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sponsored by Toyota
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TRUCK WARS: THE BATTLE FOR CHICAGO
U.S. motor vehicle sales may be on the decline, but you wouldn’t know it from the demand for pickup trucks, especially full-size models. And there are plenty of new products on display in Chicago.
2002 Toyota Tundra Stepside concept
2002 GMC Terra4 concept
2003 Chevrolet Silverado
The press didn’t have to come to meet Dodge’s new heavy-duty trucks — instead, Dodge hooked the grandstand and dragged about 90 members of the automotive press 30 feet to — what else — lunch. Just prior, Dodge introduced the next-gen heavy-duty Rams and simultaneously brought back the HEMI engine descriptor. The big Dodge pickups will sport the 345-hp, 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 standard; a 305-hp Cummins turbodiesel with 555 lb-ft of torque (that’s the high-output version; a slighter 250-hp, 460 lb-ft version is also available) is optional. Regular- and long-wheelbase versions are offered. Dodge promises class-leading acceleration and towing capacity — some 23,000 pounds’ worth. Inside, the trucks are available with side curtain airbags and adjustable pedals.
The battle for the big pickup market is certain to get even more intense. With Tundra sales soaring to a record 110,000 last year, Toyota officials confirmed they will be adding more capacity, while Nissan is readying a new full-size pickup plant in Mississippi. So far, most of these Japanese models have been sold to buyers upgrading from other import products, but that may not be the trend in the future. “Are we concerned?” asked GMC General Manager Lynn Myers. “Absolutely. We’d be fools not to be. We can’t be complacent.” Added Gary White, Vehicle Line Executive for GM’s full-size trucks, “That’s one of the biggest reasons…we’re going to continue to put resources into making these trucks better.” It took GM 11 years before it replaced its last-generation full-sized models in 1999. The current line will likely be replaced by 2006 or ’07, sources indicate.
CAFE, ACCORDING TO LUTZ
Congress is considering proposals to increase the federally mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standard, which doesn’t bode well for full-line makers such as General Motors. While declaring GM’s commitment to improving its vehicles’ mileage, Bob GM Vice Chairman Lutz took aim at the controversial CAFE rules, suggesting that using them to boost fuel economy is “like getting the nation to lose weight by forcing manufacturers to make smaller clothing sizes.”
COWGER TAKES SHOTS AT WEAK YEN
Gary Cowger Chicago 2002
TOYOTA WARMS UP TO POD
2002 Toyota POD Concept
COULD YOU BE A BIT CLEARER ON THAT?
If the message hasn’t already gotten across, Ford Motor Co. officials went to great lengths to say that reports of the death of the Mercury brand have been greatly exaggerated. It is, said COO Nick Scheele, “a brand that will continue to play a significant role in Ford Motor Co. and its future.” Scheele revealed that Mercury will be getting at least six new models over the next five years. And that list could grow longer as part of an extensive rethinking of Mercury’s long-term strategy. That project is due for review by Ford Chairman Bill Ford sometime early in the second quarter.
MERCURY DROPS MARAUDER TOP
2002 Mercury Marauder Convertible concept
FORESTER REDONE FOR 2003
2003 Subaru Forester
SUBARU AND GM SEEK CLOSER TIES
The first all-new product to emerge from the ties between General Motors and Fuji Heavy Industries will be a seven-passenger multi-purpose vehicle due to market in 2005 or ’06, insiders confirmed Wednesday. But other projects could be moving into view. Among other things, Fuji’s Subaru brand may provide critical components, should GM decide to go ahead with a production version of its Solstice show car, as TheCarConnection previously reported. “I think Fuji wants to become a center of excellence for General Motors in all-wheel-drive,” Fred Adcock, Subaru of America EVP, told TCC during a Chicago Auto Show preview.
