2006 Detroit Auto Show, Part IV

January 9, 2006

2006 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/7/2006)



Turnarounds Are Easy


It’s what happens next that’s difficult, said Brad Bradshaw, general manager of the Nissan Division. “It’s always easier to turn around a company than to sustain it, and that’s where we find ourselves now,” he conceded during an interview at the North American International Auto Show. In recent years, Nissan has been on a roll, but analysts say the momentum has slowed a bit, and Bradshaw acknowledged that it will be a challenge to maintain momentum during the “gap” between last year’s light truck launches and the debut of the next-generation Altima and Sentra models later this year.


Nissan will need to significantly improve each new product, he said, with an emphasis on issues like quality and interior refinement. Quality issues proved especially vexing following the 2004 launch of Nissan’s Canton, Miss. , assembly plant. The Quest minivan, in particular, scored unexpectedly poorly in surveys such as J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study (IQS). “If we had to do it over, we would change the order in which we launched products out of that plant,” said Bradshaw. Nissan should have started out with the Titan pickup, “which is much easier to assemble,” Bradshaw said, rather than a complex minivan, like the Quest. In the future, he added, Nissan will take such issues into account when scheduling the launch of new products. And if necessary, it will delay an introduction until it is certain quality issues have been resolved.


Quality is just one of the many issues Nissan will face in 2006. The automaker plans to move its U.S. headquarters from Los Angeles to Nashville in mid-year, and various studies have suggested it could lose as much as 50 percent of its current California workforce in the process. “We have a whole myriad of details” to work through before the move gets underway, said Bradshaw, down to the number of desks that will be needed after the move and inevitable shake-out. The Nissan general manager added that his company is going out of its way to encourage employees to stay with the company. But industry sources say they’ve been seeing a flood of resumes from Nissan employees – many of them from senior ranks – who don’t intend to leave the West Coast.



Toyota Cries for Freedom


2006 Toyota F3R concept

2006 Toyota F3R concept

Don’t call the F3R Freedom three-row concept vehicle a minivan, insists Jim Lentz, general manager of the Toyota Division. Think of it as a mobile “lifestyle in a box.” A very large box. The show car that will be formally unveiled on Monday was developed by Toyota ’s California-based CALTY advanced designed center as an alternative to the traditional and much-maligned minivan. It borrows many of the basic, utilitarian features of a van, including its three-row seating for up to eight adults. But flip and fold away that center row and you’ve created a lounge on wheels, with what CALTY’s Kevin Hunter calls an “avant garde sofa rear seat,” and a state-of-the-art audio/video system. The interior design and materials are as well-suited for a home as an automobile, according to Toyota officials. One of the F3R’s most unusual features is its use of three doors per side, rather than a minivan’s sliding rear door. Though minis are among the most utilitarian vehicles on the road, their bulbous styling has disconnected with many consumers, segment sales plunging from a 1.4 million annual peak to barely 1 million today. So while there are no plans to produce the massive machine, Lentz made it clear Toyota is looking at ways to redefine the minivan, or as some prefer to call it, the “people mover.” The challenge will be to find a way to wrap the most functional of concepts into a more stylish shape.



Benz GL-Class: The Cleanest Full-Size SUV?


2007 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

2007 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

Dieter Zetsche returned to Detroit’s Cobo Hall on Sunday, a changed man since last year’s Detroit auto show in which he presided over the Chrysler Group. Now that he’s assumed the mantle of CEO of DaimlerChrysler and as head of DC and of the Mercedes Car Group, Zetsche led the Benz press conference through the introduction of a new GL-Class full-size SUV. The GL-Class is the third vehicle to be spawned from the new unibody architecture that also birthed the R-Class and ML-Class crossover and SUV. The GL 500 will be offered with a 5.5-liter, 388-hp V-8, and the GL 450 will sport a 340-hp, 4.6-liter V-8. Permanent all-wheel drive is standard on the GL series, which is built in Tuscaloosa, Ala. , alongside the R- and ML-Class utes.


