New York Auto Show 2012: New Ram Pick-Up, Infiniti EV Highlights of Second Day
The second day of the New York Auto Show saw some important US market updates to familiar nameplates, plus a significant new electric vehicle concept.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
The second and final press preview day at the 2012 New York International Auto Show saw Toyota unveil a swoopy new Avalon sedan, Chrysler debut a new more fuel-efficient Ram pick-up, and Infiniti uncover an all-electric luxury concept called the EL.
Day two capped what has been a significant show, which has seen new global debuts for important US market models, a change from previous years when the New York show has been more about "North American debuts", trim-level introductions, and variants.
This wraps up the North American auto show cycle for 2012 with some significant new model launches. The next season is set to start in late November in Los Angeles.
The second and final day of press previews at the 2012 New York International Auto Show continued the first day's stream of significant new model introductions. The theme of flagship sedans continued with the introduction of the new 2013 Toyota Avalon, a dramatically restyled full-size sedan one step up from the more mundane Camry mid-sizer. Powered by a V-6 engine that Toyota left short on details, the Avalon now shares a platform with the Lexus ES350 and ES300 full-size luxury sedan. Exterior styling is much more engaging than the tepid style of previous models, with cues taken from several sources such as Hyundai's new sedans. The interior features a paddle-shift transmission meant to provide a sportier feel to the car as Toyota aims the new Avalon at the revamped field, which includes a dramatically improved Chevrolet Impala, the Lincoln MKZ, and more. The new Avalon was supposedly designed, styled, engineered, and developed entirely in the United States by Toyota's US personnel, according to the company.
Perhaps the most significant unveiling on day two was the heavily updated Ram 1500 pick-up from Chrysler's truck brand. Outwardly, it would seem that not much has changed, but Chrysler has extensively reworked the pick-up from the wheels up to make it more fuel efficient, and featuring a host of technologies aimed at leapfrogging the Ram's competitors. Most notable is the new powertrain—a standard Pentastar 3.6-litre V-6 engine delivering 305 hp now resides under the hood (bonnet), matched to a beefed-up 8-speed automatic transmission (the same transmission can be mated to the truck's optional 5.7-litre Hemi V-8 engine). Chrysler says that the combination makes the Ram 1500 the most fuel-efficient truck in the category, besting the 3.7-litre-V-6-equipped Ford F-150, but no US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers were ready to be unveiled, according to the company. Helping fuel economy are a host of other changes, including a much more extensive use of aluminium panels (saving nearly 150 lbs.), an engine idle start-stop system, a reworked electrical system meant to reduce load drag, electric power steering, and air suspension that can actually lower the truck at cruising speed to improve aerodynamics. Inside, a much more upscale interior is mated to Chrysler's ubiquitous 8.4-inch touchscreen and uConnect infotainment system.
Among the other significant unveilings, Infiniti took the covers off its 100% electric EL Concept, essentially an 85% accurate portrayal of what it intends to bring to market in the next two years. The luxury sedan is not a small car, with Infiniti quick to point out that at 186 inches long it is roughly the size of its G37 sedan. The very swoopy car relies on extremely slippery aerodynamics (0.25 cG) to boast a range of 100 miles, greater than that of the Nissan Leaf yet using the same 24-kWh, 192-cell lithium-ion battery pack found in the latter vehicle. The LE Concept also includes an experimental wireless induction charging system that supposedly allows the car to be charged simply by its being positioned precisely over a special mat—a 50-kW DC fast-charge port is also included. Nissan says it would love to be able to offer the induction charging system when it brings the production version of the car to market in two years' time.
Outlook and Implications
The new Avalon is a striking design for Toyota, more so on the interior than the exterior, which is starting to demonstrate a pattern among several new large modern sedans—they are all starting to look the same. The swept-back, long roofline; the pronounced character line stretching from headlights to rear taillights that provides something of a "shoulder"; the rear haunches that receive their own implied fenders with yet more character lines. At the New York show, the similarities are starting to become pronounced. The new Chevrolet Impala looks similar to the new Lincoln MKZ, which resembles the Nissan Altima, which looks like the new Toyota Avalon, which is almost a dead ringer for the Acura RLX concept, all of which look like the current Volkswagen (VW) Passat, Audi A7, and Buick LaCrosse. Some of this is being driven by aerodynamics, but some of it is also probably being driven by the desire to break out of traditional moulds. The advent of the "four-door coupé" model pioneered by Mercedes-Benz with the CLS and VW with the Passat CC has pushed automakers to start trying different designs—with the problem being that many are actually trying the same design. Still, if all the new sedan designs emulate some of the more attractive models on the market, it could be worse.
The introduction of the Infiniti LE Concept is interesting as it meshes with Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn's stated strategy of massive, rapid electrification of the industry. Sales of the Nissan Leaf have cooled somewhat and now stand at around 600 a month in the US (less than the growing sales of the Chevrolet Volt). Improving charging convenience may help, eventually, but until then the Leaf has to be content with a slow sales rate that Ghosn says will most likely continue until Nissan can start producing vehicles in the US for local sale. He did not say that any US-built Leaf would be less expensive than Japanese-produced vehicles, however, as the company now stands to see its profits diminished even more on the exported model as the yen appreciates against the dollar. The Leaf will start rolling off the production lines at a new plant in Tennessee by the end of this year, according to Ghosn, at which point he feels that sales will probably start to grow more significantly.
The introduction of the updated Ram gives Chrysler some renewed credibility in the pick-up segment as the new truck looks to be an excellent update on the previous model. Areas that needed help have been addressed (upgrading the interior and fuel economy), and the new infotainment system and touchscreen look set to make the Ram as advanced as Ford's F-150. With pick-up sales continuing to rise but buyers still concerned about fuel economy, bringing the new Ram to market now with its updated powertrain is good timing. All that is left to see now is GM's refreshed pick-ups, which were delayed in development as a result of its bankruptcy, but which are expected to break cover later this year, in the third quarter.
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