2005 Detroit Auto Show, Part II

January 9, 2005

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

Lexus LF-A Rushes to 200 MPH

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2005 Lexus LF-A concept

2005 Lexus LF-A concept

Lexus had a lot of news up its sleeves at Detroit. Over the next fifteen months the luxury brand will crank out 22 revised and new models. Denny Clements, vice president and general manager of the Lexus division said so during the unveiling of the latest concept car, the LF-A. The first car to hit the dealerships is the new GS, which will arrive in March and will get all-wheel drive later in its model cycle. In March the new IS sedan will bow in Geneva and the gas electric version of the GX, the 450h, will be in New York.

In Detroitall attention was reserved for the LF-A concept car, however, the third in line after the LF-X luxury crossover and the LF-S future luxury sedan that both were shown in 2003. The LF-A is Lexus’ concept for a luxury sport coupe. Spy pictures of that concept have been taken this fall at the famous Nuerburgring racetrack in Germanyand generated high expectations of the new concept. In reality and on stage, the LF-A indeed looks gorgeous. But is it a “pure concept, a vision of how would define a sports car of Lexus could be,” according to Clements. It might have an engine of less than 5.0 liters’ capacity with more than 500 hp. The LF-A has a nine-inches-longer wheelbase than the Porsche 911 Turbo and it is five inches shorter. And at 48 inches is nearly identical in height to the Ferrari F430. Toyota ’s global managing officer of design, Wahei Hirai, said that the past two years a new styling philosophy was applied, which they call L-Finesse. It combines simplicity and elegance and it avoids exaggeration. In the meantime Lexus is planning an aggressive marketing offensive in Europe, where the brand has a mixed image in the marketing segments, which has translated in second-tier sales in the overall luxury market. —Henny Hemmes

New Beetle Breeds Hot-Rod Volkswagen

2005 Volkswagen Ragster concept

2005 Volkswagen Ragster concept

Volkswagen is using the New Beetle platform for its latest concept car, the Ragster. VW says they developed the concept because there are so many people customizing their Beetle. This is not only the case in California, but everywhere in North America. The Ragster name is a combination of Ragtop and Speedster. The car is based on the reinforced convertible. The design team shortened the A-pillars about 90 millimeters and penned a U-shaped roof to fix the frame. The soft cloth roof can open up completely, and has a Speedster character. The windows open up all along the side and the rear window can be taken out.

The fenders, bumpers, headlights, taillights and 19-inch wheels are newly designed and give the car an aggressive stance that matches the hot-rod look. The interior has been equipped with racing-car bucket seats, sports steering wheel with integrated engine start button, and ragtop control. The center console has a unique design as well and the cargo area is uninterrupted and has a completely flat floor.

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Volkswagen does not volunteer any confirmation of a very sporty production version of the New Beetle with the looks of the Ragster, but they did not do that either when the Concept 1 was unveiled. However, some VW insiders say there is no chance of the Ragster being built, but some of the sharper lines could figure into the update of the New Beetle due later this year. —Henny Hemmes

VW’s CEO Says “Oops!”

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but now Volkswagen’s CEO, Bernd Pischetsrieder, thinks the big Phaeton luxury sedan was a big mistake. “It was, to put it mildly, a misjudgment,” said Pischetsrieder. Developed by his predecessor, Ferdinand Piech, the “saloon car” will continue in production for at least another four or five years, and after that, there’s likely to be a successor vehicle. But don’t expect another sedan, stressed Pischetsrieder. Exactly what he has in mind he isn’t saying, but the one thing that might carry over is the Phaeton name. “At least then, people will know how to spell it.”

Q&A: VW CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder by TCC Team (1/9/2005)
Putting things right at the “people’s car” company.

VW Will Build A U.S.Plant…Someday

Don’t be surprised to see Volkswagen build a U.S. assembly plant, but you’d be wise not to hold your breath, cautioned CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder. It’s not likely to happen anytime soon. The giant automaker is saddled with plenty of excess capacity, everywhere from Germany to China, and the Bavarian-born executive said a U.S.assembly line will only follow once existing capacity is fully utilized. How soon is that likely to happen? “Not in the next five years.” Meanwhile, the grossly under-utilized showcase assembly line in Dresden, Germany, will get some new work, according to Pischetsrieder. It will soon begin producing additional Continental GTs to help support the existing Bentley plant in the U.K., which cannot keep up with demand for the $150,000 sports coupe.

Honda CR-V Spawns Acura RD-X

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2005 Acura RD-X concept

2005 Acura RD-X concept

Two years after the first design-study concept of Acura’s RD-X was unveiled at the Detroitshow, Acura gave the press today its first look at what the production version of the upcoming RD-X will look like, and what it will feature.

Likely to share some components with the Honda CR-V, the RD-X will employ Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, which aims to provide all-weather traction with increased handling precision. No details regarding the powertrain for the production version were given, other than it will have in the vicinity of 200 hp. A hybrid powertrain is a strong possibility — if not standard, as an option. Performance hardware includes large Brembo brakes with slotted rotors.

