The 15 hot cars to watch in 2010
If the economy recovers, 2010 could be a very good year for Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., both of which are poised to launch new high-volume, high-mpg vehicles next year.
Cars like the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus compacts, with the promise of low prices and stingy fuel consumption, seem perfectly suited to the mood of the times. Chrysler hopes to rekindle buyers’ passions with new versions of the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Charger.
Japanese and German automakers have few potential big sellers in the wings. Hyundai looks set to continue its momentum with a couple of stylish new vehicles, however.
Here’s an advance look at some of the most intriguing or significant new models coming over the next year:
CHEVROLET CRUZE: The roomy compact could be a top seller for General Motors. The Cruze looks to be competitive with stalwarts like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, but Chevrolet will need head-turning fuel economy to persuade skeptical buyers to try its new small car. Look for EPA ratings above 40 mpg from Cruzes featuring a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
The 500-pound gorilla of next year’s vehicle introductions. Advance publicity for the extended-range electric car has been unprecedented, from the promise of a 230- mpg. EPA rating for city fuel economy to GM’s peekaboo unveiling of the Volt’s styling. If the car delivers on its promise, it could revolutionize the auto industry and change the way people think of GM. Any foul-ups will generate headlines around the world, however. “GM has to get the Volt right,” Merkle said.
CHRYSLER 300 and DODGE CHARGER:
The second generation of the last great cars Chrysler developed. They’ll be under a microscope, because the originals were so good, and because they’re the first new Chryslers since Fiat took control of the company. The cars’ styling recaptures the originality and excitement of the first Chrysler 300, and their rear-drive platforms should delight fans. Fuel economy will almost certainly be a challenge, however.
America’s best-selling SUV will be replaced by a more fuel-efficient car-based vehicle, but the name could confuse some buyers. The new crossover wagon may not be rugged enough for owners of traditional SUVs, while crossover shoppers may dismiss it because they assume an Explorer must be a big, heavy SUV. “Ford has to market the new Explorer really well so people know what it is,” Hall said.
Honda’s luxury brand needs a hit, but its pricey new crossover faces challenges. “It’s a bold move to make an untested vehicle like that a brand’s flagship model,” said Stephanie Brinley of consultant AutoPacific. Prices for the 300-horsepower V6 crossover with the sloping roof and hatchback will start at $50,000, according to Edmunds.com. “It’s going to be a niche vehicle,” said consultant Erich Merkle of Autoconomy.com. “You lose function and form with the low roofline.”
CADILLAC CTS COUPE:
“It enhances the sex appeal of the whole Cadillac lineup,” Brinley said. The CTS sedan elevated Cadillac to the front rank of luxury brands, but the coupe still has to “earn its stripes,” said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics. “The BMW 3-series owns the luxury coupe segment,” he said. “It’s tough to establish a new vehicle’s credibility,” he said.
Ford’s sophisticated global compact car is to finally go on sale in the United States. The new Focus promises to be a quantum leap better than the current model, but it will have to remain affordable to succeed. “Ford has a lot riding on the Focus,” Brinley said. “They need to prove they can be profitable with a small car.”
The attractive subcompact will test American buyers’ appetite for small cars. “The design is a knockout,” Merkle said. “It’s got a cute factor like the Mini Cooper, but is more affordable. It could appeal to empty-nesters as well as young buyers.”
HONDA ACCORD CROSSTOUR:
Honda’s alternative to Toyota’s sleek Venza crossover wagon attempts to meld an Accord-style nose to a Civic-like tail. The styling could be polarizing, but the car’s position as a roomy flagship to the popular Accord line should generate interest. Edmunds.com predicts prices will start at $31,500.
Sketches of the new midsize sedan’s slinky profile show a stunning departure from today’s staid Sonata. Combined with Hyundai’s steadily rising quality scores, the Sonata could be a game-changer for the Korean brand. “It trumps the Accord and Camry’s design and could take a piece out of both of them,” Merkle said. Hyundai’s popular Tucson small crossover SUV gets an equally striking redo as the brand repositions itself upward.
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE:
An all-new version of the vehicle that spawned the luxury-SUV craze and became an icon for its brand. The new Grand Cherokee’s sleek, modern looks and significantly improved interior are major selling points, but it faces a market that’s grown cool to SUVs. Boosting fuel economy significantly while maintaining the off-road capability of a true Jeep will be a challenge.
Lexus’ first sports car, the LF-A is intended to prove Toyota’s luxury brand can go toe-to-toe with Porsche and BMW. The LF-A is expected to come in coupe and convertible models and feature a 5.0-liter V10 and sequential manual transmission. The LF-A concept debuted at auto shows in 2007, and the car’s long gestation raises some questions. “It’s been a stop-and-start program,” Brinley said. “Will it still fire the imagination when it finally arrives?”
Scion has had trouble with the second generation of its cars — the xB grew bigger and less funky, while the xA failed and was replaced by the equally disappointing xD. The replacement for the sporty tC coupe could be an important indicator of whether Toyota has a coherent plan for its youth brand. “The jury’s kind of out on Scion,” Merkle said. “The tC could be a make-or-break vehicle.”
The well-equipped minivan has become a mainstay of Toyota sales and a family favorite. “It’s a big player in the market and in American life,” Brinley said. “Minivans are still a huge segment of the market. There’s no better vehicle for hauling people.” The Sienna has a loyal following and could boost its sales further if the new model has exceptional fuel economy or unique kid-friendly features.
Mark Phelan: firstname.lastname@example.org
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