Episode 789 – And the Nominees Are…, New Management Hires, Google Awarded Autonomous Patent

December 16th, 2011 at 12:00pm

Runtime: 8:30

The finalists for the North American Car and Truck of the Year Awards were announced. Former DaimlerChrysler CEO Tom LaSorda will join Fisker and Mercedes-Benz USA announced its replacement for former CEO, Ernst Lieb. Google was granted a patent for a vehicle that can switch from being human driven to autonomously operated. All that and more, plus Mark Fields, the head of Ford in the Americas, explains how Ford is reacting to all the negative publicity it’s been hit with regarding MyFord touch and its dual-clutch transmissions.

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This is Autoline Daily for Friday, December 16th. And who doesn’t appreciate the fact that it’s Friday? But now, let’s get to the news.

The finalists for the North American Car and Truck of the Year Awards were announced. The organization is comprised of 50 automotive journalists from across the U.S. and Canada . . . and I’m one of them. You know what that means? I’m a whopping 2 percent of the whole voting body! Anyway, we narrowed the list down to just three cars and three trucks out of all the new cars and trucks that came out this year. And the finalists on the car side are the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Passat. On the “truck” side we have the BMW X3, Honda CR-V and Land Rover Evoque. Which ones am I voting for? Well, I’m not saying until after the winners are announced at the Detroit Auto Show next month.

All these new cars are a great thing, but there is a downside. Beijing now has some of the worst air pollution in the world. According to Bloomberg, pollution was so bad last week that hundreds of flights had to be grounded because the smog was so thick. On really bad days one hospital says heart and stroke cases increase by as much as 40 percent.

OK, now for some important personnel appointments in the news. Fisker announced that Tom LaSorda will become the Vice Chairman of the board. Lasorda was the former CEO of DaimlerChrysler. He will be an executive advisor to the management team, reporting to co founder and CEO, Henrik Fisker. Another new hire at Fisker is Richard Beattie, who will be the Chief Commercial Officer, which means he’ll be in charge of marketing, sales and customer service. Beattie had a long career at the Ford Motor Company where he was president of Jaguar Land Rover North America, vice president of marketing at Lincoln Mercury, and served as CEO of Mazda North America. And then at Mercedes Benz USA, Stephen Cannon was named CEO, with responsibility for Mercedes-Benz, Maybach, Sprinter and smart brands in the United States. Cannon replaces Ernst Lieb, who was tossed out for alleged financial irregularities.

And over at Ford, they’re creating their own advertising agency for Lincoln. As part of Team Detroit WPP the-yet-to-be-named agency will be based in New York City and will be headed by Cameron McNaughton, a veteran automotive marketing consultant.

I call it the next big thing. Like it or not, the march toward autonomous vehicles is well under way. Things like lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control are baby steps on the road to self-driving cars. A patent Google was just awarded could turn out to be a giant leap forward. Autoblog reports the internet search giant was granted a patent for a vehicle that can switch from being human driven to autonomously operated. Before the computer can take over, the pilot must direct the vehicle to a special “landing strip” where there’s a barcode affixed to the pavement. It’s more complicated than we have the time for explain here. For all the gritty technical details hit the link in today’s show notes at Autoline.tv.

Coming up next, Mark Fields explains how Ford is reacting to all the negative publicity it’s been hit with regarding MyFord touch and those touchy dual-clutch transmissions.

A year ago Ford was lauded for its tremendous improvements in quality. Now it’s being hammered for problems with MyFord Touch and its dual clutch transmissions. So how is the company dealing with these issues? Well my guest on Autoline This Week is Mark Fields, the head of Ford in the Americas and here’s what he has to say about it.

You can watch that entire interview on our website, Autoline.tv. Also, check our website where you might be able to watch the show on your local public television station. And joining me for that interview are Jean Jennings from Automobile magazine and Jason Stein from Automotive News.

As you pile into the mall for one last weekend of Christmas shopping, make sure you think of the RoundAbout crew. Craig Cole has more over at RoAb HQ.

Yes, folks, it’s that time of year, and that means it’s time for RoundAbout’s annual Holiday Wishlist episode. We’ll give you a rundown of all the best automotive-themed gifts that ought to be on your shopping list, including a punch bowl that the Ford family is trying to track down before the 25th. Our special guest this year is none other than Jim Hall, and you know he’ll have some unique insights into the best gifts of the season. Where can you get all this and more? Autoline.tv at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time, 3:30 Pacific. See you tonight!

