SPECIAL REPORT: 2005 Detroit Auto Show

January 10, 2005

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

Chrysler's 300 series sedan and Ford's Escape Hybrid concept 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 twelve months. TCC Publisher TCC Team is one of the NACTOY judges.

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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.

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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.

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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

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 Detroit show, 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

M-Class Returns Sharper, Sleeker

2006 Mercedes-Benz M-Class

2006 Mercedes-Benz M-Class

The new vehicle brought by Benz to the Detroitshow was, as expected, the 2006 M-Class sport-ute. Born in Stuttgart but raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the M-Class went on sale here in 1998 and won a reputation for good roadholding and innovative four-wheel drive, if not for exceptional quality. Benz is out to fix the quality issues that plagued the first M-Class by making the new version substantially richer inside, a chief complaint of owners of the first generation vehicle. The new M-Class grows a bit in its second generation: it's 5.9 inches longer and 2.8 inches wider, with a 114-inch wheelbase, some 3.7 inches longer this time around. The new unibody construction replaces the former body-on-frame build, and an all-independent suspension is found beneath the shapely new sheetmetal. Two engines will be offered: the new 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and Benz' 302-hp, 5.0-liter V-8. A seven-speed automatic is standard, as are side curtain airbags and stability control. Mercedes-Benz has doubled the capacity of the Tuscaloosa plant to produce the new M- and R-Class vehicles and will also double its Alabamaworkforce to 4000 employees as the new vehicles come on line. The M-Class goes on sale this summer.

Simply Irresistible: Shelby GR-1

2004 Ford Shelby GR-1 concept

2004 Ford Shelby GR-1 concept

How much more convincing will Ford need to produce the awesome GR-1 concept? Not much, sources say — the intention is clearly to build the GR-1 as the successor to the Ford GT when that model finishes its production run in the next few years. For Detroit, Ford has mostly indicated that the GR-1 is moving closer to production by polishing its aluminum body to mirrored perfection, which made for touchy journalists itching to leave fingerprints on the sizzling two-door concept. Ford also says that the chassis has been tested for production-readiness in California, although not with the snazzy new body. Probably the only meaningful argument against doing the GR-1 is that Chrysler's Firepower concept, also likely for production, is awfully similar. But that's a problem very few of us will have to worry about-and even fewer will care to ponder.

Shelby GR-1 Inches Toward Production by Marty Padgett (1/8/2005)
Concept follows Chrysler Firepower down the "what-if?" line.

Fusion Begins Mid-Size Push

2006 Ford Fusion

2006 Ford Fusion

The mid-size future began today at the auto show — at least from Ford's perspective, as they launched the first of a new trio of mid-size sedans that will bring the company back into play in the segment. The Fusion is a longer, wider version of the Mazda6, with a choice of four- and six-cylinder powertrains and in the future, an all-wheel-drive option. The base 2.3-liter four cranks out 160 hp, and mates to either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic gearbox. The V-6 option is worth 210 hp, and it can be coupled to a six-speed automatic.

Though they're related to the Mazda6, Ford calls its version of the architecture CD3 and has stretched it to meet the desires of more mid-size shoppers. Ford has stretched the floorpan 1.2 inches wider and 2.2 inches longer; longer door openings and an emphasis on rear-seat entry and exit have made for a marked improvement in backseat space, Ford says.

To be built at Ford's Hermosillo, Mexico, plant, the Fusion is part of what promises to be a vast family of vehicles. The company says up to ten vehicles will be spawned from the Mazda6 platform, including that vehicle and the three CD3 sedans mentioned earlier, for a total of 800,000 vehicles per year based on similar component sets. The Fusion goes on sale in the fall of 2005, with an all-wheel-drive option coming a year later.

Preview: 2006 Ford Fusion by Marty Padgett (1/8/2005)
Compact four-door joins the Five Hundred as Ford fractures its Taurus niche into pieces.

