Monday, September 26, 2005

That Blame-The-Regulator Reflex Is Strong

by Tom Bozzo

AutoWeek recently called the forthcoming 2007 Jaguar XK "badassed and beautiful." Who is to blame for this piece of crap?

Why, those darn safety regulators, says designer Ian Callum. The XK reflects the influences of new European pedestrian-safety regulations that, among other things, require minimum amounts of space between crushable surfaces like automobile hoods and unyielding masses like engine blocks. This has led to plenty of fretting about the regs' effects on sports-coupe comsetics, and I have to say that if this is the result, then it really ain't so bad.

Likewise, Callum complains that the roofline could have been ever so much sleeker but for a U.S. regulation — intended to help protect unbelted occupants in a crash — that requires the windshield header to be located 20 mm higher than the designer's optimum. I'm hard pressed to see an economic loss that the potential for a few less cracked skulls wouldn't offset, even though I'm not brimming with advance sympathy for seat belt non-users. For one thing, Porschephiles were willing for decades to buy 911 models (i.e, pre-1999) whose windshield rakes were truckish by modern standards. For that matter, a lot of automobile rooflines have been rising simply to accommodate better the big melons of tall Americans.

Of course, if anyone reading this does end up buying an XK and finds you simply can't live with the hood or windshield header height, I am willing to take the car off your hands at absolutely no charge, thereby absorbing the entirety of the aesthetic loss.
This reminds me, Tom: I've been seeing this Volkwagen ad that touts their new "pedestrian safety system," cryptically illustrated with a guy bouncing off the hood and catching a football. Does pedestrian safety system just mean that the engine compartment is bigger? Seems to me that a real PSS would involve elaborate systems of elastic and pulleys that would zip unwary street-crossers out of the way in the nick of time, or something akin to those ultrasonic deer alarms -- they could yell "Hotdogs behind you" or something -- but if it means more crumple-space then I guess I'm okay with that. Just sort of disappointed.
In effect, the 'pedestrian safety system' is additional crush space between the hood and the engine, as well as designs for the ornamental bits that render them less likely to inflict GBH. (Which makes me wonder: why aren't those chromed flesh-shredding bars applied to some SUVs outlawed?)

My understanding is that there are also various tricksy ways to meet the regs for cars that are too expensive to have their looks compromised, including exterior airbags and hoods that pop up to add the crush space.

As for my vision of the ideal pedestrian safety system, it would be something to administer a put-down-the-cell-phone-and-pay-attention electric shock to drivers. (Yes, the most recent car-ped and car-bike accidents in our 'hood all occurred in crosswalks.)
I am willing to take the car off your hands at absolutely no charge, thereby absorbing the entirety of the aesthetic loss.

You're a hell of a guy, tom.
Chris: Welcome!

You know, ruining -- I mean running -- the country is Hard Work for those 50-55-year-old senior managerial types, even without having to worry about driving sports cars with insufficiently rakish rooflines. ;)
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