2004 Detroit Show, Part IV

January 5, 2004


2004 Ford auto show logo

2004 Ford auto show logo

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


Nissan Crosses Over with Actic

Nissan unveiled the Actic concept car at Comerica Park in Detroit on Sunday night. The Actic is a compact crossover blending minivan and sedan with a flexible interior. The Actic came of the drawing boards of Nissan Design America in San Diego. Nissan sees it as a response to a new mindset and a new way of living and does not want to categorize its exterior. The interior has modular three-across seating and offers six seating variations with center seats that can be folded down, creating a big center console with a lot of storage. The Actic has a roof with six glass panels and is equipped with a new computer, 19-inch wheels and run-flat tires. —Henny Hemmes


'Vette Brings Down the (Opera) House

2005 Chevrolet Corvette with Rick Wagoner

2005 Chevrolet Corvette with Rick Wagoner

General Motors packed more than 2000 credentialed scribes, photographers and television reporters, as well as some not-so-credentialed media, into Detroit's historic Opera House Sunday to unveil the much-anticipated sixth-generation Corvette. Invoking terms like "heritage," "race-bred," "classic" and so forth, executives such as GM design chief Ed Welburn, Chevrolet General Manager Brent Dewar and GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz stood before the audience for a twenty-minute presentation on the storied history of America's favorite roadster. Then they rolled out a new 'Vette dressed in classic red and media flooded the stage to gawk, snap and ask about Chevy's most-protected project. Gary Cowger says GM does not expect to increase U.S. sales volumes past the 30,000- to 40,000-unit range.



Dewar says that the company is, however, anticipating a spike in Corvette sales in Europe because of an improved distribution network and the Corvettes' sixth-gen refinements, which were needed to appeal to Euro demands. Speaking of demands, Cowger said the C6 is as good as any, pointing out that he has a much-used C5 in his garage. "I asked (the Corvette development team)  'What are you going to do to get me to replace my current Corvette? They exceeded our demands.'" 

When asked about the imbedded headlamp treatment, Cowger said that the headlamps are a "natural progression" for a car that "for much of its history did not have pop-up lights. Every indication we get is that people love them." Dewar says GM's goal with the Corvette is to use it to "get back to leadership in the United States." Although the car will not directly add any volume to GM's market share in terms of sales, it should reinforce the heritage, craftsmanship and "passion," Chevy officials want the brand to be known for, he says. Dewar's goal is 3 million units annually in coming years. "We've taken it to the next level..." —John Stoll

Preview: 2005 Chevrolet Corvette by Henny Hemmes (1/1/2004)
The C6 takes its first bow at Detroit.


Next Tundra a Hybrid, Too

2004 Toyota FTX concept

2004 Toyota FTX concept

Toyota Motor Corp. said Sunday it is considering producing a fuel-efficient version of its full-size pickup in coming years by equipping it with a hybrid-electric powertrain. The Japanese automaker unveiled a concept version of its upcoming Tundra full-size truck, which goes on sale next spring in the United States, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Sunday. The truck will be built at the company’s San Antonio, Texas, plant and will be bigger, more powerful and have greater tow capacity than its predecessor, according to Jim Press, Toyota Motor Sales USA’s executive vice president. Press says the truck is a “possible platform for a (V-8) hybrid system. It’s under serious consideration.” The concept, dubbed FTX, carries many design cues promised to be included in the production truck, including a hybrid powertrain much like the one Toyota is considering for its forthcoming truck. “Under the hood,” Press says, “the (concept) is powered by a large-displacement V-8 hybrid gas-electric engine that pumps out loads of torque while delivering V-6 fuel efficiency.

