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Autos '87. Intense competition between companies worldwide has put today's car buyer in the driver's seat

By Charles E. DoleSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 4, 1986


TALK about an automotive revolution! The competitive pressure builds and the cast of players gets more and more complex. What used to be the Big Three -- General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler -- now has become the Big 30 as more and more imports surge into the country, new auto plants are built (but this time not only by Detroit), and buyers sweep up the cars no matter what their origin or the nameplate on the hood.

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Not since the early days of the automobile has the car-sales pie been split among so many cooks.

Will Chrysler import a minicar produced by Nissan's Taiwanese affiliate, or maybe even from Malaysia?

After South Korea's success, how many more countries will send cars into the US market?

How about cars from Bangladesh or Nepal? Both countries are in the early stages of setting up assembly plants, Automotive News reports.

Where will new plants be built?

Just how competitive are United States automakers, anyway?

With all this going on, car buyers themselves are the winners. Automakers worldwide are battling fender to fender, offering high-tech engineering; improved performance, safety, and comfort; and innovative styling in an effort to succeed in a difficult marketplace.

The range of new models runs from no-frills, basic cars, such as the Yugoslav-built Yugo (under $4,500 out the door), to super-luxury dreamboats. Safety is getting new attention as more automakers offer antilock braking and air bags or automatic seat belts. Electronic legerdemain abounds, amid moves to define individual models more sharply in customers' minds. Even the dealer's after-sale maintenance and repair services are being used as a sales tool.

In a risky yet successful display of innovative design, Ford Motor Company rolled out the ``aero look'' Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable nearly a year ago, at a cost of more than $3 billion. Now General Motors is planning to launch two Chevrolet exclusives, the Corsica and Beretta, heavily influenced by the ``aero look'' as well.

Perhaps surprisingly, the best-selling vehicle in the United States today is not a car at all, but Ford's full-size pickup truck. Ford, which claims between 18 and 19 percent of the US car business and 28 percent of the truck market, may soon produce more pickups than cars. Minivans (led by Chrysler's two hot sellers, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager), sports cars, all-wheel drive, multivalve engines, turbos, superchargers, use of composites, more convertibles and other open-top cars -- all are responses to the tough competition in the industry as the automobile rolls into its second century.

Here are some of the highlights as the 1987 models of (mostly) American cars move out of dealer showrooms and onto the road (see story on Page B6 for a roundup of 1987 import cars): GENERAL MOTORS Chevrolet

GM's largest car division is marking time until after the first of the year, when its all-new Corsica sedan and Beretta coupe hit the road. Chevrolet will be the only GM division to sell them.

``Refinements'' is the way Chevrolet officials describe the changes for 1987. The base engine in the Camaro sports coupe is the 2.6-liter V-6, while the 5-liter high-output V-8 and the L-4 engines are dropped. The high-tech Camaro Berlinetta is gone, but the first Camaro convertible since 1969 joins the fray early in the new year. Among the engineering updates, the Caprice, Celebrity, and Corvette get friction-cutting roller valve lifters. The durable yet aging Chevette subcompact is in its final year.

Both the Suzuki-built Sprint and Isuzu Spectrum will get a performance boost from a turbo-power option early next year. Pontiac