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U.S. car makers are beginning to get feisty and they let the world know at the Chicago Auto Show
By George Damon Levy
irst 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 weekend in early February, if the metropolis was snuggled under an icy blanket of bleach and blanch, a corner of it was bursting with color-eye-popping shades of red, white and blue. On the shores of Lake Michigan, at McCormick Place, the giant exhibition hall that is the perennial home of the nation's premier auto show, U.S automakers (again? finally?) dug their trenches and drew their battle lines. In this place, on this weekend, the Americans made clear the message to which they have been giving increasing voice: America is making a comeback. The situation is simple, the mood in Detroit clear. The Americans are tired of being pushed around. After decades of challenge from around the globe, after years of sniping from an aggressively adversarial press ("How I Would Turn Around GM, By Ross Perot9'Fortune magazine's Feb. 15 cover story), they're testy, a bit on edge. Said one vice president of General Motors, where "Don't Tread on Me" has become something of a company motto: "I remember reading (a recent article) that called GM 'a national embarrassment. ' A national embarrassment! "You don't forget something like that very quickly." Picture the Big Three, then, jaws tight, nostrils flared. Picture them in Rambo mode, ammunition belts slung across each shoulder, readying themselves to repel the foreign invaders. And picture Ford leading the charge. At Chicago, Ford proved that the talent and daring that produced the TaurusISable (a home run, in industry parlance) and the '88 Lincoln Continental (a solid extra base hit) are not in short supply. It introduced two models: the Probe, the once and apparently never-to-be Mustang successor (the Mustang is making a comeback of its own, thank you very much) and the car that is our pick as Best in Show, the Mercury Capri (our June 29, 1987 cover subject). And just to make absolutely clear that the rush of new products will not soon slow, Ford officials teased the assembled media by flashing slides of the 1989 Thunderbird and Cougar, dramatically styled "personal" cars that will arrive this fall. (Meanwhile, behind the scenes there was a steady murmur from Ford product men about the long-awaited, 225 horsepower Taurus SHO (Super High Output), which they suggested will be one of the
strongest performance sedans on the market when it debuts late this year.) General Motors showed renewed vigor. Cadillac again displayed the Voyage, the luxury prototype that's been playing to rave reviews. The reaction to Voyage has been so strong in the six weeks since its debut at GM's "Teamwork and Technology" show in New York that Cadillac said it is looking at a possible limited (1000 units?) production run. Usually tight-lipped Chevrolet general manager Robert Burger publicly acknowledged the existence of the near 400 horsepower 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. It debuted the Accord coupe, the first Japanese-badged car built in America to be exported to Japan. The trend was bucked by Chrysler, which depends greatly on the cars and trucks it gets from Japanese partner Mitsubishi. It introduced the Summit, a small made-inJapan sedan, and showed again its prototype of the Diamond-Star car (Autoweek cover story, Dec. 14, 1987), the promising Japanese-based sports coupe that it and Mitsubishi 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 the yen has skyrocketed recently but Japanese car prices have risen more modestly. (Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. senior vp Bob McCurry returned the salvos, saying, "If we were dumping-and we are not-Xhrysler and GM would be right there beside us. The price of the three-door Chevy Spectrum has been driven up by only 3.2 percent in two years, and the whole Spectrum line is up only 14.5 percent, so I am amazed by the dumping charges ...") In any case, for the Japanese and other importers already challenged by soaring currencies and improving American products, Chicago might have marked the first chill of winter.
AUTOWEEK FEBRUARY 29, 1988
MERCURY CAPRI XR2
Basic concept: an MG that works. New 2 2 will debut a year from now if all goes to plan. Front-drive Capri would have drawn even more attention if Ford had been willing to leak the price. The inside word? If it were priced today, it would be about $10,50&and that's for a base model that includes power steering, power brakes, power door locks and stereo. (Expect that to creep up a bit over next 12 months.) Capri began life as Barchetta two-seat show car, created by Ford-owned Ghia styling studio. Strongly positive reaction to Barchetta vromvted Ford management to consider production, but consumer clinics quickly sheetmetal was considered too ruled out two-seat format, and i;ulbous shape of ~&ch?tta expensive to manufacture. Ghia went back and created current shape, which was tweaked at Ford U.S. styling studios. Ital Design did interior, which borrows heavily from Mazda 323. The 323 also is source of most of the mechanicals (Ford has a 25 percent stake in the Japanese firm). Base model gets sohc 1.6-liter Mazda four. Upmarket XR2 model will feature turbocharged version of same engine with well over 100 horsepower for approximately 2000 pound car. Suspension also borrows heavily from 323. A removable hardtop will be optional. Insiders who have driven car say it's "a blast."
