||Panoramic Views Go Through the (Sun) Roof
More motorists want to let the sun in.
Giant panoramic sunroofs are becoming all the rage and buyers are showing a willingness to spend more than $1,000 for that open-air feeling.
Once associated with sporty cars, these huge panes of glass across the roof of family vehicles allow passengers in the second or third row to gaze up at the sky, even if they can't always open the roof that far back.
It is a profitable trend for carmakers, because panoramic roofs as an option can add $1,000 to $2,000 to the price of a new vehicle. The feature also adds to the residual value of the pricier vehicles. Kelley Blue Book is now gathering data on its contribution to the value of a vehicle, said Alex Gutierrez, KBB's manager of vehicle valuation, in Irvine, Calif.
Sunroofs in general "have always been big sellers and a profitable feature," said analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics in Birmingham.
And they continue to increase in popularity -- as well as in size. What started as a feature in sporty sedans has become widespread. For the 2000 model year, automakers in the United States installed 3.5 million sunroofs, and 1 in 5 vehicles had a moonroof of some dimension, according to data from WardsAuto.com.
The figures have been on a steady rise. By the 2008 model year, almost a third of vehicles sold had a sunroof, with more than 5 million installed. Vehicle sales as a whole fell for the 2010 model year, but the percentage of cars with a sunroof increased.
The popularity spawned these new giant multirow versions, complete with a sun protection factor of as much as 50 -- far above recommended levels.
The glass is chemically engineered to transmit light, but not heat.
"The idea is more open air and the feel of more openness when you are in a vehicle," said Amy Marentic, Ford Motor Co. global marketing manager. "Some people like the idea of a convertible but don't want to go all the way."
Ford debuted its new "Vistaroof" in 2007 on the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. Glass spans the front and back seats, but only the front portion opens.
"We wanted it to be huge," Marentic said, and make a vehicle more fun to drive.
The feature is now on four vehicles, including the Ford Flex and new Explorer.
The Ford Mustang and Lincoln MKT offer a full glass roof that does not open. Highway driving under the stars "adds to the visceral experience of driving a Mustang," said Jim Owens, Mustang marketing manager.
While Ford expected its Vistaroof to be popular, executives say they were shocked by how many customers are ordering it.
In its first year, 40 percent of Edge buyers wanted Vistaroof and that figure has grown to 56 percent today, Marentic said. Already half of Explorer orders demand the huge roof.
Across town, General Motors Co. offers combination sunroof/skylights on the Buick Enclave crossover, LaCrosse sedan and Cadillac SRX and Escalade SUVs.
So far this year, 55 percent of Enclave buyers want the $1,400 feature and 47 percent want the $1,200 roof on the LaCrosse, said Buick spokesman Nick Richards.
"People like the open airiness it provides in the cabin," he said.
Cadillac makes the "ultraview sunroof" standard on most trim levels of the SRX and Escalade, so the take rate exceeds 90 percent.
About 80 percent of CTS sales include the $1,450 sunroof.
Chrysler Group LLC first offered a dual-pane panoramic sunroof -- it looks like two roofs and opens halfway -- on the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee last fall.
It is a $1,195 option on the Laredo X model and purchased by 1 in 10 buyers, said spokesman Rick Deneau. It is standard on higher trim levels.
More than a third of Chrysler 300 sedan customers are paying a $1,295 premium for one, Deneau said, and the take rate jumps to 70 percent on the 300C.
Similar panoramic roofs can be seen on Mercedes, Mini, Porsche and Audi models, and others.
"We are seeing more of them, but they are not yet universal," said analyst Hall, who fears that much heavy glass on the roof could compromise the structure of a vehicle over time. The glass roofs are not part of the main roof structure that helps provide rollover protection. Glass is treated to prevent injury from shattering, said Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood.
Automakers say they worked to ensure the vehicles are quiet, fun and safe to drive in the sun.
"We don't want passengers to be surprised with a sunburn," Marentic said.
(Source: The Detroit News, 08/30/11)
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