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Old 04-13-2003, 22:36   #1 (permalink)
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Ford promises to impress in New York

Monday, April 14, 2003
By John McCormick / Autos Insider

Are future product plans at Ford Motor Co. in disarray? It's a reasonable question to ask as the company struggles through repeated management upheavals and ongoing financial pressures.

Aside from the new generation F-series pick-up seen at January's Detroit auto show, the dearth of imminent new vehicles in Ford's stable is painfully obvious. Ford's dry spell is occurring as import brands and rival Detroit automakers are piling on the pressure with new vehicle launches.

At this week's New York auto show, however, Ford president Nick Scheele will argue that the company has not taken its eye off the ball when it comes to product planning. Scheele's evidence - an average of 20 new products per year from Ford over the next five years. One of the most important of these, a new mid-sized car designed to slot in between the Focus and the already announced Ford 500 sedan, will be announced at New York. And to spur immediate consumer interest a number of special edition Mustangs will be shown this week, along with a new Mercury sport utility vehicle.

Despite these moves it's clear that, F-series apart, the lack of near-term, high- volume new products could make life difficult at Ford. The company's SVT division has done well with a limited budget in producing performance editions of a handful of vehicles, including the entertaining SVT Focus and the forthcoming, 500bhp Ford GT sports car. But Ford does not seem to be doing much to add pizzazz to its other US brands. What, for instance, is Lincoln's answer to Cadillac's new V-series, the first of which - the CTS V - will be shown in New York?

Such question marks over Ford's product strategy should be kept in perspective, however. Ford has faced similar challenges in the past, and so have General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group. It was only 10 years ago or so when GM's financial woes had observers wondering if the company would survive, let alone maintain a coherent future product strategy.

Meanwhile, the New York show promises several significant firsts from other major players. As well as its CTS V-series, GM is debuting the Chevrolet Maxx, a five-door version of the crucial new Malibu mid-size sedan. GM's European luxury brand, Saab, will present its new 9-3 convertible (seen first at the recent Geneva show) and display a new sport utility concept for the first time.

For its part, Chrysler is rumored to be unveiling a concept version of its full-size, rear-wheel-drive LX sedan, the replacement for the current LH platform. A variation on the 430bhp Magnum sport wagon concept seen at the last Detroit show, the LX sedan will arrive in 2004.

Two major Japanese automakers, Toyota and Nissan, will be busy in New York as well. Toyota plans to show a new Lexus-badged 'crossover'. Dubbed HPX, the vehicle will combine high performance, versatility and luxury, says Toyota. Also on the ticket are new versions of the Toyota Prius hybrid and Solara. From Nissan come the 350Z roadster and the Pathfinder Armada, the company's first foray into the full-size SUV arena.

All in all, it promises to be a most interesting week.
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