2005 Detroit Auto Show, Part V

January 9, 2005

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

Subaru B9 Tribeca

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca

Subaru pulled the wraps off the production version of its new mid-size crossover “progressive” sport-utility vehicle, the oddly named B9 Tribeca.

Fuji Heavy Industries CEO Kyoji Takanaka said that the B9 Tribeca closely adheres to the core values of Subaru. The first vehicle to be created under the direction of new design director Andreas Zapatinas, the B9 uses Subaru’s new distinctive “soaring wings” grille, which hints Subaru’s aircraft history and also the boxer engine under the hood.

The Tribeca will be offered in either five-seat or seven-seat configurations, though the third-row seats on the latter look very small. Entertainment options include a nine-speaker MP3 sound system and a DVD system with nine-inch screen.

Powered by a 250-hp flat-six “boxer” engine, paired with a five-speed automatic transmission running to a variable-torque-split all-wheel drive and a low center of gravity, the B9 should have driving characteristics similar to the rest of the Subaru line. Safety-wise, Vehicle Dynamics Control and four-channel ABS will be standard, as will front, side, and curtain airbags. On the luxury side, rear air-conditioning controls are standard, along with a list of luxury car features, and overhead shower lighting and indirect floorboard lighting help lend a premium feel.

2006 Subaru Tribeca

2006 Subaru Tribeca

A company official said that in the naming convention, B stands for Boxer, while 9 is a size class for a future alphanumeric naming method that Subaru might use for all of its cars. “Tribeca” was added because the neighborhood in New York (Triangle Below Canal St.) is known to be especially savvy and urban-chic, and Subaru wants to reach out to new urban near-luxury buyers with this vehicle who would have otherwise dismissed the brand as rugged or sporty.

The Tribeca will be built at Subaru’s assembly plant in Lafayette, Indiana, with production starting this spring. The plant was formerly shared with Isuzu, but the last Isuzu Axiom rolled off the line there this past summer. The plant has the capability for increased production, and if the Saab version of this vehicle that’s reportedly in the works gets the full go-ahead it would likely be built alongside the Tribeca. An Outback version of the Tribeca is not certain, though it wasn’t ruled out. —Bengt HalvorsonSuzuki Concept-X

2005 Suzuki Concept-X

2005 Suzuki Concept-X

Suzuki insists that there is still space in the market for a mid-size sport-utility vehicle, as many shoppers can’t find everything they want in one vehicle — especially those described as the “energetic, optimistic people” who lead “the Suzuki way of life.” For them, Suzuki says, there is the Concept-X.

The Concept-X will be powered by an “all-new” transverse-mounted 3.6-liter V-6 engine (likely sourced from General Motors); an all-wheel drive system, called 4GO, is primarily geared for the road, but it also has a low range and off-road capability. A stability control system, ABS, and side curtain airbags for all six passengers round out the safety list. Pedestrian impact measures have been used, there’s a lane departure warning system, and special CCD heat-sensing cameras help prevent accidentally driving over objects. Active cruise control is also installed.

Most notable is the concept’s six-bucket-seat interior, flashy materials, and space-age control center and display pod. An aircraft-style two-handled controller replaces a steering wheel, adding to the sci-fi look. A sophisticated “Infotainment” system that will combine music, information, and navigation features. Dual 12-inch LCD screens are provided for the second and third rows.

To those who’ve seen the countless crossover concepts over the past few years, the shape of the Concept-X will be quite familiar, but its chunky, flared-out 20-inch wheels and aggressive stance give it a serious look.

Most of the concepts shown at this year’s NAIAS have looked like production cars, or at least resembling a production car, but Suzuki’s Concept-X crossover sport-utility was more like what we’ve come to expect from concepts in past years — a full-on design exercise with a cobbled-together interior and an underside and details that didn’t resemble anything readying for ramp-up. Although it was strictly a concept, with GM broadening Suzuki’s portfolio it’s only time before we see a serious production vehicle in this class from Suzuki. —Bengt Halvorson

Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The 2006 Corvette Z06 now offers 500 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque from the 7.0-liter (427-cubic-inch) hand-built LS-7 V-8 with a host of racing-derived improvements including titanium connecting rods and pushrods plus a dry-sump oiling system.

