Jennifer Baugher grew up in Akron and raced starting at the age of 8 until 16 in the Soap Box Derby.
Now she’s a senior at the Cleveland Institute of Art. And in part because of her experience with the Soap Box Derby, when Baugher graduates she wants to design cars for a living.
Baugher and her other car-crazy design classmates on Friday morning gathered around Chrysler’s swoopy new 2013 SRT Viper sports car. The car was designed from the inside and out by Cleveland Institute of Art graduates and is prominently displayed among other Chrysler vehicles inside the I-X Center as part of the annual Cleveland Auto Show.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Baugher said after closely looking over the blue and white Viper with its 640-horsepower V-10 engine and top speed of 206 mph. The car, now in its fifth design generation after debuting in 1992, makes an emotional connection, she said. (To buy one you’ll also need a deep financial connection since the Viper’s base price is $97,000; a fully loaded one will cost north of $130,000.)
Starting today, the public can check out the Viper and any of about 1,000 other cars at the I-X Center. Show hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Monday through next Saturday. Sunday hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The show ends on March 3.
Friday’s media day program included close-up looks at the new Viper, the new diesel-engine made-in-Lordstown Chevrolet Cruze, an important new Lincoln sedan and more.
The new diesel engine Cruze goes on sale later this year and is intended to compete with the likes of the Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel sedan, General Motors officials said. Chevrolet isn’t sure how many people will opt to buy the diesel-powered version over the regular gas engine Cruzes that come off the Lordstown assembly line.
The compact Cruze has proven to be a lifesaver for the massive Lordstown plant where about 4,500 people now work. General Motors last year announced that it would invest about $220 million in the factory.
There currently are three shifts that work 24 hours a day, five days a week making the Cruze, said Glenn Johnson, president of United Autoworkers Local 1112, which represents more than 3,000 hourly workers at the plant. Lordstown made about 278,000 Cruzes last year.
The new diesel engine will add just a handful more jobs at the plant, Johnson said.
“It’s been a fantastic year for us,” he said. Rising gasoline prices may persuade more Americans to buy the fuel-efficient Cruze, he said. The Cruze Eco gasoline car gets about 42 miles per gallon on the highway.
The diesel Cruze is expected to meet or beat that mileage while also providing more power and luxury than the Eco model, General Motors officials said.
The new Lincoln MKZ sedan is also on display. The sedan, a big part of Ford Motor Co.’s plan to reinvent and revitalize its luxury Lincoln brand, is just now getting delivered to dealers. The car will have an optional EcoBoost four-cylinder turbocharged engine that next year will be made in Ford’s Brook Park engine plant.
This year’s show will have more “ride and drive” opportunities for showgoers than in previous years.
There will be more than 10 brands available for people to take short test drives. One of the brands, Jeep, brought back its popular interior ride-and-drive that demonstrates its vehicles’ off-road abilities.
The I-X Center’s South Hall holds what the show is calling “Millionaire’s Row” with high-powered and high-priced cars that include a 1992 Ferrari F40, one of just 1,300 built and which had a sticker price then of $400,000. The least expensive car there is the $237,000 Mercedes AMG SL65.
Those prices make the 2013 Chrysler Viper’s $100,000 sticker (give or take $10,000 or so) look like a relative bargain.
Scott Krugger, a 2001 Cleveland Institute of Art graduate who was the 2013 Viper’s lead exterior designer, said he started working on the car design in early 2010.
“It’s an iconic vehicle. This car, form is function,” said Krugger, now senior design manager with Chrysler Brand Design. He’s originally from Erie, Pa.
Krugger said he had to pinch himself many times over the opportunities he’s had designing vehicles.
“I knew I wanted to be a car designer,” he said. He also did exterior design on the 2003 Dodge Avenger concept car and the 2009 Ram pickup truck.
Akron resident Ben Wilkins, another Cleveland Institute of Art student whose focus is on automotive design, got to sit in the Viper and do a quick critique.
“I’m very excited about this new concept,” the 22-year-old senior said. “It has a lot of really beautiful design subtleties. It’s not overdone, too busy or crazy. Just a very timeless design, very refined.”
Some other vehicles emphasize style over ergonomics, Wilkins said.
As he checked out the Viper, he said he found a lot of thought went into making it comfortable and easy to use. “Everything is comfortably within reach,” he said.
Wilkins was asked if the Viper is the kind of car he’d like to design.
“Of course,” he said. “I’d love to.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com.