Nissan prepares luxury assault
Final touches are being put to a full-scale assault on the British premium car market by Nissan. The ambitious bid to capture a share of the lucrative corporate car sector could be under way in three years’ time.
Revitalised since it joined forces with Renault six years ago, the Japanese manufacturer is planning to use its upmarket Infiniti offshoot to secure a foothold in business transport.
Nissan GB managing director Bill Bosley said: ‘BMW is the main target for the attack and we are confident we can achieve good results. Infiniti has a brilliant model range and an impressive track record in upscale motoring.’
In an interview at Detroit, Bosley revealed extensive studies on the viability of launching Infiniti across several key markets had been under way for some time by Nissan Europe.
‘The move was signalled two years ago when Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive officer, said Infiniti should take on the role of a global luxury brand,’ he said. ‘Five major European markets will be involved and we are very excited about it.’
Nissan quickly followed suit after Toyota surprised the luxury market by setting up Lexus in the US in 1989, and annual sales of Infiniti models have risen from 70,000 units to 136,000 in the last four years as an emphasis on styling has made the brand increasingly popular with younger, affluent drivers.
Infiniti vice-president Mark Igo expects the trend to continue after claiming a sleek concept unveiled at the show gave hints as to what was to come when the next G35 coupe is launched in New York in April.
The car’s interior incorporates Infiniti’s signature ‘double wave’ instrumentation, with aluminium accents that mimic traditional Japanese ‘Washi’ paper.
‘Like all Infinitis, this car has a delicate balance between driver control and passenger comfort. Design has become a very visible element in our identity,’ he said.
Infiniti also showed off enhancements to its 2006 line-up, with the FX crossover model getting a facelift and the new M saloon boasting features including rear active steering, lane departure warnings and intelligent cruise control.
Exports to Dubai and South Korea mean Infiniti’s globalisation is already under way and sales are due to start in Russia in September.
Bosley added: ‘The big difference in European markets is the need for diesel power. Work is under way at Renault right now to provide a suitable V6 diesel unit.’
User-choosers key for Dodge
User-choosers hold the key to a US car firm’s success in Britain.
Chrysler Group executives believe drivers who opt out of company car schemes could soon be accounting for one in every five of the models they are planning to sell here under the Dodge brand.
Dodge marketing director Steve Gray said: ‘Greater freedom of choice is better for marques that are seen as different from the class norm.’
Speaking at the world premiere of the Dodge Caliber (below) at Detroit, Gray said that £5 million would be invested in launching the lower-medium sector contender in July.
But he insisted that the Caliber, likely to cost about 15% less than an equivalent Volkswagen Golf, will not be a daily rental vehicle.
‘We don’t intend doing deals at any price. I want our development to be steady and sustainable,’ he said.
Caliber, which will be available with a diesel engine, will be joined by an upper-medium saloon in spring 2007.
Aston Martin stole the show with its new Rapide (above), a four-door super saloon which could be on sale by 2008.
Featuring styling cues from the DB9 sports car, the striking Rapide uses Aston’s familiar 6.0-litre V12 engine, offering nearly 500bhp.
Expected to cost about £120,000, the Rapide will go head-to-head with Porsche’s forthcoming Panamera saloon. Company executives should place their orders now.
New look for Santa Fe
Hyundai took the wraps off its new Santa Fe (above) in Detroit, ahead of the car’s UK launch in March.
Bigger than the previous version, and with more European styling, the new Santa Fe will feature a seven-seat layout. There will be the choice of an all-new 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine as well as a more powerful version of the existing 2.7-litre V6 petrol unit.
V10 engine for new S6
The new S6 (above) is the second Audi after the S8 to feature Lamborghini’s 5.0-litre V10 engine.
Unveiled at Detroit, the S6 offers 416bhp and channels its power through the firm’s quattro four-wheel drive system.
On sale in the UK in July, the S6 will be available in saloon and Avant estate format.
New Lexus to redefine luxury
Lexus will re-write the rule book for luxury motoring when the new LS model goes on sale in Britain later this year.
And it will crown a range of products that will combine stunning performance with low exhaust emissions to mark the return of the premium Japanese marque to the fleet market, claimed Lexus GB national corporate and remarketing manager Andy Simpson.
Speaking as the next generation of the car had its global launch at Detroit, Simpson claimed the new suite of vehicles would have a big impact on corporate transport.
‘This is an impressive and elegant vehicle that has lots of appeal.
‘It also delivers high standards of ride quality, comfort, safety and environmental performance,’ he said.
America’s best-selling prestige luxury saloon for all but two years since it was first introduced at the inaugural international car event in Detroit in 1989, the model boasts a string of high-tech innovations.
Toyota Motor Sales USA president Jim Press said: ‘The new GS is the first car to have an eight-speed automatic transmission, there’s a surround sound system with 19 speakers and a hard-disk audio server to hold so may of your favourite songs that it would take you three years to hear them all at one sitting.
‘The long wheelbase version has a 45-degree recliner rear seat with a massager, and the climate system has sensors that measure your body temperature. And it takes just the push of a button for the car to park itself.
