Porsche, Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz will all be taking the covers off new production and concept cars at the North American International Auto Show when it opens in Detroit next week.
It's a measure of the importance that European manufacturers attach to the Motor City showplace, even though a couple of high-profile projects like the upcoming Porsche SUV will be absent.
Porsche won't be showing its Cayenne SUV, which is aimed directly at the U.S. market, because the car isn't ready yet. Frankfurt in September is a more likely launch pad for the vehicle that will be Porsche's biggest-ever jump away from its sports car roots. The newcomer from Stuttgart in Detroit, though, will take the company right back to those roots, in the shape of the rorting, snorting, 911 GT2, a 462-hp two-seater that will become the most powerful car in the company's range. It will do zero to 62 mph (100 kph) in just 4.1 seconds and has a top speed of 196 mph. To handle that kind of performance, it will be the first production car to feature composite ceramic brakes.
Volvo's Safety Car Concept (SCC).
This is done by replacing the normal windshield pillars with a latticework structure reminiscent of that used in bridges. This gives the strength required, but minimizes the blind spot that the traditional pillars create. The pillar to the rear of the front door - the B-pillar, in industry terms - is curved back to follow the contour of the driver's seat, again to remove a blind spot. The SCC also puts forward new ideas for the seatbelt, in the form of belts that are more supportive than the traditional lap and shoulder design that Volvo pioneered.
In addition to the SCC, Volvo will also be taking the wraps off another concept car in Detroit. It's called the ACC, and the company is keeping that one close to its chest until press day.
BMW's newcomer at Detroit is really a domestic product. It's the new high-performance version of the X5 sport-activity vehicle that's built in the USA and sells best of all in SUV-hungry America. The new model has a 4.6-liter V-8 producing 347 hp, and BMW claims figures of 5.3 seconds for 0-62 mph and a top speed of 149 mph. Also making their U.S. debuts on the BMW stand will be the M3 Convertible and more powerful variants of the M Coupe and M Roadster.
Perhaps the most important new car from BMW is theMini Cooper, which will be shown ahead of a 2002 launch in the U.S. The little car has been well received in Europe, even though none of the press have driven it yet, but its reception in the USA is vital to BMW's plans for its future. There will be plenty of BMW brass watching from the sidelines to see the reactions as the trendy young folk that are the Mini's target audience check it out in Detroit.
If the Mini is about fun, Mercedes-Benz' Detroit newcomer is about practicality - but that doesn't mean that fun is ruled out. The German manufacturer will be facing up to the unfriendly reception it could face in Chrysler-friendly Detroit with the latest addition to the C-Class range, the station wagon variant.
The fun aspect of the C-Class Estate is the stylish new look to the roofline. Previous M-B wagons have been boxy affairs, but the new model has an arcing line from windshield to tailgate that looks positively sporting - an impression that's enhanced by the aerofoil that's positioned at the top of the tailgate and actually improves aerodynamic performance. The new C-Class's dynamic abilities have been widely praised in sedan form, and the new wagon should be a big seller - but not so popular as it is in Europe, where almost a third of C-Class buyers go for the wagon. The new Estate will go on sale in the U.S. in September.
Two new Europeans that won't be in Detroit are from Ford's two upmarket brands. Photographs have been released of Jaguar's new X-Type small sedan, but we will have to wait until Geneva in early March to see the car in the metal. The same goes for Aston Martin's powerful 200-mph Vanquish supercar. That was announced and photographed last October, but a desire that the car should be seen at its best has put the first public showing back to Geneva.