Parker has been reporting on the automobile industry for many
years. He writes for such publications as Alaska Airlines
inflight magazine. He's also provided articles in the past
for HalEisner.com and continues to do so. This is the first
in a series of pieces over the next few weeks. This one looks
at what's new in the car biz! Thanks Steve!
NEW CARS AND TRUCKS
By Steve Parker
There are some all-new vehicles hitting Americas showrooms
for the coming season which have not been seen for quite a
few years now: Cars.
Thats right, it appears that the Reign of the Truck
may very well be over as crossovers, sedans, coupes and yes,
even station wagons will hit the road for 2005 as it appears
Americans may have finally had their fill of light trucks,
including pickups, minivans and SUVs.
Theyve accounted for about 53% of all new vehicle
sales the past couple of years. But new fuel-saving, cost-conscious,
safety-concerned buyers are moving buyers into the good ol
automobile (though Lincoln, for some reason, will again try
a pickup model in 2005 or 2006, hard on the heels of their
sales-disaster Blackwood luxury pickup, which
sold fewer than 1,000 units).
Some of the new engines, admittedly, are not all that fuel-stingy,
though even the most powerful V8s manage mileage which could
only be dreamed about 20 years ago in a muscular car. However,
fuel saving technologies like cylinder deactivation (which
turn a V8 into a V4 at cruising speeds) and gas-electric hybrids
mean more than a few moves in the right direction.
Well hit some of the highlights of the coming sales
season and maybe even beyond.
Sports and sporty-type cars always hold the most interest.
Called halo cars, because they cast a nice halo
over a manufacturers lineup to bring buyers into showrooms,
there are some truly exciting all-new racy models for 2005.
There was a lot of discussion as to why Chevrolet chose
not to celebrate the Corvettes 50th birthday in 2003
with an all-new model.
The answer was that it simply wasnt ready for market,
and General Motors has learned it is better to follow Orson
Welles adage from the old Paul Masson wine commercials,
which might go something like, We will sell no car before
its time. Chevrolet knows that the days of shoving
cars down customers throats or knowingly bringing
out cars with problems and letting the dealers fix them if
a buyer complains are way, way over.
The 2005 Corvette now seems more than ready for market.
Smaller (and lower) in almost every dimension than the fifth
generation Vette it replaces, the C6 Corvette packs
a 6 liter 400 horsepower, 400 pound foot of torque engine
under its fiberglass hood (yes, still fiberglass after all
these years). The car which magazines are calling the best
sports car in the world for the money (under $45,000), the
under-3,200 pound car can run from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds,
at least according to Chevy. And it is the first Corvette
in some years without hidden headlights, sporting three projection
headlamps on each side of the front end, giving the car an
all-new hot look as it approaches.
While the Vette was arguably the first real American
sports car (if you dont count the Mercer, which history
buffs will appreciate) when it debuted with its straight-6
engine, which was quickly replaced with a V8, the Ford Mustang
created its own automotive category, that of the pony
Sporty, yet without the rough handling, poor mileage and
tight steering of a real sports car, Mustang has become everypersons
sporty car. Mustang still sells at least 40,000 units every
year no matter how old the particular years model might
have been. This gold mine for Ford truly is all-new for 2005,
the first time since 1979 the company can make rightfully
Retaining the styling cues of the original 1964 ½
car which debuted at the New York Worlds Fair, the car
which sold a million models faster than any other in history
hits 2005 with a 4.6 liter 300 horsepower V8 engine available
in a convertible for under $30,000. Now thats some attractive
pricing, as car dealers like to say.
Mustang is now also larger in almost measurement (opposite
of Corvette) making for a more comfortable interior and smoother
ride (adding inches to the wheelbase usually does that).
If GM and Ford have their sports/sporty cars, add one to
the list for DaimlerChrysler as well (that name was so much
easier to type before Daimler bought Chrysler, so Ill
use the DCX shorthand), called Charger.
