2003 Chicago Show, Part II

February 12, 2003

2003 Chicago Auto Show Index by TCC Team (2/10/2003)

2002 Lincoln LS

2002 Lincoln LS

LINCOLN CHANGES DIRECTION, WON’T CHASE CADDY
"We don't have to be Cadillac," James Padilla, President of Ford Motor Co. North American Operations, in an interview after a press conference at the Chicago Auto Show. Padilla said the number-two automaker has launched an extensive review of future product plans for Lincoln, which has long been considered Ford's answer to Cadillac. But Padilla said Ford has had second thoughts about following Cadillac upscale. "We're looking at how we can get more synergy with Ford products," Padilla said. Lincoln will keep its sport-utility vehicles and continue to sell entry-level luxury cars and other luxury models that utilize the brand's traditional strengths as an American luxury brand but it won't follow Cadillac "north" with pricier models beyond roughly the $40,000 to $50,000 range. One sign of the change is that Ford has already killed plans for building a high-performance Lincoln LS with help from McLaren to compete with Cadillac's new V-Series CTS. Ford, however, also will look at building different kinds of vehicles for Lincoln. One candidate for future development is the Lincoln Navicross, which could utilize the platform developed for the Ford Freestyle activity vehicle, Padilla said. "But we haven't decided that yet." —Joe Szczesny

SUBARU XTs THE FORESTER

2004 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT

2004 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT

Subaru used to sell an XT coupe, but the new turbo version of the Forester isn’t anywhere near as wacky as that two-seat, four-wheel-drive flying wedge. The Forester 2.5 XT sports a 210-hp, turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter flat four that also makes 235 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm and wears body-color side cladding and six-spoke, 16-inch alloy wheels. A five-speed manual is standard as is an in-dash six-disc CD changer. No pricing information has been released. —Marty Padgett

VW CELEBRATES 20 YEARS OF GTI

2003 Volkswagen GTI 20th Anniversary Edition

2003 Volkswagen GTI 20th Anniversary Edition

The VW GTI 20th Anniversary Edition emerged in Chicago slightly later than VW press folks had hoped, but made its debut nonetheless for the press in advance of its spring on-sale date. The $23,225 GTI will come with VW’s 180-hp turbo four and a six-speed manual transmission, which VW says is good for a 0-60 mph time of just more than seven seconds. Eighteen-inch, Z-rated tires, vented four-wheel disc brakes and 15-spoke alloy wheels mark the special edition, which comes in a choice of yellow, black or blue exteriors. —Marty Padgett

TRICKLE DOWN LUXURY

With Reagonomics being revived in Washington, maybe it’s only appropriate to be discussing the idea of a trickle-down theory of technology. Breakthroughs developed for top-line luxury vehicles will eventually make their way down to even the low end of a manufacturer’s line-up, suggested Bob Dover, head of Ford Motor Co.’s so-called “Brit Group,” consisting of Aston Martin, Land Rover and Jaguar. Aluminum bonding technology first used on the exclusive Aston Martin Vanquish is now migrating to the slightly more mainstream Jaguar XJ, and could eventually help Ford expand the use of the lightweight metal in an effort to improve fuel economy. During the keynote speech at the Chicago Auto Show, Dover emphasized that “You can’t sell technology for technology’s sake,” but there’s plenty of opportunity to use it to make driving safer, cleaner, more fuel efficient and more satisfying. —TCC Team

HIGHER VOLUME, MORE DEMANDS

The U.S. luxury market tripled over the last decade, and now accounts for about 1.5 million cars and tricks a year – nearly ten percent of the overall U.S. market. That’s partly the result of an improved economy, said Bob Dover, a senior executive with Ford’s Premier Automotive Group. It’s also the result of consumers stretching to buy a brand that they see as a “reward and a signal…to the world.” But Dover stressed there’s been a shift in buyer expectations, as well. Luxury motorists are demanding more content, better performance, safer vehicles, even while telling manufacturers to hold down costs.

Jaguar and its “Brit Group” siblings have benefited mightily from the luxury boom, averaging strong, double-digit growth in each of the last four years, Dover noted in a conversation with TheCarConnection.com. But he conceded, “We can’t continue this, in part because competitors won’t let us do it.” Accepting that Jaguar and other Ford premium brands may not hit their original growth targets, Dover said it’s forced Ford to go back to the drawing boards to shift its business plan. The automaker is now drafting a strategy that’s “more robust to (compensate for) a slower rate of growth.” The luxury marques will need to rethink future product development and find a way to pay for it on their own, said Dover, concluding that “Ford isn’t going to be there to bail us out.” —TCC Team

HAVE BIG SUVs PEAKED?

