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Chris_Doane

1.5 Days In the Blue Army

43 posts in this topic

*May not be republished without consent. Not that anyone would really want to.* © 2007 Chris Doane

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Where can you freeze your ass off, see a new 362hp Pontiac sedan and have Jim Belushi flash his man boobs at you? The obvious answer would be the Chicago Auto Show. However what happens in Chicago doesn’t stay in Chicago, so let’s cut to the chase.

Ford’s naming strategy

A few days before the show, it was already leaking out that the Ford 500 would be renamed the Taurus. Tuesday night in the media hotel lobby I started hearing there might be more name changes in the works. Sure enough, Wednesday morning, Mark Fields confirmed our worst fears. Adding insult to injury, the Freestyle would change to Taurus X and the Montego would change to Sable.

Ford says the main reason for the switch was that everyone in the entire world loves and misses the Taurus nameplate. OK, Im exaggerating a little. Ford also told us it would take many more years to make the Ford 500 and Mercury Montego a name people recognized. That is undoubtedly true, however, I’m not sure dusting off this old badge is right idea. You have to stop and ask why people know the name Taurus. Often the answer to that question involved the word “rental.” We all know the current stance the Detroit OEM’s have on rental fleet sales. It’s an offense worse than double-dipping a chip.

As for the Taurus X...well...it seems like a bad joke really. Sure I understand that the “X” is supposed to signal that its a crossover vehicle, but, just say the name a few times. Taurus X. Taurus X. Taurus X. What a terrible name for a car. Certainly a much worse name than Freestyle. The running joke throughout the day was that the adult film trim edition of this car would be named (say it with me) Taurus XXX.

As for Sable, we were also told many customers remember this name and long for its return. That might be true, but honestly, Im just not sure I believe it. I can easily imagine any number of people sending letters to an automaker about a product decision they are unhappy with. It happens everyday. However I don’t think the mailman comes into Mark Fields office everyday and says “I’ve got 500 more ‘bring back the Sable’ letters for you. Should I put them over there with the other 25,000?”

Given the public statements by Alan Mulally over the past few months about his love for the Taurus nameplate, I think we just witnessed the new CEO’s first power play. Comments at the show from inside sources seemed to hint that was indeed the case. Instead of making the case himself, he sent Mark Fields to do the dirty work with the embarrassing announcement coming during the breakfast press conference. Luckily Mark said his lines quick enough that no one had a chance to choke on their danish.

Overall, the feeling I got from people I talked to, or from conversations I overheard, was that this was a sad move on Ford’s part. “Desperate” was a word I heard more than a few times and it wasn’t followed by “housewives.” There was also talk of grasping at straws. In the end I don’t honestly think this will help Ford’s balance sheet. I hope I’m wrong.

Toyota Highlander

The current Highlander model is certainly one of the most plain looking CUV/SUV’s out there. A few years ago when I was car shopping, I gave it chance mostly because of the MPG number on the window sticker. Then of course, I looked at the rest of it...and left. At first glance the new Highlander appears to be nothing more than a larger Rav4. That was the comment I heard a million times floating through McCormick Place. A closer look at the profile and rear starts to reveal a Korean feel to it as well.

So it’s bigger, more powerful and safer than the last Highlander. I would expect nothing less. It is definitely better looking than the 2007 model as well, but, still not a great design. However the time-honored line of “it looks better in person” does apply here. The bright spot of the car for me is in the interior. It is a classy looking, nice place to be. The center stow seat in the 2nd row is a pretty nice idea too.

If the former design was vanilla, the new design is vanilla with a little chocolate sauce. What they should’ve aimed for, design wise, was Mackinaw Island Fudge.

Saturn Astra/Vue Redline/Vue Greenline

The Astra is a car that will make people forget about their old Ion with dent resistant panels. The exterior design is so much more appealing than the old Ion. We should all send thank you notes to Opel. In the same breath, however, we might want to give them a rude glare for the interior. With GM interiors getting so much better lately, this one leaves me scratching my head a little. I’m sure they wanted to bring it over with as little investment as possible, but, surely we all know by now that cheaper isn’t always better.

Before seeing the RL edition of the Vue in person, I thought is was really horrible. The press photos were very unflattering. After seeing it in person, it’s only mildly horrible now. I still think the entire front end is gaudy. That massive intake just doesn’t work for me at all

Not much to say on the GL model. It’s great they are doing it to get a piece of the hybrid pie. A funny side note, though. Autoblog happened to be walking by the Saturn display when the hood was up on this car. It doesn’t have the GL powertrain in it, just the GL badges. The 3.6L V6 is there instead. Oops, bet they didn’t want that getting out.

Ford Freest....*sigh* Taurus X

Dumbest name ever. Terrible move on Ford’s part. Moving past that, the the standard Ford “refresh” of a new grill and new lights has been applied to this tall wagon. Honestly the changes don’t really do much for me. I don’t dislike the changes, but it doesn’t change the car overall for me. I don’t look at the car and think “hey that’s new!”

Ford has now given this grill and lights “refresh” to the car formerly known as 500, the Mon-sable and the FreeX. In all three cases they really do nothing for me on changing my overall opinion of the car. With such modest changes on these cars, I start to wonder why they even bother. Are people who didn’t buy the car last time going to see those new headlights, drop their latest issue of Entrainment Weekly, jump off the toilet and run to the Ford dealer? Don’t bet your Charmin on it.

