In Chicago, Imports Go Native

In Chicago, Imports Go Native
IF the world needs further proof that the auto industry has become a global business, ample evidence sits in McCormick Place, here on the frozen shore of Lake Michigan.
The most talked-about vehicles at the Chicago Auto Show, which opened to the public yesterday, have roots outside the United States, no matter the nationality of the brand that will sell them.
In the case of General Motors, that description applies to two cars from opposite ends of its carmaking universe.
One of the big attention-getters here is the Pontiac G8 - G.M. calls it a concept, but the production version is expected to be nearly identical - whose underpinnings stem from the Holden Commodore, a mainstay of the Australian market. A few feet away is the Astra, a compact hatchback sold in Europe as an Opel; the Astra is the latest import to join the Saturn lineup.
Given its low-slung hood, wide stance and muscular front end, there is little question but that the G8 is the brainchild of G.M.'s muscle-car-loving vice chairman, Robert A. Lutz, who unveiled the sedan to flashing red lights and snappy graphics.
When a production version goes on sale early next year, it will be the first rear-drive Pontiac sedan since the early 1980s. With G.M. determined to turn Pontiac around by stressing performance, the G8 "is exactly the car Pontiac needs," Mr. Lutz said. The G8 will be offered with a 261-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 or a 362-horsepower 6-liter V-8.
The Astra comes from another direction and goes in another direction. It will be available in two- and four-door hatchback versions late this year and will have a 1.8-liter 140-horsepower engine. The Saturn Astra will be built alongside Opel's versions in Antwerp, Belgium.
The Astra is G.M.'s second-best-selling car in Europe, behind the Opel Corsa. Its arrival rounds out G.M.'s 20-month push to rejuvenate Saturn, which began as an effort to prove that Americans could build small cars that were competitive with imports.
Also in Chicago, Toyota showed a new version of its Highlander crossover. While the wagon lacked the flash of the G8 and Astra, its interior prompted second glances.
In addition to a pushbutton ignition switch, the Highlander has second-row captain's chairs that can be converted into a bench seat by inserting a center seat. When not needed, the seat stows out of the way under the front center console.
While the Highlander seems like the quintessential parentmobile, two new Scions continue Toyota's four-year effort to appeal to young hipsters.
A new version of the cube-shaped xB, which Toyota calls an urban utility vehicle, draws its design from the 2005 t2B design study. Introduced as "a party in a box," the xB is now more striking, looking like something from an avant-garde Japanese comic book. Scion also showed a new hatchback, the xD, based on the Toyota Yaris.
Scion is dropping one of its original models, the xA, but is keeping the tC sporty coupe in a lineup that seems to be shifting as fast as the winds howling through Chicago skyscrapers last week.
-- "The king of Israel answered, "Tell him: 'One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off."
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