January 5, 2006 7:12 AM PST

Car trends mirror age of individual style

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LOS ANGELES--The Internet appears be driving one of the latest trends in car manufacturing: Get what you want in the style or shape you want it.

Here at the annual LA Auto Show this week, automakers are showing off concept cars and new-production vehicles that give consumers an unprecedented ability to drive in personalized style. Carmakers attribute this trend to changing consumer habits and appetites brought about by the conveniences of the Internet.

"Because of the Internet, people can get anything they want at any time. Car manufacturers are starting to see that and need to cater to it," said Victor Muller, chief executive of Netherlands-based Spyker Cars.

For example, Suzuki featured a series of "life vehicle" concept cars with names like Sea, Wave, Dunes and Blizzard, all aimed at people who love activities that those names evoke. The Suzuki Blizzard 2006 is customized for snowboarders, for example, with rooftop carriers for boards, in-car boot heaters, studded snow tires and a backseat chairlift seat for suiting up or drinking hot toddies.

The Suzuki lifestyle cars are based on the company's Grand Vitara production vehicles, which start at $23,000. Buyers must visit a dealer to customize their own vehicle.

Porsche executives also talked about revving the company's production line toward individualism with its newest sports car, the Cayman S, which was unveiled here Wednesday. Although it still accelerates at a fast clip, the Cayman S is a midengine coupe billed as a "practical sports car" that bridges the gap between the Boxster S roadster, on which the Cayman S is based, and the 911 Carrera, according to the company.

Novel concepts

Volkswagen also unveiled its newest concept car, the VW GX3, which is designed to appeal to California commuters. A cross between a motorcycle and a sports car, the GX3 is a three-wheeler, seats two, and can be driven legally in the carpool lane.

Derek Jenkins, Volkswagen North America's chief designer, thought of the idea for the GX3 roughly 18 months ago because, as he tells it, he was jealous of all the cool, smaller cars people can buy in Europe. Together with a team called the Moonrakers, a VW think tank for dreaming up new cars, Jenkins envisioned a simple but fuel-efficient vehicle for getting around the city and to and from work.

On display in LA

The GX3, which Jenkins hopes will generate enough consumer enthusiasm for it to go into production in 2007, has a tubular steel frame, aluminum rollover protection and no windshield. It weighs roughly 1,300 pounds and gets 46 miles per gallon. The price is yet to be set, but will be under $17,000.

"The buying public is really open-minded right now," Jenkins said. "Hybrids are common in the public mind, for example. This is a really exciting time for

CONTINUED: What a pretty penny buys you…
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You're falling for all the hype
As one who spent a lot of time reading auto industry mags in my youth I can tell you that 99.9% of the fun stuff presented at these shows will never find its way into production. It's an old tradition in the auto industry to talk a good game for publicity and then go back to stamping out boxes when Monday comes. The tradition of auto show flimflam goes back about 70 years, so don't hold your breath waiting for any of these cars or accessories to show up at your dealer. Perhaps only a few quirky players like Suzuki have ever really followed through on the more playful ideas, but not in a way to make us consumers feel as though they're really listening to us.
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
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