The Dodge Dakota and 4500/5500 HD Rams

The Dakota is yet another vehicle that looks better in person. Not huge news here though design wise. A new front end and some fenders. I think its a more attractive, “truckier” look for the smaller pickup. Plus it gets more power. Something that Tim Allen taught us is always good. Im not really sure where the inspiration came from for the 500 watt speaker box option. That’s about the last thing I think of when I think about Dakota.

The big 4500/5500 heavy duty level Ram trucks were...well....big and stuff. The 5500 had a flat bed wrecker platform on it and the 4500 had a small dump truck platform. The 4500 had a few hundred bags of chips in the back and dumped them onto the floor as part of our lunch. Uh, yea. Thanks.

Anyhow, I’m sure the people who actually need these trucks will like them. Look for an edition with a Sterling sourced motor to be announced in a few weeks.

Pontiac G8

We have a winnah! G8 gets best in show. Though to be honest, its only competition came from the Scions or the Highlander. Having seen the press photos 10 days before the show, the Aussie Pontiac was everything I expected it to be. Which is a good thing. As you all know by now, not a hell of a lot will change for the production model. The wheels, brakes and paint color were non-production. The show car also rode half an inch lower than production. They also say the Pontiac logo on the front of the car was a concept of a modernized Pontiac badge to see how the public took it.

Assuming it doesn’t end up being overpriced, I can easily see the G8 being a sales success. With this car initially being built down under, I could imagine a situation where the supply will not meet the demand for this car. There also seems to be some confusion on the annual production volume at start up. Most people have had it at around 35-45k units a year. However one rumor of 80,000 units/year started popping up on the show floor.

Scion xB and xD

Well let me pull out that trusty auto show line one more time. They look better in person. That is, the show cars do. That would be the cars that have the cool looking, customized body kits and the cars that DON’T have those awful looking wheel covers. Scion will also tell you that a good number of their customers would order their cars with these extra body kits and better looking wheels. Not surprisingly, that would be where a good chunk of profit comes from.

Scion is just a totally different animal and I can appreciate it. I think they know their market better than any other brand and I think these cars will be a huge success for them. For the most part, the xB and xD are sort of like...well....pizza with pineapple as a topping. You either like it or cringe at the thought of having it. I can’t ever see myself owning one of these cars, but I can see how these cars appeal to people. The design of these two cars take the ideas of being youthful, hip and modern 10 steps farther than any other OEM is willing to go and they make it very affordable.

Scion is after a pretty specific crowd with a very small car lineup and that’s fine. Statistically, you probably aren’t one of them, but there were 173,034 people that fit the bill last year.

A few quicker bits...

COLD!!

My god the weather we had in Chicago made the weather we got for NAIAS feel like Miami. Nothing like a -17 wind chill to get you in the mood to be objective about new cars. Not to mention just getting to Chicago from Michigan was an ordeal. Hordes of people wrecking on the black-ice covered highways in the south-western part of the state as well as the Indiana and Illinois sections. Unfortunately a few of our colleagues even got caught in a wreck on the way over from Michigan. They were all OK, but apparently the same can not be said for their rental.

Jim Belushi

Jim puts on a hell of a show, that can’t be denied. Whether we needed to see his man boobs, however, is questionable. He along with the Sacred Hearts Band, were the main act at the Cars, Stars and Bars event on Wednesday night. It was a lot of fun, but damn its annoying when the music is so loud that you have to yell into the persons ear from 2 inches away for them to hear you. I hope I didn’t accidentally spit on Mike Spinelli’s (Jalopnik ed.) ear.

At some point the brother of the original blues brother sang some song about fat guys and them needing love too or some $h! like that. So not only did he pull 2 more fat dudes out of the crowd to dance with him on stage, but he gave us all a nice look at his upper body. I was so hoping his shirt would stay tucked in.

Jim also had at least a dozen ladies half his age up there on stage with him at one point or another. I guess fame is funny that way. One young woman in particular even executed a dance move that...shall we say....had her face about 2 or 3 inches away from Mr. Belushi’s belt buckle.

The Chicago House of Blues

Man if you thought your local Applebees had cool $h! on the walls, then check this place out. The whole design of the place was really cool. Plus the Cars, Stars and Bars event they had here was maybe the highlight of the 2 days. Who the hell cares about cars, that was a great show! Minus, of course, the boobage mentioned above.

Nissan, BWM, VW and Kia

All of these guys had what most people were referring to as “who cares” events. Yes the interiors of the Armada, Pathfinder and Titan are much improved. Sure its cool to have a 7 series with a blown motor. The VW R32 was no surprise but the GTI cup car was kind of cool. The Rondo SX concept was, I dunno, there. Such an oddly styled car. At least they had cupcakes at the press conference.

The Dodge Test Track.

They don’t let you drive and that sucks, I know. The course takes you through an ice patch to demonstrate the traction control, a bumpy part to show you the Hemi SRT cars can actually handle a speed bump without crunching your undercarriage and a section where they bombard you with noise to show off the sound proofing. That’s all fine and good, but not terribly exciting. There is, however, one other section I haven’t mentioned yet.

A small portion of the track will get your attention very quickly. I don't think it was more than 25-30 yards long. In that space, you go 0 to 30 and back down again. I know there is no way that’s going to sound impressive just reading it, but it’s crazy fun. The acceleration pins you back hard. I’d never been in one of the Hemi SRTs and it is just an insanely powerful launch. After you get in motion all you can do is think “holy $h! that wall is coming up fast!” They even have this yellow thing on the wall and the end of the strip that kind of looks like a target. That was a nice touch I thought. Thank you Lord Brembo.

