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The Automotive News Week in Review - September 18, 2009

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
September 18, 2009

Chrysler is the latest Detroit-based car company to revamp its financing options to once again include a lease option. Over the course of the past 12 months, leasing had largely disappeared from the domestic auto sales vocabulary, due to the recession and consequent bankruptcies of the Pentastar and GM. Interestingly, Chrysler has chosen GMAC, the former financial arm of General Motors as its preferred lender.

GM itself re-introduced a limited lease option in the month of August, one which was available only on select vehicles from Cadillac, Chevrolet and one model each from Buick and GMC. The program was also limited to 5 specific states. While Chrysler's lease program is in theory universal across its entire 2010 lineup, special rates have been put into place to help move the 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan and its Chrysler twin, as well as the Dodge Journey and Ram, and the Jeep Wrangler and Liberty.

With fuel efficiency and reduced emissions still very much on the minds of car shoppers and automotive designers alike, it is no surprise the that Frankfurt Motor Show has provided plenty of interesting green concepts to ogle - some of which are not so far away from charging into showrooms in the near future.

Some of the more 'plug and play' vehicles on display came from Toyota, in the form of the Prius PHEV Concept and the Auris HSD Full Hybrid Concept. The former is a revamped version of America's favorite gasoline / electric hybrid, one whose battery range has been extended to a full 12.5 miles of travel on a single charge at an impressive 62 miles per hour. The vehicle is set to be shipped to fleet customers next year, with dealerships getting a piece of the action in 2012. The Auris is essentially the Toyota edition of the Lexus HS 250h compact hybrid, albeit with a somewhat different powertrain.

Being that the show is situated in Germany, it is no surprise that the Teutonic brands had their own fair share of hybrids on display as well. Mercedes-Benz impressed audiences with the S500 PHEV Concept, a plug-in version of its flagship luxury sedan that features 18 miles of battery-powered range along with impressive acceleration and performance.

Audi and Volkswagen for their part debuted a pair of concepts that would seem to be a bit farther out in terms of actual production. The Audi R8 e-Tron Concept is a completely electric edition of its stylish sports coupe, while the Volkswagen 1-liter Concept sports a single liter displacement diesel engine that provides fuel economy rated at 170 miles per gallon. At 36 horsepower, the vehicle's 7-speed automatic transmission might seem like overkill, but pomp and circumstance are par for the course at international auto shows.

Off the green tip, there were many other notable public product debuts taking place across the Atlantic over the past week. BMW took the wraps off of its controversially-styled 5-Series GT, an automobile that combines the mid-size luxury sedan with a rear-sloping hatchback roof to create an unusual premium automobile. The idea behind the vehicle was to create a compromise that offered the interior room of the 7-Series, the sporty driving of the 5 and the cargo room of the X5 SUV. The somewhat more conventional X1 compact crossover also showed its face in Frankfurt, revealing itself to be much more handsome than the awkward X3 it slots in under and whose drivetrains it very nearly shares. The vehicle will be available in both all-wheel and rear-wheel drive models.

Several other long-awaited vehicles saw their next generation take a bow on stage in the German city. Saab finally updated its 9-5 flagship sedan with an entirely new platform, replacing a vehicle whose design dated back to the late 1990's. Although the automaker's future is still uncertain, the fresh 9-5 points in a positive direction with impressive styling, innovative interior features and of course Saab's trademark powerful turbocharged engine options.

Remaining in Scandinavian territory, Volvo dropped the new editions of both the C30 compact coupe and the C70 full-size convertible into the laps of show attendees. Each vehicle shows an even further progression into the aggressive and sporty exterior design that buyers have now come to expect from the Swedish car company. The C70's power retractable hard top features a much slicker integration into the vehicle's overall look, while the C30 see the addition of a radically sloped rear hatch that imparts the compact with an edgier feel, as well as more internal volume.

Finally, and perhaps most intriguing given its track record, Volkswagen brought out the latest version of its Phaeton ultra-luxury sedan. While the previous Phaeton, kissing cousin to the Audi A8 was a spectacular failure in North America - it seems that buyers in the U.S. simply had no interest in paying top dollar for a vehicle wearing the VW badge - Volkswagen has decided to try its luck again. While the Phaeton is every bit the powerful, comfortable monster that a full-size premium sedan should be, the question still remains as to whether the brand will be able to command 6 figures on the showroom floor in 2011.

Fans of the small car revolution that seems to be gathering momentum across the country had another reason to rejoice this week when Mazda announced that it would be importing its MAZDA2 subcompact car to the United States by the end of 2010. The vehicle, which is set to debut in-country at the L.A. Auto show later this year, is based in part on the Ford Fiesta, which has itself been making waves prior to its own introduction to the U.S. as a 2011 model.

The MAZDA2 will give those anticipating the Fiesta another super-economical automobile to look forward to and seems to indicate that the floodgates are opening when it comes to the commercial viability of small city cars in America, a market which has been popular in Europe and Japan for decades.


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