2005 New York Auto Show, Part III

March 22, 2005

2005 New York Auto Show Index by TCC Team (3/21/2005)

 

 

Porsche Goes to the Dogs

Carmakers have often been accused of staging dog-and-pony shows at auto shows, but while Porsche had no horses on hand during its event at Javits Center, there were plenty of hounds. The automaker announced a new program called Cayenne for Canines, a charity effort lending support to animal shelters around the U.S. Porsche will loan each participating facility a specially-equipped Cayenne for six months, and then donate money to help neuter and immunize dogs that would otherwise be euthanized for lack of a home. “Overwhelming and beautiful,” was how comedian and animal activist Elayne Boosler described the campaign. Peter Schwarzenbauer, CEO of Porsche Cars North America, declined to put a dollar figure on the project, suggesting only that “the more they (shelters) get adopted, the more we pay.” The project will begin in 10 major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Miami, then roll out across the country.

Comedian Boosler couldn’t maintain her serious mood for long. Referring to recent news reports suggesting Porsche is getting ready to announce a family-oriented, four-door sports car, the Panamera, she joked, “That’s like a stripper in sensible shoes.” For his part, Schwarzenbauer insisted he’s laughing off the news reports – and spy shots, like the one TheCarConnection has obtained. The Panamera, he insisted, is “purely speculation.” And while Porsche has acknowledged working on a fourth model line, any decision will not be made, said the CEO, until “the end of the year.”

 

Volvo Boldly Goes to Space with Branson

Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson

With its traditional emphasis on safety, Volvo is usually seen as the ultimate, down-to-earth brand. But a new promotional effort has the Swedish automaker kissing the sky, quite literally. Volvo recently partnered with British business maverick Sir Richard Branson to offer the proverbial “lucky winner” a ride into space on Branson’s new Virgin Galactic rocket cruiser. The planned price for a seat on a suborbital flight will be $200,000, but Doug Ramsburg, of North Glenn, Colo., will be going up for free. And until the rocket is ready to rock, he’ll have a new XC90 V-8 for his planetary travels. “We all dream of going into space one day. And those that don’t,” said Sir Richard, “well, I think that’s kind of sad.” Branson believes that companies such as his Virgin group need to take over, “if space travel is to become commercially viable. It’s not going to work if sponsored by the government.”

 

Charger Could Become a Real Cruiser

Dodge Police Charger

Dodge Police Charger

Ford Motor Co. has long had a solid lock on the country’s police cruiser business with its rear-drive Crown Victoria , but it will soon face a fast challenger. Chrysler Group plans to get its new Dodge Charger certified for full pursuit, then market the four-door muscle car to police departments across the country, said vice president Eric Ridenour. While Chrysler is not yet taking orders, he and other executives hinted there’s already a waiting line for the SRT8 version of the new four-door Charger. The target for launch of a police edition is autumn 2005.

 

2006 Dodge Charger SRT8

2006 Dodge Charger SRT8

As for the Charger SRT8 unveiled in New York , it’s due about the same but with a somewhat higher pricetag, though no official pricing information was released. However, Ridenour promised that number would be a great value considering the SRT8’s star attraction, the 425-hp version of the 6.1-liter HEMI V-8. With that engine, the stoutest Charger will be capable of a 0-60 mph acceleration time of about 5.0 seconds, Chrysler says, as well as a quarter-mile time of 13 seconds and a 0-100-0 mph time in the mid-16-second range. The Charger SRT8 is distinguished from base and other HEMI versions by its five-spoke, 20-inch wheels, front-end trim and a decklid spoiler that conjures the memory of the Chargers of the Sixties.

 

Good Design is Controversial, Says Zetsche

“We don’t want to have non-conflictive, middle-of-the-road, boring vehicles,” declared Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche. With the rare exception, his point is well taken, what with recent entries like the Chrysler 300 sedan, Dodge Magnum wagon and the revived Dodge Charger muscle car. The four-door design would certainly qualify as “conflictive.” TheCarConnection.com has received more e-mail debating the merits of the Charger than any other topic during its eight years online – a large share of that correspondence quite critical. Zetsche and other Chrysler officials have defended the decision to go with a four-door, rather than coupe, design, as with the original, ‘60s Charger. They’ll find out if they’re right in a matter of months, what with the new sedan getting ready to go into production. While Zetsche stressed the importance of building “products with character,” he acknowledged Chrysler needs to watch out lest it confuse confidence with arrogance. Though key decisions are based on what might be called a corporate gut feeling, the automaker will always take its design prospects to consumer clinics for a final read on the market, Zetsche explained. “Of course, we listen to the customer.” In some cases, those clinics have led Chrysler designers to go back to their digital drawing boards, usually to make minor tweaks. But there have been other instances, as with the Magnum wagon, when Chrysler went ahead, regardless of customer clinics, “because we were convinced we got it right.”

