2002 Infiniti FX45 ConceptEnlarge Photo
INFINITI MINTS BIONIC CHEETAH, THE
A second, evolutionary version of the FX45 concept shown at last year’s auto shows, the new “bionic cheetah” has a 4.5-liter V-8 with more than 300 hp, a five-speed automatic and 23-inch wheels. The FX45’s strikingly smooth skin wraps around an all-wheel-drive platform that shares bits with the G35 sedan; it also offers an independent suspension. The interior sports aluminum trim, an LCD information center and a rear DVD system, and electronic door openers. It’s a clear precursor to the coming Infiniti SUV, say our sources, a vehicle which will be joined by a two-door coupe based on the G35, and a new midsize luxosedan.
NO CUTS IN FORD PRODUCT
Ford product development chief Richard Parry-Jones promised to “battle back” any effort to cut into his future product budget. “That would jeopardize the turnaround plan,” he told TheCarConnection. If anything, the company needs to add even more products than previously scheduled, Parry-Jones suggested. His position has strong support at the top: Ford Chief Operating Officer Nick Scheele has promised to increase spending on product. He knows how effective that can be — in Europe, where another turnaround plan was crafted by Scheele, the automaker is in the midst of a product offensive, launching 45 new vehicles during a five-year blitz. The result has been a noticeable increase in share, and a sharp improvement in the bottom line. After losing $1 billion in 2000, Ford of Europe broke even last year and expects to report a profit in 2000.
Ford Revival Plan on Friday? by Joseph Szczesny (1/7/2002)
Scheele Hints at Turnaround Plan by TCC Team (1/7/2002)
PLANT CLOSURES CAN BE
Further signals are being given that Ford will not go on an all-out plant closing binge when it launches its new turnaround plan on Friday. North American chief Jim Padilla told TheCarConnection that Ford clearly has more capacity than needed—some analysts put the number at nearly two million units in the current environment. But should the market recover over the next few years, Ford wants to “have the flexibility to come back” with enough production to meet demand. Besides, said Scheele, union contracts and other factors would mean that even if a plant closed, “Revenues would fall a lot faster (through lost sales), than fixed costs would.” More likely, he hinted, Ford will focus on cutting out shifts and overtime, wherever possible. There’s another factor: the automaker’s contract with the UAW, which effectively bars plant closures through September 2003.
SCHROER: DISCIPLINE AND PIZZAZZ
There’s a simple formula for making money in the car business, Chrysler Group marketing chief Jim Schroer told TheCarConnection, “discipline and pizzazz.” Commodity products require heavy discounting, he stressed. Growth and higher margins will come only if customers are willing to pay a premium for vehicles with emotional appeal. The big draws are exterior styling and interior innovation, according to Schroer, who told TCC the Chrysler division will focus on increasing its emotional appeal by reinforcing its design leadership. He also admitted that Chrysler’s reputation for poor quality has been a factor hurting the brand’s appeal.
2003 Mazda 6Enlarge Photo
MAZDA ROLLS SIX AND
Mazda is playing it by the numbers, six and eight, to be precise. The new Mazda 6, first shown during the Tokyo Motor Show received its American debut in Detroit Tuesday, as did the production version of the long-awaited RX-8. The latter revives the automaker’s long-popular rotary-engined sports car, which will arrive in the U.S. in 2003. Mazda intends to promote the 6 as a more sporty and functional alternative to mainstay Japanese sedans, such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
Preview: 2003 Mazda 6 by Marty Padgett (10/22/2001)
2003 Nissan 350ZEnlarge Photo
NISSAN TAGS AN AFFORDABLE
Hoping to catch consumers—and competitors—by surprise, Nissan announced plans to position its own reborn 350Z as an affordable sports car. The base model, which hits showrooms next summer, will start at $26,269. The high-performance Track edition will come in at $34,079. “On an ongoing basis,” declared executive vice president Jed Connelly, “we expect half our volume will be priced under $30,000. The two-seater, with its standard 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed manual transmission will “offer $50,000-performance for under $30,000 — just as promised,” Connelly declared during a preview at the North American International Motor Show.