Last fall's deluge of new products from Mitsubishi was only a hint of what will be coming over the ocean (and the American hills and plains) from Asian carmakers in the next few years.
Like an aligning of the planets, many four-, five- and seven-year product cycles will converge in the next two years. Additionally, the Japanese and Koreans are venturing into new segments.
Designed to be profitable at a yen-dollar rate of 90, the new wave of vehicles is more smartly designed, yet more in tune with the needs of customers instead of the engineering department. And with a weaker yen, the U.S. sales and marketing arms will have an easier time pricing the metal.
How powerful an offensive is it?
Nissan will unveil a new or redesigned vehicle every six months for the next four years. Toyota will have eight new products in the next three years. Honda may unleash up to five new products in the next three years. And Mazda will finally see the pendulum swing back from its product doldrums following its brief outburst in 1991-92.
The Koreans also continue to expand their offerings. Daewoo aims to launch early next year. Hyundai will venture into two new segments. And Kia will round out its lineup with two new products.
Here's a rundown of what's headed this way:
Integra: The entry-level coupe and sedan will get a facelift this fall, but no mechanical changes. Acura will continue to shrink imports to emphasize the CL. Odds are that Integra will move to the U.S. Honda Civic platform in 2000 or 2001, but only if it can retain an Acura flavor.
CL series: The four-cylinder gets the same displacement bump as the Honda Accord this fall. An evolutionary styling change comes in 2000. The idea of a convertible is being run through clinics.
TL series: The series will move to the Accord platform and become more like a four-door CL in 1999. The five-cylinder may stay for the price point, but expect the 3.0-liter V-6 to replace the old 3.2-liter. Acura will pit it more directly against the Lexus ES 300.
3.5RL: A 'sport' version is in the works for the upcoming model year with a VTEC engine, stickier tires and a more rigid suspension. A V-8 version is being discussed for the next generation coming in 2001, but is doubtful.
SSM: Acura is lobbying hard to put this potential image flagship in the lineup alongside the aging NSX, but it appears Honda may get the lone version of the Tokyo Motor Show roadster. Pininfarina denies that it is building a convertible for Honda.
SLX/MAV: Acura will drop its rebadged Isuzu Trooper in 2000 when it gets a version of the new Accord-based sport-utility. A V-6 is imperative, but whether it will be the Accord's 3.0-liter or a new 3.5-liter modular V-6 engine is undetermined.
NSX: The supercar got a boost in displacement and increased handling this spring. It will remain unchanged until 2002.
Leganza: The mid-sized sedan will be the leadoff product for Daewoo's U.S. launch, and should go on sale in early 1998. Styled by ItalDesign, and about the size of a Toyota Camry or Volvo S70, it will have a 2.0-liter dohc four-cylinder rated at 147 hp. The price will be between $15,000 and $20,000.
Lanos: It will follow Leganza in fall 1998, and will have about the same size and power as a Honda Civic.
Nubira: It will join Lanos in fall 1998. It will be sized like Altima, but will have less power.
Minivan: Powered by a 3.5-liter V-6, it will arrive in 1999 as a 2000, along the lines of a Ford Windstar.
Civic: It is scheduled for a 2000 redesign, and is likely to get a 1.8-liter engine as it continues to grow inside and out.
Accord: A major redesign arrives this fall with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder base engine, a compact five-link 'Watt's Link' rear suspension, and a larger, more plush interior. A 3.0-liter V-6 from the Acura CL replaces the old 2.7-liter for better performance. The coupe will have a shorter wheelbase and a more pronounced look from the sedan. Photos don't do either car justice. In other words: Look out, Camry.
Prelude: The model just changed, so don't expect much for four years.
CR-V: It gets a five-speed manual this fall and perhaps an engine power boost. No changes are planned until 2001.
Minivan: Honda's Canadian plant will crank out an Accord-based minivan for spring 1999. It will be identical in size to the Grand Caravan, and will be stamped out alongside the MAV. Since it's a larger van, it will be sold only as an upscale vehicle, with an all-new 3.5-liter modular V-6.
