2000 Detroit Show: The Final Word

January 17, 2000

Barry Gilcrest stood wide-eyed and slack-jawed, staring at the Jaguar F-Type concept car tucked neatly into a corner of Detroit’s Cobo Hall. "I’ve always loved Jags," said the suburban auto parts salesman, "and this one, well, I just have to have it."

2000 Jaguar F-type concept

2000 Jaguar F-type concept

"I just have to have it," gushed Barry Gilcrest over the Jaguar F-Type concept.

For the moment, the open-topped F-Type is just a concept vehicle, a fantasy in chrome, if you will. But Gilcrest might not have to wait all that long. There was an audible gasp when the covers were lifted on the sleek two-seater during last week’s press preview. The message wasn’t lost on officials from Jaguar’s parent, Ford Motor Co., which would have to authorize the project. When asked what would be the only thing to prevent Jaguar from building the sensuous sports car, Ford CEO Jac Nasser had a one word answer: "Stupidity."

As always, the North American International Auto Show is awash with new products — there were a total of 56 concept and production vehicle introductions during a four-day media extravaganza that literally ran morning to night.

Vehicles like the F-Type, the updated Nissan Sentra sedan, and the completely redesigned Chrysler minivans fall into traditional product segments. But a sizable share of the vehicles on display at Cobo Hall aren’t as easily defined. The Pontiac Aztek has a car-like chassis clad in a macho, sport-ute exterior. The Chevrolet Avalanche starts with an SUV cabin, then bolts on a shortened pickup bed. Chevy’s SSR prototype has been dubbed the "Corvette truck," for it has the sleek look and performance of a sports car, but a stylized pickup body.

"The boundaries are disappearing," suggested Dr. David Cole, director of the University of Michigan’s Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.

The era of no-compromise vehicles?

In an era of heightened competition, manufacturers are facing pressure to come up with no-compromise vehicles. "Segment-busters," like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, aren’t likely to sell in huge numbers, like the mainstream Ford Taurus or Toyota Camry. But they are designed to carve out a small, loyal — and profitable — new market niche.

A study by the consulting firm, AutoPacific, Inc., suggests that nearly half of the SUV-like vehicles on the road in mid-decade will actually blend attributes of both cars and trucks.

This shift only underscores the dramatic change in the car business that one can’t help but see at the 2000 auto show. "The whole industry is changing," said General Motors Corp. Chairman Jack Smith. Indeed, Smith acknowledged, it’s hard to find any aspect of the auto business that isn’t being rethought. So it was perhaps not surprising that despite all the new sheetmetal on the floor of Cobo Hall, these products seemed to fade into the background at times.

2000 Ford 24.7 wagon concept

2000 Ford 24.7 wagon concept

The controversial 24.7 cars were as much (if not more) about connectivity as about driving.

One of the most controversial concept vehicles to debut this year really served as a "box" for new technology, Ford officials acknowledged. The chunky, futuristic 24.7 featured an array of voice-activated, Internet-connected telematic technology designed to appeal to a generation of wired consumers.

"Go back 100 years, Henry Ford put the world on wheels. Today, Ford Motor Company will put the Internet on wheels," declared Ford Chairman and founding family heir Bill Ford Jr.

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