From hybrids to hot rods, concept cars alore and dreamy luxobiles and luxotrucks we saw salvo after salvo of new and concept models fired at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show in hopes that some of them would ignite some new market segment interest or illuminate market share in another.

Problem is, I dont think anyone has a clue which way the market is going to jump or if it will jump" />

Issue: Jan 2003


The Fast Lane



D`ej? Auto: I Have Seen These Cars Before

by Rob Wilson

From hybrids to hot rods, concept cars alore and dreamy luxobiles and luxotrucks we saw salvo after salvo of new and concept models fired at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show in hopes that some of them would ignite some new market segment interest or illuminate market share in another.

Problem is, I dont think anyone has a clue which way the market is going to jump or if it will jump, but everyone must be prepared if it does. Consequently, some of the reveals were downright bi-polar.

So you end up with the corn/soy laden Ford Model U green vehicle juxtaposed with the pavement ripping 590 hp Ford 427, or the 1,000 hp Cadillac Sixteen next to the fuel cell-powered Hy-Wire. It seems manufacturers find it necessary to fly in all directions simultaneously.

Perhaps strangest of all, we are being positively inundated with variant kinds of sports wagons from every quarter and of every drivetrain configuration. FWD, RWD, 4WD... whatever you want. This trend was certainly in evidence last year, but now its become an avalanche of products. And the manufacturers bang on about how their particular model has superior off-highway or performance DNA, which is easily the most overworked analogy in the automotive sphere these days.

To my eye, the basic look of the sport wagon is fairly similar to lots of earlier models like the 87 Taurus/Sable wagon. This is not a new class, although most of the new generations are more versatile, more finely drawn and decked out. And they are also priced like full-size, tricked out SUVs.

Are current sport wagon models sold out? Did I miss this total sea change? My personal take is if you tinted the rear windows of some, you'd have the perfect hearse for an up-market pet cemetery.

Look at it, though. Why are we attempting to take a market segment previously well served by niche vehicles like the Subaru Outback and turn it into the next mega-segment of the North American market? I canft imagine why that would happen.

The North American market turned its back on the "gstation" wagon market entirely in favor of mini-vans, trucks and SUVs in the last two decades and I don't see the slightest evidence of any motivation to go back. The sport wagons will either further cannibalize the sedan market or skim the slim growth from the SUV sector.

Everyone seems to have such heady expectations for this sport wagon sector that it's bound to end in disappointment for many. So, predictable, pricing will get brick bat ugly in a heartbeat and no one will be able to make a buck.

I certainly see there is plenty of good automotive art in this mix of new models and concept wagons. Some are truly exquisite, others look like fun. But there is simply too much art to swallow. The market has been flooded before it has even developed. Sadly, this will only end in tears.

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