2005 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/8/2005)
300C, Escape Win North American Car/Truck Of the Year
Chrysler’s 300 series sedan and Ford’s Escape Hybrid vehicle captured top honors in this year’s North American Car- and Truck-of-the-Year awards. The NACTOY presentation, which served to open this year’s Detroit Auto Show, is closely watched and a highly coveted award. And this year’s balloting provided some much-needed good news for Detroit
manufacturers, who claimed all six of the finalist slots (if you’re willing to include the LR3 sport-ute, built by Ford’s British Land Rover subsidiary). “This gives credibility to the things we’ve been saying. It cements the fact that we’re really doing things,” said Chrysler Group Vice President Eric Ridenour, of the 300’s selection.
Those sentiments were echoed by Ford’s North American product development director, Phil Martens, who has been a leading proponent of the company’s hybrid program. “It legitimizes what we’re been doing as a company,” declared Martens, tightly clutching the NACTOY trophy, “and it also legitimizes hybrids.” In fact, it’s the second year in a row the judging panel of 50 North American auto writers honored a gasoline-electric vehicle. Last year, the jurors named Toyota
’s Prius the North American Car of the Year, a prescient choice considering the surge in sales of the green machine during the last 12 months. TCC Publisher TCC Team is one of the NACTOY judges.
Hybrids Getting Hotter
Ford’s Phil Martens better be bullish about HEVs, considering he and his team are now on tap to bring at least five hybrids to market in the near future. And even some makers less than enthusiastic about dual powertrain technology seem to find themselves caught up in the momentum. Volkswagen Chairman CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder and reversed his previous opposition and has told his engineers to move ahead on a hybrid diesel program. Last year saw Americans snap up 88,000 hybrid vehicles, according to the Californiamarket research firm, J.D. Power & Associates. This year, the tally is expected to top 222,000. That’d still be a modest 1.3 percent of anticipated U.S.new vehicle sales. But by 2010, the hybrid surge could top 500,000, Power forecasts, and three percent of the market. Some observers think that number is too conservative. But several factors will influence just how much sales will surge. “Product,” says Martens, “is what will drive the market.” Perhaps as much as another fuel crisis, some observers believe. But there are some caveats, according to Ford Chief Operating Officer Jim Padilla. With a premium averaging at least $3000 over comparable, gasoline-powered vehicles, hybrids “face an affordability issue,” he said, and the fuel-efficient technology will require incentives – in the form of state and federal tax breaks – to help subsidize customer demand.
GM Shows Graphyte
General Motors unwrapped two green machine concepts of its own during opening day of the North American International Auto Show. The GMC Graphyte is a prototype of a high-mileage crossover vehicles designed at the automaker’s Coventry, U.K.
styling studio. The upscale wagon/SUV body conceals an early version of the new, two-mode hybrid powertrain GM is developing as part of a joint venture with DaimlerChrysler. The system can be operated in electric, gasoline or dual gas/electric mode. According to the automaker’s powertrain director, Tom Stephens, the hybrid Graphyte would deliver about 45 percent better mileage than a conventional, gasoline-powered model. But in the long-term, GM is betting its green cash on an even greener technology. Hybrids represent a bridge to the long-term solution of clean, hydrogen-powered vehicles, declared GM CEO Rick Wagoner. And the automaker rolled out an example of what one of those vehicles might look like.