SPECIAL REPORT: 2005 Detroit Auto Show

January 10, 2005

Honda Ridgeline: Most "Impactful?"

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 Ontario alongside 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.

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Zephyr Breezes Into Lincoln Lineup

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

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?

Subaru B9 Tribeca

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca

Subaru pulled the wraps off the production version of its new mid-size crossover "progressive" sport-utility vehicle, the oddly named B9 Tribeca.

Fuji Heavy Industries CEO Kyoji Takanaka said that the B9 Tribeca closely adheres to the core values of Subaru. The first vehicle to be created under the direction of new design director Andreas Zapatinas, the B9 uses Subaru's new distinctive "soaring wings" grille, which hints Subaru's aircraft history and also the boxer engine under the hood.

The Tribeca will be offered in either five-seat or seven-seat configurations, though the third-row seats on the latter look very small. Entertainment options include a nine-speaker MP3 sound system and a DVD system with nine-inch screen.

Powered by a 250-hp flat-six "boxer" engine, paired with a five-speed automatic transmission running to a variable-torque-split all-wheel drive and a low center of gravity, the B9 should have driving characteristics similar to the rest of the Subaru line. Safety-wise, Vehicle Dynamics Control and four-channel ABS will be standard, as will front, side, and curtain airbags. On the luxury side, rear air-conditioning controls are standard, along with a list of luxury car features, and overhead shower lighting and indirect floorboard lighting help lend a premium feel.

2006 Subaru Tribeca

2006 Subaru Tribeca

A company official said that in the naming convention, B stands for Boxer, while 9 is a size class for a future alphanumeric naming method that Subaru might use for all of its cars. "Tribeca" was added because the neighborhood in New York (Triangle Below Canal St.) is known to be especially savvy and urban-chic, and Subaru wants to reach out to new urban near-luxury buyers with this vehicle who would have otherwise dismissed the brand as rugged or sporty.

The Tribeca will be built at Subaru's assembly plant in Lafayette, Ind., with production starting this spring. The plant was formerly shared with Isuzu, but the last Isuzu Axiom rolled off the line there this past summer. The plant has the capability for flexibility and higher volumes, including possibly building the Saab version of this vehicle that's reportedly in the works. An Outback version of the Tribeca is not certain, though it wasn't ruled out. —Bengt Halvorson

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Suzuki Concept-X

2005 Suzuki Concept-X

2005 Suzuki Concept-X

Suzuki insists that there is still space in the market for a mid-size sport-utility vehicle, as many shoppers can't find everything they want in one vehicle - especially those described as the "energetic, optimistic people" who lead "the Suzuki way of life." For them, Suzuki says, there is the Concept-X.

The Concept-X will be powered by an "all-new" transverse-mounted 3.6-liter V-6 engine (likely sourced from General Motors); an all-wheel drive system, called 4GO, is primarily geared for the road, but it also has a low range and off-road capability. A stability control system, ABS, and side curtain airbags for all six passengers round out the safety list. Pedestrian impact measures have been used, there's a lane departure warning system, and special CCD heat-sensing cameras help prevent accidentally driving over objects. Active cruise control is also installed.

Most notable is the concept's six-bucket-seat interior, flashy materials, and space-age control center and display pod. An aircraft-style two-handled controller replaces a steering wheel, adding to the sci-fi look. A sophisticated "Infotainment" system that will combine music, information, and navigation features. Dual 12-inch LCD screens are provided for the second and third rows.

To those who've seen the countless crossover concepts over the past few years, the shape of the Concept-X will be quite familiar, but its chunky, flared-out 20-inch wheels and aggressive stance give it a serious look.

Most of the concepts shown at this year's NAIAS have looked like production cars, or at least resembling a production car, but Suzuki's Concept-X crossover sport-utility was more like what we've come to expect from concepts in past years — a full-on design exercise with a cobbled-together interior and an underside and details that didn't resemble anything readying for ramp-up. Although it was strictly a concept, with GM broadening Suzuki's portfolio it's only time before we see a serious production vehicle in this class from Suzuki. —Bengt Halvorson

Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The 2006 Corvette Z06 now offers 500 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque from the 7.0-liter (427-cubic-inch) hand-built LS-7 V-8 with a host of racing-derived improvements including titanium connecting rods and pushrods plus a dry-sump oiling system.