Wrappin’ Up

This was the first time I’d attended the Chicago Auto show and one thing becomes obvious quickly. McCormick Place makes Cobo Hall look like a smelly, high school basketball gym. The North American International Auto Show should be in a venue like McCormick. While the venue was great, the show itself was pretty quiet. The biggest story was the G8, followed by the Highlander and the Scions. Past that, the news value of what the OEM’s showed us was minimal.

So, my Chicago Auto Show experience in six words.

G8. Jim Belushi’s chesticles. Hemi Power.

Catch ya’ next year windy city.

*May not be republished without consent. Not that anyone would really want to.* © 2007 Chris Doane

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Scion is after a pretty specific crowd with a very small car lineup and that’s fine. Statistically, you probably aren’t one of them, but there were 173,034 people that fit the bill last year.

Thank you for the write up Chris... however, I really have to wonder about that number. I live in the Seattle area, and practically the only Scions I see on the road that have been "customized" look like these:

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So does that "pretty specific market" include small-business owners, government use, or fleet sales? I see these type of Scions on the road constantly so I know for a brand that sells less than Lexus, these type of purchases must make up a sizeable amount of their sales. It's hard to believe this isn't the case in other metropolitan areas. I believe Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond also own some. I see Scions sometimes driving around with the city seal on the doors. I didn't take any of the above pictures. I found them online after a quick search. It's too easy. They seem to outnumber the "tricked-out" Scion pics. If I were to take pics... trust me, there would be more than three times to show here.

I'm sure Scions aren't being sold as "fleet" since they're already cheap. The dealers are probably selling them directly to businesses at MSRP prices. That protects Scions image... but rolling billboards can't be what Toyota had in mind for Scion.

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Thank you for the write up Chris... however, I really have to wonder about that number. I live in the Seattle area, and practically the only Scions I see on the road that have been "customized" look like these:

The number I reference is the correct number for total sales in 2006. I have no idea how many were sold to businesses or what parts of the country they were sold in.

http://www.toyota.com/about/news/corporate...03-1-sales.html

With overall sales of 173,034, Scion was a significant contributor to the record sales year.

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See my last paragraph. I can almost guarantee you that none of the Scions pictured above were counted as a fleet sale. There are more than 614 xBs in the Seattle area alone that are driving around advertising a business:

I'm sure Scions aren't being sold as "fleet" since they're already cheap. The dealers are probably selling them directly to businesses at MSRP prices. That protects Scions image... but rolling billboards can't be what Toyota had in mind for Scion.

And Chris... I wasn't questioning the actual number... I was questioning (not you directly) whether or not each of those 173,034 actually belonged to the "specific crowd" that Toyota is targeting... No... not even close. Several are businesses or cities needing cheap transportation with decent MPG or private business owners for the same reasons but also using them as billboards. That was my point. I have to wonder how resale value can stay so high when many of these will be used, with higher miles, and taking more abuse than a normal privately-owned vehicle.

Also, I'm not trying to highjack your topic. Thank you for the write-up. Very nice. :)

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Well, first of all, where are you getting that number?

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Dude... I see them all over the place. It's not a "literal" number, but there are hundreds. I know it's not just an isolated occurence considering the pics above are not of Scions from the Seattle area. Small business owners (or self-employed individuals) that are usually doing this (I can tell based on the types of businesses that are being advertised) will not purchase vehicles in the "company" name. if I recall correctly, sole-propieterships keep all of their assets in their own name. It will show up as a private sale even though they intend to use it for both personal and business.

Edit 1 ---

I finally remembered the ones I see the most. I see "Molly Maid" Scions (Xa & Xb) driving around a lot. I believe the maids use their own vehicle, but put the "Molly Maid" decals on them for advertisement. Depending on the time of day, you can see several traveling together on the highway at once... so it's not the same one over and over (nor are they all the same color.)

Edit 2 ---

614 was the 6 month total (nation wide) for xB's 2006 fleet sales according to fleet-Central (see varience's link)

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Ford didnt just change the grille and the name of the d3 platform cars, they got a new 3.5L V6, 6 speed tranny, and new interior. Tweaked the ride too, and meanwhile GM still is selling the 1988 W body.

If GM can change Lumina into Impala, and Corsica into Malibu, using the same platforms, then others should also.

Edited by Chicagoland

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Ford didnt just change the grille and the name of the d3 platform cars, they got a new 3.5L V6, 6 speed tranny, and new interior. Tweaked the ride too, and meanwhile GM still is selling the 1988 W body.

If GM can change Lumina into Impala, and Corsica into Malibu, using the same platforms, then others should also.

Of course the powertrains were upgraded. You'll notice I was commenting on the exterior in my original post. While the new powertrain is great, that doesn't get me a more visually appealing car. Also, I think calling the interior "new" is a pretty big reach.

500:

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Taurus:

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Freestyle:

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Taurus X:

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Montego:

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Sable:

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I'm not sure why you think a GM W body car should influence the way I feel about a Ford designed car.

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Heh, Ven I think you're way off and I don't even like the cars. I think you're making a lot of incorrect assumptions, but I'm too tired to reply to them at the moment.