And that wraps up today’s show, thanks for watching and we’ll see you on Monday.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog and WardsAuto.com

61 Comments to “Episode 789 – And the Nominees Are…, New Management Hires, Google Awarded Autonomous Patent”

  1. Chuck Grenci Says:

    So how’s the new Malibu, John; I know, gag order (will be interested in your thoughts though when you are allowed to share).

    And on the autonomous driving; we all know about cable t.v. (using this as an example) and how, oh every once and a while, you lose, even digital, signal; how on earth can these automatons have a fail-safe when there’s a glitch in the control, especially if it is in the GPS signal (when thousands of close proximity cars find themselves lost) even for a short (seconds) time.

  2. Chuck Grenci Says:

    And on all these infotainment systems; they are just going to have to be more intuitive (in the future) or maybe even universal. It is almost to the point where the danger lies in driving a different car than you main ride. There are real distractions to: turn on the lights, wipers, change radio function, etc. To parallel this, even cellphones are so unique that people can’t even make the simplest (you know, a phone call) of functions from one persons to another (at times).

  3. HtG Says:

    On in car silicon. The processors in cars are going to get lots faster, real quick. The fastest cell phone is using dual core chips, while quad core chips are just coming into tablets. Intel is threatening to make faster, cheaper, cooler chips too. So automakers are going to have much more power to play with, tech wise.
    (not that I’d want to be selling a car four years from now if it has today’s ‘yestertech.’)

  4. cwolf Says:

    Lincoln creates new ad agency? What a yawner! They have nothing to promote except new colors. Rumors of reintroducing the Town Car would be a possitive,but the C-concept isn’t something I would consider a luxury car fitting for Lincolns “said” new image. Maybe it will proove itslf once it hits the dealers showrooms. For now I suggest Lincoln dealers keep putting used cars in the showroom because the floor would be bare without them. Such a shame,too!

  5. pedro fernandez Says:

    What do autonomous cars and electric cars have in common? Nobody wants them. But they keep trying to ram them down our throats. Solution: just like the anti-drug campaign: “just say NO!”

  6. Autos101 Says:

    Chuck Grenci:

    Re #1

    I just read a review of the new 2012 or 13 Malibu Eco by the excellent Michael Karesh.

    He, as well as I, noticed the very chunky, poor looking overhangs both front and rear.

    As it turns out, instead of INcreasing the wheelbase from the current edition, somehow the geniuses at GM went back to their bad old ways… they REDUCED the wheelbase by a WHOPPING (not to say insanely idiotic!) 4.5 inches, RUINING interior room, esp in the rear!

    WHY in the world did the fools do that??? TO save a few measly bucks? BAD Old GM all over again!!!

    If you have not looked at this closely, do so and you will realize how BAD these cars with long lengths and very short wheelbases look.

  7. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I haven’t been in Beijing, but was in Shanghai a few years ago, and the air seemed to be fouled mainly by zillions of mopeds and small scooters with two stroke engines. Also, the obviously old-tech diesel busses were spewing lots of smoke. Probably Beijing would have been similar, or worse.

    I’d have thought that most of the two stroke bikes would be gone by now, but maybe not. I wouldn’t think the increased number of new cars would cause Beijing’s bad air.

  8. Kit Gerhart Says:

    re. #6,

    Well, aesthetics of cars, as with other things, are in the eye of the beholder. Most of the comments on AW about the appearance of the new Malibu were positive. Also, I suspect a lot of people like the looks of that other car pictured in the TTAC Malibu article, (1961 Coupe de Ville) 8 foot rear overhang and all.

    It looks like the new Malibu traded some rear seat space for trunk space, while your “7″ and some other cars do the opposite. Different people, and car companies, have different priorities.

    Also, how does changing the wheelbase of a certain size FWD car change what it costs to build? The wheelbase of a front drive is just a matter of where you attach the rear suspension to the unibody. That shouldn’t affect cost much, if any.

  9. Autos101 Says:

    I lived and worked in Shanghai for a month in Late May-July 1 a few years ago, and also went to Beijing for a 3 day trip by train.

    Shanghai took a couple days getting used to, and in Beijing, climbing the Wall at Badaling on June 22 (summer solstice) was far tougher than I thought. You essentially go up and down a mountain, not a short wall.

    There was pollution in Beijing, but it was not as bad as it must be now.

