Category Archive:

Fit For America… Honda Fit, That Is

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New Entry Car Joins Honda’s Lineup
If you’re in the market for an economy car, this might be one of the better model years to buy. Not only does the Honda Fit arrive in dealers in April 2006, Toyota’s Yaris and Chevrolet’s updated Aveo will arrive shortly afterward. And don’t forget the Nissan Versa coming later in the year. Honda chose the North American International Auto Show to unveil their new Fit while Toyota launched the Yaris at the Los Angeles Auto Show , with Vehicle Voice and AutoPacific correspondents on hand. Elsewhere in the segment, Kia’s Rio and Hyundai’s Accent were all-new for the 2006MY. The oldest product in the segment is actually the Scion xA, and that model launched nationally for the 2004MY.
What are the keys to this segment? As much interior room as can be carved out of such a small footprint, some type of sporty-look model to offer the ability to not look as though you’re driving the least expensive car in the lineup, and the ability for buyers to customize or accessorize their car. Toyota is writing the book on this with Scion, and Honda is learning a few tricks.
Final pricing has not been determined for the Honda Fit, but a $12,000 price point is reasonable. Though pricing for either Fit or the new Toyota Yaris has not been announced, the Fit offers more standard features and is likely to carry a slightly higher base price as a result. Honda does have concerns about the new entry cannibalizing some Civic sales, but Honda is not creating a sub-brand for this segment, as Toyota has done for its Scion products. The Fit is built in Japan and imported, though if the small car found strong enough demand, Honda could add U.S. production.


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Lexus LS460 – New Premium Luxury Segment Benchmark?

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Now that I have had a chance to digest the upcoming all new Lexus LS460 I have to conclude that it will be one formidable competitor. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific analysts concur.
In an auto show season when the USA audience has the chance to see an all new (to the USA) Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS460, there is an opportunity to do some deep soul searching about the group of flagship sedans that top the car market in the USA. We include the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Infiniti Q45, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS in this group of excellent cars. We might reach downmarket a bit to the Acura RL and upwards a lot to the Bentley Continentals, but the key competitors are Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus and Mercedes. By far, the best seller has been the Lexus capturing 27% of the class in its last full year of production.
So, why would a Japanese luxury car now be worthy of becoming the benchmark of the Premium Luxury Segment? The Lexus LS has had the corner on durability, quality and reliabiliity consistently rating higher than the German marques in AutoPacific quality and satisfaction research. In fact, in most years the Lexus LS wins AutoPacific’s prestigious Vehicle Satisfaction Award (in 2005, the Jaguar XJ won by a nose over the Lexus). So, now, the new Lexus LS may clearly establish its mainstream models as the cream of the Premium Luxury Car crop because now the car will have distinctive styling arguably on a par with the best coming from Europe. No longer can the LS be described as boring and bland.


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Chrysler Aspen Arrives in a Blizzard

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Though the all-new SUV was introduced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the blizzard was not provided by Mother Nature but brought in by the clowns. In a flurry of paper snow inspired by his Snowshow production , the internationally acclaimed clown show headed by Slava Polunin assisted Frank Klegan as he brought out the Chrysler Aspen. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were part of the crowd that was covered nearly head to toe by the blast of paper snow, and it was fun!

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This event confirmed that the rumors are true. Chrysler’s first full-size SUV, the Aspen, goes on sale in fall 2006, and Chrysler promises it is the 300 of SUVs. The Aspen is derived from the Dodge Durango, though offers a significantly changed look with much more chrome and style than the Dodge personality allows. Aspen will likely compete with Premium Luxury SUVs, a segment that includes large SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX56, two Land Rovers, and the Lexus LX, expect Chrysler may be able to undercut their base price and offer a value proposition along the lines of the 300 and other recent introductions.
Our take on the styling of the Chrysler Aspen is that Durango got hit with a boring stick. An SUV aspiring to luxury tastes can still be distinctive (Escalade, Navigator, QX56, etc) and do not have to be dulled down to appeal to more upscale pocketbooks. At least an SUV is a more appropriate vehicle type to use the Aspen name with than the Dodge Aspen of old. Remember the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare? Wonder how many are still on the road?
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Hyundai Santa Fe All New for 2007