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Ford didnt just change the grille and the name of the d3 platform cars, they got a new 3.5L V6, 6 speed tranny, and new interior. Tweaked the ride too, and meanwhile GM still is selling the 1988 W body.

If GM can change Lumina into Impala, and Corsica into Malibu, using the same platforms, then others should also.

OK, Lumina and Impala you are correct about.

But the Corsica and Malibu were NEVER ON THE SAME PLATFORM.

Sheesh, I'm really getting tired of saying that.

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those are some really fugly center stacks. that wood grain on the montego(oops, i mean sable) looks out of place in that sea of dark gray interior.

the radio looks like some generic model you would find at Uncle Ed's Electronics Emporium.

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When did the Taurus join the Nation of Islam?

It took me a sec. but that's funny! :pbjtime:

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Ford’s naming strategy

A few days before the show, it was already leaking out that the Ford 500 would be renamed the Taurus. Tuesday night in the media hotel lobby I started hearing there might be more name changes in the works. Sure enough, Wednesday morning, Mark Fields confirmed our worst fears. Adding insult to injury, the Freestyle would change to Taurus X and the Montego would change to Sable.

Ford says the main reason for the switch was that everyone in the entire world loves and misses the Taurus nameplate. OK, Im exaggerating a little. Ford also told us it would take many more years to make the Ford 500 and Mercury Montego a name people recognized. That is undoubtedly true, however, I’m not sure dusting off this old badge is right idea. You have to stop and ask why people know the name Taurus. Often the answer to that question involved the word “rental.” We all know the current stance the Detroit OEM’s have on rental fleet sales. It’s an offense worse than double-dipping a chip.

As for the Taurus X...well...it seems like a bad joke really. Sure I understand that the “X” is supposed to signal that its a crossover vehicle, but, just say the name a few times. Taurus X. Taurus X. Taurus X. What a terrible name for a car. Certainly a much worse name than Freestyle. The running joke throughout the day was that the adult film trim edition of this car would be named (say it with me) Taurus XXX.

As for Sable, we were also told many customers remember this name and long for its return. That might be true, but honestly, Im just not sure I believe it. I can easily imagine any number of people sending letters to an automaker about a product decision they are unhappy with. It happens everyday. However I don’t think the mailman comes into Mark Fields office everyday and says “I’ve got 500 more ‘bring back the Sable’ letters for you. Should I put them over there with the other 25,000?”

Given the public statements by Alan Mulally over the past few months about his love for the Taurus nameplate, I think we just witnessed the new CEO’s first power play. Comments at the show from inside sources seemed to hint that was indeed the case. Instead of making the case himself, he sent Mark Fields to do the dirty work with the embarrassing announcement coming during the breakfast press conference. Luckily Mark said his lines quick enough that no one had a chance to choke on their danish.

Overall, the feeling I got from people I talked to, or from conversations I overheard, was that this was a sad move on Ford’s part. “Desperate” was a word I heard more than a few times and it wasn’t followed by “housewives.” There was also talk of grasping at straws. In the end I don’t honestly think this will help Ford’s balance sheet. I hope I’m wrong.

I agree that this is a bad move. Ford allowed the Taurus to wither and become connotated with bad things. Calling the 500 "Taurus" now is only going to do 3 things. 1) Tarnish what little reputation the 500 has. 2) Serve as an embarassment to Ford, with the launch of the re-engineered 500 with the month later re-name and as an overall admission of failure, and 3) It's just going to further confuse the consumer who has now been exposed to widely known "Rental only" Tauruses, 2 different 500 designs and the Fusion that was supposedly the replacement for the Taurus.

Sable is a different world entirely. That name sucks, it had NO identity and there is absolutely NO reason why Mercury should be saddled with it's return. Especially on a car as competent as the Montego. I really love the new updates and I think they work well with the existing roof line on the car (Unlike the Taurus)

Saturn Astra/Vue Redline/Vue Greenline

The Astra is a car that will make people forget about their old Ion with dent resistant panels. The exterior design is so much more appealing than the old Ion. We should all send thank you notes to Opel. In the same breath, however, we might want to give them a rude glare for the interior. With GM interiors getting so much better lately, this one leaves me scratching my head a little. I’m sure they wanted to bring it over with as little investment as possible, but, surely we all know by now that cheaper isn’t always better.

Before seeing the RL edition of the Vue in person, I thought is was really horrible. The press photos were very unflattering. After seeing it in person, it’s only mildly horrible now. I still think the entire front end is gaudy. That massive intake just doesn’t work for me at all

Not much to say on the GL model. It’s great they are doing it to get a piece of the hybrid pie. A funny side note, though. Autoblog happened to be walking by the Saturn display when the hood was up on this car. It doesn’t have the GL powertrain in it, just the GL badges. The 3.6L V6 is there instead. Oops, bet they didn’t want that getting out.

I agree about both the Astra and Vue RL.... I think the interior of the Astra is bland beyond belief, but here's to hoping it's at least WELL BUILT. As for the Vue RL, the whole Vue line seems to be a little too Korean for my tastes now. And I'm sad to see GM whoring out another one of it's true performance monikers to a "trim and bumper" status. Saturns Red Line designation was actually one of GM's 'sport' operations that had been correctly executed. Unlike GXP and SS, all of the cars up until this Vue featured truly unique content and truly exciting performance with some involvement from GMPD. Now that is no more.

