It's easy to see why a designer would love to rid an auto body of a radio antenna: It's unsightly and a detriment to styling. It's easily damaged and vandalized. It contributes to wind noise. The power antenna is expensive and takes a lot of abuse.
General Motors Corp. and other automakers have been building antennas that are fluted, or spiral shaped, for better wind management and have been placing them on the back of vehicles to make them less obtrusive.
But antennas are finding a new home - embedded in glass - in an increasing number of new vehicles. The window-mounted antenna was tried before in the 1970s, but got a weak reception, in more ways than one.
Today, thanks to better reception from quartz phase lock loop tuning, a number of new vehicles have integrated the antenna with the window, completely eliminating another source of wind noise and making certain engineers happy.
"This is not small to the air flow guys," says Jan Zverina, spokesman for Chrysler Corp., which is moving to on-glass antennas on several vehicles.
Window-mounted antennas appear in a host of new vehicles: Chrysler Concorde, LHS; Toyota Avalon, Camry, Solara coupe, Land Cruiser; and Ford's Crown Vic, Grand Marquis and Town Car.
In Ford's redesigned 1999 Windstar minivan, the on-glass antenna forms a barely noticeable "Z" shape on the passenger-side rear quarter window. An engineer says the switch to a window-mounted antenna was supposed to save $2, but it ended up costing a little more.
Window suppliers say automakers are rapidly expanding the use of on-glass antennas. Officials at Pilkington Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. say the proliferation will be most apparent on luxury cars in the next five years, followed by light trucks.
PPG Industries Inc.'s Sungate antenna windshield debuted two years ago, and it appears on the 1998 Pontiac Trans Sport and 1998 Renault Laguna sedan. It does more than receive radio waves. It also has a solar-reflective coating able to reject 60% of the sun's total energy, an improvement of 25% over a conventional tinted windshield, says Linn Noah, PPG's director of glass marketing communications.
That means cooler cabin temperatures on hot days and improved air conditioning performance.