“In many ways, the LS7 is a racing engine in a street car,” said Dave Muscaro, the assistant chief engineer for the small-block V-8, in a press release.

But this time, more power is only the beginning. Although the Z06 has a familiar profile and interior, compared to the standard Corvette it has its own distinct powertrain, body structure, and chassis system. Developed simultaneously with the C6-R race car, the Z06 has an aluminum-based body structure and uses special materials such as carbon fiber, magnesium, and even balsa wood throughout to help reduce improve weight distribution, bringing overall curb weight down to 3130 pounds.

Performance figures are stunning: 0-60 in less than 4 seconds, the quarter-mile in less than 12 seconds, and a top speed of over 190 mph. Huge cross-drilled discs—14-inch in front and 13.4-inch in back—provide massive stopping power to suit, and huge three-inch-diameter exhausts have a louder, less restrictive mode for all-out performance. Seats with improved side bolsters are included to help keep occupants in place.

The Z06 will be built at the same Bowling Green, Ky., plant as the regular Corvette and will be available later this year. —Bengt Halvorson

Toyota FT-SX

Toyota FT-SX concept

Toyota FT-SX concept

While most automakers try to attract younger buyers with “active lifestyles,” Toyota ’s new crossover concept was a refreshing change. The automaker hopes to attract both empty-next baby boomers and some young families with a future production vehicle that will be based on this concept first shown today.

Designed entirely in Calty in Newport Beach, Calif., the FT-SX takes the versatility of an SUV and combines it with the efficiency and comfort of a big sedan. With a long and sleek profile from the side, further accented by oversize 21-inch wheels, the basic silhouette is described as “coupe inspired.” The large glass roof lets plenty of light in and is retractable, and there’s an unusual two-piece rear hatch arrangement with an automatically extending loading tray and a flat loading floor. The interior is mostly traditional, with wood, leather, and metal trims, but it does use a fresh-looking corkwood. The concept is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 and automatic transmission, with running gear strictly geared for on-road performance. —Bengt Halvorson

Mazda MX-Crossport

2005 Mazda MX-Crossport Concept

2005 Mazda MX-Crossport Concept

Mazda unveiled the MX-Crossport, a concept crossover that will be added to the model line in the near future. The design concept indicates the new direction Mazda is taking to expand its model line.

Designed in Japan, the MX-Crossport blends styling cues from the RX-8 with the packaging of an SUV. Chief Designer Koizumi, who was also responsible for the Mazda6, calls this Advanced Frontier Design Concept. The MX-Crossport has been designed with the North American customer in mind.

Koizumi expresses his confidence in the design by stating: “Design language in a product like this is very important. No matter what the powertrain is, the design must have the same powerful Zoom-Zoom language. The cockpit has also been designed to perfectly match the powerfulness of the exterior design.”

The concept has a length of 182.3 inches and is 76 inches wide. The wheelbase measures 110 inches. The concept is equipped with fairly large wheels with 275/45R20 rubber. By limiting the height to 64.2 inches the MX-Crossport looks more aggressive than average SUVs.

The interior has a futuristic design and has four “floating” bucket seats, like the RX-8. Each seat is fastened to the floor with one single, center-mounted post and is adjustable via a monorail system mounted in the floor. The ceiling is made almost entirely of variable-mist glass that can change from clear to translucent white.

Although a production model based on the MX-Crossport has not been confirmed, it is clear that Mazda intends to expand its model line with new products and that the MX-Crossport may be one of them. —Henny Hemmes

Smart fortwo Looking Better For U.S.

