- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

CHICAGO, Feb. 13 (UPI) — Automakers unveiled new vehicles touting image, performance and affordability Thursday introducing everything from entry-level econo-boxes and minivans to a "bad boy" V-10 Viper powered pickup at the 95th Chicago Auto Show.

The 500-horsepower truck is one of the fastest production vehicles on the road capable of going from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds.

"It looks tough and fast because it is tough and fast," said Jim Schroer, Dodge executive vice president for global sales and marketing. "But this big brute is actually nimble and agile. We set out to create the Viper of trucks and we delivered."

The Ram is powered by the same 505-cublic inch (8.3-liter), V-10 engine as the Dodge Viper sports car — only the truck rides on 22-inch aluminum wheels.

The limited volume pickup has a six-speed manual transmission and a bi-amplified 508-watt, 12 speaker stereo system with a 10-inch woofer — enough to push a hard-core truck racer over the edge no matter the mileage or gas prices.

A regular Dodge Ram 1500 can reach $35,000. Adding "Viper Powered" badges on the sides will cost thousands more when pricing is set.

"The Dodge RAM SRT-10 may be the first halo truck, but trust me, this truck is no angel," said Wolfgang Bernard, chief operating officer of Chrysler. Halo vehicles are those outrageous concepts that break new production ground in luxury, price or performance to draw attention to a brand. Nearly every automaker offered a vehicle engineered for high-performance.

"Our customers can't get enough performance," said Fred Adcock, executive vice president of Subaru of America Inc. Subaru, which broke ground with the 300-horsepower, speed racer WRX compact, debuted the turbocharged Forester 2.5 XT, a 210-horsepower, all-wheel-drive small sport utility vehicle.

The Forester 2.5 XT and its functional hood scoop will arrive in showrooms this fall. Subaru expects to sell 60,000 Foresters, 20 percent with turbos.

Chevrolet, Suzuki, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi all showed cars and concepts targeted at the emerging youth market that rivals the baby boomer generation in size if not buying power.

Chevy offers the supercharged 2004 Impala SS and Monte Carlo Supercharged SS coupe both powered by a 3.8-liter, 240-hp V-6 engine. Chevrolet introduced two versions of the Aveo, a Korean-made subcompact featuring an Italian-designed body. Billed a "fun to drive," the entry-level hatchback has a 1.6-liter, double-over cam engine generating 105 hp.

Aimed squarely at first-time car buyers, Aveo will face stiff competition from Toyota's new youth-targeted Scion XA, sort of a mini version of the $20,000 Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe. The econo-box is about the size of a Toyota Echo, Kia Rio or Hyundai Accent. Chevy hopes to sell about 70,000 of the Daewoo-built Aveo in the United States

Chevrolet division chief Kurt Ridder said Chevy plans to outsell Ford within five years and regain the title of America's best-selling nameplate.

"That's our goal," said Ritter. "That's our vision." Ford has outsold Chevy the last 16 years on the popularity of the Taurus sedan and Explorer SUV.

Suzuki showed the value-oriented, compact Forenza and mid-sized Verona sedans that will cost thousands less than comparable passenger cars. Suzuki sold 1.7 million vehicles in 2003 and was the No. 4 automaker in Japan, selling nine times more cars in Japan than in the United States. The $12,000 to $15,000 Forenza has 4-cylinder engine generating 119 hp while the $16,000 to $19,000 Verona gets a 2.5-liter, 155-hp inline six-cylinder challenging the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.

Boomers were not forgotten with new luxury and near-luxury cars, full-sized trucks, minivans and SUVs aimed at the more mature.

Ford unveiled the Freestar, an all-new Canadian-built replacement for the soccer mom Windstar minivan and Mercury showed its upscale version, the full-sized Monterey minivan. The new minivans share a platform with the Freestyle crossover wagon and Ford 500 sedan, which will be built in Chicago.

The V-6 powered Freestar/Monterey also features a unique third-row seat the folds flat into the floor without removing the headrests or flips back for tailgating. The Monterey will have a 4.2-liter engine, the largest in its class. Ford hopes to produce about 250,000 to go on sale in summer 2004.

Volvo showed the XC90, its first SUV, touting safety and roll stability, along with 14 awards including Motor Trend's SUV of the Year and Texas Truck of the Year.

BMW and Mercedes plan to offer a performance package for virtually every one of their models.

Toyota unveiled the 2004 Tundra Double Cab, billed as a "Texas-sized pickup" that will be built at Toyota's new $800 million plant in San Antonio.

"One in seven full-sized trucks are sold in the state of Texas," said Don Esmond, president Toyota USA.

Comerica Bank's latest Auto Affordability Index found it took about 20 weeks of median family income before taxes to buy an average new car costing $21,745 — down 0.1 week from the third quarter and 21.4 weeks in 2001. The average financing rate was 4.4 percent.

The world's largest and most consumer-friendly auto show is expected to draw more than 1 million people during its 10-day run beginning Friday.

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