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2004 Detroit Show, Part I

January 4, 2004

2004 Detroit Auto Show Coverage (1/4/2004)


Chrysler Drops Bombshell with ME4-12

2004 Chrysler ME4-12 concept

2004 Chrysler ME4-12 concept

Chrysler Group executives wowed an audience of hard-to-please journalists with a completely new supercar, the last and grandest concept car to be presented on the stand. The Chrysler ME Four-Twelve — which stands for mid-engine, four turbos, twelve-cylinder — will claim to be the new reigning king of supercar performance. The Four-Twelve’s 6.0-liter V-12 is force-fed by four turbochargers with dual-core intercoolers and a very free-breathing exhaust (if the sound of the show car was any evidence) to make an incredible 850 hp at 5750 rpm (a new benchmark at 142 hp per liter). Power is delivered through a seven-speed Ricardo sequential, double-clutch transmission with quick 200-millisecond shift times. This translates to some numbers that left hard-to-please members of the press momentarily breathless: 0-60 acceleration in 2.9 seconds, 0-100 in 6.2 seconds, and the quarter mile in about 10.6 seconds at 142 mph. Top speed is an equally awe-inspiring, although theoretical, 248 mph (400 km/h!).

2004 Chrysler ME4-12 concept

2004 Chrysler ME4-12 concept

Chrysler Group design chief Trevor Creed, who has worked on the vehicle firsthand along with a very small design and engineering team explained that the project “…has been one of the most closely guarded secrets, not only to the outside world but also within our organization.” Creed explained that there is no comparable car in Chrysler’s history, so the team didn’t have the pressure of trying to live up to shapes and design cues of the past. The utmost attention was given to maximizing down force for the by pressure-mapping the car’s shape for high speeds (with 925 pounds of down force at 186 mph). Extra attention was given to the shape of the interior as well, usually an afterthought for supercars. The car has an unusually roomy cabin, with 42 inches of legroom — far more than any other supercar — while its turning circle at 36 feet is shorter than that of a Ferrari. Curb weight is a very light 2880 pounds, making for an unprecedented power-to-weight ratio. Giant 15-inch carbon-ceramic brakes and huge 335-width tires in the back help haul the car up or down to speed with astonishing haste.

Outside of the presentation, company insiders said that the new Chrysler supercar will not share a platform or any major parts with the new Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercar, but officials added that that the ME is not so much a concept car but a prototype for a real production car. While there may be the odd component one can find shared with the SLR, Chrysler officials insisted they could not think of any, pointing out that, among many differences, the Mercedes supercar has a front-mid engine design. In fact, the mid-engine layout is actually preferred by supercar aficionados. A source tells that this may be creating a bit of friction between Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler. If it wasn’t for Chrysler chief operating office Wolfgang Bernhard, we were told, they probably wouldn’t have allowed it to go through.

2004 Chrysler ME4-12 concept

2004 Chrysler ME4-12 concept

Asked about whether this car might truly end up in the Chrysler lineup, Bernhard was as quick on his feet as a supercar on a slalom course. He stressed that the final decision will depend on coming up with a business case, but it appears they’ve come a long way to engineering a feasible car. “Assuming it goes well and we have our business case, we go ahead.” Among the many things still being discussed is where it would be built; production could go to an outside specialty maker. They are also looking at how many they could sell. Bernhard pointed to extremes ranging from the Bugatti Veyron (which is planned for no more than one produced per week) to the Mercedes McLaren SLR (at a volume of 500 or more per year). Price is another important issue. It could range from the range of the Ford GT40 (about $139,000) to the SLR (at $1 million-plus). Bernhard noted that engineering is far enough along that they have already dealt with the sticky supercar-engineering situation of cooling, but it appears that perhaps the biggest question mark would be customer acceptance of a supercar. Said Bernhard, “That’s the challenge.” —TCC Team and Bengt Halvorson


Dodge Sling Shot: 45-MPG Sportscar?

