Automakers hope innovation will wow NY Auto Show – USA TODAY
IRVINE, Calif. — Call it a multi-purpose vehicle, a people mover, a crossover utility vehicle, CUV, or just a van.
Just don’t refer to it as a minivan.
Cognizant of minivans’ mom-jeans image, Kia is trying breathe fresh life into the segment by giving its redesigned 2015 Sedona bold crossover SUV looks upfront, while retaining the low floor and sliding doors expected in a minivan. Though others are sure to call it a minivan, Kia is sensitive about the designation.
The South Korean automaker’s clean-sheet minivan design is just one of several new vehicles to be unveiled this week at the
New York Auto Show that attempt to seize new opportunities or revive old ones for models or brands. Others:
• Nissan aims to bring back to the best days of its high-styled Murano crossover with a redesign for 2015 that edges within an eyelash of being considered a premium model.
• Toyota will refresh its top-selling Camry — just redone for 2012 — to keep at bay a raft of newer-design rivals that have made midsize sedans into the industry’s most competitive segment and are challenging Camry’s place as the best-selling car in the U.S. But one of those rivals, Hyundai, will show a redesign of its Sonata that raised the bar on midsize sedan style.
• Honda’s Acura division, with a new boss and badly in need of a car that’s as big a hit as its SUVs, will try again with a new TLX sport sedan.
• In odes to fun, Mazda will toast 25 years of the Miata roadster with a redesign, while Jeep will stretch its image to include a new, pint-sized, Italian-derived Renegade.
On track to break 16 million sales this year for the first time since 2007, the auto industry is finally optimistic and profitable enough again to take chances, experiment and innovate.
KIA STAYS IN GAME
Look no further than Kia, which revealed to USA TODAY the new Sedona at its American design studio here before shipping it to New York.
Few would have quibbled with killing Sedona, part of the lineup since 2004, but down to 7,079 sales last year. “There definitely were those discussions,” confirms Steve Hirashiki, a senior product planner for Kia.
Also, the minivan segment had shrunk from 793,335 sales in 2007 to 518,473 last year, according to Autodata. But there now are fewer products competing for the sales. General Motors and Ford dropped their minivans, and Chrysler Group is expected to go to one, ditching either the Dodge Grand Caravan or Chrysler Town and Country.
Plus, Kia received wide attention for a gullwing-doored minivan concept, the KV7, that made auto-show rounds in 2011.
“We’ve always challenged tradition,” said Michael Sprague, a Kia executive vice president in the U.S. “We’re disrupting something that was old with something very CUVish.”
The new Sedona has jewel-like headlights similar to Kia’s new K900 luxury car and other upscale touches, Sprague says. One version has seats that can move from side to side to create room down a center aisle — and there are leg rests for reclining in style.
Given how Kia has shed its bargain-brand image in recent years, analysts think the Sedona has a shot. “With its 2015 redesign, Kia is hoping that the Sedona can ride the brand’s momentum to become more than just the high-value alternative to the dominant players,” says Eric Lyman, a vice president of lease data service ALG.
MURANO BACK IN STYLE?
Like Kia, Nissan hopes to play the style and luxury cards when it comes to the new Murano. It wants get back to being more of a player in the market for midsize, two-row crossover SUVs, which is currently a fast-growing and profitable segment. But while others tallied growth last year — some into the six figures — Murano sales fell 13% from the year before to 43,379.
The new Murano’s exterior is deeply contoured and high-style — like the original from 2003 that was so striking at the time. But the sculpted design is more aerodynamic, contributing to a 20% increase in fuel efficiency. Lots of attention was paid to details, like boomerang-shaped headlights and taillights that evoke Nissan’s 370Z sports car. Updates also include better in-car technology and more room to store portable devices.
“We wanted to get back to the ‘wow factor’ that the first one caused,” says Pierre Loing, vice president of product planning for Nissan. Designers were told “it should look like a show car.”
Nissan’s formula, according to Loing, for reviving Murano buzz and sales: “Go back to the original design, the emotional statement and capitalize on refinement.”