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2001 Detroit/L.A. Show Preview

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Chevrolet Borrego

Chevrolet Borrego

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Forget the chaos of the presidential election and capsizing dot-coms: we’re betting this year’s Detroit and Los Angeles auto shows are going to be even edgier. Would you want to be Juergen Schrempp walking the show floor within rubber-band distance of DaimlerChrysler employees? Or Jac Nasser explaining why the new Explorer is the best yet, never mind that little tire fiasco?

Detroit’s annual international auto show, the biggest and most important on the American circuit, isn’t a place for the timid. Neither is the L.A. show, a sort of Gemini twin that’s less critical to the bigwigs, but more so to the guys who actually sell cars, trucks, and minivans.

Either one gets easier when you have good product to hide behind — or pose in front of. And good product is what could propel the industry’s moving targets through this year’s January shows. In the face of bad economic news, automakers are putting forth exciting concepts like the Acura RS-X, and betting big on nostalgia with the return of beloved names like Thunderbird and SE-R.

Here’s our best guess at what’s coming from the Los Angeles and Detroit festivities. We’ll be reporting from L.A. on January 4 and 5, and from Detroit from January 7 through the 10th, with a wrap-up the following Monday.

Hold on to your cupholders – and check back all week long for the latest from The Car Connection.

Acura RS-X

Acura RS-X concept car

Acura RS-X concept car

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Don’t say Integra any more: think RS. That’s the lesson behind the aggressively styled, four-seat three-door concept bowing this week in Los Angeles. The RS-X — a version of which is said to replace the Integra later this fall — maintains Acura’s signature five-sided grille and oversize four-light headlamps. Among the more notable styling cues, the RS-X features extremely short front and rear overhangs, and a sharply chiseled front end. Acura officials declined to provide specific details, but the windswept, muscular stance of the RS-X suggests it’s likely to be offered with a fairly high-powered V-6 or turbo four. The production version, Honda does disclose, will be its first vehicle to feature the new i-VTEC engine. The time-tested VTEC has won a reputation of delivering good performance, as well as low emissions numbers and relatively good fuel economy. Honda claims the new engine—the "i" stands for "intelligent"—should do even better by automatically adapting to a wide range of driving conditions.

Honda Model X

Honda Concept Suv

Honda Concept Suv

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Set to debut at the Detroit show next week, the Model X is officially designated a "concept car," but probably not for long. "It has real production potential," acknowledges Honda’s top American executive, Tom Elliott. The prototype has gone through a number of focus groups as the automaker tweaks the details to improve its appearance. "The styling reaction from focus groups has been extremely strong," Elliott said. But he stressed that the company wants to gauge the reaction when the Model X makes its rounds on the 2001 auto show circuit before deciding whether to give it the final go for production. Barring some unexpected problems, company sources suggest it could hit the streets as early as the 2003 model year. The hallmark of the X-truck’s design will be its extremely flexible interior. Seats will fold or roll away—much like the Chrysler PT Cruiser. There’ll be enough room in the surprisingly long vehicle, to carry a 10-foot surfboard with the rear hatch closed.

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