As car buyers think more about fuel efficiency, automakers are rolling out for 2009 new vehicles and redesigns aimed at appealing to those who are trading in trucks and big SUVs for something more economical. As a result watch for more hybrids, roomier sedans, and crossovers that lean more to the car side than to the SUV side, say dealers here.
The hybrid is picking up speed.
Saturn is rolling out a version called a mild-hybrid, which, rather than running strictly on electricity at speeds under 30 miles per hour, uses electric power to assist the gas engine at all speeds, switching to all-electric only when the car is idling, says Adam Price, a salesman at Saturn of Spokane. The mild-hybrid Saturn Aura, which Saturn is introducing for 2009, will be priced at between $25,000 and $28,000. It will boast gas mileage about 25 percent better than that of the standard Aura engine, which is rated at 34 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in the city.
Price says the mild-hybrid is a little less pricey than conventional hybrids, such as a hybrid version of the Saturn Vue, which will have slightly better gas mileage.
Meanwhile, Honda is increasing production of its Civic hybrids, by converting one of its truck production facilities to a hybrid factory. Honda expects to make about 200,000 of the 51-mpg cars this year, and also to boost production of its standard Civics, which get between 38 and 40 mpg on the highway and about 34 mpg in town, says Jerry Bick, general sales manager at Valley Honda and Valley Acura.
Other automakers are pulling back on redesigns of larger vehicles. BMW has shelved, for now, a possible redesign of its 7 series sedan, and instead is adding diesel engines to two models to boost mileage, says Todd Ozaki, a sales and financing representative at Camp Imports here. Also, Ford has delayed a redesign of its long-popular F150 truck, says Andy Keys, general sales manager at Wendle Motors Inc., but meanwhile is introducing a hybrid version of its Fusion. A hybrid version of the Nissan Altima also is being introduced, but initially it will be sold only in California because of a limited supply of the sophisticated batteries hybrids use, Keys says.
Suzuki appears to be bucking the trend by adding its first pickup truck to its vehicle line late this fall, Keys says. Built on a Nissan Frontier platform and available with either a four- or six-cylinder engine, the Suzuki Equator will have off-road capability and will come in both king cab or standard cab versions. Keys says pricing isnt available yet for that truck.
Vans and SUVs are slowly making way for the evolving crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs, dealers say. Ford has just introduced the Flex to replace the minivans it stopped producing last year, Keys says. The Flex, which looks like a super-sized version of a Mini Cooper, is the production version of a concept vehicle called the Fairlane, which is an old Ford name. It will be powered by a 262-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6, and will be available in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive, with fuel economy of about 24 mpg on the highway. The Flex will come with comforts including a refrigerator between the back seats, as well as separate sun roofs for the front row and back two rows of seats. The Flex will be priced ranging from $28,000 up to just over $40,000, Keys says.
Toyotas version of the CUV, called the Venza, is expected out at the end of the year, says Craig Desautel, sales manager at Downtown Toyota/Lexus. Desautel says little information on the Venza is available so far, but the vehicle will be available with either a 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V-6.
BMW is putting a 3.0-liter, 300-horsepower enginethe same diesel engine available in its 3 series carsinto its X5 SUV for 2009. The X5 will be priced started at roughly $50,000, and is expected to get about 30 mpg on the highway, Camp Imports Ozaki says. BMW also is working on a hydrogen-powered car., but it wont be introduced in the U.S. unless networks of hydrogen fueling stations are established.
Subarus Forester, the 2009 version of which was introduced earlier this year with an all-new body style, is selling well, Ozaki says. The Forester comes in two engine sizes, a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine capable of 170 horsepower and mileage of 28 mpg highway and low 20s mpg in town, or a 2.5-liter turbocharged, 230- horsepower engine. Its priced from under $20,000 to the low $30,000s, he says.
Honda recently released its 2009 Pilot with a completely redesigned body, Bick says. The new version of the eight-passenger CUV now has a 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. The touring model of the Pilot includes a DVD player and navigation system, power tailgate, backup cameras, and more interior room and improved handling and maneuverability. The new Pilot is priced from about $28,000 to $39,000, and has fuel efficiency ratings of 18 and 22 mpg, he says.
