2000 Detroit Auto Show I

January 10, 2000

With press introductions now making Sunday an official show day, the 2000 North American International Auto Show got off to a hazy start yesterday with a trio of press conferences. You see (or don’t), in Detroit’s Cobo Hall, the exhaust of concept cars and the smoke bombs set off for effect during press conferences has nowhere to escape….

But when it dissipated, it left behind a clearer picture of what the future holds for GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler. For DC, the standard quartet of compelling concepts was introduced to pseudo-Cirque du Soleil acrobatics and thunderous backing music. At Ford, the dark Cobo Arena gave ample backdrop for a round-the-clock communication-driven concept championed by design chief J Mays. And at GM, years of lackluster exhibits were overcome by the stylish and immense GM Experience, filling nearly a quarter of the hall with "brand salons" and introduced by Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer – driving a snowplow, poking fun at the city’s response to the 1999 blizzard that crippled last year’s show logistics.

The highlights from the first round of press conferences follow. Stay tuned each day this week at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. for updates on the unveilings and announcements from Cobo – and don’t forget to come back next Monday for a complete 2000 Detroit show wrap-up.

2000 Chrysler 300 Hemi concept

2000 Chrysler 300 Hemi concept

CHRYSLER 300 HEMI CONVERTIBLE Anyone who lived and drove through the muscle car era knew to fear the awesome Chrysler hemi engine. After a quarter-century absence, the Hemi is back -- at least in concept form -- under the hood of the striking Chrysler 300 Hemi Convertible. Think of this ragtop as "the icon for Chrysler we’ve been searching for," says Design Director Tom Gale. The unusually roomy four-seater suggests some of the ways Chrysler is making its merger with Daimler-Benz pay off. Among other things, it borrows the pop-up rollbar found in the Mercedes-Benz SL sports cars. The 350 cubic-inch hemi engine develops 353 horsepower and 353 lb-ft of torque. While DaimlerChrysler officials wouldn’t officially respond when asked if the Hemi concept has a future in the carmaker’s line-up, insiders say it’s more than likely to see the business side of an assembly line in the next couple of years. And the Hemi powerplant could make it into production, as well. Look for a price tag "perhaps" a few thousand dollars more than that of today’s 300M sedan.

2000 Jeep Varsity concept

2000 Jeep Varsity concept

JEEP VARSITY What’s the urban crossover concept vehicle with the big vertical grille? Varsity, that’s right. Jeep’s hybrid sedan-ute idea fits the current fancy, with a cargo area in the rear and carlike seating for five in the cabin. However, Jeep insists that this vehicle is different because of its underpinnings: a true full-time four-wheel drive system coupled to a 3.5-liter V-6 with 300 horsepower. The 19-inch wheels, independent suspension, and 0-to-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds might be imaginary, but we can easily picture Varsity’s facial features showing up on the new Jeep Cherokee due in 2001.

2000 Dodge Viper GTS-R concept

2000 Dodge Viper GTS-R concept

DODGE VIPER GTS/R Has it been that long? Dodge reminded us that it’s been eleven years since Viper debuted as a concept at the NAIAS – which can only mean they’re thinking replacement thoughts. The Viper GTS-R is a resculpted rendition of the current supercar with some notable differences – namely, its 8.0-liter V-8 engine, which kicks out the same 500 hp but now also produces an equitable 500 lb-ft of torque, 50 more than in the semi-production GTS-R racer. Nifty touches abound in the interior, such as the flap-open throttle-body air vents and five-point belts. How much of the style makes it into a new Viper is anyone’s guess. We’d start looking in 2002.

2000 Dodge Maxxcab concept

2000 Dodge Maxxcab concept

DODGE MAXXCAB Using its "cab-forward" design concept, Chrysler has found ways to pack extra room into its sedans, coupes and convertibles. With the Dodge Maxxcab, the automaker takes the concept a step further. Call it Passenger Priority Spacing, a way to squeeze a lot more room out of a conventional pickup truck. The edgy looks of the MaxxCab serve as a "polar extreme" to more traditional trucks, like the Ram, says Mike Castiglione, chief designer at DaimlerChrysler’s Pacifica styling studio in California. The concept truck features a shortened, 57-inch bed, but you can stretch the bed to a full 7 feet, 5 inches with its unusual tailgate.