  10. LS ford Says:


    Great interview pannel with AA and Mark Fields. I thought the questions were great, and the interview was good. I look forwad to your addititonal questions in a follow up interview. Jean and Jason provided some great questions and dialoge as well. Great show.

  11. Autos101 Says:

    No, Aesthetics are not just in the eye of the beholder.

    Most people recognize that Audis are beautiful inside and out and Subarus are almost intentionally ugly.

    In addition to being ugly and looking ridiculous, long overhangs, esp up front, give the impression (true or false) that the car is poorly balanced and about to come off beyond the front axle.

  12. Autos101 Says:

    There should be PROGRESS when one goes from the current version to the next.

    But in the case of the new Malibu, instead of IN creasing the Wheelbase, they did not only reduce it, they did so by a WHOPPING 4.5 inches!

  13. Autos101 Says:

    The poor design is more noticeable when you look at the car at a 90 deg angle.

    Vehicles that are otherwise very cute appear very poorly balanced from that angle

    Eg the VW Golf, even Honda Accords and Civics.

  14. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Bigger/longer doesn’t always mean progress. They may be positioning the new expected Impala to take over the longer wheelbase model; the current Malibu/Impala are perhaps too similar. As usual, I will wait and see what is really presented/available before making a hard/fast opinion. (plus I’m a GM/Chevrolet fan for ‘forever’)

  15. Autos101 Says:

    NO, you miss the point.

    It is not about either bigger or longer.

    I did not complain about the new Malibu being shorter in overall length, nor about being heavier, lighter, or whatever.

    Read my posts again. I use words carefully.

    And read up on DESIGN. Because my comments are on superior DESIGN. WIthout necessarily higher cost.

    as McElroy correctly said, it costs the same $ to design a beautiful car or an ugly one.

    There have been Acuras and Hondas that have been ugly and ones that were very cute.

    I don’t think Honda spend a dime more on the good looking ones.

    Buying a car is an EMotional purchase.

    WHo in his or hers right mind would shell out thousands of $ to buy something unflattering? CLothes, ,cars, or whatever.

  16. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The new Malibu is more like the Camry, the perennial best seller in the segment. Maybe the designers were looking at that.

    To me, by far the best recent Malibu was the Maxx hatchback. Of course, as most people here probably know, I like hatchbacks and wagons, and rarely buy anything else.

  17. next2pool Says:

    I wouldn’t jump to conclusions too quickly on the wheelbase issue. Longer wheelbases mean bigger turn circles. It’s all about mastering the right balance and wheelbase is only one of many considerations. I have total confidence that GM thought this through very carefully. Let’s see what the press and consumers have to say.

  18. cwolf Says:

    Chuck G,I think you are correct on this one. Not sure if it was from something read or from a GM visiting engr.,but the plateform was reduced for futere std’s for other to be built upon. It was intended for the Impala to take its place.For obvious reasons the trend is directed at making cars smaller. Who knows? It might not be a bad idea for Audi to make their cars shorter,as well. That way the service dept’s could get more Audis in for repairs.

  19. steve Says:

    How does a honda anything get classified as a truck?

  20. tj Martin Says:

    Ciao mi amicos

    Hey ! Questa technologia funziona anche de qui

    Eco . Che patso ! England indeed ! Hah !

    A few quickies before dinner

    Equinox – Oh yes Kit the equinox is Cheaper than the GLK . There is a reason for that . BECAUSE the Equinox is a cheap piece of JUNK ! Trying to compare the Equinox to the GLK is like comparing McDonalds to Le Cirque .

    POLLUTION in BEIJING – WTH you guys been anyway ! Pollution levels have been at toxic levels at least as far back as the 70′s . COAL being the primary source . New news indeed

    GAS QUALITY – Everyone here missed out on the whole Tier One recommendations from BMW , LEXUS , M-B , MINI etc a year or two ago ?

    Here’s a clue . Formed student all grown up IS a Chemical Engineer for one of the major oil producers . In his words ” All oil coming out of the ground is not equal , nor is the refined product ( gas ) from the refineries as all refineries ARE NOT created equal .

    Stick in the quality of additives AND ALL GAS IS NOT CREATED EQUAL ! And here’s a clue from the Phizer chemist aunt . All Aspirin isn’t either . No matter what the hype they feed you

    MARCHIONNE – Nobody comments yesterday about Marchionne’s pretentious goals for FIAT’s profits in 2012 ? After every major financial pundit shows FIAT/Chrysler lost a bundle this year with no reason to hope for otherwise in 2102 ?

