1999 Chicago Auto Show

March 28, 1999

...what’s making news at the 1999 Chicago Auto Show

A PARTIAL ECLIPSE.
SOLARA POWERED.
THAT’S MISTER SPYDER TO YOU..
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY.
SAFETY FIRST.
NOT SO CIVIL CIVIC.
I DO DAEWOO.
CATERROR.
WHO’S NUMBER 1?
THE HIGH COST OF WINNING.
COUPE DE GRACE.
LOSE THE BOW TIE.
A BONNE GOOD TIME.
HOLD THE APPLAUSE.
MAXIMA-IZING ITS APPEAL.
FANTOM FORD.
HOMEWARD BOUND.
KNOCK ON WOOD.

Eclipse

Eclipse


A PARTIAL ECLIPSE. If you’re looking to get a good look at the next-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse, we’re going to have to disappoint you. The redesign won’t be revealed until the New York Auto Show this Spring, but the accompanying spy shot will give at least a blurry hint of what’s to come. The new model will bear many of the styling cues that made the Eclipse Spyder concept car such a hit on the auto show circuit last year. The new car will be repositioned, according to Mitsubishi’s top North American executive, Pierre Gagnon. "The current Eclipse is almost a cult car with the younger generation," he explains. "We’re going to try to broaden its appeal." It’ll be a bit bigger than the current model, but alas, Mitsubishi may do away with the high-performance 4-wheel-drive edition.
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SOLARA POWERED. Toyota’s sporty Camry Solara coupe helped propel the nameplate to another year as America’s best-selling passenger car. Now the Japanese automaker hopes to perk up demand even more with the upcoming introduction of a Solara convertible. Call it "a vehicle with a bit more attitude," suggests Donald Esmond, general manager of the Toyota Division for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. The Solara convertible will be offered with a 133-horsepower inline-4, or an optional 200-horsepower V-6.
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MR-SPYDER_CONCEPT-7


THAT’S MISTER SPYDER TO YOU. Toyota pulled the wraps off the long-awaited replacement for its MR-2 roadster. Dubbed the MR Spyder, it’s a 2,230 pound 2-seater designed to challenge other import roadsters at the low-end of the market. "I think it will be very competitive with Miata," Donald Esmond, general manager of the Toyota Division for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. That goes for both its performance—thanks to a peppy new, 140-horsepower 1.8 liter engine—and its price, though Esmond wouldn’t disclose the precise numbers. Esmond suggests the new Spyder will "push the envelope near the edge." And nowhere is that more apparent than the unusual sequential 5-speed transmission. It’s actually an electrically shifted manual without a clutch pedal. The driver can run through the gears from the stick, or by pressing "Up" and "Down" buttons on the steering wheel. Alternately, there’s a conventional 5-speed, complete with clutch.
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10thMiata

10thMiata


HAPPY ANNIVERSARY. Mazda unveiled a 10th Anniversary Miata in Chicago. unique blue paint, blue and black leather trimmed interior, a blue top and polished aluminum wheels visually set it apart from regular Miatas. The car will also be the first US application of a six-speed manual transmission in the Miata. Mazda claims the six-speed reduces engine noise at highway speeds and improves acceleration by a few tenths to 60 mph. 3,000 of these unique cars will begin to reach US showrooms this spring. the price has not been set, but Mazda hints it will be in the $27,000 range.
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SAFETY FIRST. General Motors will introduce a new "smart" airbag on its Cadillac Seville sedan, North American Operations President Ron Zarrella declared during a Chicago Auto Show speech. The system uses a seat-mounted sensor that "can actually detect the shape of your rear-end," Zarrella said. If there’s a child weighing less than 66 pounds sitting in the front passenger seat, it will disable the airbag in the event of an accident. While airbags have been credited with saving nearly 3500 lives, they’ve also caused at least 125 deaths, according to federal safety records, mostly small women and young children.
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CivicSi

CivicSi


NOT SO CIVIL CIVIC. The Honda Civic has quickly become the '57 Chevy of a new generation of hot rodders. Until now, Honda has taken a low-key approach in supporting the raging aftermarket that has developed for the car. With the introduction of the high-performance Civic Si in Chicago, performance enthusiasts now have an even better car to start with before they modify it. The new Si employs a 160 horsepower DOHC VTEC engine, retuned suspension and a unique exterior appearance. Other performance enhancing parts include 15-inch wheels, a front strut-tower brace and four-wheel disc brakes. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $17,445. The car is in dealers now. Honda had several examples of highly modified Civics, along with their owners, on hand at its press conference to demonstrate the possibilities for a seemingly mundane Civic. As an example, a highly tuned Civic can be capable of ten-second quarter mile times and may produce as much as 600 horsepower -- all laid to the ground through the front tires.
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HotDaewooLanos

