Clean Design

By Stefan Budricks, Editor

12/30/13

Less often than I’d like to, I spend a little time at one of the annual auto shows and try to figure out what car washers will be contending with in the near future. Of particular interest are the concept cars, which, while seldom finding their way as-is onto a production line, offer an inkling of where designers are heading and how this might affect the washability of the vehicles to come.

For the first time in several years, I visited the Arizona International Auto Show in Phoenix at the end of November 2013.  The event was rather disappointing. To be kind, I’m going to ascribe it to the timing. “2014 Models!” the cover of the official program proclaimed. Well, duh! Auto manufacturers were introducing 2014 models as far back as this past summer. In all, there was precious little to see that was not already available on the dealers’ showroom floors. In terms of concept vehicles, there was even less on display.

This experience asked to be measured against the last New York Auto Show I attended. Aside from the sheer size of the event and the requisite crush of people, the Big Apple presentation was filled with just-introduced models and scores of concepts — many displayed under overhead mirrors on rotating, tilting platforms. By comparison, the Phoenix show resembled not so much an expo as a carpeted, well-lit parking lot. 

What accounts for this disparity? The New York show is usually held earlier in the year, and the earlier the better is seems. Consider the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) taking place this month in Detroit. The event boasts of a “parade of fabulous new vehicles” — the introduction of an expected 50 concept and production vehicles from across the world that will be seen for the very first time. Every automaker of note has confirmed worldwide debuts at NAIAS.

While my attempts in Phoenix to divine the characteristics of tomorrow’s cars were frustrated, seeing all current makes and models in one venue was beneficial. For example, I’d not realized before how widespread aggressive front-grille styling had become among automakers. From high-end Jaguar and Audi to middle-of-the-road Buick and Mazda to entry-level Hyundai, these large, nearly vertical frontend treatments are no doubt efficient air intakes. I bet they make great bug catchers, too. It’s tough enough having to wrestle bug remnants off the smooth surfaces of a vehicle. Imagine the effort required to extricate the same splatter from the nooks and crannies of an outsize grille. 

Dashboard design has always interested me. Aside from the road, this is what I spend most of the time looking at as I drive. It should at once be appealing and functional. From a car washer/detailer’s point of view it should ideally be as smooth as the windshield. Few automakers oblige. I was struck by how many cars still feature instruments in individual deep-set conical-shaped housings, making cleaning ergonomically challenging and arduous. This, again, runs across all price points — from the Mercedes Benz SL to the Toyota Corolla S. Interestingly, the LE version of the Corolla features an instrument cluster with a single plastic cover — one swipe of the cloth and it’s clean.

Car washers will forever be at the mercy of automobile designers. The job of cleaning these beauties will get done, however — whether through chemistry, technology, or just plain old elbow grease.



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