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Believe it or not, one of the most anticipated new vehicles introduced at the 2006 North American Auto Show in Detroit is the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe mid-size SUV. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) are watching this introduction very, very closely because it will demonstrate the strength of Hyundai’s research and development process and ability to produce quality products at its new assembly plant in Alabama.
This it the second generation Santa Fe. The first Santa Fe surprised pundits when it turned out to be a darn good vehicle and actually won four of the five AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards during its five years in production. The Santa Fe turned out to be a good value, good quality, highly warranted, if quirkily styled sport utlity vehicle what out-pointed products like the Ford Escape and Toyota Highlander in owner satisfaction.
Hyundai has high expectations for the new Santa Fe and hopes to fill half of its Montgomery, Alabama plant with Santa Fe volume. The other half of the capacity is devoted to the new Sonata sedan. Assuming quality is top-notch and Hyundai can maintain its value proposition and strong warranty coverage, the Santa Fe promises to be a winner.
The Hyundai press release for the Santa Fe is shown below.


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Jeep Compass – First Ever Jeep Soft-Roader

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Jeep Compass: Car-Based SUV Joins Jeep Lineup
With the launch of the Jeep Compass car-based SUV in the 2006 calendar year, Jeep customers get to decide if a car-based Jeep is still a Jeep. Though there will be two car-based Jeep SUVs to consider by the end of the year, the production Compass has been shown first with its Patriot stablemate coming later. The “talent” launchingthe Compassat the 2006 North American International Auto Show was Angie Harmon of Law and Order fame.
Vehicle Voice http://www.vehiclevoice.com and AutoPacific http://www.autopacific.com editors and analysts were on hand for the unveiling. Our take on the Compass is that it will do pretty well. Jeep has historically been narrow-cast with tightly defined Rubicon-capable sport utility vehicles. The Compass provides a softer counterpoint for buyers who value the Jeep nameplate but who don’t need the off-road capability of a traditional Jeep.

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Interestingly, while it seems that nearly every other manufacturer is be jumping on the “crossover” bandwagon, the Compass is described simply as what it is: a compact SUV. As risky as offering a less-than-Trail-Rated Jeep is for the brand, they are not likely to add to the concern by promoting the Compass as anything other than an SUV, a move which we applaud.
The car underpinnings in this case are a version of the next-generation Mitsubishi Lancer shared platform. Both Compass and Patriot were previewed by concepts at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show in September. Compass sales are set for the third quarter of 2006.
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Jeep Wrangler Reborn for 2007MY

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Jeep let its latest Wrangler out of its cage at 2006 North American International Autoshow. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents watched the story unfold.
The iconic Wrangler gets a major change for the 2007MY. Sales are set for fall 2006, and the two-door Wrangler broke free at the 2006 North American International Auto Show, drove straight out of Cobo and onto the a Jeep stand across the street, demonstrating both the vehicle’s need to be unrestrained and its ability to climb stairs and inclines with ease. Though not introduced in Detroit, a four-door version is expected as well as the two-door.
The latest Wrangler is described as more Jeep. Though Wrangler enthusiasts are a tricky group to please, as they don’t really want their beloved friends to change, Jeep likely has a winner with upcoming version. It offers more safety and convenience and a better ride, while at the same time improving off-road ability and retaining it’s signature look.


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Saturn Vue Green Line Offers Hybrid Powertrain for $23,000

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Introducing Saturn Vue Green Line
Among the most significant news about the Saturn Vue Green Line news at the Detroit auto show was its expected $23,000 price tag. GM explains being able to charge less by offering a less costly system than the competition. This compares with a price tag for the Escape hybrid at $27,500 in January 2006 and the Toyota Highlander at $33,650 (both for front-wheel-drive models). Even the Toyota Prius has a base price of nearly $22,500. Whether Saturn will actually find the Green Line a profitable vehicle, GM has decided to win the price war. Sales are set for summer 2006.

