Honda, Toyota and Dodge make headlines at Detroit auto show - Chrysler Forum - Chrysler Enthusiast Forums


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Old 01-11-2005, 05:58 PM
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Default Honda, Toyota and Dodge make headlines at Detroit auto show

DETROIT – Honda's first truck, Toyota's new Avalon sedan, the revival of a legendary Dodge brand name, promises of more hybrid vehicles, and some rather improbable concept cars highlighted the first two days of media introductions at this year's North American International Auto Show.

Among the most significant: the rollout today of the Ridgeline, a new midsize pickup based on a car chassis. This vehicle marks the entry of Japan's third-largest automaker into the truck market, where rivals Toyota and Nissan already have made great inroads against the Big Three U.S. automakers' dominance.

Based on the chassis of the Odyssey minivan – itself derived from the popular Accord sedan – the five-passenger Ridgeline isn't a traditional body-on-frame truck like those built by Toyota and Nissan, mostly because Honda has no truck chassis in its stable.

Still, the decision to introduce a pickup, even one on a car platform, is significant because it is yet another Japanese entry into a market that General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group have depended upon for the bulk of their profits in recent years, and in which the Japanese have yet to become fully ensconced.

Although Toyota and Nissan have long produced compact pickups that competed to a small degree against the Detroit automakers' numerous truck offerings, both have recently entered the full-size pickup market to challenge a Big Three market segment that once was considered impenetrable.

While the Ridgeline won't push into that fray, the fact that Honda would introduce a truck at all leads to speculation that it might be considering development of a larger model as well.

Toyota, which introduced the first full-size Japanese pickup just four years ago, already has seen enough success with its Tundra model that it is building a new plant in San Antonio to assemble the second-generation Tundra beginning in 2006.

Nissan began offering its full-size Titan pickup last year, manufactured at an all-new plant in Canton, Miss.

Honda said it expects to sell at least 50,000 of the Ridgeline in its first year of production, just half of the annual sales of the larger Toyota Tundra but a significant number for an all-new midsize model. The truck goes on sale this summer as a 2006 model.

Toyota, meanwhile, debuted its third-generation Avalon full-size sedan, a completely redesigned model that is aimed at a mature audience – even as Toyota works hard elsewhere in its lineup to attract more youthful buyers into its showrooms.

With its buyers expected to have a median age just under 60, Avalon is designed to appeal to people who have raised their children and now want a "reward vehicle without moving to a luxury brand," said Don Esmond, executive vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

It's larger than the current Avalon, and much more refined, Esmond said – more like one of the company's upscale Lexus products, yet with Toyota-like pricing beginning at $26,350.

"We're content with the mature age level of the [expected] Avalon buyer," Esmond said, adding that Toyota might not have been as comfortable developing a new car intended for an older audience had it not begun its youthful Scion brand last year.

Already a hit among the 18-25 age group, Scion is expected to help continue to lower the average age of Toyota buyers despite such products as the Avalon. The Avalon, though, is an indication that just because Toyota wants to attract younger consumers, it's not going to abandon loyal older customers either, Esmond said.

On Sunday afternoon, Ford rolled out its all-new midsize Fusion sedan that goes on sale this fall, part of a two-vehicle "bracketed" strategy to replace the aging Taurus. This past fall, Ford introduced the Five Hundred sedan, which is slightly larger than the Taurus and aimed at the Taurus' older customers; the Fusion, which is slightly smaller and based on the chassis of the midsize Mazda6, is designed to go after younger consumers who want a sportier sedan.

Monday morning, Dodge took the wraps off of the all-new Charger, which basically is a sedan version of the Magnum wagon introduced last summer, and corresponds to the new 300 sedan in the Chrysler lineup.

Reviving the Charger name – one of the icons of the muscle-car era of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s – Dodge hopes to capitalize on the wave of nostalgia that has engulfed aging baby boomers who recall fondly the cars they loved during their coming-of-age years.

While the new Charger looks nothing like its namesakes, and is a sedan rather than a coupe, Dodge has given it a Hemi V-8 engine to help convince old-Charger fans that it's worth checking out.

On Sunday, Chrysler rolled out several new concept vehicles, including a Jeep Wrangler-based pickup bearing the name of a Jeep pickup from the past – the Gladiator – that probably will see its way into production.

But one Jeep concept shown Sunday that isn't likely to find its way onto the streets was the Hurricane, which essentially is a Wrangler with not one, but two, 340-horsepower Hemi V-8 engines – one in front, and another in the rear.

With fuel prices rising and critics already decrying the use of big, gas-guzzling V-8 engines such as the Hemi in SUVs and other family vehicles, the Hurricane is anything but politically correct.

But the idea of a combined 680 horsepower in a Jeep is a novel idea, even if it goes nowhere, the company said.

As for politically correctness, GM Chairman Rick Wagoner promised on Sunday that a crop of new gasoline- and diesel-electric hybrid vehicles is on the way from the world's largest automaker, which finds itself trying to play catch-up with Japanese rivals Toyota and Honda, and even cross-town competitor Ford, in the hybrid market.

Toyota introduced the world's first mass-market hybrid in 1997, the Prius sedan, and has more on the way; Honda already has two hybrids on the market; and Ford this past fall introduced the gasoline-electric Escape, the world's first hybrid SUV.

Wagoner said that a recent deal with DaimlerChrysler to co-develop hybrid technology with GM will result in new hybrid vehicles from GM, Chrysler Group and Mercedes-Benz.

GM also is moving forward with development of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, including a new hydrogen-powered bus that will be sold to a variety of customers, including Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, within the next year or so.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are even better for the environment than hybrids because they don't pollute at all – their only tailpipe emission is water, he noted.

The media preview for the 2005 Detroit show continues Tuesday, and the show opens to the public on Saturday at Detroit's Cobo Hall convention center. It runs through Jan. 23, and nearly 1 million people are expected to attend.




-Matt-
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