Ford Freest....*sigh* Taurus X

Dumbest name ever. Terrible move on Ford’s part. Moving past that, the the standard Ford “refresh” of a new grill and new lights has been applied to this tall wagon. Honestly the changes don’t really do much for me. I don’t dislike the changes, but it doesn’t change the car overall for me. I don’t look at the car and think “hey that’s new!”

Ford has now given this grill and lights “refresh” to the car formerly known as 500, the Mon-sable and the FreeX. In all three cases they really do nothing for me on changing my overall opinion of the car. With such modest changes on these cars, I start to wonder why they even bother. Are people who didn’t buy the car last time going to see those new headlights, drop their latest issue of Entrainment Weekly, jump off the toilet and run to the Ford dealer? Don’t bet your Charmin on it.

The Freestyle was always an excellent vehicle IMO, but just like GM, Ford couldn't market water to a nomad. The new updates make it more attractive and competent, but the name SUCKS, especially compared to "Freestyle"

The Dodge Dakota and 4500/5500 HD Rams

The Dakota is yet another vehicle that looks better in person. Not huge news here though design wise. A new front end and some fenders. I think its a more attractive, “truckier” look for the smaller pickup. Plus it gets more power. Something that Tim Allen taught us is always good. Im not really sure where the inspiration came from for the 500 watt speaker box option. That’s about the last thing I think of when I think about Dakota.

The big 4500/5500 heavy duty level Ram trucks were...well....big and stuff. The 5500 had a flat bed wrecker platform on it and the 4500 had a small dump truck platform. The 4500 had a few hundred bags of chips in the back and dumped them onto the floor as part of our lunch. Uh, yea. Thanks.

Anyhow, I’m sure the people who actually need these trucks will like them. Look for an edition with a Sterling sourced motor to be announced in a few weeks.

I think the Dakota updates were much needed and I think the new nose is exponentially more attractive than the outgoing model. This update reminds me of the 'muscular toughness' sported by the last Dakota (You know, before the recent redesign where it went from buff to weird and geeky)

Pontiac G8

We have a winnah! G8 gets best in show. Though to be honest, its only competition came from the Scions or the Highlander. Having seen the press photos 10 days before the show, the Aussie Pontiac was everything I expected it to be. Which is a good thing. As you all know by now, not a hell of a lot will change for the production model. The wheels, brakes and paint color were non-production. The show car also rode half an inch lower than production. They also say the Pontiac logo on the front of the car was a concept of a modernized Pontiac badge to see how the public took it.

Assuming it doesn’t end up being overpriced, I can easily see the G8 being a sales success. With this car initially being built down under, I could imagine a situation where the supply will not meet the demand for this car. There also seems to be some confusion on the annual production volume at start up. Most people have had it at around 35-45k units a year. However one rumor of 80,000 units/year started popping up on the show floor.

Maybe the 80K number includes El Camino (Ute) production? I would love to see Pontiac roll out 80K of these a year though. (Wishful thinking?)

Scion xB and xD

Well let me pull out that trusty auto show line one more time. They look better in person. That is, the show cars do. That would be the cars that have the cool looking, customized body kits and the cars that DON’T have those awful looking wheel covers. Scion will also tell you that a good number of their customers would order their cars with these extra body kits and better looking wheels. Not surprisingly, that would be where a good chunk of profit comes from.

Scion is just a totally different animal and I can appreciate it. I think they know their market better than any other brand and I think these cars will be a huge success for them. For the most part, the xB and xD are sort of like...well....pizza with pineapple as a topping. You either like it or cringe at the thought of having it. I can’t ever see myself owning one of these cars, but I can see how these cars appeal to people. The design of these two cars take the ideas of being youthful, hip and modern 10 steps farther than any other OEM is willing to go and they make it very affordable.

Scion is after a pretty specific crowd with a very small car lineup and that’s fine. Statistically, you probably aren’t one of them, but there were 173,034 people that fit the bill last year.

I agree... Scion has marketed itself as the answer to the question everyone else was ignoring (And is still ignoring, for the most part) The cars aren't that great, but the lifestyle that is sold with them far exceeds most car companies. Simply put, Scion gets customers by getting them to form an emotional attachment with what the product/brand represents, not the cars. Now, that's not saying Scion puts out horrible cars, but I think we can all agree that they're competent at best, especially in todays market. Subsequently, I'm willing to bet that Scion has a very LOYAL clientele as well.

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM

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Heh, Ven I think you're way off and I don't even like the cars. I think you're making a lot of incorrect assumptions, but I'm too tired to reply to them at the moment.

That's fine. I'm not trying to pick an argument with anyone. It's my observation. I'm sure I'm not the only one that's noticed Scions turning into rolling billboards in their cities.

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That's fine. I'm not trying to pick an argument with anyone. It's my observation. I'm sure I'm not the only one that's noticed Scions turning into rolling billboards in their cities.

You're not alone, and as stated earlier, I would be willing a lot of scion sales (the xB particularily) go to businesses and are not counted as fleet sales.

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I agree with your assessment for the most part, though the Scions almost made me puke. I hope to do some sort of write-up tomorrow if I have time. I took 700 megs of pics/video, so I'll try to post them sometime, too.

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I agree about both the Astra and Vue RL.... I think the interior of the Astra is bland beyond belief, but here's to hoping it's at least WELL BUILT. As for the Vue RL, the whole Vue line seems to be a little too Korean for my tastes now. And I'm sad to see GM whoring out another one of it's true performance monikers to a "trim and bumper" status. Saturns Red Line designation was actually one of GM's 'sport' operations that had been correctly executed. Unlike GXP and SS, all of the cars up until this Vue featured truly unique content and truly exciting performance with some involvement from GMPD. Now that is no more.

