2004 New York Auto Show, Part IV

April 12, 2004

2004 New York Auto Show Index (4/5/04)


INFINITI’S NEW “BLUEPRINT”

Infiniti’s M Concept car is “the blueprint” for what’s to come from Nissan’s up-market division, declared general manager Mark Igo. In

Infiniti M Concept

Infiniti M Concept

this case, that means the next-generation M45 sports sedan, which debuts about a year from now as an ’06 model. The M Concept actually has its roots in another show car, the luxurious Fuga, shown by Nissan at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show. It’s part of an effort to give Infiniti a more powerful brand identity. The M Concept features a variety of intriguing technologies, including “pre-crash” front seatbelts that automatically tighten up in advance if the car senses the likelihood of a crash. There’s also a Lane Departure Warning system, the first of its kind, which uses side mirror-mounted cameras to detect inadvertent lane “violations.” Both features will show up in the production M45, according to Igo, who expects the lane change warning system to prove quiet popular. The M Concept features a 4.5-liter V-8 making 340 hp. That engine will appear in the production M45, while a smaller V-6 will be offered in the version to be called the M35. All-wheel-drive will be available, said Igo, but initially, at least, only paired with the smaller engine.

2005 Infiniti Q45

2005 Infiniti Q45

This summer also will bring the introduction of an updated Q45 sedan, Infiniti’s flagship model. The 2005 Q45 will sport an updated nose and rear end, improved seating, the automaker’s RJ active damping system and the new pre-crash seatbelt technology. The Q has served as the flagship of the up-market Nissan brand since its introduction, 15 years ago. But that may change. “There will be a next-generation flagship,” hinted Igo, “that’s also above the M.” But it may not carry the alphabetic Q designation. Whatever the name, the next sedan will also be influenced by the Fuga concept vehicle.

 

IMPORT AUTOMAKERS FACE THE NEW MATH

While it didn’t come up in any formal press preview, the issue of exchange rates was never far from mind for import manufacturers introducing product at the New York International Auto Show this year. The dollar has lost roughly 20 percent of its value against the Euro over the last twelve months, and has taken a tumble against the yen, as well. Things could “get ugly when it falls below 100 yen to the dollar,” said Infiniti General Manager Mark Igo. That’s making it increasingly difficult to hold the line on prices without wiping out profit margins, import industry executives admitted. But raising prices could “set our plans out of kilter,” added Volkswagen of America’s CEO, Gerd Klauss. So, in the short-term, most brands will swallow hard and hope the dollar quickly regains some of its strength. Another year of this, however, and import prices could quickly start to climb.

 

LINCOLN OFFERS A “TEASER” OF ITS NEW DIRECTION

Lincoln Zephyr "teaser"

Lincoln Zephyr "teaser"

Ford Motor Co.’s flagship American luxury brand has gone through so many abortive shifts in direction over the last decade it’s difficult to know precisely what it is anymore. To put things back on track, the automaker will roll out “more product faster,” said Jim Padilla, Ford’s President of the Americas. The latest example debuted in New Yorkin the form of the Lincoln Zephyr “teaser” — a term that may be a better way of describing the many new show cars that are thinly-disguised production vehicles. In this case, the Zephyr will, with minor changes, reappear as Lincoln’s new entry-level sedan. Sales in that segment have surged by more than a third since 1999, so Ford desperately needs to be there, said Padilla. The sedan will share platforms and underlying components with the new Lincoln Aviator crossover
Lincoln Zephyr interior

Lincoln Zephyr interior

vehicle, as well as the Ford Futura sedan. Or at least the sedan Ford intended to call Futura. The automaker has quietly decided to abandon that name and is searching for an alternative. Like the Aviator, the upcoming Zephyr will be offered in front- or all-wheel-drive. The exterior is meant to give the brand a sportier look, while the interior revives some cues harkening back to the classic ’61 Lincoln sedan, said design chief J Mays. Mays believes that lavish passenger compartments will give Zephyr a much more elegant look at a relatively low price point.

Lincoln’s new “entry-lux” sedan will arrive nearly four decades after Lincoln last played in that segment — and almost 70 years after the original Lincoln Zephyr appeared on the market. The original 1936 Zephyr was based on a concept of the Dutch designer John Tjaarda of Briggs Body Corp. He was inspired by the aerodynamic ‘streamliner’ trains, including the record-setting diesel-powered Burlington Zephyr, that helped end the age of steam. The Lincolns were well appreciated because of the performance of their flathead V-12 engines with 110 hp, which was a lot in that time. The new Zephyr will arrive on the market in the fall of 2005 as a 2006 model. (TCC Team and Henny Hemmes)

Lexus LF-C Concept

Lexus LF-C Concept

LEXUS SHIFTS SHAPE

Lexus has had a significant impact on the concept of what a luxury car should be. It’s raised the bar on customer service and taken the idea of quiet interiors to a new paradigm. But the automaker has also been faulted for its lack of consistent styling, and a tendency for many vehicles to look rather derivative. That’s going to change, insisted General Manager Denny Clements, and to back up that point, Lexus used this year’s New York show to unveil its LF-C concept vehicle. It is meant “to launch a completely different direction in styling for Lexus,” said Clements, one that is sportier, more distinctive and almost ready to hit the road. The LF-C will serve as a prototype of the next-generation IS series, Clements hinted, that will be longer, lower, and wider. And unlike the current model, the next IS will be offered in a variety of body styles, making it easier to go up against segment leader, the BMW 3-Series. The sporty LF-C concept featured an intriguing hardtop roof design that could be set to four different positions, transforming the vehicle into a coupe, targa, speedster, or full convertible. In production form, the LF-C features a high-output V-8 driving the 21-inch rear wheels through a sequential manual six-speed transmission. It also sports an advanced, steer-by-wire system.

 

DRIVING ALL FOUR

With rare exception, a growing number of new luxury products are being offered with all-wheel-drive technology. “Just put two and two together,” said Ford design director J Mays, “and if you don’t have all-wheel-drive as at least an option, you’re not in the game.” The new Zephyr will offer AWD as an option and, while Mays wouldn’t comment, the next Lincoln flagship is expected to, as well. Virtually all Infiniti and Lexus models will reserve space for all-wheel powertrains. Mercedes-Benz and Audi have already moved that direction, as well. The technology provides a sense of security, said Mays, and is increasingly viewed as a way to enhance performance, too. Industry observers add that customers familiar with sport-utility vehicles have come to expect AWD on whatever vehicles they drive.

 

XM TO OFFER REAL-TIME TRAFFIC ALERTS

Traffic Alerts

Traffic Alerts

With American highways becoming increasingly traffic-snarled, XM Satellite Radio is betting motorists will pay for more accurate and complete traffic updates than they can get on local radio. The service, best known for offering 100 channels of music and talk that can be heard across the country, is getting ready to launch its new XM NavTraffic system. Unlike today’s radio traffic alerts, the new technology will actually display where roads are clogged on a vehicle navigation screen, making it possible for a motorist to plot out another route. XM NavTraffic will debut on the new Acura RL, with General Motors to quickly follow with an option for its Cadillac division. Both carmakers own stakes in XM. Service will start in a handful of select, major metro markets. The satellite service company is partnering on the traffic project with Chicago-based Navteq, one of the leaders in onboard navigation mapping systems.

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