Date: January 25, 2008 14:05
During the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we spent a little time with two members of the 2009 Pilot's product development team, Rob Keough and Marc Ernst. Rob Keough is the Sr. Product Planner for the 2009 Pilot while Marc is the Assistant LPL in charge of Testing. Below is a transcript (edited for brevity, and in some cases, clarity) of our conversation:
TOV: The 2009 Pilot has a squared-off profile. This seems to buck the current trend of where crossovers are evolving towards more of a rounded-off, sleeker profile. What were some of the decisions that were made regarding the 2009 Pilot's design in that respect and what were some of the factors that drove those decisions?
Rob Keough: The current Pilot was one of the pioneers of the crossover-utility vehicle in the midsize category, and a lot of the competition has come after the current Pilot, but they've really even gone past the CUV design into a very soft onroad image. What we wanted to do with the new Pilot was to maintain the functionality that our current customers want but also we wanted to take into account the customers who were coming out of more traditional truck-based SUVs - maybe they don't want to go all the way into a soft-road styling, and we kind of met them half-way here, so that we've given them a vehicle that has all the refinement, functionality, comfort, and dynamics of a crossover utility vehicle, but with more of the shape of a traditional SUV (to give it a little bit more rugged styling), which goes with the actual enhanced capabilities of this vehicle. This is not just a totally onroad vehicle - it does have some offroad capabilities and we wanted to communicate that in the styling, and that's how we came up with the overall shape. (Now talking about how the styling was driven by maintaining the functionality, Keough seems to pick up on a thought midsentence)...maintaining the functionality of the interior, not compromising the headroom in the first, second, or third rows and we also wanted to maintain good cargo capabilities and (gain) extra space behind the third row, so that helped come up with this overall shape, and then the additional styling teams (contributed by) making it a little bit bolder, stronger shoulders, kind of gives it a little bit of this strong SUV image, but also communicates the strong safety that's built into this vehicle - this really shows up in the design.
TOV: How does the 2009 Pilot's packaging compare to the present model?
RK: We tried to maintain the overall footprint of the vehicle as much as possible, because one of the things that our customers liked about the current vehicle is "Big on the inside, but not too big on the outside". The vehicle is stretched slightly. Where that additional stretch went into was in passenger legroom, and more specifically, in the third row and also in the cargo room behind the third row seat. So when you're running the car in 8-passenger mode - all three rows of seats up - we added additional cargo space behind the third row seats, so that you can take additional luggage, or you could put a stroller back there, you can take a golf bag back there, and still run with 8 passengers. That's added functionality and capability of the '09 Pilot.
TOV: The prototype here has a pretty upscale looking interior, and a new "Touring" trim level was also announced today - can you talk a little bit about the range of trim levels on the car, and is Honda looking to push the Pilot upmarket in general?
Marc Ernst: We have expanded upon the current line-up a little bit. We start at the same place that we start(ed), and we've moved up - we've added a new trim level called the "Touring" level. The Touring trim level adds some more premium features - because when we did the market research and interviewed people, we found that some of them really want to go upscale, they don't want to be embarrassed when they drop the vehicle off at the valet, and they want to be able to go on a date night and feel like that this is a vehicle that can accommodate all of their needs. Their daily needs, their running the groceries (needs), their going to soccer practice (needs), their weekend needs, their home improvement needs, as well as being able to go to an upscale restaurant.
(Rob Keough adds his response)
RK: We did announce that we're going to have an upper level Touring trim on the Pilot, but I want to let you know that the starting point is largely going to be where the current Pilot is today. So, we'll have an LX trim level that will start off at about the same level as the current vehicle, and then we will build up from there. The Touring has been added to the top end to accommodate customers who want more features in their vehicle. The other thing you'll find when the production vehicle comes out is that we were able to use efficiencies to add a higher level of standard feature content coming in at the base model and I think our customers are going to be really happy coming in with the base model, and then there's lots of equipment going on up that can answer any additional needs that customers might have wanted in the current vehicle.
TOV: With the 2007 MDX introduction last year, did you feel any pressure against pushing the Pilot too far upmarket with the Touring trim level?
