Friday, April 01, 2005

NEWS: Nissan Canada Records Second-Best March Sales

MISSISSAUGA, ON — Nissan Canada Inc. recorded its second-best March on record with sales of 7,087 vehicles last month, down from the record 7,307 set last year.

While Nissan Division sales slipped compared to March, 2004, Infiniti sales gained, thanks to the new 2006 Infiniti M. Infiniti, the luxury division of Nissan Canada Inc., posted sales of 831 units compared to 744 in March, 2004.

Nissan Division chalked up sales 6,256 units, down from 6,563 in March last year.

DRIVEN: 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350

By Russ Bond
My first ‘look’ at the new Mercedes SLK 350 came when I nearly got run down by one. Inside Track Editor Mark Atkinson was at the wheel of a shiny black example at Shannonville Motorsports Park, taking the stunning new ‘Merc’ out for a test drive at the annual AJAC (Automobile Journalists Association of Canada) Testfest.

Maybe the reason he nearly tagged me was that I was like a deer in headlights: I saw it coming but didn’t move. It was my first look at the latest offering from Mercedes, and I couldn’t move.

The new design is leaps and bounds over the original SLK that debuted in 1997. The original SLK was obviously a good idea for Mercedes as there are over 300,000 in service – 3,467 of them in Canada.

Mercedes says the new SLK is, “Stronger, sportier and more aggressive, the new SLK features bold, athletic styling and is powered by a new-generation 268-horsepower, 3.5-litre V6 engine with four valves per cylinder, double-overhead camshafts and variable valve timing for both intake and exhaust valves.”

I say Mercedes must have listened to its customers and product development people as this is exactly what the SLK needed.

Additional improvements on the 2005 SLK-Class include an all-new, more precise six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, and an available lowered
sport suspension.

My week with the SLK could have been at a better time of year – convertibles and Ontario winters don’t seem like a match made in heaven, but it did prove an important point. The new SLK can be an ‘all-rounder’ mainly due to the perfectly sealed hardtop, which retracts into the ‘boot’ when turned down.

There were some nice days and – in short – the new SLK is just a joy to drive. The light, nimble little coupe is aided by the most powerful engine in its class, the 3.5-litre all-aluminum V6 produces 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, with maximum torque available from 2,400 rpm all the way up to 5,000 rpm. The new V6 already develops 87 percent of its maximum torque at only 1,500 rpm. While the variable valve timing system should be credited for the engine’s unusually broad torque curve, a two-stage intake manifold plays a key role as well.

The short version is that there is power whenever you need it.

The six-speed transmission is crisp and precise, heel and toe operations are simple, with a clear approving sound from the engine when done properly.

Inside the SLK, the interior is nicely laid out with easy to read and use switches. I like the way the sculpted dash blends into the door panels, it makes the interior flow.

Because I had the car in the dead of winter, I was still tempted – on the sunny days – to put the roof down. I figured with the AIRSCARF neck-level heating system activated, which blows warm air from the head restraints of the driver and passenger seats and even compensates automatically for changes in air temperature and vehicle speed, I’d be okay for a while.

The new, faster operating top let me put the top down at a stop light with getting drivers behind me upset at the delay, because there wasn’t one. The roof of the new SLK goes up and down even more quickly, now 22 seconds, and the folded roof takes up less trunk space – thanks to its pivoting rear window.

Like the retractable hardtop of the larger SL model, the rear window of the new SLK pivots to match the curvature of the top, providing nearly 85 litres of trunk room.
Safety is always a big concern when you are in a small convertible, and the new SLK has plenty of technology to ‘miss things’, but just in case, the new SLK follows in the steps of the original, which was deemed one of the safest roadsters in the world.

In addition to its two-stage front air bags for both the driver and passenger, the new SLK is now also equipped with knee bags and head-thorax air bags which are located in the back of the seats and deploy in the event of a side impact that exceeds the deployment threshold. The top edge of the fully-inflated head-thorax air bags reaches above the top edge of the seat back to help provide better head and neck protection.

Safety orientated electronic systems abound on the new SLK, and they include Electronic Stability Program (ESP), straight line traction control, Brake Assist and ABS.

As luck would have it, two of the days I had the new SLK, it was typical Canadian winter weather, and the SLK performed flawlessly, thanks in part to all the electronic aids. For the masses – most of which seem to chuck their cars off the road in these conditions – the SLK should give them the piece of mind that it can handle these tough conditions, which it can.

So, as you can see, the new SLK is a huge leap forward for Mercedes-Benz. Combining a great new look, good drivable power, neutral handling and all the safety you could ask for, the new SLK is definitely an ‘all rounder’.

If you’re looking for a state of the art coupe/convertible, your next stop should be at your local Mercedes dealer.

