One of the last Mustang related things I worked on before leaving Ford earlier this summer was a story on the design evolution of the newest version

One of the last Mustang related things I worked on before leaving Ford earlier this summer was a story on the design evolution of the newest version

https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/products/cars/mustang/2015-mustang-press-kit.html#design-taking-the-all-new-ford-mustang-from-sketch-to-production

Over the course of 2013, we published a series of sketch to production stories on each of the first five generations of Mustang in the run-up to the 50 year celebrations. Each of those can be found on this page: https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2013/08/02/mustang.html

Here are some of the sketches that emerged during the design competition for the 2015 model. I just wish that my former colleagues had chosen to share some of the other sketches to show off ideas that didn't make the cut. ?


Having spent some time working on the PR side of the auto industry, I can tell you that almost every press photo that gets published gets some serious photoshop time

Having spent some time working on the PR side of the auto industry, I can tell you that almost every press photo that gets published gets some serious photoshop time

That said, at least at the companies I worked with, they don't take away parts that are actually there as Apple seems to have done. Because many of the photos released are shot with early prototypes or preproduction vehicles, they have to add stuff that is missing. ?

Apple has an unpleasant bulge it’s hiding. The latest iPhone 6 has slimmed down to just 6.9mm of metal in what Apple describes as a “streamlined profile,” but it has picked up one element that…


Despite not having utility in the name like SUVs, the minivan is easily the most utilitarian vehicle on the road

Despite not having utility in the name like SUVs, the minivan is easily the most utilitarian vehicle on the road

It's also unapologetically not an #unminivan

The Dodge Caravan turned 30 this year as the Ford Mustang turned 50. You'd be surprised how much shared DNA they have http://sam.abuelsamid.com/2014/09/15/brothers-from-different-mothers/?


Brothers from Different Mothers

1984 Dodge Caravan

Evolution is a funny thing. One basic set of DNA can mutate and adapt to changing environmental conditions to spawn an almost infinite number of organisms. Such is also the case in automotive landscape where few people would consider that there is much common DNA between a Dodge Grand Caravan and a Ford Mustang and yet there is.

1981 Dodge Aries 4-Door

1981 Dodge Aries that served as the basis for the first Dodge Caravan

1960 Ford Falcon

1960 Ford Falcon

2014 marks 30 years of production for Chrysler’s minivans that debuted as the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager while the Mustang debuted 50 years ago. While the Caravan and pony car seem to lie at opposite ends of the automotive spectrum, each was derived from the affordable, compact family sedans their respective manufacturers had debuted a few years earlier and each was the progenitor of an entirely new market segment that didn’t really exist before. The Mustang was an offshoot of the Ford Falcon while the original Caravan shared its roots with the Dodge Aries K-car.

Strangely enough, the parallels extend further as both vehicles were conceived by many of the same people and for many of the same reasons, in particular Hal Sperlich and Lee Iacocca. In the early 1960s, Iacocca was president and general manager of the Ford division at Ford Motor Company while Sperlich was a product planner. Both were members of the Fairlane Committee which got together define a car that would appeal to the growing ranks of baby boomers that were then reaching driving age. The resulting product was Mustang and it inspired similar vehicles from each of the Detroit manufacturers.

A decade after the Mustang, as those same boomers were starting to get married and have kids, Sperlich and Iacocca began pushing the idea of a smaller car-based van within Ford but for various reasons it never came to fruition. Several years later, Sperlich and Iacocca had both landed at a Chrysler that had barely avoided bankruptcy. As the perennial scrappy, third-place brand in Detroit, Chrysler seemed willing to try different things and as Sperlich and Iacocca looked to expand the lineup beyond the original K-cars, the minivan concept was revived.

Much like Mustang, the minivans were a runaway success and soon inspired copy cats from Detroit and elsewhere. In yet another parallel to the pony car, the minivan market bloomed and then waned as customers eventually moved on to SUVs and crossovers. After peaking at nearly 1.4 million units in 2000, minivan sales are less than 500,000 annually. Similarly, the pony car segment reached its peak in late-1960s and early-1970s before settling down with current sales of about 250,000 examples per year.

