2005 Chicago Auto Show, Part II

February 10, 2005

2005 Chicago Auto Show Index by TCC

Civic Si Concept Cranks Out 200 HP

It’s just a concept – but the Civic Si shown at Chicagoby Honda is a clear warning shot across the bow of the latecomers in the sport-compact segment. Honda showed the Si two-door in advance of its fall launch as a 2006 model as “just a taste” of what’s coming, new senior vice president of American Honda John Mendel said. The concept, he added, is about 90 percent accurate when compared against the production model coming later in the year. The Si will return to the two-door Civic lineup with a four-cylinder engine worth 200 hp – the most powerful Civic ever built by the factory. The 8000-rpm redline engine is teamed to a six-speed manual gearbox; the concept wears 18-inch wheels, four-piston Brembo brakes, and high-performance tires. An aero kit and a black-accented hood round out the concept. The lineup of Civics will also include a standard two-door Coupe, a four-door Sedan, a new Civic Hybrid with better fuel economy, and a natural-gas-powered Civic GX.

Honda is SEMA’s Vehicle of the Year

The first official public outing for the production Civic Si will be this fall’s SEMA show, where Honda will also be the Vehicle Manufacturer, a special honor for influential brands at the show. The Specialty Equipment Market Association show, held in Las Vegas each fall, is welcoming Honda to the party as the first Japanese brand to get the Vehicle Manufacturer designation. "It has been quite some time since SEMA has had the pleasure to announce a new Vehicle Manufacturer of the SEMA Show," said Christopher J. Kersting, SEMA president and CEO. "We are predicting the synergy between Honda and our 2005 exhibitors will be extremely powerful." The 2005 SEMA Show happens Nov. 1-4, 2005, at the Las Vegas Convention Center .

Kia’s Big Baby is New Sedona

2006 Kia Sedona

2006 Kia Sedona

Dubbing it their “big baby,” Kia execs unveiled the new Sedona minivan to Chicagoaudiences. The 2006 model aims squarely at the class leaders, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, not only in its features but also in its profile. The cleanly styled Sedona is built from a new platform which it will share with Hyundai, as that brand offers its first minivan in the fall. The Sedona brings a new 3.8-liter V-6 with approximately 240 horsepower and a five-speed automatic to the party, besting many entries and slightly shy of Honda’s Odyssey engine. Kia promises 15 percent more passenger room as well as an easily accessible third-row seat that’s split 60/40 and folds flat into the floor. Standard curtain airbags protect all three rows of passengers, and anti-lock brakes are also on the standard equipment list. Even with a lighter structure, Kia expects five-star safety ratings from U.S.safety agencies. Pricing won’t be announced until later in the year.

Kia Aiming To “Americanize”

As the smaller stepchild to Hyundai, South Korea’s best-selling automaker, Kia is struggling to carve out its own identity and keep its momentum going. There’s no question the company is on a roll, sales soaring from a modest 12,000 in 1994 to a solid 270,000 a decade later. With an array of new models, Kia is attracting new buyers and getting them to open up their wallets a bit wider – the company’s typical transaction price increasing from $12,000 to $20,000 over the last four years. But CEO Peter Butterfield and other Kia executives admit there are plenty of challenges standing in the way of their aggressive growth plans. Quality has been a nagging problem, with the Korean maker long lagging at the back of the pack, according to various J.D. Power surveys. The numbers have improved significantly, but even so, Butterfield conceded that “a lack of awareness” may be an even bigger issue, long-term. Company studies suggest only 54 percent of American buyers even realize that Kia sells cars. To build awareness without breaking its budget, the carmaker is turning away from TV and using more non-traditional marketing methods to directly connect with consumers. And what it plans to show U.S. buyers is a growing lineup of vehicles that are distinctly Kia, but also geared specifically to the U.S. market. The automaker has invested about $200 million in new design, engineering and test track facilities in the States. Kia also hired away fast-rising GM stylist Tom Kearns. “You can count on” the U.S. studios playing a lead role in new products, particularly those primarily aimed at the American market, Kearns asserted during an interview with TheCarConnection. Equally important, he stressed, Kia will work to ensure that future vehicles will not simply look like badge-engineered versions of Hyundai vehicles. And that will likely mean a number of separate platforms not shared with the larger brand.

