2003 L.A. Auto Show, Part II

January 3, 2003

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.

Related Articles:
2003 L.A. Auto Show Coverage by TCC Team (1/1/2003)
2003 Detroit Auto Show Coverage by TCC Team (1/2/2003)

BENZ AFTER DOWNMARKET LUXURY

2004 Mercedes-Benz C320 sports sedan

2004 Mercedes-Benz C320 sports sedan

Mercedes-Benz isn’t a brand one normally turns to on a tight budget, but the new C230K could make a big splash among those looking for “a value answer,” according to the automaker’s U.S. marketing chief, Dave Schembri. It’s one of two sporty new sedans Mercedes rolled out at the L.A. Auto Show on Friday. The C230K features a supercharged V-6 putting out 189 horsepower through a standard six-speed manual transmission. The sedan features 17-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, sporty body trim and thick-bolstered sports seats. With a base price of $27,990, the C230K becomes the newest of four Mercedes models sold in the U.S. for less than $30,000.

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

Jackie Stewart and Jaguar XJ

American luxury buyers got their first up-close look at the seventh-generation Jaguar XJ sedan on Friday. The new, all-aluminum luxury car will finally reach U.S. shores by June, company officials noted, a bit later than originally anticipated, due to a variety of delays, including initial problems producing the XJ’s aluminum body. With racing legend Jackie Stewart on hand, Jag revealed the high-performance XJ-R, which features a supercharged version of the sedan’ 4.2-liter, 32-valve V-8. It will turn 0-60 times of a flat 5.0 seconds, the company claims, compared to 6.1 seconds for the normally-aspirated engine package.


GO, GO, LITTLE GTO

2004 Pontiac GTO

2004 Pontiac GTO

The new Pontiac GTO made its production-trim debut Friday when GM “car czar” Bob Lutz raced up to the stage in the Australian-made coupe. Its Corvette-derived LS1 engine will make 340-hp through its six-speed close ratio manual—or an optional four-speed automatic. And there’ll be plenty of performance parts brought in from Down Under, Lutz revealed. Sales will be limited to about 18,000 GTOs annually, he former Marine revealed, due to concerns by the United Auto Workers, which is worried about seeing jobs shift overseas. But Lutz suggested that the next-generation “Goat” could be jointly developed for both the U.S. and Australian markets, and built on opposite sides of the globe.
GM = GROWTH MARKET?
For the second year in a row, General Motors grabbed an increasing share of the U.S. motor vehicle market. The automaker actually reported a slight, one percent decline in volume, but because the overall market declined last year, GM wrapped up 2002 with a 28.7 percent share. That was no mean feat considering the decades of decline the automaker has suffered. At its peak, in the 1960s, General Motors divisions built six of every ten cars sold in the United States. Hefty incentives were clearly responsible for the ’02 turnaround, especially a December fire sale that boosted sales for the month by 36 percent over the same period in 2001.

2004 Pontiac Grand Prix

2004 Pontiac Grand Prix

But analysts warn that incentives are having less and less of an impact on U.S. buyers, and GM officials agree that longer-term, they cannot count on cash to keep their momentum going. That will require a flood of new and more competitive product, especially in mainstream segments of the market GM once dominated. Though it was upstaged in L.A. by the roll-out of the GTO, Pontiac’s redesigned Grand Prix is clearly a critical piece in GM’s future plans. The midsize sedan unveiled at the auto show boasts a cleaner, more contemporary look, especially as Pontiac abandons its affair with gaudy side cladding. “We want cars young people aspire to,” declared the division’s general manager, Lynn Meyers. And the Grand Prix, “personifies everything about where we’re going to take Pontiac.”


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

2003 Volvo S70R

SPINNING WHEELS AT VOLVO
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.

2004 Audi A8L

2004 Audi A8L

HOWDY AUDI
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.

2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

THE EVOLUTION OF MITSUBISHI
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.

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 Rio Cinco Swim

2003 Kia Sorento Surf

2003 Kia Sorento Surf

KIA KEEPERS?
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

2003 Mazda RX-8 X-Men car

Mazda’s news conference seemed a reprise of Dodge’s. Reporters sat on theater seats and were offered concession stand snacks of popcorn, candy and drinks served in capped cups with straws. The movie theme was used to introduce the RX-8 X-Men Car, which will be featured in X2, the upcoming sequel to X-Men. The movie’s director, Bryan Singer, was driven onstage and interacted with Charlie Hughes, President, Mazda North America. The X-Men Car is painted “Mutant Blue” and includes an X-shaped grille and an enlarged “X” on the nameplate.

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.

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