Automakers are going to stick with big-engine gas guzzlers, no matter how high fuel prices go. At the same time, small cars with advanced powertrains are going to claim a larger share of the market.
Here's a look at some of the hits and one miss at the New York show.
Pontiac Solstice CoupeThe long-awaited hard-top version of Pontiac's two-seater arrives early next year and should be popular. The fastback styling is outstanding, especially from the rear. The beautifully shaped pop-open rear window wouldn't look out of place on an Aston Martin. And here's a nice touch: The car has a removable targa top.
What's not so nice is that the panel is too large to be stored in the car, so you can't take it with you. To make matters worse, a removable cloth top that can be stored in the car will be an extra-cost accessory.
Jim Bunnell, Buick-Pontiac-GMC general manager, said the Solstice Coupe will start at around $22,000. Mechanically, the coupe offers the same suspension and powertrain as the convertible: a 173-hp, 2.4-liter four or the optional 260-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four with direct injection. I'll call this one a hit — despite the roof goof.
Honda FitA new version of the fuel-sipping Fit is due in the fall. It has rounder lines, a more sloping nose and a sportier appearance than the current model. The wheelbase has been stretched two inches, and there's a panoramic windshield that has been moved forward.
The engine is a 118-hp 1.5-liter with variable valve timing. There's no word yet on fuel economy, but expect the Fit to at least equal the current model's 28 city/34 highway rating. The new Fit is a huge hit.
Dodge ChallengerThis is the six-cylinder, entry-level model of the hot retro muscle machine. Kudos to Chrysler for delivering a classy base model.
The SE, sporting a 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, has 18-inch wheels; the front spoiler and functional hood scoops of its bigger Hemi-powered siblings; and it looks terrific. Watch for the V-6, which will be priced in the low 20s, to emerge as a hit and become the top-selling model of the Challenger line. Fuel economy should be in the low 20s. The Challenger SE will be a big hit.
Pontiac G8 Sport TruckFor years, there have been rumblings of a Chevrolet El Camino/GMC Sprint revival within General Motors. But almost nobody would have predicted that a new two-seat pickup would wear a Pontiac badge. How did that happen?
Pontiac's Bunnell told me that because the Sport Truck uses a G8 engine, suspension and interior, it became a Pontiac instead of a Chevrolet or GMC.
Bad mistake. Pontiac has no history of selling trucks. The El Camino has a legion of fans and now is becoming a collectible. Not only that, but if GM wants to sell a truck, Chevrolet and GMC dealers are the ones who have proved they can move the metal.
Also, let us not forget that another recent GM two-seat truck, the Chevrolet SSR, did not do well. This one also misses the mark badly on a number of counts.
Ford Transit Connect TaxiA vehicle this size and shape may be the future of small commercial people movers for big-city fleets. In taxi livery, the Transit Connect appears to be the perfect tool in a world where gasoline sells for more than $3 per gallon.
There's plenty of leg room and head room for three adults in the middle row. The Transit Connect could haul a fourth passenger up front. Behind the middle-row seats, there is plenty of cargo space for suitcases.
Loaded down, the Transit Connect could struggle with its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. But Ford has an answer for that with its EcoBoost turbocharging system. It's time to retire those old, gas-guzzling, yester-tech Crown Vic cabs and replace then with Transit Connects. This is a hit.
Mercedes-Benz Bluetec dieselsLater this year, Mercedes will launch a full-scale diesel invasion of all 50 states with three new V-6-powered vehicles that use a new emissions system that sprays urea into the exhaust to control oxides of nitrogen.
The GL320, ML320 and R320 — all big, heavy vehicles — should deliver fuel economy in the low 20s. The tank of urea is in the trunk near the spare tire. It holds enough of the fluid to last for the scheduled maintenance interval, so the system should be invisible to the driver as long as factory-recommended service is carried out. These new-generation diesels will be a hit.
Subaru R1eIt's a concept with zero chance of being sold in the Uni- ted States, but the tiny electric version of the R1 could be a precursor of the de rigueur city vehicle 10 years from now. It has lithium ion batteries capable of fast recharges — it takes only 15 minutes to reach 80 percent capacity, Subaru says. The R1e has a top speed of 65 mph and can go 50 miles between charges.
I can see a future for a city car such as the R1e for meter readers, messenger services or companies that deliver small parcels. City slickers who battle for parking spaces and who bump and grind in heavy traffic in cities such as New York might even want them. It's a hit.
Hyundai Genesis CoupeAbout a year from now, this stylish, high-performance, rear-wheel-drive coupe joins the Hyundai lineup. Think of it as a Korean Mustang/Nissan 350Z fighter. The base engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four that will crank out at least 200 hp. An optional 3.8-liter V-8 will put out 306 ponies.
The wedgy stance gives the car an aggressive appearance. If it performs as well as it looks, this car could do wonders for Hyundai's image. Hit.
You can reach Richard Truett at email@example.com