2000 Ford 24.7 concept

2000 Ford 24.7 concept

2000 Ford 24.7 interior concept

2000 Ford 24.7 interior concept

FORD 24.7 Here’s the car for people who like to multitask. Of all the prototypes making their debut at the Detroit auto show this week, the cartoon-like 24.7 is certain to win the "least likely to go into production award." But it nonetheless serves as a crystal ball for the auto industry’s future. The boxy exterior envelopes a high-tech instrument panel featuring an array of "Telematic" technology, including voice-activated navigation, video displays and Internet access – all very much in Ford’s production plans. The automaker announced it will begin offering some of this technology as a no-cost standard feature on most 2001-model Lincolns, and on the European version of the 2001 Ford Focus. "Go back 100 years, Henry Ford put the world on wheels. Today, Ford Motor Company will put the Internet on wheels," said Ford CEO Jac Nasser. Added Ford design chief J Mays, "We’ve entered a world where you measure speed in gigahertz and pipeline bursts, not horsepower."

2000 Buick LaCrosse concept

2000 Buick LaCrosse concept

BUICK LACROSSE A V-8 sedan with a languid, undulating body, the LaCrosse keeps a toe in the stylish past of Buick sedans while reaching to a flexibility-minded generation via its cargo area. Utter a voice command and LaCrosse lifts a rear panel to convert its trunk into an open quasi-pickup bed. LaCrosse features a 4.2-liter V-8 with 265 horsepower mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, a sumptuous interior lavished with soft-touch upholstery and high-luxe finishes. We’d bet the portholes on the fenders are a design element due to return to Buicks any day now – the pickup bed, we’re not so sure about.

2000 GMC Terradyne concept

2000 GMC Terradyne concept

GMC TERRADYNE Borrowing some style cues from Isuzu’s recent Tokyo concept cars, the GMC Terradyne takes the average GMC pickup and makes it – no, really – taller and bigger. The extendable bed is a great idea for the burgeoning four-door pickup class, but the slide-out doors – which move out and in front of the fenders – and the accompanying power-operated running boards seem like overkill even when compared to conversion vans.

2000 Opel Zafira concept

2000 Opel Zafira concept

OPEL ZAFIRA SNOWTREKKER What could the next version GM’s European-penned, globally intended midi-van look like on the slopes at Gstaad? That’s the question posed by the Zafira Snowtrekker, fully outfitted with Rossignol ski attire and suitably dour Germanic passengers during its unveiling. The proto-Zafira’s slick size and shape carry a150-hp direct-injection four-cylinder gas engine and four-wheel drive. They’re complemented by suitably snow-resistant interior materials, an integral roof bin for skis and accoutrements, and most useful, a sliding middle bench seat that moves 21 inches fore and aft, like that on the Mercury Villager/Nissan Quest minivan.

2000 Chevrolet SSR concept

2000 Chevrolet SSR concept

CHEVROLET SSR Call this concept the "Corvette truck," suggests Ed Wellburn, director of General Motors’ brand center. At first glance, the SSR may look like a sleekly-styled pickup, or perhaps an El Camino for the new millennium. But with its big 6.0-liter V-8 and retractable roof, it’s got the performance credentials of a roadster. "While some may debate whether it’s a car or a truck," says Wellburn, "it doesn’t matter." What does matter is the apparent decision by GM’s top brass, confirmed to TheCarConnection.com last week, that the SSR is slated to go into production soon.

2000 Hummer H2 concept

2000 Hummer H2 concept

HUMMER H1 AND H2 The most macho machine on the road gets a new look — and a little brother. The civilian version of the HUMMVEE has had a small but loyal following, but demand is likely to grow substantially if General Motors has its way. The number-one automaker acquired the civilian side of AM General last year, and it’s renamed the original Hummer the H1 in order to expand the product lineup. The first new model is a slant-back version of the big SUV. But GM also pulled the tarp off a concept vehicle dubbed H2, a downsized prototype that’s unmistakably Hummer in style. "We’re going to produce an all-new Hummer and it will look a lot like the H2," hinted Ron Zarrella, president of GM’s North American automotive operations. Look for production to begin at an all-new plant in South Bend, Indiana, sometime in 2001

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