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2005 Chicago Auto Show, Part I


2005 Chicago Auto Show Index by TCC

Hyundai Welcomes Newbies with Portico

2005 Hyundai Portico Concept

2005 Hyundai Portico Concept

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Hyundai sales are up 364 percent since 1998, according to U.S. chief Bob Cosmai — and new products like the Santa Fe and XG sedan have fueled those sales. For the next year Hyundai will continue to aggressively build out its portfolio with new vehicles like the Sonata due in the second quarter, a new minivan coming this year and the seven-seater Santa Fe also due this year. Looking further into the future, the Portico concept seems like a natural addition to the lineup. A crossover with six seats, the Portico could be drawn from the Sonata platform. Designed with the U.S. market in mind, the Portico has staggered middle seats in both rows that fold down, so as few as two seats can be reserved for passengers, leaving a big cargo area in back. The Portico sports a new V-6 engine, a six-speed Shiftronic automatic and is hybrid-capable with the electric motors providing all-wheel drive.

Dodge Mega Cab Opens for Business

2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab

2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab

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“Look at this beast!” George Murphy, senior marketing VP for Chrysler, crowed at the launch of the Ram Mega Cab. The Mega Cab is an extension of the Ram lineup that blends a long-bed chassis with a Quad Cab cabin to provide 44.2 inches of legroom in the back and 145.2 cubic feet of interior space. Overall the cab is 20 inches longer than the standard Quad Cab and sits at 111.1 inches long, a foot longer than a Ford Crew Cab. Dodge’s Cummins turbodiesel or the 345-hp, 5.7-liter HEMI are offered; the latter has a five-speed automatic, the former a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. In heavy-dutiest configuration the Mega Cab tows 15,800 pounds and carries a 2840-lb payload. Options include a navigation system, a power sunroof, and a DVD entertainment system.

The Mega Cab is part of what Chrysler says is the largest, most interactive show display ever. This year

McCormick Place
has connected the older section of the show hall to the newer one, which has hosted the auto show for a couple of years. The combination gives
McCormick Place
the potential for 2.2 million square feet of show space — and there’s more expansion planned to make the complex one of the largest in the U.S.

Toyota Christens New FJ Cruiser

2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser

2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser

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Think of Toyota’s edgy FJ sport-utility vehicle as part of a new class of “Freedom Trucks,” suggested Don Esmond. With the help of the legendary improv group, SecondCity, Toyota Division’s general manager pulled the wraps off the FJ during the opening news conference at this year’s Chicago Auto Show. Loosely linked to the classic FJ Land Cruiser of the 1960s, the new truck will be aimed at young males looking for a “platform for extreme sports activities,” explained Esmond. Toyota’s challenge, he added, was to balance price, utility and amenities. On the cost side, look for FJ to come in somewhere between the current RAV4 and Toyota’s conventional mid-size SUV, the 4Runner. FJ began with the bigger ute’s platform, shortening the wheelbase four inches, and the overall length by eleven inches. That, company officials said, will deliver excellent off-road capabilities. A 245-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 will move the metal, with buyers offered an option of four-speed auto or five-speed stick. The FJ will come equipped out of the box with Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control and ABS brake technology. The brick-like prototype, with its white roof cap, is pretty much what the production vehicle will look like when it rolls into showrooms a year from now, said Esmond, adding that he expects Toyotato sell about 40,000 FJs annually.

Toyota Targeting New Niches

The FJ is definitely not a car for the mainstream, stressed Toyota’s Don Esmond. Then again, neither are a growing number of products in the giant Japanese automaker’s ballooning line-up. That’s in keeping with current trends, with the number of individual models on the market growing at a rapid pace in recent years. “It’s always a challenge for a manufacturer to come up with products people don’t know they want yet,” said Esmond. But carmakers like Toyotaare betting that by fragmenting existing, mainstream segments, they can grow sales and share one nibble at a time. The key is to start with flexible platforms and then to produce them in equally flexible assembly plants, Esmond stressed. But there are other challenges to consider, including the issue of marketing. It’s one thing to spend $100 million annually to promote a high-volume product like the best-selling Camry sedan. Niche products, such as the upcoming FJ sport-ute, are not well suited to high-cost TV ads. Instead, the automaker plans to use the time before next year’s launch to build interest through a “viral” marketing campaign and other, non-traditional efforts, “like we learned from (the youth-oriented, low-volume) Scion.” Expect to see even more niche products from Toyotamoving forward, company officials promised. But the competition has much the same idea. “There’s (demand for) much more choice today than ever before,” echoed Gary Cowger, president of General Motors’ North American operations. “That’s why you see us putting more flexible manufacturing in place. It will allow us to do more niche derivatives,” such as the upcoming Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky roadsters.


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