Front styling (above) is substantial departure from snub-nosed Barchetta shape. Hoodline is low; bubbles in sheetmetal cover shock towers. Rear view (below) shows optional spoiler on XR2 model. Said one Ford insider about Capri, 'It's the 1955 Thunderbird in 1989'
AUTOWEEK FEBRUARY 29, 1988
. , and d.,ppears s behind nominal back seat. Impressive standard equipment: fuel-injected engine, five-speed transaxle, power four-wheel disc brakes, powe-r steering, power mirrors, power windows, digital clock, leather-wrappedwheel, AMIFM stereo. Capri is ultimate 'world car'-Italian design engineered in America based on Japanese mechanicals and built in Australia. Expectedto be a hit with under-25 group
Mazda unveiled limited production (1500 units) 10th anniversary RX-7. Based on Turbo, features monochromatic paint (white only), headlamp washers, leather, badges. On sale in May. RX-7sales have fallen sharply-from 56,000 in '86 to expected 25,000-30,000 in '88. To blame: rising yen, skyrocketing insurance. "We've heard horror stories of insurance rates of up to $5000 a year for some buyers. " w
Cadillac got good reviews for Seville STS, a Cars & Concepts project which features revised suspension, Allante wheels, cleaned up exterior detailing and remodeled cabin. Outside, trim is minimized, hood ornament is moved to grille. Interior (right) drew special praise. Expensive-looking leather, individual buckets, central console runs front to rear, handsome wood inserts in doors. Expected to go on sale early summer. Price: low $ 3 0 ' ~ .STS is just part of ambitious Cadillac plans. Just before Chicago show Cadillac general manager John Grettenberger told dealers that the division is considering a luxury sport sedan that could be powered by GM's "other" all-new 32-valve V8, its upcoming "North Star" engine. (GM's first 32-valve production V8, from Lotus, will debut in next year's ZR- 1 Corvette.) Division is also considering building Voyage. w
Response to celebrated Cadillac show car (AW, Feb. 15 cover story) continued to be strong--Chicagoans we talked to loved it. Division is considering limited production of rear-drive (all-wheel drive in low traction situations) prototype, perhaps as few as 1000. Price, if the company decides to go ahead with the project: expensive. No word on whether a V12 is likely powerplant. w
Rear of STS interior (above) shows individual-styleleather seats, central console, wood insert in door. Exterior (left) is clean. Cadillac Voyage show car seats (right) drew a crowd by themselves. Visiting Italian superstar designer Giorgetto Giugiaro called them the finest seats he's ever seen
AUTOWEEK FEBRUARY 29, 1988
Like the Capri, this car (right) also is the product of cooperation between Japanese and American auto companies, this time Mitsubishi and Chrysler. And also like the Capri, this is a 1989 model production car that was not expected to be unveiled until it went on sale this fall. The sedan version of Mitsubishi's all-new Mirage, this car will be sold through Chrysler's Jeep-Eagle division dealers. When the Summit was introduced at the show, Chrysler officials curiously omitted mention of its being made by Mitsubishi or the fact that it will be built in Japan. A further curiosity: Chrysler now sells version of it sub is hi's previous generation Mirage as the Colt premier. That name must go, though, because Jeep-Eagle's top car also is called the Premier, the one that was inherited from AMC when Chrysler bought up the smaller car maker last year.
HONDA ACCO--D COUPE
Chrysler drew flak. While company brass boasted of JaPanese-built S~mmit (above right), UAW marchers picketed over closing of Kenosha, Wis., plant
This could be called the all-American Honda without stretching the truth too far. Assembled at Honda's plant in Marysville, Ohio, it is the only Honda model that is not also built in Japan. That's not to say that the car won't be sold there. The Accord Coupes sold in the home islands and other foreign markets will be imported from the U.S. Honda feels that this car marks the first step along the path toward its becoming a self-sufficient U.S. car maker. Filling out the Accord lineup, the Coupe went on sale earlier this month in the U.S. alongside the four-door and three-door. The DX Coupe five-speed starts at $11,335, the automatic at $1 1,920. Prices for the LXi versions: $14,295 and $14,480.
Nissan's concept of the family car of the future debuted at last fall's Tokyo Motor Show. Heavy on technology. Heavy on "kansei"-the Japanese term for human engineering. It is not a literal prototype for upcoming upmarket Infiniti sedans, but Nissan officials say ARC-X is a step in the direction of the "intelligent' ' car, i.e., interactive controls for power, steerindhandling , brakes. ~ x & ~ l e s : Microprocessor-controlled four-wheel-drive torque split system puts more power to outside wheels in a turn. Steering, suspension "feel" can be controlled by driver. other features: Four-wheel steering. ABS . Traction control. Electronically controlled automatic transmission. ARC-X also features handsome if slightly cramped interior that's high on human factors, but GM's Cadillac Voyage and Pontiac Banshee are at this level or slightly beyond. Power is bv twin cam 24-valve V6. an evolution version of production engine used in Japanese version of 300ZX. Features direct ignition, variable valve timing, drive-by-wire link to accelerator pedal. It's mounted transversely up front.
AUTOWEEK FEBRUARY 29, 1988
Old and new, together: ARC-X concept car (above) was joined by current Nissan GTP and P.L. Newman 300ZX racer-and the fabled earlv '70s BRE 510 2.5 her Trans-Am racer (left) that took John Morton to the '72 championship