With that great name from the 60s, DCX had better
bring out a winner, and it looks like theyre offering
a real alternative to their American competition. Due out
in Spring of 2005 and labeled a 2006 model, Charger is a large
sedan using the new LX platform, similar to the Magnum wagon
(were listing Charger with our sporty cars because of
its styling and power, but it would easily fit our sedan class,
Expect to see the same lineup of V6 and V8 engines available
on Charger as Magnum (including the 340 horsepower 5.7 liter
Hemi), along with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. More than
just a Dodge version of the Chrysler 300, the Mopar boys promise
a distinctive look that will do the Charger name proud.
If the DCX folks can build cars as good-looking and power-oriented
as Charger, Magnum and 300, theres still some spark
left in the company since Prowler/PT Cruiser/Viper co-creator
Bob Lutz left Chrysler and moved from DCX in Highland Park
to GM in Detroit.
Two import sports cars have caught our attention, worlds
apart in pricing, performance and place of manufacture, and
both are important.
From Stuttgart, Porsche utilizes a design which first debuted
at the Geneva Auto Show in 1963 with their new 911. Liquid-cooling,
introduced in 911s most recent version, remains in the
box-shaped engine. The base 911 now provides 320-horsepower
out of its 3.6 liter powerplant. At just a tick over 3,000
pounds, Porsche says this under-$70,000 911 will achieve 180
miles per hour and go from 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds (which may
be slower than a Corvette for a lot more cash).
Porsche now uses the same basic front end styling on their
911, Boxster and even the all-wheel drive Cayenne SUV, so
the company is saving money wherever it can.
From Japan comes the Scion tC. Developed by what was at
first a semi-secret group of engineers, stylists and lifestyle
experts based at Toyota headquarters in southern California
called Genesis, Scions three models are
aimed squarely at the under-40 audience which Toyota has never
been able to claim as their own in any large numbers.
tC couldnt be any more different from the 911. Larger
than the Celica, it comes with a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine
pumping out 160 horsepower Thats not much for the league
weve been discussing, but the car would make a great
first sporty car with its fully-equipped price
I drove the 5-speed stick tC, and think car would be better
equipped with the engine available in the Corolla XRS, a four-banger
which produces 170 horses but redlines at near 9,000 rpm (tCs
engine hits the line at a tick over 6 grand). That engine
would give tC the launch power it sorely needs. Folks in the
tuner market will probably swap some of those
engines into their tCs, as they already do by taking
Acura engines and stuffing them into their Civics.
Cadillac, traditional king of the big sedans, is, like DCX,
revamping their entire line-up of cars over the next few years,
switching from front- to rear-wheel and all-wheel drive cars,
and making V8 engines more available.
An important Cadillac model is the 2005 STS. Dropping the
Seville name, which has been a Caddy mainstay since 1976,
this is the first all-new replacement of Seville since it
was available with the fabulous 4.6 liter Northstar engine
beginning in 1993.
Available with rear- or all-wheel drive, STS is one of the
8th all-new Cadillacs since 2001, the third domestic car built
on GMs new Sigma platform, which the company uses worldwide.
STS is shorter than the Seville it replaces, yet still holds
five American-size adults easily, helping them in and out
of the car with four wide and long doors.
Northstar produces 320 horsepower in the STS, just enough
power to get the 3,900 pound car moving from 0 to 60 in under
7 seconds (according to Cadillac).
For reasons we cant understand, Cadillac will also
offer a 255 horse 3.6 liter V6 (though not on the AWD model).
Who would spend all that money to put a STS in their garage
and then have to tell Harry next door that it only
has a V6? I think, only half-jokingly, that the V6 STS might
find its way to the daily rental market.
Cadillac tells us the V6 base car will be priced under $41,000,
which means full pricing for the AWD V8 model should easily
pass the 50K mark.