The RD-X’s profile is attractive but unsurprising for a crossover SUV with a strong emphasis on performance, catered toward buyers who lead, as Honda of America head Tom Elliott termed, “active lifestyles” — a term that’s used with virtually all new SUV intros. There are a few concept-car departures that won’t make it to the production version, like the use of miniature cameras in place of rear-view mirrors. LEDs are used for both the headlights and taillights.

The real surprises come inside, though, where the eye-catching upholstery — of dark red crocodile-embossed leather combined with ivory-colored suede — brings a warm but not too garish appearance, and the floor is covered with rosewood. A tie-down system and grooves help cater to those active folks who will be stashing their gear in the back. A low moonroof — similar to what’s offered in the current Nissan Maxima — spans over the front and back seats. The tall-back front buckets and seating are rally-inspired and positioned close together. The RD-X uses a master Interface Dial, much like the RL sedan, which operates like a mouse and controls navigation, climate control, and audio. The RD-X is equipped with a hard-drive- and DVD-based digital music system, which will allow the driver to hook up portable devices and upload MP3s, creating a personal in-car music library.

Although there were a lot of details left out, it was made clear that the RD-X is slated for production at the Marysville, Ohio, plant, beside the Honda CR-V. It will go on sale in calendar year 2006. —Bengt Halvorson

Nissan Has AZEAL for Detroit

2005 Nissan AZEAL concept

2005 Nissan AZEAL concept

With the positive market reception of Toyota’s Scion tC, Nissan is likely charging ahead at full steam with the production version of its AZEAL concept, the first product of Nissan Design America’s new studio in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

With an aggressive, sharply sloped roofline and a smooth silhouette combined with chiseled corners and 19-inch alloy wheels the little coupe brings an especially muscular presence. Like the tC, the AZEAL has a glass-panel roof for an open appearance. Other design features include on the outside include prism-style fog lamps, front brake cooling ducts, special rocker-sill lighting, and dual exhausts.

“AZEAL captures the essence of emotional, aspirational vehicles like the G35 coupe or Nissan 350Z but in an entry-level segment,” commented designer Ken Lee.

The concept included an especially flashy interior, with Wasabi Chartreuse (bright green) ventilated performance seats with adjustable center armrest, a Sinister Gunmetal interior similar to that of high-end audio equipment, and a retractable navigation screen. A port is provided to easily attach a PDA or MP3 player.

Although we can’t vouch for what would be under the hood of a production version, the AZEAL show concept is powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission and limited-slip differential helping to put the power to the road through the front wheels.

The entry-level sporty coupe would likely be built on the platform of the next-generation Sentra, which will be introduced in calendar year 2006, along with a production version of this small 2+2. As the Sentra will introduce more cost-saving design sharing with small-car experts Renault, we’ll wager that the production version of this fashionable coupe will do the same. —Bengt Halvorson

JCI Has Pushbutton Fold-Flat Seats

Johnson Controls has come up with a new system that stows the seats in a minivan and converts the van's rear area into cargo space in a matter of minutes by folding the second and third-row seats flat top of the vehicle's floor pan. The system is called FastForward Seating and be operated with the push of a button operated on either on a key or from a control built into the rear area of the vehicle. The system will fold the seats in only ten seconds, according to Keith Wendell, president of the JCI's Automotive Group. In addition, storage tubs are located on the floor, in front of the second-row seats and behind the third row seats. The tubs hold cargo both with the seats upright or folded flat, Wendell said. Wendell said JCI is still shopping the system around to vehicle makers and parts of the system are already showing up in some vehicles. The whole system should be ready for the 2008 model year. "At Jonhson Controls we know that in order for us to be successful, we must make our customers successful. We do this through innovation," Wendell said at a press conference introducing the system just before the curtain went up at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

GM Ready to Stop Chery Imports

General Motors Corp. will go to court to block any effort by Chery Motors of Wuhu Chinaand its new American partner, Malcolm Bricklin, to bring in car designs that GM believes belongs only to them. GM has already sued in Chinato stop Chery from distributing the vehicles, which it maintains are exact copies of car developed by GM engineers. GM also has sued to stop Chery from selling the same car in Malayasia, GM officials said. "It's speculation at this point," said GM Chairman and chief executive officer. "I don't think they're going to try and bring that vehicle to the United States," Wagoner said during an interview at the North American International Auto Show. However, if Bricklin did try to bring the car to the U.S. GM would sue, Wagoner said. "Our position is that we have to protect our intellectual property," Bricklin said. Bricklin, who engineered the arrival of both Subaru and Yugo in the U.S., said in announcement during the holidays that he planned to sign up 250 dealers around the U.S. and planned to begin importing vehicles from China for sale in the U.S. as soon as 2007.

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