    I’m so terribly disappointed in y’all .


    1) Styling – Boring
    2) Mechanical – Same
    3) Performance – Same
    4) Interior – Same

    Seems GM is trying to out Camry the Camry in the dullness category and succeeding rather well thank you . Too bad we know full well the Malibu definitely WILL NOT be matching the Camry’s quality and reliability

    Anyway dinner calls . Oh HtG . Come on , what in the UK rhymes with Vermont ? As well as the song was not a hint to my current location , but rather about myself .

    Hmmn . If’n when I pop in again , you still haven’t got it we’ll have a round of ….

    WHERE’s TJ ?

    Ciao all

    PS; Dite ciao a ‘ Bob ‘ per mi ;-)

  21. W L Simpson Says:

    Alas!, for the poor designers, whose careers are
    dependent upon the stroke of a pen.

  22. Kit Gerhart Says:

    “Equinox – Oh yes Kit the equinox is Cheaper than the GLK . There is a reason for that . BECAUSE the Equinox is a cheap piece of JUNK”

    I obviously was not saying that the Equinox is a direct competitor with the GLK. It is, however, a serious contender in its market segment.

  23. 012345 Says:

    To Mr. McElroy,
    Do the new technology systems, like MyFord Touch and others; have much influence in the car of the year nominations? or rather, how do you judge something that has nothing to do with gas mileage or ride comfort or the general build quality of a car?

  24. Kit Gerhart Says:

    My MINI manual doesn’t say to use “top tier” gas, but maybe that has changed since my car was new. I e-mailed MINI through their web site to ask if I should use “top tier” gas. It will be interesting to see what they have to say.

    BTW, a few years ago, I asked GM if I should use “top tier” in my Malibu Maxx. They responded, saying to use unleaded with 87 or higher (R+M)/2 octane, the same as the manual said, with no recommendation of “top tier,” even though GM was one of the original members of the “top tier” consortium.

  25. cwolf Says:

    tj Re#19 You are splitting hairs on the oil topic and,off topic,about asprin. The differences you may be pertaining to exist at varying levels of the cracking tower.But for all practical purposes,due to strict controls and standards,the final product variability is small enough to consider as being the same.
    As far as asprin goes,again due to strict FDA guidelines,any lable containing the word”asprin” can be considered to have the identical compound make-up. Different FDA requirements and a seperate patent is needed for products not including the name”asprin” on the lable. However doses can vary. My wife is in the medical writting field for product developement and FDA acceptance. Not long ago,she was the director of the medical writer section for Pfizer!

  26. Autos101 Says:

    Speaking of your MINI, Kit,

    it is the perfect example of the significance of small overhangs in a tight, attractive design.

    IF your MINI had the overhangs of this new Malibu, (not to mention several even worse cases, especially the god-awful, 212 ” long, and tiny wheelbase (comparatively) dinosaur Crown Vic, and assorted Buick Park Avenues..LOL)

    You would never shell out the extra thousands to buy it. You might even wear a brown bag over your head when you would drive it.

  27. HtG Says:

    24 aspirin. I thought generic versions of drugs only had to have 85% the effectiveness of the original. Some of you may wondering how this is car related. Me too.

  28. Kit Gerhart Says:

    @steve, #19,
    The CRV is a “truck” because, as an “crossover SUV,” a segment that has been considered “trucks” in the U.S. for many years. CRV has higher ground clearance than a car, and is available with 4WD.

    Do you ask the same question about the X3? It is a more expensive, higher performance example of the same type vehicle as CRV.

  29. HtG Says:

    I swear some of these ‘trucks’ are all about an aging population. Who here wants to try getting into my Miata? If you’re not fit, it’s just easier to lean into a car with a high seat, and then get out again. Isn’t this focusing on who’s got the benjamins what’s going on with very intense headlights, too?

  30. Kit Gerhart Says:

    For all you EV haters, here’s a (fairly positive) review of the Leaf:


  31. HtG Says:

    #15 A1, would you agree that depending on how you define design, it can cost more for certain things. Like those LED headlight accents on Audis look pricey. And bigger wheels look good but cost more. How about putting more creases in the metal that may require more strikes?

    Beijing pollution. The Gobi desert is to the west of the Middle Kingdom capitol, and the winds carry fine dust over the metropolis. Combine this with the dirty coal plants, now you’re talkin’.

