1999 Los Angeles Auto Show Page 2

January 4, 1999


At least not from BMW, which
used the L.A. show as a backdrop to introduce the new M5.
BMW claims the V-8 "supercar" will be the world's fastest
sedan, and will be priced at around $55,000.






HEY THERE, SPORT Sports cars dominated the two-day press portion of the Los Angeles auto show. Porsche Cars North America President Fred Schwab beamed broadly as he hefted the Robb Report's "Luxury Car of the Year" award, presented to the redesigned 911 Carrera Cabriolet. A moment later, Schwab unveiled the latest entry into the 911 lineup, the four-wheel-drive Carrera 4. Fielding questions, the executive dropped a few hints about Porsche's upcoming joint venture with Volkswagen. The two automakers are developing a high-performance, off-road vehicle that will reach market in 2002. They will share a common platform, but that's all. "The two (versions) will be totally unique" from each other, Schwab promised.






'S' STANDS FOR SLEEK AND SWIFT The Ford team had several sporty prototypes on tap, as well. Mercury's Cougar S concept sports coupe "takes the basic Cougar and turns up the performance switch," according to Ford's design director, J Mays. The Cougar has won raves for its taut "edge design," and the "S" ratchets things up on the styling side as well, thanks to touches such as the aluminum air intake and brightwork exhaust. Will they build the Cougar S? Stay tuned, Ford insiders hint. The same goes for the Cosworth Focus, a high-performance version of the next-generation Ford division subcompact. (The base Focus already is on sale in Europe, and will replace the long-lived Escort here in the U.S. next fall.) The Cosworth concept car boasts a turbocharged ZTEC-E engine turning out "more than 200 horsepower," hints Mays, who adds, "We see this vehicle as having huge potential for the Southern California market. As an alternative, says Focus brand boss Al Kamerer, Ford may go with a slightly less powerful SVT Focus for the U.S. market. It would feature a normally aspirated engine putting out a still respectable 160 to 180 horsepower.




IF BIGGER IS BETTER Well, then the Jeep Commander would certainly make moves for king-of-the-hill honors. Like the Lincoln Blackwood, this full-size sport-utility vehicle is, for the moment, at least, said to be nothing but a concept car. Perhaps, but rumors continue to surface that DaimlerChrysler wants to put a version of the Commander into production, hoping to tap the booming demand for up-market SUVs.

Less certain is the fate of the fuel cell system this prototype was wrapped around. (Indeed, the hardware wouldn't fit under the hood of the largest current Jeep model, the Grand Cherokee.) Fuel cells transform hydrogen gas and oxygen into water vapor and electric current. It's as clean a power source as one can get, but you won't find hydrogen pumps at your local filling station. DaimlerChrysler has been developing a converter system that transforms regular gasoline into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, admits Jeep engineering chief Bernie Robertson, the technology doesn't work — at least not yet — "though we think it has promise."

Fuel cells remain a favorite of other manufacturers seeking alternate power systems, including General Motors. The automaker hints it may be having a bit more luck with its own system, such as the one displayed inside an Opel Sintra, the European version of the Pontiac Trans Sport minivan. But it seems likely that there'll either need to be a source of pure hydrogen gas or that carmakers will use a simpler on-board conversion system that could run on methanol, a relatively simple form of alcohol.

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