The seven-passenger SUV is the largest in the family, but Mercedes is going to great lengths to promote the GL as the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class. Benz showed a concept diesel GL 320 CDI that would get an estimated 26 mpg in highway driving. The so-called “Bluetec” diesel in the Vision GL will first be offered in the E-Class in the U.S. this fall. Zetsche says the new engine is the cleanest diesel offered in the world, and will be compliant with emissions laws in all 50 U.S. states even after tighter standards take effect in 2008. After the E-Class, the ML- and R-Class vehicles will also be offered with the Bluetec diesel—as will Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and likely the GL-Class as well.—Marty Padgett



GM Walks the Green Line


2007 Saturn Vue Hybrid

2007 Saturn Vue Hybrid

For the record, General Motors actually does have a hybrid in its lineup, a pair of them, in fact, but the gasoline-electric versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups have barely moved the needle so far. But the automaker believes it can take the technology mainstream over the next several years. For 2007, GM will launch the new Saturn Vue Green Line. It’s a so-called “mybrid,” or “mild hybrid,” if you prefer. The hybrid-electric system in this ’07 model cannot be used to operate on solely electric power, though the Vue Green Line’s gasoline engine will shut off when in idle – with the brake applied. The electric motor will add an extra measure of power on take-off or during hard acceleration. Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdzick announced the Vue Green Line will get an estimated 27 mpg City, 32 Highway, or about 20 percent better fuel economy than the conventional Vue. In a surprise move, the automaker is pricing the hybrid at less than $2000 above the gasoline version of the crossover/ute. At that modest premium, GM marketing director Mark LaNeve estimated a buyer could recover the added cost in about four years of driving 15,000 miles annually.



GM Says More Hybrids Coming


2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

Along with the Vue Green Line and GM two pickup hybrids, the automaker now plans to have at least a dozen gasoline-electric vehicles on the market before decade’s end, covering virtually every segment of the market from small cars to large trucks. During a Sunday evening preview, GM officials rolled out the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, the first new model to use the new Dual-Mode Hybrid technology. Current gasoline-electric systems work most effectively in stop-start urban conditions. The Dual-Mode technology is designed to work at highway speeds as well. It’s a full-hybrid system, meaning that in rush hour traffic, a motorist is likely to creep along only on electric power, explained GM’s powertrain director, Tom Stephens. On average, the technology should boost the SUV’s mileage by about 5 mpg. A hybrid version of the Cadillac Escalade will be added to the mix in 2008, officials added. The Dual-Mode system should carry a significantly higher premium than the less complex hardware used in the view, according to GM insiders.



Hybrids a Loss Leader, Wagoner Says


If for no other reason than to stay competitive with the hybrid powerhouse, Toyota , General Motors must bring the technology to the mainstream market, said GM CEO Rick Wagoner. But there’s at least a short to mid-term downside for the financially strained carmaker. “No one makes money on hybrids,” Wagoner asserted, even Toyota , which claims it is in the black with its Prius Hybrid. “Over time,” added Wagoner, if the company’s sales of gasoline-electric vehicles reaches at least 1 million annually, GM should be able to turn a profit on the technology, but when that will happen, Wagoner said he does not know. And that’s why GM found it necessary to enter into a joint venture with DaimlerChrysler and BMW, he explained, to develop the new Dual-Mode hybrid system. “That’s a way to get at” lowering each company’s costs, Wagoner said.



2006 Detroit Auto Show, Part I by TCC Team (1/8/2006)
Car and Truck of the year, Lexus LS has eight speeds, Enclave concept..2006 Detroit Auto Show, Part II by TCC Team (1/8/2006)
Shelby GT500, Ford Reflex, predictions for 2006 and Lutz on GM financials.

2006 Detroit Auto Show, Part III by TCC Team (1/8/2006)
Hyundai HCD-9 Talus, Santa Fe, and the death of the five-day car.

2006 Detroit Auto Show, Part V by Bengt Halvorson (1/8/2006)
Honda Fit, Ford Edge, and more from Bill Ford.

2006 Detroit Show, Part VI by TCC Team (1/9/2006)
The new face of Lincoln, Mazda Kabura, Infiniti G35 and MINI Clubman.

2006 Detroit Show, Part VII by TCC Team (1/9/2006)
GM planning big price cuts, Aston Rapide, Volvo C30, XK pricing.

2006 Detroit Auto Show, Part VIII by Bengt Halvorson (1/9/2006)
Jeep Compass, Toyota Camry, Nissan Sentra and Urge.

2006 Detroit Auto Show, Part IX by TCC Team (1/10/2006)
Camaro by the numbers, Acura RDX, Jaguar gets Ford help.

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