  32. bob e K Says:

    #20 tj martin….why do you hate GM so much ? I have a 2010 Malibu 2LT 3.6 liter V6 with 50,000 trouble free miles…great styling,fit, finish etc. I do not feel they are in anyway inferior to the Camry ! and as for the Equinox it is not a POS ….sales are excellent….keep up the good work GM,& Ford

  33. Brett Says:

    When the Malibu came out last time, it was bigger than the existing Impala. So, they could make a bigger Impala or they could “right-size” the Malibu.

    Autonomous cars. “Nobody wants ‘em” I call B.S. on that. To most people, a car is an appliance that takes them from point A to point B, but most of ‘em would love to not have to bother with having to do all the driving. It would free up so much time to text friends, play “Angry Birds”, read an ebook, etc. Sure, people might care about how their car looks, sounds, or smells, but how it drives? Not really. You might as well ask ‘em how they like their dishwasher or fridge.

  34. HtG Says:

    Brett, you must know my sister

  35. cwolf Says:

    I have become intrigued by the amazing hwy mileage many SUV types and 4whl dr’s are getting. Both meet or exceed many mid-size cars. For example,the Equinox estimates are 32HWY and the Subaru Impreza claims 36 hwy. This tells me ground clearance isn’t as large of a factor as I thought and some AWD variations should not be a turn-off to those relying on good mileage in selecting a car.

  36. Kit Gerhart Says:

    tj hates everything except Mercedes-Benz, which he now owns, and MINI, to a lesser extent, which he had before the Mercedes.

    He really hates GM, Chrysler, VW, and Audi. He never mentions Nissan, one way or the other. He likes Ford better than some, but doesn’t mention them too much either. Also, he really hates all hybrids and EV’s, especially the Volt.

  37. Kit Gerhart Says:

    There are a lot of people who would like autonomous cars, but ones that could actually be used for real transportation are almost science fiction, many years away from reality.

  38. Autos101 Says:

    Kit: TJ has owned an Audi before, he said so himself, and paid the price in repairs etc. Probably VWs too.

    He does hate all hybrids indiscriminately, and he should distinguish between FOOLISH Hybrids (which are the vast majority, and especially the 7 series and LS460 hybrids!) and the AWESOME PRIUS FAMILY. Eventually he’ll learn.

    But he is 100% CORRECT in having nothing but utter contempt for this utterlyuu FAILED “Hail Mary” pass, LUTZ’s FOLLY, the “Stupid, Stupid Volt”, AND ALL these utter JOKES, the PURE EVS that still breathe thanks to the infusion of BILLIONS OF WASTED TAXPAYER DOLLARS.

    Autonomous cars: a solution searching for a problem. Why the hell would I surrender the JOY OF DRIVING to a stupid computer? Even using the cruise control on long trips takes away something.

  39. Autos101 Says:

    WHat a pile of nonsense…

    Aspirin is aspirin. it is a chemical formula. WISE UP HTG and spare us your “85%” voo doo crapola, OR PROVE IT. If you want to waste your $ buying Beyer, waste it. Let me know and I’ll go buy some Bayer shares, tho.

    Additives are unimportant to 99% of drivers. It is practically IMPOSSIBLE to prove that any additive made a major difference, as far as repairs and longevity of any production vehicle, vs using any other gas with or without other additives

    AND turning circle is NOT just proportional to the wheelbase. I drive an AWESOME 202 inch, 121 inch wheelbase car, and any fool that will tell me that it is worse in turning circle than that PATHETIC, 212 inch BUT … 112 inch wheelbase Crown Vic, should go have their heads examined.

  40. Autos101 Says:


    I searched it. Turning circle for the E38 7 series BMW 740iL, wheelbase 120.9 inches, lentgh =201.7 inches, is 12.2 meters,

    while for the dinosaur Crown Vic,


    at a ridiculous 212 inches long and with a 114.7 inch wheelbase, it has a 40.3 foot turning circle, ie, 12.20 meters, identical to the BMW!

    I also looked up the Buick park Ave,


    206.8″, WB=113.8″, and turning circle 40 to 40.9 feet, ie MORE than even the 121 inch WB BMW!

    So, no old wives tales.

  41. jesse Says:

    Ford really should advertise the Lincoln TOWN CAR more.That ugly SUV they have out there is hard to look at!The town Car is perhaps the finest AMERICAN LUXURY car built with regards to dependability!Having been in the limo business for close to 20 years in NYC and the metro area and driving Lincoln all that time except for the occasional Caddy,I can attest to their longevity and reliability first hand!I’m driving an 07 now!!!

