2005 Detroit Auto Show, Part I

January 8, 2005

2005 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/8/2005)

300C, Escape Win North American Car/Truck Of the Year

2005 NACTOY

2005 NACTOY

Chrysler’s 300 series sedan and Ford’s Escape Hybrid vehicle captured top honors in this year’s North American Car- and Truck-of-the-Year awards. The NACTOY presentation, which served to open this year’s Detroit Auto Show, is closely watched and a highly coveted award. And this year’s balloting provided some much-needed good news for Detroitmanufacturers, who claimed all six of the finalist slots (if you’re willing to include the LR3 sport-ute, built by Ford’s British Land Rover subsidiary). “This gives credibility to the things we’ve been saying. It cements the fact that we’re really doing things,” said Chrysler Group Vice President Eric Ridenour, of the 300’s selection.

2005 NACTOY

2005 NACTOY

Those sentiments were echoed by Ford’s North American product development director, Phil Martens, who has been a leading proponent of the company’s hybrid program. “It legitimizes what we’re been doing as a company,” declared Martens, tightly clutching the NACTOY trophy, “and it also legitimizes hybrids.” In fact, it’s the second year in a row the judging panel of 50 North American auto writers honored a gasoline-electric vehicle. Last year, the jurors named Toyota’s Prius the North American Car of the Year, a prescient choice considering the surge in sales of the green machine during the last 12 months. TCC Publisher TCC Team is one of the NACTOY judges.

Hybrids Getting Hotter

Ford’s Phil Martens better be bullish about HEVs, considering he and his team are now on tap to bring at least five hybrids to market in the near future. And even some makers less than enthusiastic about dual powertrain technology seem to find themselves caught up in the momentum. Volkswagen Chairman CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder and reversed his previous opposition and has told his engineers to move ahead on a hybrid diesel program. Last year saw Americans snap up 88,000 hybrid vehicles, according to the Californiamarket research firm, J.D. Power & Associates. This year, the tally is expected to top 222,000. That’d still be a modest 1.3 percent of anticipated U.S.new vehicle sales. But by 2010, the hybrid surge could top 500,000, Power forecasts, and three percent of the market. Some observers think that number is too conservative. But several factors will influence just how much sales will surge. “Product,” says Martens, “is what will drive the market.” Perhaps as much as another fuel crisis, some observers believe. But there are some caveats, according to Ford Chief Operating Officer Jim Padilla. With a premium averaging at least $3000 over comparable, gasoline-powered vehicles, hybrids “face an affordability issue,” he said, and the fuel-efficient technology will require incentives – in the form of state and federal tax breaks – to help subsidize customer demand.

GM Shows Graphyte

2005 GM Graphyte Concept

2005 GM Graphyte Concept

General Motors unwrapped two green machine concepts of its own during opening day of the North American International Auto Show. The GMC Graphyte is a prototype of a high-mileage crossover vehicles designed at the automaker’s Coventry, U.K.styling studio. The upscale wagon/SUV body conceals an early version of the new, two-mode hybrid powertrain GM is developing as part of a joint venture with DaimlerChrysler. The system can be operated in electric, gasoline or dual gas/electric mode. According to the automaker’s powertrain director, Tom Stephens, the hybrid Graphyte would deliver about 45 percent better mileage than a conventional, gasoline-powered model. But in the long-term, GM is betting its green cash on an even greener technology. Hybrids represent a bridge to the long-term solution of clean, hydrogen-powered vehicles, declared GM CEO Rick Wagoner. And the automaker rolled out an example of what one of those vehicles might look like.

..And Offers Up A Sequel

2005 GM Sequel concept

2005 GM Sequel concept

The appropriately-named Sequel is the successor to last year’s Hy-Wire hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. And like that earlier prototype, the Sequel’s body is mounted atop an unusual, 11-inch-thick platform that contains virtually all driving components, from the steering gear to the hydrogen storage and fuel cell systems. “This is the sequel to 100 years of the automobile,” said Wagoner. Today’s fuel cell vehicles, or FCVs, would cost millions if brought to market in current form. But making a case for the technology will require more than just an affordable price tag, cautioned Larry Burns, GM’s advanced technology director. Making a “real,” marketable fuel cell will require “the range, performance, safety and comfort of today’s (gasoline) vehicles.” With its roomy SUV-like body, Sequel has plenty of interior space, and using the fourth-generation GM fuel cell stack, lots of power. It can launch from 0-60 in about nine seconds, a good bit faster than any other current fuel cell prototype. With three compressed hydrogen tanks hidden inside the platform, range should be about 300 miles. As to affordability, that’s still a challenge, company sources acknowledged, but Byron McCormick, head of GM’s fuel cell development efforts, told TheCarConnection that major improvements with the gen-4 “stack” would improve manufacturability, lower costs and significantly increase reliability. GM continues to promise it will introduce a competitive FCV by 2010.

