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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

September 27, 1996

As we've pointed out in the past, the auto business is anything but static and it take lots of corporate hustle to keep up with the competition. In order to pique the curiosity of the public, car makers "leak" information on upcoming models to the automotive press to keep their names in print and in the public eye.

It used to be that models two or three years in the future were guarded like state secrets, but no more. These are some of the upcoming products of some of these manufacturers although a few won't be seen until just before the turn of the century:

ACURA - Honda didn't get to it's present position in the American market by resting on it's laurels. Its SSM two-seater open sports car is past the concept stage and bears more than a slight resemblance to the new Mercedes SLK sportster, the BMW Z3 roadster and the equally fresh Porsche Boxter open speedster. The word is that the SSM offspring will be marketed here as an Acura to give it class distinction. The car (as yet unnamed) will probably be much like its predecessor and carry a very "trick" four-valve 2.0 liter five cylinder VTEC engine and drive through the rear wheels. The price is supposed to be under $40,000.

CHEVROLET - There's a new Camaro in the pipeline and naturally that means that there will be a Pontiac Firebird clone to go along with it. Both of them will get new front end treatments and other assorted cosmetic upgrading but the big news is that the hot-rod versions of both will profit by the fact the mid-'97 Chevy Corvette be powered by an all-new engine. General Motors will be looking for a place to park its left-over LT4 350 inch hot-rod V8 engine that has been such a stalwart in the "old" Corvette. The press release says that the Camaro will have a "...large, smiling air-intake set beneath the bumper." Camaro buyers will smile too, since the engine represents an increase of 50 horses.

DODGE - Chrysler was caught napping when Ford and Chevrolet hung a third door on their popular extended-cab pickups. To get even, the Dodge four-seater pickup will be offered with two extra doors in '98 and I guess we might consider it a kind of four-door sedan with a huge, open trunk. In addition, Chrysler plans to push Dodge back into the sports/utility vehicle business with a rough-rider built around the Ram pickup chassis. The last Dodge SUV was the big, tough V8-powered Ramcharger.

JAGUAR - The current Jaguar sedans, the XJ series, are definitely long in the tooth and resembles nothing so much as a vintage Peugeot with a Buick nose job. But the design sells well and Ford (the corporate owner of Jaguar since 1989) decided to not mess with success since US sales have risen for the past three years. But things change and Jaguar is putting the finishing touches on its new series X200 sedan. The new "baby" Jag will share its new platform with a yet to be marketed small Lincoln although the body will be strictly British. The picture I saw reminded me of the styling of my favorite Jaguar sedan, the S-Type 420 of the mid-'60s.

LAMBORGHINI - Even the Italian exotics are getting into the sports/utility business but in the case of Lamborghini, it will really be a reentry. A couple of years ago I saw a Lambo LM-003 SUV at the Los Angeles Auto Show but the guards wouldn't allow us with 50 feet of it. It was a total flop but maybe the company (now controlled by Indonesian money) will do better with the LM-003 at $100,000. It will be more "conservative" in design (read that as a Range Rover look-alike) but the powerplant will be anything but conservative. It's a 40-valve V10.

MERCEDES - Just when we thought that the big, four-door traditional station wagon was on it's way out, along comes Mercedes with a performance wagon version of the fancy E-Class car - and with full-time, all-wheel drive. The car will have a load-leveler system on the rear suspension and is obviously aimed at those areas of the US that suffer from snow, sleet and the other Winter vexations that make driving to the ski lodges and country clubs such a problem. It's not been determined yet if the E-wagon will be powered by a V6 or a V8 on US models.

PORSCHE - A Porsche sports/utility vehicle? Herr Doktor Porsche must be twisting in his grave. Actually, the upcoming Porsche SUV will be a rebadged Mercedes M-Class off-roader with different trim pieces and body cladding to make it different from it's three-pointed Teutonic countryman. Both the Mercedes and the Porsche versions will come off the Mercedes assembly line in Alabama. The Porsche difference will be most noteworthy under the hood where company engineers will revise the Mercedes 4.3 liter V8 to put out around 350 horses and direct the power to all four wheels through a new Porsche-designed automatic five-speed transmission.

As 1997 comes closer, more and more companies will be "leaking" information on their future wares to the press. The fun part is that this technique makes all of us feel like automotive insiders.