2002 Chicago Show, Part I by TCC Team (2/5/2002)
2002 Chicago Show, Part III by TCC Team (2/7/2002)
Toyota show sponsor
sponsored by Toyota
TRUCK WARS: THE BATTLE FOR CHICAGO
U.S. motor vehicle sales may be on the decline, but you wouldn’t know it from the demand for pickup trucks, especially full-size models. And there are plenty of new products on display in Chicago.
From Toyota comes the Tundra Stepside Sport Truck Concept. Actually, concept is a loose term for what seems to be a production-ready concept. A Stepside Tundra will enter production this fall for the 2003 model year, but it’s unknown whether the truck’s dashing taillamps and heavily sculpted fenders are set in sheetmetal. The Stepside’s bed retains the dimensions of the regular version, even adding 1.8 inches in bed depth. A new fascia, three-piece 20-inch wheels and a sport suspension package grace the truck, as does the standard 4.7-liter, 240-hp V-8.
General Motors, meanwhile, pulled the wraps off a trio of pickups, including the edgy concept truck, the GMC Terra4. The latest in a series of knife-edged prototypes, Terra4 features a highly flexible cargo bed with a window shade-style cover that can be retracted automatically. The sides swing open to provide extra storage space and easier access to the main cargo bed. “It challenges conventional ideas about what a truck is,” asserted GM North American President Gary Cowger, who added that, “You’ll see some Terra4 features here and there in future GM pickups.”
Consumers won’t have to wait nearly as long for the latest updates of the popular Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups. Introduced just four years ago, the trucks already are undergoing significant updates, with new front fascias, and upgraded interiors. The 2003 Silverado’s look is more aerodynamic, with redesigned headlamps, and tow hooks and fog lamps now recessed into the bumper. There are new seats and redesigned instruments and controls. The Chevy pickup’s unique four-wheel Quadrasteer system will begin rolling out on various body configurations in the coming months, including the four-door Crew Cab model.
The press didn’t have to come to meet Dodge’s new heavy-duty trucks — instead, Dodge hooked the grandstand and dragged about 90 members of the automotive press 30 feet to — what else — lunch. Just prior, Dodge introduced the next-gen heavy-duty Rams and simultaneously brought back the HEMI engine descriptor. The big Dodge pickups will sport the 345-hp, 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 standard; a 305-hp Cummins turbodiesel with 555 lb-ft of torque (that’s the high-output version; a slighter 250-hp, 460 lb-ft version is also available) is optional. Regular- and long-wheelbase versions are offered. Dodge promises class-leading acceleration and towing capacity — some 23,000 pounds’ worth. Inside, the trucks are available with side curtain airbags and adjustable pedals.
The battle for the big pickup market is certain to get even more intense. With Tundra sales soaring to a record 110,000 last year, Toyota officials confirmed they will be adding more capacity, while Nissan is readying a new full-size pickup plant in Mississippi. So far, most of these Japanese models have been sold to buyers upgrading from other import products, but that may not be the trend in the future. “Are we concerned?” asked GMC General Manager Lynn Myers. “Absolutely. We’d be fools not to be. We can’t be complacent.” Added Gary White, Vehicle Line Executive for GM’s full-size trucks, “That’s one of the biggest reasons…we’re going to continue to put resources into making these trucks better.” It took GM 11 years before it replaced its last-generation full-sized models in 1999. The current line will likely be replaced by 2006 or ’07, sources indicate.
CAFE, ACCORDING TO LUTZ
Congress is considering proposals to increase the federally mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standard, which doesn’t bode well for full-line makers such as General Motors. While declaring GM’s commitment to improving its vehicles’ mileage, Bob GM Vice Chairman Lutz took aim at the controversial CAFE rules, suggesting that using them to boost fuel economy is “like getting the nation to lose weight by forcing manufacturers to make smaller clothing sizes.”
COWGER TAKES SHOTS AT WEAK YEN
The growing debate over the dollar-yen exchange rate reached McCormick Place on Wednesday, when GM North America President Gary Cowger declared his company’s Japanese competitors have been given an artificial 30-percent cost advantage. That amounts to $3400 a vehicle, he added, which “is tough to offset.” That drew an immediate and sharp response from executives at several of those Asian makers, including Don Esmond, head of the Toyota division. Esmond insisted that any exchange rate advantage is minimized by the fact that Toyota’s North American assembly plants now produce two-thirds of the vehicles it sells here. Further, noted Esmond, the Big Three also benefit from the strong dollar whenever they import cars from Asia or Europe, such as Ford’s Land Rover and Jaguar models. “People should stop complaining and start competing,” Esmond asserted. A variety of factors make it difficult to come up with a clear figure, but Morgan Stanley analyst Steve Girsky puts the advantage closer to $1200 to $1400 a vehicle for Japanese makers.