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Corporate Feb 16, 2013

Chicago auto show: Are auto majors losing their mojo?

By George Albert

It was Valentine 's Day when I went to the Chicago Auto Show but I did not fall in love with any of the vehicles on display. Well, there were a lot of very good cars, but nothing that swept me off my feet.

Last year there was the Ford Fusion which took the company to a new and exciting design concept. Then there was the Subaru-Toyota jointly-developed twin cars, Scion FRS and Subaru BRZ, that created a buzz. But this time around we only saw automobile companies take baby steps forward.

Some of the interesting displays included the Honda electric vehicle (Honda EV-STER concept) and the Mercedes Concept style coupe, to name a few. However, the vehicle that really got me was the Toyota Avalon. It has Lexus-like creature comforts and is large like an American full size sedan. Car enthusiasts will know that if a Toyota is the best that could excite, the auto show was not much fun.

Okay, okay. I will admit it the auto show did have a very exciting car in the 2014 Corvette Stingray. But you see even though the Corvette looks stunning it does not drive as well as its German competition such as the Porsche 911. Maybe I should not be saying this, but the Corvette is like a porn star -- flashy, fast and furious with uncontrollable torque at the peak that can mean loss of control. The Porsche or the Mazda Miata, on the other hand, are kamasutra in action where every move, curve and road feel has a single purpose-pure driving pleasure.

Toyota: The company sells a lot of cars in India, including popular models such as the Camry and Corolla, but it does not sell the Avalon. So for the reader in India, Avalon is surely an aspiration and we hope Toyota brings the car to the country soon. However, one must look at the Toyota Corolla Furia concept, which will be the design of the future.

Let us talk a bit about the Avalon before we move to the Furia concept. The Avalon is bigger than the Camry and is loaded with goodies. The most expensive Avalon, which is fully loaded and a hybrid with a mileage of 40 miles per gallon, costs about $45,000. That should be around Rs 25 lakh. Now add to that what you have to pay the government in customs and taxes the price will surely go above Rs 60 lakh.

But take a look at the car and the money may be worth it.

George Albert

The interior of Toyota Avalon. George Albert/Firstpost

The 2013 model includes a V-6 engine, good for 268 horses, and a Hybrid model. The Hybrid model is equipped with a 156 hp 2.5 litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder attached to a hybrid application transaxle. Some of the goodies include alloy wheels, backup camera, moon-roof, premium perforated leather, rear sunshade, pre-collision system, GPS navigation and paddle shifters.

The Furia concept attempts to give an otherwise bland Corolla a sporty look with a longer wheelbase of 181.9 inches and 19-inch alloy rims that fill the wheels like the more expensive German cars. Now let's wait and see the final production version, which often has differences from the concept to accommodate the laws of physics and finance. One should also see what power train the Furia gets.

BMW: BMWs debut vehicles at the auto show were the 2012 Z4 Roadster, 6 Series Grand Coupe and M6 Grand coupe. All these vehicles are not the top-sellers of the manufacturer but are interesting vehicles to consider buying. The 3-series of course continues to be the top-seller.

BMW Z4 Roadster. George Albert/Firstpost

BMW Z4 Roadster. George Albert/Firstpost

The Z4, of course, is the most interesting vehicle for the very fact that it's a convertible. It looks best when seen from the side with a long hood and a low belt line. It is a hardtop convertible with the base version churning out 240 horses from a turbo-charged two-litre engine and top-of-the-line model belting 335 horses for a really fast drive.

You see the Z4 is a great car, but I have a bias for the Mazda Miata, now called the MX5. It is a car with a single purpose - fun. The best part is you can have all the roadster fun at half the price of an expensive German convertible. Now rumour has it that they are building a MX5 that will be below 1,000 kg with an all-new lighter and more fuel-efficient engine. Alfa Romeo of Italy will be using the MX5's platform to build a high-end roadster. So while it is fun to ogle at expensive cars, I'll be waiting for the next Mazda MX5, thank you.

Okay, now back to the other BMW vehicles. The 6-series Grand coupe is in reality a four-door car with a coupe-like design. The twin-turbo V8 is good for 445 hp, and BMW claims the vehicle can achieve a 0-60 mph run in 4.5 seconds. Well, if you are yearning for more excitement go for the M6 version that churns out 560 hp and do a 0-60 in 4.1 seconds. Okay, but ask yourself if that 0.4 second advantage is all that important to you.

Chevy: The Chevy Spark does look a little different here than the one sold in India.

Chevy Spark. George Albert/Firstpost

Chevy Spark. George Albert/Firstpost

It comes with a 1.2 litre engine (1 litre in India) and for 2013 it has a fresh grille and fascia, modified head and taillights. The rear door handles are hidden near the C-pillar, giving the car a clean look. Hopefully the new look will be in India soon.

The 2014 Corvette is a stunner and is America's favourite sports car. Its 6.2 litre V-8 engine is good for 450 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque and powers rear wheels. The car can be had with a six-speed paddle-shift automatic or seven-speed manual gearbox. The company claims at 0-60 mph in four seconds.

Honda: Honda off late has been coming out with some really boring designs, especially in its luxury division Acura. However, the EV-STER is not only good to look at but the stats on paper are interesting too.

Honda Accord. George Albert/Firstpost

Honda Accord. George Albert/Firstpost

It is an electric rear-wheel-drive two-seater convertible that has a driving range of about 99 miles on a single charge. That is nearly 160 km. It has a 78 hp electric motor connected to a lithium-ion battery pack and a top speed of 100 miles, or 160 kmh.

The car takes between three to six hours to recharge depending on the charging option. Instead of a steering wheel, there is a twin-lever steering which adjusts variables like motor output and suspension settings, which will take some time getting used to.

The car will be a success in cities and small towns where one does not have to drive more than 150 km at a stretch. However, pricing is important and electric cars are more expensive than petrol and diesel cars in the US even after subsidies. In fact, manufacturers are rumoured to make losses on pure electric cars. So the concept make take a long time to produce.

The 2013 Honda Accord has been redesigned to be smaller on the inside and larger on the outside than the previous generation. The base model comes with a 2.4 litre engine good from 185 horses and a more higher-end, more powerful V6 that produces 245 hp.

Mercedes: Finally, let's take a look at Mercedes. The 2014 E Class debuted at the Chicago Auto Show and there was also the interesting concept style coupe.

Mercedes Concept Style Coupe. George Albert/Firstpost

Mercedes Concept Style Coupe. George Albert/Firstpost

The 2014 E class model is redesigned with a V-shaped bumper in the front, bulging rear fenders and new taillights. The engine options include a direct injection 3.5 litre V-6 engine that produces 302 hp, a 4.6 litre bi-turbo V8 good for 402 hp, and 443 lb-ft of torque and an all-wheel drive option with the V6 engine. In the US there are also the options of a station wagon, coupe and cabriolet.

Concept Style Coupe is a masculine sculptured four-door coupe and a new design language for higher-end Mercedes models. Take a look at the photos and decide for yourself if you like the looks of the concept.

George Albert is an auto enthusiast and Editor of www.capturetrends.com


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