2006 New York Auto Show, Part VI

April 13, 2006


 

 

 

 

2006 New York Auto Show Coverage by TCC Team (4/10/2006)

 

 

Mazda Crosses Over with CX-9

 

2007 Mazda CX-9

2007 Mazda CX-9

Though Mazda’ first crossover vehicle, the CX-7, hasn’t even hit showrooms yet, the Japanese automaker rolled out a second car-based utility vehicle on Thursday. With the largest interior ever for a Mazda, the three-row, seven-passenger CX-9 will serve as a more stylish and sporty alternative to the carmaker’s past minivan offerings. Under the hood? A 3.5-liter V-6, mated to a six-speed automatic. The CX-9’s rear seats fold flat, while the second row is a split-fold arrangement. The CX-9 also boasts the largest production wheel ever offered by Mazda, at 20 inches. The crossover will be offered in both front- and all-wheel-drive configurations, noted Robert Davis, product development chief for Mazda North America. Davis emphasized that while the CX-9 bears the “visual DNA” of the smaller CX-7, the two have virtually nothing in common, at least not mechanically. He also corrected earlier reports suggesting the CX-9 is simply a Japanese interpretation of Ford Motor Co.’s new Edge. The two crossovers are “cousins,” he said, but Mazda’s offering is largely based on the same platform used in the Mazda6 sedan. Mazda is clearly committed to the car/truck concept, Davis hinting, “We’ve got more to come.”

 

Differentiating between two new crossover models wasn’t easy, Mazda’s global design director, Moray Callum, acknowledged, during an interview with TheCarConnection.com. Trying to maximize passenger space in that sort of product presents a particular challenge, he explained. But there are some visual differences, inside and out. The CX-9 is a “striking and bold” shape, he suggested, though “more refined” than the CX-7. The challenge was “keeping the sportiness that is Mazda.” But that was perhaps the single most important reason to move away from the automaker’s classic people mover, the MPV, and switch to a crossover, anyway, according to Callum. For all the restrictions, designers, he added, find crossovers “more liberating for us than a traditional minivan.”

 

 

Mazda Puts Speed into 3

 

2006 MazdaSpeed3

2006 MazdaSpeed3

Continuing to expand its new performance line, Mazda also used the New York auto show to roll out a sporty new version of its Mazda3 hatchback. The MazdaSpeed3’s direct-injection engine will churn out 250 horsepower, giving the vehicle a top speed of 150 mph, according to product development boss Robert Davis, who claimed, “It will be one of the fastest front-wheel-drive cars in the world.” Along with models like the MazdaSpeed6, the automaker is hoping to put a bit more zoom in its catchy and long-running “zoom, zoom” tag line. So don’t be surprised to see more MazdaSpeed offerings. But the line isn’t limited to specialty spin-offs, stressed Davis. There is an expanding emphasis on racing, as well as a growing lineup of MazdaSpeed performance accessories.

 

 

 

 

Kia Shows New Sorento

 

2007 Kia Sorento

2007 Kia Sorento

Once little more than a sideshow to the competitive U.S. automotive market, Kia has pushed itself into the mainstream, thanks to an expanding lineup of products like the Sorento. The automaker pulled the wraps off a new version of the SUV at Javits Center, putting it squarely up against Japanese alternatives such as the Toyota Highlander. The Korean ute’s big 3.8-liter V-6 makes 262 horsepower, a 36-percent increase from the old Sorento, and even more than the Toyota 4Runner’s V-8. Towing capacity has been bumped up 42 percent, to 5000 pounds. Kia officials also emphasized the Sorento’s five-star crash ratings, as well as safety features like anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and a tire pressure monitoring system. The Sorento is part of a tidal wave of new models that have rolled off Kia assembly lines in recent months. By the end of 2006, noted COO Len Hunt, the oldest product in the lineup will be Kia’s small Sportage SUV, which will have been around for barely 18 months.

 

 

Ghosn: Tenn. Move Is Worth the Disruption

 

There is clearly going to be “some disruption” when Nissan moves its U.S. headquarters from the suburbs of Los Angeles to Nashville later this year. And it won’t come at a convenient time, what with critical product launches, such as the new Altima, Sentra, and Infiniti G35, in the works. Nonetheless such problems will be more than offset by the long-term payoff, asserted Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn during a meeting with reporters. “Nothing is as important as the performance of the company,” Ghosn said, though he added that Nissan is working to make the move as painless as possible. It has extended by a month the deadline for workers to choose whether to head to Nashville or leave the company, he said. And even if a good portion of the workforce opts out, the Nissan CEO insisted things will work out reasonably smoothly. “We have 20,000 candidates for the jobs in Nashville,” said Ghosn, “a lot coming from Detroit, and a lot of them with a big background in the auto industry.” Staying in Los Angeles would have been both costly and disruptive, he stressed, saying that “We would have had to change a lot of things,” possibly even rebuilding Nissan’s offices there to deal with changing needs and advancing technologies.

 

 

BMW Targeting More New Segments

 

Long reluctant to grow its product lineup, German automaker BMW is intent on finding and filling new niches, CEO Helmut Panke told TheCarConnection.com. “We will have more models because customers want more choice,” he explained, during a New York auto show dinner. BMW has already grown a good bit, he noted, from three prime models generating less than 500,000 annual sales, back in the 1980s, to volumes of more than 1.1 million last year from six product lines. By 2008, Panke hinted, BMW will be bringing out what some have described as a “people mover.” The CEO’s own codename is NMV as in “not a minivan.” Meanwhile, BMW is also readying a new crossover vehicle that some analysts and observers are calling the X6. That’s likely not the production name, Panke cautioned, though he made it clear that the broad crossover category is one that it makes sense for BMW to fill.

 

 

Automakers “Destroying Value,” Ghosn Says

 

One only has to check the morning stock tables to see that smart investors are steering clear of the auto industry. And it doesn’t take much more to realize that automakers are “destroying value” through a series of poor decisions, declared Nissan/Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, during his keynote speech to the 2006 New York Auto Show. “One of the biggest destroyers of value is the development of bland, safe, cookie-cutter designs,” Ghosn asserted. “When the industry churns out too many competent but interchangeable products, customers get the message they are not worth the price,” and in a buyer’s market, that is the recipe for all-time record incentives, which last year totaled around $3500 a vehicle. Put another way, that added up to about $60 billion of lost revenue for the U.S. auto industry in 2005, “the equivalent of what you’d spend on developing 120 new cars,” at a typical investment cost of $500 million per vehicle. The prescription? The Brazilian-born executive suggested it’s simple: “Products that people really want to buy.” That’s not as easy as it seems, of course, and automakers have to take risks, said Ghosn. The edgy design Nissan originally came up with for the next-generation Sentra sedan proved to be a disconnect with potential buyers, but the automaker was willing to delay the program nearly a year to get the Sentra’s styling fixed. “We have to be flexible enough to make mid-course corrections, when necessary,” the CEO stressed.

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