LOS ANGELES -- In the next four model years, big and small Japanese automakers will continue to branch into new product segments.
While Toyota, Nissan and Honda are encroaching on the Big 3's preserve of full-sized pickup trucks and SUVs, smaller players like Mazda, Mitsubishi and Suzuki are filling in the gaps in their product lineups with smaller truck offerings and niche products.
The youth market also is under close scrutiny with the debut of Toyota's Scion division. Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi and Mazda all have studied bringing superminis from foreign markets to U.S. shores.
Then there are the green cars. Top Toyota executives want a hybrid powertrain to be an option on most of their vehicles within the next three to five years, while Honda also wants to bolster its hybrid lineup. Nissan has licensed hybrid technology from Toyota, and its first green cars will appear in the 2006 model year.
A look into the future shows that almost all Japanese automakers are charging boldly into arenas they would not have considered a few years ago. Here are their vehicle plans for the 2004 to 2007 model years.
|What will change|
|Here are the major planned changes in the lineup by model year.|
NSX restyled, re-engineered
|RD-X sport wagon debuts|
|Civic Type R debut (OR 2005)||Odyssey redesigned||Civic redesigned|
Possible Fit debut
|FX35/FX45 sport wagon debuts||QX56 SUV debuts|
Possible I35 redesign
|5-passenger Ascender debuts||Possible SUV debuts|
|ES 300 freshened|
GS 300/GS 430 redesigned (or 2005)
RX 330 redesigned
|IS 300 redesigned||LS 430 redesigned|
Possible LX 470 redesign (or 2007)
|Mazda3 debuts||Tribute restyled||Miata redesigned or re-engineered|
Possible Diamante redesign
Sport wagon debuts
Pathfinder Armada debuts
|Altima restyled, re-engineered|
xB wagon debuts
|xC hatchback debuts|
|Impreza freshened||Legacy redesigned||Forester redesigned|
Possible Impreza redesign
Sport wagon debuts
|Forenza compact sedan debuts|
Verona mid-sized sedan debuts
|Vitara, Grand Vitara redesigned||SUV debuts||Aerio redesigned|
Camry Solara convertible, coupe redesigned
Possible Celica redesign
Possible MR-Spyder redesign
Possible debut of the Matrix Rally
FJ Cruiser debuts
This New York auto show concept car clearly represents the redesigned front-wheel-drive 2004 Acura TL, insiders say.
RL: While the redesigned 2005 model will debut in the spring, a V-8 will not be under the hood. Instead, one of two powerplants is likely: a 300-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 that is being tested in Japan, or a hybrid powertrain, combining a 250-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 and a 160-hp motor. The V-6 engine would run on three cylinders when cruising to save fuel.
NSX: The NSX will be restyled and re-engineered for the 2005 model year. The NSX likely will receive a larger-displacement engine, lighter chassis components and possibly aluminum body panels. A hybrid version - as hinted in the 2001 Dual Note concept car - has been shelved.
Acura will draw styling cues from the RD-X concept, shown here, for a future sport wagon based off the Honda Civic platform.
Fit: The sub-Civic hatchback that is sold in Japan and Europe won't come to North America. But the next generation is under study, and it could be the lead car for a new line should Honda decide to create a division like Toyota's Scion. It could be introduced for the 2006 or 2007 model year.
Civic: The car is slated for a 2006 model year redesign. Although Honda took flak from enthusiasts for changing to a MacPherson strut suspension from a double wishbone, the decision to use the Civic platform for more rugged sport wagon applications likely means the change is permanent.
Honda is studying whether the 200-hp Type R variant that is sold in Europe should come to the United States in the 2004 or 2005 model year as a brand builder.
Pickup: Honda executives have slowly leaked the news that the automaker will get into the SUV/pickup business, creating an awd vehicle from the Odyssey/Pilot platform. The 2006 pickup will have four doors and a stub bed, powered by the Pilot's 3.5-liter V-6.
But the pickup is not intended for commercial applications. Honda's truck will have a unibody construction, a pickup intended for recreational applications rather than commercial uses or severe off-road trips. The Honda pickup will be similar in size to the Pilot.
Stream: Because the next-generation Odyssey minivan is expected to get slightly larger, Honda will have room in its lineup for a smaller, less-costly, five-passenger vehicle. The question is whether to develop a small minivan or a sport wagon.
The Europe-market Stream minivan is being studied by Honda product planners here and has been tentatively named the Latitude. Rather than a true mini-minivan, the Latitude could be structured more like the Toyota Matrix sport wagon. The vehicle won't arrive until the next Civic platform rolls out, so the 2007 model year would be the earliest.
Odyssey: Honda keeps promising that its 2005 model year redesign will put the Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest back in their places. Expect a slightly larger Odyssey. The interior will get a major upgrade with emphasis on keeping children entertained on long rides.
Rodeo Sport: The SUV has been dropped.