Passport/MAV: Honda gets the redesigned Isuzu Rodeo this fall, but dumps it in 2000 when a sport-utility comes from the Canadian minivan plant, based on a stretched and strengthened Accord platform. The wheelbase of 'MAV' could be as large as Ford Explorer or even Chevrolet Tahoe, and will have all-wheel drive. It gets the minivan's big V-6, although insiders wonder if such a big vehicle needs a V-8.
SSM Roadster: The SSM show car from the 1995 Tokyo show is expected to arrive for the 1999 model year to commemorate Honda's 50th anniversary. A production-ready version, complete with retro-style Honda badging, appeared at this spring's Barcelona Motor Show.
Accent: A revision is expected in 2000, with Alpha engine upgrades in the head and camshafts for better power and less noise, vibration and harshness.
Elantra: A revision comes in 2001 that will be powered by a new all-aluminum multivalve engine.
Sonata: The looks won't change, but everything else will in the redesigned Sonata, which debuts in January. A dohc 2.5-liter V-6 delivers 165 hp, and the suspension will be smoother.
Tiburon: A revision of the U.S.-designed sport-coupe comes in 2001. Expect continuation of its radical styling and a possible bump-up in oomph.
Sport-utility: Infighting over the size of the package has delayed the vehicle until 2001. Initially expected to be a production version of the HCD-III show car, the Hyundai sport-utility now is expected to be a more traditional compact design along the lines of the Honda CR-V. Elantra is likely to be the platform, but Sonata has not been ruled out.
Minivan: The Sonata will be the platform for the minivan that arrives in 1999.
Luxury sedan: The deal with Mitsubishi to build a 4.5-liter V-8 likely will not be seen here. The sedan is considered too expensive for the U.S. market and likely will be relegated to Korea. Hyundai still has long-range ambitions to build a Lexus-class family of vehicles, however.
Rodeo: The redesign that comes this fall will convey a more civilized look - along Grand Cherokee lines - while retaining Rodeo's style. Both four- and six-cylinder engines will be available. However, in this era of passenger and cargo space being at a premium, the wheelbase is shorter. The next-century Rodeo will be engineered with General Motors' 2003 model year platform for Blazer and Jimmy (code-named GMT 360), but Isuzu will get its own sheet metal.
Amigo: The Rodeo platform will spawn the return of the four-seat, two-door, soft-top Amigo in spring 1998. Four- and six-cylinder engines will be available. It will be built in Indiana.
Trooper: Unexpected changes come this fall, with some new bends in the sheet metal and a more-powerful, more-efficient direct injection dohc V-6 from Japan and 'torque-on-demand' four-wheel-drive system similar to Infiniti QX4.
Hombre: An extended cab arrives this fall. In the long run, Isuzu will engineer and develop the next General Motors S10 pickup (code-named GMT 355), which is the twin of the Hombre. It will arrive in 2002.
Oasis: It will be gone after 1998 when Honda gets its big minivan.
VehiCross: The Americans want this head-turner. The snazzy image leader was displayed at the New York auto show, and is being trucked around the country to gauge consumer reaction. It is a sellout in Japan. Main barrier is the high cost of certification cost vs. the low volume it would generate.
G20: The compact near-luxury sedan will return off the Primera platform, and will be imported next spring from Nissan's underworked United Kingdom plant. The wheelbase is longer and the interior larger. However, because of cost constraints, there will be no V-6 version.
J30: It will be gone after the 1997 model year, leaving a chasm in the lineup from the $35,000-$48,000 range. Japan has said Infiniti will not get a variant of the new Leopard platform. Coupe designs are making the rounds at Nissan's California design studio, which could result in a Maxima-based 'personal luxury' coupe to take the J30's price point. But that's several years out, at least.
I30: It will arrive with the Nissan Maxima in 2000. Infiniti wants more differentiation, but don't expect more than the current variations: slightly different front and rear fascias.
Q45: It will be revised in spring 2001 as a 2002 model. It will continue on the Cima platform with the Cima's V-8 engine. Infiniti will not import a V-6 model, since it would degrade the Q45's performance image.
QX4: It arrives in spring 2000 as a 2001 with a beefier engine. The variations between the Infiniti and the Nissan Pathfinder drivelines will continue.
