- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

Trends in the auto industry that forecast how big, how small, how pricey and how powerful your next car will be are tools for thought. We're inundated with market predictions that claim sport utility vehicles are in or out, roadsters are coming back, station wagons have seen their day and minivans will continue to play musical chairs with their increasingly removable seats.
So it's with a breath of fresh air that we can kick off the real start of the 21st century with some words of wisdom from a foreigner who has a less insular view of our buying habits than Detroit.
Wolfgang Reitzle is not a medical doctor (he has a doctorate in engineering), but he was willing last week to diagnose North America's fevered passion for jalopies and to present his verdict. Mr. Reitzle has a vested interest in cars as the European vice president of Ford Motor Co.'s newly formed Premier Automotive Group, which includes Lincoln, Jaguar, Volvo, Aston Martin and Land Rover. Of course, he's bound to sound pretty optimistic that we'll keep buying and driving.
"A car is a basic need," Mr. Reitzle said. "It means personal, individual mobility, and despite all the new forms of telecommunications, we still need to get behind the wheel to travel." Mr. Reitzle maintains that cars empower us and allow owners to express emotions by their choices in vehicles. In effect, happy car owners are healthy car owners.
Mr. Reitzle predicts that dream dot-com companies probably won't survive, but our favorite Fords, Chevys and Dodges will keep on truckin'. He goes on to predict that auto manufacturers will be known as "mobility enterprises" in the future, rather than producers of sheet metal.
It seems that consumer behavior is changing all over the globe. The trend is for people to go for more personalized, customized cars. The youth market has never been more label-oriented or aware of brand names, and even Grandma knows there's something on wheels called a Daewoo. So Mr. Reitzle predicts that to protect our individuality, we'll be shopping more for special-edition vehicles and looking for unusual options to personalize our motor machines.
"Dealerships of the future will have special departments where you can practically design your own car from the ground up," Mr. Reitzle said, "not just colors, trim and wheels, but major components that can be switched around in a year if you get tired of them and want something different."
Ford's Premier Automotive Group (PAG) is uniquely positioned to be in the forefront of this new approach with its five diverse luxury brands. Set up in a complementary way that virtually has no overlap since each brand has already established its own niche, Lincoln, Volvo, Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover models will all be sold under a single umbrella dealership with five separate showrooms sharing common service areas. For those who buy more than one car but not the same brand for instance, a Jaguar sports car and Lincoln sedan it's one-stop shopping.
Here's another Reitzle prediction that sounds a bit wacky but makes a lot of sense: shared vehicles. If you need wheels everywhere you travel, Mr. Reitzle's suggestion is for consumers to buy a "mobility package." For around $50,000 and 24 hours notice, you are provided with a car of your choice anywhere on the planet.
Amazon rain forests? Hey, here's a 2002 Land Rover Discovery. Driving across the desert? Try Volvo's S80 with sun-blocking rear curtains. So won't the car-rental agencies get a little nervous? Ford owns Hertz. Enough said.
And after that? Adventure trips, of course. PAG wants to offer you vacations, Mr. Reitzle said. Drive to Monte Carlo in the Aston Martin, sample the Scottish Highlands in the Navigator, scream through Rio de Janeiro in Jaguar's sensational 2004 F-Type.
Can't take the time off work? You can get short-term thrills at PAG's Experience Centers. You don't just stroll over the showroom floor here, you toodle around the dealerships' private on- and off-road test tracks in the vehicle you are considering buying. The first such dealership is being built at Greg Penske's PAG showroom in the North Phoenix area. All of which, said Mr. Reitzle in his final prediction, will increase traffic in more ways than one.
MOTOR MATTERS


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