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February 1, 2005, by Bill Cawthon
So much has happened in the past couple of weeks. On January 18, the day after my last column appeared, Airbus rolled out its new super-jumbo jetliner, the A380, in Toulouse, France. Not to be outdone, Boeing made news by assigning a production designation to its new jetliner. The 7E7 is now the 787 Dreamliner. This is the new plane that replaced the Sonic Cruiser after Boeing management determined there weren't enough customers to justify development of the radical, high-speed aircraft.
The A380 and the 787 represent two approaches to a single problem: the air travel industry is desperate to reduce operating costs. The A380 maximizes the potential revenue per flight by carrying more passengers and cargo. The smaller 787 will provide its savings by being less expensive to operate.
Boeing describes the 787 as a super-efficient airliner and projects it will use up to 20% less fuel than existing aircraft. The fuselage and wing will be constructed of composites instead of metal, reducing weight, and Boeing is working with General Electric and Rolls-Royce on the development of more efficient engines.
The 787 will actually be a family of three aircraft. The 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliners will carry from 223 to 259 passengers and serve routes of about 9,800 and 9,550 miles (15,700 and 15,400 kilometers) respectively. The third member of the Dreamliner family is the 787-3, which is designed to carry nearly 300 passengers over shorter routes.
In contrast to the Sonic Cruiser, which never attracted a single firm order, Boeing has already received 186 orders for the Dreamliner, including 50 from ANA and 60 from the People's Republic of China. Continental is one of the North American customers.
The 787's final configuration will be set down this year and production will start in 2006. At this time, first flight is scheduled for 2007 and the first deliveries should take place in 2008.
Hopefully, Herpa will produce a model of the Dreamliner sometime in the coming years. For that matter, I am hoping for some more 1:500 scale models of the A380. Right now, Herpa has released only the Christmas model and announced only a version decorated for Qatar Airways.
As I mentioned in my last column, it's the auto show season, both for the full-size and miniature vehicle manufacturers. Spielwarenmesse, the major international toy fair, will kick off in Nürnberg, Germany, on Thursday, February 10 and the American International Toy Fair gets underway in New York City ten days later.
While it's not as big as the Detroit or New York Shows, the Houston Auto Show offers the opportunity to look over a lot of the new cars and trucks. From utilitarian compacts to a sampling of the exotics with their win-the-lottery price tags, there's plenty of iron and plastic to dream about. I was fortunate in being able to attend the media preview the night before the show opened to the public and got a chance to spend some time with the vehicles on display.
This year's Houston show included a Maybach 62, the big brother to the Maybach offered in scale form by Herpa. The unbelievably opulent interior with reclining seats and champagne flutes was something to behold, even if the DaimlerChrysler folks wouldn't let you actually sit in it.
There was also the beautiful new Mercedes CLS500, another car that should be available as a Herpa model sometime this year. With its fluid styling, the CLS is definitely one of Mercedes' best-looking cars.
Another new car now available as a Herpa model is the new Audi A3. When the real thing arrives here in May, the A3 will be the smallest Audi sold in the U.S. Built on the same platform as the new Volkswagen Golf; the A3 is about the same size as a Ford Focus.
Porsche had one of their Carrera GTs on display to tempt the wealthy and break the hearts of everyone else. Only a few feet from the Carrera GT was another heartbreaker, the Aston-Martin Vanquish.
The Detroit automakers had some interesting new cars to show. Chief among these was the Dodge Charger, to my mind, the best-looking of the new Hemi-powered cars from Chrysler. The big, black sedan looked ready to take on all comers and show them taillights.
Over in the GM zone, a red Pontiac G6 convertible was generating a fair amount of buzz among the assembled journalists, as was the new Solstice roadster. GM was also displaying the new Saturn Aura sedan and Sky roadster that I mentioned last time. After what seems like far too long stuck in the vanillas, GM seems to have rediscovered good styling. Now, if they would discover reasonable licensing, we might have some nice models. Unfortunately, while they seem to be okay with larger scales, it appears General Motors is not as enthusiastic about 1:87 scale as might be wished.
Ford had a nice selection of Mustangs, including the new convertible. They were also showing the new Fusion mid-size sedan and Lincoln Zephyr. Of course, Ford's big emphasis was on trucks, which isn't surprising as one out of every three Ford-badged vehicles sold in 2004 was an F-Series pickup.
Naturally, the Japanese automakers were well-represented. Nissan brought a new Titan pickup and the newest Infiniti automobile. Lexus was showing their new LF-C concept car, which is supposed to give us an idea of the styling of a new sporty model slated for production. Among the most important new Japanese vehicles at the show was the new Honda Ridgeline, the company's first American-style pickup truck.
As Houston is a regional show, we didn't get all the hot new concept vehicles seen in Los Angeles or Detroit, but it was still fun to see the Cadillac Sixteen and the Chrysler ME412, even though we now know the ME412 will not make it into production.
By the time my next column appears, the Nürnberg Toy Fair will be underway and I hope to have some exciting news for you then. Later this month, I will be heading to New York for the American International Toy Fair. This will be my first visit to the American show and I am really looking forward to it.
See you next time!
- Bill Cawthon
Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.
In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for just-auto.com, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.
He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.
Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.
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