HotDaewooLanos


I DO DAEWOO. The nation’s newest automotive marque is betting it can draw buyers by breaking with tradition. Korea’s Daewoo Motors is setting up a retail network that depends heavily on student marketers, company-owned stores and its Internet Web site. "We wanted to create a very unique, Daewoo system of dealing with customers," said Bill Tucker, director of marketing and customer relations. Right now, Daewoo has 2000 trained student representatives stationed on 400 American campuses, each receiving a commission for each car they sell. There are also 15 company stores, with more on the horizon. But perhaps the biggest growth opportunity could come from the Internet. Daewoo thinks that eventually, 50% or more of its volume will come through its Web site. Online customers can close a purchase electronically, or by visiting the nearest Daewoo dealership. Sales of the company’s three passenger car models have gotten off to what Daewoo officials call a brisk start. And "long-term," meaning three to five years out, the Korean company hopes to be selling as many as 150,000 vehicles a year in the U.S.
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Steinmetz_Catera_Concept-5


CATERROR. Looking to pump up performance on the normally staid Cadillac Catera? The automaker gave a hint of what could come with its Steinmetz Catera concept sedan. Adding an intercooled supercharger to the Catera’s V6 boosts the car’s pony count from 200 to 280 hp. With its orange Quad-Coat paint and ground-effects cladding, the Steinmetz is likely to turn a lot of heads. And it just may make it to market, Cadillac officials hint. In the meanwhile, there’s the new Catera Sport edition. The powertrain is the same as the production sedan, but it boasts a striking new grille, sportier seats, a rear spoiler and unique, 7-spoke wheels. Final pricing hasn’t been set yet, but expect to add $800 to the price of a regular Catera, which starts at $34,180.
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WHO’S NUMBER 1? Cadillac won the celebrated shoot-out for supremacy in the U.S. luxury car market…or did it? The General Motors division reported selling about 200 more cars than its arch-rival, Ford’s Lincoln division. But a review of R.L. Polk registration numbers suggests something may be, well, a little off kilter. Normally about 99% of the vehicles sold in one month also are registered the same month. But barely two-thirds of the Cadillacs sold in December were registered, raising questions about the division’s last-minute sales push. Whether Cadillac or Lincoln really won the 1998 sales crown, the domestic luxury makers could be swept aside in 1999. "The chances are pretty good" Mercedes-Benz will wind up the winner this year, concedes Cadillac General Manager John Smith. And Lexus could be close behind, many observers believe.
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THE HIGH COST OF WINNING. Being number one may not be as good a deal as it first seems. Even now, Mercedes-Benz is working hard to maintain its exclusivity, a factor that adds a lot of money to the price people will pay for the German automaker’s 3-pointed star. The well-heeled motorist who doesn’t want to see himself coming and going is likely to find few carbon-copy Benzes with the new Designo customization program. Next Summer, Mercedes will introduce 10 limited-edition models that offer special, custom-look paint and interior trim packages. The look is anything but traditional for the normally staid automaker. The Designo (pronounced dee-zin-yo) SLK roadster comes in "electric green," while the CLK coupe is "vari-color slate plue." Choosy buyers will shell out an extra $5,000 to $10,000 for Designo models. "Designo buyers not only want added flair, they want to enjoy a measure of exclusivity," explains Joachim Eberhardt, vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc. "They don't want to see someone wearing the same jacket or dress as theirs at a party."
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COUPE DE GRACE. The 2-door Chevrolet Monte Carlo is back in stylish new trim. And like other recent redesigns, the Monte Carlo has a "heritage look" that recalls the glory years of its past. The car is one of the most visually distinctive new models to come out of GM’s styling studios in recent years, with a low, sloping nose, and a high, arching trunk deck with long, vertical taillights. But buyers might be more attracted to the "Room First" design concept. Like Chrysler’s Cab Forward design, "Room First" is meant to provide significantly more interior space than the exterior shape would suggest. The new Monte Carlo also features a number of high-tech touches, including an automatic oil change minder that measures wear and tear, rather than miles, and a clock that automatically resets itself when you enter a new time zone. The question is whether there’s much of a market for the Monte Carlo. Coupe sales have all but dried up in the U.S. Chevy Marketing Manager Kurt Ritter hints the division may use "aggressive" pricing to build demand for the new Monte Carlo. The current model starts at $19,000. Ritter forecasts sales could rise by 20% or more, to the 70,000 to 80,000 range. New entries into the sluggish segment "could get the momentum going."
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2000_Monte_Carlo_SS-1


