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Toyota RSC Concept

But these days, young Americans aged 6 to 25-who outnumber America's 77.9 million baby boomers, by the way-are getting the attention of automakers eagerly anticipating the youth car-buying spree to come.

So it was no wonder a number of automakers used the 2001 Chicago Auto Show Media Days, on February 7-8, to unveil their newest vehicles designed to reach the very young.

Toyota RSC Inspired by Rallying

"Each new generation is different, with its own culture and its own unique footprint," said Don Esmond, Toyota Motor Sales senior vice president and general manager. "To strike a chord with young buyers, Toyota knows it must offer widely diverse products."

Toyota showed its Rugged Sport Coupe, or RSC, in Chicago. The avant-garde concept from one of the world's most conservative automakers is, quite simply, for the young.

As Toyota's press release stated: "The intent, from the very beginning, was to develop a purely visual statement that would connect emotionally with young buyers. A statement that, intentionally, is not meant for everyone to understand, or appreciate." That would mean you, baby boomer.

With a brawny exterior but a compact size that's shorter in length and wider than today's Toyota Corolla, the four-seat RSC was inspired by World Rally Championship race vehicles. Inside, the RSC's spartan interior echoes the race car theme with an instrument panel that looks as if it came from a race shop, and racing seats complete with full harness restraints.

Toyota officials said they currently don't plan to build the 4-wheel-drive RSC, but they want to gauge public opinion at the Chicago show.

Pontiac REVs Up for Rallying, Too

Toyota wasn't the only car company in Chicago that was inspired by off-road racing.

Pontiac showed a new REV concept coupe that company officials said combines a rally sport coupe and versatile cargo-carrying capacity. "It meets the needs of younger buyers who want athletic performance and exhilaration from their vehicles," said Lynn Myers, Pontiac-GMC general manager.

Wearing a roof rack and a rear tailgate, the all-wheel-drive REV includes innovations such as a joystick-style 5-speed manual transmission, adjustable suspension that can raise the car two inches, headlights with beams that respond to movements of the steering wheel, and rear doors that slide out and backwards.

Inside are four Motorola radios as well as global positioning satellite receivers, just as you'd expect in a rally car.

Power comes from parent company General Motors Corp.'s 3.0-liter 245-horsepower V6. GM officials haven't said whether they will market the REV.

Saturn VUEs Young Buyers

Saturn showed new versions of its upcoming VUE sport-utility vehicle, and Ron Zarrella, president of GM's North American business, said the VUE is-guess what?-aimed at younger buyers.

The VUEs unveiled in Chicago demonstrate how buyers of the VUE, which arrives in showrooms this fall, can customize the compact SUV.

The outdoor expression version of the VUE includes a front brush bar, 16-inch wheels with all-terrain tires, a prominent roof rack, rubberized cargo area and floor covering, and even ostrich leather accents.

The urban expression VUE sports 18-inch wheels, performance tires and suspension modifications that lower the vehicle approximately two inches, modified front and rear fascias, a three-panel sunroof and a rear-seat entertainment system.

Saturn's first SUV will be offered as a 2002 model with the choice of a 2.2-liter 138-horsepower 4-cylinder engine or a 3.0-liter 181-horsepower V6.

Ford Hot on Youth Trail

In Chicago, Ford's two divisions also catered to the youth market.

"This car is key to attracting younger buyers who typically wouldn't have considered owning a domestic product," Tom Scarpello, Ford specialty vehicle marketing manager, said at the introduction of the 2002 Ford SVT Focus.

SVT-for Ford's in-house Special Vehicle Team modifiers-has typically performed its muscle-car magic on Mustangs and Ford trucks. Scarpello boasted the team's work on the compact Focus makes it "the best all-around performance car you can get for $18,000."

The SVT Focus engine, based on the DOHC Zetec 4-cylinder of the regular Focus, features extensive modifications. Horsepower is rated at 170 and there's 145 lb-ft of torque. This compares with 130 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque for the Focus ZX3 with 2.0-liter engine. Other modifications include a dual-stage intake manifold, variable cam timing on the intake camshaft, a dual-mass flywheel and a 6-speed manual transaxle.

Ford officials noted the SVT Focus is the first front-wheel-drive Ford vehicle to use a dual-mass flywheel and a 6-speed manual transmission. Only 7,500 vehicles will be built and they go on sale later this year.

People into body piercing and tattoos might like Ford's eye-catching F-150 Lightning Rod concept.

This chopped and channeled full-size truck concept with cherry red metallic paint has neon-tube headlights and taillights. The leather-wrapped tonneau cover features a traditional tribal tattoo from the New Zealand Maori tribe that is die-cut into the leather with black cow hair in the cutout portions.