Get all of TCC's auto show coverage:

2005 Detroit Auto Show Index (1/8/2005)

2005 Detroit Auto Show, Part I (1/8/2005)
Car and Truck of the Year, Jeep's wild Hurricane concept, and Ford plans to get bolder.

2005 Detroit Auto Show, Part II (1/9/2005)
Lexus' 200-mph LF-A, Nissan AZEAL, and VW Ragster keep enthusiasts in mind.

2005 Detroit Auto Show, Part III (1/9/2005)
New M-Class, Ford's concept crew, and GR-1 closes in on production.

GM Crafts Hydrogen-Powered Sequel (1/9/2005)
Second-gen fuel-cell car gets even jazzier, more powerful.

Ford Revives Past with Fairlane (1/8/2005)
But it's only the same in name.

Chrysler Amasses Firepower Concept (1/8/2005)
Chrysler rolls out the big gun - a Viper with HEMI power.

Shelby GR-1 Inches Toward Production (1/8/2005)
Concept follows Chrysler Firepower down the "what-if?" line.

SYNUS Concept Downsizes the SUV (1/8/2005)
A Euro-inspired ute could show the future of small Ford cars here.

Gladiator: Jeep Out-Wranglers Itself (1/8/2005)
New concept telegraphs future Wrangler truck.

Saturn Adding Sky, Aura and New SUV (1/7/2005)
With new vehicles, Saturn aims for major transformation.


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Name Symbol Last Change
Autobytel, Inc. ABTL 6.92 unch (unch)
Autoliv Inc. ALV 47.32 -0.02 (-0.04%)
AutoNation Inc. AN 18.66 -0.02 (-0.11%)
ArvinMeritor Inc. ARM 20.64 -0.35 (-1.67%)
American Axle & Mfr. Holdings Inc. AXL 29.05 -0.21 (-0.72%)
Ballard Power Systems Inc. BLDP 6.10 +0.01 (+0.18%)
BorgWarner Inc. BWA 51.41 -0.19 (-0.37%)
Collins & Aikman Corporation CKC 4.02 +0.26 (+6.91%)
Cummins Inc. CMI 75.05 -1.47 (-1.92%)
Dana Corporation DCN 16.71 -0.30 (-1.76%)
DaimlerChrysler AG (ADR) DCX 46.97 -0.49 (-1.03%)
Delphi Corporation DPH 8.32 -0.12 (-1.42%)
Dura Automotive Systems DRRA 9.60 +0.07 (+0.73%)
Eaton Corporation ETN 67.77 -0.63 (-0.92%)
Ford Motor Company F 14.65 +0.20 (+1.38%)
General Motors Corporation GM 39.00 -0.45 (-1.14%)
Gentex Corporation GNTX 33.33 -0.99 (-2.88%)
Goodyear Tire & Rubber GT 14.70 +0.07 (+0.48%)
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) HMC 25.66 -0.05 (-0.19%)
Johnson Controls Inc. JCI 61.10 -0.13 (-0.21%)
Lear Corporation LEA 58.40 -0.94 (-1.58%)
Magna International Inc. MGA 77.60 -1.26 (-1.60%)
Motorola Inc. MOT 16.69 -0.02 (-0.12%)
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) NSANY 21.57 +0.25 (+1.17%)
Sonic Automotive Inc. SAH 22.90 -0.20 (-0.87%)
Siemens AG SI 81.75 -0.06 (-0.07%)
Sirius Satellite Radio SIRI 7.10 -0.39 (-5.27%)
Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) TM 79.44 -0.88 (-1.10%)
TRW Automotive Holdings TRW 19.60 -0.25 (-1.26%)
Tower Automotive Inc. TWR 2.40 -0.03 (-1.23%)
United Auto Group Inc. UAG 27.95 -0.75 (-2.61%)
Visteon Corporation VC 8.86 -0.09 (-1.01%)
XM Satellite Radio Hold. XMSR 34.09 -0.45 (-1.30%)

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