2001 Detroit Auto Show, Part II.V

January 14, 2001


Sponsor of 2001 NAIAS Coverage on TCC

Mazda RX-8 Concept

Mazda RX-8 Concept

MAZDA’S RX FOR PERFORMANCE. The prescription for a dulled brand is always more power – and  for Mazda, more power means reviving the rotary engine. In introducing the RX-8, Mark Fields, president of Mazda, said the concept was a huge step closer to production from the original RX-Evolv concept. The RX-8's rotary engine, dubbed Renesis, is said to make 250 hp at 8500 rpm in the RX-8 concept; in other applications it may produce as much as 280 hp. With 50/50 weight distribution, doors with no center pillar (called “freestyle” by Mazda), the RX-8 seems set to distinguish itself from the pack of $25,000 sports sedans. 

Ford Explorer EX Concept

Ford Explorer EX Concept

 

EX MARKS THE SPOT.  Don’t go looking for the Explorer EX at your local Ford showroom.  This supercharged dune buggy is a 375-horsepower concept vehicle that likely would never meet federal rules and regulations.  But product development chief Richard Parry-Jones hints that “I’d like to do a Baja special," a limited edition for some of the teams entering the grueling desert races that cross Mexico’s treacherous Baja Peninsula. 

Ford Explorer Sportsman Concept

Ford Explorer Sportsman Concept

SPORTSMAN'S PARADISE? For those who enjoy the rugged outdoors at a more leisurely pace, Ford’s other prototype, there’s the Explorer Sportsman, custom-designed for the avid fly fisherman.  It’s a modified Explorer equipped with a variety of storage bins for fishing rods, notes Design Chief  J Mays, “and other specialty equipment, like beer.”  There’s a removable bench for cleaning your catch, and even a 30-gallon tank for keeping your quota live.GM, SUZUKI FORM NEW JOINT-VENTURE. A new General Motors-Suzuki joint venture is in the works that will yield a new entry-level small car for sale in the U.S., according to GM Chairman John F. Smith Jr. Smith said he really wasn't supposed to talk about the new venture, which should reach fruition in about two years. Nevertheless,  he did let out some tantalizing hints about the project during a conversation with reporters at the North American International Auto Show. "We're working on a program with Suzuki that will give us an incredibly strong car in this country. We're not very far away at all. It's an amalgamation of GM and Suzuki. We'll design. It will be engineered partly by Suzuki and partly by GM and built in a joint venture plant," said Smith, who declined to be more specific. Smith also said GM also was working on efforts to enhance the appeal of the company's product to young, first-time buyers.

DC CONCEPTS: RETRO INFLUENCE? DaimlerChrysler wooed the automotive press with three fresh concept cars, two of which took on strong retro influences. The concepts left members of the press wondering, "Are you going to build them?" Considering the fact that Chrysler's last comeback was fueled by bringing innovative concepts to production, that's an important question. Trevor Creed, DaimlerChrysler's design chief, remarked, "It's incredibly important...With concepts, our job is to keep going and build the reputation of the company." Here's what they showed:

2008 Porsche Cayenne

2008 Porsche Cayenne

 

JEEP WILLYS. The Jeep Willys goes back to basics and the simplicity of the original Willys Jeep. Basic utility and versatility is the underlying theme, although this concept has fashionable matte-aluminum interior trim, gray leather, and sea-green colored interior trim and seat covers. The Willys has an all-plastic, injection-molded body that's nearly 100-percent recyclable, bonded to an lightweight aluminum subframe, resulting in a low, 2900-pound curb weight. A 160-hp, 1.6-liter supercharged four-cylinder engine provides the power, along with a two-speed transfer case.

