Automakers let the light in
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
DETROIT - For back-seat stargazers and those seeking the benefits of a convertible without the wind-blown hair, the auto industry is offering a new look.
A growing number of new cars and crossover vehicles are offering broad panoramic glass roofs composed of one or two large panels, opening up the cabin to the heavens and giving motorists the feel of more head room and natural light as they cruise down the highway.
Ford Motor Co. offers the feature on a number of 2008 vehicles, including the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers, and upcoming releases such as the Ford Flex crossover and Lincoln MKS sedan.
General Motors Corp. makes the feature available on the Cadillac SRX along with a power sunroof with companion skylight option on GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave. Toyota Motor Corp. showed it Monday on the 2009 Venza crossover-sedan while consumers can also find it on vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz R-Class and S-Class.
"It's a feeling of freedom,'' said Peter Pfeiffer, senior vice president of Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz Design.
Sales breakdowns for vehicles with the glass roof options weren't available but a leading supplier of the glass roofs, Webasto Inc., estimates that the number of panoramic glass sunroofs could more than double to about 700,000 vehicles by 2012.
Andreas Weller, Webasto's vice president of business development, estimated that the option costs about $1,200 to $2,000, providing "almost the benefits of the convertible without the drawbacks.''
Sunroofs have long been a popular option for those seeking the open air, but most vehicles have limited the glass to a small space above the front seat. But with the advent of shatter-resistant glass and reinforcements on the roof, the industry has been able to broaden the sunroofs on car-based crossover vehicles and sedans. The glass roofs typically offer tinted glass and moveable shades to give a darker feel in the vehicle.
"With cars becoming more highly styled and in some ways (having) smaller window-lines, cars are becoming a little claustrophobic in size. So these wide open sunroofs give you an air of space,'' said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center.
Ford is making the glass roofs more available, and showed a variant of its popular Mustang sports coupe with a panoramic glass roof at the North American International Auto Show on Sunday.
The panoramic roofs were also displayed on concept vehicles such as the Ford Verve compact.
Auto safety officials say different reinforcements are used on the roof to make it comparable to a conventional roof and most manufacturers are using tempered glass or laminated glass to prevent it from shattering in an accident.
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