FOG, I have to inform you that you're wrong here. The '03-'07 VUE RL isn't as you make it out to be - it is still a wheel & bumper package, with some differing interior materials and colors. Just like the 2008 VUE RL. Here's the option package description for the 2007 VUE RL:

Red Line Package, includes (VGD) body-color front fascia moldings, (VGE) body-color rear fascia moldings, (B6A) body-color rocker moldings, (BA5) body-color license plate eyebrow, (D91) painted liftgate handle, (NBR) chrome exhaust tip, (SRL) Red Line emblem, (HCZ) Sport-tuned suspension, (PZ3) 18" (45.7 cm) alloy wheels, (XJE) P245/50R18 performance tires, (192) Black leather-appointed seats with sueded fabric inserts, (AG1) 6-way power driver seat adjuster, (AHA) driver manual lumbar control, (NP5) leather-wrapped steering wheel, (DV5) Sport instrument cluster, (JF5) bright metallic foot pedals, (C2B) ambient footwell lighting in Cool Blue or Warm Amber and Black carpet, interior, embroidered floormats and console

1 - Requires (13U) Silver Nickel, (41U) Black Onyx or (74U) Chili Pepper Red. Not available with (V59) roof-mounted, chrome luggage rails or (ATY) rear seat delete.

I'll bet the farm that the 2008 VUE RL option package will be similar.

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FOG, I have to inform you that you're wrong here. The '03-'07 VUE RL isn't as you make it out to be - it is still a wheel & bumper package, with some differing interior materials and colors. Just like the 2008 VUE RL. Here's the option package description for the 2007 VUE RL:

I'll bet the farm that the 2008 VUE RL option package will be similar.

I thought the last Vue RL had the Honda motor exclusively.

But I could be wrong.

The new Vue RL will share the 3.6L with other Vues.

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I thought the last Vue RL had the Honda motor exclusively.

But I could be wrong.

The new Vue RL will share the 3.6L with other Vues.

All Vues equipped with the V6 after a certain point had the Honda engine. Originally, the regular Vue V6 was different, but at least the past couple of years the regular V6 and RL have had the same engine.

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Thank you for the write up Chris... however, I really have to wonder about that number. I live in the Seattle area, and practically the only Scions I see on the road that have been "customized" look like these:

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So does that "pretty specific market" include small-business owners, government use, or fleet sales? I see these type of Scions on the road constantly so I know for a brand that sells less than Lexus, these type of purchases must make up a sizeable amount of their sales. It's hard to believe this isn't the case in other metropolitan areas. I believe Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond also own some. I see Scions sometimes driving around with the city seal on the doors. I didn't take any of the above pictures. I found them online after a quick search. It's too easy. They seem to outnumber the "tricked-out" Scion pics. If I were to take pics... trust me, there would be more than three times to show here.

I'm sure Scions aren't being sold as "fleet" since they're already cheap. The dealers are probably selling them directly to businesses at MSRP prices. That protects Scions image... but rolling billboards can't be what Toyota had in mind for Scion.

Must be a Seattle thing.

I've never seen a Scion dressed-up business-wise like that. In fact, I see quite a few "normal" Scions running all over the place here.

(Neither have I seen Scions like this in any of my travels for work......Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, recently.)

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*May not be republished without consent. Not that anyone would really want to.* © 2007 Chris Doane

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Where can you freeze your ass off, see a new 362hp Pontiac sedan and have Jim Belushi flash his man boobs at you? The obvious answer would be the Chicago Auto Show. However what happens in Chicago doesn’t stay in Chicago, so let’s cut to the chase.

Ford’s naming strategy

A few days before the show, it was already leaking out that the Ford 500 would be renamed the Taurus. Tuesday night in the media hotel lobby I started hearing there might be more name changes in the works. Sure enough, Wednesday morning, Mark Fields confirmed our worst fears. Adding insult to injury, the Freestyle would change to Taurus X and the Montego would change to Sable.

Ford says the main reason for the switch was that everyone in the entire world loves and misses the Taurus nameplate. OK, Im exaggerating a little. Ford also told us it would take many more years to make the Ford 500 and Mercury Montego a name people recognized. That is undoubtedly true, however, I’m not sure dusting off this old badge is right idea. You have to stop and ask why people know the name Taurus. Often the answer to that question involved the word “rental.” We all know the current stance the Detroit OEM’s have on rental fleet sales. It’s an offense worse than double-dipping a chip.

As for the Taurus X...well...it seems like a bad joke really. Sure I understand that the “X” is supposed to signal that its a crossover vehicle, but, just say the name a few times. Taurus X. Taurus X. Taurus X. What a terrible name for a car. Certainly a much worse name than Freestyle. The running joke throughout the day was that the adult film trim edition of this car would be named (say it with me) Taurus XXX.

As for Sable, we were also told many customers remember this name and long for its return. That might be true, but honestly, Im just not sure I believe it. I can easily imagine any number of people sending letters to an automaker about a product decision they are unhappy with. It happens everyday. However I don’t think the mailman comes into Mark Fields office everyday and says “I’ve got 500 more ‘bring back the Sable’ letters for you. Should I put them over there with the other 25,000?”