Most of you already have seen, driven or even bought a 2005
Chrysler 300. The car is a far cry from the front-drive V6
LH sedans which kept Chrysler successful through the 80s
Those of you who purchased one of the 300C performance models,
well, you should have waited. Well tell you why.
One of the most exciting, powerful and interesting cars
to come from this country in several years, 300 styling, with
its flat and massive front end, closely evokes the Chrysler
letter cars of the 50s and 60s. Buyers
can choose under-hood performance thats a throwback
to the days of 29 cent a gallon high-test, too.
Three models are offered: base with a 190-hp V6; Touring
with a 250-hp V6; and the high-performance 300C, with that
340 horsepower V8 bearing Chrysler's Hemi badge.
The V8 features the Multi-Displacement System, which deactivates
four cylinders in idle and cruise conditions to save fuel.
AWD is available on Touring and 300C models.
Why should early 300C buyers have kept their wallets in
their pockets and pocketbooks? Heres why: Announced
this past August at the Pebble Beach Concours dElegance,
which has become a hotbed of new-car announcements for the
automakers, DCX unveiled an all-new 6.1 liter Hemi which adds
85 horses to the engines output, bringing the horsepower
in the newly-named 300C SRT8 to 425. SRT8 arrives in showrooms
in Spring, 2005. Start selling your current 300C tomorrow.
In our all-new class are a couple of very important
models from Ford. Ford has depended on cars like the most
recent Mustang and the Taurus and Focus for too many years.
Ford now says they have a total of five all-new cars entering
the market in the next 2 to 3 years, good news for customers,
and maybe even better for stockholders.
Ford seems to have taken a lesson from Acura, in that their
all-new flagship which will eventually replace the Taurus
remains a V6, front-wheel drive car, dubbed the Five Hundred
(another grand old name resurrected for a new generation of
This is Fords new family sedan, and the company needs
sales of 350,000 to 400,000 annually to keep up with competitors
Toyota Camry and Honda Accord as one of the nations
best-selling cars. Taurus has traditionally been the third-best
selling car in America behind those import competitors.
Five Hundred, built on the Volvo S80 platform (Ford owns
Volvo), starts at under-$23,000, can be ordered with all-wheel
drive ($1,700 extra). Ford says it is larger inside in every
measurement than the Taurus. The cars 24-valve 3 liter
203 horsepower V6 might have some trouble propelling the car
with authority, especially in the heavier-by-300 pounds-or-so
There is some hope Ford might bring out a Five Hundred performance
version (remember the SHO Taurus, with its Yamaha-built engine?)
if they sense demand. Insiders say Ford is considering making
a Five Hundred all-wheel drive model with a V8 and turning
it into a new Lincoln Town Car.
The other do-or-die Ford car is actually a crossover.
Called Freestyle (nice name), is a 7-passenger vehicle, with
that all-important third row of seats, aimed right the Toyota
Highlander and the Honda Pilot (and all the rest of the midsize
crossovers, that is, cars built on truck-like platforms).
All Freestyles are powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine which
produces 200 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Its
the same basic engine found in the Five Hundred. Freestyle
is built on the same Volvo platform as the Five Hundred, but
its interior is a gigantic carnival of storage spaces, folding
seats, and whiz-bang gizmos to keep all the kids happy, even
those over 40.
Freestyle prices range from $25,000 to $31,000 for the all-wheel
drive topline model.
Freestyle and Five Hundred also share a standard five-speed
automatic transmission, or a Continuously Variable Transmission
which saves about 10% in the fuel mileage department, but
also does away with the shift feel of a traditional
transmission. Be warned: Early CVTs tended to be noisy at
Another all-new model which only folks traveling to Japan
have seen is the Honda Fit. It will be completely redesigned
and equipped for the US market, but Fit is a good name for
a car which may be able to, well, fit just about
With some consumers telling Honda that Civic pricing is
getting a little too high for first-time buyers, Honda sees
the smaller-than-Civic Fit as their first all-new, low-priced
car in many years. Look for the Fit (or something like it)
available from Honda towards the end of 2005 as a 2006 model.