MERCEDES-BENZ TILTING DIRECTIONS
2002 Mercedes-Benz F400 concept
9-X COULD SET STAGE FOR FUTURE SAABS
2002 Saab 9-X concept
MITSUBISHI UPDATES ECLIPSE
2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder
MORE CHANGES ON THE WAY AT GENERAL MOTORS
He’s just finished shaking up the GM product development system, but Vice Chairman Bob Lutz tells TheCarConnection that other significant changes are in the offing for the long-struggling automaker. “There are always going to be changes, because GM is in a constant state of evolution,” Lutz stressed. While he declined to say what his next target will be, company insiders suggest several possibilities, notably GM’s marketing and advertising operations. Lutz noted that about 70 percent of the vehicles now in the GM product plan would likely face some level of second-guessing as part of the recent product development changes. In some cases, that could result in a complete change in such things as exterior design. The new development system, Lutz said, will require a third fewer workers, take up to eight weeks off the typical vehicle’s lead time, but most importantly, “the purpose is to guarantee home runs.”
FORD PLANS MAJOR CHANGES FOR CHICAGO ASSEMBLY
Ford COO Nick Scheele confirmed a poorly kept secret Wednesday, acknowledging the automaker will build its new CrossTrainer crossover vehicle at its Chicago Assembly Plant. The facility, currently producing the Taurus and Sable models, will be retrofitted with flexible automation systems permitting it to roll out a wide range of models simultaneously. There will be at least one other vehicle produced in Chicago once the conversion is made, according to Scheele, though the automaker is actually considering the production of three or more, including what sources describe as a tall sedan or wagon-like crossover vehicle. Another key change coming for Chicago is the development of an adjacent supplier park, much like the system at Ford’s European Saarlouis assembly plant. Suppliers—as yet unnamed—will produce their parts in sequence and just as needed on the Ford assembly line, then use a special conveyor system to move them to the Chicago line just as they are needed for production.
GMC GETTING NEW MID-SIZE UTE
The word from inside General Motors is that GMC will be getting a new Avalanche-like vehicle next year. Lynn Myers, Pontiac/GMC general manager, confirmed this week that GM is developing a sport-utility vehicle/pickup truck derivative that will be built off the same basic architecture now being used for the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy. The new Avalanche-like derivative will be added to the GMC lineup after the rollout and ramp-up for the new extended-wheelbase version of the Envoy, the Envoy XL. GM hasn't said yet where the new GMC sport-utility truck will be built but a good bet is the GM assembly plant in Oklahoma City where GM is now preparing to build the extended-wheelbase versions of the TrailBlazer and Envoy. In addition, GMC isn't forgetting its roots as it pursues professional-grade customers. GM also announced it is bringing out a couple of additional medium-duty models for commercial customers under the GMC nameplate. The GMC TopKick will come in C4500 and C5500 models, which will be well suited for use as shuttle buses, wreckers and snowplows, according to David Hansen, general manager of GM's Fleet and commercial operations. For even heavier jobs, the new C6500, C7500 and C8500 versions of the 2003 TopKick will be available. The new versions of the TopKick should be available by the mid-summer, GM officials said.
MOTORWEEK NAMES DRIVERS’ CHOICE
PBS' automotive show MotorWeek named its 2002 Drivers' Choice Awards at the Chicago Auto Show on Wednesday. The TV show named the following 12 category winners:
1. Best Small Car - Nissan Sentra(1)
2. Best Family Sedan - Nissan Altima
3. Best Minivan - Dodge Caravan(1), Chrysler Voyager(1), Chrysler Town & Country(1)
4. Best Convertible - Ford Thunderbird
5. Best Luxury Sedan - Cadillac CTS
6. Best Sport Sedan - Subaru Impreza WRX
7. Best Performance Car - Chevrolet Corvette Z06
8. Best Small Sport-Utility Vehicle - Saturn VUE
9. Best Family Sport-Utility Vehicle - Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer
10. Best Pickup Truck - Dodge Ram
11. Best Crossover Vehicle - Chevrolet Avalanche/Cadillac Escalade EXT
12. Best Dream Machine - Ferrari 360 Spider/Mercedes-Benz S55 AMG/Porsche 911 GT2