't work anymore."

To find out what automakers are planning for their product line, we sent Design News regional editors on the road to interview the engineers in charge. You'll read what they learned in detail on the following pages, but here is a sneak preview:

Senior Technical Editor Charles J. Murray reports that Chrysler, expanding internationally at a rate of about 20% a year, will roll out the new Sebring convertible, more powerful minivans, and the Plymouth Breeze, a compact sedan. In addition to a stunning new re-design for the Taurus, Ford will unveil a new 4.6-l DOHC engine for the Mustang and Mustang Cobra.

The company is investing heavily in the future in other ways too. In August, Chrysler announced plans to spend $1 billion to build a new plant for making truck transmissions. Additionally, the company committed $1.3 billion over the next decade for a series of new engines.

Northeast Technical Editor Terrence Lynch says General Motors is using government requirements for on-board diagnostics as a springboard for simplifying whole-car diagnostics and improving the interplay of components for improved performance. For example, he says, the CAN-based Class II data bus allows the engine control module to anticipate air-conditioning loads and compensates by adjusting engine and transmission output. On several models, power locks won't operate if they're told that the key is in the ignition and the door is open. Other examples abound, from low-cost traction control, to coordination of radio volume with cellular-phone activation, and automatic unlocking of doors after airbag deployment. Grinning GM engineers say that their cars' emerging self-awareness is only the beginning.

Finally, GM announced in late August plans to cut development costs 25% by shortening the design cycle to an average of 38 months from the current 46.

For European carmakers, the 1996 model year represents a significant rebound from the dark days of '93, when U.S. sales bottomed out at slightly better than 2% of the market, reports Senior Editor David Bak. Tough times forced several of Europe's big names--Fiat, Renault, and Peugeot among them--from the country.

Those that stayed, most of them luxury car builders, focused on two

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