Editor's note: Bill Visnic is Ward's in-house product expert. Here's his irreverent take on what dealers should expect from the new crop of 2002 vehicles.
If you can't sell the all-new Saturn Vue crossover vehicle, you and the world's largest automaker ought to fold your tents. Vue, for all intents and purposes, is a carbon copy of Toyota's Highlander — of which Toyota can't make enough. As long as Saturn doesn't silly-price Vue like Pontiac did with the Aztek, Vue should be a solid winner. Order now, but avoid some of the gooey colors we've seen.
It's a coin-flip on the Cadillac CTS. If the styling makes the grade, so will the car. If your customers think it looks fat, chances are profits won't be. Early word says its worthy of the Cadillac name. But is that a backhanded compliment these days? We give it a guarded thumbs-up, but don't bet your 401k on it just yet.
Oh, Caddy's EXT half-truck? Dumb. Chasing after Lincoln's Blackwood is even dumber. Hey, maybe Jim Carey will buy a couple, at least.
Hello? Is anyone home at Buick? We know Oldsmobile's going away, but is Buick in some sort of hyper-space hibernation? There's absolutely nothing to get excited about except the Rendezvous. Although the Rendezvous has at least fixed some of the breathtaking awfulness of its sister-SUV, the Pontiac Aztek, volumes still will be low. We think this thing needs a serious re-pricing to be more in line with mid-trim Toyota Highlanders.
Our advice: get all the Rendezvous you can with as few options as possible — and pray.
The Chevy store's probably hopping with buyers looking for the Trailblazer, so quit complaining that the Bowtie guys don't remember people still drive cars, too.
Trailblazer's a winner, and grab every modestly-optioned Silverado around. Avalanche, the weird-looking alien-truck, is a crapshoot. We say too pricey, too goofy. But if you've got the right customer…
Your Pontiac store has two hopes: that darn Vibe gets here soon and that there's a run on the Firebird in what's likely to be its last year of production.
Hold your breath and wait for Vibe, don't be shy about base Grand Am, which just got a whole lot better with its new 2.2L 4-cyl., and try for a few “Collector Edition” Trans Ams.
If you need us to tell you to get every Thunderbird you can, then you ought to be flippin' burgers. Slow launch hasn't helped, but any unspoken-for Thunderbirds in the zone should be grabbed sight unseen (right, like there's going to be any unspoken-for Thunderbirds hanging around).
We think the 5-door Focus may bring in more entry-level customers, just don't go crazy with the options. Taurus is a basket case, so shut up and take your medicine.
Oh, and selling Explorer isn't going to be like falling off a log anymore. Or did you notice that already?
We predict F-150 is in for a tough year, too, thanks to those factory boys not coming up with much that could even be charitably described as “new.”
Like it or not, the Blackwood's yours to sell. Hope that even with all the nation's economic and political troubles, there still are some people out there with more money than sense.
Get out there and push the LS, particularly now that it's got vital stuff like an in-dash CD changer. THAT ought to keep those LS intenders away from the BMW store, eh?
Order big on the new “e”-series low-cost minivans. There's nothing wrong with Dodge/Chrysler minivans that a lower price won't fix.
And continue thanking your lucky stars for PT Cruiser, although the salad days are done. Sell all you can now, we predict you've got one more full year before that hula-hoop aura wears off.
We've got just one word for you: RAM. The all-new '02 model is better in just about every way, and provided pickups don't fall victim to the staggering economy, neither will you for ordering plenty of Rams.
If you must order cars, (and we know you must) the Stratus R/T may not be a bad bet, and this is the last year, apparently, for the Viper that we all know and love, so promote it as a last-chance to buy the original butt-kicker.
Well, they went and did it. Replaced the Cherokee with the Liberty. Fortunately for you, the Liberty's pretty darn good, if a tad heavy. Load up for the winter.
After years of suffering, the MDX has been your salvation. Beg, borrow or steal from your zone buffoon all the MDXs available, then enjoy your winter in the Caymans.
Oh, and the RSX is a great bet — at least for a year or two. Nobody's too excited about sports coupes these days, but rest assured that the RSX will do better for you than the average Celica.
Wow, the new A4 is hot stuff, with a great new V-6 and a fancy new automatic for the front-drive cars. You've already done great with the original A4, and this one's just as good — only bigger. But try to hold down the options for most cars.
And the TT remains a solid bet. Go heavy on the roadster and keep a few coupes around for good measure.
