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Friday
Aug032012

Cupholder Consistency

By Al Vinikour

Q.)            The greatest automotive innovation is:

            a.)            Air Bags

            b.)            Disk Brakes

            c.)            Power Steering

            d.)            Seat Belts

            e.)            All of the above

            f.)            None of the above

If you answered anything but “F” you’re way-too-obsessed with safety. The greatest device is hands-down, the cupholder. That’s right, you can have all the built-in lifesaving devices you want in a vehicle, but if you have no convenient place to set your coffee cup then you might as well disconnect your air bag and run into a tree. It’s a sure bet you can’t count on your wife to hold your cup. After all, hasn’t she said on thousands of occasions she “didn’t marry you to be your maid?”

The factory-installed cupholder evolved from early, mostly plastic devices inserted inside the window frame. They would hold the cup steady until you hit the first bump, generally about 100 ft after you started. The location gave you an excellent view of the contents spilling all over your new chinos. Thus, the manufacturers saw an opportunity to rake in some extra doubloons while making their customers happier. It even triggered a “Cupholder War” among the OEMs. One would tout four cupholders while another would boast eight or even more. Europeans being what they are scoffed at the idea of “cheapening” their vehicles until they couldn’t hold out any longer and reluctantly bowed under pressure.

However, as few or as many cupholders a vehicle contains means bubkiss if the holder isn’t deep and grippy enough to solidly hold a beverage container. For instance, in 1996, I leased a brand new Taurus. It was four days old when I stopped at a local 7-11 to get a large coffee before I drove over to help my brother at a trade show. I set the coffee cup down in the console cupholder and turned into a parking spot. The next thing I know the cup tried to run away and spilled its entire 24 ounces worth of contents all over the carpeting. No matter how hard I scrubbed I couldn’t get the stain or the odor out of that car and had to endure it for the next two years.

Some manufacturers have displayed brilliance in how they’ve designed their cupholders. Some have rubber or adjustable plastic grips that hold the container solidly enough to trust it under any circumstances. But while others have deepened their hole size there still isn’t anything that will hold a larger cup firmly. Others have a good tandem cupholder setup, but the rear is smaller and doesn’t allow a second cup of equal size when the front one is occupied, and often is so small you’d be lucky to fit a can of Red Bull.

The worst one I ever encountered was on the Chrysler Crossfire. It had a pincer-like arrangement that only had one prong on each side. Even Jose Feliciano could have seen that wouldn’t work, but apparently the engineer at Mercedes-Benz (designer of the vehicle the Crossfire was derived from) had worse eyesight than a blind man. Additionally, the pincer could eat Styrofoam, so you can imagine how long a pristine interior would last when consistently subjected to suicidal coffee containers.

Granted, there are many varieties and sizes of beverage containers. But aren’t designers supposed to be intelligent and clever people? Why can’t they standardize a single design that has significantly-powerful and adjustable grips and won’t fight you when removing the container? Or has giving up their corporate aircraft deprived them the extra time they would have had to develop something as simple as a “one-size-handles-all cupholder?

A personal suggestion to interior designers: Why don’t you all meet in secret at some parking garage and swap plans and specs for a cupholder that will benefit the customers of every type vehicle manufactured in the world (except for the Chinese because you can’t get a damned teacup to stay in your hands, let alone in a car’s cupholder)? By the time a Congressional hearing is held to discuss collusion in the design of automotive cupholders, the statute of limitations will have long-since passed. And you’ll all be thought of fondly by people whose clothing smells like Tide… and not a double-latte.

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