U.S. car makers are beginning to get feisty andthey let the world know at the Chicago Auto Show
George Damon Levy
rst it snowed.Then it snowed.And then it snowed.Great thing about Chicago; you don't like the weather,wait six months.But if the Windy City was the Whitened City this chilly weekendin early February, if the metropolis was snuggled under an icyblanket of bleach and blanch, a corner of it was bursting withcolor-eye-popping shades of red, white and blue. On the shores ofLake Michigan, atMcCormick Place, the giant exhibition hall thatis the perennial home of the nation's premier auto show, U.S auto-makers (again? finally?) dug their trenches and drew their battlelines. In this place, on this weekend, the Americans made clear themessage to which they have been giving increasing voice:America is making a comeback.The situation is simple, the mood in Detroit clear. The Americansare tired of being pushed around. After decades of challenge fromaround the globe, after years of sniping from an aggressivelyadver-sarial press ("How
Would Turn Around GM, By Ross Perot9'-Fortune magazine's Feb. 15 cover story), they're testy, a bit onedge. Said one vice president of General Motors, where "Don'tTread on Me" has become something of a company motto:"I remember reading (a recent article) that called GM 'a nationalembarrassment.
A national embarrassment!"You don't forget something like that very quickly."Picture the Big Three, then, jaws tight, nostrils flared. Picturethem in Rambo mode, ammunition belts slung across each shoul-der, readying themselves to repel the foreign invaders.And picture Ford leading the charge.At Chicago, Ford proved that the talent and daring that producedthe TaurusISable (a home run, in industry parlance) and the '88Lincoln Continental (a solid extra base hit) are not in short supply.It introduced two models: the Probe, the once and apparentlynever-to-be Mustang successor (the Mustang is making a comebackof its own, thank you very much) and the car that is our pick asBest in Show, the Mercury Capri (our June 29, 1987 cover subject).And just to make absolutely clear that the rush of new productswill not soon slow, Ford officials teased the assembled media byflashing slides of the 1989 Thunderbird and Cougar, dramaticallystyled "personal" cars that will arrive this fall.(Meanwhile, behind the scenes there was a steady murmur fromFord product men about the long-awaited, 225 horsepower TaurusSHO (Super High Output), which they suggested will be one of thestrongest performance sedanson the market when it debutslate this year.)General Motors showedrenewed vigor. Cadillacagain displayed the Voyage,the luxury prototype that'sbeen playing to rave reviews.The reaction to Voyage hasbeen so strong in the sixweeks since its debut atGM's "Teamwork and Tech-nology" show in New Yorkthat Cadillac said it is look-ing at a possible limited(1000 units?) production run.Usually tight-lippedChevrolet general managerRobert Burger publicly acknowledged the existence of the near 400horsepower Corvette ZR-1 for the first time. That model, he said,will be introduced late this year or early in 1989.Even Honda-American Honda-fed the pro-American fervor. Itdebuted the Accord coupe, the first Japanese-badged car built inAmerica to be exported to Japan.The trend was bucked by Chrysler, which depends greatly on thecars and trucks it gets from Japanese partner Mitsubishi. It intro-duced the Summit, a small made-inJapan sedan, and showed againits prototype of the Diamond-Star car(Autoweek cover story, Dec.14, 1987), the promising Japanese-based sports coupe that it andMitsubishi each will begin selling a year from now.That didn't stop Chrysler from joining, somewhat paradoxically,GM in blasting Japanese makes for alleged "dumping" (see story,page 22), their accusations based on the fact that the value of theyen has skyrocketed recently but Japanese car prices have risenmore modestly. (Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. senior vp BobMcCurry returned the salvos, saying, "If we were dumping-andwe are not-Xhrysler and GM would be right there beside us.The price of the three-door Chevy Spectrum has been driven up byonly
percent in two years, and the whole Spectrum line is uponly 14.5 percent, so I am amazed by the dumping charges
In any case, for the Japanese and other importers already chal-lenged by soaring currencies and improving American products,Chicago might have marked the first chill of winter.