2006 Geneva Show, Part V

March 2, 2006

Saab Aero-X: Born From the Corvette

2006 Saab Aero-X Concept

2006 Saab Aero-X Concept

Is it the face of Saab's future? Don't expect to see the Aero X concept vehicle in your nearby Saab showroom anytime soon, but it still says a lot about the struggling Swedish automaker's future, according to company officials. Appropriately surrounded by 55 tons of ice, the Aero-X is a decidedly edgy alternative to Saab's current lineup. And that's precisely what was in mind, said Anthony Lo, a member of the Aero-X design team. The extreme proportions underscore the automaker's current ad campaign, "Born From Jets," with aerospace cues, such as the oversized air intakes. One of the more distinctive touches is the wraparound windshield, which eliminates the traditional A-pillar. A trick cantilever system raises and tilts the roof of the low-slung two-seater for relatively easy access to the interior. Think of it as "Scandinavian Cool," said Lo, playing off the popular J-Cool, or Japanese Cool design themes. In general proportions, the Aero-X is similar to the Chevrolet Corvette, and in production, it would most likely share theU.S. sports car's platform. But "I don't think Saab would ever do anything like that," Bob Lutz, car czar at Saab's U.S. parent, General Motors, conceded during an interview with TheCarConnection.com. Nonetheless, the Aero-X is, he said, "symbolic of what Saab could do with design." Long short of cash and product, the automaker recently won approval for a more aggressive business plan that will begin expanding its model lineup over the next few years. A vehicle smaller than the current 9-3 is a top priority, according to Lutz, as is a mid-size crossover.

2006 Saab Aero-X Concept

2006 Saab Aero-X Concept

2006 Saab Aero-X Concept

2006 Saab Aero-X Concept

The GM Vice Chairman also noted that the Swedish subsidiary is approaching the point of profitability, in part because of increased economies of scale. Going forward, Lutz said, Saab products will be largely the same as GM's under the skin, though the focus will be on differentiating ride and styling, while add-on features should allow "you to sell it at a much higher price." The typical Saab, he stressed, should command "anywhere from $1000 to $2000 over a comparable Opel or Pontiac" version.

2006 Geneva Show Preview, Part II (2/19/2006)
New VW Concept A, Porsche 911 Turbo, BMW WRC car.

 

Lutz Calls for "Decoupled Development"

A new approach to developing advanced technology, from powertrains to folding hardtops, should speed up product development at GM, while also reducing cost, asserted the automaker's product chief, Bob Lutz. Know as "decoupled development," the concept means that GM engineers will work on new hardware even before they know what vehicles it might be used in. "Very often," he noted, "incorporating something new into a vehicle program is where you have your problems." However, once a new system is developed, Lutz explained, "engineers can pull it off the shelf and put it on their vehicles" without delay. Decoupled development would have been particularly helpful with the Pontiac G6 convertible, the GM car czar suggested. The mid-size model was initially delayed because of problems with its folding hardtop. If GM had developed the hardware separately, the problems would have been fixed already, Lutz insisted, noting that Toyota uses a similar approach to developing future technologies.

 

Camaro Going Ahead; Mini-HUMMER Back On Schedule

"All of us are hoping (the Camaro) will be a production-approved program" in the very near future, said GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, adding that "We're all working on it as if it were an approved program." The "heritage" Camaro, which debuted in January, proved one of the most popular concepts at this year's Detroit auto show, but even as GM planners continue studying ways to craft a profitable business case, development work is moving ahead. "We're not wasting any time, said Lutz. "There is no reason to assume they would turn it down," he said of the GM board. Meanwhile, the automaker has revived the long-rumored Hummer H4 project. The Wrangler-sized vehicle was pulled from the GM schedule, Lutz confirmed, because the original "clean sheet of paper" approach, which was based on advanced, spaceframe technology, just wouldn't have been able to generate a profit. "A much more derivative approach" has now been adopted, though Lutz stressed that "it will still be a unique vehicle." As with the Camaro, GM's board has yet to give the go, though Lutz said he is "confident it will be" approved.

The Camaro That Almost Was by TCC Team (1/23/2006)
How GM's hot concept pony car got that way.

 

MINI's "Wild Brother"

2006 MINI Cooper S JCW

2006 MINI Cooper S JCW

2006 MINI Cooper S JCW

2006 MINI Cooper S JCW

Think of this street-legal racer as the "wild brother" of the popular MINI Cooper, suggested one MINI designer. The limited-edition two-seater will go into production later this year bearing the rather lengthy nameplate, MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works GP Kit. However you pronounce it, expect it to be fast, thanks to the modified Cooper Works powertrain tuned to deliver an estimated 218 hp. Compared to the conventional Cooper S, the GP kit features unique aero bodywork, including a rear spoiler and an oversized hood scoop, special, low-profile tires, and new gauge faces. The back seat has been pulled to save weight. A total of 2000 GPs will be produced, with 415 earmarked for the U.S. The price is expected to come in around $32,000, according to MINI officials.

 

No BMW Without Racing

2006 BMW Z4 M Coupe

2006 BMW Z4 M Coupe

2006 BMW Z4 M Coupe

2006 BMW Z4 M Coupe

There'd likely be no BMW without motorsports, asserted the German maker's CEO, Helmut Panke, during a Geneva preview, Monday night. The automaker used the event to display its latest entry into the demanding Formula One series, as well as this version of the Z4 M Coupe. The track-ready version will make a whopping 400 horsepower out of its 3.4-liter in-line six. Expect the automaker to produce only a few hundred, according to company officials, with some expected to go to the U.S. when production begins mid-year. Whatever series it participates in, Panke said it is critical for the automaker to dominate. "BMW could not be the dynamic, most performance-focused car company if we weren't involved in motorsports," he insisted. "Step-by-step, we would lose our identity."

Preview: 2007 BMW Z4 M by Henny Hemmes (2/27/2006)
A driver's car, minus the roof.

 

BMW Readying New Hydrogen 7-Series for Public Sale

"The challenge" for manufacturers like BMW is to come up with environmental-friendly technology that doesn't take away from the joy of driving, declared BMW CEO Helmut Panke. And one way to do that is with hydrogen, he told TheCarConnection.com during a Geneva Motor Show preview. Panke said he "will confirm" that within two years, a version of the 7-Series sedan will be put on the market capable of using both hydrogen and gasoline. "It will not be just a test car," but will be offered to the pubic, Panke emphasized. Unlike some makers, which are developing futuristic fuel cell systems, BMW has chosen to focus on using hydrogen to power a relatively conventional, internal combustion engine. By going bi-fuel with the 7-er, a buyer would be able to run on conventional gasoline when unable to find a hydrogen pump. At the moment, there are perhaps a few dozen of those in operation anywhere in the world.

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