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1999 LA Auto Show
and 2000 preview
by Jim Bennett

Southern California accounts for the largest vehicle market in the United States and is the first major auto show of the year with the best weather (sometimes the nights get down to 40, but NO snow). This market area also has the largest percentage of forward thinking automotive buyers and enthusiasts in the nation. In California, vehicles are as much a personal statement, as a form of transportation. This trend-setting region creates, re-invents, establishes, modifies and re-directs everything from vehicle designs, new process introductions and adaptations of space technology, into future automotive products.

Nearly a million of these Southern California people will attend the Los Angeles Auto Show and they are not shy about telling manufacturers about their transportation needs, wants and desires. This show has also become an important technological showcase for internal combustion engine alternatives such as electric, alternative fuel and fuel cell vehicles. Other cutting edge technology trends are also starting to influence show concept vehicles.

It is for these reasons that some of the world's automotive manufacturers have established California styling studios, automotive aftermarket companies have proliferated and shows like this provide an ideal venue for presenting new ideas and concept vehicles. Automakers and technology companies see no end in potential growth, opportunity or profits in the automotive market. With the accelerated adoption of key technologies, some automotive companies hope to achieve great competitive advantages that will set their products apart, in consumer's minds.

The 1999 L A Auto Show (Version 94.0 for techs) (its 94th year) previewed the new directions that manufacturers and their divisions are taking, as the new millennium quickly approaches. Here are some notable approaches and products.

Ford Motor Company
Ford is planning to announce its new brand management approach at the North American Auto Show in Detroit, but LA gets the first look. In an effort to focus and better position its six brands: Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Mazda, the automaker has created a new automotive marketing road map which may be starting to appear in some products.

Hopefully, this new approach will end the dreaded "badge engineering" concept which offered little real additional consumer value. It should allow more creative brand improvement latitude, while working from a strong parent resource/development base and offer consumers distinctive products with a high performance and price/value relationship.

Lincoln-Mercury Division
The division's 1998 move to Southern California reflects a desire to improve it's image and be closer to leading design trends and technological innovations.

Lincoln's striking Blackwood luxury utility concept vehicle is a case in point. It should appeal to design conscious individuals, who appreciate the "Woody" era of the 40's and 50's, and today's modern slick luxury marque vehicles. Focused on the comforts of a luxury sedan and the convenience and versatility of a sport utility vehicle, it certainly establishes a memorable visual presence. This was surprisingly reinforced when current baseball home run king and hometown hero, Mark McGuire, drove the vehicle on stage at the press preview, to demonstrate how the four foot, eight inch truck box could serve as a "trunk" for his baseball bats. A PR "home run" for the Lincoln media folks.

The design team cleverly adapted the Lincoln Navigator body section, with four door configuration, and attached it to a modified F-150 pickup box, complete with luxury composite lid and accouterments The exterior trunk area is covered with more than 20 square feet [1.85 square meters] of Wenge wood, a dark, dense, striated wood from central Africa. The wood is sealed with a lustrous, clear epoxy to protect it and highlight the natural beauty of the grain. A 1/6 inch [4mm] brushed aluminum strip defines each band of wood, which adds to the overall luxurious appearance. A well-lit, aluminum finished trunk interior, with two separate storage areas for smaller objects, complement the exterior design and high gloss, clearcoat black paint finish.

The vehicle's interior theme also carries the Wenge wood accents on the steering wheel and the instrument panel. A global positioning (GPS) navigation system is integrated into the floor-mounted, center console. Four bucket seats, trimmed in black Connolly leather, complete the gorgeous interior.

A 4X2 chassis is lowered 3 inches and fitted with huge 19-inch, solid cast, polished aluminum wheels on P286R60-19 tires to transmit the 5.4-liter DOHC V-8 power to the road. Towing capability is in the Class III group, large enough for a boat or horse trailer.

J Mays, Ford's vice president of Design says, the "Blackwood is a vehicle that is as much at home hauling horses to an equestrian event in Texas, as it is carrying a party of four to a Broadway play." The good news for large SUV "intenders" is the Blackwood may be built in the near future.

Mercury unveiled it's new Cougar S concept car with chassis and engine modifications, based on the successful SVT Contour formula. It features a 2.5 liter, 24 valve, V6, 215 horsepower engine with all wheel drive (AWD). Shown with the new S aero body package, it combines design and functionality, aimed at young car enthusiasts who are looking for ways to modify front or all wheel drive import vehicles with smaller engines. Again, many elements of this concept car are destined for production.

The 2000 Lincoln LS luxury sport sedan, on a new platform, received its sneak preview at the show. Engine availability includes a 252 hp V-8 and 210 hp V-6 with a five speed, close-ratio manual transmission -- the first manual gearbox in a Lincoln since 1951! The Advance Trac yaw control system, integrated into the anti-lock brake and all-speed traction control systems, maintain vehicle stability, during extreme lateral weight transfer. such as quick turns, evasive maneuvers or driving on slippery surfaces. It automatically engages the correct understeer and oversteer. Wow!

Ford Division
The new Cosworth Focus concept car was shown for the first time in the U S to show the potential for future performance derivatives. The Ford Focus was recently named European Car of the Year for 1999 and has provided a solid production car foundation to base high performance enhancements. The standard Focus is the Escort replacement now being sold in Europe and is scheduled for U.S. sale in Fall of 1999.

The Cosworth Focus is powered by a Cosworth developed, 2.0 liter intercooled, turbocharged Zetec engine, producing over 200 horsepower, driving through a five speed MTX-75 transmission, fitted with a viscous coupled, limited slip differential. The car's exterior is distinguished by unique lower body panels, a new front bumper with fog lamps and roof mounted spoiler. Other performance goodies include Recaro front seats and alloy pedals. All this should delight performance gearheads from California to Limerock.

The classic Mustang is now 35 years old and has received the New Edge styling cues and pyramid geometric form influence. Slim wraparound headlamps look very modern coupled with the long hood, scoop and signature short deck, which is now made of sheet molded compound. Performance improvements are plentiful and the rear wheel drive configuration has thankfully been retained with numerous safety enhancements.

Jaguar
The all new 2000 Jaguar S-type will be on sale in 1999 and represents a third model line from the company. The retro influenced body recalls the 1950's XK glory days and is attractively designed. Advanced features include traction control and Dynamic Stability control. Other options, such as satellite navigation, voice operated audio system, climate control and telephone, are now available.

Daimler-Chrysler
Chrysler is the amazing automotive enthusiast company - inspiring practical, leading edge design into real life production and being able to "produce them at a profit". What a stunning turnaround this decade, the products and new processes still keep coming. The surprise merger with Daimler-Benz, last year, positions this formidable multi-national, street smart company to be one of the key players in the next century.

Future up scale SUV products may include many elements of the huge, rugged looking, Jeep Commander.

Dated: January 2, 1999


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