A Season to Remember

#GM, #Ford

We haven't seen a new-car season like this in years, not since manufacturers finally figured out that it's a really bad idea to bring a new car to market before its time just because dealer showroom windows were whitewashed in September and a bank of searchlights was rented and poised to lure the hoopleheads.

There will be plenty of hot, new metal to caress this fall, if cruising showrooms on Labor Day weekend is your thing. Not that there hasn't already been a raft of 2006-model releases, and not that there won't be one-third of our 101 listed new cars still rolling out into June of next year. It's just that choosing September as the month to showcase our coverage of new cars looks particularly astute on our part and should help you prioritize your showroom tour schedule.

The General Motors spaces will be easy to navigate, thanks to the wildly successful you-pay-what-we-pay clearance sale on '05 models that's been going on for the past couple of months. One camp is certain that GM has bankrupted its future with the fire sale. After all, May traffic in GM dealerships jumped 29 percent, and June traffic was up 24 percent, according to industry analysts CNW. The Fourth of July weekend saw reports that June sales were a staggering 47 percent higher than the year before-GM's best month in nineteen years. Who could possibly be left to buy new models?

But that attitude doesn't take into account a number of factors. First, CNW reports that fewer of those early-summer shoppers were dyed-in-the-wool GM owners, that more of the cars sold had a higher level of optional equipment than the customers had intended to order, and that a big percentage said they had a favorable experience at the dealership. It's the kind of good news that travels fast and helps you bury the bad stuff once and for all. Also, as the employee-price deal continues to draw buyers into showrooms, more and more brand-new, cool-looking, carefully crafted Pontiacs and Chevys and Cadillacs and Saturns and Hummers and Saabs and so on are being parked under the spotlights. We've seen them, and most are eye-catchers, worthy of a test drive.

The scene isn't as dramatic across town at Ford, unless you add in its premier pals Aston Martin, Jaguar (with Volvo weighing in next spring), and Mazda. The biggest local news is the intriguing Ford Fusion, the Lincoln Zephyr, and the Mercury Milan-triplets based on the Mazda 6. Over at DaimlerChrysler, Dodge dealers have new Hemis to show you, and Jeep's big news is, well, HUGE.

Toyota, the world's number two carmaker, continues its assault on the heartland, expanding its truck line, including even more hybrid SUVs for besotted eco-Americans, while Nissan takes a well-earned break, resting on its current designs. We're eager to drive the Honda Civic Si, and Suzuki, Isuzu, Hyundai, and Kia all have new metal to show off. If your tastes tend toward the Teutonic, you're in luck. Every German maker of note has some bit of exciting news to unveil from now until the frost melts in '06, and we'd include a couple of Volkswagen-based Bentleys for good measure. That leaves Ferrari, which has just added the Superamerica for your viewing.

Bruce McCall's back-page "dreams" have yet to come true: there will still be no flying cars.

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Our beloved, lusty Phil Llewellin is gone forever, his loving heart giving out as he swam in the sea off the coast of Croatia with his wife, Beth, and friends. We have wept, as those of you who knew him only through these pages may feel compelled to weep, for we will miss him as a fount of knowledge, a lovely writer and a boon companion. He had just ticked off countries fifty-eight and -nine on his life list, and it seems right that the eternal Shropshire lad was far from home when he passed. We will honor him in full in next month's issue.

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