A new Chevrolet CUV called the Traverse is expected in showrooms in late October or early November, says Jim Morris, sales manager at Knudtsen Chevrolet, in Post Falls. He says the Traverse, which comes with a 281-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine, will have a list price between the low $30,000s and about $40,000, depending on options.
Nissan has redesigned its Murano CUV, and its upscale Infiniti line is adding two new sport CUV models to its FX line, Wendles Keys says. The FX 35, with its 3.5-liter, 303-horsepower, V-6, and the FX 50, with its 5.0-liter, 390-horsepower V-8, are equipped with a new cruise control system that monitors the position of other vehicles around it, activating the brakes if the driver in the car ahead brakes, and steering the car back into the lane if it drifts. The FX 35 is rated to get around 23 mpg on the highway. The FX35 will be priced from about $41,000, and the FX50 will be priced from $50,000, Keys says.
In addition to offering vehicles with more fuel economy, automakers are trying to make their sedans appeal to owners of trucks and large SUVs who are looking to downsize, but still want a roomy ride.
BMWs new 335d, due out early next year, will be a sedan modeled after the 3 series, but with the same diesel engine thats in its X5, giving it about 30 percent better gas mileage, up to 40 mpg, than its gasoline engine counterpart, says Ozaki. The 335d will come with a price tag of about $40,000, he says.
New Fiesta, redesigned Corolla
Ford plans to roll out a new Fiesta next spring, Keys says. Ford built a Fiesta car in the 1990s, he says, but the new car originated as a German concept car called the Verve. It has sporty lines and a four-cylinder engine geared to the younger crowd, with an anticipated price tag in the mid-$13,000 range, Keys says. It is a bit smaller than the Ford Focus and gets gas mileage in the mid-40 mpg on the highway.
Toyota has completely redesigned its Corolla for 2009, says Downtown Toyotas Desautel. He says the car, which comes with either a 1.8-liter or 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, is a bit longer and slightly wider than the previous version, but continues to have gas mileage in the low-30 mpg range and up to 40 mpg. It is priced at $14,000 and $23,000.
Toyota also has redesigned the Matrix for 2009. It is equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and has a sportier design, Desautel says. It is available in either a four-door or hatchback version, with a starting price tag of about $16,000, Desautel says.
Subaru, meanwhile, is introducing a smaller, sportier version of its Impreza, called the WRX, with a 260-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, and has renamed the former Impreza as the Special Edition Impreza. Both cars are priced in the low- to mid-$20,000 range, and are expected to arrive in showrooms around the end of the year, Camp Imports Ozaki says.
The 2009 Acura TSX has been redesigned completely, Bick says. It has a 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine available in a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission, and extras such as a voice-recognition navigation system and surround sound. He says the TSX is priced at between $29,000 and about $32,000.
Nissan has redesigned its flagship Maxima for 2009, Wendles Keys says. The new version is equipped with a 3.5-liter, 290-horsepower V-6 that he says will have a continuously variable transmission. Its much more like a snowmobile clutch, where you dont feel it shift gears, he says. The new Maxima is expected to get gas mileage in the high 20s and will be priced starting at about $27,000, Keys says.
Still a little room for fun
Though the focus is on fuel efficiency, there are still a few rollouts of specialty vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz will have a new model coming out just in time for Christmas, says Mark Chiesa, sales manager at Mercedes-Benz of Spokane.
The 2010 GLK 350 will be a 4matic, all-wheel drive SUV. Equipped with a 3.5-liter, six-cylinder engine capable of 268 horsepower, its a little smaller and sportier than the companys current models, he says.
Also, Mercedes-Benzs SL500 convertible two-seater roadster is getting a facelift, including a new headlight and grille design and added features that include heating vents built into the headrests, called air scarves, that allow the owner to keep the top down a bit later into the season.
BMW, meanwhile, plans to introduce a twin turbo V-8 motor in the X6 sports activity coupe it introduced last year. The four-seater SUV will be crazy fast, and is expected in showrooms early next year, priced from $63,000 to about $80,000, Ozaki says. He says the X6 looks like an aggressive sports car from the front and an SUV from the side.
Nissan is rolling out its GTR, a limited-edition high performance car with a price tag of over $70,000, Keys says. Equipped with a 3.8-liter, 416-horsepower twin turbo V-6, the GTR is expected to arrive this fall, with a 520-horsepower version to follow.
Contact Jeanne Gustafson at (509) 344-1264 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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