  42. Autos101 Says:

    The Town Car is god-awful.

    It sure is not a luxury vehicle, its interior is cheap.

    The 1990-99 (?) Town Car, which looked good on the outside, was unbel,ievably cramped inside, in the FRONT seat.

    Due to its MORONIC design, it had a BENCH seat, and once I took a ride from one NY Airport to another in one of these POS, and I my knees were up against the dash, hurting, because the short driver had to bnring the GOD DAMNED Bench most of the way forward.

    the current TOwn car is not better. It looks UGLY on the outside, obese and poorly proportioned.

    I took a ride in the back seat of it in FLorida at a conference, going to the airport, and the rear bench (this is what it was… no carefully designed individual seats) was quite uncomfortable and provided ZERO lateral support.

  43. Autos101 Says:

    That is NOT a LUXURY car.

    You should try the Merc S-class or the Lexus LS460L sometime. Front or back. THEN you will appreciate what a true luxury car is.

  44. Kit Gerhart Says:

    They no longer make the Town Car, so it would not be useful to advertise it.

  45. cwolf Says:

    Auto101,Your “my way or the highway” expressions make you a hard pill to swallow,but your take on the Town Car is mostly true. You have to remember that it has out lived its life cycle. Yet,there remains a loyal following for the Town Car that Lincoln cannot afford to ignor. As jesse said,it is,in a word,practically indestructable and a good value for a luxury car. Based upon the little I have heard,the next gen. should address the the critisizms you stated above. I like Lincolns,but admitt they do not distiguish themselves enough from Fords,thus the price is not a good value,except for perhaps the MKZ. To date, I don’t believe Lincoln is living up to its promise of creating a new identity. The new stuff seems to be more of the same. And that new small CUV certainly doesn’t look like it should fit the new immage. I can only hope it and the next gen. Town Car lives up to buyer expectations. After all, it is an American luxury car and costs much less than most imports.Keep an open mind,Auto.

  46. Autos101 fan club Says:


    Welcome back Bob, Thor, or whatever you are calling yourself these days, I hope you are the first to be thrown off this blog because you simply can’t write something without flaming someone. Maybe you can come up with a more creative name next time, but we will always figure out it’s you, DO YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN?

  47. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The only Town Cars I’ve been in had split front seats, so a short driver wouldn’t cramp the passenger. It’s crazy that the split seats weren’t standard.

    As far as the back seats, I thought they were comportable enough in the long version. Do you really need lateral support in a car as ill-handling as a Town Car?

    Anyway, the TC was a very primative car, long overdue for retirement. I hope they eventually come up with a decent replacement.

  48. Truman Says:

    Looks to me with all these Dudes moving from company to another and then another, and all saying the one i’m with now is the best. It’s a lot the flavor of the month — Lets just get some new blood flowing all around, not the same old hash with a new topping for it. Move over boys let some fresh ideas flow. The only exception to this is Ole Bob Lutz, I think he can see past the blinders.

  49. Steve Says:

    Why no trucks on the Truck list? Create an SUV list.

    My vote goes to the GMC V-6 shortbed automatic for trucks.

  50. Gary Paul Says:

    Regarding the Town Car Comments:
    (his is a longer post so skip it if you don’t like that!)

    The Town Car was based on the Panther platform (which included the the Town C, Ford Crown Victoria, & the Mercury Grand Marquis) with roots going back decades. Ford Motor Company (which includes the Lincoln Division) made decisions back in about 1995 to place their engineering emphasis on the truck/sport utility area for various reasons which I won’t touch upon here. As the Panther platform was to be seriously updated for the 1998 model year, Ford made the decision to spend relatively less on these vehicles in a few areas, such as the interior, and this was obvious if you compare the 1997 model year TC to the 98. This does not mean that the Panther vehicles became “junk.” It means that FoMoCo placed their development on the back burner, keeping them alive, and authorizing less competitive updates, because it cost Ford little to maintain the vehicles market place presence and these platforms (specifically the Ford CV) were the foundation for most of the US Police Cars, US Taxis, & US Government Fleet vehicles, while the TC was the foundation for the limousine business and was most popular because of its rugged, easier to maintain and repair design.

    The interior of the 1990-1997 model(before the big 1998 model year update to the platform)was certainly roomy (with the exception of the intrusion of the drive-shaft tunnel) as many big men will attest.