Given the public statements by Alan Mulally over the past few months about his love for the Taurus nameplate, I think we just witnessed the new CEO’s first power play. Comments at the show from inside sources seemed to hint that was indeed the case. Instead of making the case himself, he sent Mark Fields to do the dirty work with the embarrassing announcement coming during the breakfast press conference. Luckily Mark said his lines quick enough that no one had a chance to choke on their danish.

Overall, the feeling I got from people I talked to, or from conversations I overheard, was that this was a sad move on Ford’s part. “Desperate” was a word I heard more than a few times and it wasn’t followed by “housewives.” There was also talk of grasping at straws. In the end I don’t honestly think this will help Ford’s balance sheet. I hope I’m wrong.

Toyota Highlander

The current Highlander model is certainly one of the most plain looking CUV/SUV’s out there. A few years ago when I was car shopping, I gave it chance mostly because of the MPG number on the window sticker. Then of course, I looked at the rest of it...and left. At first glance the new Highlander appears to be nothing more than a larger Rav4. That was the comment I heard a million times floating through McCormick Place. A closer look at the profile and rear starts to reveal a Korean feel to it as well.

So it’s bigger, more powerful and safer than the last Highlander. I would expect nothing less. It is definitely better looking than the 2007 model as well, but, still not a great design. However the time-honored line of “it looks better in person” does apply here. The bright spot of the car for me is in the interior. It is a classy looking, nice place to be. The center stow seat in the 2nd row is a pretty nice idea too.

If the former design was vanilla, the new design is vanilla with a little chocolate sauce. What they should’ve aimed for, design wise, was Mackinaw Island Fudge.

Saturn Astra/Vue Redline/Vue Greenline

The Astra is a car that will make people forget about their old Ion with dent resistant panels. The exterior design is so much more appealing than the old Ion. We should all send thank you notes to Opel. In the same breath, however, we might want to give them a rude glare for the interior. With GM interiors getting so much better lately, this one leaves me scratching my head a little. I’m sure they wanted to bring it over with as little investment as possible, but, surely we all know by now that cheaper isn’t always better.

Before seeing the RL edition of the Vue in person, I thought is was really horrible. The press photos were very unflattering. After seeing it in person, it’s only mildly horrible now. I still think the entire front end is gaudy. That massive intake just doesn’t work for me at all

Not much to say on the GL model. It’s great they are doing it to get a piece of the hybrid pie. A funny side note, though. Autoblog happened to be walking by the Saturn display when the hood was up on this car. It doesn’t have the GL powertrain in it, just the GL badges. The 3.6L V6 is there instead. Oops, bet they didn’t want that getting out.

Ford Freest....*sigh* Taurus X

Dumbest name ever. Terrible move on Ford’s part. Moving past that, the the standard Ford “refresh” of a new grill and new lights has been applied to this tall wagon. Honestly the changes don’t really do much for me. I don’t dislike the changes, but it doesn’t change the car overall for me. I don’t look at the car and think “hey that’s new!”

Ford has now given this grill and lights “refresh” to the car formerly known as 500, the Mon-sable and the FreeX. In all three cases they really do nothing for me on changing my overall opinion of the car. With such modest changes on these cars, I start to wonder why they even bother. Are people who didn’t buy the car last time going to see those new headlights, drop their latest issue of Entrainment Weekly, jump off the toilet and run to the Ford dealer? Don’t bet your Charmin on it.

The Dodge Dakota and 4500/5500 HD Rams

The Dakota is yet another vehicle that looks better in person. Not huge news here though design wise. A new front end and some fenders. I think its a more attractive, “truckier” look for the smaller pickup. Plus it gets more power. Something that Tim Allen taught us is always good. Im not really sure where the inspiration came from for the 500 watt speaker box option. That’s about the last thing I think of when I think about Dakota.

The big 4500/5500 heavy duty level Ram trucks were...well....big and stuff. The 5500 had a flat bed wrecker platform on it and the 4500 had a small dump truck platform. The 4500 had a few hundred bags of chips in the back and dumped them onto the floor as part of our lunch. Uh, yea. Thanks.

Anyhow, I’m sure the people who actually need these trucks will like them. Look for an edition with a Sterling sourced motor to be announced in a few weeks.

Pontiac G8

We have a winnah! G8 gets best in show. Though to be honest, its only competition came from the Scions or the Highlander. Having seen the press photos 10 days before the show, the Aussie Pontiac was everything I expected it to be. Which is a good thing. As you all know by now, not a hell of a lot will change for the production model. The wheels, brakes and paint color were non-production. The show car also rode half an inch lower than production. They also say the Pontiac logo on the front of the car was a concept of a modernized Pontiac badge to see how the public took it.

Assuming it doesn’t end up being overpriced, I can easily see the G8 being a sales success. With this car initially being built down under, I could imagine a situation where the supply will not meet the demand for this car. There also seems to be some confusion on the annual production volume at start up. Most people have had it at around 35-45k units a year. However one rumor of 80,000 units/year started popping up on the show floor.

Scion xB and xD

Well let me pull out that trusty auto show line one more time. They look better in person. That is, the show cars do. That would be the cars that have the cool looking, customized body kits and the cars that DON’T have those awful looking wheel covers. Scion will also tell you that a good number of their customers would order their cars with these extra body kits and better looking wheels. Not surprisingly, that would be where a good chunk of profit comes from.

