Live From Vegas: 2005 SEMA Show (11/2/2005)
The aftermarket meets the OEMs in Vegas.
Hyundai Hopes for Tuner Magic with Three-Door Accent
Like Kia, its sister division, Hyundai is pushing hard to connect with the tuner and hip-hop crowd, said brand development manager Justin Osborne, in order to “build the buzz.” But it used its SEMA news conference to reveal the 2007 Accent three-door. “Right out of the box, this will be an excellent vehicle for customizing,” said Osborne, noting there will be an array of aftermarket parts available at Hyundai showrooms. The ’07 model features a 110-horsepower 1.6-liter four that will also appeal to the growing market for fuel-efficient vehicles. On the safety side, the three-door will come with six standard airbags, as well as four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. “This is a return to Hyundai’s roots,” declared Osborne, though he declined to set a specific price tag on the new model. But another company official hinted the three-door will likely be positioned as a price leader, starting a bit under the $11,500 base for the four-door Accent. Look for a spring 2006 debut.
Honda Is SEMA’s First Import Manufacturer of the Year
2005 Honda Sport Concept Civic Si
In a telling move, Honda became the first import to be named SEMA’s “vehicle manufacturer of the show,” an honor traditionally rotated among Detroit
’s Big Three. It shouldn’t be surprising, though, according to John Mendel, Honda’s senior vice president of automotive operations. After all, “the Civic…was really where tuning began.” The automaker showed off what Mendel dubbed the “ultimate” version of its new eighth-generation Civic, dubbed the Sport Concept Civic Si. The show car featured an anniversary white pearl paint job, carbon fiber trim and oversized Brembo brakes. “While it’s not ready for production, it gives you an idea of our vision of tuning going forward,” declared Mendel. While the Civic has been among the most popular models with street racers, the last generation generated plenty of controversy when it switched suspension designs. This time, Honda decided not to make that mistake, “so we talked to them early” stressed Mendel, and used that feedback to influence the latest model’s development. A variety of “small but very important” elements in the design were aimed at the tuner crowd, he added. For one thing, Honda made sure that the engine and exhaust sounds underscored a sense of performance tuning.
Mitsubishi Hones the Art of Ralli
Mitsubishi will finally bring its Ralliart performance products to the U.S.market, the Japanese automaker announced at SEMA. “It allows us to apply the lessons we’ve learned in racing to the street,” said Wayne Killen, vice president of marketing. A full line of aftermarket accessories should be available at dealers by spring 2006, he noted. Meanwhile, Killen revealed that a production version of the Gallant Ralliart Concept vehicle – which made the auto show rounds this year – will be put into production. A final version will be shown at a “spring 2006 auto show,” he hinted.
2005 Mitsubishi Ralliart Eclipse
Could the Gallant Ralliart be a sign of things to come? There’s a strong possibility, based on Mitsubishi’s SEMA newser, where it rolled out two more concepts wearing the performance brand’s badge. The Ralliart Eclipse featured extensive use of carbon fiber body panels as part of the push to shave weight off the standard Eclipse model. Performance was also enhanced by boosting engine output to 400 hp. That was channeled through a new six-speed, short-throw gearshift to an all-wheel-drive powertrain. The Ralliart Eclipse featured 20x9 carbon fiber wheels, with plenty of stopping power, thanks to front eight-piston Brembos and four-piston rears. The show car was painted in hot mica red. Inside, the concept featured Recaro seats with four-point harnesses, and a Rockford Fosgate audio designed to keep you awake on a long drive.
2005 Mitsubishi Ralliart Raider concept
Meanwhile, the Ralliart Raider Concept started off with Mitsubishi’s all-new pickup, transforming it into a serious race truck, with a custom tubular chassis, and a carbon fiber body. A twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8 put power to the ground through a full-time all-wheel-drive system driving 22-inch wheels and tires. Are the two show cars buildable? “There are some possibilities here,” suggested Killen, though he cautioned that as shown at SEMA, the two prototypes would be “very expensive.” Individual elements of the cars could, however, make it into production, or at least into Ralliart accessories.