While not finished, Isuzu hopes to expand its U.S. product range possibly next year with this body-on-frame SUV. PHOTO: K.C. CRAIN
SUV: For the 2005 or 2006 model year, Isuzu hopes to get a body-on-frame SUV built off the company's Thai-market pickup. As shown to reporters in sketch form at the 2003 New York auto show, it would be larger than the Rodeo and the old Trooper but shorter and narrower than the Ascender.
IS 300: The redesigned 2005 IS 300 will be a contender and not a pretender, executives promise. The IS 300 will come in sedan, coupe and convertible versions. All-wheel drive will be available, as will a range of engines.
LS 430: A redesign is slated for the 2006 model year. Spy sketches from Japan indicate a big, sleek flagship more like the Mercedes-Benz S class than the BMW 5 series. Although Lexus boss Denny Clements wants a V-12 version, a V-8 engine mated to a hybrid powertrain is more likely.
LX 470: The Lexus version of the Toyota Land Cruiser soldiers on, even though it is smaller but more expensive than the GX 470. Insiders say the LX 470 has a better chance of surviving in the United States this decade than the Land Cruiser. The LX 470 could be redesigned for the 2006 or 2007 model year if it survives.
Mazda3: The successor to the Protege arrives in December in sedan and wagon form. The wagon was shown at this year's Geneva auto show. The sedan is expected to carry many of the same angular cues, with pronounced shoulders and projector-beam headlamps.
The Mazda3 will share a redesigned platform with the 2004 Volvo S40 and the next European Ford Focus. It will ride on a 103.9-inch wheelbase, about two inches longer than the current Protege. The car will be longer overall and wider as well. The top-line engine will be a 2.3-liter inline-four, with an estimated 150 hp.
Miata: The current model will get a new look for 2006. But there is debate within Mazda as to whether the next Miata will share a platform with the RX-8 or receive a re-engineered or redesigned platform.
Part of the problem with platform sharing is that the RX-8 layout places the rotary engine behind the front wheels, a near-impossible feat with the Miata's four-cylinder piston engine. But the two cars may share suspension pieces.
RX-8: The sports car with four doors was launched in July. The Japan market is pushing for a two-door version, as well as a convertible. If cycle plans run according to schedule, those variants would arrive here for the 2007 model year.
MX Sportourer: Although Mazda has pushed hard for this sport wagon, Ford Motor Co.'s budget woes have its Japanese affiliate wondering if the investment would be worth another 30,000-unit vehicle. Mazda wants to create the sport wagon off the Mazda6 platform and slot it between the Tribute and the MPV. Consider it doubtful.
B-Series pickup: There is a debate as to whether Mazda, with its "zoom-zoom'' image, needs a pickup. But it helps keep Ford factories running, and it also appeals to dealers in blue-collar communities. The current pickup is a variant of the Ford Ranger, but Ford has no plans to redesign the Ranger.
Lancer: The redesigned 2007 Lancer comes off a shared platform with the Chrysler group this decade. Mitsubishi is handling most of the engineering. The platform is significantly beefier than the current Lancer platform, and it will be able to handle a small V-6. The Lancer will continue to be built in Japan
Eclipse: Mitsubishi will shrink the Project America platform to create the redesigned 2006 Eclipse coupe. But even then it will be much larger than any previous Eclipse, moving into Toyota Solara turf. Mitsubishi's code name is PS24S. The rear styling is said to be similar to the Nissan 350Z.
The 2004 Mitsubishi Galant is a bigger, American-sized vehicle.
The Galant's front-end styling continues the three-element grille that Mitsubishi designers are incorporating worldwide.
Diamante: Mitsubishi wants to stretch the Galant platform to create the 2006 redesigned Diamante. There is talk of assembly in Australia, even though the car would be based on the Project America platform built in Illinois. It is by no means certain that the car will be continued in the U.S. market.
Sport wagon: Mitsubishi will challenge the Toyota Matrix with a compact sport wagon that debuts for the 2007 model year. It will be based on the Lancer platform shared with the Chrysler group. The vehicle is code-named GS44.
Montero: A redesign is slated for the 2006 model year, possibly mated to a shared platform with the Chrysler group. Dealers want a V-8 but might not get it.
The Mitsubishi pickup, code-named NM, should arrive in the 2006 model year in V-6 and four-door configurations only. Mitsubishi is aiming to sell about 40,000 units a year.
The redesigned 2006 Sentra will be the first vehicle sold in the U.S. market developed from a shared Nissan-Renault platform. PHOTO: JIM DUNNE/POPULAR MECHANICS
The big 2004 Nissan Pathfinder Armada is aimed at buyers of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition.
They both will share the same scaled-down version of the Titan pickup platform that will be the bones of the Frontier. Sales should begin in early 2005.
Pathfinder Armada: The Titan pickup platform also carries this full-sized SUV, which goes on sale in late September. This Armada will be larger than the Ford Expedition with a 123.2-inch wheelbase, 206.9-inch overall length and 78.8-inch width.
