2000 Chicago Auto Show, Part Two

February 11, 2000

FORD HOLDS THE ‘BIRD. The Ford Thunderbird project has been set back by anywhere from three to six months, well-placed sources revealed to TCC in Chicago. The retro-styled roadster got an early preview and a long incubation period, and though no formal timetable was announced, Ford had planned to put it into production late this fall. Now, it seems, it won’t start rolling off the assembly line until early 2001 — at the soonest. Several problems appear to be behind the delay. For one thing, there’s a problem with body rigidity and the closely related issues of vibration and drive harshness. Though the new T-Bird will share its chassis with the Lincoln LS, the roadster’s shorter length is the source of that problem. More serious, acknowledged a senior-level source, is a shortage of V-8 engines. There’s been far more demand than expected for Ford’s multi-valve, 3.9-liter powerplant in the hot-selling LS, so the carmaker needs to ramp up engine capacity before the ‘Bird is back.

2000 Buick Rendevous concept

2000 Buick Rendevous concept

2000 Buick Rendevous concept interior

2000 Buick Rendevous concept interior

BUICK’S PLANNING A RENDEZVOUS Amidst a flurry of concept car reveals, General Motors rolled out one for the road, a car-truck crossover dubbed the Buick Rendezvous. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the popular RX 300 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Rendezvous blends elements of an SUV, luxury sedan and minivan, explained the division’s general manager, Roger Adams. Due for a 2001 model-year sales start, the seven-seater features a fold-away third row bench and an innovative four-wheel-drive system. Power comes from a 185-hp, 3.4-liter V-6, and an optional supercharger could follow at a later date. Will Rendezvous mark the start of a "Buick revolution," as Adams asserted? The long-struggling division has also received kudos for the sleek LaCrosse concept car that was introduced in Detroit last month. LaCrosse, Adams added, has a very good shot at going into production.

CROSS-DRESSED TO KILL Trucks clearly dominated the Chicago Auto Show this year. But while relatively traditional designs, like the big Chevy Silverado 3500 were plentiful, truck wannabes were the hottest story. The Buick Rendezvous, Hyundai’s HCD-V CrossTour concept, Mazda’s NexTourer and the Chevrolet Traverse suggest what millions of American motorists may be driving in the not-too-distant future. "Everyone is trying to figure out where the next-generation family sedan is going," noted Hyundai VP Dave Weber. While trucks now account for half the American market, automakers are betting that motorists will be looking for ways to keep the best attributes of trucks — like their utility and command seating — and overcome their disadvantages, like low fuel economy and rougher ride. Hybrids have another advantage, added GM CEO Rick Wagoner. Since they get more car-like mileage, "They’re our hedge" in the event that fuel prices keep rising — or that Washington enacts stiffer mileage standards.

2000 Hyundai CrossTour concept

2000 Hyundai CrossTour concept

2000 Hyundai CrossTour concept interior

2000 Hyundai CrossTour concept interior

A FIFTH OF HYUNDAI Part of a string of Hyundai all-activity-type concept vehicles that have debuted at Detroit and Chicago, the CrossTour combines attributes of an SUV a sports car and a minivan to appeal to those who are sick of traditional sport-utes. Don't be surprised if Hyundai decides to build something similar in the near future — like other automakers, Hyundai wants a piece of the emerging hybrid market.

2001 Dodge Stratus coupe

2001 Dodge Stratus coupe

2001 Dodge Stratus sedan

2001 Dodge Stratus sedan

DC UP IN THE CLOUDS Despite growing truck sales, the traditional passenger car is alive and well, declared DaimlerChrysler President Jim Holden. And the automaker has big plans for its 2001 "cloud cars." The completely redesigned Dodge Stratus sedan and the new coupe, which is destined to replace the Avenger coupe, made their debut in Chicago and it took only a quick glance to see just how much of a change has been made from the first generations. The updated Stratus sedan is four inches longer and a bit taller, though the high beltline and sleek roofline make it appear more sporty and graceful. But designers and engineers focused most of their efforts on reducing noise, improving quality, providing a more refined ride and feel, and eliminating quality problems, said Holden, noting that in the competitive compact segment, providing more for less has become a "critical driving factor." The coupe shares much of its structure, down to the dash shapes, of the current, much-lauded Mitsu Eclipse. The companion Chrysler Cirrus sedan and coupe will be unveiled this spring, possibly at April’s New York auto show, with the convertible a few months later.

2001 Kia Rio

2001 Kia Rio

BLAME IT ON RIO Was it something in the water, or just a strangely candid Kia president Dick Macedo, that made the Rio’s introduction a little bizarre? In any case, the Rio is altogether conventional. When it hits showrooms, the subcompact Rio — previous versions of the same platform were sold as the Ford Aspire — will be priced near $8000 with standard features like air conditioning and an AM/FM cassette player.

2001 Ford Ranger Edge

2001 Ford Ranger Edge

A SMOOTHER EDGE FOR RANGER Ford is hoping the latest version of its Ranger compact pickup will give it an edge in this hotly competitive segment. The 2001 Ranger Edge is aimed at Gen X and Echo Boomers on a budget, said Ford’s general manager, Jim O’Connor, but not those who want to settle for bland and basic. Available in 4x2 and 4x4 configurations, the Edge will have a sharp, sporty look, and with its optional 205-hp, 4.0-liter SOHC V-6, plenty of pep. (The base engine is a 3.0-liter V-6.) There’s a useful cargo divider for the bed, as well as an optional two-foot extender. The interior features should also appeal to hip buyers with a built-in, single-CD player or optional, in-dash, six-disc changer. For those who measure muscle in decibels, rather than horsepower, Ford also unveiled the limited edition Sony Focus. A stylish version of the popular new Ford subcompact, it features a 13-speaker Sony sound system blasting out an ear-splitting 460 watts of audio power. Only 5000 will be built, mercifully providing hope to those who don’t want to be surrounded by deafening base notes.

2000 Chevrolet pick up

2000 Chevrolet pick up

FOUR DOORS ARE NEVER ENOUGH GM is busy renovating all its truck lines to include four doors, and its compact pickups are the latest beneficiaries of the surgery. For the 2001 model year, GM will produce a crew cab version of its Sonoma and S-10 compact pickups. It has sold a similar configuration in Brazil since 1994 — however, the company only recently decided that the U.S. market would accept such a vehicle

MITSU MAKES MORE IN AMERICA Mitsubishi plans to invest more than $1 billion on new products for the U.S. market, including a new sport-utility vehicle that will be built in the company's assembly plant in Normal, Ill. Pierre Gagnon, Mitsubishi Motors Sales of America's chief operating officer, said at the Chicago Auto Show the production of the Montero sport will be shifted from Japan to the U.S. under the company's new Project America, which is part of the company's $1 billion commitment to plan, design and engineer and build core products in the U.S. Production of the new Montero and the new Galant, which will be built off the same platform or set of components is scheduled to begin in early 2003, Mitsubishi officials said. The next-generation Eclipse will also be built from the same platform.

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