2005 Los Angeles Auto Show, Part II

January 4, 2005

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2005 Los Angeles Auto Show Index by TCC Team

 

Jetta Jumps Out in L.A.

An all-new Volkswagen Jetta took its bows during the opening press day at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, and according to company officials, the operative adjective is “more.” As in more room, more power, more features, more safety equipment. The debut marks the 25th anniversary for VW’s compact Jetta, which has, over that quarter-century, sold 2.2 million copies in the U.S., making this the car’s number-one market. The automaker hopes to expand the appeal of the new Jetta, and its price tag certainly won’t hurt. The version with an all-new, 150-hp, in-line five-cylinder engine and standard transmission starts at $17,900, while the same car with a six-speed automatic will base at $18,900. The new Jetta features an electromechanical steering system and, for the first time, an independent multilink rear suspension. The car’s body boasts 13-percent better torsional rigidity than the old Jetta and 65-percent better bending rigidity. Hoping to allay fears about recent quality problems, VW officials also noted their investment in new production technology, including a state-of-the-art laser welding system. The new Jetta is the first model in a major product offensive planned by the German maker, said Len Hunt, executive vice president of Volkswagen of America. The company intends to roll out nine new models during the next 18 months.

 

SVT Still Kicking, Ford Says

Hau Thai-Tang

Hau Thai-Tang

With no cars currently on the market, there’ve been plenty of rumors working their way through the industry grapevine about the future of Ford Motor Co.’s high-performance SVT unit. But “reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated,” the head of the brand-within-a-brand told  TheCarConnection.com, lifting a turn-of-phrase from Mark Twain. “We’d hate to give up on the brand equity we’ve established over the last ten years,” insisted Hau Thai-Tang, the new boss of SVT, who until recently led the development of the new, retro-styled Mustang. An SVT version of the Mustang will be unveiled at the upcoming New York Auto Show, said Thai-Tang, and though he wouldn’t confirm production plans, sources told TCC it’s a bit more than a year away. Several other possible SVT models are under consideration, with an emphasis on adding a more mainstream product, such as a high-performance Fusion sedan.

SVT’s current hiatus was not due to problems with the unit, Thai-Tang insisted, but simply the result of limited resources being shifted to the development of the Ford GT supercar. Going forward, SVT intends to return to its roots, the Vietnamese-born executive explained during an exclusive interview. It will focus on building high-performance, limited-volume products with “substance” and value. But rather than putting a premium on off-the-line acceleration, future SVT models will likely strive to have broader appeal, much like the vehicles sold by European high-performance brands, such as BMW’s M line. That means they’ll have to handle and stop as well as they launch at a light, said Thai-Tang. Do not expect an SVT version of every Ford division product, sources report, though it is possible SVT may eventually lend its name to products sold by other Ford Motor Co. divisions.

Meanwhile, Ford is likely to develop other high-performance options. It is expected to expand its ties to Shelby Motors, the tuner firm run by racing legend and longtime Ford consultant Carroll Shelby, as well as Saleen Motors, the California firm best known for its customized Mustang models.

 

Mustang Convertible Already Backlogged

Ford Mustang Convertible

Ford Mustang Convertible

The ragtop version of Ford’s screamingly popular new Mustang official rolled onto the stage at the LA Convention Center Wednesday. But those looking for one of the cars could be in for a bit of a wait, considering the backlog of orders, said Greg Smith, Ford Motor Co.’s Chairman of the Americas. In a market where almost all buyers normally opt for something off the dealer lot, there are currently 6000 buyers currently waiting to take delivery of customized Mustangs. Overall sales last month ran about 60 percent above December 2003 figures. Prices for the V-6-powered base convertible start at $24,495, and jump to $29,995 for the 300-hp V-8 GT Deluxe.

 

 

Dodge Hits a Double With Two New SRTs

Viper SRT-10 and Magnum SRT-8

Viper SRT-10 and Magnum SRT-8

The “passionate car freaks” at Chrysler Group rolled out two new additions to their growing line-up of SRT performance cars. The Dodge Viper SRT-10 is the long-awaited coupe version of the automaker’s high-testosterone roadster. “The newest snake in the pit” boasts a 505 cubic inch V-10 making 500 horsepower and 525 lb-ft of torque, according to SRT chief Eric Ridenour. Expect 0-60 times of “under” four seconds. Viper fans have been eagerly waiting for the new hardtop edition ever since the first-generation coupe vanished from the market. What may take gearheads by surprise is the performance promised from the second SRT model coming out of the Dodge division. Think of the SRT-8 as a “Magnum on steroids,” suggested Ridenour. With the new version of the high-demand Hemi engine bored out to 6.1 liters, the Magnum SRT-8 will make a tire-spinning 425-hp and leap from 0-60 in the “low” five second range. Dodge also added a functional spoiler and oversized Brembo brakes to complete the package.