2004 Dodge Sling Shot concept

2004 Dodge Sling Shot concept

Dodge’s Sling Shot concept is a curvy two-seat hatchback sports car that will offer impressive performance while delivering up to 45 miles per gallon, the DaimlerChrysler brand says. The Sling Shot, based on a platform borrowed from DaimlerChrysler’s Smart lineup for Europe, features a rear-mounted 100-hp three-cylinder engine. While the engine configuration is a bit unusual, the rest of the car keeps it simple, with a five-speed manual transmission, rack-and-pinion steering, and four-wheel disc brakes. And, as Chrysler Group design chief Trevor Creed verified, most of the Sling Shot’s components come from the DaimlerChrysler corporate parts bin, so the costs would likely not be too high to bring the Sling Shot to production. Does that mean that they’re serious about building the Sling Shot? Sort of. Like all automakers, Chrysler tries to find production possibilities in virtually anything, and the company is known for testing the waters with its concepts. A senior official on background told TheCarConnection they’ll be watching closely to see how showgoers react. But he did caution that the Smart-based Sling Shot would be “pretty hard to certify to meet safety regulations for the U.S.” —TCC Team and Bengt Halvorson


Jeep Rescues Image from HUMMER

2004 Jeep Rescue concept

2004 Jeep Rescue concept

Jeep’s long-awaited answer to the HUMMER H1, the Rescue, is built primarily for real search-and-rescue and emergency duty, as the name implies. The big ute — which officials implied also might be used by the military — features stout construction resting on hydroformed frame rails, a hydropneumatic suspension with adjustable ride height, riding on huge 37-inch run-flat off-road tires are standard, along with an on-board tire-pressure control that allows the driver to adjust the pressure for the driving conditions. Power is provided by the company’s existing Cummins Diesel engine, already used in the Dodge Ram lineup, coupled with a heavy-duty automatic transmission. The interior isn’t luxurious, but it’s a functional workspace that has a 3D topographical mapping and navigation system, an AC electric power generator, under-chassis cameras, thermal search-and-rescue cameras, white LEV lighting, remote-control front and rear winches, and communication extras like a satellite telephone, VHF radio, and digital video recorder. Although details weren’t discussed, it’s not a stretch to say many additional parts could be borrowed from the Ram Heavy Duty pickups. DaimlerChrysler officials at the presentation reminded us that of the four concepts presented, the Rescue is by far the most likely to be produced. Said one spokesperson, “The business case is there.” —Bengt Halvorson


Treo Returns from Tokyo

2003 Jeep Treo concept

2003 Jeep Treo concept

Who would have expected Jeep to have a concept influenced by Japanese anime? If you didn’t remember this vehicle from the last Tokyo auto show, it’s an unexpected surprise. More closely resembling a golf cart than a typical North American–market car, the unusual Treo is a combination city car and activity vehicle that seats two with generous space for cargo, including the capability to haul two mountain bikes up to a trailhead. As a flashy, anime-styled short reminded us, the Treo is also intended as a fashion accessory. The gimmicky but functional Treo boasts rear-wheel steering and a unique front storage area, but perhaps the most trick feature of the Treo is its steering wheel and control pod, which can slide to either side of the dash to easily be left- or right-hand drive. Don't look for this one on North American streets any time soon, but Treo concept illustrates that small, go-anywhere vehicles can still be functional in small, eco-friendly packages. —Bengt Halvorson


Ford Bronco Concept Based in Brazil

2004 Ford Bronco concept

2004 Ford Bronco concept

One of the vehicles that Ford Motor Co. plans to unveil during the North American International Auto Show utilizes an old name and a back to basics approach in its design. "It's concept that marks the return of what we think SUVs were all about at their inception. This is the Ford Bronco concept. This is a raw, authentic bare-bones SUV that's meant to function more as piece of equipment than as a symbol of status or pretension, which so many SUVs are today. This Bronco concept really is a chunk of iron with just enough room for people and a spare tire and very little else,” said Ford design VP J Mays. Mays, however, said the Bronco is more than just a design exercise. It answers the question of what else might be added to Ford's SUV lineup, Mays suggested. "The Bronco concept fits underneath the Escape in size and price," he noted. "This is a tough, capable off roader with double rear shocks," similar to those used in rally cars. The concept is based on the Brazilian EcoSport SUV not yet sold in the U.S. Mays added the Bronco concept vehicle is equipped with a 2.0-liter turbodiesel that produces double the torque and more horsepower than is found in the SVT Focus. —Joe Szczesny


