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From the Field
By Steve Parker

Remember when new car introduction time was a big deal?

The movers and shakers in town got invited to the local car dealers for a big introduction soiree. The dealers themselves prepared for weeks, with butcher paper and newspapers covering their showroom glass, so no one could sneak a look at the new models.

Today, new car intro time is run like some Chinese restaurants where you get your food as soon as the cook finishes…when it’s ready, out it comes.

The investment for new vehicles is so huge (about $4 billion for an all-new car or truck, another $1 billion just for a new engine plant), and the public is demanding new models so often, manufacturers can’t wait anymore for a specific introduction date.

Let’s visit Europe, Japan and the US for a sneak peak at some of 2003’s more fun new models.

BMW is a small car company. They sell just over 1 million vehicles a year worldwide, while General Motors sells almost 10 million. But this upcoming model year alone, BMW is bringing out, in the US, a "1-series" entry-level vehicle (maybe under $20,000), an all-new Z4 sports car (made in South Carolina), an X3 SUV (smaller version of the X5) and a new 6-series, a two-door version of their 5-series.The BMW getting a lot of attention this year doesn’t even carry the company’s name. It’s the Mini, the latest version of the MiniCooper, one of the most popular cars ever sold in the world (USA sales were limited to only the early 1960s). The Mini will come in a new soft top version and as a delivery truck-like panel van. Base prices are mini, too…under $20,000.

Compared to Porsche, BMW is a huge. Porsche sells just over 51,000 cars annually worldwide. They makes most of their money working for other companies (the engine in the new Harley-Davidson V-Rod is a Porsche effort). To raise sales in the US, Porsche is bringing out a (gasp!) SUV, called the Cayenne. Cayenne will range in price from $55,980 for a 335 horsepower model, to (sit down) $88,900 for the 440 horsepower twin-turbo "truck". Porsche-philes may hate the idea of "their" company making a truck, but it should almost double worldwide sales.

Volkswagen is coming out with their own version of the Cayenne, called Touareg (no, I do not know how to pronounce it). VW's SUV will start in the $30,000 range, but a top-of-the-line model powered by a 395-hp 6 liter W12 engine will sell for more than double that number.

Biggest news, literally, coming out of Europe for 2003 has to do with traditional luxury brands.
Mercedes-Benz has brought back the Maybach brand, a name which dominated the luxury market in Germany in the 1920s (Wilhelm Maybach was the first technical director of the original Daimler-Benz). Maybach is now an ultra-limousine, costing, in its longer wheelbase version, around $325,000. Short wheelbase models will be about $120,000 less. A newly developed 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 will make over 500 horsepower and - even more impressive - 664 pounds-feet of torque.

Fewer than ten vehicles will be built each day in the Maybach Manufaktur plant in Sindelfingen, Germany. For those intrigued by that incredible engine but wanting to save a few bucks, the same V12 may be available in the S-class Mercedes sedan for about $160,000.

As of January 1, 2003, BMW takes over Rolls-Royce and Volkswagen (yes, Volkswagen), starts running Bentley. Manufacture of the autos will remain in Great Britain. Volkswagen says they will be bringing out an "economy" Bentley, priced around $100,000, while Rolls-Royce will continue to aim for the top of the market.

In a more modest effort, expect a convertible version of the wildly popular VW New Beetle this year, well under $30,000. VW says they are going to make a retro version of the MicroBus, so all you Deadheads should start saving. Right now, an 8 cylinder engine for the Passat is available, and that same "W8" (named for its weird cylinder configuration) will also be in the $60,000 VW Phaeton due out early in 2003.

>From the other side of the Pond comes the latest Ferrari. Named Enzo, after the company’s late founder, the car will be priced at $660,000, produce about 1 horsepower per $1000 dollars from its V12 engine, and is basically a Formula One race car with a body on it. Enzo buyers are invited to the Ferrari factory in Modena, Italy, to watch their cars being built, when they will also will be fitted for their seats. It’s all included in the price of the car.

Japan, as always, has a bunch of new cars and trucks heading our way, most important of which is probably the all-new Honda Accord. Toyota brought out their latest Camry last season, so the Accord will be getting a lot of attention. Accord will feature an optional 240-horsepower V6 engine and some pretty wild styling. Toyota will increase their range of hybrid-powered cars and trucks (gasoline and electric engines mated together for great mileage, good performance, and extremely low emissions). Look for a Toyota all-wheel drive minivan with a hybrid powerplant (already on-sale in Japan, called Estima) and a small SUV hybrid, possibly built on the RAV4 platform. Toyota is also launching an entirely new line of cars this year named "Scion". The Bbx and Ccx are like nothing ever seen from staid, conservative Toyota.

