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Detroit Auto Show Highlights

Drop top Camaro a major show highlight

One of the undoubted stars at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is the new Chevrolet Camaro Convertible, a retro revival of the 1960s muscle-car favourite seen as a concept car hard-top at last year’s Detroit Show – but now confirmed for production in 2009 in both body styles. The Camaro was the only model – human or automotive – to win a standing ovation from the crowd.


In bright, ‘70s-style orange with dark grey competition stripes, the Camaro should make for an interesting contest with Ford’s equally iconic Mustang – and should prove whether or not America’s ongoing romance with retro muscle cars is a long-term trend.


Ed Welburn, GM vice president, global design, has no doubt: "The best follow-up to last year's award-winning Camaro concept is a Camaro convertible," he said. It’ll be powered by a V8 engine, and manual transmission will be standard.


General Motors rounded off its media schedule by revealing perhaps the most ordinary new car it has shown all week – but it’s arguably the most significant.


The new Chevy Malibu

Already the Chevrolet Malibu is being spoken of as the first serious GM competition to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the cars that dominate the US saloon car market. GM has consistently failed to match these Japanese models in sales terms; indeed not since the heyday of the Ford Taurus in the early 1990s has a ‘Big Three’ model mounted a serious challenge.


Chevrolet is on a roll in the US – rebuilt from the ground up with small cars developed by GM-Daewoo in Korea and retro sports models such as Corvette and Camaro. But the real volume is in the US mid-size category: “The Malibu has the goods – both tangible and intangible – to assert a leadership position in the segment and re-affirm Chevrolet’s commitment to expressive cars,” said Ed Peper, Chevrolet general manager.


The car goes on sale in the Autumn as a 2008 model. It’s 76mm longer than the outgoing Malibu and the wheelbase is 162mm longer, emphasising that the wheel have been moved toward the corners in order to give better handling and maximise interior cabin space.


It’s been benchmarked against Camry – GM is keen to stress its advantages over the Toyota top-seller, including a 76mm longer wheelbase Toyota Camry. “We know the competition is very good,” said Peper. “Malibu offers a stylish, uncompromising package that stacks up against it.” GM North America President Troy Clarke added: “Make no mistake – GM is back in the car game.” He said GM was “a revitalised organisation with a passion for design and a focus on technology”.


It has a choice of engines ranging from 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol to 3.6-litre V6, married to 6-speed automatic transmissions. It comes in three trim levels: LS, LT and LTZ, and prices will start as low as $20,000. It’s unlikely to be sold as part of the European Chevrolet offering, however.


All-new Cadillac CTS
The all-new 2008 Cadillac CTS is making  its debut at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show this week.  Production of the luxury mid-size saloon is due to begin in late summer 2007 and worldwide sales will follow in the autumn.

Since the inception of the first-generation car in 2002, CTS has been known for its unusual design.  The edgy form of the CTS initially created controversy, but from the moment it hit the market, the car’s styling also attracted many buyers, with design often noted as a top reason for purchase.   The all-new 2008 edition extends that edgy and contemporary character, with an injection of elegance.

All new Cadillac CTS


On the exterior, there is no mistaking the five-passenger saloon’s stronger stance, thanks to a two-inch wider track.  Additionally, the overall shape of the CTS features a profile with more rake.  Borrowing from Cadillac’s heritage, design cues include vertically shaped headlights and taillamps, signature light emitting diode (LED) exterior lighting, horizontal spline lines and its dihedral-shaped hood.


The all-new 2008 Cadillac CTS is said to have been designed and engineered to unite luxury saloon poise and sports car performance.  A redesigned chassis, an enhanced engine and transmission line-up, and all-wheel drive should combine to push the CTS further in all directions with more power and performance, and the promise of enhanced ride quality, quietness and safety.


The 2008 Cadillac CTS features GM’s new 3.6-litre direct-injection V6 VVT engine, delivering an estimated 300 hp (223 kW) and 366 Nm (270 lb ft) of torque.  The 300 hp engine will be the top-level engine option for the 2008 CTS, joining the existing 2.8L V6 and the 258 hp 3.6L V6.  Designed to operate with regular unleaded petrol, the new 3.6-litre direct-injection V6 produces power lower than most V8 engines, but with much better fuel economy.  Fuel is delivered directly to the combustion chamber to create a more complete burn of the air/fuel mixture.  Appaently less fuel is required to produce the equivalent horsepower, especially at normal cruising speeds, in comparison to a conventional port-injection combustion system.


For the first time, the 2008 CTS will be available in both rear- and all-wheel drive configurations.  Additionally, the transmission lineup now consists only of six-speed units: an Aisin six-speed manual or – new for CTS – a Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic.

A right-hand drive version of the all-new CTS will also be offered this summer.


Horbury hopes to brighten Ford’s future

A familiar British face is spearheading Ford’s attempts to spruce up its American car brands. Peter Horbury, the designer credited with turning round Volvo’s brand image a decade ago, is now in charge of designing all North American Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models.


At Detroit, he presented new concept models for Ford and Lincoln that give strong clues to the look of future production cars. Most striking is the Ford Interceptor, a large, four-door muscle saloon based on the Ford Mustang coupe’s platform, which means it could be put into production relatively easily. It’s powered by a 400hp 5-litre V8 engine, but it can run on clean ethanol-based E85 fuel.


