Automakers mark 2006 a retro year for new models

This year’s Pittsburgh International Auto Show was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in the downtown area adjacent to the Strip District. Featuring over 40 carmakers and over 20 individual vendors, the show completely filled the two floors with the best and freshest models on the market today, along with some concept vehicles. There were plenty of offerings from the traditionally economical brands alongside an equal showing of luxury and exotic brands.

The Big Three (Ford, GM, and DaimerChrysler) presented their top-of-the-line vehicles, including a debut of Ford’s Shelby GT500 and Chevrolet’s Corvette Z06. Recent financial struggles for all three of these companies have not stopped them from releasing new vehicle lineups, but rather have encouraged them to make business re-evaluations and freshen up their offerings.

Ford’s booth highlighted its performance image and drive to deliver powerful, American muscle. The company delved deep into its roots to bring back the Shelby, which is associated with the late-1960s legacy of vehicles that dominated automobile racing. The most noticeable vehicle on display was its Shelby GR1 concept vehicle, which featured an all-aluminum body and was modeled after the Shelbys of old.

The star of Ford’s display was the all-new Shelby GT500, which is based on the new Mustang platform — of which Carnegie Mellon graduate Hau Thai-Tang was chief engineer — and was inspired by the 1960s AC Cobra. The GT500 takes the Mustang GT platform and showers it with subtle styling cues, such as front air splitters, a rear deck spoiler, and Shelby and Cobra emblems all over the car. It shares the 5.4 liter V8 platform found in the Mustang GT and Ford GT, and is supercharged to 475 horsepower with matching torque and linked to a six-speed transmission. An upgraded suspension by Ford’s in-house SVT performance group steers the car, and large 14-inch brakes help stop it. Poised to sell at under $50,000, this special vehicle is sure to fill preorders as soon as they appear. Ford plans to release limited numbers of the GT500 starting this summer.

The Ford GT supercar also made an appearance and impressed many with its astounding 550 horsepower and 500 foot-pounds of torque. To put it in perspective, this kind of power accelerates you from zero to 60 mph in about 3.4 seconds, all in first gear, and can outrun Ferraris and Porsches. Ford actually brought the GT to the Technical Opportunities Conference back in fall 2005, and many students were able to experience the thrills of this American legend. Ford also displayed its F-series pickup trucks and economy Focus lineup, each model receiving minor facelifts for the 2006 model year.

Chevrolet came in featuring their new SS concept vehicle and top-of-the-line Corvette Z06. The General Motors company, as well as Ford and Chrysler Group, is launching 2006 as the year to revitalize the retro-styling of the ’60s. The not-so-new SSR and HHR models mix old classic styling with modern technology. The SS concept also plays off the mesh of old and new with its large, exaggerated proportions and smooth aerodynamics. Chevrolet’s move towards its roots in American muscle car history carries over into its classic American sports car, the Corvette. The new Corvette debuted in the 2005 model year and has projector headlamps for the first time. (Previous generations all had pop-up headlamps.) The Corvette comes with a newly developed LS7 V8 engine, which is the most powerful engine GM Group has ever offered, and on the Z06, that means 500 horsepower mated to a six-speed transmission and 0–60 in under four seconds.

That’s some serious power. In fact, many say the Z06 is the best-kept secret amongst supercars, as its base price of just under $66,000 is a bargain relative to its peers, the Ford GT and Dodge Viper SRT-10. The new body style also updates the Corvette’s aggressive demeanor and hints at the Sting Ray Corvettes of the ’60s with its truncated and raised back end.

The Cobalt shared some spotlight in Chevy’s booth. The Cobalt comes as the direct replacement of the Cavalier, Chevrolet’s economy car. It has a better visual appeal than the dated Cavalier and comes in many trim lines, of which the SS supercharged version is the most potent. The variety of the Cobalt models reflects General Motors’ efforts to appeal to a wider audience, especially with the growing interest for inexpensive, reliable vehicles.

Chrysler Group’s exhibition showed off its new Dodge lineup, showcasing the new SRT Chargers. The SRT name indicates the in-house tuning division for Dodge on its high-performance vehicles. The SRT Chargers have rolled fresh off the assembly lines. The retro trend is again apparent with Dodge, as they brought back the Charger in 2005 as an affordable sedan and now have returned the car to its original racing glory with the Daytona R/T and SRT versions. These two manifestations put Dodge back into the muscle car category of the vehicle market and with the new Challenger concept, they are surely going places in 2006 and 2007. Let’s not forget the car that revitalized Chrysler. The 300C was displayed in full force with a Hemi V8 powerhouse and an upgraded DUB edition. The critically acclaimed model debuted in 2005 and has the looks of an expensive European brand, representing the affordablity of a sporty sedan. Experts on celebrity lifestyle DUB Magazine created a 300C with lots of bling, but the most exciting feature was the air-ride suspension (commonly called hydraulics), allowing drivers to adjust the ride height within seconds.

The variety of vehicles presented by the Big Three at the show was impressive. Cadillac, Lincoln, Saturn, and Pontiac also had new vehicle debuts, including the Cadillac STS V, Lincoln Zephyr, Saturn Sky, and Pontiac Solstice, all of which attracted a lot of attention from showgoers. Imported European and Asian brands also offered exceptional automobile models. You can catch them in next week’s continuation, so be sure to pick up a copy!