The big news at the Big Apple? New SUVs, trucks and crossover vehicles. Lots of them. And some from manufacturers getting into that stuff for the first time.
Oh, there were some car introductions at the New York International Auto Show. But truck-based vehicles - by their sheer numbers, let alone size-led the revue of debuts.
Here are show highlights:
GM: Ron Zarrella, General Motors Corp.'s president of North American operations, promised it would take only 16 minutes for him and staffers to introduce four new truck-based vehicles. He went over by a second. But, hey, close enough. GM wants to foster a new reputation of getting things done quickly.
The four vehicles sharing the 16 minutes of fame are the 2001 GMC Yukon Denali, the plush and all-new Yukon XL Denali, the top-of-the-line 2001 GMC Sierra C-Series and the 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada.
Full-size trucks are the fuel in GM's profit tank, says Mr. Zarrella.
GM has reduced truck assembly hours by 13% and increased capacity from 1.09 million units in 1998 to 1.45 million units in 1999. GM expects to make 1.7 million truck units in 2001, he says.
"Consumers are telling us, 'Give us more trucks,' says Mr. Zarrella. "Our strategy is to accelerate growth through specialized truck derivatives."
All four vehicles introduced in New York are upscale.
"A new kind of luxury SUV is what tomorrow's SUV buyer wants," says Tom Davis, head of GM's truck operations.
NISSAN: Toyota was the first Japanese automaker to weigh in with a V-8 full-size pickup truck. Now Nissan is planning its own full-size truck with a V-8.
Nissan Chief Operating Officer Carlos Ghosn didn't reveal further details of the truck and its specific launch date. Nor did he say whether it would be a pickup, an SUV or a hybrid.
He says the truck is part of a plan to revive the ailing company which is burdened with a huge debt.
"We hope to again bring amazement and delight to the market," he says.
TOYOTA: Four years ago, Toyota introduced the RAV4, a car-based compact SUV. Now Toyota is taking that idea a notch higher with the Highlander, a car-based medium-size SUV. It's the same size as the truck- based 4Runner, but without as much off-road ruggedness.
"The thinking behind the Highlander is simple," says Don Esmond, Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota Division group vice president. "...Sometimes you feel like a truck, sometimes you don't."
The Highlander will be built on a platform similar to the Camry sedan, but engineered for higher ground clearance and sport that SUV look. The new vehicle will arrive at dealerships next year. Toyota expects post-launch annual sales of 72,000 units.
Toyota also debuted a second-generation 2001 RAV4. It's longer, wider, taller and at 50 horsepower more powerful than its predecessor.
Mr. Esmond says the American market's car and truck sales are close to a 50-50 ratio, whereas Toyota's product lineup is 60% cars, 40% trucks.
"We're laying out a lineup to get us at the same market mix of 50-50," he says.
Acura: Honda's luxury division is getting into the sport/utility market by introducing the MDX luxury SUV. It's slated to go on sale this fall as a 2001 model.
The price is not finalized but it will sell in the mid-$30,000 range, says Tom Elliott, executive vice president of American Honda.
He forecasts MDX sales of 35,000-40,000 units a year, "but dealers who have seen it and are excited about it think our sales estimates are conservative."
DAIMLERCHRYSLER: The German-American auto company debuted the 2001 Sebring convertible, coupe and sedan amid music, a dance number and simulated rain on a stage in a former bank that's now an upscale restaurant, a block from the famed Chrysler Building. Now that's entertainment!
"These are new products aimed at getting people to take a second look at this Chrysler brand," says Ted Cunningham, DC vice president of global sales.
He calls the Sebring redo "Oh-my-God-I-think-I-love-it styling."
The mid-size Sebring is in a large but tough segment of the market, notes John Herlitz, DC's senior vice president of design.
But he adds, "These three new cars stand out as Chrysler designs that will reinforce the Chrysler brand presence in each of their segments."
LEXUS: Toyota's luxury division will begin selling its first convertible, the SC430, in March 2001. The retractable hardtop couple replaces the SC 300/400 coupes now being phased out. Pricing is expected to be in the mid-$50,000s. Sales are predicted at 10,000 units annually.
SUBARU: In this era of the cross-over craze, Subaru executives point out that their company was first to introduce a car/sport utility hybrid, the Outback, back in 1995.
Now Subaru, in a partnership with an outdoorsy clothing company, is bringing to market an L.L. Bean Edition Outback.
For the New York show, one might have expected a DKNY Edition Outback.
Regardless, the new vehicle is described as the first offered as part of a multi-year strategic marketing partnership between Subaru and Maine-based L.L. Bean.
JAGUAR: The Ford Motor Co.'s English luxury car division has tapped filmmaker Spike Lee to help Jaguar appeal to a more diverse customer base.
Mr. Lee directed an eight-minute short film depicting how Jaguar cars complement the lifestyles of upwardly mobile African Americans. The film was shot in Harlem, NY and chic-chic Martha's Vineyard, MA.
AUDI: VW's luxury division took the wraps off an all-new crossover vehicle, the 2001 allroad quattro. It arrives at dealerships this fall. Annual sales of 5,000 units are expected, says Len Hunt, vice president of Audi of America Inc. It will retail for about $53,000.
"We're obviously setting up in this crossover segment," he says. "We're going to see how popular it becomes and perhaps expand our product line in it."
Audi this year is hoping to hit U.S. sales of 75,000 units this year. That would be a record after sales plunged to 12,000 a year about a decade ago because of bad press on allegedly problem-laden products.
"Psychologically, sales of 75,000 would be hugely important," says Mr. Hunt. "I can see the smiles on dealers' faces at the thought of that."
INFINITI: Nissan's 10-year-old luxury division is coming out with a redone 2002 Q45, a combination of pomp and power from a 4.5L V-8 engine with 340 hp.
It will go on sale in April for about $53,000.
"When you drive it, you better hold on," says Tom Orbe, vice president and general manager of Nissan North America's Infiniti division.
Meanwhile, Steve Kight, Infiniti's director of marketing, is at least thinking about an Infiniti truck like the V-8 Nissan plans to introduce.
"I wouldn't turn down a full-size truck or a variation of one, but nothing like that is in the works at Infiniti," he says.