2006 Paris Auto Show Index by TCC Team (9/25/2006)
Audi Reveals Production R8
2008 Audi R8
The long-awaited Audi R8 made a late-in-the-day appearance at the Paris Motor Show. The two-seat sports car picks up the performance mantel and heads off in a direction where the Audi TT could only dream of going. Of course, the R8 starts with a special pedigree, sharing its underlying structure with the “Baby Lamborghini,” the Gallardo. The look is distinctly Audi, however, rather than just a clone of the Italian supercar. Though there are some structural changes, both the Italian roadster and R8 have aluminum spaceframe platforms. The Audi gets a 420-hp V-8, rather than Lambo’s big V-10, however, and there’ve been obvious tweaks to the driveline and suspension to adapt to the different engine and create unique handling and performance characteristics. But there’s little doubt Audi intends to use its new supercar — which is expected to carry a price of a bit over $100,000 — to underscore its performance bona fides. The Volkswagen AG division won five victories at Le Mans since the 2000 race.
Are GM-Renault/Nissan Talks Dead?
“We’re simply shadowboxing,” said an extremely high-ranking source at General Motors, asked about the state of talks between the U.S. automaker and Euro-Asian partners, Renault, and Nissan. Earlier this week, the three manufacturers agreed to extend their discussions, which could lead to the creation of a tripartite alliance. While GM CEO Rick Wagoner declined to discuss the status of the negotiations, he told TheCarConnection.com on Thursday, “If (there is) the opportunity of working with Nissan and Renault — or other companies — that could pick up the pace of our turnaround or generate shareholder value, we’re wide open to it.” But Wagoner quickly cautioned that GM negotiators “have to look at it selfishly,” to make sure there actually is a payoff for the Detroit automaker.
If GM were to sign on with Nissan and Renault, it would create a behemoth unquestionably larger than any other auto manufacturer or carmaking alliance. On the other hand, if the Detroit maker decides to go it alone, it could be facing a threat to its 75-year-position as automotive king-of-the-hill. Recent announcements from Toyota suggest the Japanese company hopes to be producing closer to ten million cars a year by 2008, which may very well push it past General Motors, according to industry analysts. “We’d like to keep winning,” GM Chairman Wagoner admitted, “but the sun will rise the next day if we’re not” number one.
Ford Looking to
Small cars are suddenly big news with U.S. motorists, and despite the recent retreat in small car prices, all indications suggest that so-called B-segment models, long popular in Europe, will gain momentum in the States, as well. That’s good news for makers like Nissan and Toyota, who have begun bringing over new minicars, but it’s a problem for brands that aren’t ready to enter the fray, notably Ford Motor Co. That could begin to change, Ford officials hinted during the announcement of their revised Way Forward turnaround plan in September. But where would they get a new line-up smaller than the current Focus? How about Ford of Europe, which will be revising its various B-segment models, starting in 2008? “We’re working together a lot these days,” hinted Peter Horbury, head of North American design operations, following Ford’s preview at the Paris shpw. The question is whether European products “match up” to what North America needs. But today’s flexible product platforms make it easier to customize vehicles for individual markets, another well-placed Ford source stressed. So don’t be surprised to see a U.S. B-car within a year or two after the next generation of European models pops up.
Bez Sees Good Side to Aston
There’s little doubt where Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez stands on Ford Motor Co.’s plans to sell its boutique car division. “I’m very grateful about Ford Motor Co. letting our company survive and flourish,” Bez told TheCarConnection.com during the press preview at this year’s Paris Motor Show, “but now our company can flourish even more under another ownership structure.” Bez declined to discuss specifics of the proposed sale, though he indicated “more than one” potential buyer is bidding for Aston, including a group led by former Ford CEO Jacques Nasser. And Bez clearly appears to be leaning in favor of his old boss’s bid. As part of any proposal, it also seems likely the German executive and his senior team members would get a share of the action, while Ford is apparently interested in keeping a minority stake, perhaps ten percent, sources suggest. That would provide access to some resources Aston would still need, Bez said, but it is also possible for the luxury carmaker to get engineering and design help from independent contractors, he quickly added. And in recent years, the increasingly profitable maker has developed plenty of talent internally, Bez pointed out.
Avenger Concept Leads Dodge Europush
2006 Dodge Avenger concept
Is the Dodge Avenger the face of things to come at Chrysler? Absolutely. The concept car, unwrapped at the Paris Mondial de l’Automobile, is “a strong indication of what a production Dodge Avenger could look like,” declared Chrysler Group COO Eric Ridenour. With a look that is “sinister and sneering,” the Avenger will be aimed at European family buyers, and midsize customers in the U.S. Like the new Chrysler Sebring, with which it shares platforms, the Dodge boasts unconventional proportions, along with a rear pillar lifted straight from the Charger sedan. A big spoiler and 19-inch wheels put the concept squarely in the American-car idiom. But for Europe, Dodge fitted the concept with a 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine. Look for a variety of different powertrains, including six-cylinder packages better suited to the American market. And don’t be surprised to see Avenger fitted with plenty of safety features, especially for the European market, including front, side, and head airbags, as well as Brake Assist and traction control.
Chrysler Considering European Options
While overseas sales may still be little more than the proverbial drop in the oil pan, Chrysler definitely sees opportunities to expand its presence in markets like Europe. It has increased the number of models it offers outside North American from nine to 20 in recent years, noted chief operating officer Eric Ridenour, and that helped boost sales by 14 percent during the first eight months of 2006. “Our target is to double our market share by 2009,” Ridenour noted in Paris. For now, much of the product Chrysler sells abroad is coming from U.S. plants, though it is also building vehicles in China and at a facility in Graz, Austria. Could a dedicated European plant be in the works? “It certainly would be a possibility,” DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche told TheCarConnection.com. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” he added, though he stressed there are currently no formal plans in the works. For now, the carmaker is watching to see how high it can push demand before deciding where it will source future product.
Shifting Focus from Trucks at Chrysler
Joe Eberhardt Paris 2006
With light trucks, crossovers, and minivans accounting for almost two-thirds of its sales, DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler Group was hard-hit by rising fuel prices. Even though costs are coming down, the automaker doesn’t expect to see things go back to business as usual. “The segments will change,” marketing chief Joe Eberhardt told TheCarConnection.com, following Chrysler’s Paris news conference. “We have to see what changes we need to make in our U.S. product program.” Eberhardt said he doesn’t foresee massive shifts, such as the elimination of full-size pickups or SUVs, but there will be some buyers moving from one segment to another. There is likely to be more demand for smaller and more fuel-efficient powertrains, especially in big trucks, he acknowledged. Chrysler is partnering with General Motors and BMW to develop a new generation of hybrid technology, but the marketing exec said that the brand is clearly looking at opportunities to expand U.S. sales of diesel engines, which he described as a “most underrated powertrain.” There is “no doubt in the consumer’s mind that this (run-up in prices) can happen again at any time,” said Eberhardt. Crossover vehicles will be the big winners, he added, pushing past conventional, truck-based SUVs. How that will impact Jeep is uncertain, he admitted. But Chrysler is watching closely to see how consumers respond to the division’s first crossover, the Compass. Should the reaction be positive, it could lead DCX to approve additional car-based Jeeps.
New AMG Muscle for CL
2006 Mercedes-Benz CL63
2007 Mercedes-Benz SLR 722