Sephia: The entry-level sedan gets bigger with rounded sheet metal for 1998, and will be powered by Kia's first ground-up engine design: a 1.8-liter four-banger.
Sportage: A minor sheet metal change comes this fall, with a larger revision coming in 2000.
Avella: A subcompact that Ford sold as the Aspire until this year, the Avella will come to the United States in 2000 as a Kia. However, pressure on the factory to fill demand left by Aspire being killed may push up its U.S. release date.
Credos: About the size of a Mazda 626 in its overseas guise, the Credos will get larger when it is revised for the U.S. market in spring 1999. An optional 2.5-liter V-6 will complement a 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
ES 300: It is on a five-year cycle with Camry, to be revised in 2002.
GS 300/400: It debuts this fall with more performance flair. It will be powered by an inline-six and a V-8, with variable valve timing technology and anti-skid control unveiled at the Detroit auto show. Look of the car is much the same as the show car.
LS 400: It gets slight changes to the fascias for 1998 model year, but the big news is that it will share the powerful V-8 with the GS 400. But the long-rumored V-12 version won't come to America because the engine reportedly is too big to fit under the LS hood. The LS 400 chief engineers said that it would be too costly to stretch the platform and certify the V-12 for such a small U.S. customer base. The car gets a complete redesign in 1999 for the 2000 model year.
RX 300: The Camry-based sport-utility will be a Lexus exclusive, and will arrive next spring as a 1999. It will look similar to the Mercedes-Benz M class, but since it is built on a car platform, it will have a more civilized ride.
LX 470: It won't just be a Lexus Land Cruiser any more; the upscale sport-utility gets a 4.7-liter V-8 and much more differentiated styling. It will arrive on the heels of the RX 300 next spring.
Coupes: The SC 400 will stay the sporty image leader, getting the new V-8 with variable valve timing this fall. The next SC 400 may come off the LS 400 platform to give it a bigger back seat and save development costs. Making the SC 300 off the Solara is now doubtful.
Protege: It will get a touch-up this fall before moving to the next version of Ford's CW170 Escort platform in 2001 model year. It will be designed by Mazda, while Ford's small car center in Germany will engineer it.
626: It is still a puzzle. One camp says 626 will survive on its own platform, arriving in 2002 model year with Mazda engineering and design, while another camp says 626 will come off a stretched Escort platform. Bet that the integrated-platform approach wins.
Millenia: The prime suspect is a stretched Mondeo platform, but there has been talk of putting the next Millenia on the DEW98 platform alongside the Jaguar X200 or a shortened Taurus. Whichever scenario, it won't arrive before 2002. That also leaves the question of what happens to the new plant in Hofu, Japan, designed to build Millenia.
Miata: It gets a slightly different look this fall: Pop-up headlamps are replaced by large, fixed lamps similar to the old MX-3. The doors have more of an RX-7 curve. The 1.8-liter engine stays, but with a slight hp boost. It's a little longer, and wider at the back.
RX-7: Although Mazda chief Henry Wallace likes to dangle this possibility before wide-eyed journalists, it's doubtful that Mazda can present a sound enough business case to Ford to allow it to be reborn in the U.S. market.
B series: The Ford Ranger's mechanical twin gets a redesign this fall that gives it stand-apart styling. It gets a longer wheelbase and overall length, a new front suspension and steering system and three engine choices - including a 4.0-liter V-6.
MPV: Once rumored to be supplanted by Windstar in the Mazda lineup, the expensive rear-drive, poor-selling MPV is now alive again. A revision comes in 2000.
Mini-SUV: For now, it's on a new platform with lots of 626 componentry. All that is sure is that it will be much smaller than a Ford Explorer and be powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder from Mazda and a 2.5-liter six from Ford. Job One is slated for May 2000, but haggling between Ford and Mazda threaten to delay the program further. Mazda will design it, and Ford and Mazda will each style their own version. It will be built either at Lorain, Ohio, or Kansas City, Mo.
Mirage: A revision is slated for 2002 with a slightly larger sedan and coupe. However, the U.S. sales arm may not get it, since its lackluster sales have disappointed the parent company.
