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2004 Detroit Show, Part VIII


2004 Detroit Auto Show Coverage (1/4/2004)

 

Kappa Architecture Sure to Spawn More

In a show with plenty of strong offerings, few vehicles have scored such solid reviews as the Chevrolet Nomad concept. And that’s generating increasingly open interest among the General Motors executives who would have to give the go-ahead to put the tiny two-seater into production. “We’re listening,” said a high-level executive, who noted that media and public support helped convince the automaker to build the sporty Solstice after its original debut in concept form at the 2002 Detroit show. What’s clear is that there will be a number of future products based on the automaker’s new Kappa platform, which is used for both the Nomad and Solstice, as well as the Saturn Curve concept vehicle. But while Kappa was envisioned as a global small-car “architecture,” it could have some problems making the trip across the Atlantic. European regulators have enacted new standards designed to reduce injuries when a pedestrian is struck by a car. That would require adding about 40 mm (nearly two inches) of crush space under the hood, a massive amount for a vehicle the size of the Solstice. “Ultimately, I’m convinced we’ll do a Kappa for Europe,” GM “car czar” Bob Lutz tells TCC, but it’s going to require either a different design or the introduction of new technology designed to help improve pedestrian protection. These could include breakaway hood hinges, or even the outside-mounted airbags several suppliers are working on.

 

Big Successes in Small Packages

2004 Chevrolet Nomad concept

2004 Chevrolet Nomad concept

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“If we’d listened to the market research, we’d have never done the MINI,” says the British brand’s boss in the U.S., Jack Pitney. They didn’t, and it proved a good thing considering the MINI Cooper was one of the hits of 2003. Now, other automakers are wondering whether they also need to be thinking small in a big way. The Chevy Nomad was just one of several downsized concept and production vehicles debuting in Detroit. Nissan introduced a Micra show car, while Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion division said its third model will be the tC, a hatchback touring coupe based on the European-market Toyota Avensis.

2004 Mazda MX Micro Sport

2004 Mazda MX Micro Sport

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Over at Mazda, meanwhile, “There’s a good possibility” the MX Micro Sport show car could presage a production minicar, acknowledged Jim O’Sullivan, CEO of the automaker’s U.S. operations. There are already plans to produce a version of the Micro Sport for other markets around the world later this year. “All our research says there’s a societal shift,” adds MINI’s Pitney, suggesting a small but growing number of buyers that see minicars as the “anti-SUV” statement. How big a market might that group make up? If manufacturers can figure the right questions to use in their research, they’d probably be more ready to bring products likes the Nomad and Micro Sport to market.

 

Is the Car Resurgence Real?

2005 Pontiac G6

2005 Pontiac G6

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Call it “the year of the car.” Well, Ford execs will, at least, while their counterparts at General Motors agree that it’s time for Detroit to start putting more emphasis on the passenger car side of the equation. But exactly what does that mean in the marketplace? Industry analysts and insiders offer various explanations why the Big Three are bringing so many products like the Ford Five Hundred and Pontiac G6 to market at this particular moment. With the Japanese taking aim at the large and profitable truck market, Detroit is losing its last protected sanctuary, suggests Dr. David Cole, of the Center for Automotive Research. Whatever the reason, will it actually help halt the steady, decade-long light-truck boom? In 2002, minivans, pickups, and SUVs collectively outsold sedans, coupes, and wagons for the first time, and that trend continued in 2003. But Ford design chief J Mays argued that the market might stabilize with the launch of so many new passenger cars, such as the Five Hundred, offering all-wheel drive, “command seating” and other SUV-like attributes. “We think you’re going to see people slowly move back from trucks to cars,” says Mays, though GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz is less certain. He predicts the “glacial” pace of the shift from cars to trucks is more likely to continue, though models like GM’s G6 could slow the defection.

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