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2004 Paris Auto Show, Part VI Page 2


2005 Ferrari F430

2005 Ferrari F430

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Ferrari Launches F430

With a body styled by the legendary Italian design house, Pininfarina, the new F430 is the latest addition to the Ferrari lineup. The $160,000 two-seater will replace the aging 360 Modena when it reaches U.S. showrooms later next year. The heart of the new coupe is an aluminum 4.3-liter V-8 making 490 horsepower through a Formula One-style gearbox, an electronically shifted manual with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. The system can shift gears in just 150 milliseconds. There’s enough power to launch the F430 from 0-60 in 4.0 seconds, and the car tops out at just under 200 mph. The F430 makes good use of Ferrari’s racing knowledge, with its electronically controlled differential and carbon-ceramic brakes. There’s also a system, called Marinetto, which allows the driver to adjust suspension settings without taking hands off the steering wheel.

Classy CLS Debuts

2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500

2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500

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While large crowds gathered throughout the Paris convention center during this year’s press review, some of the biggest draws could be found at the Mercedes-Benz stand, where the automaker formally unveiled several eagerly-awaited models. The list includes the new CLS-Class, a series of high-line sedans featuring coupe-like styling. With a gracefully sloping roofline, the CLS is designed to appeal to those who want something more stylish than the typically boxy Benz. The CLS will be slotted in-between the E and S-Class models when it launches in the U.S. next year. And the new line will offer a wide range of powertrains, including a 475-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8 mounted under the hood of the limited-edition CLS 55 AMG.

Mercedes Goes On Tour

2004 Mercedes-benz Vision B

2004 Mercedes-benz Vision B

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They’ve had so many previews, automotive aficionados might be forgiven for forgetting that the new Grand Sport Tourer isn’t on sale yet. Actually, Mercedes took the wraps off production versions of two distinctly different variations on the GST theme. The Vision R on display in Paris is a very thinly-disguised version of the all-new R-Class crossover that will begin rolling down the line next year at the automaker’s assembly plant in Alabama. With its semi-active air suspension, the R shares platforms – and plants – with the next generation M-Class sport-utility vehicle. Meanwhile, the Vision B concept previews the upcoming B-Class line, a tall wagon crossover that boasts many of the same styling cues and functional touches as the bigger R-Class. The smaller Grand Sport Tourer is derived from the next generation of Mercedes’ smallest model, the A-Class, which also debuted in Paris. But it’s slightly longer and higher, and Mercedes is betting that will make it more acceptable to American drivers when it crosses the Atlantic next year.

Anchoring Mercedes' ABCs

2005 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

2005 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

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While other automakers have turned their line-ups into alphabet soup, at least you know where you stand in the Mercedes line-up, beginning with the letter A. The once-controversial A-Class is back in new skin this year, and it’s a bit more conventional than the original, which boasted an unusual powertrain layout that was designed to fit any of several alternatives under the crossover’s floorboards. At 151 inches, nose-to-tail, the A-Class is still the smallest of the Mercedes models. The new version will be offered with a choice of three gas engines, ranging from 95 to 136 hp and three diesels with power output ranging from 82 to 140 hp. A 193-hp A200 Turbo will be available later in 2005. At least for now, Mercedes appears to be opting against shipping the A-Class to the U.S., relying on the slightly larger Grand Sport Tourer B-Class to expand the bottom end of its line-up.

Workers Say Yes, But More Needed at PAG

Workers at Solihull, the British plant producing Ford’s Land Rover products, voted nearly two-to-one in favor of a new cost-cutting contract on Friday. The so-called “Road Map” should improve everything from operating policies to the work culture of the plant, according to Mark Fields, CEO of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group. “Generally,” said Fields, “there will be more flexibility in the plant, which was very important to the plan.” His goal is to achieve steady double-digit increases in productivity at Solihull for at least the three-year life of the contract. Even with the good news out of the Land Rover plant, Ford officials remain concerned about the health of the PAG. In the most recent reporting period, the luxury group lost $342 million, about a third of that because of the weakening dollar. The U.S. is PAG’s largest single market. The situation varies by brand, with Jaguar clearly the most troubled of the group’s marques. Earlier this month, it was decided to close the Brown’s Lane assembly plant in Coventry, the “spiritual home” of Jaguar. There are many advocates within Ford who want to see at least some PAG production moved to the U.S., but “right now we have no plans” to do that, insisted Fields. He quickly added, “In the medium to longer-term, I rule nothing out.” Despite recent setbacks, “we are still comfortable with the target” outlined in Ford’s turnaround plan, which would have PAG generate as much as $1.3 billion in profits by 2006, asserted Fields. That won’t give the subsidiary much time to get its automotive act together. There have been rumors that Fields might be recalled to the U.S., though he insisted to TheCarConnection that, “I’m in Europe and I’m here to stay.”


Hubbert Wants To Finish Up

He’s known to many as “Dr. Mercedes,” and to many, it’s becoming difficult to separate Juergen Hubbert from the high-line brand that he has closely guided for the past fifteen years. But at the end of the year, Hubbert retires, handing over the reigns of DaimlerChrysler’s flagship brand to Eckhard Cordes. It’s a challenging period for such a major change.

While Mercedes sales continue setting new records, the brand has seen its quality reputation tarnished as it slips in studies like the oft-quoted J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Index. “Even if we have had a few bad years,” asserted Hubbert during an interview with TheCarConnection, “we have a solid and good basis” going forward. The problems “didn’t just happen in the last year,” he said, and they won’t be resolved overnight. But the dapper executive is convinced that the worst issues have been resolved, particularly with the faulty electronic systems that caused the majority of Mercedes’ quality concerns.


 
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