2005 Detroit Auto Show, Part IV

January 9, 2005

2005 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/8/2005) 

Honda Ridgeline: Most “Impactful?”

More pictures:

2006 Honda Ridgeline

2006 Honda Ridgeline

In the lexicon of auto-show press releases, new words are created where perhaps they shouldn’t be. “Impactful” is one of those non-words bandied about, and if you understand what it’s supposed to mean, you’ll understand why Honda’s Ridgeline truck could be the most impactful vehicle of the show.

The Ridgeline is Honda’s first pickup truck, although the company sold 491,604 trucks last year in the form of Pilot and MDX SUVs and Elements and CR-Vs. In 2004 Honda also hit a ninth straight record sales figure — and it plans on another in 2005, when it hopes to sell about 1.45 million vehicles in the U.S., up from nearly 1.2 million this past year.

The Ridgeline will be a significant chunk of that new sales volume — and it’s a significant threat to vehicles like the Ford Explorer Sport Trac. New for 2006, the Ridgeline isn’t beholden to any particular Honda sibling: it’s 93 percent new componentry, Honda says, though it does share some structure with the Pilot SUV. The Ridgeline sports a four-door cabin with a five-foot bed grafted on the back, lined in composite material and reinforced underneath with three steel rails for added strength. Thanks to the beefed-up structure the truck is rated as a half-ton, with a 5000-lb towing capacity. Power comes from a version of Honda’s corporate 3.5-liter V-6, here churning out 255 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque.

In terms of flexibility, the Honda doesn’t quite outmaneuver the Chevy Avalanche, since its rear cabin wall is fixed. But what it does with the available room is remarkable: there’s a secure cargo trunk under the rear end of the bed, large enough to hold a 72-quart cooler or three sets of golf clubs. The rear seat folds and latches up against the cabin wall, leaving enough room to carry a mountain bike behind the front seats. The tailgate swings both ways, like your adventurous uncle Stu; it drops down like a conventional truck and can also swing on a left-side hinge for easier access to the front reaches of the bed.

Honda will ladle the safety gear on the Ridgeline: standard features will include anti-lock brakes, stability control, and side curtain airbags.

The Ridgeline is built in Ontarioalongside the Pilot, and goes on sale in March. Pricing hasn’t been confirmed, but an base price of less than $30,000 is likely. Stay tuned for a Ridgeline road test in February.

Zephyr Breezes Into LincolnLineup

2006 Lincoln Zephyr

2006 Lincoln Zephyr

The second Ford derivative of the Mazda6 sedan arrives early in 2006 powered by a V-6 engine and wearing the toothsome grille of Lincoln. The Zephyr will take on the likes of the Lexus ES and Acura TL with a distinctive front-end treatment and an interior that easily ranks among Ford’s finest. The Zephyr is the second Ford variant of the new CD3 architecture, spun off from the Mazda6; the Fusion is the first and Mercury’s version, the Milan, will be shown at an auto show this year, too.

2006 Lincoln Zephyr

2006 Lincoln Zephyr

The Zephyr is distinguished by its tall, bright grille and 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as a cabin trimmed in aluminum, leather, and wood and outfitted with electroluminescent gauges. Like the Fusion, the Zephyr sports more interior room than the Mazda6, and trunk space is improved as well. The Zephyr uses a 210-hp V-6 coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox to motivate the Zephyr, which will eventually be offered with all-wheel drive. Side airbags and anti-lock brakes will be standard on the compact luxury sedan, as will curtain airbags and traction control. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet; the 2006 model goes on sale late this year.

Infiniti Prices M, Shows Kuraza

2006 Infiniti M45

2006 Infiniti M45

Infiniti’s new M sedans will be priced just south of the $40,000 mark when they arrive in dealers next month, officials from the Nissan luxury brand said on Monday. The M starts from $39,900 for the M35 with rear-wheel drive; the rear-drive M45 starts from $46,750, outfitted with a 340-hp V-8 engine. Both versions are equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission, while the six-cylinder M35 also can be had with all-wheel drive. Standard equipment also includes Bluetooth connectivity, a Vehicle Information System with 7-inch LCD screen, voice recognition, and a tire-pressure monitor.