Dodge Super8 Hemi Concept

Dodge Super8 Hemi Concept

DODGE SUPER8 HEMI. The Dodge Super8 Hemi, an effort to pay homage to vehicles of the 1950s. Now does seem like the right time to bring back the taller stance and interior charms of cars of that period, and the Super8 Hemi includes many of them with a touch of the new. Exterior touches that especially stand out are the three stripes of bright green side molding, the reemergence of tail fins, and exhaust tips that are siamesed in the shape of a lazy eight. The interior has thinly padded seats that are supported from the middle and appear from the side to be floating. There are no B-pillars, and the doors open away from each other allowing an open space. A 353-cubic-inch, pushrod "Hemi" V-8 engine is underhood, with a four-speed manumatic transmission. DaimlerChrysler claims a zero-to-sixty time of less than six seconds.

Chrysler Crossfire Concept

Chrysler Crossfire Concept

CHRYSLER CROSSFIRE. DaimlerChrysler also showed its Chrysler Crossfire sports coupe concept, previewed by TCC last week (you can read more on Crossfire by clicking here).

GM’S GREEN MACHINES.   Demonstration vehicles and limited-production battery cars are fine, insisted General Motors Vice Chairman Harry Pearce, but they won’t do much to improve the environment.  “In the long-term, how we can really help improvement the environment…is to put volume production on the road.”  And that’s what GM is ready to do, Pearce promised, during a roll-out of a variety of green machines that are or may soon be entering production.  During an hour-long presentation, Pearce took the wraps off two new systems that could make this possible.  The ParadiGM hybrid powertrain combines a V-6 engine, an electric motor and batteries, and a new, automatically-shifted manual transmission. Look for it to debut on at least one production vehicle in the next few years, starting with a midsize crossover vehicle based on the automaker’s midsize Epsilon platform.  Epsilon-based vehicles are expected to reach volumes of 1.7 million by mid-decade, and GM believes it could make a significant number of them gasoline-electric hybrids—if consumers demand them.  The ParadiGM system can be scaled up or down, Pearce added, for larger or smaller product lines.  GM also took the wraps off a hybrid-electric drive system for buses and trucks that could cut fuel consumption, Pearce claimed, by as much as 60 percent.

Infiniti FX45 Concept

Infiniti FX45 Concept

SPECIAL FXHoping to pump new life into its sluggish, upmarket Infiniti division, Nissan took the wraps off a concept and a Q-car Tuesday.  That’s “Q” as in Q45, the latest incarnation of Infiniti’s flagship sedan. The division sold a record 78,000 vehicles in the U.S. last year, barely a third as many as its chief rival, Toyota’s Lexus brand.  “The new Q45 signifies our intent to make Infiniti a strong, distinctive and powerful brand in North America,” declared Nissan Vice President Patrick Pelati.  The new, 2002 Q45 is a more distinctive and striking vehicle than the forgettable sedan it replaces, carrying many of the design themes of the original luxury sedan that was introduced in 1989—minus the controversial “belt buckle” grille ornament.  It features a 340-horsepower V-8 capable of launching the sedan from 0-60 in 6.0 seconds, outracing the benchmark BMW 540i.  On the concept side, Infiniti also took the wraps off the FX45, a sporty sport-ute designers designate a “bionic cheetah.”  It has “the soul of a sportscar,” insists Pelati, but the ability to go off-road with independent suspension and all-wheel drive.  It’s powered by a 345-horsepower, 4.5-liter V-8. Look for a slightly less radical crossover vehicle to hit market in the next several years.

2002 Kia Rio Wagon

2002 Kia Rio Wagon

 

BLAME IT ON RIO…WAGON? Kia announced that it will begin selling a wagon version of its Rio, the company's smallest offering in the United States. Althought pricing was not announced, the wagon will carry a price only slightly higher than the Rio sedan, which retails for around $9,000 base price. As with all other Kia models, the Rio wagon will carry Kia's five year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. The Rio wagon will go on sale later in 2001 at Kia dealers nationwide. 

