Exclusive: From the January 16 Issue of Automotive News

Detroit auto show's hits and misses

Lexus looks to expand lineup

Acura: New products to lift sales

Jan 13, 2012, 17:33 ET from Automotive News

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DETROIT, Jan. 13, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Three top stories from the January 16 issue of Automotive News are previewed below.

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20090803/DE55722 )

Detroit auto show's hits and misses
So this is what an auto show looks like in an industry climbing back on its feet. People talk product. Design, not the downturn, is the hot topic.

The Detroit auto show was not the kind of gloom-fest that has marked several international auto shows in the past three years. Cobo Center was crammed with introductions — including the ogle-worthy Acura NSX and the Aston-like Ford Fusion — that brought fun and fantasy back into the old building.

Automakers oozed confidence. And as with any real auto show, there were some swings-and-misses to go with the hits. Here's one reporter's assessment.

  • Acura NSX--The star of the show. This two-seat hybrid sports car blew folks away. Journalists aren't supposed to applaud, but there were whoops and hollers when the wraps came off. And it will be made in America. Lottery ticket sales soared immediately.
  • Acura ILX--Acura has used the Honda Civic platform before, but the Integra and RSX never looked cheap. This looks like a warmed-over Hyundai Elantra, which certainly isn't luxury.
  • Ford Fusion--The fascia lightly borrows from Aston Martin. The narrow greenhouse is sleek, and faux-aluminum interior details highlight the cleaned-up center console. The sweeping roofline makes for a narrow trunk opening, though.
  • Honda Accord Coupe--Take a current Accord, mash it with the Mitsubishi Galant, add over-blown fog-light cutouts. Honda should know better.
  • Lexus LF-LC--Gorgeously sculpted air intakes are everywhere, yet the coupe concept doesn't look cartoonish. The LED headlight accents hint at the Nike swoosh. Just Do It.
  • Mercedes-Benz SL--Mercedes calls it "athletic." It has to be, to store the massive folding hardtop in its huge trunk. But the muscular proportions work. Sexy with the top up or down.
  • Cadillac ATS--The sharp creases of the larger Caddys do not scale down to the compact segment. The proportions of the car's width, hood, wheel arches, greenhouse and trunk simply do not agree.
  • Lincoln MKZ--The ghastly baleen whale grille has been transformed into an eagle spreading its wings. The trellised center console is the finishing touch on an elegant new interior design.
  • Dodge Dart--How do you mess up the lovely Alfa Romeo Giulietta? Let Dodge designers make a Neon out of it. The C-pillar sweep into the trunk is wrong. The steering wheel is oddly chunky. The wheel arches are too small.
  • Toyota NS4--To be positioned above the Prius, this hybrid flattens the Prius' triangular silhouette. The intuitive, "learning" telematics system and myriad glass technologies make this a technology showcase.
  • Audi Q3 Vail--There's not enough wheelbase and length for its height and thick sheet metal panels. It looks like a beach ball.
  • Chevrolet Code/Tru concepts--The Code 130R is blocky, almost like it's going the wrong direction, but it works. The Tru 140S would make a perfect entry-level sporty coupe.
  • Nissan Pathfinder--The scalloping of the body panels is a rip-off of Hyundai's previous-generation SUVs. Those subtle lines contradict the hulking front fascia. Just confusing.
  • Chrysler 700C--This train wreck got worse as it rotated on the stand. From the snoutlike hood, to the bizarre window cuts, to the goofy proportions, this minivan had no good angle.
  • VW E-Bugster--If this is what it takes to make electric vehicles cool, so be it. The EV's limited range makes it perfect for high school girls with overprotective parents. I can just hear it: "It is soooo cute, Daddy, pleeeeease?"
  • Buick Encore--Take Audi Q3, add in plasticky knobs and switches, and overly busy hood and fascia styling. Decent cargo room, though.

Lexus looks to expand lineup
After taking a tumble in 2011, Lexus is gearing up for a big year with nine new or updated products that it hopes will deliver a 21 percent sales surge and put the brand back in the hunt for the U.S. luxury sales crown.

Toyota Motor Corp.'s top-shelf brand is also eyeing an expanded lineup that could include a car-based, seven-seat people mover and fresh variants of its CT entry-level hatchback, as well as a sporty coupe drawing from the Lexus LF-LC hybrid concept unveiled at the Detroit auto show.

A phaseout of the low-end, slow-selling HS dedicated hybrid also could be down the road. And the brand gradually will shift from body-on-frame trucks to unibodies.

But one thing Lexus won't do is dip down-market into smaller segments.

Top executives who outlined the strategy to Automotive News say the goal is to enliven the brand, make it sportier and infuse it with emotion. Lexus surrendered its 11-year reign as the best-selling luxury brand in the United States last year. Japan's March 11 earthquake hurt sales by constraining production. But executives concede their traditionally staid lineup needs more allure.

Acura:  New products to lift sales
Acura expects a whopping 46 percent increase in sales this year, powered by a string of new products that begins with two entry-luxury vehicles arriving this spring.

The ILX entry-luxury sedan and RDX crossover will be in showrooms in March, followed by a redesign of the rest of the lineup within the next two years.

In 2015, Acura will see the rebirth of the NSX sports car as a hybrid sports car, developed and built in the United States, said Takanobu Ito, CEO of Honda Motor Co.

The new products, plus the ability to produce at full capacity after recovering from the Japan earthquake and Thai floods, means Acura's U.S. sales will increase from about 123,000 123,299 units in 2011 to 180,000 this year, said Tetsuo Iwamura, CEO of American Honda Motor Co.

"If we do 180,000 units, that will be a success," Iwamura said. "We are much more ambitious for the future. Last year, we struggled a lot with production, but this year we can go full speed."

A larger replacement for the RL flagship comes this fall, followed in spring 2013 by the mid-sized TL sedan.



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