by Clint Burgess

As the 2004 calendar year comes to a close, it's easy to see the leaps and bounds made in the auto industry. There are more new vehicles to choose from than ever, and there doesn't seem to be any sign of a slowdown -- and all this in spite of a recovering economy. Now it's time for resolutions for the New Year. What was started this past year will continue to roll forward in '05, with exciting new models and concepts that will come more into focus.

One of those concepts is the growing movement toward hybrid vehicles. The newest hybrids are being streamlined into existing models and offer some exciting advances. The Honda Civic hybrids are spreading like wildfire and just about every major manufacturer is implementing the hybrid technology in one way or another. It's no secret that gasoline is not a renewable resource, so this path for the future seems like it will probably be around for a while. But I think most notable for 2005 is the idea of hybrid SUVs and big trucks. This could help curb the massive fuel consumption by the big rigs -- and in that sense everybody wins. It's also beneficial for the car companies, because they can continue to market the larger vehicles and even attract new buyers because of the hybrid option.

Another wave sweeping the auto world is the throw-back style vehicle. This movement isn't one of the largest in the industry, but it's certainly a compelling one. A couple of those models are already garnering praise from consumers and are moving off the lots quickly. One of the favorites is the Ford Mustang. America has had a love affair with this car since the '60s, and now it's back in 2005 with classic body styling and more than enough bang for your buck. With a 4.6L V8 engine, the Mustang is worthy of the term "gone in 60 seconds," and it weighs in under $30K for the deluxe model. Chrysler isn't being left out in the cold on this trend, either. The company is resurrecting the popular Dodge Charger for release in 2005 as an '06 model. The Charger will retain some of its classic look but is more of a muscle car for the new century. With an eight-cylinder Hemi engine, there'll be a whole lot of giddy-up under this hood.

It's no secret that I enjoy European cars. Maybe it's the prestige, maybe it's the power -- whatever it is, I'm on board. For '05, Mercedes-Benz is unveiling the Grand Sports Tourer. This compact utility vehicle is the result of the vision of Mercedes-Benz. Who else could make a compact SUV that signifies power and influence? This mid-sized package offers storage space, sporty looks and the quality that is synonymous with the Mercedes-Benz moniker. In all seriousness, the company is moving forward in the auto world with precision marketing tactics that prey on their obvious fact that we would all love to drive one.

As the industry moves forward, it's anyone's guess what will come along next. Cars have always been this kind of gateway to the future and a manifestation of the imagination. I mean, there are cars that talk to people. We have only scratched the surface of what is possible with our personal modes of transportation.

Publication date: 12/23/04

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