By Tony Whitney

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The holiday season will have barely finished before the 2006 auto show season begins in early January. At the Los Angeles auto show, vehicles will be unveiled to the media on January 6th, while in Detroit, media unveilings will begin on January 8th 2006. Autos will have daily coverage beginning on January 6th.

The proximity of the two shows has always been a bit of a conflict, so L.A. show organizers have decided to switch to November/December dates in 2006. That means there are two L.A. shows in 2006, one early in the year and one later on. For 2007, there’s just one L.A. show in late November/early December.

Already, automakers are giving us a hint of what we’ll be seeing at the upcoming shows. So far, the production vehicles and concepts hinted at don’t fit any particular theme or trend, but perhaps that will reveal itself later. One thing to note is that several of them fall into the “affordable” class, so perhaps we’re seeing more attention directed to
buyers who don’t necessarily have $50,000 or $100,000 with which to buy their next car, SUV, minivan or pickup.

Production cars

Jeep Compass
Jeep Compass. Click here for more photos

Dodge Caliber concept

2007 Nissan Versa. Click here for more photos

2007 Chevrolet Aveo sedan
2007 Chevrolet Aveo

Young buyers looking for something really cool that they can
actually afford are going to love the new Jeep Compass, shown in concept form at an earlier show. The Compass has all the usual Jeep go-anywhere characteristics and boasts exceptionally rugged “Tonka Toy” good looks.

Also at the entry level as far as price goes is the new Dodge Caliber, which follows a theme set by products like the Toyota Matrix, Mazda5 and even Mercedes-Benz B-Class. If any proof was needed that hatchbacks are truly back in fashion, this is it. Incidentally, the Caliber is replacing the old Neon, which sort of faded away in recent years, rather than being suddenly axed.

Another inexpensive new car is the Nissan Versa, to be introduced in Detroit. It’s a 4-door hatchback with a 1.8-litre, 120-horsepower engine. To be built in Mexico, the car will take its place as Nissan’s entry-level product below the current Sentra and from what I’ve heard so far, the starting price will be around US$12,000. In addition, Nissan will be introducing the next generation Sentra compact.

General Motors will show the all-new 2007 Chevrolet Aveo in Los Angeles. It has a new exterior and interior design and a more confident, dynamic driving experience. Built by GM-Daewoo in South Korea, the new Aveo will go on sale in Summer, 2006. As well, the exclusive-to-Canada 2007 Pontiac Wave will go on sale here.

Geely will become the first Chinese automaker to exhibit at a North American auto show when it does so at Detroit. Geely, which started out making refrigerators in 1986, will showcase its 7151 CK mid size sedan. Aiming to compete on price, the company plans to enter the U.S. market by the end of the decade, possibly in 2008 or 2009 with a price tag of around $10,000 (US).

2007 Mazda CX-7. Click image to enlarge

Mazda will display its CX-7 crossover SUV, a production vehicle that will reach the North American market in the spring of 2006 as a 2007 model. The five-passenger vehicle features a turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-litre four-cylinder direct-injection gasoline engine producing 244 horsepower. The CX-7 is the first of three all-new vehicles Mazda has designed and engineered specifically for the North American market.

Toyota will stage the world premiere of the 2007 Camry Hybrid and the all-new 2007 Camry at the NAIAS. Equipped with a Hybrid Synergy Drive, the Camry Hybrid will deliver the highest level of Camry fuel efficiency and low emissions.

Kia will be showing its 2007 Optima. No details of that one yet.

2007 Eclipse Spyder
2007 Eclipse Spyder

Volkswagen Eos
Volkswagen Eos

Audi Q7
2007 Audi Q7

2006 BMW Z4. Click here for more photos

Ford Mustang GT500 convertible

2007 Lincoln Aviator
2007 Lincoln Aviator

Mitsubishi will be showing off a convertible Eclipse Spyder with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder or 3.8-litre V6, in five-speed automatic or six-speed manual versions.

Volkswagen’s Eos, a successor to the old and much-loved Golf Cabriolet, will appear for the first time in North America with its cleverly-designed retractable hardtop. With Volvo also building a convertible with a retractable metal roof (look for that too during the show season), one wonders whether we’ll soon see the end of the old “ragtop” configurations, especially on luxury or semi-luxury vehicles.

