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Weekly Update - November 6, 2002

Lots of fun stuff to talk about this week, mostly from the huge SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association) show. Prepare for a wild ride!

Mazda Minutes

SEMA-ZDA: The annual SEMA trade show in Las Vegas is proving to be one of this country's premier automotive events, with participation this year at its highest level ever. Unfortunately, it's still closed to the public, but I have info on Mazda's activities to share.

Anyone up for drag racing? Witness the new Mazda6 drag car, to be driven by former Honda pilot Ed Bergenholtz. Starting in 2003, Team Bergenholtz and Mazdaspeed will run the car in NHRA competition as well as some of the other drag series. The car is powered by a much-modified methanol-burning version of the new 2.3-liter Mazda four, featuring a Garrett turbo and Motec electronics that combine to produce a massive rating of 1000hp (also known as roughly six times the stock four-cylinder's output). All that power is backed up by a five-speed Fortin sequential gearbox and mounted on a custom tube frame by Bullet Engineering. If it tells you anything, Ed Bergenholtz had driven for Honda for 13 years before deciding to switch to Mazda. Obviously, Mazda is serious about making an impact on the drag world.

And if that weren't enough, the legendary Abel Ibarra will be trading up his old RX-7 for a new car based on the upcoming RX-8. No details yet, but expect turbos to make their presence known.

Also at the SEMA show is the brand new Mazdaspeed Protege. Sure, everyone knows about the MS Protege by now, but I'm referring to a brand-new "2003.5" version. The 170hp turbocharged powertrain and super-tuned suspension remain the same, but the big changes entail revisions to the front and rear fascias - plus a different wing, larger exhaust tip and a repaint job (in "Dark Hyper Silver") for the Racing Hart rims. Production of this "new" model will be limited to just 2500 examples.

Besides all that, Mazda is also displaying its new Star Mazda open-wheel racer, a Mazda6 with styling mods by designer Troy Lee, and the DGM Blazing Miata (which I have no info on yet).

More non-Mazda-related news from Vegas follows in a special SEMA report. But first...

FROM THE HOME OFFICE IN IRVINE, CALIFORNIA: Sales numbers for October were announced last week. Overall, Mazda sales for the month dropped by 39.6 percent from October 2001 - however, the loss of the Millenia and 626 (which were still widely available at this time last year) can be blamed for some of that. And besides, Mazda is only down 2.5 percent for the entire year. Thus, you can expect the Mazda6 (due by December) to make up quite a bit of that shortfall.

Speaking of the Mazda6, official pricing for that eagerly awaited newcomer was announced earlier in the week. Take a gander at the details:


Provided by: Mazda North American Operations

2003 MAZDA6

4-DOOR SEDAN

Mazda6i (5-speed manual): $18,530
Mazda6s (5-speed manual): $21,100

EQUIPMENT PACKAGES

Code 3RA: Bose Audio Package (note 1) - all models, $635
Code 1CO: Comfort Package (note 2) - all models with Option LSI, $220
Code 214: Premium Package (note 3) - 6i model only, $800
Code 1SE: Sport Package (note 4) - all models; 6i requires Package 214, $860

OPTIONS

Code AT1: 4-speed Sport automatic transaxle - 6i model only, $850
Code AT2: 5-speed Sport automatic transaxle - 6s model only, $900
Code AB4: ABS and traction control - 6i model only, $400
Code SSU: Alarm shock sensor upgrade - all models; 6i requires Package 214, $60
Code FLA: All-weather floor mats - all models, $60
Code FLD: Aluminum bright-chrome fuel-filler door - all models; unavailable with Option FDS, $100
Code FDS: Aluminum pearl-satin fuel-filler door - all models; unavailable with Option FLD, $100
Code CGN: Cargo net - all models, $40
Code CTO: Cargo tray and organizer - all models; includes Option CGT, $150
Code CGT: Cargo tray - all models, $50
Code CAS: Cassette player - all models, $200
Code CAP: Chrome Appearance Package (note 5) - all models, $325
Code MRC: Compass/AutoDim mirror - all models; unavailable with Option MRH, $150
Code MRH: Compass/AutoDim/Homelink mirror - all models; unavailable with Option MRC, $250
Code CDC: In-dash 6-disc CD changer - all models; unavailable with Package 3RA, $500
Code LS1: Leather seat upholstery - all models, $860
Code MR1: Power moonroof - all models, $700
Code MGU: Rear mud guards - all models; unavailable with Package 1SE, $35
Code AB6: Side air bags and side air curtains - all models; $450
Code CE1: ULEV emissions equipment - all cars sold in CA-ME-MA-NY-VT, $100
Code WLK: Wheel locks - all models; requires package 214, $30

NOTES

(1) Bose Audio Package includes: 200-watt sound system with 4 full-range door-mounted speakers, 2 tweeters, amplified subwoofer and in-dash 6-disc CD changer.
(2) Comfort Package includes : Heated front seats and heated door mirrors.
(3) Premium Package includes: 16-inch alloy wheels, 8-way power driver's seat with lumbar support (manually adjustable), and perimeter anti-theft alarm.
(4) Sport Package includes: 17-inch alloy wheels with P215/50 R17 all-season tires, oval type dual exhaust outlets, fog lights (headlight-integrated), sport type front & rear bumpers, side sill extensions, rear spoiler, black interior trim (cloth or optional leather), and electroluminescent gauges with red illumination.
(5) Chrome Appearance Package includes: Chrome rear finisher and side protector moldings.

