Carmakers tap American nostalgia for new vehicles

Diskutiere Carmakers tap American nostalgia for new vehicles im Smalltalk um den Mercedes Forum im Bereich Allgemeines; DETROIT, Jan 7- With the threat of weaker sales on the horizon, U.S. automakers recalled the happy days of the 1950s and 1960s on Sunday, tapping...

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    DETROIT, Jan 7- With the threat of weaker sales on the horizon, U.S. automakers recalled the happy days of the 1950s and 1960s on Sunday, tapping into the current wave of American nostalgia by unveiling modern versions of some of their most illustrious vehicles of the past.
    As the Detroit auto show got under way, General Motors Corp. <GM.N>, the world's largest automaker, resurrected the Chevrolet Bel Air, a 1950s icon seen in many movies about the era, as inspiration for a new two-door convertible "concept" vehicle.
    Like other concept cars, which automakers exhibit at auto shows to test public reaction for possible future models, the Bel Air may never go on sale. But it is the latest offering from American automakers that recalls the glory days when they dominated the market and the United States seemed immune to foreign threats such as the Sept. 11 attacks.
    "We have so much heritage at brands like Buick, Pontiac, Chevrolet and Cadillac, that why try to be like the foreigners?" said GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, the former Chrysler executive hired last year to try to revive GM's vehicle designs.
    "We have such a rich automotive heritage. It's such a gold mine of heritage that can be reached into and updated. It's a very legitimate design direction and one we are actively contemplating," Lutz said.
    Similar to the classic "tri-5s" -- the 1955, '56 and '57 Chevrolets -- the rear-wheel-drive Bel Air prototype has a front bench seat for three people, a wrap-around windshield, side-vent windows and the familiar swoop up over the rear wheels.
    Ford Motor Co. <F.N>, expected to unveil a restructuring plan later this week as it comes off its first annual earnings loss in a decade, also recalled better times by unveiling an update of the Ford GT40 supercar which won the prestigious Le Mans endurance race twice in the 1960s.
    The low-slung GT40, with a powerful 5.4 liter V-8 engine mounted behind the passenger compartment, joins Ford's "Living Legends" lineup of concept and production vehicles inspired by brands from the past.
    With auto sales expected to fall moderately from last year's near-record pace, auto executives did their best to put a positive spin on their new offerings.
    A second Ford concept truck -- the Mighty F-350 TONKA pickup -- looked like a giant version of the canary yellow toy trucks that millions of American children have steered through their backyard sandboxes.
    Ford officials hinted that the Mighty F-350 pickup, which lowers half a foot when the doors are opened to allow easier entry or exit, may one day go on sale.
    "What grown-up doesn't want the ultimate TONKA (toy)?" said Ford Vice President of Design J Mays. "This is not just a concept -- in fact, it's far from it."
    In an effort to show that it has shed its massive bureaucracy and can move fast, GM showed a coupe and convertible version of the Pontiac Solstice concept vehicle, which went from an idea to a working vehicle in three months.
    The sleek-looking Pontiac Solstice, which sheds the so-called side cladding that gives many current Pontiacs a cluttered look, is the first fruit of Lutz's efforts to shake up GM's lengthy design process.
    ASSAULT ON SUV MARKET
    Also on the first day of the show, foreign automakers continued their assault on American automaker's grip on sport utility vehicles, one of the fastest-growing segments of the market.
    DaimlerChrysler AG <DCX.N><DCXGn.DE> unveiled the Chrysler Pacifica, a combination station wagon-sport utility vehicle that the company believes could be as successful as its PT Cruiser, the 1930s gangster-style vehicle that began the trend toward "retro" looking vehicles when it was introduced here three years ago.
    Chrysler executives said the company hopes to build at least 130,000 Pacificas annually after it goes on sale next year.
    Honda Motor Co. Ltd. <7267.T> got on the SUV bandwagon with two new SUVs which will go on sale in the next year.
    The Honda Pilot, which is similar to the company's popular Acura MD-X SUV, is smaller than full-size SUVs but still has a third row of seats. It goes on sale this summer and Honda expects to sell 80,000 to 100,000 annually of the eight-passenger Pilots.
    "The Pilot takes dead aim at what we believe customers want in a SUV today," said Dick Colliver, executive vice president of sales with Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s <7267.T> U.S. unit. "Not too big, not too small."
    Honda also announced that it will make the Model X concept vehicle, a small five-passenger SUV built to appeal to younger buyers in the market for a vehicle priced under $20,000 that can carry all sorts of sporting equipment.
    For drivers seeking a big SUV, Toyota Motor Corp. <7203.T> introduced the Lexus GX 470, a full-size luxury SUV competing for wealthy buyers. The GX 470 is set to go on sale next January with a price tag between $45,000 and $50,000.
    Lexus projects that it can sell at least 20,000 of the Japanese-built midsize SUVs a year. The model slots into the Lexus lineup between the popular RX 300 and the larger LX 470.
    Denny Clements, the U.S. manager for Lexus, said despite a cautious sales outlook for the industry, the company expected luxury SUVs sales to rise to 443,000 vehicles sales in 2003.
    "We don't see a problem hitting the target," Clements said. "We'll take what the market can give us."
     
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