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2000 New York Auto Show, Part I Page 2


KEEP ON TRUCKING. It seems like nothing can stop the steady switch from passenger cars to light trucks, but Honda’s Acura division is hoping it can win over buyers who want the best of both worlds with its new MDX. Short for Multi-Dimensional, this seven-passenger SUV is designed to deliver attributes of luxury sedan, minivan and sport-ute. "It’s a vehicle that overcomes the shortcomings in SUVs," said Honda’s top U.S. executive, Tom Elliott. Among its features: three-row seating, plenty of cargo capacity, and a peppy, 240-horsepower, 3.5-liter engine. "This is first and foremost a luxury SUV," Elliott added, and that means plenty of creature comfort features, including standard leather seats and woodgrain interior touches, as well as an in-dash CD/cassette audio system. Among the very few options: the Acura navigation system. For the green-minded, the MDX is the only Ultra-Low Emissions, or ULEV SUV on the market. To assuage concerns about fuel economy, it will deliver 17 mpg city, 23 mpg on the highway.

Toyota highlander

Toyota highlander

Toyota Rav 4

Toyota Rav 4

TWO-TRACK AT TOYOTA. Japan’s number one automaker also is putting a heavy emphasis on trucks, introducing two all-new SUVs at the New York auto show. But the midsize Highlander and compact RAV4 replacement reveal Toyota’s long-term strategy. The Highlander and RAV4 are car-based vehicles designed to give up a bit of off-roadability in favor of a smoother ride and better fuel economy. "Sometimes you feel like a truck, sometimes you don’t," said Toyota Division VP Don Esmond. In the future, Toyota trucks will either be carlike or traditional in design, Esmond announced. Though final pricing on the all-new Highlander isn’t available yet, it will come in a bit below the more conventional, midsize 4Runner. The 2001 RAV4, incidentally, will feature an all-new engine boosting the pony count by 21 and cutting a full second off 0-60 times, even though it will deliver slightly better fuel economy.

 

PRIUS AWAY. The long-awaited Toyota Prius is finally getting ready to make its American debut. Depending on who’s keeping track, the gasoline-electric hybrid is about six months behind schedule for its U.S. rollout, but Toyota engineers wanted to make sure it will meet the needs of American buyers. That will mean somewhat more horsepower than the anemic Japanese hybrid sedan, which debuted in December 1998. Look for a smaller battery pack, as well, to give the U.S. version more luggage space. Dealers will begin taking orders in May, though the first Prius delivery won’t begin until August. Expect a $20,450 pricetag, which likely means a stiff subsidy by Toyota. In Japan, analysts estimate the early cars cost consumers only half what the automaker paid to build them. "If Prius is successful," noted Toyota VP Don Esmond, "there certainly will be other hybrids coming down the road." It may soon become common, he hinted, for Toyota to offer a gas-electric option, alongside in-line four, V-6 and V-8 engine packages.

Nasser in booster seat

Nasser in booster seat

Ford Windstar

Ford Windstar

Ford CEO Jac Nasser, buckled in safely. Wonder if he’s watching Teletubbies too?  

SITTING PRETTY. Ford Motor Co. will spend about $15 million to give away child booster seats as part of its role in the Boost America project, co-funded by the Department of Transportation. "The most dangerous place children can go each day is the American highway," noted Jim Hall, director of the National Transportation Board. And a sizable number of those deaths could be prevented if parents took the right steps to protect children who are too big to fit in safety seats — but who are too small to properly use adult-sized seatbelts. The Boost America program will lead a nationwide campaign to get that message across, but Ford also intends to give out a million booster seats — designed for children weighing between 40 and 80 pounds. Half will go to Ford customers, the other half to needy families, whatever they are driving. In other Ford safety news, the automaker announced its 2001 Windstar minivan will feature the Personal Safety System. This smart airbag technology is designed to reduce injuries by adjusting the force with which each airbag inflates — if they trigger at all — depending upon crash severity. Despite long-time industry lore, safety now sells, said Ford CEO Jac Nasser. "If you have a lead and it’s real, it’s a very positive factor" with consumers.

Spike Lee

Spike Lee

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