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Convertible sales slip as car buyers opt for more glass

Ford reports high demand for its vehicles with panoramic roofs, which consist of two panels of high-tech glass that filter the sun's heat-generating infrared rays and burn-causing ultraviolet rays.

August 16, 2011|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
  • A 2011 Lincoln MKX features a panoramic roof. The glass-roof upgrade on Ford Motor Co. vehicles can cost as much as $1,600.
A 2011 Lincoln MKX features a panoramic roof. The glass-roof upgrade on… (Ford )

Auto buyers are trading the open air for high-tech glass.

Ford Motor Co. reported that sales of vehicles with so-called vista or panoramic roofs are soaring.

About half the buyers of its Explorer and Edge sport-utility vehicles and about a third of its Flex upright station wagon buyers are purchasing the option — essentially a long, sweeping sunroof or two skylight-like panels. The glass roof upgrade can cost as much as $1,600.

Meanwhile, sales of convertible cars are lagging behind the rest of the market, auto information firm R.L. Polk & Co. reported.

Sales of convertible cars have typically accounted for 1.8% to 2% of the auto market. But now they are running at 1.2% to 1.4%, according to Polk.

The Chevrolet Camaro has been the top-selling convertible through May of this year, accounting for 7,530 car registrations, according to Polk. The Ford Mustang is second, with convertible sales of 6,645. After that there's a big drop.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class convertible had sales of 3,446, followed by the BMW 328 convertible with 2,867 cars sold.

Sales of 2011 Ford Explorers equipped with the vista roof reached almost 25,000 during that time period.

The convertible numbers could improve if the economy picks up, said Mark Pauze, a Polk consultant.

"Currently there is a real focus in the market on fuel-efficient, economical and practical vehicles — not a recipe for a convertible revival," Pauze said.

But it may be that consumers are turning to more practical vehicles and finding that the panoramic roof is a good compromise.

Ford thinks it knows why people are opting for the vista roofs.

"We are seeing more buildings utilizing glass structures because letting natural light in is a popular architectural trend," said Sheryl Connelly, Ford's manager of global trends.

"This trend has crossed over to the automotive industry, and Ford's vista roofs open the car to more sunlight, which keeps drivers energized and gives the luxurious feel customers desire," she said.

The Ford vista roof is made up of two panels. The first can be opened like a standard sun roof, and the second, which sits farther back in the vehicle, is stationary.

Although drivers will never feel that convertible exhilaration and the rush of wind in their hair driving along in a large SUV, the panoramic roofs do have some advantages — you won't get hot, sweaty or sunburned.

Ford's panoramic glass filters the sun's heat-generating infrared rays and burn-causing ultraviolet rays.

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