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New Cars Debut at South Florida International Auto Show

MIAMI, Nov. 8, 2002 -- Six new SUVs and the return of an Italian legend dominated press conferences on opening day of the 32nd annual South Florida International Auto Show. Auto executives and journalists gathered in the Miami Beach Convention Center today to begin the 10-day run of the season's first major auto show.

The show typically draws crowds from Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America and fills the Miami Beach Convention Center with one million square feet of vehicles, prototypes and accessories.

Lexus group vice president and general manager Denny Clements hosted the world debut of the production version of its new GX470 SUV. Calling it a "baby brother to the LX470," the new V8-powered GX470 will help Lexus respond to what Clements called the "most active segment of the SUV market, the luxury utility vehicle." The editor of Four Wheeler magazine, Jon Thompson, used the occasion to announce that the new Lexus will be the journal's 2003 Four Wheeler of the Year.

Honda garnered two other awards here. Its new Pilot SUV was named the Family Vehicle of the Year by AMI Auto World magazine. Fitting for a show that draws the most Latin media, Honda's Fit, a small hatchback unavailable in the U.S. but widely popular elsewhere, was named Car of the Year by the Interamerican Federation of Automobile Journalists.

GMC showed off its 2004 Envoy XUV with a power sliding rear roof, drop or swing tailgate with power window, fold-down midgate with power glass panel, and an all-weather cargo area. According to GMC marketing manager Janet Keller, the innovative model will begin delivery in the fall of 2003. Corporate partner Buick introduced the Rainier, a mid-sized SUV with leather seats and a trailering package that adds a touch of luxury and brawn to its line-up.

Land Rover unveiled an evolution of its Freelander called the SE3. This 3-door "hardback" version features a removable sunroof rear panel, easy-clean seats and polycarbonate fenders for carefree adventure. "Florida is among the markets we designed this for," said Bill Baker, Land Rover's North American communications manager. "This getaway fun car will price out under $27,000."

Tom Andersson, Volvo's marketing vice president and keynote luncheon speaker for the gathered journalists, introduced the firm's first SUV, the XC90, and a performance version of its best selling sedan called the S60R. Both feature a ceiling-mounted "roll-over curtain" for head protection of all passengers.

Maserati returned to North America this year with a new Coupe and Spyder inspired by Formula One racing. "They're great examples of the synergy at Ferrari since it acquired Maserati in 1997," said Ferrari spokesman Luca Dal Monte. "North America will account for 40 percent of our sales, and Florida is the number two market behind California."

This year's Show Car, the re-designed Dodge Viper SRT-10, greeted editors at a DaimlerChrysler exhibit that boasted power all around. The Ram 1500 pickup now sports 345 horsepower from its Hemi 5.7 liter engine. James Ori, a senior manager, also introduced a Neon-based SRT4 four-door described as "the fastest production car under $20,000."

The Sierra Club outlined a "Green Fleet" cooperative program with Marion County Sheriff's Department in Ocala, Fla. Toyota Prius hybrid electric-gas sedans save gas and cut costs for the city. Officials report similar programs in South Dakota and Missouri with the gas-sipping cars (52 mpg) and hope for greater use in the future.

The annual auto show also features concept cars, a special Million Dollar Alley display with exotic automobiles, Memory Lane, a room-full of classic cars reaching back to the 1920s, and Motorcycle, a display featuring bikes from the top manufacturers.

The South Florida International Auto Show is produced by the South Florida Auto-Truck Dealers Association, which comprises 220 dealerships in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties.