HOLIDAY IN HOLLYWOOD — There was a time when the holidays meant downtime for the auto industry. Most manufacturers close their plants over the long Christmas and New Year's break. But for automotive aficionados in two of the nation's largest new-car markets, the holiday season is proving more bountiful than Santa's sleigh. In Los Angeles more than a million people are expected to walk through the turnstiles for the city's 94th annual auto show before things wrap up at the Los Angeles Convention Center. But even before that show wraps up, Detroit will be shifting into gear for the 10th North American International Auto Show. With more than 60 production vehicles and concept cars slated for introduction, the Detroit exposition has become one of the world's most important automotive events. But the Los Angeles Auto Show is capturing its share of attention this year, with a score of rollouts on its schedule. The West Coast event was bolstered by the move to California last year by Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln-Mercury division. And indeed, Ford Motor Co. dominated the mid-holiday press days with an array of new and unusual products. But the imports, which normally dominate L.A., weren't conceding the spotlight, rolling out an impressive lineup of their own. Here's a wrap-up:
THE WOODY'S BACK — It's hard to find a simple way to describe the Lincoln Blackwood. From the nose to just behind the driver's head, it's a full-size Navigator sport-utility vehicle. From there to the tailgate of its shortened pickup bed, it borrows bits and pieces from the F-Series. But Blackwood is 4 inches lower than the Navigator. Its bed is half the size of the normal F-150's, and it's crowned with a hydraulically operated cover. Under the "trunk lid," the cargo bed is an elegantly finished aluminum, lighted brightly by fluorescent tubes. But the most notable touch to the Blackwood is the black African Wingewood that wraps around the 48-inch cargo bed. No, this isn't your grandfather's woody. Each strip of wood is separated by a 4-millimeter strip of aluminum. "Over the top," is a phrase one hears frequently while standing near this hybrid, but one also gets the sense that Lincoln will sell every Blackwood it builds — if it does put the prototype into production, and numerous Ford sources say that's likely to happen. "We want to evolve the Lincoln brand in the U.S.," says Ford's design chief, J Mays. More notable is the goal of giving Lincoln and Mercury more than just reskinned versions of vehicles sold by the high-volume Ford division. "That day at Ford is over. Badge engineering is out," insists James Schroer, who heads marketing and brand management. Look for an array of new products distinct to Lincoln and Mercury, along the lines of the Blackwood — and the popular Cougar coupe.
HONDA’S SPORTS CAR FOR THE MILLENNIUM — Honda's long-awaited S2000, is the Japanese automaker's first front-engine, rear-drive roadster since the legendary S-Series two-seater of the 1960s. The striking roadster is designed to dominate. It's 2-liter four-cylinder VTEC engine will churn out a sizzling 240 horsepower, winning it the record for power for displacement among normally aspirated engines. (In case you're slow with math, that's a mind-boggling 120 hp/liter.) With an impressive 9000 rpm redline, look for a zero-to-60 time of "under" six seconds, even though the S2000 will meet California's tough Low-Emission Vehicle mandate. The vehicle shares many basic design concepts with the Acura NSX — including its chief engineer. There's an unusual In-Wheel Double-Wishbone suspension system — developed out of Honda's racing program — designed to enhance handling. Start putting away your pennies. The 150-mph roadster debuts next fall, and will carry a sticker price of "around $30,000."