 

A “Demanding” Lotus Launches New Coupe

It means “demanding,” in French, and Group Lotus is counting on some of the most picky U.S. buyers to plunk their money down for the new Exige Coupe. The pint-sized hardtop shares its platform and most of its mechanicals with roadster Lotus launched last year, the Elise. That includes the Toyota-derived, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine making 190 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque. With a stiff suspension based on Elise’s performance package, the Exige is being aimed at potential buyers likely to want to do some serious racing, or at least log occasional track time. Every body panel, but for the doors, is new on Exige. The roof can be removed, though not easily, since it’s designed to improve aerodynamics. So is the new front fascia, as well as the big rear wing. Add it all up, says product executive Simon Croft, “and it’s like having a baby rhino sitting on your roof at 100 mph.” Yet while the coupe’s top speed dips 2 percent, to “just” 147 mph, the Exige’s 0-60 times match the top-performing version of Elise, at 4.7 seconds.

2006 Lotus Exige

2006 Lotus Exige

The Exige is expected to generate just a couple hundred sales a year, but every little bit counts, according to Kim Ogaard-Nielsen, the new CEO of Group Lotus plc. Since the launch of the Elise, 1800 copies have been sold in the U.S. , which is expected to generate 50 percent of total Lotus sales. That’s despite the automaker raising prices for the base roadster from the initial $39,900 to $42,900. That couldn’t be helped, insisted Ogaard-Nielsen, considering the plunge in the U.S. dollar’s value. Lotus is struggling to bring down production costs to avoid future price hikes – and to boost its profit margins. Adding other models to the mix will also help, of course, and an all-new flagship supercar is in final development, company officials confirmed. Expect it to hit market late in 2007. Yet another model line is certain to follow, the Danish executive hinted, noting that “We see ourselves as a three-model” company. “Something we’d like to explore is what a daily-use Lotus would be all about.” The company will have some time to come up with the answer, as Ogaard-Nielsen doesn’t expect that product to reach market until around 2010. By then, he is confident Lotus will be achieving global sales of 10,000 or more vehicles annually. The long-struggling company seems to be in better shape than ever, according to close observers, thanks to the support of its Malaysian parent, Proton. But the Asian manufacturer has made it clear, acknowledge Ogaard-Nielsen, that all future products will have to be specifically designed to meet global safety, emissions and lighting standards. The current version of the Elise is only permitted into the U.S. with a wink and a nod from federal authorities, who gave it a variance due to its extremely low volumes.

 

Automakers March into a Stronger Spring

Plenty of things can – and usually do – happen during the final week of every month, as automakers trot out new incentives and marketing programs designed to help them meet sales targets. Even so, most executives interviewed in New York this week suggested their initial data show that March is likely to be a good month. That’s especially good news considering the industry’s overall weak performance during January and February. “I hope everybody’s right,” said Tom LaSorda, Chrysler Group’s chief operating officer. Actually, Chrysler has fared best among the Big Three so far this year, while its crosstown rivals have reported sales declines ranging from poor to disastrous. Steve Lyons, general manager of Ford Motor Co.’s flagship Ford Division, said his sales could be up by 25 percent when the books are closed on March. But other industry executives warned that rising interest rates could pose problems going forward. If nothing else, the latest rate hike by the Federal Reserve Board will likely lead to fewer and fewer zero-interest loan programs, said Mark LaNeve, General Motors’ man in charge of sales and marketing. “It’s certainly not as attractive” anymore, said LaNeve, because of the added cost of such programs.

 

Could They Find Something Other Than “Soccer Mom?”

It may be one of the space-efficient automotive shapes, but these days, everyone wants to find an alternative to the much-maligned soccer-mom-mobile, the minivan. Last year, General Motors tried bolting SUV appendages to its lineup, redubbing them “crossover sport vans.” Don’t call Mercedes’ new three-row R-Class a minivan. It’s a “sport tourer.” Chrysler would rather you opt for wagon than minivan for the Pacifica . So what is BMW going to do when it comes to market with a multi-purpose vehicle of its own? The automaker is struggling to find a good brand to badge it with, but so far, no luck. The closest it’s come is the acronym NMV. And if you’re wondering, that’s short for “No MiniVan,” chided the automaker’s CEO, Helmut Panke. Anyone have a better alternative?

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