LEXUS LAUNCHES LUXURY HYBRID
Toyota Motor Co. used the North American International Auto Show to unveil a new, more sophisticated hybrid powertrain in a version of the new
2004 lexus RX330
KIA SLICES WITH FINAL DETROIT UNVEILING
2003 Kia KCD-1 Slice concept
A 2.7-liter DOHC V-6 powers the KCD-1, coupled with a Sportmatic automatic transmission. The suspension is independent all around and sport-tuned, with stabilizer bars front and rear.
While—for the U.S. market—it’s a relatively compact vehicle (at 177 inches long), there’s seating for six in the KCD-1, in three rows. The seats can be folder in various combinations depending on cargo. The doors open up wide from the middle and they’re solenoid-operated. Inside, the gauges and dials are likened to those on sailboats, while the center console resembles a motorcycle fuel tank.
Off-roading isn’t part of the package. Rather, the Slice was designed to provide more passenger and cargo-hauling capacity without a sacrifice in driver enjoyment, handling ability, or fuel economy. –Bengt Halvorson
KIA LOOKING FOR A SLICE OF CROSSOVER MARKET
Kia Motors is looking hard to produce the Slice concept vehicle it is showing this week at the Detroit show, and is considering pricing the Optima spin-off around $20,000 with all-wheel-drive, say company officials. The Slice is reminiscent of the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe, but has three rows of seats and no B-pillar. Kia, which has gained credibility in the last two years with its Kia Sedona and the new Sorento SUV, could severely undercut Subaru's all-wheel-drive Outback with the Slice. "Slice is not just a concept, it's a very serious market niche we think we can take advantage of with a design that is right in the heart of where the crossover, sport wagon market is going, but with a great value positioning relative to other entries," said one senior Kia official. --Jim Burt
FORD READY WITH DOGGY DOOR ON F-SERIES
While Ford and Nissan duked it out this week with all-new full-size truck entries, a lot of buzz at this year's auto show was about GM's bed-side door on its Cheyenne truck concept that is a design direction for the 2005 Chevy Silverado. Neither the 2004 F-Series or the 2004 Nissan Titan showed a similar door feature that allows easy access to the rear of the truck bed without the driver having to scramble through the tailgate, but Ford officials say that it will offer a similar feature on the F-Series next year. --Jim Burt
HOW FAR BEHIND IS HONDA ON TRUCKS?
American Honda Motor Co. auto operations chief Tom Elliott in an interview with USA Today said Honda may be moving closer to developing a pickup truck. "We may have to...it's the only thing we're not in," said Elliott after seeing the Nissan full-size truck launched at the Detroit auto show this week. Honda executives have been dodging the pickup question for a few years. A source doing business with Honda says several designs have been submitted up the line at Honda, but none has been green-lighted yet. Last August, Honda CEO Hiroyuki Yoshino said in an interview that if and when Honda enters the pickup truck market, it wouldn’t likely be a "conventional pickup." "It would be tough to do that in a market so dominated already by Ford and General Motors, but we could redefine a niche with a unique product like we have done with Element in the subcompact SUV segment." It is also most likely that Honda would only do a six-cylinder vehicle in the truck market, as it does not have its own eight-cylinder engine. --Jim Burt
CHRYSLER DITCHES MARTHA STEWART
Chrysler sales and marketing chief Jim Schroer said Tuesday that the company will launch a new advertising campaign for the Chrysler brand in the middle of January that features all back-and-white photography in both print and TV ads, a signature of this year's advertising meant to differentiate Chrysler from Dodge. Schroer said Monday that the company had discontinued its relationship with decorating and homemaking personality Martha Stewart, and said ads featuring pop diva Celine Dion will break at this year's Golden Globe Awards. Dion's image is already being used in marketing communications at the North American International Auto Show. In TV ads, Dion will be seen singing to her son. "Dion tested amazingly well with women," said Schroer, who said he wants to keep separating the Dodge and Chrysler brands at the same time the company is building vehicles for both off the same platforms and architecture. Schroer said using Stewart as a media vehicle "was always a bad idea...she is Kmart, and that's not where we want Chrysler to go." Schroer said the decision to dump Stewart was made before she faced insider trading charges and her company's stock tanked. "I wouldn't go so far as to say Dodge is a man's brand and Chrysler is a woman's brand, but clearly we are taking Dodge into more masculine territory and Chrysler is going in another direction that naturally appeals more to women," said Schroer. --Jim Burt
VIEW FROM THE TOP
Is there a difference between what industry executives view as important and what consumers view as important? That was one of the questions posed by KPMG National Automotive Industry Director at a press conference elaborating on the results of the firm’s 2003 Global Automotive Survey. The survey asked 100 prominent industry executives about industry trends and issues, including the economy, the environment, profitability, production capacity, e-business, product and consumer trends, and telematics.
Ambrose noted that the firm’s results quantify speculation that customer loyalty has dropped significantly in the past year due to increased incentives. Only 19 percent of executives polled (down from 33 percent last year) expected consumer loyalty to rise within the next five years.
With cost cutting about the only way for automakers to return to profitability, suppliers are being expected to take the fall. So it’s not surprising that 74 percent of those polled expected that “suppliers would continue to consolidate.”
Since cars are still selling well, but manufacturers are taking the loss, dealership loyalty has made a strong move up. The bottom line is that dealerships are making money, industry isn’t.
Respondents agreed that overcapacity is not a global problem, but rather one that is unique to the North American—and to some degree, European—markets. Market-share issues—and not market-by-market issues—are to blame.
Ambrose also added that the automakers would have many other obstacles to overcome in being profitable this year. Among them: pension costs. Due to the poor stock market and underperforming economy, automakers will have foot the bill for lost pension values. –Bengt Halvorson