Each Easter Sunday, New Yorkers gather for what’s now a century-old ritual. Not a trip to the Winter Garden for a fur-raising encore of Cats — instead, a trip to the West Side’s Javits Center for the city’s annual international auto show.
While its fortunes have wavered as of late (the annual Detroit juggernaut has rubbed off some of Manhattan’s luster), New York’s show always manages to draw an interested crowd of industry types – journalists, PR types, engineers, stylists and executives – and a veritable throng of locals who love looking at all the glistening machinery, even if there’s not a parking space within ten blocks of their co-op.
This year’s show commemorates its own centennial with a special exhibit of cars that have made industry tongues wag in their course through history. For modern tastes, there’s the vaguely exhibitionistic display of pop enigma Michael Jackson’s Chevrolet Suburban, pumped full of aftermarket audio equipment.
And for this year’s crop of industry types, there’s the traditional array of new-vehicle introductions sure to be the topic of conversation in boardrooms around Tokyo, Stuttgart, and Detroit — and in chat rooms on the Web. Here’s a smattering of what this week’s show will bring.
In Japan, the Lexus RX 300 is known as the Harrier. Here in the States, it’s just known as a sales blockbuster. The mid-size, carlike sport-ute is credited with nearly doubling Lexus’ U.S. sales and pushing the brand over the 150,000 units per year mark. For 2001, Lexus’ mothership will get its own version of the RX 300. Dubbed the Toyota Highlander, the new ute will be a de-contented version of the high-zoot Lexus model, likely sharing its 3.0-liter V-6 and optional all-wheel drive. Toyota is shifting around production of various vehicles, and as a result the Highlander may join the RX 300 on an assembly line in Toyota’s Cambridge, Ontario, facility.
4door Toyota Rav 4
Although the RAV4 made its official international debut at March’s Geneva Motor Show, the mini-ute gets another coming-out party in Manhattan. The RAV4 is based on next-generation Camry mechanicals, and may one day get the Camry’s buttery V-6 engine as an option. For now, the RAV4 soldiers on with the current 2.0-liter four; inside, Toyota says the RAV will become the most spacious vehicle in its class. An on-sale date this summer is anticipated.
Chrysler Sebring coupe and convertible
Finishing off a new quintet of mid-size sedans, coupes, and convertibles, the Chrysler two-door and drop-top get airplay at this week’s New York show (its siblings, the Dodge Stratus coupe and sedan, emerged at February’s Chicago show; the Sebring sedan, in Geneva). Powered by a 2.7-liter V-6 with 200 hp and a four-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic-style controls, the Sebrings are markedly upgraded from previous versions, say DaimlerChrysler execs. Our money says this is the last time these five cars are split among three platforms; with the recent DaimlerChrysler stake in Mitsubishi, our guess is that the coupes now built in Mitsu’s Illinois plant will be moving to Michigan to share a production line with the rest of the family.
With the recent introduction of the Tribute sport-ute, 626 sedan and MPV minivan, Mazda’s about out of major new products for the next couple of years, executives suggest. Until then, a subtle reskin of the Millenia sports sedan will have to suffice for Hiroshima cultists. The Millenia’s on tap to keep its Miller-cycle engine, though we’d expect a healthy boost over its current 215 hp. Look for a navigation system, in-car CD changer, and other luxe options to grace a revised interior. (The 2000 model-year Millenia is shown here.)
GM’s promising no less than 20 truck introductions over the next couple of years, and we’re guessing that at least a couple of the three New York introductions they’ve scheduled will involve truck or car-truck hybrid vehicles. The new edition of the Yukon mega-ute is a sure thing, and GMC may also bring along the upscale Denali version as well. We wouldn’t rule out a hybrid vehicle, either – word has it GM is developing a luxo-truck with a 340-hp Northstar V-8 and on-demand all-wheel drive, to better combat the upcoming Lincoln Blackwood.
Nissan’s revival plan is in full-steam-ahead mode, and an all-new Q45 four-door for Infiniti is nearing the final stages of development. Insiders suggest the new Q harkens back to the original model that emerged in 1990. We’re not sure if the belt-buckle badge will re-erupt on the car’s nose, but we are told the Q45 will be a 2002 model. It’s also said to be larger and more powerful than the current 4.1-liter, V-8-powered sedan.
Also scheduling world or North American debuts: Acura, BMW, Ford, Kia, Lexus, Isuzu, and Subaru.
Nick Twork contributed to this report.