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01/10 2004 NAIAS, TURNING UP THE HEAT

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Fri, Jan 16, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

01/10 2004 NAIAS, TURNING UP THE HEAT

By Contributing Editors CHRISTOPHER MERLO and CHUCK DAPOZ

International auto shows love to say they're the largest or most prestigious in the world. Frankfurt has the most floor space. Paris and Tokyo vie for claims of the largest attendance. One of the biggest brag points is always the number of vehicles receiving their "premier." It's a funny numbers game. The 2004 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), underway in Detroit January 10 - 19, boasts 58 "product introductions" ## 40 production-ready models and 18 concept vehicles. But what is an introduction? If a vehicle has been shown to or driven by reporters and written about, can it be given its "premier" at an auto show? In our Internet-connected world, why make a big deal out of a "regional premier" that's been presented on a different continent? Or what if a different engine is put into a vehicle? Does that make the vehicle new and worthy of a "press unveiling"? We once overheard a journalist grumble at an auto show news conference, "Next year they'll announce blue as a new model." We're not denigrating the NAIAS. We love the Detroit auto show. In terms of product news, it's by far the biggest in America. But we don't buy into the hype concerning the number of products said to be "new." By our count, there are 47 new vehicles on display at Cobo Center in Detroit. That's far more than will be premiered at all of the other American auto shows combined. It also means Detroit stands tall in comparisons with the other major international auto shows in Frankfurt, Paris, Geneva and Tokyo. Bragging points aside, this year's Detroit show is filled with a large number of notable concept and production vehicles. And as with any major show, it's fun to note trends and themes when looking at vehicles shown publicly for the first time. SIGNIFICANT TRENDS AND THEMES AT THIS YEAR'S NAIAS

  • Large numbers of convertibles. Of the 47 new concept and production vehicles, 13 are convertibles or have some form of open top; that's more than one in four.
  • The renaissance of the American sports car. With numerous roadster-type cars plus the makeover of icons such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Mustang, American manufactures are again focused on putting fun back into driving.
  • Increased horsepower. Continuing a trend we noted at last year's Detroit show, the horsepower race continues. More horsepower was seen in both concept and production vehicles from the Big Three, Europe and Asia.
  • Increasing emphasis at the top and bottom of the market. The proliferation of luxury models continues, but a new trend is an increasing emphasis on low-cost vehicles, some of which offer performance and features that recently were found only on more-costly products. Does this indicate a thinning in the middle of the market? Stay tuned.
  • Hybrids are here ## and here to stay. The Toyota Highlander hybrid and Lexus RX 400h hybrid were introduced, and both go on sale this year, joining the Ford Escape hybrid, also promised for later this year. At its news conference, Honda reiterated its commitment to hybrid vehicles. Nissan is licensing hybrid technology from Toyota and will soon begin showing products with it. Though the impetus for launching hybrid technology was to improve fuel economy and reduce exhaust emissions, a bonus is improved performance: faster acceleration, more torque and greater range per tank of gas. Look for more hybrid announcements this year.
  • Greater emphasis by the Big Three on cars. GM, Ford and Chrysler announced their intent to reclaim car market share from Asian and European manufacturers. Ford even publicly states 2004 is "The Year of the Car." All of the Big Three showed great new cars. We wish them luck in their battle to win back market share; after all, competition is good for buyers.
  • Greater emphasis by Asian and European brands on trucks. It's particularly interesting that while the Big Three are expanding their efforts on cars, which represent a shrinking market, the import brands are going in the opposite direction by expanding efforts on trucks, which is the growth part of the industry. Let's see ... imports focusing on high-growth, high-volume segments ... Big Three concentrating on declining- and low-volume segments. Draw your own conclusion of whether the Big Three or import brands will gain market share with their respective strategies.
  • More trucks, more truck variations. Market segmentation is the name of the game when it comes to trying to satisfy the whims of American buyers and gaining sales. As the truck and SUV segments fragment, we're seeing the lines blur between crossovers and multipurpose vehicles. And with actions such as the forthcoming Subaru Outback being classified as truck rather than a car, what's the difference between a car and truck anyway?
  • Pickup proliferation. There seems to be no limit to the number of pickup trucks Americas will buy ## and manufacturers will produce. Honda and Mitsubishi introduced car-based compact pickups. Toyota unveiled a concept full-size pickup ## by the way with a hybrid V8 ## and will begin building a full-size successor to the Tundra in 2005 at a new assembly plant near San Antonio, TX. In spite of competition from the new Nissan Titan, Ford said it plans to sell more than 900,000 F-Series pickups this year, breaking its sales record, and a million in 2005. And GM sales of full-size pickups are rising at about the same rate. More pickup models and more pickup volume. Is there a saturation point?
  • Intense competition. The number of new products coming to market is staggering. It used to be that a couple dozen new products would be introduced in Detroit, and that was huge. Now we're seeing double that. In addition, when announcing 2003 sales figures, it seemed every manufacturer ## whether its sales were up or down ## went out of its way to say last year was "challenging," "competitive" or a "tough market." When you consider that 2003 industry sales totaled 16.7 million vehicles, the fifth highest ever and off 6% from 2000's all-time record of 17.8 million, it makes you wonder how high industry sales must climb before auto executives acknowledge good times are here ## and how loudly they'd complain if sales declined marginally.
Take a tour though Detroit's Cobo Center for a look at the all-new vehicles on display.

NAIAS 2004 Part 2 Aston Martin DB9 Volante (production) BMW 6-Series convertible (production) Chevrolet Corvette (production) Chevrolet Nomad (concept) Chrysler ME Four-Twelve (prototype) Chrysler 300 (production) Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible (production) Chrysler Crossfire Roadster (production) Chrysler Town and Country (production) Dodge Sling Shot (concept) Dodge Magnum (production) Ferrari 612 Scaglietti (production)

NAIAS 2004 Part 3 Ford Mustang (production) Ford Shelby Cobra (concept) Ford Five Hundred (production) Ford Freestyle (production) Ford Bronco (concept) Honda SUT (concept) Hyundai HCD8 coupe (concept) Infiniti QX56 (production) Jaguar S-Type (production) Jeep Rescue (concept) Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (production) Kia Spectra (production)

NAIAS 2004 Part 4 Land Rover Range Stormer (concept) Lexus RX 400h (production) Lexus GS 430 (production) Lincoln Aviator (concept) Lincoln Mark LT (production) Lincoln Mark X (concept) Mazda MX-Micro Sport Concept (concept) Mercedes-Benz GST (production) Mercury Mariner (production) Mitsubishi Eclipse Concept-E (concept) Mitsubishi Sport Truck Concept (concept)

NAIAS 2004 Part 5 Nissan Frontier (production) Nissan Pathfinder (production) Nissan Actic (concept) Pontiac G6 (production) Pontiac Solstice (production) Saturn Curve (concept) Scion tC (production) Suzuki Reno (concept) Toyota Highlander Hybrid (production) Toyota FTX (concept) VW Concept T (concept)

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