2004 Detroit Auto Show Preview

December 15, 2003


You could be at home preparing for the holidays. Or you could be wondering who you'll rent out your 6x8 "spider hole" to, now that the last tenant has taken a very public powder (he won't be getting his security deposit back, you seethe). But if you're even only vaguely connected to the auto industry, you're most likely preparing for the winter onslaught that is the dueling Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows. And, likely, you're also figuring out a way to get your Schnauzer a set of media credentials. (Doesn't Dog Fancy have an Animal COTY award?)

Despite a nasty calendar that wedges L.A.'s press days in between the holidays and puts you in Detroit too late to see Lions being thrown at Christians, this year's pair of shows promises to be the very best yet. After all, in what auto-show season has there been a brand-new Mustang, a new Corvette, more sedans than you can hail for a ride to the airport and a new Hummer concept that could be in production before Schwarzenegger is out of office? The excitement is palpable; we can almost feel the elbows of international journalists being wedged into our solar plexi.

Much of what you'll see at Detroit is already showing up on Web pages already — especially ours. Pull it all together in one place and you have our omnibus Detroit and L.A. show preview. We've lumped them together because we hope you'll be too busy celebrating to discern a difference — plus we're sure most, if not all, of these concepts appearing first at L.A. will make an appearance in Detroit as well. L.A. show debuts are noted where appropriate.

Return here as often as you can — for frequent updates as news breaks, and for the killer egg nog too. And stay tuned starting Dec. 29 as we bring the Los Angeles show to you, and Jan. 4 as Detroit opens its doors.

A Mustang Reinvented

2005 Ford Mustang

2005 Ford Mustang

The 2005 Mustang is being prepared for an international debut at the Detroit show in January. Shown here heavily camouflaged, the new Mustang has small Shelby-like rear quarter windows — similar to those found on the 1965 and 1966 Shelby 2+2 Fastback GT350. This Mustang coupe, upon closer examination, is as production-ready as they get, including gauges, and the finished interior. A V-6 for the base car and V-8 for the GT are sure bets — as is more information as soon as it's available.

'Vette Enters Sixth Gen

You've seen this 'Vette before — right here at TCC in a Web-first spy shot.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette

2005 Chevrolet Corvette

Chevrolet's new Corvette was caught in San Francisco by a sharp-eyed reader. The new 'Vette sports fenders extended fore and aft that extend into the doors, a la the '63-'67 'Vette. Door-handle cutouts in the rear fenders and a squared-off gas filler door are part of a crisper, sharper profile. Ultra low-profile run-flats on new five-spoke rims and drilled rotors hint at a new performance level. Expect the new Corvette to be introduced at the Detroit show, and to arrive in dealer showrooms by next fall.

Pontiac Calls Grand Am Replacement G6

2003 Pontiac G6 concept

2003 Pontiac G6 concept

The new mid-size Pontiac that replaces the Grand Am in 2005 will be called the G6, according to General Motors. "It is so new and different from the Grand Am that it demands a name that is equally new," said Lynn Myers, Pontiac-GMC general manager in a release. The G6 is based on the Epsilon platform shared by the Saab 9-3, and shares the name of the concept car shown here (and shown at the 2003 Detroit auto show). The production version bows with V-6 power at January's Detroit show. Also, Pontiac says the replacement for its Montana minivan will be dubbed Montana SV6, for "sport van V-6." The Montana will be shown early next year.

Spy Shots: '05 Pontiac Grand Am by Brenda Priddy (9/1/2003)
A concept lookalike barreling ahead into production.

Hummer Gets Smaller With H3T

2003 HUMMER H3T concept

2003 HUMMER H3T concept

The Hummer brand may be getting a bit nicer — at least that's the message General Motors Corp., which owns the rights to develop and sell Hummer consumer vehicles, will be sending next month as it unveils its next Hummer concept, a small pickup dubbed H3T, at the 2004 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. The show opens to media on January 2 in Los Angeles and General Motors will use the show to present its heftiest brand's future direction, as seen through the lens of a scaled-down concept. Although just a concept, Ed Welburn, General Motors North American vice president of design, says the H3T represents a "youthful, smaller, more affordable" direction than today's Hummer. Clay Dean, design director for Hummer, describes the brand's next step even more aggressively, saying the H3T is "a little more environmentally responsible" than what the brand is known for. Unlike Hummer's current vehicle lineup, which includes the Hummer H1 originally built for the military, and its smaller counterpart H2, the H3T is built on a compact pickup truck frame, is drastically smaller, sports a turbocharged in-line five-cylinder engine with 350 hp and, as a result, could get upwards of 22 miles per gallon, according to General Motors officials.

Hummer Gets Smaller With H3T (12/9/2003)
Hummer looks for next hit with "environmentally responsible" concept; analysts, environmentalists skeptical.

Honda Sketches Detroit "SUT"

2003 Honda SUT concept

2003 Honda SUT concept

Honda has released the first sketch of the sport-utility truck it will show at the Detroit auto show. As TCC has reported, in keeping with Honda's approach to light trucks, the vehicle will take aim at a niche segment, rather than the heart, of the huge U.S. pickup market. Derived from the same global unibody platform now used for vehicles such as the mid-size Honda Pilot and Acura MDX sport-utility vehicles, the new Honda will feature a ute-like, five-passenger cabin mated to a short pickup bed. In basic concept, it will be similar to Ford's Explorer Sport Trac, though that vehicle rides on a conventional, truck-like frame. Honda promises that the SUT will set a new standard for fuel efficiency, low emissions and safety performance in the light-duty truck segment. The new vehicle is expected to be produced at one of the two Honda truck plants in North America.

Honda Promises Safety for All by Joseph Szczesny (11/3/2003)
Free airbags and stability control get thrown in as Honda seeks to share space with Benz and Volvo.

Mitsu, Dodge Sharing Dakota

2003 Mitsubishi Sport Truck concept

2003 Mitsubishi Sport Truck concept

Japan's fourth-biggest automobile company, Mitsubishi Motors, announced Tuesday it will work with its DaimlerChrysler Corp. partner, Chrysler Group, to jointly develop a mid-size pickup truck to be built in Michigan starting in 2005. The project marks the first time Mitsubishi Motors North America has sold a pickup in the United States since 1996, when it sold a truck called the Mighty Max, according to U.S. consumer research group Kelly Blue Book. Mitsubishi will join Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler's Dodge division and General Motors Corp. as automakers selling pickups in the United States. The company, of which DaimlerChrysler Corp. owns a 37-percent stake, will get a version of the Dodge Dakota mid-size pickup, which will be built at DaimlerChrysler's Warren, Mich., plant. The Dodge version of the truck is being redesigned and the new version will go on sale in 2004. Mitsubishi's Cypress, California, design center will design the Mitsubishi truck off the Dakota platform, using many of the elements found on the Dodge product.

Chrysler Set to "Stow 'N Go"

2005 Chrysler minivans

2005 Chrysler minivans

Hoping to rebuild its lead in the profitable minivan segment, Chrysler will launch a significant update of its Town & Country and Dodge Caravan models for 2005. Though a formal presentation isn't scheduled until next month's Detroit auto show, the automaker provided a sneak preview to journalists, highlighting a range of new features. The one most likely to catch the attention of consumers is the "Stow 'n' Go" system. It permits both the second and third rows to fold up or down in as many as 250 different configurations — including a tailgate mode. With the seats up, there are two large storage tubs, including a covered one that can conceal valuables. Chrysler will add several safety features, including knee bolster airbags and smart front airbags. Side curtain airbags will be optional, though in light of Honda's new safety initiative — making side bags, rollover curtains and stability control standard on the Odyssey by late 2006 — Chrysler officials admitted on background they may have to rethink their own safety strategy. Stow 'n' Go will be offered only on long-wheelbase models, the new minivans set to launch in March 2004. The eighteen-month project cost the automaker $400 million, but company insiders tell TheCarConnection that the virtually all-new minivan platform is far more flexible than before. As a result, it may find use in other new models over the next few years.

Chrysler Revamps Minivan Seats by TCC Team (12/9/2003)
Can the original regain its lead with "Stow 'n Go?"

Chrysler Unveils Production 300C/Magnum

no titleThe production versions of the Chrysler 300C sedan and Dodge Magnum sports tourer concepts were quietly introduced in New York October 7, with marketing execs proclaiming this the most significant model rollout for Chrysler since the LH platform buried the K-car in 1992.

Very little has changed since the concepts were introduced. The 300C was shod with 18-inch tires, as opposed to the 20-inchers sported by the concept, and both cars wore a little less chrome trim.

Both cars will hit dealer showrooms next spring and are based on the new LX rear-wheel drive platform. Engines will range from a 200-hp, 2.7-liter V-6 through a refined version of the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that produces 340 hp at 5200 rpm and 365 ft/lbs of torque at 4000 rpm, which should provide zero-to-sixty times of 6.5 seconds and a top speed in excess of 150 mph.

The transmission is a five-speed electronic AutoStick with a gated shifter, and ABS, all-speed traction control, and DC's Electronic Stability Program will be standard. A full-time AWD system will be an option on the Magnum.

no titleInteriors of both cars feature watch-face instrumentation, adjustable pedals, four-spoke tilt-and-telescoping steering wheels, and, in the case of the 300C, elegant faux-tortoiseshell trim on the steering wheel, shift knob, and door pull handles.

In addition, approximately 20 percent of the LX platform shares componentry with Mercedes, particularly in drivetrain hardware, suspension modules, electrical systems, and seat modules.

Packaging and pricing details still need to be worked out with the dealer network, execs said, although they expect the 300C to compete at the low end with Toyota's Avalon, up through the Acura model line. —Paul W. Cockerham

Fall is Cutback Season in Detroit by Joseph Szczesny (10/6/2003)
Dank jobs outlook mirrors the weather; when will Big Three spring back?

Dodge Sling Shot, Jeep Rescue Concepts Ride in Detroit

Debuting at the North American International Auto Show in January will be two concept vehicles.

2004 Dodge Sling Shot concept

2004 Dodge Sling Shot concept

The Dodge Slingshot has a three-cylinder engine that produces 95 horsepower, and gets 45 miles per gallon. It's hard to know what this concept could lead to. It seemed to be in the class of Mercedes-Benz's original Smart.

2004 Jeep Rescue concept

2004 Jeep Rescue concept

The other concept was the Jeep Rescue, an obvious attempt at answering the Hummer H2 with a huge Wrangler. Chrysler intends to answer Hummer's expected H3 SUV with a Wrangler-inspired SUV within a few years. And it is working out a business case for an entry-level Jeep to be priced below $20,000.

Saab 9-2X Set for L.A.

2005 Saab 9-2X

2005 Saab 9-2X

Saab has released the first official photos of its Subaru-derived 9-2X, a turbo wagon due to be launched at the Los Angeles auto show later this month. The 2005 model comes standard with all-wheel drive. Buyers have a choice of a 165-hp, normally aspirated 2.5-liter flat-four engine in Arc models or a turbocharged 227-hp, 2.0-liter flat four in the 9-2X Aero. The 9-2X goes on sale July 1 and will be priced below $25,000. Anti-lock brakes and flip-folding rear seats are among the standard features.

Toyota Plans Hybrid Pair for Detroit, Pickup Too

Toyota is seizing the hybrid lead at the Detroit auto show, where it will introduce a pair of gas-electric vehicles to complement its 2004 Prius. The Highlander crossover will share the Hybrid Synergy Drive system with the Prius; the Lexus RX 330 hybrid will have a gas-electric powertrain expected to be based on the same technology. Toyota also will show a new range of GS mid-size luxury sedans in Detroit, but the most troubling or exciting concept from Toyota — depending on what brand you work for — will be a new full-size pickup that's due to enter production in San Antonio, Texas in 2006.

BMW 6-Series Cabrio Coming to Motown

BMW will use its Detroit show space to show off the droptop version of the new 645i coupe. The 645Ci shares its 4.4-liter V-8 with the 645Ci Coupe, and makes 325 hp through all of its available transmissions: a six-speed manual, six-speed Steptronic automatic or a six-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG). BMW says the Convertible will reach 60 mph in about six seconds on its way to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. The four-seater comes with a DVD nav system standard.

Mitsu Eclipse Coupe Coming to Detroit

2004 Mitsubishi Eclipse Concept-E

2004 Mitsubishi Eclipse Concept-E

Mitsubishi is aiming a new concept at the January Detroit auto show. The Eclipse Concept-E is a forerunner of the new Eclipse coupe due out next year, based on the Project America platform that already hosts the Galant and the Endeavor. Mitsu promises the concept delivers "pure driving pleasure, with levels of dynamic handling and exhilarating performance rivaling those found in the motorsport arena."

Spy Shots: '05 Mitsu Eclipse by Brenda Priddy (9/1/2003)
Project America spawns a two-door.

Scion Adds tC

The upcoming tC coupe will be Scion's third product, will debut at Detroit and go on sale in June. Based on the Japan-market Toyota Avensis, the tC will be especially distinctive as the only car on the market with a fully glass roof, an engineering feat to maintain the stiffness of a normal roof. The four-cylinder tC will offer a supercharger kit shortly after launch. Although price-wise it looks like people might cross-shop the tC with the Celica, a Scion rep asserts that "…the Celica is more of a boy-racer; the tC is more of a 3-Series Coupe. We're not going to be in the same market."

Buick, Saturn Unveil "Crossover Sport Vans"

2005 Buick Terrazza

2005 Buick Terrazza

General Motors is replacing its current range of minivans with new vehicles it calls "crossover sport vans," with minivan virtues and SUV styling cues. On Thursday in Detroit, GM showed a brace of the new vans, the Buick Terrazza and the Saturn RELAY, both 2005 models due to be shown at this month's L.A. auto show.

The Buick version joins the brand as its third truck (Rainier is new for 2004; Rendezvous has been in the lineup since 2002). The dramatically styled nose incorporates Buick's trademark badging with a silhouette familiar to the other vans in the GM family. Offered in CX and CXL versions, the Terrazza will offer a 200-hp 3.5-liter V-6, standard 17-inch wheels, and available Stabilitrak stability control and Versatrak all-wheel drive.

2005 Saturn RELAY

2005 Saturn RELAY

The Saturn RELAY is the brand's first seven-seater, the company says. Available in two trim levels, the RELAY offers a 200-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, standard 17-inch wheels, a three-spoke steering wheel, power heated mirrors, windows and door locks, and an AM/FM/CD player with MP3 capability. Anti-lock brakes are standard; Stabilitrak and Versatrak are available.

GM Goes "Sport" With Minivans (12/5/2003)
But can it shake the "soccer-Mom" message?

Volvo Shows V50 Wagon

2005 Volvo V50

2005 Volvo V50

The new Volvo V50 wagon is out — well, at least in pictures. Volvo promises revolutionary interior design, class-leading safety, powerful five-cylinder engines and all-wheel drive for its new compact wagon, which gets the new alphanumeric designation in its second generation. Previously the Volvo small wagon was the V40. The new Volvos are expected for display at the Detroit auto show. The V50 goes on sale in the U.S. next summer.

2004 Volvo C70 Convertible by Eric Peters (11/17/2003)
Swedish virtues at a sub-German price.

DB9 Droptop for Detroit

2005 Aston Martin DB9 Volante

2005 Aston Martin DB9 Volante

Aston Martin will show a convertible version of its DB9 at the Detroit auto show in January. It will be called the DB9 Volante and will be built alongside the DB9 Coupe, which was launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Both models will be hand-built at Aston Martin Gaydon with the Coupe being delivered to customers in Spring 2004 and the Volante in Autumn 2004. It is expected that more than 2000 DB9 models will be sold next year, of which around 50 percent will be the Volante model. Pricing will be announced at a later date.

Dr Ulrich Bez, CEO of Aston Martin said: "From the outset of the DB9 programme we knew we wanted a convertible model. So the Volante has been designed, engineered and built from the outset as a convertible — it's not a Coupe with just the top taken off.

"The DB9 Volante has all of the traditional styling cues you'd expect from a convertible Aston Martin. It's very elegant and perfectly proportioned from every angle, while subtle embellishments help create a powerful-looking sports car."

The top retracts within just seventeen seconds. When down, it folds behind a hard tonneau cover, which then electrically closes flush with the DB9's bodywork. In the event of an accident, sensors in the DB9 Volante detect the risk of a potential rollover and two roll hoops are deployed from the rear seat headrests, while front-seat passengers are protected by the windscreen A-pillars which can withstand twice the total weight of the car. —Ian Norris

Hyundai HCD Gets 8

2004 Hyundai HCD8 concept

2004 Hyundai HCD8 concept

Hyundai is scheduled to debut the HCD8 sports coupe concept vehicle at the upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The coupe is the first vehicle to be introduced from the new $30 million Hyundai Design Center in Irvine, Calif and features what the design team calls stylish utility.  The HCD8 is powered by a supercharged version of the company’s 2.7-liter V-6 engine.

BMW 6-Series Cabrio Coming to Motown

2004 BMW 645Ci

2004 BMW 645Ci

BMW will use the upcoming Detroit auto show to showcase the ragtop version of its new 6-Series coupe, the company said this week. The new The 645Ci convertible shares its 4.4-liter V-8 with the 645Ci Coupe, and makes 325 hp through any of the three transmissions BMW will offer on it: a six-speed manual, a six-speed Steptronic automatic or a six-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) with Formula 1-style shifting. The convertible will hit 60 mph in roughly six seconds on its way to a top speed of 155 mph. A DVD navigation system will be standard.

Ferrari Scaglietti Bound for Detroit

2004 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti

2004 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti

Ferrari has unveiled its 612 Scaglietti, a 2+2 coupe with a 540-hp version of the 5.7-liter V-12 engine from the 575 Maranello.

The 612 got its name in honor of coachbuilder Sergio Scaglietti, who worked in Modena at the start of the Ferrari company. He was a master in sculpting aluminum forms, so Ferrari dedicated the all-aluminum 612 to his memory.

The 612 is designed by Pininfarina, and it has elements of a sporty berlinetta but with room for four. It replaces the 456M and is larger and roomier, but with an aluminum space frame and body it actually weighs 132 pounds less. Structural stiffness, however, has been improved by 60 percent. The mid-front layout puts the engine right behind the front axle, and the gearbox and differential in unit at the rear ensure a low-as-possible center of gravity.

The 515 hp of the previous Maranello engine has been boosted to 540 hp for the 612 Scaglietti, which accelerates from zero to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds and can reach a top speed of above 195 mph. The engine works together with a six-speed mechanical gearbox with either a conventional manual shifter or a new-generation electro-hydraulic set-up, known as the F1A. It has been designed for fast manual shifting with a comfortable automatic mode, too.

Good weight distribution (46/54 percent front/rear) is enhanced by a performance-oriented handling setup, with active damping and the special CST stability and traction control system used here for the very first time on a Ferrari.

The 612 will debut at the Detroit auto show in January and will go on sale in the spring. —Henny Hemmes

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