Also from the VW/Audi group comes the Audi Q7 luxury SUV, which will get here in June. A hybrid version will follow the basic V8 powered truck for the 2008 model year. According to Audi, the hybrid version of this large and opulent SUV is 13-percent more thrifty on fuel than its more conventional stablemate.

In Detroit, the new BMW Z4 and the BMW ‘M’ roadster (Click here for photos!) will make their debuts. The 2006 Z4 Roadster will feature two different 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engines. These new-generation power plants both feature BMW’s latest aluminum and magnesium construction. Both 2006 Z4 Roadster models will come standard with six-speed manual transmissions.

Ford will be taking the wraps off a new Shelby GT 500 Mustang in Detroit and it promises to be a real tonic for the enthusiast market. Carroll Shelby is one of auto racing’s legendary figures and despite his advancing years (he’s now over 80), he’s still trying to make even fast Fords go that much faster. If ever there was an “instant collectible” available right off the showroom floor, it would have to be a new GT 500.

Ford will also debut its new SportTrac pickup/SUV while the 2007 Lincoln Aviator will also be showing its new colours. The Aviator also moves across to the Ford Division which obtains their own version of the Aviator crossover called the Edge. Built in Oakville, Ontario, the Edge will be positioned between the Escape and Explorer, and is expected to be powered by a new 3.5-litre V6. Front-wheel drive will be standard, with an all-wheel-drive version also available. The exterior is similar to that of the Aviator. Production is scheduled to begin late next summer, with an on-sale date expected for early fall of 2006.

2007 Mercedes-Benz GL Class
Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. Click here for more photos

Models previously shown at Germany’s Frankfurt Auto show, but making their North American debut at L.A. include the Volkswagen EOS convertible and Porsche Cayman S. Falling very much into the upscale category is the new Mercedes-Benz GL-Class SUV which will make its world debut in Detroit. For a while at least, it will be sold
alongside the old G-Class, which has been in production for 26 years.

The new 7-seater GL-Class is very much an upscale, large, SUV. The basic engine will be a 4.6-litre V8 with 335-horsepower and no doubt more powerful AMG versions will follow. The truck will be built at M-B’s Alabama plant along with the M-Class and the R-Class.

Lexus will stage the world premiere of its all-new LS luxury sedan at the Detroit auto show. Arriving late next year, the fourth-generation Lexus LS will set new standards in design, styling, engineering, safety and performance.

Mercedes will stage the North American debut of its opulent new S-Class models in both Los Angeles and Detroit and the superb sedan should attract lots of interest, even from people not in the market for an expensive vehicle like that.

Rival luxury automaker Jaguar showed its stunning new mostly-aluminum XK coupe at the Frankfurt show in September and Detroit will play host to the Jaguar XK convertible.

Mini Traveller Tokyo concept. Click here for more photos

Also from Britain will be the Mini “Traveller”. I’d like to see the Traveller use some “woody” trim like the original 1960s version, but from images revealed so far, this doesn’t look likely.

If you really want to spend some serious coin, LA will host the debut of the North American production version of the remarkable Bugatti Veyron (First Drive report! Photos!), with its 1,000-horsepower 16-cylinder quad turbo. It’s said to be the most expensive production automobile ever built. The claimed top speed is over 400 km/h. VW owns Bugatti nowadays, so the engine,
though highly complex and hand-built, is related to the W-configuration power plants that are offered in versions of the Wolfsburg automaker’s Phaeton luxury sedan.

2007 Cadillac Escalade
2007 Cadillac Escalade

Although no show season trend has really emerged so far, there do seem to be lots of new SUVs coming along – proving that this segment still has lots of life in it, regardless of gas prices. Cadillac will
be showing its new Escalade ESV and EXT models and they should take the opulence this GM division is famed for one step further.

GM’s Saturn division will also bow in at Detroit with a new eight-passenger crossover vehicle with the “Outlook” nameplate. The Outlook, like the upcoming Aura mid-size sedan and Sky roadster, will be a 2007 model. Few details are known, but a V6 engine and a six-speed automatic gearbox are expected to be standard. Along with the Saturn version, the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia crossovers may also be on display or be held in reserve for the Chicago and New York auto shows in the spring.

Among lower-priced SUVs taking their bow in Detroit is Hyundai’s new Santa Fe. Since Hyundai recently introduced its compact Tucson SUV which was priced quite close to the old Santa Fe, I’d expect the new model to move upscale a little with more features and added luxury touches. This is a world debut for the Santa Fe – not surprising when considering how critical the North American market is for the Korean automaker.

