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Auto buyers picking panorama roofs instead of convertibles

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

Ford Motor Co. reports that the sales of vehicles with so-called vista or panoramic roofs are soaring.  About half the buyers of its Explorer and Edge SUVs are purchasing the option –- essentially a long, Ford Explorer sweeping sunroof or two skylight panels -– and about a third of its Flex upright station wagon buyers are buying the same. It is about a $1,600 upgrade, depending on the vehicle.

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

Sales of convertible cars have traditionally accounted for 1.8% to 2.0% 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 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 off. The Mercedes E-class convertible has sales of 3,446 and the BMW 328 convertible comes in fourth with sales of just 2,867. By comparison, the 2011 Explorer has already sold almost 25,000 vehicles equipped with the roof.

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 and futuring.  “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.”

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

While 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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-- Jerry Hirsch
Twitter.com/LATimesJerry

Photo: Interior of Ford Explorer. Credit: Ford Motor Co.

 
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