2005 North American International Auto Show

Fresh from the 2005 North American Auto Show in Detroit, a couple things are quite clear. Fuel cell technology and alternative fuel vehicles are being developed that are bringing this technology much closer to the mainstream and will one day be the norm on many highways and city streets here in North America. The other point made by looking at the vehicles on display here is that there is a full-fledged horsepower war being waged by almost every manufacturer showcasing their new products here.

Here is a summary of the production cars showed here for the first time:

Aston Martin always attracts a crowd at the show even though they are a very low volume manufacturer. The explanation is that they make some of the most beautiful cars on the planet. The latest model, the Vanquish S V12 is no exception. It is the performance version of the base model 450HP Vanquish! The S model sports a 520Hp V12 engine, upgraded brakes and suspension and a sleek body kit with a new front spoiler. Don’t be surprised if you see this car in an up coming James Bond flick.

Audi showed the Avant wagon incarnation on the new A6 platform and the vehicle has a far more streamlined look to it than the outgoing model. Audi has also revamped the engine choices for this model as well as the A4 line, the base model A4 now comes with a 2.0L turbocharged engine and the entry level V6 is 3.2L unit producing 255HP.

BWM debuted the all-wheel-drive (AWD) variant of the 5 series. The AWD system is similar to the X-drive system used on the X3 and X5 Sport Activity vehicles. Also shown for the first time was the station wagon version of the 5 series, called the Touring model. It was also my first opportunity to sit in the all new M5 and dream about unleashing the 500 raging horsepower from its inspiring V10 race bred engine.

Chrysler reintroduced the all-new Dodge Charger, a muscle car nameplate of the 60’s. It is a curvaceous 4 door sedan fitted with Traction control, brake assist, Anti-lock brakes, an Electronic Stability control program and even MDS, a displacement on demand feature on the potent and legendary 340 horsepower Hemi V8 Engine. The base engine will be a competent 3.5L 250 HP V6. The Charger will be made in Brampton. Much of the excitement at the DaimlerChrysler group was created by exciting concepts that DaimlerChrysler seem able to produce year after year. Concepts will be covered in at later date in this column.

Ferrari used the Detroit Auto Show to debut their stunning and breathtaking SuperAmerica GT car to their most important market. The car is based on the 575M and features a chromatic glass roof that flips back over the rear clip to transform the vehicle into a targa top dream. Production is limited on this model and there’s no need to ask the price of one of these beauties because as the saying goes, if you have to ask you probably can’t afford it.

Ford had a splashy event where they unveiled some tantalizing concepts and some odd ducks. A solid effort based on the Mazda 6 platform was unveiled as the Ford Fusion and the Lincoln Zephyr. The shared underpinnings have already been proven as a competent platform and Ford needs a solid effort to gain some momentum in the mid to full-size car market.

The pick up division, a heathly and profitable division of the Ford Empire, showed a new Harley Davidson edition of the hugely popular F150 truck. For eye candy appeal, the trucks shared center stage with some of the namesake motorcycles. Lincoln also introduced a SUV based pick up truck branded the Mark LT which shared floor space with a custom made one off motor cycle, also called the Lincoln LT, this motorcycle clearly upstaged the truck and was perhaps the most beautiful vehicle showed at Detroit this year.

General Motors had alternative fuel vehicles to show that were ongoing test beds for upcoming technologies and still managed to show some serious performance vehicles, such as the All New 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 high performance variant of the redesigned Corvette. The vehicle boasts a 427 Cubic inch or 7L V8 engine producing 500HP, making this the fastest and most expensive Corvette ever. Performance figures mentioned for this vehicle includes lighting fast zero to 100 km/hr times of less than 4 seconds. Chevrolet also showed the replacement for the Monte Carlo and the Impala, both of which will be built in Oshawa. Cadillac continued its renaissance as one of the Great American Marquees by showing the performance model of the STS, the STS-V, sporting a super charged version of the 4.4L V8 pumping out 440HP and in an ultra luxurious package that has the performance underpinnings to handle the extra horsepower.

Pontiac showed coupe and convertible versions of its new for 2005 G6, the convertible uses a folding steel roof as opposed to a typical canvas unit, maybe they will ask Oprah to give a few of these away later this year. Saturn showed a concept vehicle, which is already slated for production, the stunning Sky Roadster. The vehicle is based on the upcoming Pontiac Solstice that stole the show in Detroit last year. Look for a 170HP 4 Cylinder engine mated to a 5 Speed manual gearbox and let the good times roll.