Nissan had hoped to have the redesigned pickup in production at the beginning of the 2005 model year. But the Titan's drain on resources is making it difficult for Nissan to meet that timetable, a source said. The pickup may now debut midway or even late in the 2005 model year.
Nissan joins the full-sized battle with the 2004 Titan King Cab. Sales begin in November.
Interesting features include second-row doors on the King Cab that swing open 168 degrees and a cargo area built into the rear-left quarter panel. The Crew Cab adds another foot of cabin room but deletes a foot of bed length.
xA: The xA, based on the Japan market Ist, is a five-door hatchback slightly smaller than an Echo. Power comes from a 108-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The car went on sale in California in June. Sales begin in the South and East by Christmas, and the Midwest by summer 2004.
Expect a strict four-year cycle, but whether that starts from the California launch or national launch is unclear.
xB: This box on wheels is based on the Japan-market BB but has the same 108-hp engine as the xA. It also has the same launch schedule as the xA. There will not be a reskin or mild redesign of this car. When the cycle is over, it dies.
Toyota has hinted that the third model in the Scion line will borrow styling cues from the ccX concept, shown here.
Unlike the other two vehicles in the lineup, the xC is expected to have a more powerful engine - either the Camry's 157-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder or the 180-hp engine from the Celica GT-S.
The xC name may get nixed, as Volvo has an XC model. Ad agency Attik has called it "G3" in internal memos, but Apple Computer Inc. has that name for its Macintosh line.
Impreza: The 2004 high-performance Sti is based on the European rally. Sales began in June. The WRX, 2.5 TS, 2.5 RS sedan and Outback Sport wagon are freshened for the 2004 model year. A redesign is due around the 2006 model year.
Forenza: The GM-Daewoo arrangement delivers Suzuki a compact sedan this fall. The Forenza will overlap the Aerio in pricing and packaging, so Suzuki will position it as a value-packed sedan, while the Aerio will be about sportiness. The Forenza will have a 119-hp, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and ride on a 102.4-inch wheelbase. Prices will start around $12,000
Verona: GM-Daewoo also will build a mid-sized sedan for Suzuki. The old Daewoo Leganza platform was re-engineered and restyled by ItalDesign. To tackle the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the 2004 Verona will start at around $16,000 with a 155-hp, 2.5-liter, inline six-cylinder engine. It will ride on a 106.3-inch wheelbase.
Echo: Toyota executives swear the Echo will be redesigned, despite Scion having similar vehicles in size and price. They likely will follow Canada's lead of importing the Europe-market Yaris and renaming it Echo hatchback. A redesign is scheduled for the 2005 model year.
Prius: The redesigned 2004 hybrid sedan grows nearly as large as the Camry; the wheelbase increases 6 inches and the overall length is up by 5 inches. The quirky styling of the five-door hatchback will continue.
The output of the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine has been boosted to 72 hp. Toyota claims a zero-to-60 speed in 10 seconds, and 55 mpg in combined city-highway driving.
Camry: The 2004 Camry receives a 3.3-liter V-6. A Toyota source says that engine might be available only for the top trim model, with the remaining Camry line keeping the 3.0-liter V-6. The base four-cylinder engine is unchanged.
Camry Solara: The coupe will be redesigned for the 2004 model year. While the underbody, suspension and engine are shared with Camry, the coupe has its own interior. It will receive the 3.3-liter V-6. A convertible debuts next spring.
Avalon: At one time Toyota was concerned that Avalon buyers were too old, and that the Avalon was turning into the Japanese Buick. Rather than resist that trend, Toyota appears ready to make the redesigned 2005 Avalon a destination for its older customers.
Supra: As Toyota is racing all around the world, from pickups to Formula One cars, a Supra-type sports car may be developed off the next-generation Lexus IS platform to challenge the Nissan 350Z and Mazda RX-8.
Matrix Rally: Toyota is studying an off-road vehicle that adopts the rally racing cues from the RSC concept car. If built, it would be derived from the Corolla/Matrix platform. The vehicle likely will be beneath the RAV4 in size but probably not in price. The vehicle could arrive for the 2005 model year.
Toyota wants this vehicle to be a bridge to lure Scion customers into Toyota vehicles.
FJ Cruiser: The Smurf-blue FJ Cruiser concept truck is the inspiration for the styling of the production SUV. The 2006 FJ Cruiser - if the name is kept - will have four doors and be based on the new Tacoma platform.
Tacoma: The compact pickup will grow much wider and longer when the redesigned 2005 version debuts in the spring. Expect the pickup to have a more North American feel and approach the dimensions of a Dodge Dakota.
Tundra: A Double Cab version will be added this fall with four doors. The Double Cab's wheelbase will be more than a foot longer than that of the Tundra Access Cab. A ¾-ton Double Cab model will debut some time before the 2006 redesign.
The redesigned 2006 Tundra will be a full-sized pickup, undoubtedly with an engine that has more torque. It will be assembled in Indiana and Texas.
Product Editor Rick Kranz contributed to this report