BENTLEY GOES TO LE MANS. Bentley Motors unveiled a new racing prototype that will mark Bentley's return to racing. The EXP Speed 8, inspired by the Le Mans 24-hour race, has a six-speed manual gearbox and 3.6-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 engine, shared with Audi's winning Le Mans car. The EXP Speed 8 will compete in the GTP class for fully enclosed prototypes. The car shares nothing with production cars: the Speed 8 is based on a tri-hoop carbon fiber structure. The Bentley will see its first race action on May 5, at Le Mans. Bentley chief Tony Gott also told the press that Bentley is planning to invest heavily in building a higher global profile for the brand: $800 million has already been delegated for new investment and 400 new employees have been taken on, with the possibility of 800 more employees in the near future--big changes for a small-volume automaker. A new midsize Bentley, tentatively called the MSB, is also on the way.

SAFE SUVs.   The Firestone tire fiasco focused the spotlight on the issue of sport-ute safety, and though federal statistics show that injury rates are lower in these popular vehicles, Ford Motor Co. officials admit there’s room for improvement.  The automaker plans a significant upgrade to its sport-utility vehicle lineup starting in 2002, announced truck chief Gurminder Bedi. By 2005, all Ford SUVs will be equipped with a tire-pressure monitoring system, anti-lock brakes, stability control and a brake force distribution system, a “smart airbag” system, including rollover airbags, as well as lower bumper beams, which should reduce damage and injuries when a Ford SUV hits a passenger car.  “Some of these technology will be adapted into our passenger cars,” too, noted Bedi.

Audi Steppenwolf concept

Audi Steppenwolf concept

 

AUDI BORN-TO-BE-WILD COUPE. Audi gave its intriguing Project Steppenwolf concept car a North American introduction at Detroit. The small, off-road capable three-door coupe seats four and has Quattro, a four-level height-adjustable air suspension, stability control, and a new electrohydraulic parking brake system. The coupe has a 3.2-liter V-6 engine that makes 225 hp, coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox. The Steppenwolf sports real off-road ability, thanks to a generous 8.8 inches of ground clearance. Steppenwolf is based on the same platform as the Audi TT and the European Audi A3. Look for cues from this swoopy coupe "concept" to make their way to a production car soon.

Honda Model X Concept

Honda Model X Concept

MODEL X, GEN Y Young people are no longer entry-level buyers, and 40-somethings now constitute the largest group of buyers for basic entry-level cars. Young people want more, according to Tom Elliot, American Honda's executive vice president. This shift in the market led to Honda's development of the Model X concept, a vehicle that's shamelessly pitched at the 21-to-25-year-old active male crowd. Model X is targeted at people who are active in skiing, snowboarding, surfing, climbing, playing music, and doing other "extreme sports." The Model X is multi-function sport-utility vehicle that offers a flexible seating arrangement, a flat floor, and an interior that's easy to clean by just wiping it off--plus "suicide-style" doors that Honda says open into "a dorm-like setting...perfect for side-gate parties." A new-generation, i-TEC engine powers the X, along with a five-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. A navigation system, wireless Internet access, DVD player, digital satellite radio, CD player, and MP3 capability should be enough to keep the Generation Y occupants away from their ritalin for a while. Honda says it's found favorable reviews from focus groups, and according to Elliot, "We are seriously studying the production of this vehicle and we will use auto shows to judge response."

2002 Land Rover Freelander

2002 Land Rover Freelander

FREELANDER COMES TO STATES. After selling the Freelander in Europe for four years, Land Rover is finally bringing it Stateside. The Freelander, a compact SUV in the upscale, rugged spirit of Land Rover, will be mostly new for 2002 and restyled throughout. Better yet, it now comes with "North American sized cupholders," according to chairman and chief executive Bob Dover. North American Freelander will be offered with a 175-hp, 2.5-liter V-6 engine, Steptronic manumatic transmission, Hill Descent Control, and Electronic Brake Distribution, among other high-tech features. Land Rover exhibited two special-theme Freelanders, the safari-influenced Kalahari, and the luxury-trimmed Kensington. Expect to see the Freelander at dealerships this fall, priced under $30,000.

For all our Detroit 2001 coverage, click here.

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