additional reporting by Chuck Dapoz
The Los Angeles auto show is underway, and TCC is on the ground to bring you the latest product introductions. Check back with us later for the wrap-up of show news, including word from Porsche and Volvo.
BENZ AFTER DOWNMARKET LUXURY
2004 Mercedes-Benz C320 sports sedan
In all, Mercedes now offers four products starting under $40,000, including the C320 sports sedan, which was also unveiled in L.A. The sporty sedan shares many of the features of the C230K, but instead boasts a normally-aspirated 3.2-liter V-6 engine making 215 horsepower. The C320 also gets a 10-speaker Bose audio package, 10-way power front seats and a digital climate control system.
THAT’S “R” AS IN ROAR
Jackie Stewart and Jaguar XJ
GO, GO, LITTLE GTO
2004 Pontiac GTO
GM = GROWTH MARKET?
For the second year in a row, General Motors grabbed an increasing share of the
2004 Pontiac Grand Prix
HOW MUCH POWER IS TOO MUCH POWER?
Call it the horsepower war. Manufacturers are racing to deliver more and more performance, with even the Honda Odyssey minivan bragging about its 240 “horseys,” more than a mid-1980s muscle car. “That’s one of the things that never changes,” laughed GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz. “People like fast, responsive vehicles more than slow, sluggish ones.” But is there a limit to how far things can go? “There is a logical limit,” Lutz conceded, and “for normal production cars, it’s somewhere south of 700 horsepower.” Of course, barriers are made to be broken. Volkswagen’s Bugatti Veyron is planning to hit 1001 hp and while Cadillac says there are no plans – for now – to produce the Sixteen show car debuting in Detroit, it will make an even 1000 “horseys” out of its 16-cylinder engine.
RECORD NUMBERS FOR THE IMPORTS
Automakers began tallying up their final figures for 2002 this week, and despite the overall industry weakness, there was plenty of crowing from the import aisles. Mercedes-Benz racked up its sixth consecutive year of record sales in the U.S., a total of 213,225 cars and trucks. Jaguar saw sales jump by more than a third, to a record 61,000, while it broke the 100,000 mark worldwide for the first time, with global volume of 102,000. Audi tallied 85,726 cars in the U.S. last year, another all-time record. And Mitsubishi reported a seven-percent gain which, considering its market segment, was a reasonably solid performance. There were plenty of losers to offset the winners, of course, though those with declining sales were notably more quiet about the 2002 results. One exception was Volvo where “we were rudely interrupted after 10 years of growth,” grumbled North American chief Vic Doolan. But despite concerns about the U.S. economy, he insisted there are “glimmers of blue sky” with new product, such as the XC90.
2003 Volvo S70R
The Swedish automaker is betting it can expand the market for its new XC90 by adding a front-drive model. The FWD crossover-ute will hit market later this year and be targeted at California and other Sunbelt markets where all-wheel-drive demand is low. Equipped with the five-cylinder powertrain, the FWD XC90 will start at $33,450, and Doolan expects it will account for about 30 percent of the 40,000 annual sales Volvo is forecasting for the edgy crossover vehicle. Meanwhile, Volvo announced U.S. prices for two new performance models. The S60R will come in at $36,825, with the V70R going for $38,325. While Volvo may be adding a front-drive version to the XC90 line, that’s going to be the exception to the future rule. “Our aim is to go all-wheel-drive on all models,” he told TheCarConnection.com. The switch should happen sometime after mid-decade, other sources hinted.
2003 Volvo S70R
2004 Audi A8L
The German automaker’s new A8L, the long wheelbase version of its third-generation, all-aluminum luxury flagship, will arrive in the U.S. this coming June, and carry a pricetag of “around $70,000,” said Len Hunt. The head of the German carmaker’s stateside operations, Hunt added that “We expected to sell more than twice the (volume of the) previous version,” or about 6000 A8 sedans annuals. That would include the short-wheelbase version to follow, as well as a high-performance model. Audi is aggressively emphasizing performance and Hunt suggested there will be “other sporty models…in the near future,” including the 450-hp RS6 that will be rolling into dealer showrooms before year’s end.
2004 Audi A8L
2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Newly renamed Mitsubishi Motors North America is going through quite a few changes these days as it takes aim at its aggressive growth targets. “By 2007,” said CEO Pierre Gagnon, “we expect to nearly triple the sales we had in 1998.” Part of the process will involve rolling out “the biggest product onslaught in our history.” In terms of raw numbers the 4,500 Lancer Evolution models Mitsubishi expects to sell next year won’t mean much. But the rally-derived road racer will provide quite a halo, Mitsubishi officials are hoping. It’s the production version of the eighth-generation Mitsu rally car – the Evo has been a steady and strong campaigner on the rally circuit, which is proving quite appealing to the young buyers Mitsu covets. The first Evolution to ship to the U.S. , the Lancer spin-off will feature a 271-hp turbocharged engine, full-time all-wheel-drive, massive Brembo brakes and a bad attitude. Starting price? $28,987.
2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Mitsubishi intends to expand its presence in the compact sports car segment and its turning to its international performance division, Ralliart. Look for an expanded presence in motor sports, Ralliart variants off a number of Mitsu products, including the Eclipse and Eclipse Spyder, along with an expanded line of performance and appearance parts.
2003 Kia Rio Cinco Swim 2003 Kia Sorento Surf
2003 Kia Rio Cinco Swim
2003 Kia Sorento Surf
Is there a market for a pair of surf specials from Korean carmaker Kia? That’s what the automaker intends to find out by closely watching reaction to two concepts it pulled into the L.A. Convention Center. The Sorento Surf is a splashy spin-off of the hot new Kia SUV, while the Cinco Swim is a version of the Rio wagon. Along with the bad pun, the wagon boasts a navigation system, and a neoprene interior that’s easy to clean out, especially with the standard air hose and pump. The Surf gets blacked-out headlights, a skid plate, ripple-mesh grille, a roof rack and the neoprene interior. The goal, said a Kia official, is to come up with targeted niche spin-offs of mainstream Kia products. Reaction in the coming months will determine whether the Cinco Swim and Surf join the line-up.
THIS IS HOLLYWOOD, AFTER ALL
Lights. Camera. Cars? While automakers may talk about product, product, product, you can’t escape the Hollywood influence at the L.A. Auto Show, as was apparent at multiple news conferences.On Thursday Dodge used a movie theater theme, passing out candy, using theater seats and playing movie trailers, leading up to a trailer featuring Dieter Zetsche and other DaimlerChrysler managers. On Friday, both Mazda and Mitsubishi also used movie themes, showing clips of two movie sequels that will features their cars and also rolling out Hollywood stars.
2003 Mazda RX-8 X-Men car
Mitsubishi used its news conference to promote its sponsorship of The Fast and Furious 2, which will showcase the Eclipse Spyder and Evo VIII. One of the stars of the movie, Tyrese (one name only, like Madonna and Sting), signed autographs for fawning reporters. Look for Mitsubishi promotional tie-ins with the movie.
Throughout the auto show, Ford Motor Company is staging a Die Another Day display featuring vehicles used in the latest 007 movie: the Aston Martin DB12 Vanquish, Jaguar XK8 and Ford Thunderbird.