News Column

More New Models on Display at North American Auto Show

January 11, 2011

Chris Woodyard

cars

Honda showed concept versions of the redesigned Civic Si coupe and Civic sedan on Monday at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The display vehicles were the first look at what the styling will be like for the ninth-generation lineup of Civics due on sale this spring as 2012 models.

The styling is an evolution of Civic's current look rather than a radical departure.

Civic is Honda's No. 2 best seller -- only about 20,000 behind the Accord in 2010 -- and is key for the company. But it faces heated competition in a compact segment that now includes the new Chevrolet Cruze and redesigned Hyundai Elantra, as well as a new Ford Focus also due this spring. Civic also is a key entry model for the brand -- Honda says it draws more than 90,000 new car buyers under age 35 each year.

The new Civic will be offered in regular and sportier Si gas versions, a hybrid and a natural gas-fueled model. For the first time, the natural gas Civic will be offered to retail buyers in all states. It's sold in just four states now.

Honda says the new gasoline powertrains will offer improved fuel efficiency -- up to 40 miles per gallon or better on the highway -- and that the hybrid will be Honda's first with advanced lithium-ion batteries.

Porsche unveils hybrid racer concept

Porsche, which hasn't exhibited at the Detroit auto show since 2007, used its return this year to introduce its 918 RSR hybrid race car concept.

The 918 RSR is an evolution of the 911 GT3 R and the 918 Spyder hybrid concepts from last year. It's powered by the 563-horsepower V-8 from the RS Spyder racer and has an electric motor on each of the front wheels that provide 75 kilowatts each for a total peak horsepower of 767. Regenerative braking creates the electric power, which is stored with a flywheel.

Porsche's sales were up 30 percent in the U.S. in 2010, but it was driven not by sports cars, but by the Panamera sedan and the Cayenne SUV, Porsche's top seller in the U.S.

New Passat bigger, cheaper, made in USA

Volkswagen says it will slice the starting price by about $8,000 to about $20,000, when it launches the redesigned 2012 Passat midsize sedan this fall. "VW is back. VW is at home in America. We are here to stay," VW's global Chairman Martin Winterkorn said at the introduction of the car.

VW says it hasn't cheapened the car and hopes to avoid the criticism it took that it backslid on features and technology to achieve the lower base price on the redesigned 2011 Jetta compact. VW says building Passat at its new factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., and buying parts from U.S.-based sources have cut costs enough to allow the drastic price reduction.

The new Passat, like the new Jetta, also will be significantly bigger than the most recent model: 4 inches longer and half an inch wider than the 2010, now out of production for the U.S. market.

VW is trying to match more closely the size of the larger Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

The 2012 Passat will offer a five-cylinder gasoline engine rated 170 horsepower, a four-cylinder diesel rated 140 hp, and a V-6 gas engine rated 280 hp. VW says the diesel will be rated at about 43 mpg on the highway, giving it a range of roughly 800 highway miles per tankful.

To underscore the "made in the USA" nature of the new Passat, the press conference Monday featured video of a pair of Marlboro men discovering the new VW plant in Chattanooga, and sign carriers onstage highlighted the 12,000 direct and indirect jobs it will help create.

U.S. head Jonathan Browning emphasized how important this market is for VW, which hopes to roughly triple sales of its VW and Audi vehicles in the U.S., to 1 million, as a key to becoming the No. 1 global automaker.

Shhh: Buick aims for quiet in small Verano

In a world becoming more crowded with small cars, how do you stand out? Make one that's quiet.

That's what Buick is aiming for in the new Verano compact sedan unveiled Monday and due out by the end of the year. It's a size class below Buick's Regal, although it keeps much of the same look and proportions.

Buick intends to portray Verano as a credible rival to Audi A3 and Lexus IS 250, among others.

To hush up Verano, Buick used a suite of modern sound-deadening features. The engine cradle is isolated from the chassis. Nylon baffles are used in hollow portions of the body, which are filled with sound-absorbing foam that expands when heated in the paint oven.

The interior headliner is composed of five layers of thermal fiber acoustic material, and triple-sealed doors feature fiberglass "blankets" that serve as water, airflow and noise barriers.

Chevy Volt, Ford Explorer win big awards

The Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric won the coveted annual North American Car of the Year award, while Ford's redesigned new Ford Explorer was named Truck of the Year.

In the annual awards, voted on by a jury of journalists from all media, the Volt beat Hyundai's successful new midsize Sonata sedan and the electric Nissan Leaf.

Ford's new Explorer, the pioneer truck-based SUV redesigned as a crossover, beat the two Chrysler Group products in the finals: the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and the larger, but mechanically similar, Dodge Durango.



Source: Copyright (c) USA TODAY 2011


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