A ‘smart’ Fusion and a gathering of ‘Smart’ owners
Surveys and market research play an important role in the way cars are built these days.
Take the soon-to-be-introduced 2013 Ford Fusion. Ford commissioned the international market research, polling, and consulting firm of Penn Schoen Berland to survey over-18 drivers about their attitudes toward driver assist technology.
This kind of research caught my eye because it rightly described me when it observed that “most Americans say they consider themselves to be careful drivers but admit they would welcome some extra electronic help when they’re behind the wheel.”
Nearly 9 in 10 drivers are right there with me. My biggest challenge is backing a sedan out of a parking lot space with a pickup truck blocking the view in one direction and an SUV with privacy glass doing the same on the other side. A combination of a rear view camera and cross-traffic alert is always welcome in these situations.
Taking this type of alert to another level, two-thirds of survey participants indicated they would be interested in systems that can help them see around other vehicles while backing out of a parking space and detect other vehicles that might be in a blind spot behind them. The third who weren’t interested, we have to assume, are the ones the rest of us are trying to avoid hitting.
The survey had some other interesting findings:
• Nearly 50 percent acknowledged falling asleep at the wheel or know someone who has.
• More than half blame blind spots for accidents or close calls.
• Four in 10 fear parallel parking.
As a result, the new Fusion, already receiving early plaudits for its styling, will offer a comprehensive array of driver assist technologies, breaking some new ground in the midsized market.
And that’s an amazingly competitive place right now. Kia (Optima) and Hyundai (Sonata) have made inroads. Nissan’s new Altima came to market in July, joining the redesigned Volkswagen Passat and Toyota Camry. Honda’s ninth-generation Accord is just going on sale with the Fusion to follow shortly.
Ford’s offerings show where the market is headed. The Fusion provides cross-traffic alert, blind spot indicator, rear camera, radarbased collision warning, active park assist, driver alert, lane-keeping aid, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.
While many buyers will opt to buy lesspricey Fusions, Ford says early orders show higher than expected demand for the new technologies.
“Basic transportation long has been the dominant style in the midsize sedan segment,” says Ford marketing executive Amy Marentic. “This survey shows that as consumers have become accustomed to using electronic assistants in other aspects of life, they are increasingly recognizing how technology can help them cope with the stresses of driving.”
Her quote mirrors those of researchers at MIT from several years back when they were demonstrating the cross-traffic and park-assist features they helped develop in conjunction with Ford.
Driving with a Lane Departure Warning system can be an eye-opener for even the most attentive driver. Most drivers get more warnings from the system than they expect. Ford’s Lane-Keeping System uses a forwardfacing camera to spot visible road markings and vibrates the steering wheel if it senses the car drifting out of its lane without using directional signals. The Ford system also applies some torque (resistance) to the wheel to help nudge the car back into its lane.
While these all are systems that someday could be part of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles, Ford’s research director Randy Visintainer says, “We see the driver as always being at the center of control.”
With more help from their vehicle.
More Smart Cars
The August US figures show Smart sales increased 86 percent over the previous August and were up 91 percent for the first eight months of 2012.
Those numbers aren’t overwhelming—753 units sold in August, 6,821 for the year—but it’s a trend.
Maybe someday the United States will have a gathering of Smart fans such as the 1,594 from 27 countries who were in Antwerp, Belgium, in late August. They set a record with a parade of 1,114 vehicles.
The event, held since 2000, grows every year and will be held in Lucerne, Switzerland, next summer.
It featured test drives of the new SmartforTwo and electric ForTwo and an ebike display along with opportunities to speak with designers and tuners, in addition to group outings and concerts.
Bill Griffith can be reached at WGriffith@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.