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GM gets the nod

GM gets the nod

If Design News readers were going to buy a car today, General Motors would be the manufacturer they would turn to.

That's one of the findings from the most recent reader survey on automotive topics, and it represents the first time GM ranked at the top in the last 11 years.

Moreover, most readers responding to a follow-up telephone survey said the specific GM vehicle they would buy today is the Tahoe, an indication of readers' (and the general public's) continuing fascination with sport utility vehicles.

Those readers who said Chrysler was their top manufacturer also gave the nod to an SUV, in this case the Durango. And for those readers selecting Ford, it comes down to the Explorer and Expedition, with a few votes for the Windstar. The Taurus also ranked well.

With reasonable gasoline prices and a strong economy, consumers apparently just can't get enough SUVs. Almost half of all new cars purchased in the United States are sport utilities, pickups, and minivans. GM produces roughly 380,000 full-size SUVs for the North American market each year, with sales up 10% in 1999.

Last year, readers selected the Honda Accord as their top model, followed by the Toyota Camry and the Ford Explorer. The Explorer gained the coveted number 1 slot in 1997.

"GM hit my mark with the Silverado," says Design News reader Larry Wood, of Berwick Steel in Piqua, Ohio. The Z71 Silverado sports a V6 with 200 hp at 4600 rpm, or a V8 with 255 hp at 5300 rpm. "It is a lightweight, one-half ton pickup with a powerful yet small engine that makes it economical to drive for someone who needs a truck," says Wood. "It has a spacious cabin that seats four." Comfort was an important consideration for many Design News readers, and especially for Wood, who takes long bird hunting trips to South Dakota and Wyoming. Wood and his wife live on a farm and drive twin S-10 pickups, which he hopes to trade in for two Silverados next year.

Shawn Kelly, a design engineer with Solar Turbines in San Diego, told Design News he would purchase a GM Cadillac Catera if he were to buy any new car today because of the car's luxury, power, and handling. His dream car is another GM make -- Chevy -- Suburban because of its versatility, power, and cargo capacity.

Most Design News readers drive a Ford, with the Taurus/SHO the most driven model. Ford Taurus is enduringly popular, winning Design News readers' pick for the car they would buy every year from 1988 through 1995. No wonder. With both its 200-hp V6 and older 145-hp V6 models, Taurus has earned a reputation for performance and reliability.

Reliability tops list. As they did last year, design engineers said reliability was the single most important attribute influencing their next car purchase. Price ranked second and safety rose to third in their purchase decision. The car's handling and fuel efficiency tied for sixth in readers' stack-up of key buying features. Fuel efficiency, which did not make the top-six list for the last two years, seems to be creeping up in importance for readers. Reader Dennis Burns, a hardware technician with Rockwell Automation in Milwaukee, confirms this trend with his interest in buying a GM Pontiac Transport, or Olds Silhouette minivan. Burns is looking for family transportation yet wants reasonably good gas mileage in his next vehicle. "I'm ecology minded and commute 80 miles round trip, so fuel economy is important," says Burns.

GM is the manufacturer of choice for readers if they were to buy a car today.

Dream machines. If price or practicality were of no concern, 15% of survey respondents would purchase a Mercedes-Benz and 12% would buy a Chevrolet. When asked to name a particular model, design engineers said they would purchase the Chevrolet Corvette or Dodge Viper. Produced for over four decades, the Corvette is a performance king, with a V8 that puts out 345 hp. Readers named the Corvette's performance, speed, power and acceleration ability as top reasons for making the sports car their number one pick. Dodge Viper tied for number one for its style and appearance, along with the speed and acceleration from its all-aluminum V10 powertrain, which puts out a spine-tingling 450 hp at 5,200 rpm. Viper's muscle comes with a hefty price tag between $69,000 and $72,000 depending on options.

Safety icon. Again, Volvo tops the safety list, as it did for the last two years running. Nearly 50% of Design News respondents feel Volvo makes the safest car on the road today. This is more than two times the percentage of respondents who say Mercedes makes the safest passenger vehicle and four times those who say Ford cars are the safest.