Extremes Claim Car and Truck of the Year

It’d be difficult to find two products at more extreme ends of the automotive spectrum than those claiming accolades as the North American Car and Truck of the Year. There was no real surprise when the envelope was opened and Ford’s newly redesigned F-150 took top truck honors. The full-sized pickup has won widespread media praise while consumers echoed that sentiment with orders for a record 912,000 F-Series trucks last year. “We’re very proud,” declared Ford Division General Manager Steve Lyons, who added that the award should help Ford achieve its 2004 goal of pushing pickup sales past the 1 million mark. If big is better on the truck side, NACTOY judges opted for small and friendly with the car-of-the-year choice, the Toyota Prius. Toyota division’s Don Esmond said the victory validated the hybrid as a mainstream, rather than fringe technology. Consumers seem to agree, with soaring sales forcing Toyota to increase production of the high-mileage gasoline-electric vehicle. A total of 50 North American journalists serve as jurors for the NACTOY awards, which are not affiliated with the Detroit auto show. —TCC Team


Mass Individualization Coming?

“The automotive is fragmenting so much, there’s nothing left but niches, declared Paul Wilbur, CEO of ASC, a company long associated with aftermarket sunroofs and convertible tops. The Detroit supplier is shifting gears, Wilbur noted during the opening news conference at this year’s Detroit show. It will no longer sell to the aftermarket. And it is changing its full, formal name from American Sunroof Corp., to American Specialty Cars. That reflects the company’s new emphasis on low-volume niche vehicles, such as the SSR it is building for Chevrolet. “We’re kind of a mini-automaker,” Wilbur said, and ASC’s goal new is to work with manufacturers to produce vehicles such as the SSR or Ford GT. Often, he suggested, it is easier and more cost effective for high-volume manufacturers to go outside with such projects, rather than to try to find a place on their own assembly lines. Phil Martens, head of North American product development at Ford, told he agrees. “As the market fragments, people want more specific-built products, and companies like ASC will find more business.”—TCC Team


GM Giving Away 1000 Vehicles in Two Months

In what many believe is the biggest sales promotion ever of its kind for a car company, General Motors will give away 1000 new vehicles in January and February to consumers who visit a GM dealership.

The world’s biggest automaker and more than 7000 dealers expect the offer to bring some 5.5 million prospective customers to showrooms, 40 to 50 percent more than usual for two traditionally slow sales months.

Consumers need only visit a Chevrolet, Pontiac, Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Saab, or Hummer dealership, sit in a car and push the OnStar button in the vehicle to find out if they are a winner. GM says the chances of winning a new vehicle in its “Hot Button” promotion are about one in 5500. No test drive of a vehicle is necessary.

OnStar, owned by GM, is a satellite-based service offered in GM vehicles, as well as in some other automakers’ products, that puts drivers in touch with operators who can summon emergency help and other services.

A winning customer may not win the vehicle they are sitting in. Someone sitting in a Chevrolet Corvette, for example, may win a Chevrolet Cavalier. If a winner doesn’t want the vehicle they win, say GM officials, the price of the vehicle will be applied to a vehicle they do want.

Besides pumping showroom traffic at a slow time of year, GM officials say they are hoping to drive awareness of General Motors’ new 2004 models, the company’s size and the increasing quality of its products.

GM research shows, for example, that while 70 percent of consumers associate Chevrolet and Buick with being GM brands, just 25 percent know that Saturn is part of GM and just 17 percent associate Hummer with GM.

“We want to showcase the depth of GM’s lineup to customers and get as many seats in our seats as possible,” says Steve Hill, director of GM Retail planning.

In the 1990s GM specifically did not want its brands, especially Saturn, overtly associated with the GM brand because of negative feelings consumers had toward the big automaker for poor quality and dowdy designs.

It’s different today, says Hill. “The launch of HUMMER, and now Saab and Saturn benefit from customers knowing they are backed by GM dealers and a GM warranty,” he says.

GM says the promotion will cost $50 million to cover the cost of vehicles and advertising. Former NFL quarterback and CBS broadcaster Boomer Esiason stars in ads kicking off the promotion Jan. 4 during CBS’s pre-game show of the NFL’s wildcard games. —Jim Burt

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