The setting is a brightly sunny day in Southern California with a new 2013 Ford Taurus SEL. The Taurus has a tilted center screen and bright instrument panel applique in front of the passenger seat. Additionally, there is a bright “racetrack” around the instrument cluster in front of the driver. Frankly, in high ambient light load conditions, this is a disaster of veiling glare. This is when the interior materials reflect the sunlight and either distract the driver or temporarily blind them.
Ford’s MyFordTouch system uses a touchscreen center screen. This is good, but it shows finger prints and with the way the screen is situated in the Taurus it is particularly objectionable. When reversing and trying to use the back-up camera, the sun washed out the backup image and the fingerprints further obscured the view.
In Googling “Veiling Glare”, I found an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) paper titled “Fundamental Issues of Automotive Veiling Glare” written by Ford Engineers in conjunction with the University of Florida back in 1997. Clearly, they understand the issue, but did not use their own institutional knowledge when launching this model of the Taurus SEL.
Veiling glare is a situation mostly missed by European manufacturers developing cars in gloomy, overcast conditions. American manufacturers, even those developing their products in the Mid-West, usually don’t miss this.
Smaller EcoBoost 4-Cylinder Transforms Taurus into a Much More Nimble Product While glare is more than a nitpick issue with the SEL, the car powered by the 2.0L gasoline direct injection turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with EcoBoost giving 240HP and 270 lb-ft of torque was very nimble. Much moreso than the Taurus with the 3.5L V6 – even in 3.5L V6 EcoBoost form. The car still suffers from an interior too small for the exterior size of the car, but it is good looking and well-appointed.
The 2013 New York International Auto Show was full of important reveals this year… renewed crossovers - Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, an all new Range Rover Sport, the new BMW 335GT, freshened Dodge Durango, the all new Cadillac CTS and many more. The most important, however, were the Audi A3 and the Jeep Cherokee. Why? Both vehicles are very important to their brands and have the potential to generate substantial sales.
Audi Takes the Safe Route with A3: The 2015 Audi A3 really was not at the New York Auto Show. The A3 will be officially introduced at the Shanghai Auto Show in late April 2013, but there was a reveal for about 120 journalists the evening before the first press day. It will be launched in the USA in early 2014.
The smaller Audi A3 has anchored the Audi lineup with a five-door hatchback (“Sportback”) that never had much sales potential in the USA. American buyers continue to perceive liftback cars as cheaper, flimsier and less desirable. In Europe, the five-door is the preferred bodystyle primarily because European car-owners do not have the American-style family fleets where there is a vehicle for every purpose. For a one vehicle family, the hatchback can carry out a multitude of duties.
Recognizing that to really succeed in the USA market, the 2014 Audi A3 becomes a much more traditional three-box four-door sedan. This gives Audi an opportunity to really step up sales in the face of the upcoming front wheel drive Mercedes-Benz CLA and the already-on-the-market BMW 1-Series. Audi did not stray from its own winning formula. Audi DNA is present in the exterior styling and the interior with an A8-like sweep at the front of the instrument panel. Very nicely done, but not one obvious risk.
The A3 comes with four 4-cylinder engine choices – 170HP 1.8L turbo, 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 230HP), 150HP 2.0L turbo diesel and high output 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 275HP). The high output goes in the S3 model. The Sportback will return in the 2014 calendar year with e-tron plug-in hybrid technology.
The A3 will not be a Spartan A-Segment car. Audi is positioning it as a fully-featured Audi – just smaller. It will offer Audi’s MMI system, 4G LTE connectivity and even Audi’s Bang & Olufsen audio system.
One key takeaway from the A3 reveal is that the car is the same size as 1994 model year A4. A very successful car with solid sales results, the A4 was key in establishing Audi as a very desirable premium brand in the USA.
Something tells us that the A3 will not be an inexpensive car with its impressive standard equipment load (leather seating, bluetooth, rain sensing wipers and panoramic moon roof standard). With the slightly larger Mercedes CLA announced at a sub-$30,000 price we are wondering where the new A3 will be positioned?
Jeep Cherokee Returns While the Audi A3 is a low risk opportunity for volume growth, Jeep’s new Cherokee is at the polar opposite on the risk scale. Jeep describes the Cherokee’s styling as “polarizing” and it certainly is. Mike Manley, President of Jeep cautioned journalists in a December briefing before the Detroit Auto Show that “you might not understand” the vehicle. This was somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Cherry’s (head of GM styling in the late ’90s) statement that “you are too old to understand the (Pontiac) Aztek. In Manley’s defense, he describes the styling direction for the Cherokee as “something that will be fresh in 2019″. So Jeep has not taken this path lightly. It is a calculated step.
What is so polarizing about the Cherokee? First, it takes the name of one of the most successful SUVs ever produced. The 1980s Cherokee was the first high volume SUV to add a 4-door bodystyle to the lineup and soon proved that 4-doors, not 2-doors, were the way to go. The Cherokee had the seven vertical slot grill that is part of Jeep’s DNA, but it had rectangular headlamps that, while modern for the time, broke away from the traditional round headlamps Jeep used.
