Heritage

This woman is responsible for the iconic Volkswagen GTI's plaid interior

Her name may not be familiar to the average customer, but Gunhild Liljequist's plaid design helped Volkswagen reach a new audience in the 1970s.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Plaid is nearly as iconic in the Volkswagen enthusiast world as the Light Bus and the Beetle. When it debuted in the 1976 Golf GTI, it was thanks to one woman, one of the company's first female designers, Gunhild Liljequist.

Life wasn't always all horizontal and vertical lines for Liljequist. She was a porcelain painter and chocolatier candy-box designer by trade who made a career change to join Volkswagen's Germany-based Department of Fabrics and Colors in Wolfsburg in 1964. She was 28.

With the first Golf GTI set to come into production, Liljequist was tasked with designing a variety of interior elements of the compact car. Her work primarily focused on paint hues, trims, and interior detailing. At a time when bold patterns in muted colors was commonplace, Liljequist gave the GTI two distinct design elements - a tartan seat pattern and a golf ball-style gear knob.

Gunhild Liljequist Volkswagen Clark Plaid Liljequist sits in the Golf GTI she helped make popular.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

"Black was sporty, but I also wanted color and quality," Liljequist said. "I took a lot of inspiration from my travels around Great Britain and I was always taken by high-quality fabrics with checked patterns … you could say that there is an element of British sportiness in the GTI."

She, unsurprisingly, faced resistance. However, the tartan seat pattern, now known as Clark Plaid, and the new style of the car's shifter knob made it through to production.

Though she's more of a black and white pattern gal, Liljequist dove deep into the color spectrum during her time at Volkswagen. The culture and rapid pace of vehicle evolution allowed Liljequist to experiment with her influence reaching into some of the brand's most iconic paint hues, trims, and interior accents.

Clark Plaid is available in the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Rabbit Edition.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

She also contributed to the 2987 limited edition Etienne Aigner Mk1 Golf Cabrioet, a car that was influenced by women's leather accessories. Liljequist formulated the iridescent pearl color that is on the vehicle's exterior and applied it using a transparent foil.

Liljequist retired in 1991 but her legacy endures. U.S. buyers can currently purchase a 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Rabbit Edition, which features Liljequist's Clark Plaid in its seats.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

There are no coincidences in the automotive world, so it was no surprise that I found myself riding shotgun in a 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle prototype in front of SpaceX and Tesla's offices in Los Angeles. Ford's all-electric crossover is their most ambitious electric vehicle project to date. With styling, range, and debut location, they proved that they are targeting Tesla and their customers.

The Mustang Mach-E is, according to Ford, 100-percent Mustang. For those who are used to seeing the Mustang as a sports coupe with rear-wheel drive, an electric crossover with available all-wheel drive bearing the Mustang name might be eyebrow raising.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E The Mustang Mach-E has many exterior design attributes usually reserved for the Mustang coupe.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

That skepticism is one of the many reasons why, during a secret reveal ahead of the global debut, Ford shuttled me around Hawthorne, California in one of the Mustang Mach-E prototypes. The company was out to prove to me that they built a vehicle worthy of the Mustang name.

The model Ford put me in was the Mustang Mach-E Premium all-wheel drive, extended range model. That EV runs to 60 mph from a standstill in a hair over 5 seconds. Because electric motors make torque immediately, the car pushes the driver and passengers relentlessly back in their seat as they make that run. The torque makes the car feel faster than it is.

For folks who want to go faster, the Mustang Mach-E GT Performance trim should do that same run in around 3 seconds. When the GT Performance goes on sale in early 2021 (late 2020 for the other models), the quickest accelerating Mustang you'll be able to buy will likely be electric.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E interior seats cabin The cabin of the new model is spacious.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

On a route around Hawthorne, I was able to experience the car's on-road manners. Even though it was an early prototype, the cabin was quiet. That's in part due to the lack of a motor but also because of the car's three performance modes for the Mach-E – Whisper, Engaged and Unbridled. In Unbridled mode, which is what I experienced, the car allows computer-generated internal combustion engine-like sounds to flow into the cabin when accelerating hard.