LOSE THE BOW TIE. What happened to the

 bow tie on Chevy’s new Monte Carlo? The division’s familiar trademark is nowhere to be found. Instead, there’s a small and far less recognizable badge on the nose of the new car, harkening back to the insignia that originally adorned the Monte Carlo decades ago.
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2000_Pontiac_Bonneville-3


A BONNE GOOD TIME. Pontiac’s new-for-2000 Bonneville, the division’s flagship sedan is a sporty showpiece, says brand manager Mary Boland. "Sportiness is a critical component of luxury for these buyers, (though) once those terms were mutually exclusive." Targeted at increasingly affluent Baby Boomers, the redesigned Bonneville also might be considered a technological tour de force. The base SE model boasts a 205-horse power base engine, while the SSEi is powered by a 240-hp supercharged V6. The Integrated Chassis Control System is designed to prevent spin-outs. The car also comes with personalized key fobs that automatically set seats, mirrors and radio presets to a specific preference. Pontiac General Manager Lynn Meyers confidently predicts the new car will score a 40% sales hike. Of course it will help if GM can go a full year without an inventory-cutting labor strike, she admits.
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NISSAN-NEW-CONCEPT-SEDAN[1]


HOLD THE APPLAUSE. When a new car’s unveiled at an auto show, there’s normally an air of excitement, followed by a rush of applause, or at least a chorus of "oohs," and "aahs." Not so when the cover was pulled off the Nissan Concept Sedan, or NCS. It was almost total silence. But that, says the automaker’s chief designer, Jerry Hirshberg, was exactly what he expected. The NCS is not like anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s designed to explore the boundaries that separate sedans, wagons and SUVs, and it admittedly looks a little odd. "As the millennium approaches, we’ve been asking ourselves a fundamental question," said Hirshberg, "what is a car?" With its bubble-like rear roof, the NCS provides unquestionably roomy, theater-style seating for rear seat passengers. The reaction has been "bi-polar" whenever the NCS has been shown to focus groups, according to Hirshberg. But once "they get it," he insists potential customers love the features, if not the looks.
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maxima

maxima


MAXIMA-IZING ITS APPEAL. If the NCS is a little off the norm, the newly-redesigned, 2000 Nissan Maxima is meant to broaden the sporty sedan’s appeal when it goes on sale in June. The new Maxima includes a 222-horsepower V6 engine, bigger than its predecessor's 190 horsepower. It’s also roomier, with a marked increase in trunk space. Struggling to reverse years of declining sales, Nissan hopes to sell about 100,000 Maxima sedans through the end of its fiscal year in March 2000. The company is still not sure if it can ask buyers for a price increase on the new Maxima. The current version commands anywhere from $20,000 to $28,000. "The Maxima is key to Nissan’s new face, suggests chief designer Jerry Hirshberg, but it’s just one in a wide range of new products the automaker is using to try to kick start a comeback. Later this year, it will also go to market with the Xterra, a new back-to-the-roots sport-utility vehicle.
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FANTOM FORD. Normally a major presence at the Chicago Auto Show, Ford Motor Co. was a virtual no-show, using its two allotted news conference slots to do little more than say "hello" to the press. The biggest news? Final pricing on the Lincoln LS, the division’s soon-to-debut entry-luxury sedan. The base V6 model will appear at $31,450. The V8 version will come in at $35,225. Notably, those prices are nearly $10,000 less than the Jaguar S-Type, the British marque’s new sedan, which shares the same platform as the LS.
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HOMEWARD BOUND. General Motors Saturn division will stage its second "homecoming" over the Summer, a lovefest designed to draw as many as 60,000 Saturn owners to the company’s Spring Hill, TN, assembly plant. Another 150,000 Saturn-ites are expected to show up for events staged simultaneously the weekend of July 30-31 at Saturn dealers around the country. The event also will serve as the formal public debut of the division’s long-awaited and even longer-overdue LS model, a new midsize sedan.
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SUBARU-FORESTER-WOODY-CONCEPT-CAR[1]


KNOCK ON WOOD. Remember the Griswold family's station wagon in the National Lampoon's vacation movies? Subaru's Forester Woody concept is something a modern Griswold family might drive. The Forester Woody was, in our opinion, one of, if not the most clever concept vehicle we've seen so far this year on the auto show circuit. The beauty of the Woody is that it is clever, simple, and cheap. Says one observer, "We'd bet that the hors d’oeuvres Subaru had at their press conference in Chicago cost the company more than what they spent to build the Forester Woody." The car features wood paneling on the exterior, whitewall tires riding on stamped steel wheels, a wood trimmed steering wheel and unique tweed-like interior fabric. If the reaction from auto show attendees is positive, Subaru might even build it.
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