 

VW Has “Compelling Vision” For Green Machines

Bernd Pischetsrieder

Bernd Pischetsrieder

If automakers and regulators really want to clean up emissions and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, they should forget about hydrogen and sky the hybrid, declared Volkswagen Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder during his keynote speech opening the 2005 Los Angeles Auto  Show. “The most compelling vision,” the German executive asserted is one that shifts to diesel technology and biomass and synthetic diesel fuels. The diesel, said Pischetsrieder, is much more effective in a broader range of driving conditions, though he confirmed prior reports in TheCarConnection that VW is developing a hybrid-electric diesel powertrain. Biomass fuels, which are derived from feedstocks, like soy, are “CO2 neutral,” the VW CEO pointed out, while most forms of hydrogen would actually require significant amounts of energy to produce. In his closing comments, Pischetsrieder did admit there’s a potential wrinkle to his plan: new U.S. emissions standards going into effect in 2007. While he stressed that diesel engines could meet the tougher rules, he conceded consumers might balk at the added cost of the necessary pollution control systems.

 

What About Diesel and Gas Hybrids?

In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Volkswagen CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder hinted that his company is working on a novel alternative engine designed to blend the best of gasoline and diesel technology. Though the VW Chairman wouldn’t provide any significant details, the internal combustion hybrid operates like a diesel until it reaches 3500 rpm — that is, it uses high compression to ignite its air/fuel mix. At higher revs, up to 8500 rpm, it relies on a spark plug, much like a conventional gasoline engine. The prototype “combines very low emissions and (delivers) very high performance,” said Pischetsrieder, while also reducing fuel consumption markedly. But the prototype is anything but ready for prime time. For one thing, it requires a special blend of synthetic fuels to operate.

BMW’s Hydrogen Redux

BMW H2R

BMW H2R

While VW may be ready to write off hydrogen power, the lightweight gas is becoming the option of choice for its German rival, BMW. The Bavarian automaker staged the U.S.debut of its record-setting, 300-mph H2R prototype, which uses a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine. The streamlined racer has already set nine world records. And it is serving as the prototype for BMW’s first production car. A modified version of the 7-Series will be able to run on either hydrogen or gasoline, BMW’s U.S. CEO, Tom Purves, told his L.A.audience. It will go into production “during the life of the current (7-) Series.”

BMW isn’t ready to give up on gasoline, however, and it also lifted the covers on its Competition Package for the already quick M3 model. Think of the $4000 package as “the razor’s edge,” asserted Purves. It includes 19-inch forged alloy wheels, a modified steering and suspension system, less intrusive stability control, and beefier, 13.6-inch brake rotors. The Competition Package will go on sale in February.

 

Bentley Drops Heads, Jaws on Arnage

2005 Bentley Arnage Drophead Coupe

2005 Bentley Arnage Drophead Coupe

While it’s too early to say which cars debuting in Los Angeles will fall in the winners and losers categories, there’s no denying the attention being lavished on Bentley’s striking Arnage Drophead Convertible. Officially, the two-door ragtop is still a concept, cautioned the British marque’s CEO, Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen, but likely not for long. If it receives the same sort of reception from the public it is getting from the automotive media, “We will launch the production car in spring 2006,” he acknowledged. The Drophead would be Bentley’s first open-air model since the Azure went out of production two years ago. It features plenty of room for four adults and a top that fully retracts in less than 30 seconds. Based on the big Arnage chassis, it also shares the 450-horsepower, turbo V-8 powertrain featured in the Arnage T.

 

…And Could Share Phaeton Plant

The Drophead is likely to be a limited-production model, even by Bentley standards, Paefgen later told TheCarConnection.com, with sales expected to run no more than 1000 over the entire life of the program. Meanwhile, it could be joined by a second Bentley convertible, this one derived from the popular Continental GT sports coupe. Sales of the $150,000 Conti GT well exceeded expectations last year and while final numbers won’t be available until next week, at the earliest, Bentley’s global volume likely approached 6000 in 2004. With a sedan spin-off due to market later this year, the fate of the convertible is unclear because Bentley simply can’t keep up with current demand for the new car. But it may get some relief in the form of a second assembly plant — the factory currently producing the Volkswagen Phaeton, in Dresden, Germany. That facility could produce as much as 20 percent of all Continental GTs, VW CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder told TCC. And because bodies for the Conti are already produced in Germany, they wouldn’t have to be shipped over to Britain for final assembly, reducing overall production costs.

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