Over the decades, the Chrysler minivans and the Ford Mustang have each stayed surprisingly true to their creators original visions over time although both have also grown bigger, heavier and more sophisticated. While Mustang has now reached the 50 year production milestone in continuous production, the Caravan is entering what will likely be its last year on the market despite still being the second-best seller in the segment behind its Chrysler-badged sibling, the Town & Country.

When Chrysler announced its 2014 five-year plan earlier this year, the Caravan missing from the Dodge brand roadmap. Instead, Chrysler has opted to consolidate down to a single minivan nameplate under the Chrysler umbrella once the new generation debuts about a year from now. Similarly, Ford long ago discontinued Mustang offshoots, the Mercury Cougar and Capri.

Although neither the minivan or the pony car are the stars they once were, both still have a spot in the automotive firmament and attract enough customers into their respective showrooms to justify ongoing development. The creators should be proud that they conceived of something so lasting.


2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Review

2014 dodge grand caravan 01

2014 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT Blacktop

There is absolutely nothing wrong with utility. After all, at least two major classes of vehicles, SUVs and crossover utilities claim the word as a middle name. Despite that, SUVs and CUVs are in fact far from the most utilitarian vehicles on the road. That claim belongs the classic minivan, including the progenitor of the class, the Dodge Grand Caravan.

The original Dodge Caravan, complete with fake wire wheel covers and wood grain on the sides

The original Dodge Caravan, complete with fake wire wheel covers and wood grain on the sides

The original Caravan and its Plymouth-badged twin the Voyager, debuted 30 years and have helped define the segment ever since even if they haven’t always been the overall best examples of the breed.

The current fifth-generation Dodge minivan debuted in the final days of the DaimlerChrysler period and at the time suffered from much of the same cheapening and ill-conceived design that plagued other Chrysler products of the period. That means the interior was dominated by poorly finished, hard plastics. Fortunately, the Caravan and its Chrysler-badged twin, the Town and Country slipped through with mostly just boxy blandness rather than the downright homeliness of the Sebring and Avenger sedans.

2014 dodge grand caravan 02

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The interior refresh that arrived in 2011 models still looks good

Today, the Caravan looks much the same on the outside with only minor updates to the front fascia and lighting that resulted from the post-Fiat crash update program. Since we spend most of our time living inside a van rather than perusing the boxy exterior lines, Chrysler put more effort into upgrades there and it was a good decision.

Of course, boxy on the outside usually equates to spacious on the inside and that certainly holds true here as the Caravan easily accommodates seven people or up to 143.8 cubic feet of cargo with all of the seats folded. From a utility standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the Caravan with its awesome and easy to use stow-and-go seating.

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The stow-and-go seats let you fold and dump the seats for a flat load floor or use the bins for extra hidden storage

The third row seat backs fold forward and then the split seats flip back, disappearing into the bin behind the rear axle leaving a flat floor. Even with the second row seats in place, 83.3 cubic feet of stowage is available. The second row seats fold and then drop down into under-floor bins behind the front seats for maximum cargo volume. With all of the seats down, the proverbial 4×8-foot sheets of plywood will easily fit, or in my case materials for rebuilding the fence around my yard.

The relatively soft lines and soft-to-the-touch surfaces make the cabin of the Caravan a much more pleasant place to spend time than it was in 2008. The fit and finish right up there with chief competitors Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.

The test unit I drove was a mid-level SXT with the available Blacktop package that adds black trim to the grille, headlamp bezels, wheels plus leather steering wheel and shifter trim inside. The dual DVD entertainment package upgrades the audio system to the UConnect 430 system along with a pair of nine-inch displays that drop down from the ceiling for the second and third rows.

