If you’re looking for a clear sign of what’s to come in 2004, you might come away confused by this year’s North American International Auto Show. Consider the results of voting for the North American Car and Truck of the Year. On the truck side, Ford took top honors with its big F-150. But on the car side, the winner was Toyota, with its compact Prius hybrid. You’d be hard pressed to pick two more radical extremes. This year’s show is being called “the year of the car,” yet the Japanese Big Three — Toyota, Nissan, and Honda — all weigh in with big new trucks. There are plenty of hybrids to keep Prius company. But then there are the muscle cars, like the new Mustang and Corvette, as well as Chrysler’s 800-horsepower ME-412 supercar. If you’re wondering what it all means, the best answer is that the market is fragmenting into countless little micro-segments, each aimed at a particular niche of buyers unwilling to compromise.
January 9, 2004