2004 Smart city coupe

2004 Smart city coupe

Mercedes-Benz chief Eckhard Cordes at this week’s NAIAS was more chatty about the smart fortwo city car than the recently suspended formore SUV that’s been targeted for smart’s pending U.S. launch. Mercedes insiders say that’s because DaimlerChrysler is now considering launching the brand in America with the iconic fortwo two-seater.

It would be a 180-degree change of strategy for the German automaker, which sees smart as its answer to BMW’s successful MINI brand. The thinking at smart had been that U.S. consumers would balk at a 98-inch long two-seater for both aesthetic and safety reasons. But the public reception of the vehicle at venues such as auto shows and the Boston marathon has been so strong that the company is rethinking launching with the more conventionally styled small SUV.

“The car has created overwhelming interest and demand,” said Cordes.

”Both Mercedes and smart have new chiefs and they are looking at the whole U.S. strategy with fresh eyes,” said a Mercedes insider. One of the sticking points being examined is the cost of meeting federal safety standards for the current fortwo and four-door forfour. Smart launched the fortwo in Canada last October and the reception has been strong.

“Following the very successful launch of smart in Canada, we see potential for smart in the USA too,” said Cordes.

DaimlerChrysler is also trying to determine if the overwhelming positive response to the fortwo at public relations events will translate into actual sales. One Mercedes-Benz executive who said the issue is very sensitive inside the company, said the company is playing out public relations gameplans anticipating the first time a fortwo gets creamed by an SUV and a serious accident or fatality is caused.

“Selling the Smart fortwo in the U.S. is a marketing minefield,” says marketing consultant Dennis Keene. “It’ll be just fine until somebody is killed and then the whole brand will have a stink on it for being unsafe.”

One indicator of potential popularity for the fortwo has been the early work of two U.S. importers preparing to sell Federalized fortwos in crowded U.S. cities without the involvement of DaimlerChrysler’s smart division. JK Technologies of Baltimore and San Francisco-based ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) have been warehousing imported fortwos with mechanics upgrading them for approval by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Zap aims to sell 15,000 per year, though no one knows yet of there is that much demand for the fortwo.

The companies are awaiting Federal approvals, but have waiting lists of hundreds of customers. Bidding for a fortwo on eBay recently reached $27,000, though the online auction company ceased the bidding when they found out the car wasn’t approved yet.

The actions of the importers have also been a headache for smart USA. The prospect of key markets like San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. getting hotted up with unapproved fortwos while smart enters the market with a small formore SUV would create a lot of confusion in the marketplace. Buyers of the unapproved smarts would look to smart USA for servicing and parts if the distributors went out of business. —Jim Burt

Volkswagen Plans The Concept R for the U.S.

2003 Volkswagen Concept R

2003 Volkswagen Concept R

Volkswagen AG plans to introduce a sports car based on the rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine roadster concept shown to the public in September 2003, said Volkswagen chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder.

Though the chairman wouldn’t say how many of the details from the concept would make it into a production model, he said he plans to bring it out in “two to three years.” For the U.S. too? “Absolutely,” said Pischetsrieder.

Volkswagen introduced an all-new Jetta at the Los Angeles auto show this month, and showed a concept at this week’s NAIAS — the Ragster, which is a modified New Beetle with a flattened convertible roof. VW has no plans to build the Ragster, but certain design elements tease face-lift changes coming on the New Beetle later this year.

The Concept R could fill a gap in Volkswagen”s lineup. With the Microbus concept scuttled, VW could look to a production version of the Concept R to bring some excitement and novelty to the lineup as the New Beetle, which was launched in 1999, ages.

The Concept R was powered by a mid-car mounted V-6 engine that returns 265 horsepower and accelerates the roadster in 5.3 seconds to about 62 mph. It would be the first rear-drive VW since the company discontinued the original Beetle and its derivatives, the Microbus, Squareback, and Karmann Ghia.

If VW makes good on its plans, and depending on how it’s priced, the car will face broad competition in the roadster segment from a restyled Mazda Miata, the Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky and smart roadster, all of which would likely be priced under the VW. —Jim Burt

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