Subaru Specs out Legacy
2006 Subaru WRX TR
It’s likely to be going, going, gone for Subaru’s extremely limited-edition 2006 Legacy 2.5GT spec.B. Until now, the special Legacy spin-off was marketed in Japan
. It’s making its way to the U.S.
, but only 500 will be built and sold here. The spec.B features a Bilstein sport suspension, 18-inch, 10-spoke wheels – and a special number plate reminding you what you paid the premium for.
2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT spec.B
Meanwhile, the automaker also unveiled the new WRX TR, a 2006 model “aimed straight at the performance market,” said marketing VP Rick Croson. With an emphasis on easy customization, the turbo-powered TR gets a new, 230-hp 2.5-liter six. Torque jumps from 217 to 235 lb-ft compared to the old WRX 2.0-liter engine. Larger brakes are designed to improve stopping power. Inside, there are new sports seats with active headrests. The WRX TR will go for $23,995, the same as the original WRX, which first appeared in U.S.
showrooms five years ago.
Toyota Shows New Yaris, RAV4
If timing is everything, Toyota has a chance to pick up the marbles when it launches two potential critical new products, the new Yaris three-door subcompact and third-generation RAV4 SUV. The automaker brought both to this year’s SEMA show, an event Toyota division general manager Jim Lentz declared, "so important to Toyota , it’s become one of our key auto shows."
2006 Toyota RAV4
A decade after introducing the crossover-ute segment, the RAV4 is back, but the third-generation model is 14 inches longer, three inches wider, and boasts about 20 percent more interior space. A third-row seat will be offered for two of the three available RAV4 grades. With safety increasingly important to SUV buyers, Toyotawill make stability control, traction control, and ABS standard equipment, along with front, side and head/rollover airbag. The base four-cylinder engine gets another five horsepower, while emissions are lowered. Meanwhile, mileage climbs to 24 city, 29 highway. Look for this model in showrooms by the end of the month. The V-6 version will develop 269 hp, according to Lentz, and launch from 0-60 in "under seven seconds." This version will hit showrooms shortly after the beginning of the year. Lentz would not reveal specific pricing, though he hinted that the new RAV4 will have an MSRP "similar" to the outgoing model.
2006 Toyota Yaris
The Yaris is the latest in a fast-growing line-up of downsized econocars designed to appeal through a mix of styling, performance and, of course, price. Already a hit in Europe and Japan,Toyota is betting it will do significantly better than the ungainly Echo model. The three-door will com with a 1.5-liter in-line four engine, with choice of five-speed stick or four-speed automatic. And with fuel economy becoming as important to entry buyers as the base price, look for numbers in the range of 34 mpg city/40 highway. A second, four-door version will be shown at the January 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, Lentz revealed. Together, Toyotais betting it can sell about 70,000 Yarises – Yarii? – annually. Look for a starting price of less than $13,000, though power locks and windows, anti-lock brakes and side airbags will be optional. Lentz admitted the Yaris could cannibalize as much as 15 percent of its sales from the popular Scion xA model, which has helped the automaker gain ground with Gen-X and -Y buyers. But on the whole, the Scion is aimed at motorists "who like to stand out, while the Yaris is aimed at those who like to blend in."
This year’s spike in fuel prices has had a clear impact on market trends, sales of large SUVs slipping sharply, while smaller vehicles are among the few real gainers in recent months. "Do I think full-size SUVs will be going back to (their annual peak of) 800,000 again? Probably not," said Lentz. But he believes the segment "will rebound a bit." The RAV4 segment is likely to approach 1.5 million, however, about six times what it was a decade ago, Toyota is forecasting. What about demand for vehicles like the Yaris? That really depends on a variety of factors, including the economy and fuel prices, Lentz cautioned. If prices drop back sharply, he wonders "if people will feel like it’s back to the good old days?" But most signs seem to point to expanding demand for such products. And Toyota, he stressed, is developing a variety of new vehicles that could be built off the Yaris platform.