Honda created the biggest ripple through the show with the unveiling of their long anticipated pick up truck, the Ridgeline. In typical Honda style, the concept of the pickup truck was enhanced with previously unseen features. For the first time, the cargo bed lifts to reveal a locking, weather proof storage area beneath a structurally rigid floor, still able to qualify as a half ton truck. The tailgate was constructed to both fold down, as well as to swing outward from the side. The engine is the hugely popular 3.5L V6 seen in the Odyssey minivan and the vehicle is also equipped with 4wheel drive. As with the Pilot and the Odyssey, the Ridgeline will be made in the Alliston, Ontario plant. While not shown, reference was made to the upcoming Civic replacement, and its range of engine choices including a Hydrogen fuel cell model, a diesel unit (Europe only), an electric Hybrid as well as a plain old gas powered model.

Hyundai has begun making the 2006 Sonata at their new plant in Montgomery, Alabama, a first for the Korean auto maker, who also owns Kia. The Sonata has grown in exterior size and is offered with 2 new engines a 2.4L 4 cylinder model and a 3.3L V6 model. The car also features Anti-lock brakes with brake distribution assist, traction control and electronic stability control as standard equipment.

Kia introduced the 2006 Rio, which offered a fresh face on their primary competitor in the subcompact class. They have raised the bar for the moment with additional safety equipment such as side impact air bags for both front and rear occupants and 4 wheel disc brakes. The vehicle has grown in size as consumers expect less compact dimensions from their compact cars.

Infiniti used the plush setting of a private Herbie Hancock concert to unveil the new for 2006 M35 and M45 sedans. These vehicles featured a wealth of technological features hidden beneath the understatedly handsome sheet metal. The vehicles are equipped with either a 280 HP 3.5L V6 or 335 HP4.5L V8 from the arsenal of terrific engines that Nissan and Infiniti have won accolades for over the years. Tech highlights of the car are integrated Bluetooth systems for true hands free cell phone use, a Bose audio entertainment system with surround sound and an optically based system designed to warn the driver if the vehicle begins to wander across painted lanes on the highway.

Mercedes revealed the all new made in Alabama M class SUV. The exterior of the vehicle has been reworked with sharper angles and over all a much sleeker look, even though the vehicle is actually larger than the outgoing model. The biggest change for the 2006 model year is the addition of a diesel power plant as an option, a true boon to truck lovers of the 3 pointed star emblem.

Smart a division of Mercedes and a partnership with Swatch, introduced Smart to the US market at this show with the 2 door “ForTwo”, the 4 door 4 seater “ForFour” model as well a 2 door sport coupe with a turbo-charged V6 engine. We in Canada can only get the ForTwo model and there is no indication the other models will be sold here. Marketing types in the US, pointed to Smart’s surge of popularity here in Canada as a promising sign for the brand’s future in the US.

Mitsubishi showed production models of the Raider and Eclipse Concept cars of last year. The Raider was an “imported brand’s” variation of the Dodge Dakota pick up truck, on which it is based. The styling is more Asian influenced on the exterior and the interior is more car-like than the rugged truck like interior of the Dakota. Factor in the incredible warranty advantage Mitsubishi has on the Dakota, the Raider is sure to attract attention in the showrooms later this year. The Raider will be offered with V6 and V8 power plants. The Eclipse was shown as a gas/electric hybrid at last years show, however it has been introduced as a gas powered model offered with 2 engine choices, the 162HP 2.4L 4 cylinder and 3.8L 260HP V6 motors. The styling is quite bold and should appeal to younger buyers who identify with its street rod persona.

Porsche introduced a convertible version of the 911 Carrera and Carrera S. What makes this model noteworthy (other than the fact it’s a convertible 911) is the fact that the roof systems allows for the driver to drop the roof while the vehicle is in motion and traveling at speeds up to 31 miles per hour. Please don’t try this with earlier models!

Range Rover introduced a fifth model to its line up that aimed to shore up its position in the Luxury SUV market. The Range Rover Sport, features a 4.2L supercharged V8 engine producing 390HP, just the thing you need to cross the bad lands of Rosedale during the rainy season.

Subaru took the wraps off one of the most eagerly awaited vehicles at the show, their crossover VAN/SUV dubbed the B9 and now officially named the Tribeca, in reference to the Manhattan neighbourhood. The styling invokes opinions on either side but the vehicle marks a step forward for Subaru as the Tribeca is the largest vehicle they have produced and it features seating for 7 passengers in 3 rows with a slew of versatile seating arrangements. The vehicle is powered by the flat 6 “boxer” pattern engine delivering 250HP to the symmetrical all wheel drive system.

Toyota introduced the redesigned Avalon full sized sedan. According to Toyota executives, the Avalon is the most American Toyota ever built and as this model was designed and built in the USA, I would have to agree. The styling is sleeker than the outgoing model and a step up market in appearance. The only engine available at this time is an all new 3.5L V6 unit producing 280HP.

For all the vehicles shown and introduced last week, I am amazed that although engine horsepower figures continue to climb through the roof, fuel economy figures continue to fall for similar displacement engines from earlier years. The technological advancement in electronics, engine and transmission design has yielded surprising results. This current crop of cars is by far the safest, most refined and technologically advanced that are readily available for the motoring public’s consumption.