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Toyota Yaris Revives Bottom of Toyota’s Lineup in USA

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Introducing the Toyota Yaris
Toyota has long offered an economy car, at least as far back as the 1981 Starlet. For the 2007 model year, Toyota comes back with the Yaris. After the ungainly looking Echo, the Yaris at least has the benefit of a stronger presence on the road. The Yaris, which will be offered in sedan and three-door hatchback versions beginning in spring 2006, is a development of the Echo, despite its new-to-the-U.S. name. Though we knew it as the Echo, the previous generation had several names worldwide as well as more available bodystyles. With this latest iteration, Toyota has decided to call all versions outside the home market by the Yaris name.
Though substantially revised, the suspension and brakes carryover. The Yaris continues to offer the very familiar 1.5L DOHC 16v four-cylinder engine, mated to standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmissions. A brief drive of both Yaris sedan and hatchback models reveals, as can be expected, a familiar driving experience, but in a quieter package with improved interior and dramatically improved exterior styling. And though familiar, the Yaris is competitive for its segment. This competes with entry-price and entry-level cars that are focused on solid, dependable transportation rather than speed and sport. In this arena, Yaris is as entertaining as it gets.
While the Echo looked ungainly and poorly proportioned, the Yaris sedan has a much better balanced look. The Echo never looked quite right, reflected in its poor sales, but the Yaris sedan has a purposeful, proud stance. The hatchback has a lively and entertaining look, and promises that you’ll keep a smile on your face driving down the road. While neither version offers a particularly exciting driving experience, they crisp and confident.


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Ford Edge Expands Ford SUV Range to Five

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Introducing the Ford Edge
The hot buzzword in early 2006 is CUV, or crossover utility vehicle. Loosely defined as car-based product in the shape of an SUV, these types of vehicles have been around for about ten years. But as the domestic brands, specifically GM and Ford, are in the midst of expanding their offerings of this type of vehicle, they are fueling use of the term. Vehiclevoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) analysts believe that these vehicles are not really crosses between anything, but rather the evolution of the SUV. Or what we like to call Post-Modern SUVs.

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Whatever the name, these are clearly the vehicles that the majority of SUV buyers in the mid 1990s really wanted. Truck-based SUVs provided more off-road ability, that wasn’t used in many cases, and more towing capacity, also not used by the majority of SUV buyers. For those that actually use the expanded capability, there will continue to be truck-based options. For the rest of us, why not put the best attributes of an SUV onto a predominantly front-drive platform with a smaller and more fuel-efficient engine? The result of this evolution is vehicle ranging from the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V that started the trend (back in the days when they were called Cute Utes and knocked for their lack of truck-toughness) to the Chrysler Pacifica to Mercedes-Benz R- and ML-Class to Pontiac’s Torrent to Ford’s Escape and including Ford’s new-for-2007MY Edge.
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Just like the Lincoln MKX, the Edge uses the platform introduced with Ford’s latest trio of mid-size sedans, the Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr. Edge will broaden Ford’s SUV lineup to five when it arrives in late 2006, similar to Toyota’s lineup. Ford dealers will offer Edge, Explorer, Escape, Freestyle, and Expedition for 2007MY. Edge is sized and powered above Escape, but smaller than the Explorer or Freestyle. It brings Ford’s car-based SUV total to three (Escape, Edge, Freestyle), with the Explorer and Expedition continuing their truck-based personalities.
If the Edge is as good on the road as it sounds on paper, it should find a sweet spot in the market. Styling is more modern and attractive than the boxy and aging Escape. The current Escape was developed when manufacturers were first realizing that some customers want the utility of an SUV but the drive, handling, and fuel economy nearer their cars and the talk of crossovers was nil. Ford designed the Escape to look as much like a truck-based SUV as possible, but since then the market has been snapping up softer-looking utility vehicles. In the world of post-modern SUVs, the utility vehicle is taking a shape much more like that of a tall wagon than borrowing truck cues. The Edge is set to be the right product at the right time, and Ford may find more success with it than they did with the Escape.


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Mazda Adds a New Post-Modern SUV: Mazda CX-7

Mazda expands its lineup with a car-based SUV in spring 2006 called the CX-7. While the entry was previewed by the 2005 MX-Cross Sport concept, the production car was unveiled at Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows in January 2006. As with other car-based, post-modern SUVs, or crossovers, the five-seater CX-7 comes standard in front-drive form with an optional AWD system available. The CX-7 will be built in Japan, and is not directly related to the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX new-for-2007MY entries also being introduced to at the Detroit auto show.
VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) will showcase the CX-7 at the Los Angeles Auto Show in an upcoming videocast.


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