NEW YORK — The Big Apple is the epitome of Big City America — home to the Yankees, the Rockettes, the Statue of Liberty and a newly kindled patriotism. So it was a bit surprising to see the domestic Big Three barely making news at the New York Auto Show in late March.

On the whole, the domestics yielded the spotlight to the Japanese, who insist that the low yen is not a significant advantage for them. Meanwhile, Japanese auto makers are flooding the U.S. with new products (some built in Japan, some in North America) that demonstrate how eager they are to grab more U.S. market share.

Virtually every Japanese brand made product news in New York: Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Acura, Infiniti, Mitsubishi, Mazda — even Isuzu.

The biggest story was Toyota Motor Corp., which took the unprecedented step of giving young buyers their very own brand, Scion (see story, p.28). Also tipping their hats to youthful spenders were Honda Motor Co. Ltd., which introduced the awkward Element SUV, and Mazda Motor Corp., which unveiled the “Mazdaspeed” turbocharged Protege compact.

Honda's Element arrives in December. Why can't Detroit work this quickly? Honda's Acura unit also showed a 400-hp hybrid/electric sports sedan, suggesting Honda's serious about soon marketing a high-performance hybrid.

Nissan unveiled the Murano, a curvy, Altima-platform compact SUV that will offer big power from the 3.5L DOHC V-6 employed liberally across the Nissan/Infiniti lines. In Murano, Nissan says it will hook up an all-new continuously variable transmission (CVT) to the V-6, which is slated to make at least 240 hp. Sounds intriguing, although we hope consumers won't confuse Murano with the Monaro, the Holden Ltd. coupe that arrives next year from Australia as a modern-day Pontiac GTO (see story, p.32).

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. joins the compact SUV game with its pedestrian Outlander. One innovation unique to the segment, though, is Outlander's switchable front-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive capability.

The domestics weren't complete no-shows in New York. DC finally powers up PT Cruiser; sales have tumbled and DC recently suffered the indignity of incentivizing the once-hot Cruiser in some regions. The Chrysler PT Turbo, coming this fall, muscles-up the standard 2.4L DOHC I-4 to 215 hp and 245 lb.-ft. (332 Nm) of torque. The heavy-duty Getrag 5-speed manual transaxle (available already in Europe) is standard. Chrysler also unwraps the production version of the elegant Pacifica sports tourer that goes into production in January. The only real difference is the glass roof from the concept version is replaced with a conventional sunroof.

The only General Motors Corp. division with a new product to unveil was Saturn, with its new Ion small car. The '03 Ion is the long-overdue replacement for Saturn's original S-series. It is the first U.S.-market car to employ GM's new Delta front-drive architecture, and the driveline centers around the 2.2L Ecotec I-4, in Ion making 137 hp. Notably, automatic-lovers will be able to link a CVT to the Ion's Ecotec. Ion sets the tone for next-gen GM small cars.

Besides the new Lincoln Aviator midsize SUV, Ford Motor Co. unveils a new, tall sedan, the Five Hundred, which design chief J Mays stresses is not a Taurus replacement. It comes from the same front-drive architecture as the pending CrossTrainer tall wagon, and both vehicles will be built at Ford's Chicago assembly plant, beginning in the second quarter of 2004. Ford says Taurus and Mercury Sable will be around for another three or four years.