    The Front seat was especially comfortable because it was without the space robbing console and was of the “bench” design, so easy to slide into and out of. This design combined with the easy to use column automatic shift selector, and the standard SPLIT bench seat meant that there was plenty of room for the driver and passenger, as the seats could be adjusted individually. I mentioned the above details because of previous comments indicating that the TC 1990-1997 model year (not through 1999) was “unbelievably cramped” in the front seat. The bench seat has been under-appreciated and I predict will have a reawakening in the near future as designers realize its advantages.

    Almost all front bench seats in vehicles sold for the public today have a split design. Older vehicles of course may still have a bench that is not split!

    Now the rear bench is an area that has needed attention on the TC, Crown Vic, and many other cars for about 110 years. The Lincolns of the past 30 years have comfortable back seats for short trips but do not have the proper support for anything more.

    The “new” TC was updated in for the 1998 and 2003 models years and again Ford basically milked the design, doing minimal updates, to a vehicle they would kill when it made economic sense to do so. You could see the writing on the wall with the 1998 model year when, relative to what it could have been, Ford downgraded the relative degree of updating and attention it could have given to the models. For example, Ford even took away the ONLY car-based platform that could tow 5000 lbs. (1996 model year was the last when the vehicles could have a factory equipped Class 3 tow package) and funneled customers to the truck lines only, if they wanted to tow heavier loads. In addition, honestly, how much advertising did Ford do with these vehicles after the 1999 model year updates? Relatively little–by design! It was clear to insiders that Ford was simply trying to get as much out of the platform as they could for as long as they could. For a vehicle that, according to Jerry Flint (Forbes), made Ford billions of $$ and engendered a lot of respect from owners, it seems regrettable– but understandable– considering Ford’s emphasis on trucks in US also poured $$ into the company. Yet that same overemphasis on trucks here in USA while delaying a worldwide integration of car design (like they ARE doing today) back in the 1990s and early years of the post millennium, meant a dearth of Ford car platforms (many of which were more fuel efficient & well engineered) that could have helped Ford in the US during a downturn…

    One golden thread in this scenario of the Panther Platform being so out of date, is that the vehicle is about as bullet-proof a design (durability/relative ease of maintenance & repair/ low cost of servicing/ plenty of heavy duty police and taxi replacement parts available) as is there is out there. If this was not true, Cab companies and police departments would not have used them all these years.

    Interesting Discussion!

  51. Autos101 Says:

    Kit: Re lateral support in the TOwn Car

    It is needed even more exactly BECAUSE this vehicle is a terrible handler!

    Any “flagship” luxury vehicle needs to have two THRONES, not a BENCH, in the back, in addition to two in the front.

    The recent vintage Town Car I had to take from the hotel in FL to the Airport had basically a bench with lots of padding in the rear. It was not confortable at any speed, whether on a straight line or during turns.

    Far less expensive cars than that have far better designed rear seats. Including domestic ones.

    As for the front bench, in a 1990-91 TOwn car, a conservatively styled model that actually looked good on the outside to me, it was utterly unacceptable. I wonder if something was broken and I had to move forward and have my knees crushed against the dash.

    I had not had this happen to me since about 1985, when I had to ride with a friend who had one of these god-awful K-Cars, which was much smaller than the Town car, and it also had a bench. My friend was probably a whole foot shorter than me. Quite uncomfortable too.

    But what is acceptable in a then $5k car is not acceptable in a $50k one!

  52. Autos101 Says:

    Gary Paul (49)

    I used to be a big fan of Jerrry FLint when he was alive and never missed his monthly columns at Wards on the Web and other places.

    I know the Panther Platform has a devoted following, and it has sure lasted a long while, so it was not a total failure.

    But I took a Ford Crown Vic taxi recently in Wash DC and I was stunned that such a huge vehicle (212 inch overall is almost a foot longer than my 7 series LONG version.

    BTW, I am not some 6’9″ NBA player, I am barely 6′ 1″ and about average weight. Still, I was amazed that there was almost zero LEG room in the rear, my knees again were pressed against the metal backs of the front seat-divider.

    That is a terrible design for a Taxi. Cars two feet shorter, like the Malibu Maxx, probably have more rear leg room than the 212 inch DInosaur. Of course it has a huge trunk, I bet bigger than the average-size trunk of the 7 series, but then taxis should really be Wagons so they could take a family of 4 to the airport WITH their luggage.

