No need to underplay the critical nature of model year 2002. The longstanding domestic automakers, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and the Chrysler unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, are under the gun, losing market share and industry respect in equal, bitter doses.

Meanwhile, the market and the U.S. economy are undergoing seismic changes. In the somber weeks following the September terrorist actions, the stock market is reeling and consumer confidence is shaken, as many expect a grave response to the ongoing terrorist threat.

Most automakers issued warnings not to expect much of a finish for 2001 and presented gloomy forecasts on the eve of a new model year.

Because of the disjointed nature of new-model introductions, in many cases you may have already read, in WAW or elsewhere, plenty about some of 2002's more relevant products. In many cases, those models already are on sale.

Presented here, then, is a more market-oriented spin on what's new for 2002. Rather than focus on specific models or automaker-by-automaker rundowns of the '02 model year, WAW's editors — along with its forecasters — have chosen what we believe will be the most important market segments to watch in the coming year. From there, we tell you why each segment is critical and enumerate the impact of a select few key new players in each segment.