"In many ways, the LS7 is a racing engine in a street car," said Dave Muscaro, the assistant chief engineer for the small-block V-8, in a press release.

But this time, more power is only the beginning. Although the Z06 has a familiar profile and interior, compared to the standard Corvette it has its own distinct powertrain, body structure, and chassis system. Developed simultaneously with the C6-R race car, the Z06 has an aluminum-based body structure and uses special materials such as carbon fiber, magnesium, and even balsa wood throughout to help reduce improve weight distribution, bringing overall curb weight down to 3130 pounds.

Performance figures are stunning: 0-60 in less than 4 seconds, the quarter-mile in less than 12 seconds, and a top speed of over 190 mph. Huge cross-drilled discs-14-inch in front and 13.4-inch in back-provide massive stopping power to suit, and huge three-inch-diameter exhausts have a louder, less restrictive mode for all-out performance. Seats with improved side bolsters are included to help keep occupants in place.

The Z06 will be built at the same Bowling Green, Ky., plant as the regular Corvette and will be available later this year. —Bengt Halvorson

Smart fortwo Looking Better For U.S.

2004 Smart city coupe

2004 Smart city coupe

Mercedes-Benz chief Eckhard Cordes at this week's NAIAS was more chatty about the smart fortwo city car than the recently suspended formore SUV that's been targeted for smart's pending U.S. launch. Mercedes insiders say that's because DaimlerChrysler is now considering launching the brand in America with the iconic fortwo two-seater.

It would be a 180-degree change of strategy for the German automaker, which sees smart as its answer to BMW's successful MINI brand. The thinking at smart had been that U.S. consumers would balk at a 98-inch long two-seater for both aesthetic and safety reasons. But the public reception of the vehicle at venues such as auto shows and the Boston marathon has been so strong that the company is rethinking launching with the more conventionally styled small SUV.

"The car has created overwhelming interest and demand," said Cordes.

"Both Mercedes and smart have new chiefs and they are looking at the whole U.S. strategy with fresh eyes," said a Mercedes insider. One of the sticking points being examined is the cost of meeting federal safety standards for the current fortwo and four-door forfour. Smart launched the fortwo in Canada last October and the reception has been strong.

"Following the very successful launch of smart in Canada, we see potential for smart in the USA too," said Cordes.

DaimlerChrysler is also trying to determine if the overwhelming positive response to the fortwo at public relations events will translate into actual sales. One Mercedes-Benz executive who said the issue is very sensitive inside the company, said the company is playing out public relations gameplans anticipating the first time a fortwo gets creamed by an SUV and a serious accident or fatality is caused.

"Selling the Smart fortwo in the U.S. is a marketing minefield," says marketing consultant Dennis Keene. "It'll be just fine until somebody is killed and then the whole brand will have a stink on it for being unsafe."

One indicator of potential popularity for the fortwo has been the early work of two U.S. importers preparing to sell Federalized fortwos in crowded U.S. cities without the involvement of DaimlerChrysler's smart division. JK Technologies of Baltimore and San Francisco-based ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) have been warehousing imported fortwos with mechanics upgrading them for approval by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Zap aims to sell 15,000 per year, though no one knows yet of there is that much demand for the fortwo.

The companies are awaiting Federal approvals, but have waiting lists of hundreds of customers. Bidding for a fortwo on eBay recently reached 27,000, though the online auction company ceased the bidding when they found out the car wasn't approved yet.

The actions of the importers have also been a headache for smart USA. The prospect of key markets like San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. getting hotted up with unapproved fortwos while smart enters the market with a small formore SUV would create a lot of confusion in the marketplace. Buyers of the unapproved smarts would look to smart USA for servicing and parts if the distributors went out of business. — Jim Burt

Volkswagen Plans The Concept R for the U.S.