Galant: A more angular version arrives next year as a 1999 model. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine will be joined by a 3.0-liter V-6 with 190 hp. Despite being larger outside, the interior dimensions will remain about the same. Styling will mimic the muscular look of the Diamante.
Diamante: A revision comes for the 2002 model year.
Eclipse: It was scheduled for 2000, but conflicts with Chrysler at the Illinois plant may push it to 2001. Mitsubishi wants to make it larger, but Chrysler is worried that its Eclipse twin would compete too much with Sebring/Avenger. Chrysler is fighting to make the car smaller. All this has created delays.
3000GT: Mitsubishi is the only Japanese maker really committed to the sports car segment. The next version will arrive in 1999 or 2000.
Montero: A reskin arrives in 1998, but the direct-injection V-6 with 245 hp is still a couple of years away. A redesign with a longer, lower profile is on hold until 2001. It probably will stick with V-6 power - albeit a more powerful version of the 3.5-liter powerplant, although there is talk of a V-8 version in Japan.
Mini-SUV: It is still a go, but it will be imported rather than built in Illinois. It will be based on the Japan-version Galant. It is about six months behind schedule, which means it probably will arrive in time for the 2000 model year. The separate Pininfarina-built mini-SUV will stay in Europe.
Minivan: America will get a version of the NedCar platform built in Europe. It will arrive for the 2000 model year.
Sentra/200SX: It arrives in fall 1999 with a sharper look and a crisper, more exciting interior, maybe with black-on-white gauges from the Maxima. It is designed to go against the Civic, which is now seen as superior. Although dealers are screaming for a short-cycle, Nissan does not want Sentra's launch to interfere with Maxima's. The 200SX will look more coupe-like. Production of the current model moves to Mexico in mid-1998.
Altima: A revision arrives this fall. Aside from a minor bending of sheet metal, little will change, except for a price cut of up to $1,500. The car's wheelbase is the same, but the length is up 3.4 inches. Mechanicals remain mostly intact. Designers promise dramatic changes for the next generation in 2002.
Maxima: It will reassert its turf as a performance sedan, getting more sporty lines - especially from the C-pillar back. Maxima should arrive in spring 1999 as a 2000 model. Some analysts note that, with annual sales of 120,000, Maxima would make a logical fit for the Smyrna plant, which has lost the Sentra/200SX to Mexico.
Frontier: The Frontier arrives this fall after waiting seven years for a redesign. It's longer, wider and taller, yet still looks very Japanese. It will start with only a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but the 3.3-liter V-6 will come next spring. A column-mounted automatic transmission makes three-across seating more comfortable.
Frontier sport-utility: Since it is derived from the Frontier pickup, the new compact sport-utility will be very trucky. It will undercut Pathfinder pricing by several thousand dollars, and will offer both Frontier engines to compete with Isuzu Rodeo and Toyota 4Runner. It arrives next spring as a 1999.
Pathfinder: A revised Pathfinder bows in 2001 with a gutsier engine, sportier automatic transmission gearing and more aggressive American-made design that harks back to the original Pathfinder.
Quest: The Mercury Villager twin finally gets a revision with the 3.3-liter truck engine for 1999. It also, mercifully, gets a second rear sliding door.
Elgrand: This just-released American-sized van so far is sold only to Japan. Yet there are many concessions to potential U.S. buyers, including twin rear siding doors, dual airbags and a column-mounted shifter. It is priced from $23,085. If it comes to America, it's because Quest isn't working out.
Sport coupe: Sport coupe designs abound at Nissan's U.S. design arm. Whether one will succeed the 240SX or 300ZX is still under speculation. Making a business case in these dead segments is tough.
Legacy: Legacy is the name of Subaru's biggest-selling model, and the Legacy platform underneath has also been the backbone of all new Subaru models since 1989, including the popular Outback 'sport-utility wagon' and the more truck-like Forester. Besides traction, Subaru also aims in the future to push a performance image, which is more in keeping with the marque's image in the home market.
A Legacy 'sport-utility sedan' is expected to join the U.S. lineup next year as a late 1998 model.