Currently, Toyota has a four-cylinder-powered Prius hybrid sedan on sale and six-cylinder hybrid versions of its Lexus RX330 and Highlander sport-utility vehicles are in the works. Both are slated for sale later this year and will join hybrids available from Honda Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. No automaker sells a hybrid V-8 in the U.S. market. Press hopes the hybrid truck will propel the Tundra to the top of the pickup heap in the United States. The pickup market “continues to baffle us all” he says, but the company nevertheless is “on a serious mission to build big truck market share.” Separately, Press announced Sunday Toyota it sold 1.85 million vehicles in the United States in 2003 to become “the best-selling car brand in America” and expects to sell 1.9 million next year in a U.S. auto market Toyota anticipates seeing growing as high as 17 million units. It anticipates selling 2 million cars and trucks in 2005. —John Stoll


VW To Collaborate With Archer Daniels Midland on Fuel

Volkswagen AG and Archer Daniels Midland, the big American food processor, plan to collaborate on research to develop and utilize biodiesel fuels. "Given the tremendous environmental, economic and quality-related benefits of increased diesel usage, we believe this joint research agreement will go a long way toward advancing and furthering the development of this vital renewable fuel choice," said Dr. Bernd Pischetsrieder, chairman of VW's Board of Management after the agreement was signed at the North American International Auto Show. Allen Andreas, Archer Daniels Midland chairman and chief executive officer, said biodiesel is one of the most promising renewable fuels on the horizon. "We believe that advances in biodiesel will benefit the automotive industry, the driving public, farmers and the environment as a whole," Andreas noted. Biodiesel is a fuel mixture that can be made in several different ways, but most commonly by combining diesel petroleum with natural or renewable resources such as canola or soybean oil.

Pischetsrieder noted that VW is now the largest seller of diesel-powered vehicles in the United States. Nine percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2003 were diesel-powered and VW will put a diesel-powered version of the Touareg on sale in the U.S. later this year, Pischetsrieder said. Availability of diesel pumps at retail gas stations is an issue, noted Gerd Klauss, Volkswagen of America chief executive. Another big issue is the quality of the diesel fuel sold in the U.S., other VW officials noted. The diesel-fuel sold in the U.S. now has the same amount of sulfur in it as fuel sold in China, one VW official noted. "We really have third-world fuel in this country," the VW official added. —Joe Szczesny


Johnson Controls’ Inside Track

Just as the press preview to the Detroit show was kicking off, supplier Johnson Controls (JCI) gave a sort of smorgasboard preview of a lot of new products the company has in the works. Besides the expected whizbang concept car that showed far-out interior possibilities like screen-driven everything and future (but suspiciously distracting) telematics devices, several of these small but significant developments are here, now.

So-called crossover vehicles are occupying nearly a quarter of the new-vehicle market, according to Johnson Controls. With the help of newly designed mechanisms, suppliers have added more adjustability and comfort to second-row seats. But many of these crossovers offer a third-row seat option and, admitted a company official, most third-row seats are so flat and uncomfortable that all but small kids might refuse to ride in them. So the supplier has developed a new line of third-row seats that still folds completely flat but thanks to an added mechanism it allows bolsters and contouring to position when the seat is positioned for passengers. The contouring (called “wingback contour presentation technology” by the company’s literature) greatly adds to comfort while not greatly increasing the complexity of the seat, said a company official working on the project.

The company is also introducing a new infinitely variable floor-rail system on some new models. When adjusting the seat, front to back, the mechanism will stop and lock in place at any position, thanks to an arrangement that doesn’t rely on the large teeth that can sometimes slip out of position. The new mechanism also feels much more refined, as it allows smooth motion for manual or power seats and a more definite lock in place. Besides being safer and more refined, the new system allows power and manual seats to use the same mechanism, cutting the costs of having two separate seat mechanisms.

And with the ever-increasing amount of electrical, by-wire accessories (including brakes and soon steering) in new vehicles and the upcoming changeover to 42-volt electrical systems, a division of the supplier is working on a sophisticated power management system to make sure a car’s electrical system is operating in its peak range and never falls below the level needed to support critical by-wire safety systems. The JCI system, called Powerwatch, is designed for hybrid vehicles though it can be of use for non-hybrid vehicles with either 12- or 42-volt systems, although at this time it’s only for lead-acid batteries. Thomas Dougherty, director of the company’s Advanced Battery – Hybrid Systems operations, pointed out that the system is more advanced than the proprietary system used in the Toyota Prius, as Powerwatch realistically corrects for the uneven discharge at the surface of battery cells during high-drain operation. An engineering-bench variation of the system can help make vehicle designs more economical and reliable by helping to determine the right alternator and battery combination needed for a particular vehicle, added Dougherty. —Bengt Halvorson

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