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2002 Holden Monaro
LUTZ: MONARO WILL BE NEW GTO
One of the most memorable musclecar nameplates will soon be back spinning its tires. The Pontiac GTO will return to the market in time for the 2004 – with a concept version likely debuting at the next Detroit auto show – revealed General Motors product chief Bob Lutz, but the next-generation of this classic tire smoker will be coming from “down under.” Confirming earlier reports in TheCarConnection, Lutz announced that GM would do a GTO version of the Holden Monaro, a rear-drive coupe being sold in Australia. The decision to turn to Holden, he added, “gets a high-performance rear-wheel-drive vehicle back into our system far faster than if we started from scratch,” designing an all-new GTO in the U.S. Few details are being offered other than the fact that the next GTO will be V-8-powered.
Lutz says he also has his eye on several other Holden products, including one that could serve as a 21st-century Chevrolet El Camino. But there are two difficult problems to overcome. For one thing, demand is so strong, Holden has little excess capacity, and with so much excess capacity in the U.S., Lutz admitted, it would cause political problems with the United Autoworkers Union to begin bringing in serious numbers of products from overseas.
BIG THREE BEATING UP EACH OTHER?
It’s a war out there, or so says Jim Schroer, head of marketing for DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler Group. The Big Three domestic automakers are lobbing high-cost incentives, rather than hand grenades, with GM most recently firing another shot by re-launching zero-interest financing. “None of the Big Three wants to blink,” says industry Joe Phillippi. The problem is that the battle is seriously draining balance sheets, especially at Ford and DaimlerChrysler, which are struggling to make their turnaround plans work. GM has so far been the only domestic maker to gain market share as a result of the stepped-up incentives. But import carmakers are quietly rooting for the war to continue. “They stirred up the pot” and got the public interested in buying cars again, despite the recession, noted Toyota marketing chief Don Esmund. And that’s helped the entire industry, including European and Asian marques that have generally avoided offering big-buck incentives of their own. As a result Schroer fears that the incentive wars have made Big Three products look like a fire sale, “and that’s only telling the consumer that the Japanese make better cars.”
2003 Honda Element
HONDA SUV IS ELEMENTAL
In New York Honda took the wraps off the production version of its boxy Model X, which will be renamed the Element when it hits dealer showrooms late in the year. The production car “is amazingly similar” to the show truck, says designer Eric Schumaker. “We got 98 percent of what we wanted on the product,” just about everything but Model X’s big electric sunroof. Instead, the Element will get a removable glass panel. The box on wheels is being aimed at emerging Gen-Y consumers, who are expected to become the largest-ever buying group by the end of the decade. What these buyers are looking for, declared Honda EVP Tom Elliott, is a vehicle “that can serve as a mobile dorm room or base camp.” The Element will feature a flexible interior that, with the rear seats folded down, can hold a pair of mountain bikes with wheels still attached. It will be powered by a 160-hp 2.4-liter in-line four (though a larger engine is under consideration). It will be offered with stick or manual and in front- or all-wheel-drive configurations. The Element will be built in Honda’s East Liberty, Ohio, plant and export options are under study. Look for prices to range between $16,000 and $21,000
2002 Toyota CCX concept
2002 Scion bbX concept
Honda isn’t the only one taking aim at Gen-Y. Admitting it has a lot to learn about this new group, Toyota finally and formally announced its new Scion “brand-within-a-brand” on Wednesday. The division is aimed at repeating the success Toyota had 30 years ago appealing to the then-youthful Baby Boomers. The first vehicles won’t hit showrooms for more than a year, but company officials offered a hint of what’s in the offing. They brought back the CCX concept, first seen in Detroit, as well as the boxy BBX which, perhaps not so coincidentally, bears a strong resemblance to Honda’s new Element. A production version of the BBX is likely to be among the first two vehicles to hit Scion showrooms, which will actually be carved out of existing Toyota dealerships. (At least half of the automaker’s current dealers are expected to participate.) Expect base prices to start at around $18,000, noted Scion’s new boss, Jim Lentz. The automaker said Scion products would be “mono-spec,” meaning they will be built in Japan with only minimal variations in color and transmissions. But that’s actually a bit misleading. Scion customers will actually be able to order a wide range of accessories, which will be retrofitted once vehicles are shipped to the U.S. Expect Scion to debut in California, then spread to the rest of the country within a year, adding a third model along the way. Toyota hopes the division will reach 100,000 sales annually by 2005.
