2003 Chicago Auto Show Index by TCC Team (2/10/2003)
CRAZY ABOUT A MERCURY?
That’s certainly what the troubled Ford division needs to hear buyers humming as it starts a much-needed roll-out of new product. “We’re here to relaunch the Mercury brand,” announced Group Vice President Jim O’Connor, as the marque rolled out the new Monterey minivan. Based on the popular Windstar, but featuring styling cues lifted from the Mercury Mountaineer SUV, the minivan replaces the old Villager model. The 4.2-liter V-6-powered Monterey will boast such touches as sonar parking assist, heated and cooled seats, the first rollover airbag system offered in a minivan, and fold-flat third-row seats.
The new minivan will debut next autumn and by 2006, it will be followed by three other new products, including a small SUV and two midsize sedans. One of those, codenamed D258, will share platforms with the upcoming Ford 500 sedan. The automaker provided an animated preview during their Wednesday event of the Mercury version, which will be marketed as the Montego. —TCC Team
TOYOTA TURNS UP THE HEAT WITH BIGGER TUNDRA
Boasting it’s even bigger than the comparable Ford F-Series, Toyota pulled the covers off its new Tundra “Big Rig” Double Cab during the opening session of the Chicago Auto Show. Compared with the current Toyota full-size pickup, the Big Rig has a full foot longer bed that’s also four inches deeper. Overall, it’s 13 inches longer than a conventional Tundra two-door. And it will be loaded with a range of standard features delivering “the comfort of a full-sized SUV,” said the division general manager, Don Esmond. Among the more interesting additions is the industry’s first power-operated sliding rear window. It opens up to four times the space of the Tundra two-door’s manual window. Toyota also reviewed its plans to build Tundras at a new $800 million assembly plant near San Antonio in 2006. It will have the capacity to produce 150,000 trucks a year, which could nearly triple current Tundra production. The first Japanese maker to enter the full-size segment, Toyota has yet to make a serious dent in the sales of its domestic rivals. The Japanese maker has a 4.4-percent share of the huge market, less than half its overall U.S. market share. But eventually, Esmond said, he believes Toyota could boost the truck share up to parity. —TCC Team
FULL SPEED AHEAD
Toyota’s taking its trucks to the masses. The automaker intends to sign on for a run in the NASCAR Craftsman Series pickup races, starting with the 2004 Daytona season kick-off. “It looks fast. I sure hope it will be,” said Toyota Vice President Dave Illingworth, as he introduced the Tundra Race Truck during Wednesday morning preview. The automaker hopes to field as many as six Tundras during the ’04 season. Toyota is getting more and more serious about its role in racing, and will support five teams in this year’s Indy Car series. That includes Team Penske, which has claimed the most wins of any team to race at the legendary Indianapolis 500. —TCC Team
EVO COMING — AND IT’S $29K
The new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution will be priced at $29,000 when it reaches showrooms later this month, Pierre Gagnon, Mitsubishi North American chief executive officer, told a press conference at the Chicago Auto Show — but "people expected it to be more than $30,000," said Gagnon. The all-wheel-drive, turbocharged, 271-horsepower Evolution is in a class all by itself, he argued: only one other vehicle, the Subaru WRX, which sells for $5000 less, even comes close to the Evolution, he said. Mitsubishi expects to sell 4,500 Evolutions this year and another 6000 next year, he added. —Joe Szczesny