Power is rated at an awesome 380 horses, coming from a supercharged V8 modified by the SVT folks.

Meantime, Ford's Lincoln-Mercury Division showed two new brightly colored models for this year that Mike Sprague, Cougar brand manager, called "the most hard-hitting Cougars in the lineup."

And, as you'd expect, the company press release sounded a familiar theme: "The Cougar Zn and C2 reflect Mercury's latest attempt to lure the more youthful consumer with new, stylish and energetic coupes."

Covered in a unique zinc yellow clearcoat paint, the 2001 Cougar Zn will be the first Cougar with standard 17-inch machined aluminum wheels with ebony accents and center caps. Equipped with Cougar's standard engine, the Zn is available with either an automatic or manual transmission.

The 2001 Cougar C2 comes with a one-of-a-kind French blue paint. In addition, a French blue instrument panel and color-keyed spoiler, as well as machined aluminum wheels with French blue center caps, are offered. If blue isn't your color, Cougar C2 is available in silver frost, white and black.

Other Vehicles for Young People

Hyundai joined the youth parade with its HCD6 roadster concept.

The 2-seat car has a see-through engine cover and headlights that turn to follow the direction the steering wheel is pointing. Power comes from a 2.7-liter V6 based on the 6-cylinder that's in the Hyundai Santa Fe sport utility. Hyundai officials said the vehicle is not currently slated for production.

Nissan showed its 2002 Nissan Xterra SUV with a restyled front end, revised interior, optional Rockford Fosgate-powered audio system, and optional supercharged V6 that pushes power to 210 and torque to 245 lb-ft. It marks the first time an automaker will offer a supercharged V6 in the compact-sport-utility class. The new Xterra goes on sale in August.

For Other Buyers . . .

Not everyone focused only on the young in Chicago.

Jaguar introduced its 2002 S-TYPE Sport at the show. Due in showrooms in fall 2001, it's a sportier-looking S-TYPE with a color-keyed grille surround, bumper blades and trunk plinth replacing the usual S-TYPE's chrome touches. Also part of the sport package are 17-inch sport alloy wheels and Pirelli tires. Inside are darker tones: gray-stained bird's-eye maple trim, a leather sport steering wheel and perforated Connolly leather sports seats.

Subaru showed new models of its 2002 Impreza lineup, including its wagon version of the WRX sedan as well as a 2.5 RS Sedan, TS Sport Wagon and Outback Sport. The WRX models get more torque and horsepower from a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The 2.5 RS Sedan, 2.5 TS Sport Wagon and Outback Sport have more horsepower and torque than their predecessors-the 2.2-liter 4-cylinder has been replaced with a larger 2.5-liter boxer engine.

Mercedes-Benz announced the first AMG convertible, the 2002 CLK55 AMG Cabriolet. Arriving in showrooms in fall 2001, the sleek, 4-seat convertible is powered by a 5.5-liter 342-horsepower V8 that develops 376 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60-mph time is just 5.9 seconds. Inside, seats are covered in special designo Nappa charcoal leather. So are the dashboard, center console, door panels and airbag modules.

Kia showed an even more upscale car than its recently introduced Optima. Called the Optima SEL concept, the 4-door includes more luxury features and a V6 with more power than the engine currently in the flagship Optima SE. A spokesman said the company wants to gauge consumer interest.

Mercury used the Chicago show to announce the return of the Marauder in summer 2002-a nameplate that dates back to the muscle-car era of the 1960s.

The new 2003 model will be a 4-door, 5-passenger performance sedan powered by a V8 capable of producing more than 300 horsepower. "Mercury Marauder doesn't take a lot of explaining. It's fast, it's black and it looks cool," said Ben Gibert, director of Mercury vehicles.

Pickups Make Appearance

Trucks took the spotlight at a couple of displays in Chicago.

Dodge showed its 2002 Ram 1500 full-size pickup. Officials noted the styling is evolutionary, not revolutionary. The last major redesign for the Ram came out in 1993.

The 2002 Ram 1500, due in showrooms in fall 2001, offers two new Magnum engines, a new automatic transmission, and a host of customer convenience features. An all-new Quad Cab trim boasts four standard doors, while regular- and extended-cab trims are considerably larger than their predecessors.

Officials added that new versions of the heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 models would follow for the 2003 model year.

Meantime, Nissan unveiled a long bed version of its Frontier Crew Cab. The 2002 Frontier Crew Cab Long Bed will be the first compact truck to offer a full-size bed measuring 74.6 inches long.

Due in showrooms in August 2001, the new truck will be offered in all trim levels, raising Nissan's Frontier offerings to 19 configurations. Other improvements for the Frontier lineup include a redesigned instrument panel and console and optional 400-watt Rockford Fosgate-powered audio system.