2006 Infiniti M45 by TCC Team (1/10/2005)
Momentum builds at Infiniti’s upper range.

Wild Kuraza Is “Unconstrained”

2005 Infiniti Kuraza concept

2005 Infiniti Kuraza concept

Infiniti is intent on exploring the sport-wagon idea — but not too much on tethering them to the earth. So goes the Kuraza concept, the “unconstrained” concept from Infiniti that combines Japanese styling cues in a big wagon body. The Kuraza, Infiniti explains, has a “highly social atmosphere to share with friends.” The six-door vehicle has third-row doors rear-hinged for better access to the six seats. Overhead glass panels provide skybox-type atmosphere for the stadium seats, and the center console has drop-down sections that permit total side-to-side access. Retractable running boards and 23-inch wheels round out the package.

Dodge Charger Brings NASCAR to Detroit

More pictures:

2006 Dodge Charger

2006 Dodge Charger

The Chrysler Group has always been good at crafting its Detroit press conferences. Yesterday, the bold Jeep Hurricane concept stole the show — and on Monday, Dodge unveiled its Charger by rolling out the NASCAR race car version that will debut next month in Daytona. The pit crew worked on the car on stage, changed the tires, lifted the body — revealing, underneath, the 2006 Charger.

The new four-door coupe has generated some discussion about its design, but will no doubt be heading for the same amount of success as the Magnum. There will be three versions: the Charger SE with the 3.5 V-6 and a five-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick; the SXT has extra features such as a split-folding (60/40) rear seat and eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat.

The R/T model is the one with the 5.7 HEMI V-8 and the Performance Handling Package, with another package offering 18-inch wheels, leather seats, and a tire-pressure monitor. Prices have not been announced yet, but they may be well in the range of comparable versions of the Magnum, say, from the mid-$20,000 to mid-$30,000 range. —Henny Hemmes

Preview: 2006 Dodge Charger by TCC Team (1/10/2005)
Two doors, four doors, who's counting?

Scion Expects Another Sales Jump

Jim Farley, the head of Toyota's enormously successful Scion sales channel, says his brand will grow by 25 percent in 2005, the first full year in which vehicles will be available nationwide. In addition, all three of its models — the xA. xB and tC — will be available for the full year, Farley said. Scion finished 2004 with sales of 99,259 units and Farley it isn't out of the question that sales could reach 120,000 units in 2005, given the full year of availability. Scion has been selling about 10,000 units per month during the fall and that should continue so the actual increase in 2005 would be relatively modest, Farley said. Farley added that Scion will continue to reach out for young buyers. One marketing initiative set for 2005 are visits to military bases, Farley said. Scion hopes to visit two different base every week during 2005, complete with test drives, he added. Toyota officials also expect industry-wide sales of new vehicles to reach 17 million units again in 2005. The company's industry-wide forecast has been boosted recently as the overall economic news has improved.—Joe Szczesny

Porsche Goes Grassroots

If you thought “grassroots” marketing strategy was for folksy automotive events like Saturn Homecomings and Jeep Jamborees, think again. It seems to be one of the buzz terms of this year’s show. With automakers reducing advertising through traditional mass-media means and increasing spending on niche outlets, grassroots marketing, the attempt to build a base of potential buyers on a local, personal level, is taking off for sports and luxury cars, too.

For instance, Ford took its GT and Mustang on a largely successful grassroots-style tour this past summer, calling on smaller local media outlets for coverage and giving local Mustang clubs and potential customers a preview of the new Mustang before much of the major automotive media had seen any seat time in it. The automaker plans to follow a similar strategy later this year with its Lincoln Mark X roadster, although Lincolnbuyers might prove slightly hard to reach in such a way.

Porsche Cars North America president and CEO Peter Schwarzenbauer mentioned in an address to the press that the automaker will be reaching out this year on a grassroots level, too. When we asked Schwarzenbauer exactly what that means, he said that Porsche will be giving more resources to dealerships to help find their local enthusiast base. Schwarzenbauer said that there is already a strategy in place through which club members and other eligible enthusiast buyers are contacted, and they can register online for special test drives. Porsche NA will be encouraging more local-flavor events organized by individual dealerships. We’ll bet the new Carrera S is part of this strategy, and if it’s successful other performance brands may follow suit. —Bengt Halvorson

Porsche Drops Top on Cabriolets

2005 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

2005 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

Porsche is set to launch the Cabriolet versions of the new 911 in North America this year after a debut at the Detroit show. Available in standard 911 Carrera Cabriolet and Carrera S trim, the new droptops are 2005 models that sport an electric top capable of defrocking themselves in 20 seconds and on the go at speeds of up to 30 mph. The Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system, Porsche Communication Management (PCM) including the Porsche Sound Package Plus (CD radio with nine speakers), larger wheels, and a wind deflector are added as standard equipment as well. The Carrera S Cabrio uses its 3.8-liter flat six to spring to 62 mph in 4.9 seconds; the Carrera Cabrio has a 3.6-liter flat six that does the same in 5.2 seconds. Available for purchase in mid-March, the Cabrios are priced at $79,100 and $88,900, depending on how much power you need. —Henny Hemmes

Audi allroad Concept

2006 Audi allroad concept

2006 Audi allroad concept

Audi is not only presenting its new A3, A4 and A6 in Detroit, but the German manufacturer also unveiled the allroad quattro concept, a crossover featuring innovative electronic systems that we will see in production cars within the next couple of years.

The concept is equipped with a new 4.0-liter V-8 TDI diesel engine with 286 hp.

In 2000, we had already an Audi allroad quattro that went into production, but now Audi presented a concept of a new version. With this new concept that has even bolder looks than the first, Audi wants to test interest for an allroad quattro version of the new A6 Avant. It’s too early to confirm if the allroad quattro will go into production, and too early to speculate if there will be allroad quattro versions of the A3 and A4 as well. But when we asked Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the board of management, if we could expect them, he blinked his eyes and said “Denkbar,” which means imaginable.

The new allroad concept, based on the A6 Avant, is 194 inches long and 74.4 inches wide. The height of the car is 58.8 inches, which is 2.4 inches higher than the standard car.

The allroad quattro concept has a new engine, a 4.0-liter V-8 TDI with common rail fuel injection that is the world’s most powerful and advanced eight-cylinder diesel engine. It delivers 285 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque and is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic function, channeling the power to the 19-inch wheels with 255/45 rubber. The allroad concept accelerates to 62 mph in just 6.4 seconds while its top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. The concept car is fitted with a particle filter and is the first eight-cylinder TDI diesel to match the strict European EU 4 emission standard.

Important styling details are the chrome radiator grille and the LED-head lights, while the rear lights and blinkers are also with LEDs. The “Open Sky” sliding glass roof takes about the whole roof area and provides for a light cockpit. Audi also has equipped its new concept car with windows and mirrors that water and dirt repellent.

The car is equipped with three new electronic systems: Audi road vision, an optical sensor system that recognizes the road condition. It informs the driver on potentially critical conditions such as ice or gravel and provides crucial parameters for the ESP and adaptive cruise control systems.

Then there is Audi lane assist, that induces vibrations on the steering wheel to inform the driver as soon as he inadvertently leaves his lane. The third is Audi side assist, which incorporates radar sensors monitoring the area behind and next to the vehicle. If the system detects vehicles approaching, or driving in the blind spot, the driver is informed accordingly by a warning light on the exterior mirror on the side in question. We may expect these systems to begin appearing on production cars in the next few years. —Henny Hemmes

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