Volume 11, Issue 2 -March/April 2009
2008 NAIAS Displays Period of Transition for Automotive Industry
by Dale Malcolm
For anyone who has spent time at the beach, the 2009 North American International Auto Show might remind you of the ocean tides. At the ocean, the tide is either coming in or going out. For a brief period up to four times a day, a condition called “slack tide” occurs. At this point the tide is neither coming in nor going out. It is a transition period. Such is the current condition of the automotive industry. Porsche, Suzuki, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Infiniti and Rolls Royce all chose not to display at this show. General Motors is looking to sell or close several of its brands including Saab. Land Rover and Jaguar are now owned by Tata Motors in India. Ford is looking for a buyer for Volvo. New companies like Fisker, Tesla, BYD and Brilliance moved into the spaces previously occupied by other brands. While many introduced new models and showed off concept vehicles, there clearly were fewer than in previous years.
Last year brought a downturn in the economy on the heels of record high gasoline prices. Fuel economy and environmental concerns have forced many consumers to rethink their next vehicle purchase. And, on that note, this year’s car show was as much about promoting the car companies as it was about the cars themselves. The tide started turning at last year’s show with a new emphasis on “green” technology. Paired with fuel economy, the next generation of vehicles could be powered by any of the numerous systems displayed. Many of these are already in production, such as hybrids that use electric power for low speeds and to boost the small conventional engine. Proposed are plug-in hybrids that will charge overnight and run exclusively on electric power for the first 40+ miles of travel. There were also hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines as well as hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. “Green” was everywhere, even under attendees’ feet at the Toyota booth.
While much of the newest technology was hidden under the hoods or beneath the floors of the vehicles, several concepts and trends became apparent. Several vehicles, like the Chrysler 200C concept and Lincoln’s C Concept, were as much a showcase for their latest interactive electronics as they were about the design of the car. The Chrysler 200C Concept dash looked like a large Apple iPhone with a steering wheel in the middle. Interactive cruise control that slows the vehicle when too close to the vehicle it is following is now available in several vehicles. Lincoln MKT joined Lexus with automatic parking assist.
Glass of Note
The amount of bare-edged glass used is well past the halfway mark. This trend decreases cost for the vehicle manufacturers and leaves a cleaner, simpler line between body and glass. There were at least six models that had fixed, encapsulated vent glasses either in the door or just ahead of it. They all looked expensive and difficult to replace. Hybrid vehicles are easy to spot as they usually have four to five badges identifying them as such. The use of fixed and moveable roof glass also is increasing. The boundary between the windshields and roof lites can be less than 4 millimeters. The 2010 Prius roof glass will have built-in solar cells to run a fan, cooling the car while parked in the sun.
Capitalizing on the Down Economy
Until the economy picks up, and credit loosens, many people will likely put off the purchase of a new vehicle for several months—if not years. This may be an opportunity for the glass industry to market their services to people that may want to fix a few things on their cars so they will look better and last longer.
Dale Malcolm is the technical services manager for Dow Automotive in Dayton, Ohio.
Washington, D.C., Auto Show Brings Glass Innovations