Automakers kicked off 2002 with interesting and exciting new vehicles at the U.S.’s No. 1 and No. 2 auto shows. From SUVs to sports cars, and everything in between, the new offerings are attempting to lure customers into dealerships on the strength of their design and engineering. In addition, a full load of concept vehicles will provide show-goers a glimpse of what will be in store at the 2003 and later shows. In Los Angeles, on Jan. 3 and 4, after a keynote address by GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz, the visiting automotive press corps was treated to the North American launch of the fifth-generation Mercedes-Benz SL, assisted by Tonight Show host Jay Leno, a noted car guy who once worked for a Mercedes dealer. From there, the next course was Lincoln, which debuted the 2003 Navigator and the Continental concept vehicle. Then it was on to GM, and the Hummer H2. Chrysler launched the production Crossfire, which will be built in Germany by Karmann and is on the previous generation MB E-Class platform. Toyota kicked off the Matrix, a not-quite SUV, not-quite station wagon on the new Corolla platform. Its sibling from General Motors, the Pontiac Vibe, was also on display. Cadillac displayed production versions of the Escalade XLT crossover, based on the Chevrolet Avalanche. Dodge launched the Neon SRT-4. Based on a concept shown in Detroit last year, the SRT-4 is going after the youth market with a vengeance. Later in the schedule, Mazda debuted the latest version of the MPV minivan, now with 200 horsepower and matching torque, plus a 5-speed automatic transmission and 17 inch wheels. Volkswagen offered the North American debut of the Passat W8, the first 8-cylinder product from VW, along with the New Beetle Turbo-S, with 180 horsepower under its hood. Honda showed the hybrid version of the Civic, and also announced that the Pilot SUV would be launched in Detroit, and that the Model X, shown last year as a concept, would be in production for 2003. In Detroit, the big news was Chrysler’s Pacifica crossover SUV/minivan/sedan/wagon, which the company calls a “sports tourer.” GM shows production models of the Cadillac XLR, nee Evoq, and Chevrolet SSR. Ford shows the Tonka concept truck based on the F-350. On a slightly more affordable plane, Toyota launched the next-generation Corolla, while Ford shows the latest iterations of the Expedition SUV and the Lincoln Town Car luxury sedan. The new Expedition, like the Navigator previewed in Los Angeles, has independent rear suspension for a more car-like ride and a lower stance. Nissan shows a new Quest concept that is no longer based on a platform shared with Ford, and Subaru will show the production version of the ST/X that was introduced in Los Angeles in 2000. Finally, Volvo will give the XC90 SUV its world-wide launch.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials