2003 Detroit Auto Show, Part III

January 6, 2003
2003 North American International Auto Show banner

2003 North American International Auto Show banner

Related Articles:
2003 L.A. Auto Show Coverage by TCC Team (1/1/2003)
2003 Detroit Auto Show Coverage by TCC Team (1/2/2003)

While there are scores of new cars, trucks, crossovers and concept vehicles on display at Cobo Center this week, it’s hard for any automaker to dominate the North American International Auto Show. But Ford did win one claim, when Chairman Bill Ford promised “to set a world record for the most products revealed in the shortest amount of time.” Indeed, it was almost impossible to keep count. But here are a few of the ones unveiled.

2003 Ford 427 concept

2003 Ford 427 concept

427: LIVING ROOM ON WHEELS?
Is the 427 a muscle car or a “living room on wheels”? It’s a bit of both, according to Ford’s design chief, J Mays. It has the room and interior comfort of such Fords of the past as the old Galaxie. But under the hood, the slab-sided sedan features a 590-horsepower V-10. The 427’s hot rod-style roof is about three inches lower than that of a conventional sedan of its size, but company officials insist that it would be quite buildable. In fact, they appear to be giving it serious consideration, perhaps as an alternative to another recent Ford concept, the Forty-Nine. Even if the new concept vehicle doesn’t make it to market, “We’ll be seeing powertrains like this in the near future,” said Mays. —TCC Team
2003 Ford Freestyle FX

2003 Ford Freestyle FX

FREESTYLE GOES CROSSTRAINING
Think of the Freestyle FX as “sort of an automotive Swiss Army knife,” said Mays. It began life as the CrossTrainer concept unveiled in Chicago last February, and will emerge as a production vehicle in 2004. The seven-seat, three-row crossover blends car-like ride and handling with popular SUV features, such as all-wheel-drive and “command seating.” It also boasts stability control, and traction control. The back two rows will fold flat and if you need extra room for cargo, a special roof panel slides forward with just the touch of a button, turning the Freestyle into the functional equivalent of a pickup. —TCC Team
2003 Ford Model U Concept

2003 Ford Model U Concept

MODEL U DRAWS FROM T?
The Model U could be the 21st-century equivalent of the Model T, Ford officials declared. This eco-minded vehicle boasts a number of unusual and creative features, starting with the slot design that makes the Model U the functional equivalent of a plug-and-play automobile. Simply slip the seats, radio and other hardware in and out. The powertrain is an internal combustion engine running on clean-burning hydrogen gas. “Practically everything inside and out is environmentally friendly,” noted Mays. Much of the Model U, he explained, is produced from agricultural products, such as the tailgate, which is made from soybeans. Even the vehicle’s oil comes from sunflowers. The seat fabric is “recyclable infinitely,” noted Bill McDonough, an expert on sustainable manufacturing, and an adviser to Bill Ford. While a vehicle like the Model U isn’t likely to reach production in the short-term, McDonough hinted that “it’s design signals the intentions” of Ford to move towards more environmentally friendly materials and designs. —TCC Team

In a whirlwind, Ford pulled the wraps off a wide range of additional production vehicles and prototypes, ranging from the new Mazda RX-8 to the Mercury Messenger concept. In all, the automaker is expected to reveal more than a dozen new designs during the three-day run of the auto show’s media preview. That’s significantly more than normal. But “when you’re 100 years old,” said Chief Operating Officer Nick Scheele, referring to Ford’s upcoming centennial, “we have to make sure we blow the competition out of the water.” —TCC Team

2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept

2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept

CADDY’S SWEET SIXTEEN
Elegant, flamboyant and unexpected, Cadillac’s “ultra-luxury” concept vehicle, the Sixteen, could make critics think twice about General Motors’ once-grand flagship division. Featuring a softer interpretation of Caddy’s trademark “Art & Science” design theme, the 19-foot-long show car made a dramatic entrance during an evening reception at the Detroit Opera House.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen

2003 Cadillac Sixteen

The Sixteen’s name refers to the massive, 13.6-liter V-16 engine under its hood, a powerplant producing a whopping 1000 horsepower and 1000 lb-ft of torque. That’s nearly double the output of the new Maybach sedans from DaimlerChrysler. GM officials didn’t deny they had their eye on the Maybach, as well as the newest Rolls-Royce sedan, which was also unveiled Sunday at the Detroit show. “Our dream was to make a car that embodied everything that (once) made Cadillac the standard of the world,” said GM car czar Bob Lutz, who conceived of the project shortly after joining the company in August 2001. The goal is to make Caddy relevant again to a generation of buyers who’ve written it off in favor of up-market imports.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen

2003 Cadillac Sixteen

For the record, GM says the Sixteen provides hints of where Cadillac will head in the future, as it moves upmarket. But sources tell TheCarConnection.com that they’re giving serious consideration to a limited production run for the car, especially in light of the reaction it’s receiving. —TCC Team

2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom

2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom

THE 21st-CENTURY ROLLS-ROYCE
Ever since Britain’s Rolls-Royce aero engine company forced the split between Rolls-Royce and Bentley back in 1998, letting VW take Bentley but giving Rolls to its business associate BMW, the world has been wondering what BMW would make of the best brand in the automobile business. The split became final on January 1st, and after a gap of two days while Britain got back to work after the holidays we now know that Munich’s view of a Rolls-Royce is a car that will go head to head with Mercedes-Benz’s new Maybach, with a price-tag of around $300,000 plus tax.

It carries a name – Phantom – and lines that are very reminiscent of past Rolls-Royce products and it will be assembled and trimmed by British workers in a brand-new plant deep in the English countryside. That takes care of the tradition, but it’s BMW that will provide the technology, in the form of an aluminum spaceframe chassis clad with aluminum panels powered by a 6.75-liter V-12 engine.

The engine follows the current European trend for vast power outputs, with 460 horsepower and 531 lb-ft of torque, and Rolls promises that the car will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds before running on to an electronically limited top speed of 150 mph. The naturally aspirated engine is fully up to date technically, with variable valve lift, variable valve timing and direct fuel injection, and BMW – sorry, Rolls-Royce – say it will achieve fuel consumption of 21.4 mpg (U.S.). This figure will give Maybach owners something to be jealous of and is quite an achievement for such a large car with such a large and powerful engine.

Suspension is independent all round, wishbones at the front and multi-link at the rear, and the car is fitted with Michelin-developed PAX tires that can continue for 100 miles at 50 mph after a blow-out. Reversing a trend that has been growing continuously since the invention of the radial tire, Rolls makes a point of mentioning that the Phantom’s tires are of high profile design, unlike the low profile equipment fitted to most high-performance cars today. High-profile tires ride more comfortably than the squat designs chosen for ultimate road-holding, and Rolls-Royce’s choice, combined with self-levelling air springs and electronic dampers shows that the designers have gone for ultimate comfort rather than ultimate performance, continuing the characteristics that made the marque what it is.

In the days when Rolls-Royces and Bentleys came out of the same factory, it was said that a Bentley was to drive, while a Rolls was to be driven in. The new car continues that emphasis on passenger comfort by reintroducing the rear-hinged door for the rear compartment.

Popular culture calls these ‘suicide doors’, but Rolls-Royce prefers the term ‘coach doors’. Whatever they are called, they do allow easy access to the rear seats, particularly since the floor of the car is flat. The rear seat itself is slightly curved, for added comfort and cosiness, and the rear compartment can be trimmed according to the customer’s desire. All the luxury car makers offer this individual trim option, but Rolls is hoping to be able to go further, saying that the spaceframe chassis will allow individual coachwork designs to be made in addition to the standard version.

It wouldn’t be a Rolls-Royce without one or two individual features, and the Phantom does not disappoint on this front. The ‘Flying Lady’ hood mascot retracts electrically when the car is parked, discouraging souvenir hunters, and the wheel hub-centers, carrying the ‘RR’ motif, rotate freely and are specially weighted to display the badge correctly when the car is at a standstill. — Ian Norris

2003 Chevrolet SS concept

2003 Chevrolet SS concept

IS SS BOUND FOR THE ASSEMBLY LINE?
Chevrolet’s SS concept car is also winning raves. The modern interpretation of the classic muscle car, it was one of four prototypes General Motors rolled out Sunday. Officially nothing more than a concept, exuberant GM insiders tell TheCarConnection.com that a significant amount of preliminary engineering work has already been done on the SS, which uses a modified version of the Corvette chassis as its starting point. “We could conceivably build it at Bowling Green,” noted one executive, a point repeated by several others, though they stressed that significant engineering work would need to be done first. It appears that top management sees the SS as a possible “four-seat Corvette,” a reference to the classic Chevy sports car. It would thus serve as a counterpoint to the new Vette-based SSR, which has been dubbed the Corvette pickup. Should a solid business case be made, it would likely be several years before the SS could begin relatively low-volume production, at the soonest. —TCC Team
 