There’s a sudden surplus of full-size sport-utility vehicles, with some models logging over 100 days’ supply sitting on dealer lots. Has the increasing assault on the SUV by critics such as Arianna Huffington finally taken hold? Not likely, said Ford Motor Co. Group Vice President Jim O’Connor. The automaker’s weekly studies indicate American motorists “don’t want someone to tell them what they can buy.” O’Connor suggested the build-up in inventories may be attributed primarily to the normal ebbs and flows of the new car market. Manufacturers often increase production in January and February in order to prepare for the spring buying season. But other industry observers were a bit less upbeat. “There’s a lot of anxiety in the market,” cautioned Toyota division general manager Don Esmond. Large SUVs, others echoed, may be more vulnerable to concerns about an Iraqi war’s potential impact on fuel prices and availability. —TCC Team

DAEWOOS HAVE FORD SEARCHING 

GM's return to the entry-level car market via its Daewoo connection has Ford looking for a response. "It's a market we should be in," says Ford Motor group vice president of marketing sales and service Jim O’Connor. "We are scouring our options on that segment from our global products," says O'Connor. One option, he said, is the Ford Icon, produced in Mexico. But O'Connor says the product is not federalized for U.S. roads. —Jim Burt
AWD ALL THE RAGE

The all-wheel drive offerings are going to be plentiful in a few years, say auto executives at the show. Toyota, Ford and Mazda are among those planning to add all-wheel-drive options on their sedans, as well as crossovers, by mid-decade. Toyota's U.S. chief Jim Press says the automaker is planning on AWD versions of its Camry as well as Lexus models and possibly others. "It's to offer people who are aging out of the need or want of SUVs the utility they have been used to." Ford's sales and marketing chief Jim O'Connor says the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans will both offer all-wheel-drive versions in addition to the Ford Freestyle crossover based on the same platform. The Five Hundred and Montego, both front-drive, follow the strategy employed by Jaguar with its front-drive X-Type, which was made all-wheel-drive for the U.S. to enhance its performance appeal among Jag enthusiasts and customers. The Five Hundred will be competing against the Chrysler replacements for the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde, which are both being made as rear-drive sedans with all-wheel-drive options. O'Connor says he suspects a higher percentage of Mercury Montegos will be sold with AWD than Ford Five Hundreds because Ford buyers are "inherently more price-conscious." Mazda executives, too, said they are looking to offer all-wheel-drive on the Mazda6 sedan.
Mazda executives said they wanted to introduce the Mazdaspeed version of the Mazda Miata this week in Chicago, but that it wasn't ready. The Mazdaspeed Miata, expected to be at the New York Auto Show, will be supercharged and have Mazdaspeed body and trim treatments to differentiate it from the standard Miata. Mazda executives also said that their biggest problems with the new Mazda6 is product mix. Nearly 40 percent of orders are for V-6 cars, and that's compared with less than 20 percent for Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Also, orders for the standard transmission version have far outstripped what Mazda planned for, with early orders running in excess of 30 percent. —Jim Burt

MERCEDES’ POWER LUNCH

2003 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

2003 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

What used to represent the pinnacle in performance has become the price of admission, suggested Ulrich Bruhnke, CEO of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG unit. Charged with producing limited-edition, ultra-high-power versions of the automaker’s more mainstream models, AMG brought the next-generation E55 to Chicago, a 469-horsepower super-sedan that can launch from 0-60 in a smooth 4.5 seconds. That makes it the most powerful — and fastest — sedan Mercedes has ever brought to market. The E55 features a 5.5-liter V-8 with a new Lysholm supercharger and crossfire intercooler. It boasts a high-torque, five-speed automatic transmission with manual Speed Shift mode. As with all AMG versions, the E55 will be available in limited numbers, about 2000 annually, once it reaches the U.S. in May. At $76,000, it will also be the most expensive E-Class Mercedes has ever sold. Bruhnke hinted to TheCarConnection that there might be room to nudge the E55 over the 500-hp mark, which is quickly becoming the number to beat for world-class performance. “Three hundred horsepower is no longer the summit, but an entry point,” Bruhnke noted. —TCC Team

DIESELS DELIVER FOR MERCEDES

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the new C30 AMG CDI, Mercedes-Benz officials cautioned. The first-ever diesel-powered performance car from Mercedes’ AMG division, it won’t be coming to the States, at least until the automaker is sure customers could get a supply of low-sulfur fuel – and that the C-Class variant would meet increasingly tough diesel emissions standards. But in Europe, at least, the C30 is making plenty of waves. At 231 hp, it’s about 120 horsepower less than the gasoline-powered C32 AMG, but the diesel model also boasts a whopping 541 Newton-meters (nearly 400 lb-ft) of torque. During comparison testing at the challenging Hockenheim track in Germany, Bruhnke noted, the C30 matched the C32’s lap times. That’s winning skeptics both outside and inside the company. “We want to get experience with the diesel (at AMG) and we’re now in discussion with members of the board to see what comes next,” Bruhnke told TCC. —TCC Team

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