PRICE NOTE

All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price, including Dealer Preparation and Check Up required by Manufacturer.  Vehicle MSRP does not include a Destination Charge of $520.00 ($680.00 for Alaska), State and Local Taxes or Fees or any other charges.
Race Report

The SCCA recently announced the schedule of events for next year's ProRally series. Competing brands for 2003 will include Hyundai (defending its 2002 championship), Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Mazda. Dodge will also join the ranks, pitting its new turbocharged SRT-4 Neon directly against the Mazdaspeed Protege in the 2WD class. The schedule is as follows:

Jan. 24-25: Sno*Drift, Atlanta, Mich.
May 2-3: Rim of the World, Palmdale, Calif.
June 7: Susquehannock Trail, Wellsboro, Penn.
June 26-28: Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, Colorado Springs, Colo.
July 12-13: Oregon Trail, Hillsboro, Ore.
Aug.1-2: Maine Forest, Rumford, Maine
Aug. 22-23: Ojibwe Forests, Bemidji, Minn.
Sept. 6-7: Wild West, Olympia, Wash.
Oct. 17-18: Lake Superior, Houghton, Mich.
Auto Show News: SEMA in Las Vegas

CHRYSLER PLAYS TO WIN: Sure, Hyundai's got 22 cars to show in Vegas. But Chrysler, always regarded as the "fun" member of the Big Three, has managed to put together over 100 concepts and modified vehicles for the big SEMA bash. Of that total, over 40 vehicles were simply handed out by Chrysler to a variety of tuners and specialists. In addition, Chrysler president Dieter Zetsche announced the creation of a new VXT division - that's the "Vehicle Excitement Team" to you. Chrysler is also using the show as an impromptu dealer meeting, sending around 4000 American dealers to the show as a way of letting them know how important the aftermarket can be to overall profits.

In fact, Chrysler has announced a new sales division: Mopar Speedshops. Ideally, each dealer participating in the Speedshops program would carry a full line of Mopar hop-up parts - as well as displaying a modified vehicle to give a taste of what can be achieved. It all sounds very impressive, doesn't it? Hopefully, more automakers (say, Mazda?) will get the same idea.

But the cars are the stars at SEMA, not the marketing plans. So far, they've announced details on just three such creations.

First, I give you the Dodge Stratus Turbo, powered by a slightly modded version of the company's new 2.4-liter turbo four (as used in the Neon SRT-4 and PT Cruiser GT) that makes 240hp. The Stratus Turbo also includes the usual sport-tuned suspension and more aggressive body styling.

Also flying the turbo flag is a new two-door PT Super Cruiser, effectively a shortened version of the original GT Cruiser show car from SEMA 2000. The Super-C, however, packs around 300hp under its hood in the form of the very same 2.4-liter turbo four. (Can anyone say "tuning potential"?) Body mods are intended to evoke race cars, featuring wider fenders and sill extensions that house a set of 18-inch rims on Michelin Pilot tires (just like on the Viper). For those times when you're not roaring down the back stretch at Laguna, the Super-C also carries a portable Infinity entertainment system featuring 875 watts of surround-sound power and an Xbox console with an LCD flat-screen TV.

Less exciting, but impressive nonetheless, is the PT Big Sky. This one's stock underhood, but is heavily modified in other unique ways. Such as the full-length retractable sunroof by Webasto, using five separate glass panels that inconspicuously stack themselves when the passengers desire open-air motoring. And when they don't, the panels line back up again to shield against the weather - but, with the panels being glass, passengers still get a full view of the sky above them. Also, the Big Sky is the only PT Cruiser variant that has ever been fitted with an AWD system. Chrysler isn't making much of that fact, but I'd expect to see some form of an AWD Cruiser in production (probably without the sunroof) during the next year or so.

On the tuner side of things, there's a Neon R/T from Wings West. "Tuning" in this case goes no farther than a body kit, 19-inch rims and a thumping stereo. Which is fine, I suppose. Along the same lines is a Sebring convertible with styling upgrades by Racing Sports Akimoto. However, the Sebring at least carries a supercharger kit atop its 2.7-liter V6. And American Expedition Vehicles has created a Jeep Wrangler pickup by stretching the Jeep's stock wheelbase 24 inches and adding a box extension. Very cool. Plus, there's the two super-pickups (by Kenne Bell and Performance WEst) that I mentioned last week.

And finally, Dodge has signed Shaun Carlson (builder of the AEM Civic Si driven by Stephan Papadakis) to construct a Mopar-sponsored Neon for competition in the import drag racing world. Other than that, no other details have yet been announced.

NISSAN TUNES UP: Along with Chrysler, Nissan and its Nismo performance division are making their own little splash at SEMA. Take the following data as proof.

