- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

DETROIT, Jan. 9 (UPI) — U.S. and foreign automakers are banking on several thousand affluent car buyers paying $300,000-plus for a brand new automobile in these days of economic doom and gloom.

After a lackadaisical presence at recent international auto shows, high-end vehicles returned with a vengeance to the Motor City as manufacturers boasted about the return to super luxury automobiles unmistakable in their snob appeal and social-climbing status.

Super cars for the super-rich are all over the 15th North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center.

How about a new Rolls-Royce for $330,000? Or a Bentley Continental GT for a mere $200,000?

Aston-Martin's AMV8 concept, the two-seater of choice for super spy 007 James Bond, for a quarter-million? Ford now owns the British icon, but it still looks cool in the movies and on the street.

BMW hopes to sell 1,000 of its 19-foot-long V-12 Rolls Phantom sedans for $333,000 each.

Not to be outdone, General Motors unveiled a concept dazzler, The Cadillac Sixteen, with a 1,000-horsepower, rear-wheel drive V-16 engine that would be priced in the mid-six figures if it ever makes it to production. The ultra Caddy, which evokes the custom-built, luxury Dusenberg and Packard touring cars of the 1930s, is the pride of Robert Lutz, 70, GM's design guru, and the man behind Dodge's V-10 Viper when he was president at Chrysler.

Lutz called the gull-wing hooded, all-aluminum V-16 an antidote for Detroit's inferiority complex.

"Everybody is tried of taking crap," he said at the Detroit Opera House Sunday night. "This car will show the world that we simply will take a back seat to no one."

DaimlerChrysler revived its history-rich Maybach in 2003 for $364,000, and leading the moneyed pack is a Ferrari sports car priced at $675,000? Ferrari policy is to sell only to buyers of past Ferrari's and the waiting list is years not months. Italy's Lamborghini needs 130 orders to start production of a 575-horsepower V-12 sports car with a top speed of 208 mph for $300,000.

The Maybach's storied nameplate dates to 1919. Production halted in 1941 when Germany switched to making military weapons.

Daimler decided to bring back the 543-horsepowerer, twin-turbo V-12 limousine in 1998. The Maybach, now in the stable of DaimlerChrysler AG, is drawing raves for the understated elegance and technical wizardry that coddles a back seat passenger with entertaining and amusing amenities.

"This is a car whose buyers drive to where they have a yacht anchored," said Stefan Diehl, DaimlerChrysler public relations executive. "At that we estimate sales of 1,000 a year worldwide, with 400 here in the United States, our biggest market."

Driving too fast? Back seat driving is back in vogue.

The Maybach has reclining airline-type passenger seats, with fingertip control of noiseless motors to pamper back seat occupants with chilled champagne bottles and frosted glasses in the fridge, surround-sound systems, massages and a special order business office complete with computer, printer, wireless network.

Passengers have only to look up and read three gauges monitoring speed, outside temperature and time.

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