Ford Interceptor concept based on Mustang platform

To create the car’s distinctive “face”, Horbury has simply borrowed the front-end styling of a concept pick-up shown at last year’s show. He explained why: “The blue oval has considerable equity in the truck market, and we want to translate some of that to our cars.” Indeed, Fords F-series pick-up is America’s best-selling vehicle, and Ford makes a big deal of the robust, macho image of the vehicle in its “Built Ford Tough” advertising.


The Interceptor’s horizontal barred grille is to become a major Ford design feature, with the Ford blue oval badge positioned prominently in the middle. The grille already features on US adaptations of the Focus, unveiled at the show in four-door saloon and two-door coupe versions, and it’s likely to spread elsewhere – even to Europe in the future, as Horbury wants to cross-fertilise styling ideas around the world. The US Focus has side panel details borrowed from the S-Max and Mondeo, for example.

Lincoln MKR concept coupe


With Lincoln, Horbury is looking to repeat his Volvo experience, “borrowing design cues from the past and building a new design language for the brand”. He revealed a Lincoln concept coupe, the MKR, which takes design details from classic Lincolns from the 1940s and ‘50s. “We’ve added some European touches too, like we did with Volvo – such as rounded corners to make large cars look smaller.”


Horbury said “both Lincoln and Mercury have a future” in the Ford empire, and he hopes his plans for Lincoln will re-open the debate about exporting the brand outside North America in the future.


Airstream Crossover

Crossovers are hot in America. Low-riding SUVs like the Nissan Murano and Ford Edge that combine attributes of off-roaders, MPVs and estates are gaining market share rapidly. Ford believes Crossovers will account for more than 3 million sales a year in America by the end of the decade as more and more manufacturers jump on the bandwagon.


Now manufacturers are starting to look further ahead to see what the next generation of Crossovers might look like. The current cars are aimed at younger family buyers – but as these owners grow older, they will look for something different. And America’s population is ageing - by the end of the decade, there will be 57 million 50- to 64-year-old consumers - a 38% increase on 2000, according to the University of Michigan. Ten thousand Americans turn 50 every day.


Ford Airstream Crossover concept

Ford unveiled a concept Crossover called the Airstream, designed to satisfy the growing “wanderlust” of these consumers, often retirees with time for travel. Airstream has been developed jointly with the Airstream trailer company, maker of the iconic American aluminium streamlined caravans of the 1950s. Ford group design vice-president J Mays said: “We’re seeing demand for recreational vehicles.”


The Airstream is a far cry from the traditional truck-based RV. It has a hybrid powertrain, giving it a fuel consumption of 41mpg. It can run for 25 miles as a pure electric car. Its styling owes as much to Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi film 2001 as it does to the airstream trailers, featuring illuminated orange window surrounds and asymmetric doors.


There are no plans to build Airstream, though it’s good to see that manufacturers are looking beyond the current trends. Crossovers were only concept cars just a few years ago, so it would be no surprise to see  Airstream in production in the coming years.


Chrysler prepares for push in UK

Chrysler Group is readying a torrent of new product for the UK in a bid to push its market share past the 1% level for the first time in decades.


The company is celebrating sales of more than 20,500 units in Britain last year, growth of almost 40% on the previous year. Marketing director Steve Gray is tight-lipped about predicted sales levels for 2007, but with most forecasts predicting a small overall drop in the UK market, and eight new models planned for the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, growth of 15% or so should see sales of more than 1% in 2007.


Dodge Avenger saloon

Most of the new models were on show at Detroit and the wraps came off the new Dodge Avenger. The D-segment saloon has retro 1970s muscle-car looks – appropriately for a car that shares its name with one of the mainstays of Chrysler’s UK range in the 1970s.


Avenger is based on the same platform as the Chrysler Sebring. This car comes to the UK in June, together with a convertible version with a retractable hard-top. Both the Sebring and Avenger are designed to appeal to different types of buyer – Sebring customers are typically older, and the car is pitched against more conservative D-sector models such as the Toyota Avensis, while Avenger is aimed at younger, more performance-oriented buyers who might otherwise choose a Mazda 6.


Avenger will be Dodge’s third model, following the Caliber hatchback and the Nitro small MPV, which hits UK roads in July. All Dodge models for the UK are US-built. Meanwhile Chrysler adds a high-performance version of the 300C Touring, the SRT-8, powered by a 6.1-litre Hemi V8 engine.

Jeep Compass "soft-roader" based on Caliber platform


Jeep gains four new models in 2007 – the new Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited arrive in April, followed soon after by the Jeep Compass “soft-roader” based on the Caliber platform. In July we’ll see the all-new Jeep Patriot – not present at Detroit. – a smaller, cheaper Jeep aimed at younger buyers.


The large Dodge Charger and Magnum models won’t be coming to the UK, however, as they are felt to be too close to the Chrysler 300C. Nor is the new Dodge Viper coupe coming to the UK – or anywhere else in Europe – for now, as there is sufficient demand in North America to keep production running flat out.

Story & photos: Newspress

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