2003 Volkswagen Concept R

2003 Volkswagen Concept R

Volkswagen AG plans to introduce a sports car based on the rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine roadster concept shown to the public in September 2003, said Volkswagen chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder.

Though the chairman wouldn't say how many of the details from the concept would make it into a production model, he said he plans to bring it out in "two to three years." For the U.S. too? "Absolutely," said Pischetsrieder.

Volkswagen introduced an all-new Jetta at the Los Angeles auto show this month, and showed a concept at this week's NAIAS — the Ragster, which is a modified New Beetle with a flattened convertible roof. VW has no plans to build the Ragster, but certain design elements tease face-lift changes coming on the New Beetle later this year.

The Concept R could fill a gap in Volkswagen"s lineup. With the Microbus concept scuttled, VW could look to a production version of the Concept R to bring some excitement and novelty to the lineup as the New Beetle, which was launched in 1999, ages.

The Concept R was powered by a mid-car mounted V-6 engine that returns 265 horsepower and accelerates the roadster in 5.3 seconds to about 62 mph. It would be the first rear-drive VW since the company discontinued the original Beetle and its derivatives, the Microbus, Squareback, and Karmann Ghia.

If VW makes good on its plans, and depending on how it's priced, the car will face broad competition in the roadster segment from a restyled Mazda Miata, the Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky and smart roadster, all of which would likely be priced under the VW. — Jim Burt

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Name Symbol Last Change
Autobytel, Inc. ABTL 6.92 unch (unch)
Autoliv Inc. ALV 47.46 +0.14 (+0.30%)
AutoNation Inc. AN 18.56 -0.10 (-0.54%)
ArvinMeritor Inc. ARM 20.44 -0.20 (-0.97%)
American Axle & Mfr. Holdings Inc. AXL 28.44 -0.61 (-2.10%)
Ballard Power Systems Inc. BLDP 6.31 +0.21 (+3.44%)
BorgWarner Inc. BWA 51.43 +0.02 (+0.04%)
Collins & Aikman Corporation CKC 4.01 -0.01 (-0.25%)
Cummins Inc. CMI 74.30 -0.75 (-1.00%)
Dana Corporation DCN 16.50 -0.21 (-1.26%)
DaimlerChrysler AG (ADR) DCX 46.79 -0.18 (-0.38%)
Delphi Corporation DPH 8.22 -0.10 (-1.20%)
Dura Automotive Systems DRRA 9.81 +0.21 (+2.19%)
Eaton Corporation ETN 68.23 +0.46 (+0.68%)
Ford Motor Company F 14.55 -0.10 (-0.68%)
General Motors Corporation GM 38.49 -0.51 (-1.31%)
Gentex Corporation GNTX 32.92 -0.41 (-1.23%)
Goodyear Tire & Rubber GT 14.59 -0.11 (-0.75%)
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) HMC 25.87 +0.21 (+0.82%)
Johnson Controls Inc. JCI 61.55 +0.45 (+0.74%)
Lear Corporation LEA 58.21 -0.19 (-0.33%)
Magna International Inc. MGA 77.50 -0.10 (-0.13%)
Motorola Inc. MOT 16.98 +0.29 (+1.74%)
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) NSANY 21.77 +0.20 (+0.93%)
Sonic Automotive Inc. SAH 22.75 -0.15 (-0.66%)
Siemens AG SI 81.70 -0.05 (-0.06%)
Sirius Satellite Radio SIRI 6.62 -0.48 (-6.76%)
Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) TM 79.96 +0.52 (+0.65%)
TRW Automotive Holdings TRW 19.62 +0.02 (+0.10%)
Tower Automotive Inc. TWR 2.28 -0.12 (-5.00%)
United Auto Group Inc. UAG 28.34 +0.39 (+1.40%)
Visteon Corporation VC 8.78 -0.08 (-0.90%)
XM Satellite Radio Hold. XMSR 32.94 -1.15 (-3.37%)

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