You don't need our advice, you need to be at the bank setting up another account. The monster-engined M3 is a no-lose proposition, and we don't think you can go wrong with the new X5 4.6is (347 hp, for goodness sake), although the whole X5 concept is a little stupid. Oh, and stock snow tires for those X5s if people actually expect to get around in wintry weather. Selling a set of snows with those shiny new X5s makes the buyer feel even better about his new ride.
Repeat after us: Get the new '02 CR-V. Get the new '02 CR-V. Great new engine. Great new engine. Sell like mad. Sell like mad.
Repeat after us: Honda, please build more Odysseys. Honda, please build more Odysseys. (Honda's going to. Its new Mississippi plant comes on stream in December).
Okay, we know they don't seriously expect you to sell the XG350, right? At least it's got a big new 3.5L V-6 for '02.
Santa Fe remains the best bet, but we all know the Elanta goes great in many markets, so we wouldn't stand in the way of ordering a bunch of those, either.
The all-new Q45's a great value, even if it's a tad odd-looking. Sell that thing, and wait for the hot G35 that's coming for '03. Oh, and the I35 still has one of the best engines in the world.
Okay, you still don't have a Lexus RX300 competitor, and we feel your pain. You'll survive until it comes in a little more than a year.
Why are you rubbing your hands together? Is it because the all-new X-Type is money in the bank? The X is a particularly great car to sell against Audi, and with standard all-wheel drive, you've got a great sell in foul-weather markets. Best of all, even with a bunch of options, it's a comparative bargain. We're confident you'll sell everything.
My, but the XJ's are starting to look creaky, aren't they? Have hope, an all-new, high-tech XJ flagship isn't far off.
Hey, finally you've got something semi-modern to sell. The Freelander looks like a no-brainer for the sales crew, particularly considering its low base price. But stick with sparsely optioned models, at least for the first six months or so. Once buyers get used to seeing them and understanding they're affordable, you can move up the price ladder.
An all-new ES300 can't be a bad thing. It looks good, drives good and the price has hardly changed. Order with complete confidence.
Sleeper-of-the-year award goes to the IS 300 SportCross. This tidy wagon may rise to cult status. Take a chance and get some extras. Don't be afraid of offbeat colors, either — the SportCross can handle it.
Things are looking up: you've got the Tribute and the new Protege line. You already know Tribute's a winner, but forget the past with Protege, because it's already achieved “cool” status. Cash in on the car's trendy appeal with the young — and surprisingly, older buyers too. It's a winner, although we're less sure about the MP3 model; take it easy with that one.
The C230 Coupe is too good to be true, as long as you take it easy with the equipment packages. Let this car bring in the younger, quasi-affluent customers. Later, you can hook their parents for the completely redesigned SL, which is coming in the spring.
It looks like it's gonna be another good year at the M-B store.
Finally, you have ammunition. Buy the zone manager dinner and plead for all the Altimas he has. The new '02 model is a home run, and is aggressively priced to boot. Don't worry about the base cars, either, because the 4-cyl. engine's one of the best you'll find.
We're putting out the cautious “buy” on the Sentra SE-R and SE-R “Spec V” performance models. Let's see if the youngsters take the bait before you jump in with both feet.
You sell 911s. You sell Boxsters. Customers don't dicker. The economy is your only worry.
Man, you need some new product. Nonetheless, the 9-3, with those great leases, is a pretty competitive sell, and the 9-5 wagon isn't dead weight, either. Hang in there for that crossover that's coming.
Tell us one thing you're not selling. Tell us one type of vehicle Toyota doesn't offer that you could be selling.
See, you're doing way better than just about anybody else.
Never mind that you've got a new Camry for '02, and that it's better in every way. And get this: it isn't even bad to look at! We wish we had your problems.
Let's see. A more powerful, tasty looking Jetta. Ditto for Golf (and we don't want to hear that crap about you can't sell hatchbacks). Passat's still pistol-hot. There's plenty of upgrades and action across the line, and you're doing fine without much incentive money.
Your only question should be how you're going to sell that $40,000 V-8 Passat when they ship ‘em to you later this year.
Who knows — the VW brand's so hot, maybe you CAN sell a 40-grand Volkswagen.
The S60 is new with all-wheel drive, so bad-weather stores should do better with this Audi competitor; all-wheel drive versions of the V70 wagon should do good, too, as a gap-filler between the S60 and the pricey Cross Country.
And if you're having trouble with the S80, there's a new, lots-of-equipment Elite model to better go head-to-head with those snotty BMW and Mercedes stores.