Scion is just a totally different animal and I can appreciate it. I think they know their market better than any other brand and I think these cars will be a huge success for them. For the most part, the xB and xD are sort of like...well....pizza with pineapple as a topping. You either like it or cringe at the thought of having it. I can’t ever see myself owning one of these cars, but I can see how these cars appeal to people. The design of these two cars take the ideas of being youthful, hip and modern 10 steps farther than any other OEM is willing to go and they make it very affordable.

Scion is after a pretty specific crowd with a very small car lineup and that’s fine. Statistically, you probably aren’t one of them, but there were 173,034 people that fit the bill last year.

A few quicker bits...

COLD!!

My god the weather we had in Chicago made the weather we got for NAIAS feel like Miami. Nothing like a -17 wind chill to get you in the mood to be objective about new cars. Not to mention just getting to Chicago from Michigan was an ordeal. Hordes of people wrecking on the black-ice covered highways in the south-western part of the state as well as the Indiana and Illinois sections. Unfortunately a few of our colleagues even got caught in a wreck on the way over from Michigan. They were all OK, but apparently the same can not be said for their rental.

Jim Belushi

Jim puts on a hell of a show, that can’t be denied. Whether we needed to see his man boobs, however, is questionable. He along with the Sacred Hearts Band, were the main act at the Cars, Stars and Bars event on Wednesday night. It was a lot of fun, but damn its annoying when the music is so loud that you have to yell into the persons ear from 2 inches away for them to hear you. I hope I didn’t accidentally spit on Mike Spinelli’s (Jalopnik ed.) ear.

At some point the brother of the original blues brother sang some song about fat guys and them needing love too or some $h! like that. So not only did he pull 2 more fat dudes out of the crowd to dance with him on stage, but he gave us all a nice look at his upper body. I was so hoping his shirt would stay tucked in.

Jim also had at least a dozen ladies half his age up there on stage with him at one point or another. I guess fame is funny that way. One young woman in particular even executed a dance move that...shall we say....had her face about 2 or 3 inches away from Mr. Belushi’s belt buckle.

The Chicago House of Blues

Man if you thought your local Applebees had cool $h! on the walls, then check this place out. The whole design of the place was really cool. Plus the Cars, Stars and Bars event they had here was maybe the highlight of the 2 days. Who the hell cares about cars, that was a great show! Minus, of course, the boobage mentioned above.

Nissan, BWM, VW and Kia

All of these guys had what most people were referring to as “who cares” events. Yes the interiors of the Armada, Pathfinder and Titan are much improved. Sure its cool to have a 7 series with a blown motor. The VW R32 was no surprise but the GTI cup car was kind of cool. The Rondo SX concept was, I dunno, there. Such an oddly styled car. At least they had cupcakes at the press conference.

The Dodge Test Track.

They don’t let you drive and that sucks, I know. The course takes you through an ice patch to demonstrate the traction control, a bumpy part to show you the Hemi SRT cars can actually handle a speed bump without crunching your undercarriage and a section where they bombard you with noise to show off the sound proofing. That’s all fine and good, but not terribly exciting. There is, however, one other section I haven’t mentioned yet.

A small portion of the track will get your attention very quickly. I don't think it was more than 25-30 yards long. In that space, you go 0 to 30 and back down again. I know there is no way that’s going to sound impressive just reading it, but it’s crazy fun. The acceleration pins you back hard. I’d never been in one of the Hemi SRTs and it is just an insanely powerful launch. After you get in motion all you can do is think “holy $h! that wall is coming up fast!” They even have this yellow thing on the wall and the end of the strip that kind of looks like a target. That was a nice touch I thought. Thank you Lord Brembo.

Wrappin’ Up

This was the first time I’d attended the Chicago Auto show and one thing becomes obvious quickly. McCormick Place makes Cobo Hall look like a smelly, high school basketball gym. The North American International Auto Show should be in a venue like McCormick. While the venue was great, the show itself was pretty quiet. The biggest story was the G8, followed by the Highlander and the Scions. Past that, the news value of what the OEM’s showed us was minimal.

So, my Chicago Auto Show experience in six words.

G8. Jim Belushi’s chesticles. Hemi Power.

Catch ya’ next year windy city.

*May not be republished without consent. Not that anyone would really want to.* © 2007 Chris Doane

CD....usually you and I agree on alot of stuff.....but I have to differ with you in a couple of areas........

(Nice write-up btw....in your usual comedic sense......which I love.....)

Ford's Naming Strategy:

I think it's a good move. Certainly it's no step backwards. To the vast populace, "500" has no name recognition. Rental queen or not as of late, most people out in the marketplace still associate "Taurus" as a best-selling Ford sedan, and also as one of the best-selling midsize cars (even if not so much recently.) The (new) Taurus is guaranteed to be the best driving, most powerful, and roomiest "Taurus" ever.....nothing wrong with that.

Highlander:

I don't think there's anything wrong with Toyota staying "vanilla" with this one. I don't think they WANT to do something aggressive with this SUV. I see a TON of these bland-mobiles on the roads out here.....so someone must like what they see. I do love the interior though.....and like the addition of the more powerful V6.

Astra:

Gee.....versus the AURA interior, I think the Astra's is TOP-NOTCH and a significant upgrade over the (platform-mate) Cobalt. I'm not sure if you were able to sit inside the Astra, but when I was looking at them at Frankfurt in '05, the interiors were nicely-executed with premium materials and switchgear.....on par with the (European) Focus and Golfs.

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