2006 Detroit Auto Show, Part IX

January 10, 2006


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

Camaro, By The Numbers


1999 Ford Expedition

1999 Ford Expedition

Rumors of a Camaro comeback have been circulating almost since the day the last-generation pony car was pulled from production. And indeed, a version might have hit the auto show circuit awhile ago had not General Motors Chairman Rick Wagoner pulled the plug. The first design, reveals GM car czar Bob Lutz was unabashedly retro, but Wagoner, “didn’t want something that reproduced the past slavishly.” So while the version that debuted inDetroit on Monday has the unmistakable “heritage” cues of the classic ’69 Camaro, Lutz insists it’s a “Camaro for the 21st Century.”


Under the skin, GM has turned to the next-generation Zeta “architecture.” The automaker cancelled the original Zeta program last year, but rather than calling off the platform entirely, it quietly started over, aiming to drive cost out of the rear-drive chassis.  The four-wheel independent suspension on the new version uses MacPherson struts up front and a multilink system in the rear. The Camaro’s wheelbase measures 110.5 inches, total length 186.2 inches, with a width of 79.6 inches.


In concept form, Camaro boasts a 400-horsepower 6.0-liter LS2 engine, mated to a six-speed manual transmission. In a nod to modern realities, the Corvette-derived powertrain features GM’s Active Fuel Management system, which shuts off half the cylinders when loads are light. A production version would likely start with a six-cylinder engine in a base model going for “just a little more than the Solstice,” according to Lutz, which would mean something in the low-$20,000 range. But “any V-8 General Motors produces today is potentially slated for this car.”


Standing aside the show car, a broad smile on his face, Lutz repeatedly insisted Camaro is nothing more than a concept. Right now. “We have to run the numbers,” he added. “We can’t just go by emotion. Though if we did, this is the next car I would build.” But when pressed, GM insiders acknowledged the odds are extremely high that the concept will evolve into a production Camaro by around the ’09 model year.


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Ford’s Fields: Prove It


Later this month, Ford Motor Co. will unveil a dramatic turnaround plan expected to lead to the closing of nearly a dozen plants and the elimination of around 35,000 jobs. Yet despite such draconian efforts to cut costs and bring capacity in line with sales, investors and analysts have proved surprisingly skeptical, and ratings agencies continuing to downgrade Ford debt. That comes as no surprise to the man crafting the turnaround plan, Ford’s President of the Americas , Mark Fields. “You don’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do,” he said during an auto show news conference. “You build your reputation on results.”


Along with the automaker’s number-two executive, Jim Padilla, the two outlined a variety of changes they believe will not only stabilize Ford’s slumping market share, but eventually help rebuild sales and earnings. Padilla pointed out that Ford is not nearly in as bad shape as its cross-town rival, General Motors, which is mired deep in the red. Ford earned $2.1 billion during the first nine months of 2005, he stressed, and while North American automotive operations lost money, “when you roll in finance earnings…which come on the back of selling cars and trucks… North America looks pretty good right now.”


The upcoming cuts at Ford come almost precisely four years after the automaker announced a previous turnaround plan. The reality, admitted Padilla, is that the 2002 effort underestimated the degree of change then sweeping over the industry. Ford treated the situation “like we did in the old days – batten down the hatches and we’ll get through it.” But the reality of what’s happening in the auto industry, said Padilla, “is not a cyclical change, but a secular change. We’re now forced to look at every aspect of the market.”



Jaguar Getting Help from Ford


In one of several product introductions at the Detroit show for the various Ford brands, Jaguar unveiled the convertible version of its new XK sports car. The parent company intends to invest another billion dollars into the long-troubled Jaguar. Ford COO Padilla defended that decision. “Sure, we lost our way with Jaguar,” he acknowledged, but “Jaguar represents something unique in the market.” A new line of products and more realistic sales goals, he argued, will eventually help the British brand regain its footing. There’ve been ongoing rumors that Ford has discussed selling off Jaguar to the French carmaker, Renault. But in a Detroit show interview, Padilla said, “I haven’t heard anything from Renault.”