For the pure performance minded buyers, the SLK55 AMG is the next step, and Inside Track is hoping to give you a review of that model in the future – when the weather is better...

NEWS: No Foolin': Chrysler Group Surpasses 11,000,000 Minivan Mark

Courtesy DaimlerChrysler Canada
WINDSOR, ON – Twenty-one years ago at Windsor Assembly Plant, Chrysler Group invented the modern minivan, which was then called "the Magic Wagon." Eleven million sales later, the minivan has forever changed family transportation and the automotive landscape of our highways and driveways. The minivan replaced the old-fashioned station wagon, revolutionized the cup holder industry and put North America's family rooms on wheels.

In March 2005, Chrysler Group surpassed the 11 million minivans sold mark. Dodge and Chrysler minivans are the best-selling in the world. Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan are sold in over 70 countries worldwide.

"Our eleven millionth Dodge Caravan customer today is just as important to us as our first customer was in 1984 and all since then. We didn’t know it 21 years ago, but Chrysler Group’s invention of the minivan proved to be a turning point in automotive history that has helped shape the vehicles and families of today,” said Mike Accavitti, Vice President- Marketing, DaimlerChrysler Canada. “In 2004, Canadians chose our Dodge Caravan over our nearest competitor by a margin of two to one. Calendar year- to-date, our minivans are the best-selling vehicles in the country."

Time and again, speculation surfaces that the minivan segment is going away. The reality is that minivan sales remain vibrant despite a competitive marketplace, averaging roughly 1.2 million annual sales for the past 10 years. Currently, industry-wide minivan sales account for about one of every eight new vehicles sold in Canada. Chrysler Group minivans accounted for 34.9 percent of the Canadian minivan market segment in 2004.

Fun Facts: Did you know?

• Eleven million minivans lined up front to back around the equator would circle the earth almost 1-1/2 times.

• It would take 18,182 football fields to hold the 11,000,000 minivans that Chrysler Group has sold.

• Eleven million minivans could transport:
6,416,667 hockey teams of 12 players per team
5,923,077 soccer teams of 13 players per team
7,700,000 basketball teams of 10 players per team
7,000,000 baseball teams of 11 players per team
3,850,000 football teams of 20 players per team

• The total towing capacity of 11 million minivans is 17.5 billion kilograms, which is enough to haul 44,000 fully loaded Boeing 747 jumbo aircraft at maximum takeoff weight or 51.3 million motorcycles.

NEWS: Toyota Canada Sets New March Sales Records

Courtesy Toyota Canada
TORONTO, ON – Toyota Canada announced today that it set a new March sales record thanks to record-setting sales from both its Toyota and Lexus brands. A summary of March performance includes:

• Record total TCI sales of 15,065 units, up 4.1 per cent compared to last March.
• Record Toyota brand sales of 14,230 units, up 3.5 per cent.
• Record Toyota car sales of 11,042 units, up 9.7 per cent.
• Total Toyota truck sales of 3,188 units, down 13.6 per cent.
• Record total Lexus sales of 835 units, up 16.9 per cent.
• Record Lexus truck sales of 445 units, up 1.4 per cent.
• Total Lexus car sales of 390, up 41.8 per cent.

“Exciting new products, like the 2005 Toyota Avalon and Toyota Tacoma trucks, have had an immediate positive impact on sales,” said Tony Wearing, Managing Director of TCI. “March sales are also traditionally boosted by Toyota’s annual Red Tag Days, now in progress, when customers know they’ll get fantastic value for their car-buying dollars.”

“Not only are the all-new 2006 Lexus GS sport sedans marking a new direction for the brand, they are contributing positively to Lexus sales,” said Stuart Payne, Director responsible for Lexus in Canada. “This is an exciting year for Lexus, and we expect the trend to continue with the launch of the highly anticipated RX 400h luxury hybrid SUV and all-new IS sedans later this year.”

Strong performance from individual vehicles drove the record March sales pace, including:
• Strong performance by the all-new 2005 Avalon premium intermediate sedan, with sales of 187 units, up 484.4 per cent.
• Record Tacoma truck sales, with combined sales of 348 units up by 75.8 per cent.
• Record for the Canadian-built Corolla, with sales of 4,077 units, up 21.8 per cent over last March.
• Record for the Canadian-built Matrix, with sales of 1,852 units, up by 14.8 per cent.
• Record sales of Echo Hatchback. Sales of 1,732 units are up by 7.5 per cent.
• Record Prius hybrid sales of 150, up 40.2 per cent. Year-to-date sales for the popular Prius total 365, up 6.4 per cent.
• Record performance from the new 2006 Lexus GS, with combined sales of the GS 300 and GS 430 sports sedans of 100 units.
• Record Lexus RX 330 sales of 382 units, up 11.7 per cent.