New models pack more punch
Automakers emphasize performance, speed in concepts, new offerings at Chicago show
By Sarah A. Webster / The Detroit News
CHICAGO -- Never mind soaring gasoline prices and the threat of oil shortages due to the Iraq crisis.
At least six of the nearly two dozen concept and production cars unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show this week were performance-enhanced, supercharged cars and trucks as Detroit, Asian and European automakers continue pushing speed and power to drive sales and profits.
Virtually every type of vehicle -- pickup truck, sport utility and various cars -- boasted performance features.
And styling cues that suggest speed and performance, such as bold colorful accents, chrome tailpipes, menacing grilles and hood scoops, are prevalent on the show floor.
Subaru, bolstered by its success with the 2002 Impreza WRX performance car, unveiled the 2004 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT, a turbocharged performance SUV.
The company plans to boost sales by adding high-performance versions to its entire lineup.
"Consumers can't get enough power," said Fred Adcock, Subaru executive vice president. "Performance in vehicles has made a comeback, and it's back in a big way."
Adcock believes increasingly popular road racing and road racing video games are inspiring the renewed interest.
DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group rolled out a Viper-inspired pickup truck, the Dodge Ram SRT-10, with 500 horsepower and a zero-to-60 time of about 5 seconds. It comes with a red ignition button and a spoiler on the truck bed.
"We believe the SRT-10 will be the fastest truck on the market," said Frank Klegon, vice-president of Chrysler's truck product team.
Nissan Motor Corp. will expand its SUV lineup this fall with the introduction of the all-new Pathfinder Armada, based on the Japanese automaker's new Titan full-size pickup.
The Armada was not in Chicago, but Nissan teased reporters at the show with a sketch of the beefy, V-8 powered, don't-mess-with-me sport-ute.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp., meanwhile, unveiled the 2004 Lancer Ralliart, a performance version of its value sedan.
And General Motors Corp.s Chevrolet brand brought back the "SS," or Super Sport, label on two new performance vehicles: the Impala and Monte Carlo mid-sized sedans.
At the upper end of the spectrum is the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, which comes from Mercedes' performance AMG line less than a year after the introduction of the all-new E-class sedan.
Touted as the fastest Mercedes ever," the E55 sprints from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.
Ford Motor Co., considered the performance leader among automakers, is not taking the new competition lightly.
Ford said Thursday that it has no intention of giving up any part of the performance market.
The No. 2 automaker is commemorating the 10th anniversary of its SVT performance division this year with a special anniversary package for 2,003 SVT Mustang Cobras.
In addition, the company will offer a new five-door SVT Focus, a European appearance package for the 3-door SVT Focus and continuous refinement of the SVT F-150 Lightning.
Ford has sold more than 100,000 models from its performance SVT division, which was started in 1993.
Chrysler launched a performance vehicle operation unit last year called PVO, and GM has established a performance division as well.
"We're the leader," said John Coletti, director of SVT programs. "We're not going to give up the performance hill at all."
While performance vehicles have better profit margins than the regular vehicle lineup, it may take other automakers time to see a payoff on high-powered cars and trucks.
Coletti said SVT has been profitable for only the past two years.
He said competitors are at a disadvantaged because of their late arrival in the market.
"I'm surprised it took them this long," he said. "The Lightning has been on the market since 1999 and it has had virtually no competitors."