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2001 Detroit/L.A. Show Preview Page 2

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VW Microbus concept

We don’t have much on this vehicle, but word has it that the concept will be a front-driver that’s headed for production within a couple of years, built off a more conventional VW platform than the hippie-style Microbus that powered many a Deadhead from parking lot to parking lot in the Sixties. If they show this one off in the Cobo garage with stir-fry tofu and tie-dyed parkas, we’ll know they really get it.

Jeep Liberty

Jeep Liberty silver

Jeep Liberty silver

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Jeep has a new SUV, and it’s notable for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the brand’s first new nameplate since the Grand Cherokee issue forth in 1992. Second, it might be the first Jeep that can’t cross the Rubicon — an infamous test former Chrysler president Bob Lutz insisted all Jeeps pass. Named Liberty, the new Escape-sized trucklet will roll off the automaker’s new assembly plant in Toledo next summer, months later than originally scheduled. Once seen as a replacement for Jeep’s aging Cherokee, the two vehicles will now share space in the automaker’s showrooms, alongside the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee. Liberty will be built at an all-new, $750 million plant on the outskirts of Toledo. It’s located just across the street from the Cherokee/Wrangler plant, one of the country’s oldest automotive assembly lines. The Liberty has an independent front suspension, optional 3.7-liter V-6 (based on the new aluminum 4.7-liter V-8), rear- or four-wheel drive, and a base 2.4-liter four with about 150 hp.

2002 Dodge Ram

2003 Dodge Ram Spy Photo

2003 Dodge Ram Spy Photo

The 2002 Ram isn’t as radical as some predicted, but probably still macho and tough enough for the crowd down at Lowe’s. It’s said to be powered by an all-new 5.7-liter V-8, with an option for the likely replacement for the Cummins Turbo Diesel: Mercedes-Benz’ own MBE-906 (Freightliner) diesel engine. Production of the Ram was originally scheduled to begin in the summer of 2002 in Windsor, Ontario, at the Pillette Road assembly plant and the Ram was expected to debut for the 2003 model year – but now sources are pretty certain the Ram will make an earlier appearance for the 2002 model year. A heavy-duty version will follow close behind, with the Dakota and an all-new (code named DH74) full-sized Ram-based SUV will follow, probably as late 2003 or 2004 models.

Mazda RX-Evolv

Mazda RX-Evolv concept

Mazda RX-Evolv concept

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Mazda says the version of the RX-Evolv four-door sports car they’re showing in Detroit will be a step closer to an actual production model than the RX-Evolv concept car unveiled in Tokyo last year. To power the RX-Evolv, Mazda is developing the new generation rotary engine, called Renesis, which is not the name of a new kidney treatment or alternative rock band. The true name of the car will be announced at the show.

GM’s Gaggle of Concepts

Of course, you read all this news in TCC’s preview of the GM ’01 Concepts. In case you missed it, click on the link and review the Buick Bengal, a roadster with slinky good looks; the Chevy Borrego off-roader; the Pontiac Rev all-wheeler; the Hummer H2 SUT (that’s sport-utility truck, for the unwashed), Cadillac Vizon, GMC Terracross. It’s unknown if the Oldsmobile 04 concept will be shown, what with the recent announcement of Olds’demise.

Nissan Sentra SE-R and Big Truck

We’ll have to get back to you on this trio – Nissan showed us the two production vehicles in Arizona late last year, but bribed us into secrecy with a steak dinner and a nifty tube of sunscreen. (We ask so little.) We’ll have details later this week on the L.A. debut of the 2002 Altima, and next week, word on the SE-R and full-size truck concept.

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