Best engineered cars. Ford got high marks on several counts. Respondents selected Ford as the one world-wide auto manufacturer who demonstrates the best combination of technical know-how and business savvy. Not only is the Ford Taurus/SHO the vehicle most readers drive today, Ford Taurus/SHO was named the best engineered U.S. passenger vehicle. Reliability/durability were singled out as the primary reason for the choice.

Selected as the manufacturer most readers would buy from if money or maintenance played no part in the purchase decision, Mercedes-Benz was also picked by readers as the manufacturer who produces the best engineered import passenger vehicle. Toyota Camry received the most votes among specific models. Reliability again ranked as the top reason for both these choices.

The top 10 most important factors in reader's next new passenger vehicle.

Best in class. As to the best new passenger vehicle costing $45,000 or more, Mercedes Benz tops the list, say 28% of readers. Second place went to Lexus, and BMW followed with 7%. The top two are consistent with last year's results in this category.

For a new car priced between $25,000 and $44,999, Lexus beat out Mercedes Benz, last year's winner. Lexus received 10% of readers' nods as best in class. Second place was a three-way tie between Chevrolet Corvette, Mercedes Benz, and Cadillac.

In the $15,000 to $24,999 mid-priced range, the Toyota Camry took the top slot, followed by Honda Accord and Ford Taurus. Camry came in first last year, edging out the Ford Taurus, which won in 1997. Honda Accord also placed second in 1998.

Honda Civic received the honors for the best new passenger vehicle under $15,000, followed by Saturn and Toyota Corolla. Honda Civic and Saturn also took the number one and two spots last year in the economy class.

Driving the next generation. Although more than half of the respondents said no way would they buy an electric vehicle, 30 percent would consider it.

Over forty percent of respondents say electric vehicles would become a viable buying alternative if they cost between $10,000 and $19,999. We may not witness this type of price reduction for a while. Right now GM's EV1 is offered in California at around $40,000. The 1999 EV1 offers new nickel-metal hydride batteries, replacing the older lead-acid versions, and promising greater driving range of 75 to 140 "real world" miles between charges, better cold-temperature operation, and longer battery service life. GM also changed the drive system in 1999, replacing it with a power electronics bay, which represents half the cost, half the size and a third fewer parts. GM also came out with a Chevy S-10 electric pickup in 1999.

A much greater number of those surveyed (46%) would consider buying a hybrid vehicle. Toyota and Honda will put hybrids on the U.S. market in 2000. Toyota has already had success at home with Prius which has sold over 35,000 copies at a price of $18,000 since its 1997 introduction. Honda's Insight, a sporty two-seater gas electric hybrid, will also be priced at less than $20,000. Nissan will also market "Tino," a hybrid which uses lithium ion versus nickel metal hydride batteries found in the Toyota Prius and Honda Insightin early 2000. Electrical engineer Shawn Kelly feels hybrid technology is the most significant technological innovation to come, but cautions that he would not purchase a hybrid vehicle now, but will wait until the technology matures and will consider it down the road as a commuter car. "We're pushing the bleeding edge on environmental regulations and we can't do it without hybrids and fuel cells," says Kelly.

Engineering challenge. Nearly thirty percent of those surveyed believe the most important engineering challenge Detroit faces in the next ten years is developing alternately fueled vehicles. Almost as many, 27%, say reducing vehicle manufacturing costs is the most important challenge.

Crash-resistant structures and active suspension systems were named the single most likely innovation within the structure and steering categories, with a full 48% and 30% of the vote.

New or pre-owned. Although 57% of readers surveyed would buy a new car, 43% would consider a used vehicle. Warranty ranked as the top reason respondents would buy a new car at 25%, followed by reliability and "no surprises," which both received 23%. Three-quarters of those who would buy used over new, cited lower price and better value as the top reason. Depreciation was another heavy factor mentioned by 22% of respondents. Eighty-seven percent would use the Internet to obtain information on vehicles.

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