Mitsubishi, looking to copy the success Subaru had with their WRX Impreza, a street-going version of their World Championship rally race car, is introducing the Lancer Evolution VIII. The little four-door will have all-wheel drive, race car-like Brembo brakes, a 250-horsepower four-cylinder turbocharged engine and attitude to spare. Look for it as a 2004 model in about six months. Totally cool.

In the Absolute Fun Department, Nissan has brought back the Z-car, this time around called the 350Z. They’ve upped performance, lowered prices (compared to the last Z) and the styling is just futuristic enough for Baby Boomers, Gen-X’ers and Y’s alike. The Z base-prices around $26,000.

Another exciting new version of another old car is the return of the rotary-powered sports car from Mazda. It’ll be called the RX8, and those who have driven Mazdas with rotary engines know they are smooth and extremely powerful. Base models will be well under $30,000.

Now we’ll bring it on home to the good ol’ USA.

Dodge and Chrysler are working on rear-wheel drive sedan and coupe platforms with engine bays large enough for a modern-day version of the legendary Hemi V8. With Dodge back in NASCAR, the opportunity to buy a V8-power rear-drive street car, might create some sales records. Look for these cars towards the end of 2003. The highest-performance version will be the Chrysler 300N, a continuation of the "letter cars" which meant nothing but "muscle" through the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

A fun 2003 Chrysler available now? A turbo version of the PT Cruiser. It’s got 215 horsepower and sells for under $28,000. Also, PT Cruiser will be available as a convertible and a panel-like delivery truck.

>From Dearborn, MI, 2003 brings a new Ford Mustang Cobra, supercharged with 390 honest horsepower. Hardtop or convertible, prices are in the $33-36,000 range.

With Thunderbird proving that retro styling can sell, Ford will introduce, in honor of their 100th anniversary, a modern-day version of the GT40 race car which won races at LeMans in the 1960s. The car will be built by Ford high-performance suppliers Roush Racing and Saleen and cost in the neighborhood of $100,000 ($100K for a Ford?!?! Ouch!).

General Motors has a lot going for it right now, including a 70-year old guy named Bob Lutz. A former Marine fighter pilot, Lutz was a top exec at Chrysler when he approved the Viper, Prowler and PT Cruiser. Winners all. Now he has been given virtual carte blanche at GM to shape that place up.

One of Lutz’s first decisions at GM happened on a trip to Australia to see the products made by their down-under division, Holden. A car called Monaro caught Lutz’s eye. A two-door, four-seat hardtop, Monaro comes with the same drivetrain found in the Corvette…a six-speed stick shift backed-up by a 350 cubic inch V8 pumping out 350 or more horsepower.

You’ll be able buy that same car in your American hometown towards the end of 2003 for, Lutz promises, well under $30,000. It’ll be called the Pontiac GTO. This is some retro we like!

2003 is the 50th anniversary of Corvette, what Enzo Ferrari called "America’s only real sports car". No public plans for a high-performance Anniversary Edition yet, but don’t be surprised if something comes along late in the year. GM shouldn’t miss this chance.

Another Chevy you’ll be hearing a lot about is the SSR. It’s a retro-styled hot rod convertible pickup which will be available in limited numbers.

Cadillac will have a two-seat rear-drive V8-powered sports car, XLR, slated to go up against the all-new 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL, and priced accordingly (SL starts at $86,000). Caddy also promises a new line of rear-drive, front-engine cars, including a "crossover" wagon (truck-like storage, car-like ride) and an even longer-than-current version of their hot-selling Escalade SUV.

There are more than 1,500 different makes and models to be sold in the USA in the upcoming 2003 model year, with an average price of over $23,000.

The bottom line in the car business remains, as always, product. This year will see more cars, more SUVs, and more technical innovations to make driving safer, more predictable and more fun than ever before.

About the Author
Steve Parker is a two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist living in Palm Springs, CA, where he produces and hosts automotive-related radio and TV shows) Steve Parker THE CAR NUT / THE CAR DUDE. Over 30 Years of Emmy-Award Winning Automotive Journalism on TV, radio, in newspapers and magazines.