Gladiator Takes On Pickup Segment

2005 Jeep Gladiator concept

2005 Jeep Gladiator concept

Like many recent Chrysler Group concept vehicles, the new Jeep Gladiator could be a hint of things to come. Borrowing an old name and a long-abandoned body style, the show car suggests what Jeep might do if it were to get back into the pickup business. “It’s built to take along all the toys you want,” said Chrysler styling director Trevor Creed. As with all Jeeps, an emphasis was put on off-roadability, and with a 2.8-liter, four-cylinder turbo-diesel turning out 163 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, the Gladiator would be a true stump-puller. The two-row pickup features a side-mounted spare tire and a foldaway canvas roof.

Chrysler Delivers Plenty of Firepower

2005 Chrysler Firepower concept

2005 Chrysler Firepower concept

What would happen if you build a Viper for the Chrysler division? The Firepower is the answer, apparently, though its long-nosed, wide-bodied stance seems to have more in common with a European sports car, such as Aston, than traditional American muscle. Under the hood of the concept vehicle lurks a 6.1-liter, 425-horsepower version of the well-received Chrysler HEMI. It would drive the Viper-derived sports car from 0-60 mph in under 4.5 seconds and hit a top speed estimated at 174 mph. With strong support from senior Chrysler executives, insiders tell TheCarConnection Firepower has a fairly high probability of going into production – especially with the recent decision to scrap development of last year’s Chrysler ME-412 concept vehicle.

More pictures:

Jeep Spins Hurricane Toward Midwest

 Concept

Concept

Chrysler is known for delivering some big surprises on the first day of the Detroitauto show, and it pulled one out of its corporate hat again this year in the form of the Jeep Hurricane. Perhaps the best way to describe the show vehicle is to call it a blend of hot rod, muscle car and dune buggy. Hurricane’s wild and, well, wacky, design makes room for a pair of HEMI engines, one up front and another in the back of this otherwise minimalist machine. In all, that adds up to a combined 670 hp and 740 lb-ft of torque, though through a unique set of mechanical and electronic controls, the double powertrain can be operated in four, eight or 16-cylinder mode. The Hurricane is full of surprises, including a steering system that allows all four wheels to turn independently. In one position, the buggy can “literally turn on a dime,” and complete a circle on its own axis. Production plans? “Perhaps,” said Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche, but not all that likely.

More pictures:

Ford Plans to Get Bolder

Its scored several recent hits, shored up its balance sheet and scored a victory in the North American Truck of the Year competition, but Ford continues to draw criticism for its conservative – many would say, bland – designs and older powertrains. That’s not an entirely unfair criticism, acknowledged CEO and family heir Bill Ford, during an auto show media briefing. But “it is changing,” he quickly added. “We will stretch more, not only in design, but in powertrains.” With the company’s balance sheet improving and its management ranks stabilized, Ford continued, “We have a clearer vision and we’ll take more shots.” For his part, COO Jim Padilla suggested that the automaker’s Swedish subsidiary, Volvo, could serve as a role model. “Look how Volvo has evolved in the last four or five years. That’s a vision of how we plan to go forward.” It doesn’t hurt, of course, that former Volvo styling chief Peter Horbury recently moved to Dearborn to become director of design for Ford in North America.

…While Mays Might Get British

What about J Mays, the global styling chief responsible for the conservative look of products like the Ford Five Hundred sedan? Mays was recently reassigned to London, though Bill Ford insisted, “he’s not been banished.” The CEO suggested that from his new outpost, Mays will be in a better position to watch design trends, and “not just automotive,” helping incorporate them into future Ford vehicles. One of those upcoming products just might be the new Ford Fairlane, a stylish wagon/SUV crossover that suggests what the automaker might do to supplement or even replace its unloved Freestar minivan. The idea for that vehicle, CEO Ford revealed, came from a discussion between Mays and fashion czar Ralph Lauren.

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