RK: You asked whether we felt there would be any overlap between the Touring trim of the Pilot and the new MDX that debuted in 2007. We actually don't think there's going to be too much overlap - the MDX is a premium image vehicle that places emphasis on styling and luxury, but the overall silhouette maybe compromises the interior space a little bit. It's a 7-passenger vehicle, whereas we wanted to build an 8-passenger vehicle and still have good cargo capability. So from an overall vehicle capacity point of view, we don't think there's too much overlap there. Basically, what we wanted to do was accommodate the Pilot customers or other customers coming in that wanted more practical luxury - they want to have the passenger space, they want to have the cargo space... they also want luxury features but they don't feel the need to pay for a premium brand, so we want to put Honda value together with premium features, and that's what we've done with the Touring model.
TOV: Will the 2009 Pilot (or any future Honda product) offer high-intensity-discharge headlights?
RK: I can't talk about additional feature application like that on a future Honda model at this time.
TOV: It was also announced today that the 2009 Pilot will feature the most extensive use of high-strength steel in any Honda product to date. There are obvious benefits in terms of body strength as well as reducing the mass of the vehicle. What other types of similar developments or enhancements can you tell us about on the '09 Pilot?
ME: There's not a lot of features - detailed features - that we can talk about, but definitely the critical thing was the complete body design using the high strength steel for safety. Again, we're targeting the highest level of safety for this SUV; beyond that, fuel economy was really important. Now in order to achieve the fuel economy, we had to look in a lot of different areas. We've got the engine with 2nd generation variable cylinder management, which has 6-, 4-, and 3-cylinder modes for the best fuel economy we can achieve, and that's the appropriate powerplant for this vehicle. At the same time, we looked at the whole vehicle for that: we looked at aerodynamics, we also looked at the rolling resistance of the tires, and the drag of the brakes. All of those go into making a vehicle (more efficient) and using the high-strength steel to keep the weight of the vehicle down. So we expanded the vehicle in size a little bit in all the right areas, but not too much. The vehicle can't be huge so that it's not garageable, or can't be maneuvered around parking lots, so we kept the size down and we kept the weight down. That was important to the customer.
TOV: We already know that the 2009 Pilot will have the 2nd generation VCM (variable cylinder management) technology. Are there any other drivetrain enhancements you can talk about? Obviously the big question that a lot of people have, and have had for a while, is when is the Pilot getting a diesel engine?
RK: We can tell you about the new V6 engine and the details behind that, but in terms of the other drivetrain developments, it's going to be at least as capable as the current vehicle, and we've made enhancements beyond that, but we can't release information on that. I believe that we did already make it clear that that '09 Pilot will not have a diesel engine, although we won't talk about plans for years beyond that.
TOV: The 2006 Ridgeline represents a pretty extensive development effort in the area of light trucks. What sort of things were you able to leverage from that development effort during the development of the 2009 Pilot, particularly with regards to heavier duty use?
ME: The 2006 Ridgeline, as you know, designed and developed in Ohio by Ohio engineers, with a new understanding in offroading and trying to really push the limits of what durability and overloading, what extra loading capability was required. We learned a lot from that and we tried to apply some of that - some new durability modes and new handling modes. Beyond that we knew that new levels of body rigidity were required - body rigidity is important for safety as well as for handling, as well as for durability in all the different modes. And some of that body rigidity has been increased over the current Pilot. By utilizing the high strength steel, we maximized the body rigidity while maintaining, if not reducing the actual steel part of the body's weight. We utilized that weight (savings) to expand the size a bit, in all the correct dimensions, in terms of leg room, we maintained the good roof space that we had, we've widened the vehicle just a little bit - all the right areas to make it more comfortable for 8 total passengers. We wanted an equal experience, as much as possible, for the first row, the second row, and the third row. That's what we learned when we talked to the customers.
TOV: The overall body weight remains nearly the same as the previous Pilot, but you've managed to improve fuel economy as well as the overall capacity of the vehicle. Is this correct?
ME: Yes, exactly. That's exactly what we did. We feel like we've really optimized everything about the body so that we could accomplish all of those at the same time.
TOV: Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to talk to us about the '09 Pilot. We look forward to driving the production version very soon.
RK: Thanks very much Jeff, we enjoyed talking with you.
ME: Thank you very much.
Last edited by JeffX on
January 25, 2008 13:59