While the new Cherokee is relatively conventional from the A-Pillar rearward, its front end design is the most surprising and, yes, controversial. Instead of round headlamps, the Cherokee has horizontal units styled into the front fascia and fenders. Cherokee still has the seven vertical slots in the front fascia – part of Jeep DNA since the beginning – but they now are bent in the center giving the vehicle a more aerodynamic appearance. The story of the capability of the vehicle is being lost in the commentary about its front end styling.
Under the skin, the Cherokee uses the same Alfa/Fiat platform used by the new Dodge Dart. It has a 9-speed automatic transmission and three advanced 4×4 systems. The Trailhawk model is fully “Trail Rated”. Think of Trailhawk as the Cherokee Rubicon. Powered by a 184HP 2.4L Multi-Air TigerShark 4-cylinder engine, Jeep claims a cruising range of up to 490 miles and highway fuel economy of 31mpg. The optional 3.2L Pentastar V6 gets 271HP.
Cherokee has a full array of Chrysler’s latest features available from its UConnect information system with an 8.4-inch center screen and programmable instrument cluster, new steering wheel controls, parking assist systems, blind spot monitoring, cross path detection and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability. These features are becoming the price of entry in mid-size vehicles and even some smaller entries.
When Bob Lutz was a Chrysler he once said (of the early 2000′s Peterbilt style Ram pickup), “I don’t care if people love it or hate it as long as 15% of them love it enough to buy it”. That may be the case with the new Cherokee. A Polarizing design will certainly get people talking and writers writing. So far, it seems that the negatives are outweighing the positives on the Cherokee. It won’t take long to tell if the vehicle is a sales success. It begins production in April 2013.
In the January, 2013 issue of Automobile Magazine, Wolfgang Egger, Design Chief of Audi is quoted when discussing the Crosslane concept shown at the Paris Auto Show in September, “The new headlights are certainly more subdued than the very bright dot-style LEDs we had to work with in the past. But the era when daytime running lights were shaped like waves, loops of swooshes is definitely over. Instead, we have developed inoffensive and geometric light graphics consisting of distinct vertical and horizontal elements. This trademark light pattern will be unique to Audi and we will eventually see it on all models”
Audi A8 Headlight Graphics - Dramatic
Audi A8 Running Lights - Instantly Identifiable
Well… this qualifies for a “What Are They Thinking” category!
New Audi Headlamp Cues Shown on Crosslane Concept
The Crosslane running light graphics are shown in the image above. As can be seen, this is a much more linear interpretation than the swoopy design Audi is using today. Is this as distinctive? Is this as head-turning? Is this a design that can immediately identified when you glance at the car behind you in the rear view mirror?
I guess time will tell, but it appears that Audi is taking a more conservative and possibly less expensive direction with their signature headlamp theme.
What if I told you you could buy a vehicle that had the capability to haul seven people, could hit at least 30 MPG on the highway, and had all of the creature comforts you would want, such as navigation and Bluetooth; would you buy it? What if there was a catch? Would sliding doors break the deal for you? Would riding in a jazzed up cargo van send shivers down your spine?
General Motors Company (formerly “Corporation”) today is a shadow of its former self. It sells fewer models through fewer brands since its bankruptcy in 2009. It is reconstructing itself and building itself into a competitive and profitable car company. That transformation appears to be going very well.
Over the years, however, General Motors has often tried to be a trailblazer (no pun intended) in new vehicle design and development. Many of these vehicles failed, but we believe GM deserves a tremendous amount of credit for trying where other companies did not have the creative thought or resources to make a “segment breaking” product. Here are some examples…
Sometimes things start out great and end up only OK, or perhaps worse. The smell of coffee in the morning. Most Superbowls. A full bottle of Patron. We recently had the opportunity to experience the Audi e-tron and came away excited by the vehicle, but wondering why we got to see so much of it.
If you read our F1 post from several days ago, the world known as Formula One was on the brink of becoming CART Wars, PART II. A majority of the teams who race in the international F1 Championship were prepared (so they said), to launch a breakaway series, due in large part to their dissatisfaction with the requirements set forth by the governing body and its president, Max Mosely.
Imagine this: You own a business. One day, you receive a telephone call from the owner of a competitor of yours. After many discussions, you’re essentially offered the opportunity to create a new company overseas; one that will then purchase the assets of the competitor at a highly reduced (but court approved) price, including parts, trained staff, union agreements, and, if you like, part or all of a fully established dealer network. And, your deal will have solid backing from a variety of sources, including the government. If you own Fiat, then that is essentially what you’re doing right now with Chrysler Corporation.
I remember the call like it came just last week, because it did.
“Katrina, I have a new car.”
“It…it has a stick shift.”
“You don’t understand! I don’t know how to drive a stick. I need you to teach me.”
“You’ve made me a very happy woman, grasshopper.”