Nismo itself has three vehicles to promote, all making heavy use of the division's huge parts lineup. Two are variants on the new 350Z, the current darling of the automotive press. Both Zs carry the same mods: Weldina cat-back exhaust system, S-tune engine (air filter, oil coolers, flywheel) and transmission (clutch and LSD) upgrades, plus a full S-tune suspension kit and LM GT-4 racing rims. Power jumps to an impressive 295hp and 280lb-ft of torque. The only difference is paint - either Silverstone Gray or LeMans Sunset Orange.

Along with the Z action, Nissan/Nismo is also debuting its car for next year's Speed World Challenge series in the form of a heavily-modified Sentra SE-R Spec V. The Sentra's stock-block QR25 four-cylinder engine has been bumped up to a stratospheric 258hp, which should be more than enough power to run at the front of the increasingly crowded Touring Division. The leading Mazda and Acura teams should be a little worried.

Then, there are the tuners. Stillen, for instance, has provided two vehicles. The first is a lowered and hyped-up Altima; the second is a similarly enhanced Sentra SE-R. Both feature upgrades across the board, and all are provided by parts available in the massive Stillen catalog. Axis Sport Tuning jumped all over a 350Z, giving it not just an HKS suspension kit but also a brand-new HKS turbo-intercooler kit. Power ratings are not available, but I trust it's somewhere in the 350-400hp range.

And finally, there are three off-road tuner specials: the CalMini Xterra, an ironically-named Street Concepts Frontier pickup, and the Holbreck Pathfinder. All three trucks carry the usual off-road kit like massive tires and wheels, two- and three-inch lift kits, winches, bumper bars and driving lights.

SUZUKI AND KIA, ROOKIES OF THE YEAR: As the SEMA show becomes more prominent, even the smaller upstart makers are beginning to get into the act.

Suzuki has provided show-goers with the Aerio SX Sport, a pumped-up version of its odd-looking wagon that offers thrills both in driving and entertainment. The former comes from engine and suspension upgrades (AEM intake kit, HKS chip, InTrax lowering springs, ALT 18-inch rims on Falken tires), with the latter coming from a multi-talented audio-visual system (an MA Audio tech-fest featuring both 7.0- and 2.5-inch LCD screens, two 12-inch subs and four 5.25-inch mids, plus a DVD/CD/MP3 head unit). Plus there are appearance upgrade, some of which can be easily obtained as part of the Genuine Suzuki Accessories line. Along with the Aerio, Suzuki is displaying its new Formula Hayabusa open-wheel race car (sort of a counter to the Star Mazda, but with much smaller displacement) and a Yoshimura-tuned GSX 1300R Hayabusa motorcycle.

Kia, meanwhile, is debuting the Rio Cinco Swim. This one is billed as "the ultimate car for the ultimate surfer". Features include waterproof neoprene upholstery, Delphi's SkyFi satellite radio kit, an air compressor (to fill up those beach balls) and a water tank with sprayer (assumedly to clean up after a day in the surf). The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which is new for 2003 anyway, remains stock. The Swim is joined by a Sorento Surf counterpart, which is changed mainly in styling and trim but also includes a three-inch lift and off-road tires.

EVEN JAGUAR, FOR GOSH SAKES: Yes, Jaguar has built a car for the SEMA show. The X-Type Racing Concept was built by Rocketsports Racing, the creators of Paul Gentilozzi's Jaguar XK8 Trans-Am car. The X-Type Racing Concept, however, is more of a styling statement than anything else - main features include touring-car-style body mods and a strongly upgraded suspension with 18-inch wheels, while the AJ-V6 engine remains basically stock. However, Rocketsports plans to make the Racing Concept into a test car for various aftermarket parts - and there are rumors that they might even put it into a race or two. I'll keep you posted.

MORE TO COME: Beyond what I've already told you, there's a hell of a lot more action at SEMA. In fact, I haven't even scratched the surface. Look for more fun from Vegas next week!

Those Other Guys

SCION ARRIVES: Big news from SEMA about Toyota's new "youth" brand, Scion.

Scion is intended as something of an add-on to existing Toyota dealerships - in kind of the same way Geo cars used to be sold alongside Chevrolets. However, Toyota has gone way beyond just creating a new brand, having decreed that Scion cars are to be housed in a special "environment" with three main areas: the product area (with a wall of information and an accessory display case), a discovery zone (featuring self-service internet terminals), and a consultation space where prospective buyers can talk to a Scion salesperson if they have further questions.

Anyway, about the cars. Scion will launch at the Los Angeles Auto Show in January, with an initial set of dealers based solely in California. Two vehicles will be offered: the bbX, shown previously at this year's New York Auto Show, plus a new car to be unveiled in Los Angeles. Scion dealers will open in other locations (the Atlantic, southeastern and southwestern regions) by February of 2004, and a third car will be introduced in June of that year when Scion finally goes nationwide.

Duncan Malloch :D
 

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Thanks Dunc for the info....I saw the Scion bbx(the box one) at the poineer booth at the Denver Grand Prix, it looks pretty crazy almost like a boxy PT Cruiser.
 
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