Technical details of the car, which reaches UK showrooms in November, will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show and an ultra-luxury hybrid version will be unveiled at the New York Motor Show in April.
Volvo for less
Volvo motoring will have a lower entry price when the C30 (above) goes on sale at the end of this year.
Expected to cost from about £15,000, the sleek four-seater will undercut the S40 1.6 as part of a plan to boost Volvo’s share of the UK business car market.
Spokesman John Lefley said: ‘Our research suggests this car will be well received by women drivers as well as younger user-choosers. That’s good news as any registrations in this growing sector will be incremental.
‘While we’re not aiming for big numbers, the volume we attain will help our plans to reach annual production of 600,000 units – although our primary concern is to protect our residual values.’
Shorter, but wider than the S40, the C30 will start with a 1.6-litre petrol engine and progress to a 2.5-litre, 250bhp T5 version.
Traveller hits the road
MINI has confirmed that a version of its Traveller concept (above) is to go into production. BMW board member responsible for sales and marketing Dr Michael Ganal said the small estate will be on sale by 2009.
Longer than the regular MINI, the Traveller has a more practical back seat and greater boot space. The car has four doors – one on each side and two in place of the usual one-piece hatchback.
The new version will hark back to the Traveller and Countryman versions of the original Mini from the 1960s.
Quality products drive Vauxhall sales upwards
Higher quality products are helping Vauxhall close the gap on Ford in the long-running race for UK market leadership.
Better cars and light commercial vehicles have driven the firm to its third consecutive year as the top fleet brand and have also won it vital extra sales in the retail sector, claims chairman Jonathan Browning.
He said: ‘In a market that is 5% down, gaining a 0.5% share increase is a real achievement. Our total of 317,400 sales means we have had a great year.
‘We have firmed up our second place in the retail area and are closing the gap on Ford. I don’t have market leadership as my primary goal, but I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if we achieve it.
‘I have not tasked my team with the objective of winning market leadership in the UK, but I would like to see us take the lead in the retail sector, where the quality of registrations are better than in fleet. I want us to build up to taking lead position there.’
Browning said the way customers regarded the Vauxhall brand had been transformed over the last five years.
‘In 2000, we really fell away in this respect but we are now moving upward because we are making better, more attractive vehicles of a higher quality. We now have some great cars in our line-up, and these are the emotional drivers,’ he said.
‘One of the ways we measure our success is tracking what we call non-owner consideration, which means finding out how many people would consider a purchase. In 2000, the figure was 20%, but it has now risen to more than 30%.
‘Our fleet and leasing operation is a real asset. It accounts for up to 60% of our sales and represents a substantial part of our business. But I want us to continue adding growth in the retail sector.’
Coupe seating solved
The latest bright idea in sporty motoring puts an end to the thorny problem of trying to find sufficient legroom in the back of a 2+2 coupe. In the Kabura concept (above) shown at Detroit, backroom boys at Mazda have come up with a novel solution.
Called the 3+1 layout, it works by using a standard left-side door to provide access to the cockpit and the driver’s-side rear jump seat. But the right side of the car has been designed differently and because it locates the front passenger seat ahead of the driver, occupants in the rear have plenty of legroom.
A Mazda UK spokesman said: ‘As an official concept car, this is a Mazda that is not heading for the showrooms. But our guess is that because it is such a snappy looking model that is also practical transport, a version could be putting in an appearance soon.’
Nissan feels the Urge
Car bosses are already finding it difficult to resist the urge to give the green light to this zippy little sportster, according to Nissan GB managing director Bill Bosley.
Despite being an instant hit at Detroit, the Japanese firm’s Urge concept (above) for a cheap and cheerful runabout is unlikely to roll off the production line. But several styling cues from the concept could make it.
Bosley said: ‘This is a pure and simple car that we could use to rival the Mazda MX-5. I wouldn’t be surprised if something like Urge eventually found its way to our showrooms in Britain – we have the biggest convertible market in Europe and it’s obvious that a lot of youngsters are missing models like the MG TF and the Toyota MR2.’
Next Puma spotted?
In among all the American-specific models on Ford’s stand at Detroit was the Reflex (above), a concept which points the way to a new, small coupe which could succeed the Puma over here.
Packed with technology including solar powered headlights, inflatable rear seatbelts and an interior insulated by scrap Nike trainers, the Reflex is powered by a diesel/electric hybrid power unit.
UK focus for Caddy’s BLS
Britain is expected to become the biggest market in Europe for Cadillac when the US luxury brand’s new entry-level model goes on sale this spring.
But pricing has still to be fixed for the BLS (above), the model being lined up to compete with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi for a place on business car choice lists.
Cadillac and Corvette Europe chief operating officer Gerard Jansen said: ‘We don’t know how the image of the car will be perceived alongside the European brands we will be challenging. Some might regard us as the underdog, but we have to start somewher.
‘It took Audi 25 years to win the recognition it wanted with executive car buyers and Lexus achieved it in 15 years. We don’t want to appear arrogant, but our aim is to achieve 20,000 sales throughout Europe by the end of the decade.’
