IRVINE, CA --- There was rain in the air and change on the ground Wednesday during the opening of the California Auto Show, enough rain to make automakers wonder if Orange County really is paradise, as claimed by Volvo North America President and CEO Vic Doolan, and enough change on the ground to keep car buyers happy – and nationwide auto sales clipping along at a nice steady rate. Just how they plan to do that changed with the nameplate, however, as there was little common direction, except perhaps for a large wink and nudge to the upcoming SEMA Auto Show in Las Vegas. Automakers look at SEMA’s show, otherwise known as the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association annual business-to-business love-in, as an opportunity to present more stylistic and exciting vehicles to the auto buying public. With aftermarket customization becoming a larger part of automaker plans, many of the vehicles displayed at the California Auto Show were either built to illustrate this versatility or plans were announced to do the same. Hummer announced plans to start building performance vehicles under the moniker Alpha – and introduced the Alpha H1. No word on when the H2 will hit the streets. Pontiac unveiled the anticipated Grand Prix GXP and the 240 horsepower Pontiac G6 GTP. Kia, long excited about the potential of SEMA and custom vehicles, showed off two of the vehicles destined for next week’s show in Vegas, the Spectra LD and performance Spectra5.
The biggest moment of the day, however, came from Chrysler – and though it may not have been the most important news, Chrysler debuted the SRT8 to a crowd of journalists the way any HEMI-powered vehicle ought to be shown – at a drive-in burger shack surrounded by historic HEMI predecessors. The vehicles were classics, owned by individuals and driven to the Show from as far away as Texas. The effort underlined Chrysler’s commitment to performance and to utilizing its heritage in today’s products, in what has become a bit of an open field for SRT – fewer competitors and more vehicles, possibly, on the way.
Ford also paid homage to performance, by helping Steve Saleen introduce the 2005 Saleen Mustang, and by showing off the hot Shelby GR-1concept vehicle. As one Ford executive put it, after discussing Mustang plans in Las Vegas: “there will be thousands of cars there. And no two cars will be the same.”
But this was the California Auto Show, in Orange County, and there are many cars that look the same here, especially the large and boxy kind. This, after all, is the place where SUVs roam -- and if they weren’t talking about performance, many automakers were keen to prattle on about their new sport utility vehicles. Notably, the new Hummer H3 was introduced, as well as a more powerful Volvo XC90, a new Kia Sportage, as well as plans to build the Pontiac version of the Chevrolet Equinox, the Torrent. The Torrent is due for introduction next year. Other introductions included the Jaguar X-Type wagon and the Infiniti M. Mark Igo, Infiniti general manager and vice president, announced plans to introduce the M35 and an M45 at the 2005 North American International Auto Show. The M45 will boast the same 4.5-liter V8 that’s shared with the Infiniti Q45 and FX45, and the M35 will be driven by the 3.5-liter V6 engine found in the G35 and FX35.
Possibly the biggest news for Infiniti was the “hopeful” emergence of hybrid power in the near future. According to Igo, Infiniti has been “looking at it for awhile, and it is something that can be offered at some point in the future. Don’t bet on it being too far into the future, as the debut of the RX 400h has given Lexus a full stride head start.
For more information about the vehicles introduced at this year’s California Auto Show, click on the article links at left.