It will also be a welcome and brand-new entry for the tuner
market, price-wise buyers and mileage-watchers. With BMWs
Mini currently the smallest car sold in America, Hondas
Fit might take the crown from that popular and fun German/UK
collaboration. Mercedes small, fun and sporty A-class
wont be sold in the US until an all-new, larger model
built in Brazil is finalized.
Honda will also introduce a new hybrid for the 2005 model
year, a gas-electric Accord. With the current Accord the best-selling
car in America, a hybrid version, which will look exactly
like the current car to the non-expert eye, should prove a
hot-seller (there is currently a 6 - 7 month wait for the
Toyota Prius, the most popular hybrid of the moment). Honda
will drop their two-seat Insight hybrid, so the current hybrid
Civic and new hybrid Accord will share showroom space.
Another important hybrid is already out from Ford Motor
Company. Their Escape midsize SUV shares a hybrid system licensed
to the company by Toyota. But the company says they will build
only 25,000 of this model as they learn more about hybrids,
which is a disappointment to green consumers.
Some of that sales demand can be picked up at the end of
2004 with the 2005 Toyota RX400H, a hybrid version of the
companys best-selling SUV, the RX350. The trucks
Toyota twin, the Highlander, gets the gas-electric hybrid
powerplant later in 2005, as the company pursues an atypical
marketing plan, introducing the higher-priced, luxury version
of a vehicle before premiering the one aimed at the mass audience.
Finally, forgive us, some important new trucks.
Dodges all-new Dakota remains a midsize pickup available
with a V8 engine that turns the truck into a rocket ship.
Unveiled at this past winters Chicago Auto Show, the
always-popular Dakota hits showrooms later this fall as a
Chevrolet is coming out with an unashamed copy of the Chrysler
PT Cruiser. Called HHR (for High Heritage Roof), the small
crossover will use a 140-horsepower Ecotec engine. HHR will
be positioned price-wise higher than the PT Cruiser (whose
designer, Brian Nesbitt, now at Chevy, had more than a small
hand in its styling). To picture HHR in your mind, think 1949
Chevy pickup. HHR joins SSR as a limited-run, highly-styled
truck from Chevrolet.
From Japan, Nissan is reworking their entire line of midsize
trucks including Pathfinder, Xterra and Frontier. All these
trucks have been sales winners, but have grown long in the
tooth and need more than a facelift. Look for all-new versions
of these great nameplates rolled out throughout 2005, and
made in the USA.
Land Rover has a new attempt at success in North America.
The LR3 replaces the Discovery as the companys midsize,
lower-priced truck, equipped with parent Range Rovers
go-anywhere four-wheel drive and V8 power. LR3 might not be
its final name when its on-sale in 2005.
Range Rover owner, Ford, is demanding a hit in this market
or they might just shut Solihull (their single UK factory),
which would prove a loss of one of the worlds automotive
icons. But, unless the companys quality improves, wed
get over it.
Last, and maybe least, General Motors will introduce the
Hummer H2 SUT (sport utility truck). A Hummer H2 with a pickup
bed instead of seats in the back, SUT is only a bit lighter
than the enclosed truck. It still managed only 13 miles per
gallon in town and on the road on average when weve
driven them. Bigger news from Hummer is the 2006 introduction
of the H3, a Hummer-like vehicle built on a much smaller (and
lighter) GM pickup frame.
From Scion tC to the Hummer SUT, vehicles have become like
the weather in Michigan. If you dont like a car or truck,
just have some patience and there will be something entirely
About the Author
Steve Parker, who is based in Palm Springs, appears in ALASKA's
inflight magazine monthly. He's been writing for them for
almost 3 years.. Visit him at www.SteveParker.com.