Compact-performance enthusiasts have new platforms coming their way in 2008 that could alter the landscape of the segment. In recent months, many of the major automotive shows have been stages for new introductions. While perennial favorites, such as the Nissan 350Z and Honda S2000, will remain unchanged for 2008, the news of additional rear-wheel-drive cars will tempt many people into this burgeoning segment.
Despite BMW's new iconic M3 release, it has also introduced their smallest model within their range, the 1 Series, to appeal to customers interested in an upscale, affordable car. Production began in 2004 with an update last year, but this is the first time it has been offered in the United States. Notable features include the aforementioned rear-wheel-drive, dynamic handling and a powerful engine borrowed from the 3 and 5 Series sedans. If the price proves to be reasonable for tuners, it has the potential to shake up market share.
While not entirely a concept car, Hyundai's Genesis Coupe could be a similar powerhouse. On paper it has the characteristics to disrupt the leaders. It also hosts rear-wheel-drive and big power, but is slated to start at an attractive price point in the low-to-mid $20K range. The concept mock-up was fitted with trick parts and appeared to be accessory-friendly. Press coverage and response from the Los Angeles Auto Show was overwhelmingly positive.
Infiniti has a new G sedan, the G37, to replace its predecessor and Skyline-based G35. While the exterior has been remodeled, it is not an entirely noteworthy departure from the last model, but a sensible update. However, the chassis has been strengthened and the engine has been bumped up in power and features. It should continue to be a widely popular coupe.
While on the subject of Nissan's Skyline, the Godzilla heading to our shores is the first-for-North-America GT-R supercar. Its output is impressive and bargain-based compared to similarly performing vehicles, but it will be less attainable for enthusiasts than they would imagine. The buzz-machine has been cranked up so high over the course of its long development that when it arrives in showrooms, the mark-up could be extreme. Furthermore, concerns about its highly secure ECU and turbochargers, which are integrated directly into the exhaust manifold, will require extensive and expensive work to improve upon. Nevertheless, one can expect every single unit to have an eager buyer waiting.
In a more practical scope, the three famed all-wheel-drive factory-tuned rockets have been updated. Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution X, Subaru's Impreza WRX STI and Volkswagen's R32 already have loyal followings and will perform well in the specialty-equipment market. Good for daily driving and weekend track days, all three models come with loads of power, big brakes and sticky tires. Aside from the Subaru becoming a hatchback, the formulas have not changed.
Not typically seen as a sport compact, the SMART Fortwo should be on everyone's radar. It has a huge global following and trendy appeal, much like the Honda Fit before it was brought over. Despite a dearth of overwhelming performance features, it could become a nice target for accessorizing. Wheel options could be problematic as it has an uncommon three-lug bolt pattern.
The other latent change in market conditions could come on the heels of modern clean diesel technology. The inclusion of diesel engines in the light-truck market is almost a non-issue as the perception is in line with performance. In the United States, however, the perception of small passenger cars using these engines does not coincide with their actual performance.
New platforms could change that. Volkswagen, Mercedes and even Subaru will be releasing models shortly. With the success of Audi in Le Mans, enthusiasts here could adopt the same impression people have around the world, especially considering Volkswagen's success in European club racing. Change could come quickly. Most people do not realize that many of the vehicles sold in the United States on global platforms are already sold abroad with diesel options.
Updates and information on new vehicles entering this segment will be available in coming weeks. For data on the compact-performance market, please visit www.sema.org/marketresearch. This information, plus much more, is available through the SEMA Research & Information Center, a SEMA-member benefit. The data is available exclusively via the members-only area of the www.sema.org website. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: SEMA Research & Information Center