Concept cars

Dodge Challenger concept

There will be no shortage of new concept cars in Detroit and L.A. DaimlerChrysler will unveil a retro-inspired Dodge Challenger coupe in Detroit. The long-expected two-door will take on the Ford Mustang directly with a chassis derived from Chrysler’s 300C/Magnum twins, along with a 425-hp version of the HEMI V8 in the most thrilling versions. Chrysler is saying the car is a concept only, but insiders suggest the vehicle will be in production as early as 2009 on a new version of the 300C platform.

Rumour has it that another blast from the past may emerge at Detroit in the shape of a Chrysler Imperial concept to be shown off.

Apparently spun off from the Chrysler 300C body, the stretched-wheelbase Imperial concept is said to evoke a Rolls Royce Phantom in its styling direction.

Jeep will also display a redesigned Wrangler concept. With a new model due in 2007 both as traditional two-door model and a new four-door variant sitting on a longer wheelbase may emerge. The upcoming Wrangler may have a fixed top with removable panels, instead of the soft and/or hardtop offerings, and a fold-down front windshield and removable doors. Power could be provided by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with 150 horsepower, or an optional 3.7-litre SOHC V6 or 4.7-litre V8.

Kia Soul concept
Kia Soul concept

Kia will debut its Soul concept at Detroit. The Soul is a crossover utility vehicle that builds on design cues from the Kia Mesa concept, introduced at the 2005 show. The Soul features a wraparound windshield, muscular wheel flares, stylish front headlamps and sloped roofline, with practical interior room and reconfigurable cargo space. The rear liftgate includes a unique “drawer” for wet or muddy items.

Also coming from Korea is the latest Hyundai concept vehicle, the HCD-9 Talus. Hyundai has not released any information, or the sketches of this swoopy sports car, but it’s expected to debut alongside the new Santa Fe SUV which makes its worldwide debut at the same Detroit show.

Nissan URGE sketch

Set to make its world debut is the Nissan URGE concept. Nissan says the URGE is “a pure, powerful sports car with motorcycle-inspired styling.” The rear-wheel drive URGE features a quick, high-revving, small-displacement engine, 6-speed manual gearbox, brushed aluminum-alloy wheels, colour-infused aluminum body panels and a driver-oriented cockpit with an integrated Xbox 360 gaming system. It was created by Nissan Design America in La Jolla, California.

Mazda Kabura Sketch

Mazda meanwhile will have the world premiere its Kabura compact sports coupe. The vehicle features a rear-drive powertrain; the name is taken from “Kabura-ya”, a Japanese term for an arrow that makes a sound when fired and was traditionally used to signal the start of a battle. The Kabura concept coupe was developed at the company’s design centre in California and is the company’s third design concept vehicle.

More exciting news from Mazda. A new brand new third sports car model to sit alongside the RX-8 and MX-5 will be unveiled in January at the Detroit auto show, and though it will be styled and badged as a concept, insiders say the two-seater hints very strongly at a production model that will go on sale around 2008. Rumour has it, the car will be a “mini” RX-8 with a hint of MX-3, but will be normally aspirated rather than using the RX-8 rotary engine.

Buyers seeking the ultimate in fuel efficiency will like the look of Honda’s dramatically cab-forward styled FCX fuel cell car, though this is very much a concept rather than a close-to-production model. In addition to an intriguing hydrogen-powered RX-8, Mazda will have a hybrid variant of its new Mazda5 hatch on the show circuit this season and Subaru will be revealing its B5 TPH concept originally shown in Tokyo quite recently.

BMW Z4 coupe concept. Click here for more photos

Mitsubishi Concept-CT MIEV
Mitsubishi Concept-CT MIEV

This is “an Outback-based 2.0-litre turbo sport wagon/sport utility crossover” according to Subaru and looks fascinating from images so far revealed.

BMW will introduce a Z4 Coupe Concept and the X3 Active Hybrid Concept. The Z4 Coupe Concept will begin production in Summer, 2006.

The Mitsubishi Concept-CT MIEV at Detroit will showcase the company’s concept for next-generation electric vehicles that use in-wheel motors and high specific energy lithium-ion batteries as core technologies. The Concept-CT uses outer rotor-type motors in the wheels to drive all four, and uses series-parallel hybrid propulsion, which delivers higher power at longer cruising ranges. It is the company’s first compact concept model.

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