Both the basic platform and the Legacy model get a makeover in 1999 for the 2000 model year. The chassis will be pretty close to the existing one, but the Legacy model will get all-new sheet metal and an all-new interior.
Impreza: Based on a shortened Legacy platform, the Impreza gets its update a couple of years later, around 2002. For the 1998 model year, Subaru adds the 2.5 RS, an Impreza with a 2.5-liter engine, modeled after Subaru's cross-country rally car. Like the Legacy, the Impreza already has a 'sport-utility' version, called the Outback Sport.
Subaru says it will continue to produce such car-based 'hybrids.' Once a big seller of small pickups, Subaru now has no plans for a 'truck-based truck.'
Forester: It was introduced for the 1998 model year.
SVX: It has been out of production since the end of 1996.
Sidekick: The basic sport-utility will get some upgrades in a spring 1998 revision, but maintain the utilitarian Suzuki flair. While Honda, Toyota and Subaru invent car-like utility vehicles, Suzuki's will stay distinctively trucky. A name change may be in the works.
Sidekick Sport: There will be more differentiation from the Sidekick, especially in size and powertrain. It will be much larger inside, probably wide enough to sit three across comfortably in the back seat. A 2.5-liter V-6 will be the upscale powerplant, and will only be in the Suzuki - not the Geo Tracker. This vehicle's name also may change.
Esteem: A wagon arrived this summer; an all-wheel-drive wagon version is planned. Talk of a coupe version has dissipated. The sedan will get a revision in 2001. Production may shift to CAMI plant.
Swift: It gets less emphasis as marketing dollars feed the sport-utility craze. It gets punted over to GM's Corsa platform and built in Mexico starting in the 2001 model year.
X-90: Still not selling.
Tercel: Imports will be cut sharply starting this fall, with possible elimination after 1999 model year. It is just too expensive to build for too little profit when import credits can be better used for Camry.
Paseo: The case is the same as with Tercel, except that imports already have been curtailed.
Corolla: Engineered with an emphasis on cost-cutting, the redesigned 1998 U.S. version comes with just one engine line. The base model gets a lower price to attract buyers lost with Tercel deletion.
Celica: Much too pricey for its mission, Celica gets simplified for 1999 to return to its origins as a spiffy little first coupe for younger buyers. It probably will be off the Japan-market Corolla platform. This makes room in the pricing structure for ...
Solara: The Camry-based coupe arrives for 1999 from Toyota's Canadian plant. A convertible may come up to a year later.
Camry: Its five-year cycle has Camry new for 2002. Look for more cost savings on the same level as in 1997. A fascia change comes in 2000.
Avalon: A front and rear fascia change comes this fall, but the mechanicals stay the same. A redesign on the new Camry platform comes in 2000.
Supra: As long as Toyota has $30 billion in the bank, it will keep selling the Supra. Don't expect many mechanical changes, but a freshening to a bolder look comes in 2000.
Sienna: Toyota enters the minivan segment in earnest this fall with the Camry-based Sienna. Lots of Camry components are shared, including 3.0-liter V-6 powertrain and front suspension. Three- and four-door packages will be available.
RAV4: Since it came out in Japan 18 months ahead of America, the U.S. market gets a short-cycled vehicle. It will be only a minor change, with a reskin and a bump in the engine's power next spring. The next-generation RAV4 comes in 2002, but North American production looks to be out of the picture.
4Runner: Two views of the future: It stays imported from Japan off a modified Tacoma platform, or it moves to Indiana off a shortened T100 platform. Revision comes in spring 2001 as a 2002.
Land Cruiser: It stays on its own platform with a redesign and longer wheelbase next spring. It supposedly only gets a 4.5-liter six-cylinder to differentiate from the Lexus V-8 version. Sheet metal is more utilitarian to revive urban guerrilla image.
Tacoma: There is continued emphasis on the upscale V-6 package since the compact truck market is skidding. A redesign is expected for 2001 model year.
T100: Toyota will take on the Big 3 in the 1999 model year with an American-built big truck, with both V-6 and V-8 power. But in typical Toyota fashion, it will be slightly smaller than its Detroit counterparts.
National Editor James R. Crate and Staff Reporters James B. Treece and Jim Henry contributed to this report.