Design engineers list their own favorite cars

The people who design the cars that you and I buy - what would they want if they were in the market for a new car?

According to Design News, a monthly publication for design engineers, the Japanese-built Honda Accord is at the top of the list. Out of all the readers surveyed, 4 percent said they would opt for an Accord.

Next in line was the Oldsmobile Cutlass, which netted 3.7 percent of those who took part in the quiz.

Among the 19 top cars, starting with the Honda Accord and ending with the Oldsmobile Omega (1.1 percent) are, in order: Chevrolet Citation, Ford Escort, Chevrolet Camaro, Buick Regal, Toyota Corolla, Chrysler Reliant, Toyota Celica, Dodge Aries, Buick Century, Plymouth Horizon, Buick Skylark, Ford Mustang, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Chevette, Chrysler LeBaron, and the Oldsmobile Ciera.

Among the name plates, however, Chevrolet was top dog with 14.8 percent, Oldsmobile idled in the No. 2 spot with 10.2 percent, and Ford was No. 3 at 9.2 percent. Honda got 6.5 percent of the vote.

At the bottom was Mercedes-Benz at 1.4 percent. Could it be price? Out of 5, 000 questionnaires sent out to readers, 2,527 were returned to the magazine.

When asked how many automobiles they now own, 36.8 percent of American car owners said they had one car only, while 46.7 percent admit to parking two cars in the driveway or garage. At the same time, 68 percent of the foreign-car owners said they had only one car, while 25.4 percent acknowledged owning two cars.

Among respondents to the car quiz, 68.3 percent of all autos they own are American; 31.7 percent are foreign.

How many miles do the respondents drive in a year? Less than 10,000 - 3.4 percent; between 10,000 and 20,000 miles a year - 33.9 percent; 30,000 to 40,000 miles - 16.8 percent; and 50,000 to 100,000 miles - 4.4 percent.

Suppose they could buy any American car and any foreign car without concern for price or practicality, what make and model would they buy?

Among the US-model cars, 8.1 percent specified the Chevrolet Corvette and 7.3 percent the Cadillac Seville. Among the top 11 cars, only one was a Ford Motor Company product. The Lincoln Continental took the third spot with 5.5 percent of the responses.

In the foreign category, the Mercedes-Benz 450 SL won hands down with 4.2 percent of all replies; the Datsun 280-ZX ranked second at 3.5 percent. The Honda Accord was in sixth spot with 1.9 percent and the Volkswagen Rabbit No. 11 with 1 percent.

Just above the Rabbit was the Toyota Celica and Audi 5000, both tied at 1.1 percent.

Are car designers upset at the national speed limit of 55 miles per hour?

About one-third of the respondents said they were satisfied with it. However, 24.7 percent said they preferred a ceiling of 60 m.p.h., while 23.8 percent called for 65. The rest called for speeds above 65.

Safety is the main reason given by those who opted for 55 m.p.h. or below.

Asked if they feel that subcompact cars are safe, 43.5 percent replied ''yes'' for highway travel while 74.3 percent gave a positive response for driving around town.

''Drivers are unsafe,'' the magazine's readers protested, ''not cars.''

Nearly one-third of the readers said they always ''buckle up'' when they get in their car. Yet 26.6 percent said they never use a belt. The buckle-up figure is no more than 15 percent among all motorists in the US.

Apparently the Design News readers like music with their driving, as 34.1 percent said they always turn on the radio, stereo, or tape unit when they start up and drive off. Some 16 percent said they use their car's sound system about half the time, while 2.4 percent replied ''never.''

Diesel-car sales are far off the mark right now, a victim of lower gasoline prices at the pump as well as some of the bad publicity the diesel has had over the last few years, notably the major barbs at the General Motors diesel power plants.

''They're OK,'' said 41.9 percent of the readers; ''some reservations'' said 42.9 percent; and ''serious reservations'' noted 15.2 percent.

How about sharing the road with large trucks?

''No problem'' said 24.7 percent of the respondents; ''some problems'' noted 27.9 percent; ''feel some danger'' replied 31.6 percent; and ''feel serious danger'' said the rest.

Among criticisms of the manufacturers, car designers attacked the rapid price rise of cars over the last few years. Others shot down the quality of US-made cars, even as others disagreed.

Despite the fact that their livelihood is dependent on the car, some readers say ''we need to wean Americans from the automobile.''

What is clear about the annual Design News survey is that US car designers are just like all the rest of us - individuals. And when it comes to buying a car, they face the same decisions.

Price, to some, is at the top of the list.

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