2014 dodge grand caravan 21If you’re hauling kids on a road trip, this in-flight entertainment system can be a good option if they don’t have individual tablets or laptops to watch their own entertainment choices. On the other hand, if your young passengers do have access to individual entertainment, you might want to bypass the $2,490 entertainment system and get UConnect Web option that adds a WiFi hotspot and cellular modem so passengers can browse the web on the road.

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The 6.5-inch Uconnect screen looks seriously low-resolution compared to most of today’s smartphones

If you have a smartphone, I’d also recommend buying a $25 mount for the phone and skipping the optional Garmin navigation. The Garmin maps as always are good, but the points of interest database is woefully lacking compared to Google maps. The UConnect 430 touchscreen display only measures 6.5-inches diagonally, not much more than most modern phones and the resolution is pretty low.

The UConnect hands-free option also only provides voice control for phone calls. All other inputs such as getting directions require tapping the touchscreen, something you can’t do while driving. Whether you’re using Apple’s Siri, Google’s Android voice controls, or relying on your passenger for input (something they can’t do on the move with the embedded Garmin system) you’re better off. Garmin even has an app for phones that would probably be superior.

In addition to the visual updates, the 2011 update replaced Chrysler’s aged old V6 engines with the more modern 3.6-liter PentaStar V6. The all-aluminum engine is rated at 283-horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque in the van. The PentaStar is flex-fuel capable so you’re free to fill the tank with E85 if it’s available, although be forewarned that mileage will drop by about 10-15 percent when running on alcohol. In this application it’s paired with a smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission. The Grand Caravan is certainly no sports car, but the PentaStar V6 has no trouble motivating it even with a curb weight of 4,500 pounds.

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In a week of driving that consisted of about two-thirds highway commuting, the Grand Caravan managed just shy of 23 mpg, a pretty impressive feat for a vehicle this size.

The stow-and-do seats provide the Caravan with a low, flat floor without hauling seats around

The stow-and-do seats provide the Caravan with a low, flat floor without hauling seats around

If you have more than three passengers to haul around on a regular basis and don’t need to tow a big boat, a van like the Grand Caravan is an excellent option. The sliding side doors and relatively low floor make access to the second and third rows far easier for adults and children than any SUV or crossover.

The current generation of Chrysler’s minivans is nearing the end of its life-cycle with an all-new model coming for 2016. At that time, the Dodge version will be discontinued, leaving only the Chrysler Town & Country. Assuming it gets a design as stylish as the new 200 sedan and more contemporary technology inside, it could be a formidable competitor.

In the meantime, the Grand Caravan remains very competitively priced with an American Value Package that starts at just $20,895. The least expensive Toyota Sienna starts $7,000 higher while the Honda Odyssey will run another $1,000 on top of that. Even as tested this Grand Caravan Blacktop Edition stickered at a quite reasonable $32,805.


The next big technology addition to smartphones could be vehicle-to-pedestrian communications

The next big technology addition to smartphones could be vehicle-to-pedestrian communications

At the ITS World Congress in Detroit last week, +General Motors, +Honda and +Qualcomm each demonstrated V2P capabilities and how it could potentially save lives. V2X (which includes vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure, vehicle to pedestrian, vehicle to cyclist) is based on a technology known as dedicated short-range communications (DSRC).

DSRC is based on WiFi but it runs on a band of spectrum at 5.9 GHz set aside by the FCC for this purpose. The standard for DSRC is that short messages with information like speed, position, heading, braking and more get sent 10 times per second enabling other vehicles within 300 meters to be more aware of what is happening outside the visual range of the driver. 

Because DSRC is based on WiFi, it's fairly straightforward to extend it to existing WiFi enabled devices like smartphones. Qualcomm is working on optimizing its mobile WiFi chipsets to support DSRC without killing the battery. The big advantage is that drivers can be more aware of pedestrians and cyclists, potentially avoiding thousands of deaths and injuries every year. ?

During the 2014 ITS World Congress in Detroit, Honda demonstrated its V2X and autonomous driving tec