Editorial - June 2002

In and Out
By Stefan Budricks

The recent naming by the International Carwash Association of the Toyota Camry as the Most Washable Car 2002 made me retrace my steps some 18 months to a Drivin' Through column that looked at auto design trends. I wrote that column upon returning from my annual pilgrimage to the International Auto Show.

The trends, identified at the time, were heading in either of two directions, retro or techno-industrial. The former (exemplified by Chrysler's PT Cruiser) exhibited smooth skin and flush fittings, while the latter was sharp-edged and angular (muted influences of which can be seen in the Cadillac CTS). The smoother surfaces obviously pose fewer challenges to a car wash operation. But it is really only the most extreme examples of the techno-industrial design approach that cause misgivings about their washability.

The criteria considered in selecting the Most Washable Car 2002 included smooth aerodynamic lines; non-protruding and securely attached moldings and ornamentation; bumpers, mirrors, wipers, etc. that are securely attached; windshield wipers that are concealed under the edge of the hood; etc. The list continues. Without exception, each criterion relates to the exterior of the
automobile. It is good and it is right that this is so. By far the most difficulties with washability occur with regard to the outside of the vehicle. But the time for an adjustment in emphasis might be near.

There is a new trend in auto design. If published reports are to be believed, there
is a renewed interest in the appearance and functionality of the vehicle's passenger compartment. "Forget about looking under the hood," Newsweek (May 27, 2002) advises. "These days, interior decorating counts for more than horsepower." (Be still, my beating V8!) The tried and true black plastic dashboard apparently doesn't cut it anymore. New materials and adaptations of some old ones are being used for interior finishes. These include burled walnut - the real thing, but inevitably also some good and some downright awful fake versions - and metallic finishes such as brushed aluminum.
New materials and new finishes may mean the need for new cleaning products and new cleaning techniques. The physical side of interior design seems, for the most part, to help rather than hinder cleaning operations. Dashboard controls tend to be flush-mounted allowing for fingertip operation, a notable exception being the sexy but cloth-snagging toggle switches in the newly released Mini Cooper. The smooth, double-swoop look of the Mercedes dash, first seen in the S class, can now be found in the lesser E and C classes. Though I'm not particularly taken with the aesthetics of this look, it sure makes it a snap to wipe down!

Why this renewed interest in auto interiors? It's simply because that is where more and more people are spending more and more of their time. And that applies not only to commuters, who, Newsweek reports, average 82 minutes a day on the road, but also to the leisure traveler who is carting the entire family off on a vacation or just a weekend getaway.

This trend prompted USA Today (May 24, 2002) to report on in-car entertainment. Much like Newsweek, the newspaper suggests that its readers "forget what's under the hood. These days cabin comforts count." Complete audio/video systems include custom-installed screens and DVD players
with connections to add video games. These "sitters" for the kids in the backseat can set you back as little as $1,500 or, if you really, really need the multi-disk changer, Dolby surround sound, and subwoofer, as much as $8,400! But why stop there? You can add to your system a so-called digital music jukebox with a 10-gigabyte removable hard disk cartridge to hold your MP3 music collection.
In due course, auto interior trends could present car wash operations with new challenges and place frontline staff in close proximity to some very expensive toys.

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