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North American International Auto Show

0 Comments 🕔10.Jan 2017

North American International Auto Show

The car you’re going to buy, next to the car you wish you could buy
Like two armies lost in a snowstorm, domestic and import automakers went in different directions on the opening day of the 2004 North American International Auto Show. One, the domestics, ran straight for the car market, trotting out concept and production models designed to bring American car buyers back into American brands. Import automakers shrugged and continued their attack on the last domestic stronghold – trucks and utility vehicles, with a uniquely importesqe twist – hybrids. The resulting stretch felt by the auto industry may very well expand the market of available vehicles to never before seen levels, and, as a result, give buyers more choice than ever.

Ford called it when the proclaimed 2004 the “year of the car”, and the rest of the domestic makers seem to have joined, running headlong into the fray, desperate to gain some long lost market share from Toyota, Honda and Nissan. On Day One, among other vehicles, Ford introduced a production version of the new Ford Mustang – echoing the look of a ’68 ‘Stang — a redesigned 2005 Focus, the Freestyle – a crossover that looks like a car — and the Ford Five Hundred, an aggressive large sedan designed to replace Taurus in the Ford product line-up.

General Motors did their own rendition of the year of the car, and perhaps set into motion a revival of several brands – especially Pontiac, as it seems to be GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz’ personal goal. First came the GTO – straight from Australia — and today, a production version of the 2006 Pontiac Solstice. Tomorrow, GM will introduce the Pontiac G6, filling a stable of new vehicles sure to inject some fuel into the brand’s soul. Originally debuted as a concept two years ago, the Solstice was a “parts drawer” car – one that was built from the parts and fittings of other GM vehicles. Today, that changed dramatically with the Solstice, and two key concept vehicles, as GM introduced a new sporty 2+2 vehicle architecture named Kappa.

That wasn’t even the big news from General Motors. Underlining a commitment to re-invigorate the Chevrolet brand, the General brought out the much-anticipated 2005 Corvette. Ford matched horsepower for horsepower by also bringing out a special Mustang Cobra, designed by J. Mays.

Chrysler, while not yet unveiling the expected Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum production models, nonetheless stayed in tune with Ford and GM, with a Dodge Slingshot concept and a ME super car, designed to be a Chrysler halo car. Day two should see the debut of the 300 and the Magnum, as well as a convertible Crossfire.

That’s a bunch of cars. Since the Los Angeles Auto Show last month, domestic automakers have unveiled the mid-entry Chevrolet Cobalt, a new Corvette and Pontiac Solstice. Ford has driven out onto show floors the production GT, a new Ford Focus, Mustang and the Five Hundred.

The imports don’t seem too worried. The largest import makers continue to hunt domestic truck and SUV buyers – the most recent additions being Infiniti’s QX56, a new utility/truck vehicle concept from Honda – for cool dads only, please — named the SUT, and a super-duper large and blue truck concept by Toyota named FTX. Toyota also announced plans to produce a hybrid Highlander, and Nissan debuted a crossover concept they’ve named Actic.

The idea of hybrid big vehicles – unabashedly put forth by Jim Press, Toyota Motor Sales president as he introduced the FTX – is potentially an area import makers can exploit when it comes to utility sales. If priced right, (pricing was not available) the Hybrid Highlander may create the kind of buzz created by Toyota’s Prius hybrid – and will offer buyers a best of both worlds scenario – space, utility and fuel economy. According to Toyota officials, the Hybrid Highlander should be able to offer consumers an SUV with compact sedan fuel economy numbers.

Toyota’s FTX was as futuristic as hybrids used to be, before they sold so many Prius cars. And though there is no doubt about their commitment to the large truck market, o the place the FTX holds in that commitment – the truck concept seemed ridiculously big and bold, with huge, bright blue flared fenders and a grille you could take a nap on. Then again, in America, there’s no such thing as too big – or too blue.

Nissan’s crossover, the Actic, was a little more down to earth, and gave a strong indication as to the future direction of the vehicles they plan to introduce. As with some of their competitors, Nissan has focused squarely on interiors – how to make them more personal, modern and configurable. The Actic features an interior inspired by Silver stream trailers – if you wear a blue shirt, the interior will look blue – and a new take on bench seats.

But the Actic is not for cool dads. The Honda SUT is, apparently, and if so cool dads want a multi-utilitarian take on a car and a five-foot bed. There’s little doubt that the SUT, when the production model rolls out onto the Detroit stage next year, will meet Honda’s exacting requirements for performance and quality. The only question will be whether it tries to be too much. After all, most cool dads have quite a few toys they like to haul, and a five-foot bed may not be long or deep enough to fit much more than a bike, or maybe a run to the local home improvement store. Which is what all cool dads want to do.

Maybe. The domestics are betting that cool dads will want to take a nice car out for a drive. Maybe a Vette, a ‘Stang, or a Solstice. The imports think that guy’s gonna want to haul a toy with him, or pick up some lumber and work on that honey-do list.

As Day One comes to a close, no word on what the cool moms out there might want to drive. But one thing is clear – with domestics going hard after the car market, and imports continuing to work away on the truck/utility market, the race for the heart and soul of American car buyers just got very interesting.

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