Automakers pitch performance at Chicago auto show

Automakers pitched performance and luxury at press previews for the Chicago auto show Wednesday where raw horsepower and speed sideswiped their recent emphasis on green vehicles.

"There is a dichotomy here," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst for Edmunds.com.

"The emphasis is quite different from recent shows in Los Angeles and Detroit where they rolled more green technology," she told AFP.

"On the one hand, they're talking about fuel economy and, on the other, they're emphasizing performance."

Unlike Detroit and Los Angeles which garner an enormous amount of media attention that can help influence an automaker's reputation, the Chicago show is aimed largely at consumers.

And the vehicles getting prime space on the floor are those automakers hope will capture the imaginations of car buffs.

General Motors unveiled the 2012 Camaro ZL1, which will be powered by a supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8 engine producing an estimated 550 horsepower.

"It will be the fastest Camaro ever offered by Chevrolet," said Ed Welburn, GM vice president of design.

The ZL1 name is derived from the all-aluminum racing engine of the same name, which was developed in the late 1960s and installed into a handful of regular-production Camaros back in 1969.

The central goal of the car's development was creating something new - a Camaro intended to reach optimal lap times on top road-racing circuits and excellent driving dynamics on the street, Welburn said.

Chrysler unveiled the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 with a powerful new 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 engine.

"We're continuing the fast-paced rebuilding of Dodge as our performance brand, and the expansion of our SRT product lineup in 2012 is an important part of our rejuvenation," said Ralph Gilles, head of the Dodge marketing unit.

Meanwhile, Ford vice president of marketing Jim Farley said automakers are well aware of the fact consumers are nervous about rising fuel prices.

But he told reporters after his kickoff speech that consumers are also interested in cars that are "fun to drive," citing the strong sales of the 302 horsepower "Boss Mustang."

"The strategy at Ford is to offer the best fuel economy in every class in which we compete," said Farley. "But Americans also want cars that are fun to drive."

Honda also emphasized performance as it introduced the new Acura TL.

"The 2012 Acura TL is refined, yet aggressive," said Jeff Conrad, vice president of sales for Acura, Honda's luxury division.

"The enhanced TL has a sophisticated new look and an all-new 6-speed automatic transmission that will take performance to the next level, " Conrad said.

The Chicago auto show is the largest and oldest in the United States and opens to the public on Friday.

str-mso/jm

 

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