RDX Confirmed for Summer


2007 Acura RDX

2007 Acura RDX

Acura revealed the production prototype version of its RDX performance-oriented crossover SUV. Closely following the concept of the same name shown at last year’s Detroit show, and built on an all-new global light-truck platform, the RDX is said to combine sports-car handling with serious performance from a new 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine — Honda’s first turbocharged engine for North America and Acura’s first ever. Aided by the turbocharger and an i-VTEC system, the powerful engine turns out 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, running through the automaker’s
Super Handling All-Wheel Drive
(SH-AWD) system, which can redistribute torque quickly fore-aft and left-right. A five-speed sequential-shift transmission comes with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.


The raked-back stance, dual exhaust tips, HID headlamps, and big 19-inch wheels give the compact crossover an aggressive and elegant appearance. The interior has seating for five, with fold-down rear seats and a cockpit theme for the front, along with a deep center console that allows laptop computer storage. The RDX also features a navigation system with voice recognition, real-time traffic alerts, and a hands-free phone link. There’s also a DVD audio system for entertainment. Front, side, and curtain airbags are standard, and the system is aided by rollover sensors.


Curiously, the RDX lands in a market segment — premium performance-oriented small crossovers — that seems set to take off in a big way but currently has little or no competition. For now, the RDX will take on the BMW X3.


The production version of the RDX will go on sale this summer and be assembled at Honda of America Manufacturing in Marysville, Ohio.


In a related note, the brand has announced that it will get its own U.S. design studio, to be built near the corporate headquarters in Torrance, California. Acura is celebrating its 20th year in the U.S. and plans to expand to China this year and Japan in 2008. —Bengt Halvorson



Kia Shows Urban Crossover with Soul

2006 Kia Soul concept

2006 Kia Soul concept

Kia America executive VP and COO Len Hunt introduced the show-going media to Kia’s latest concept car, a crossover utility vehicle called the Soul. The boldly styled Soul—the name is indeed a play on Kia’s home city, Seoul —has an upright cabin that’s similar in layout to that of the Scion xB, though it’s much less utilitarian and more stylized.


The small crossover—which picks up some styling cues from the earlier Mesa concept—is geared toward young urban dwellers who want a vehicle with the flexibility for weekend mountain-biking jaunts or road trips, along with easy parking for the city. The more aggressive appearance is helped by a wide track, large wheel flares, front brush guard, wrap-around windshield, and prominent roof rails on top. A panoramic roof slides back to open up much of the roof when desired.


The B-pillar-less and rear-hinged back doors (called “freestyle doors” here) allow more cargo and passenger ease, and the rear liftgate is claimed to have the flexibility of a backpack, with a fold-out pouch area for a wetsuit or muddy boots.


A notebook computer and game monitor are housed in the glove compartment and can swing out on a tray. Separate video monitors fold out for rear-seat passengers, and there’s a multimedia system that includes Bluetooth telephony, USB ports, and wi-fi. There’s also an adaptive cruise control system.


The Soul concept is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with five-speed manual transmission, and we were told that if such a vehicle were to be produced that it would use a platform readily adapted from one of Kia’s existing small cars. Although the car shown was unfinished and strictly a concept, Kia officials said that there’s a lot of interest in seeing this one through, hinting that a production vehicle may in the works.



New Optima Revealed


2006 Kia Optima

2006 Kia Optima

Kia also used its Detroit press conference to introduce the new 2006.5 Kia Optima sedan. The new Optima rides on a new platform shared with the new Hyundai Sonata, with a longer wheelbase and wider track than the car it replaces, with more interior space, more power, and better fuel economy.


The Optima now has more interior than most of its mid-size competitors, including the Accord, Camry, Altima, Malibu , and Fusion, Kia says. Trunk space has increased by ten percent over the previous Optima.


Power is provided by a new 161-hp, 2.4-liter four, with a 185-hp, 2.7-liter V-6 optional. A five-speed manual is standard with the four-cylinder model, with a five-speed automatic optional on the four and standard on the V-6. Front and rear anti-roll bars are standard for improved handling.


Six airbags—including full-length curtain bags—are standard on the Optima, as are active front headrests and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Anti-lock brakes will be optional, as is stability control and Brake Assist.


An available Appearance Package option includes larger wheels, aluminum trim inside, and other appearance upgrades, and combined with the EX model the package includes sporty black trim accents and leather seats.


The Optima will begin arriving at showrooms later this spring. —Bengt Halvorson



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 IV (1/8/2006)
Nissan's next steps, Benz GL-Class, GM hybrids.

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.

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