  53. Autos101 Says:

    In the same trip to DC where I took the Crown VIc, on the way back I took a PRius taxi, and because I was familiar with the terrible rear headroom of the PREVIOUS Prius model, I sat in front. Actually the car was the current model, and the driver told me he gets 50 MPG average, which I fully believe for a taxi on the road all day long and city driving.

    The Prius V (wagon) should make a FANTASTIC Taxi, having 50% MORE interior room (mostly in the cargo area) than the regular Prius.

    And I always advocated some kind of hybrid for police cars, esp. those who idle for HOURS with their radars on the highway.

  54. HtG Says:

    “The bench seat has been under-appreciated and I predict will have a reawakening in the near future as designers realize its advantages.”

    I also noticed that the new Malibu is shorter but wider.

    Are engineers accommodating a Johnny La Rue phenotype?

  55. Autos101 Says:

    “The bench seat has been under-appreciated”?

    I totally disagree. The fact that it still exists means that its DISADVANTAGES (so clearly stated in its NAME!) are very under-appreciated.

  56. HtG Says:

    Have you observed how wheel chairs are getting wider, too?

    Older and fatter. That’s us.

  57. Autos101 Says:

    Nothing to do with that.

    There were benches all over the US autos 50 years ago, while the more sophisticated Europeans had contoured seats

  58. Autos101 Says:

    Now the original Chrysler 300 was a good looking car, distinctive too (its 2nd generation not so much).

    It had a healthy 120 ” wheelbase, almost S-series/7-series territory, and short overhangs.

    The eye-pleasing design sold the car, not its poor reliability and interior quality

  59. Autos101 Says:

    CWOLF #45

    I agree (surprisingly?). Lincoln and Cadillac owned the luxury market 50 years ago with 90% of the market share (!). Back then the Lexus 400-430-460LS and the BMW 7 series did not even exist (1989-90 and 1977 respectively) and few Merc S class were sold.

    The Lincolns and Cadillacs of the time had a tremendous presence on the exterior, were far bigger inside and esp in the trunk than the few Euro luxury cars, and much more power.

    But their interiors may not have been the best, with fake wood, no leather frequently, and poor instrument gauges (important for the Driver)

    Peter sez the new Fusion will be real good, and also new Lincolns.

    But it is a more competitive field.

    TO seriously compete with Merc, BMW, Lexus (and Audi and Jag as an afterthought), Linc and Cad should have a flagship of about the following specs:

    205-210 in long, 120-125 in wheelbase, about 73 in wide by 58+ in tall, v8 making 400 HP (400 is the new.. 200 or 300!) and 20 city-27 hwy MPG EPA. (can be done, with 6+++ gears)

  60. Gary Paul Says:

    The Bench seat is a design that can have a rebirth because technology can allow it to both remain easy to access and at the same time offer greater ability to hold the driver in place. As the “baby boomer” generation (in the USA) grows older, an emphasis will build for providing comfort and ease of entry while still offering reasonable support to hold the driver/passenger in place. And recall that this will still be particularly popular in areas with relatively wide flat roads. European seating evolved its emphasis on holding individuals in place in buckets because the tiny cars there did not allow much room for a bench seat and in addition, try driving on so many of the European roads and you can recognize how the tight twists and turns and often limited space that demands a driver be held carefully in place to negotiate (try driving a lumbering Town Car through mountain switchbacks & narrow roads—it’s ridiculous!). As computer controlled suspensions and other technologies help smooth out the road however, the bench seat will have further reason to rise up out of the ashes. Of course I love a good bucket seat as on my performance vehicles, or on any vehicle when designed properly, yet I appreciate the idea of the bench seat (as on my Town Car) reinvigorated as a desirable (!) choice because of fresh applications of technology to both the seat & suspension that allow it to function in a far more supportive manner than any past version. Yes, bench seats will likely return– but in a new and highly adjustable format–especially on larger vehicles.

  61. Brett Says:

    I owned an ’03 Crown Vic LX Sport

    I shocked the living Hell out of some BMW and Mercedes owners on freeways around Houston. Not that I beat ‘em, but that hung with ‘em and didn’t take any of their type-A crap.

    My only beef with it was the conservative HP rating of the engine. I’d have loved a Marauder with the 32-valve DOHC engine, but the Mercury dealers were deluded about their value. I offered the local Merc dealer $5k over the price I had for the LX Sport and he laughed. I told him to eat the bastard along with the other twenty he had sitting on the lot.

    The Panther is/was a great platform that was underappreciated within FoMoCo. I miss that car…