Unlike the Jaguar I-Pace's piped-in growl, the Mach-E's sounds natural for a performance car. It doesn't exactly sound like a gasoline-powered car, but it adds a soundtrack to the spirited drive that this author doesn't find obtrusive. In Whisper mode, the car is relatively silent.

Cornering, at least from the passenger seat, felt relatively flat. The low center of gravity of the battery pack helps a ton. Right now, there is no adjustable suspension system, like MagneRide, that is available on other Mustang models.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E infotainment screen steering wheel dashboard Ford has simplified the interior of the car in a very Tesla-esque fashion.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Mustang Mach-E takes many interior cues from Tesla design though many elements are unmistakably from the Ford team. There is a large, center-mounted screen that handles most of the controls of the infotainment system and vehicle functionality. Interestingly, while the center screen handles most of it, there still is an instrument cluster to provide vitals – something Tesla has done away with.

Display vehicles had gobs of space inside, including numerous of storage cubbies for nearly everything. Fit and finish were solid for vehicles this far along in the process and it felt more Tesla Model 3 inside than Mustang.

The new infotainment system supports routing based on how long you'll sit at a charger and which chargers you need to stop at – basically what a Tesla does. Another first for Ford is support for both wireless Apple Car Play and wireless Android Auto.

Additionally, the Mustang Mach-E has truly hands-off Level 2 semi-autonomous driving. It'll be an over-the-air update after launch for customers, but there are cameras in the car that watch the driver to make sure they are paying attention. If they are, and the roads are digitally mapped, the Mach-E will handle most of the driving duties for the driver. The system is very similar to how Cadillac's Super Cruise technology works and is not hands-off.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E rear seat back sunroof moonroof panoramic vegan leather The rear seats of the Mustang Mach-E offer more legroom than what you'll find in the Jaguar I-Pace.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

It's difficult to determine how good a car is going to be based on a ten-minute ride in the passenger seat. However, it is obvious even after that little time that Ford checked all the right boxes during the development of their new EV. This is likely the first viable mainstream competitor to Tesla, and Tesla should consider themselves put on notice.

In short, the Mustang Mach-E should have performance similar to the Jaguar I-Pace or Tesla Model 3, but with more rear seat headroom than the I-Pace, and better reliability. It looks far more attractive than the Nissan Leaf or anything the Korean automakers are doing, and since it'll be available in all 50 states, you'll be able to purchase and repair it in a town near you, just like what you could do with an F-150.

Volkswagen is making a significant donation to help the environment of Eastern Tennessee.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The Conservation Fund will be on the receiving end of a $1.25 million donation from Volkswagen. The monies will be used to buy, protect and donate hundreds of acres of land to the U.S. Forest Service. Any remaining money will be used to provide community grants in Eastern Tennessee.

Volkswagen's U.S. plant is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, near where these funds will be used.

Cherokee National Forest Tennessee The additional conservation efforts will allow visitors to enjoy the national habitats of wildlife in Tennessee.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

"We are excited about our partnership with Volkswagen and the opportunity to advance their commitment to corporate leadership around sustainability," said Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. "Volkswagen is taking real, measurable steps forward to help protect the environment, embrace sustainable business practices and support the communities in which they work."

Most of the funds will be used to increase the size of the Cherokee National Forest. The Forest was created in 1920 and currently stands at about 656,000 acres north and south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Volkswagen's donation will help add 1,500 acres to the site. That new acreage will be used for public recreation and habitat protection for black bears and Indiana bats.

Cherokee National Forest sign Tennessee Volkswagen of America and The Conservation Fund are teaming up to increase the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

"Our work with The Conservation Fund will help strengthen the environment and help us give back to a community where more than 3,800 of our colleagues live," said Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America. "This collaboration in our own backyard underscores our 'Drive Bigger' goal of pursuing ideas bigger than ourselves and then taking action. We feel a responsibility to show how a major automaker can credibly contribute to the greater good."

In addition to the bears and bats, the Forest is home to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, several whitewater rivers, and 12 designated wildernesses.

The Conservation Fund is negotiating with private landowners to acquire properties that will be held until they can be transferred to the USDA Forest Service for long-term stewardship in 2020 and 2021.