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Performance back in focus at Chicago

The Chicago Auto Show, the United States’ oldest and largest auto exhibition, opened to the public on Friday with many carmakers showing off their latest high-performance vehicles, breaking from the recent trend of highlighting cleaner vehicles.

South Korea’s largest carmaker Hyundai Motor Co., which had used recent international industry events had showcase new design concepts and eco-friendly technologies, is no exception.
Hyundai Motor America’s vice president for product and planning Mike O’Brien presents the 2012 Genesis 5.0 at the Chicago Auto Show on Friday. (Hyundai Motor Co)
Hyundai Motor America’s vice president for product and planning Mike O’Brien presents the 2012 Genesis 5.0 at the Chicago Auto Show on Friday. (Hyundai Motor Co)

The company has chosen the Chicago show to reveal an upgraded version of its sports sedan Genesis 5.0.

The vehicle is fitted with a 5-liter gasoline direct injection engine that puts out an impressive 435 brake horsepower, outpacing the previous version by 6 brake horsepower.

Equipped with 8-speed automatic transmission, the vehicle manages 10.6 kilometers per liter.

While the company’s 23-vehicle exhibit does include eco-friendly vehicles such as the hybrid electric version of the midsized sedan Sonata, Hyundai’s other big unveiling at the show is a racecar version of the Veloster that has a massive 500-brake horsepower output.

The commercial version of the Veloster, which has an asymmetrical layout with one door on the driver’s side and two on the passenger side, is slated for launch in Korea during the month.

While focusing less on performance than its larger sister Hyundai, Kia Motors Corp. has also broken away from the green trend for the show.

The company is leading its exhibition with the concept minivan KV7, which sports a 2-liter gasoline direct injection engine that puts out 285 brake horsepower.
Kia’s KV7 minivan concept. (Kia Motors Corp)
Kia’s KV7 minivan concept. (Kia Motors Corp)

Along with the concept, Kia is also showing off the hybrid electric version of the midsized sedan K5, known as the Optima in overseas markets, and racecar versions of the K5 and the compact car Forte Koup.

“There is a dichotomy here,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst for Edmunds.com.

“The emphasis is quite different from recent shows in Los Angeles and Detroit where they rolled out more green technology,” she was quoted as saying by AFP.

“On the one hand, they’re talking about fuel economy and, on the other, they’re emphasizing performance.”

Unlike Detroit and Los Angeles which garner an enormous amount of media attention that can help influence an automaker’s reputation, the Chicago show is aimed largely at consumers.

And the vehicles getting prime space on the floor are those automakers hope will capture the imaginations of car buffs.

General Motors unveiled the 2012 Camaro ZL1, which will be powered by a supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8 engine producing an estimated 550 horsepower.

“It will be the fastest Camaro ever offered by Chevrolet,” said Ed Welburn, GM vice president of design.

The ZL1 name is derived from the all-aluminum racing engine of the same name, which was developed in the late 1960s and installed into a handful of regular-production Camaros back in 1969.

The central goal of the car’s development was creating something new ― a Camaro intended to reach optimal lap times on top road-racing circuits and excellent driving dynamics on the street, Welburn said.

Chrysler unveiled the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 with a powerful new 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 engine.

“We’re continuing the fast-paced rebuilding of Dodge as our performance brand, and the expansion of our SRT product lineup in 2012 is an important part of our rejuvenation,” said Ralph Gilles, head of the Dodge marketing unit.

Meanwhile, Ford vice president of marketing Jim Farley said automakers are well aware of the fact consumers are nervous about rising fuel prices.

But he told reporters after his kickoff speech that consumers are also interested in cars that are “fun to drive,” citing the strong sales of the 302 horsepower “Boss Mustang.”

“The strategy at Ford is to offer the best fuel economy in every class in which we compete,” said Farley. “But Americans also want cars that are fun to drive.”

Honda also emphasized performance as it introduced the new Acura TL.

“The 2012 Acura TL is refined, yet aggressive,” said Jeff Conrad, vice president of sales for Acura, Honda’s luxury division.

“The enhanced TL has a sophisticated new look and an all-new 6-speed automatic transmission that will take performance to the next level,” Conrad said.

By Choi He-suk and news reports  (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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