2006 Detroit Auto Show, Part XII

January 10, 2006

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



Caliber Breaks Cover


2007 Dodge Caliber

2007 Dodge Caliber

The Chrysler Group held its final press conference of the Detroit show, pulling the wraps off the new Caliber, a tall-roof small car that will start at only $13,985—including destination charge—which amounts to $410 below the Neon. The Caliber offers three different four-cylinder engines from the automaker’s new World Engine family, ranging from 1.8 to 2.4 liters, along with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The new hatchback has several innovative features including a rechargeable flashlight, a liftgate-mounted speaker system for tailgating, and a chilled compartment large enough for soda bottles. Eberhardt said that the Caliber is “simply the best way to package all the features.” —Bengt Halvorson


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Aspen Revealed in Blizzard Conditions


2007 Chrysler Aspen

2007 Chrysler Aspen

With a blizzard of paper pelting the crowd, Chrysler introduced the new Aspen luxury sport-utility, which Frank Klegor introduced as “the Chrysler 300 of SUVs.” Based on the Dodge Durango and a bit smaller than competitors like the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator, the Aspen is powered by a 335-hp 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 that employs the automaker’s Multi-Displacement System (MDS) for improved fuel economy and an EPA highway rating of 22 mpg. There will also be a lower-priced model offering the 4.7-liter V-8 engine. Two separate four-wheel-drive systems are offered, depending on customer need. The big sport-utility has Electronic Roll Mitigation (ERM), side-curtain airbags for all three rows, and the ParkSense back-up detection system, and boasts bumpers that were designed low enough to mate with passenger cars in crashes.


The Aspen doesn’t skimp on the luxury features; offerings include a large-screen navigation system, heated seats for the first and second rows, and a DVD entertainment system for the back. There’s also a built-in 115-volt power inverter for running laptops and coolers, and seat fabric is treated for stain resistance. Big 20-inch chromed wheels are available.


The Aspen will be built in the Chrysler Group’s Newark, Del., assembly plant and is set to go on sale this fall. —Bengt Halvorson



Big Six? What About Us, Asks Korea


Forget the Big Three, says Ford’s Mark Fields. It’s time to roll Toyota , Nissan and Honda into the new Big Six, the automakers dominating the American market. But even that term is an anachronism, suggested Bob Cosmai, the top American executive with Hyundai Motors. After its disastrous decline in the early 1990s, the South Korean has been posting a string of sales gains. After topping the 400,000 mark for the last three years, Cosmai predicts Hyundai’s U.S. dealers will break the 500,000 barrier in 2006. A flood of new product is critical to that growth, including the Accent and Entourage, as well as a remake of the Santa Fe and Elantra scheduled for later this year.


Hyundai’s plunge was largely the result of quality problems. It took an industry-leading 10-year warranty to underscore that the automaker was getting those problems under control, and Cosmai stressed that there’s now “no room for error. None at all.” That’s a main reason why the automaker took longer than anticipated to get production up to speed at its new assembly plant in Alabama. While Hyundai has buffed up its image, it still has a long way to go, Cosmai conceded. Company studies reveal that only 18 percent of American car buyers would consider the brand, barely a third who would look at a Toyota. “We’ve got to work on building trust and confidence,” said Cosmai, and that is not a short-term process.—TCC Team



Volvo Looking Large


For a small, Swedish car company, Volvo has a big role in the world of Ford. It’s provided platforms for a growing number of products sold by the various Ford divisions, and it is playing lead in the global automaker’s safety efforts. It’s also growing its own sales, with a worldwide target of 600,000, declared Frederik Arp, the Swedish company’s new CEO, during the preview of the C30 Concept at the Detroit auto show.


In a separate interview with TheCarConnection.com, Arp said Volvo is gaining ground by broadening its appeal. It intends to hang on to its safety heritage, but the C30 demonstrates the way it has gotten away from its image as boxy and boring. “Our design,” Arp boasted, “has evolved significantly.”


Part of the challenge is putting Volvo products on buyers’ shopping lists. “The brand,” he lamented, “is better known in most of our markets than our product.” But that half-empty glass provides “an excellent opportunity to grow.” Another challenge is that “everybody is trying” to develop an image of safety. Volvo needs to remain at the forefront, though Arp stressed that it’s not in a race to always have the latest technology. What is more important, according to Arp is to integrate safety systems the company can offer to the maximum numbers of buyers across the full range of its product line.


Volvo’s lineup has expanded substantially in recent years, with offerings like the XC90 crossover and the upcoming production version of the C30. Some have suggested Volvo might want to add another, smaller crossover vehicle. Arp downplayed that idea, but he told TheCarConnection, “I think we do need at least one more add-on to the lineup, which will come in two or three years.” What’s in his mind? Wait and see, he replied. --TCC Team



Mitsu Not Losing Its J-Cool


Nearly bankrupt Mitsubishi has a lot of challenges ahead, but it’s beginning to redefine its image in the U.S. with a mix of cool cars and J-Cool advertising, said marketing director Dave Schembri. The launch of the sporty Eclipse coupe last year was a critical step in the brand’s revitalization, he said during an auto show interview. But the question the automaker faced was how to promote the new version. “Whether you’re talking Hyundai, Honda or Toyota ,” suggested Schembri, they all seem to want to portray themselves as American brands these days. Mitsubishi’s strategy was to do a 180, playing up the brand’s Asian roots and let the J-Cool movement influence its marketing efforts. That’s J, as in youthful, hip Japanese. The challenge has been to get the maximum bang for a limited number of bucks, with a marketing budget a fraction of what its competition can come up with. But Mitsubishi pulled off a coup with its Free Gas campaign. It avoided the stigma of a traditional incentive program, and generated plenty of free buzz in the media as well, Schembri noted, adding, “We have to leverage everything we do.”--TCC Team

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