2004 Chrysler Pacifica
PACIFICA READY FOR PRODUCTION
Looking very close to the prototype that debuted in Detroit last January, Chrysler took the wraps off the production version of its upcoming Pacifica model. Though most observers have taken to calling the tall and roomy vehicle a station wagon, Chrysler continues to opt for the more innovative designation of “segment-buster.” Whatever it’s called, the vehicle will be built at Chrysler’s Windsor facility and sport a five-speed automatic transmission and V-6 engine as well as seating for six.
2003 Lincoln McLaren LS
MCLAREN REVIVES HOT ROD LINCOLN
The Lincoln LS is getting a high-performance tune-up thanks to McLaren Performance Technologies, the Detroit-based engineering operations that has created a variety of niche muscle cars over the years. Niche products like this are “where the market is heading,” declared McLaren president Steve Rossi. And his firm hopes to hitch its fate to Lincoln’s, a match that may serve both well since the Ford luxury division is desperately seeking to upgrade its image. “We’re trying to take the Lincoln brand and move it a bit more into the left lane,” said Rossi, adding that other performance packages are in development for such Lincoln models as the new Aviator sport-ute. The McLaren LS will be offered in three versions. A base appearance package, priced at approximately $43,000, will come in roughly $6000 over a comparable factory LS. Level two will performance-tune the suspension and bolt a twin-intercooled supercharger onto the basic Lincoln 3.9-liter V-8. Pumping 350 hp through its automatic transmission – 100 more than stock – it will go for $49,750. The top-level model will add a high-torque six-speed manual transmission and add another $6000 to the price tag. Look for the McLaren LS to appear at roughly 100 Lincoln dealerships later this year. Sales are forecast at 500 units annually.
2003 Nissan Murano
NISSAN TACKLES URBAN SUV WITH MURANO
Without a crossover in its lineup, Nissan says it will fill the void in the ’03 model year with the Murano, an “urban SUV” that blends a tall package, a V-6 engine and passenger-car ride comfort. The ever-present 3.5-liter V-6 will produce more than 240 hp in this application. Base Muranos will be front-drive; an electromagnetic all-wheel-drive system is the choice for all-weather models. The standard transmission for all Muranos will be a continuously variable transmission; upmarket versions will offer a seven-speed stepped-gear mode. Stability control, adjustable pedals, active head restraints and 18-inch wheels will also be available when the Murano goes on sale toward the end of the year.
2002 Volkswagen GTI 337
337: GTI’S LUCKY NUMBER
The latest GTI, the limited-edition 337, will be duplicated only 1500 times, Volkswagen told the New York show press on Wednesday. Based on a European anniversary edition of the hallowed GTI model, the U.S. version sports a 180-hp version of VW’s 1.8-liter turbo four and a six-speed manual gearbox. Also on the long list of mods: 18-inch wheels with Z-rated tires, a deeper chin spoilers, red brake calipers, and a polished exhaust cap, red-accented leather trim inside, and a Monsoon audio system. The silver-only GTI 337 stickers at $22,225.
2003 Saturn ION Coupe
2003 Saturn ION sedan
SATURN ENERGIZED BY ION
The new ION compact four-doors will “re-energize the small-car arena,” says Jill Lajdziak, VP of Saturn sales, marketing and service. A four-door ION sedan is joined by a “quad coupe” with a pair of full-sized doors and two smaller rear-access doors. The first of GM’s Delta-platform compacts, the IONs are two inches taller and wider than the outgoing S-Series vehicles, six inches longer, and offer a higher seating position to boot. The Ecotec 2.2-liter four spins out 137 hp and comes mated to either a five-speed manual, five-speed automatic or a CVT. Electronic power steering is standard, while curtain airbags and an in-dash CD changer are available. With changeable roof rails and interior trim, GM hopes the ION will be a springboard for young buyers into mild customization — somewhere less speedy and certainly cuter than a tank of nitrous oxide.
2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
MITSU GETS OUTLANDISH
Needless volume and overzealous dancers at the Mitsubishi press conference took a back seat to the introductions of two sport-utes. To go with the revised ’03 Montero — with a 3.8-liter V-6 and styling mods — Mitsu unveiled the Outlander, an Americanized version of the Japanese-market Airtrek. The Outlander is a five-door SUV cut out for less-than-Dakar duty: either front- or all-wheel-drive gets paired with a 140-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a four-speed Sportronic automatic gearbox. The cockpit has rally-style gauges, dual front airbags, air conditioning, a 100-watt CD audio system, cruise control, and power amenities. Side airbags and a mongo sound system are options. The Outlander will sport a price tag of less than $20,000 when it goes on sale later this summer.