Jansen said the BLS would be the manufacturer’s breakthrough model in Europe and would be marketed across 27 countries. To be sold via the Pendragon dealer network in the UK, Cadillac will be operating from 18 outlets by the end of this year.
‘We are working hard to establish competitive leasing rates – and having the full weight of General Motors behind us makes us confident of success, particularly as we build up a full portfolio of models,’ said Jansen.
Specification has yet to be finalised for the car, which is based on the Epsilon platform used by the Vauxhall Vectra and being built by Saab. The range will be pitched above the Swedish brand, however.
Power will come from GM’s 150bhp 1.9-litre turbodiesel, 175bhp and 210bhp petrol four-cylinder petrol units and a 2.8-litre V6.
Audi Roadjet concept hints at new niche A4
Audi celebrated 12 years of record-breaking sales in the North American market by rolling out another new idea in performance motoring.
The German car firm used the Detroit show to take the wraps off the Roadjet concept (below) aimed at making more space available for passengers and luggage.
‘It is a beautiful design and I think it could go into series production quite soon. It has sportiness as well as space’, said Audi chairman Martin Winterkorn.
Powered by a 3.2-litre FSI V6 engine developing 300bhp, the Roadjet concept has a seven-speed direct shift gearbox.
Based on the platform of the A3, Roadjet was created to demonstrate a raft of innovative electronic systems that will be finding their way into production models in the next few years.
Among these are an Audi Drive Select system which gives the choice between comfort, dynamic and sport settings which influence the engine, gearbox, steering and damping, an electrically-operated two-level load floor and electrically-adjustable glass tinting to replace the traditional sun visors. The Roadjet also features car-to-car technology which allows vehicles to exchange information in traffic to help prevent congestion and accidents.
Mercedes’ US diesel push
Forget black and dirty – the future of diesel is blue and spotlessly clean, according to DaimlerChrysler chairman Dieter Zetsche.
His claim came as Mercedes-Benz unveiled Bluetec, the technology behind the most fuel-efficient and cleanest diesel engines in the world.
Thanks to better design, an oxidation catalyst, a diesel particulate filter and a fresh way to minimise NOx emissions, the Bluetec package allows the E-class to stretch the US gallon to 35 miles.
‘As well as driving further on less fuel, it makes the diesel engine so clean that it meets the strictest emission regulations. There’s no doubt the future of diesel is blue,’ said Zetsche, who is head of the Mercedes Car Group.
Created to help persuade more US motorists to switch to diesel, the Bluetec package will be available from autumn on a number of Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler models.
‘As European drivers already appreciate the advantages of diesel, we don’t plan to offer Blutec technology here just yet, but we can easily make it available if need be,’ said a Mercedes UK spokesman.
In order to be fully effective, the Bluetec technology needs fuel with a sulphur content of less than 15 parts per million – diesel which is widely available across Europe but which will only arrive on forecourts in America later this year.
Mercedes-Benz also debuted the new GL-class seven-seat SUV and the S65 AMG – a high performance flagship for the new S-class range (above) at Detroit.
UK must wait for Bio Saab
North American motorists will decide whether Saab puts this ethanol-powered model into production for the European markets.
Launched in concept form at the Detroit show, the Swedish firm’s BioPower 9-5 estate (above) blends sparkling performance with high economy. But the environmentally-friendly 2.3-litre model will not reach European showrooms unless sufficient demand is established in the US market.
‘We are taking the car on a tour of motor shows across the country to test response,’ said spokesman Tom Beaman.
When running on petrol, the turbocharged car develops 260bhp, but putting E85 bio-ethanol into the tank boosts output to 310bhp, delivers 25% more torque and allows acceleration from 0 to 60mph in less than six seconds.
Jeeps aims younger
The production version of Jeep’s Compass SUV (below) made its debut at Detroit, although UK buyers will have to wait until 2007 before it goes on sale.
Along with a new version of the classic Wrangler off-roader, both Jeeps will offer diesel engines (a first in the Wrangler) and have been engineered for improved on-road comfort.
Simon Elliott, managing director of Chrysler Group, said: ‘These two new Jeeps are designed to reach younger customers who may not have previously considered the Jeep brand.’
A place to hang out
Toyota could revive the minivan/camper with the funky F3R concept (below) for a target audience of ‘younger people hanging out in their cars’.
Up front, the driver’s seat reclines and swivels and the passenger seat reclines to form a bench. In the middle, the seats split and fold to create a sofa with the third row of seats. ‘It’s built around the sort of conversation area you might find in a designer living room,’ says Toyota.
The F3R is also equipped with two track-mounted flat-panel video screens. These, apparently, allow the vehicle’s occupants to enjoy movies or games whenever they want.
Materials are environmentally sensitive: floor panels of recyclable resin and seats of simulated leather.
Inspired by scooters
Driving pleasure with low fuel consumption is the essence of Mitsubishi’s hybrid Concept-CT MIEV (below).
Using the same layout as the new i minicar to be launched in Japan this month, the wheels have been moved to the corners and the overall design is inspired by modern, large scooters.
The engine is a 1.0-litre petrol/electric hybrid unit producing a maximum of 66bhp, boosted by in-wheel motors fitted to all four wheels.