Dodge Rolls Out Nitro

2005 Dodge Nitro concept

2005 Dodge Nitro concept

Well-rehearsed Chrysler Corp. executives stuck to their script on Thursday, asserting that the Dodge Nitro sport-utility vehicle is “officially a concept,” and nothing more. Well, that’s the story, but possibly not for long. The Nitro fills an admitted hole in the Dodge truck lineup where the automaker would like to insert a mid-size SUV. The Nitro starts out with the same platform as Jeep’s popular Liberty sport-ute. In Dodge trim, the prototype’s wheelbase has been stretched four inches, with the track about an inch wider than Liberty’s, in part to make room for 20-inch wheels and tires. The Jeep’s rear door-mounted spare is gone, allowing designers to stretch the cargo bay about four inches as well. The Nitro’s headlight layout may bring the Liberty to mind, but the overall look is definitely Dodge, with the big, crosshair grille and a chopped roofline reminiscent of the Magnum wagon. “All the sheetmetal is totally unique. There is no commonality (with Liberty ) at all,” noted design director Trevor Creed. “We happen to think it looks pretty cool and distinguishes us from everybody else.” The Nitro show vehicle features a 3.7-liter V-6 making 210 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. That power pumps through a five-speed automatic gearbox, into a full-time all-wheel-drive system. Wagoner Hits Weak Dollar, Healthcare

Warning that American manufacturing, as a whole, is in danger, and not just the domestic auto industry, General Motors Chairman Rick Wagoner called for action in three major areas that “put us at a clear competitive disadvantage.” In a speech to the Chicago Economic Club, the GM CEO insisted that purposely lopsided Asian exchange rates now account for 60 percent of the U.S.trade deficit. “We should demand Asian nations stop intervening in exchange rates completely and forever,” Wagoner demanded. The industry veteran also stepped up his increasingly vocal campaign to rein in skyrocketing medical costs. In all, Wagoner noted, GM spent $5.2 billion last year on medical coverage for 1.1 million active workers, retirees and dependents in the U.S.That, he revealed, is about $4 billion more than a leading competitor, which while not directly named, appears to refer to Toyota. That’s money that could go far were GM able to use it for new plants and products, Wagoner lamented. Dealing with issues like catastrophic care, the uninsured and spiraling pharmaceutical costs would help, but the CEO also called for new restrictions on malpractice legislation. Tort reform was, in fact, the third big area, Wagoner warned, that must be addressed if Americahopes to regain a competitive edge for its manufacturing base.

Overcapacity: Boon Or Bane?

The global overcapacity problem continues to worsen, said GM Chairman Rick Wagoner, during an appearance in Chicagoon Thursday. Global motor vehicle sales topped a record 62 million last year, he noted, but there is enough production capacity in place to assemble around 80 million vehicles. That lopsided equation is likely to make it difficult for the industry to back down on rising incentives and other aggressive marketing programs, according to industry observers. Yet what’s bad news for some, is great for others, said Dennis Gore, a longtime auto executive and the new chief engineer for Visionary Vehicles, which plans to import cars from China. “Overcapacity is not a customer issue,” he suggested during a Chicagointerview. “It’s a board issue.”

International Gets Small with RXT

2005 International RXT

2005 International RXT

In its first Chicago Auto Show appearance in 25 years, International squeezed a quartet of vehicles into a show space that would have held a dozen Civics. But size is almost all that matters these days as the company has found itself a surprising center of attention for news outlets and celebrities alike as it touts the world’s largest pickup truck, the CXT. With glam owners like Ashton Kutcher signing up for that 8-mpg beast, it’s logical the company would follow it up with the RXT, a slightly smaller truck with slightly better gas mileage and a significantly reduced pricetag – starting from $70,000, from the $90,000-plus of the bigger CXT. The new RXT, International says, stands eight feet tall, sports rear-wheel drive and an eight-foot-long bed, and seats five in its cabin. Its diesel V-8 has 230 horsepower and 540 lb-ft of torque. Sales begin this fall; a military version is planned with available four-wheel drive.

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