2003 Acura TSX

2003 Acura TSX

TSX FILLS IN ACURA MIDRANGE
Acura’s new TSX sports sedan made its world debut Sunday, giving the Japanese luxury/performance brand an entry-level vehicle aimed at young males. The TSX
boasts a 16 valve, 2.4-liter DOHC I-VTEC engine that will produce 200 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque. Consumers will have a choice between the six-speed manual or five-speed SportShift automatic transmissions. The interior features leather seats
and an optional voice-activated navigation system.  Pricing has not been set
yet, but the vehicle should be sold in the $25,000 to $30,000 range. Given the
styling, performance and price, the question for Acura is: Will this model
compete with other brands or end up stealing sales from its own RSX and TL
models? —Bill Rapai


2003 Hyundai OLV concept

2003 Hyundai OLV concept

HYUNDAI OLV FITS NEW NICHE
With an all-new Sonata, a compact SUV, a minivan, and a larger-than-Santa Fe SUV on the way in the next few years, Hyundai has every intention to expand into all major North American market segments. Hyundai proved its intent to branch into new market segments with this OLV (Outdoor Lifestyle Vehicle), a concept that, if produced, would compete with Honda’s Element for the adventure-oriented youth crowd. Company spokespeople said that, if produced, this little SUV would be available at a compact car price.
The OLV has some trick features to make it highly flexible for both passengers and cargo, with both a conventional trunk and a foldout utility bed in the back, along with a unique manually sliding roof that opens up the entire passenger area to the sky. The trunk lid for the normal hatch is removable. Power is provided by a four-cylinder engine, fitted with a Street Concepts-installed Borg Warner supercharger. Hyundai designed the OLV with especially strong side pillars and unit-body construction. The interior is scratch-, water-, and dent-resistant, and the tailgate is made of injection-molder urethane. —Bengt Halvorson

2003 Ford Mustang GT Coupe concept

2003 Ford Mustang GT Coupe concept

FORD BOWS MUSTANG GT CONCEPTS
Amid fireworks and good old rock ‘n’ roll, Ford CEO Bill Ford gave the media a first glimpse of the company’s new pony car.
Available in two-seater fastback and convertible body styles, the new Mustang concept—which is likely very close in appearance to the production version due later in the year—brings various design cues from past Mustangs while at the same time not being part of the “retro” crowd. Hood scoops and side air intakes are used, and both the front and back end show a strong resemblance to that of the first-generation Mustang. LED projection lamps are used in back.
The coupe has a curvy roofline that arches low behind the seats, with the spare tire stored where a small back seat would otherwise be, held in place by the strut-tower brace, while the convertible has a conventional trunk, and a roll bar just past the seatbacks.
The concepts are built on a modified Ford Thunderbird platform (which is already shared with Lincoln’s LS and the Jaguar S-Type), but the front-end geometry is completely new to allow the traditional Mustang hoodline and its 4.6-liter modular V-8 engine. The engine is fitted with a supercharger to make 400 hp, and power is delivered through a six-speed manual gearbox in the coupe and five-speed automatic in the convertible. Huge 20-inch aluminum wheels give the Mustang a very masculine appearance, and 13.8-inch Brembo brakes provide stopping power. —Bengt Halvorson

2004 Lexus RX330

2004 Lexus RX330

NEW RX330 UPDATES LEXUS CROSSOVER
The best-selling RX300 crossover vehicle will soon see its first major redesign. The new RX330 upgrades to a 230-hp V-6 engine (from a 3.0-liter), and to a five-speed automatic transmission (from a four-speed). Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) is now interlaced with the available all-wheel-drive system, and the all-wheel-drive system has been redesigned to be simpler and lighter. An optional air suspension system provides three ride modes: Low,
High, and Access.
The redesigned vehicle—which is 1.1 inches taller and 6.1 inches longer, with a four-inch-longer wheelbase—gets a more aggressive profile with a low-slung roofline and completely new hatch design. The rear window now has an unusual hexagonal design, and a standard rear spoiler complements the shape.
Lexus has added adaptive cruise control to the options list, a feature that was previously only available on the significantly upmarket LS430. Rain-sensing wipers are also now available. Other new luxury features include a power rear liftgate, a power cargo cover, and a wood-and-leather steering wheel.
While production will come initially from the existing Kyushu plant in Japan, up to 60,000 RX330s per year will be produced at Toyota’s TMMC assembly facility in Canada, making it the first Lexus to be assembled in North America.
The new RX330 will arrive at dealerships later this spring at a base price of around $35,000. —Bengt Halvorson

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