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March/April 2002

Evolution 
Detroit-Style
2002 Detroit Auto Show Reveals Up-and-Coming Concepts
by Dale Malcolm

 

 SEQUOIA      SAAB 9X
 VISION GST         CHRYSLER PACIFICA

In the early 1980s the station wagon was the family vehicle of choice. The ride was like that of a sedan with extra room in the back. In 1984, Chrysler took a chance and introduced the mini-van. It was a huge success and it redefined the family car almost overnight. In the 1990s, the minivan's dominance as the family vehicle was challenged by the SUV. This vehicle appealed to those with active lifestyles and who wanted to drive something that didn't scream little league or carpool. 

By the end of the 1990s, SUVs had become as much a family vehicle as the minivan and station wagon. It has become clear in recent years that gas prices will continue to rise and smaller more fuel-efficient vehicles are staging a comeback. Small, gas-stingy SUVs are available from almost all the major carmakers. While these downsized SUVs provide good gas mileage, their ride is more like a truck than a family vehicle. But, the next evolution of the family vehicle is at hand. There is a new class of vehicle emerging. While there is no official name, these "crossover" vehicles are a class unto themselves. 

2002 was the year of the crossover at the North American International Auto Show. The crossover is a vehicle that does not fit a standard type such as a sports coupe, sedan, truck or sport utility vehicle (SUV). The clear boundary between these different types of vehicles got a little softer in Detroit this year. 

Equipped with all-wheel drive, luxury car ride, lots of ground clearance and sports-car handling, these are not your parents’ station wagons. There were a multitude of vehicles, either production or concept, that fit into this group. The Audi Avantissimo concept vehicle is a good example of an elegant refined sport wagon. The Infiniti FX45, while luxurious, appeared to be more than able to handle some rough roads. The Toyota Concept Coupe Crossover (ccX) is a multipurpose vehicle that has a unique dual sunroof, made up from four panels that tilt up individually and open in the front and back. The vertical glass panel that makes up the backlite retracts into the bumper for easy access to the rear of the vehicle. The Chrysler Pacifica was billed as “segment buster,” and along with the Mercedes-Benz concept Vision GST (Grand Sports Tourer), is a vision of the upscale family vehicle of tomorrow. These two vehicles are equipped with many luxury touches and they both come equipped with all-wheel drive. Add the Acura RD-X concept, Saab 9X concept and Volkswagen Magellen to these crossover vehicles, and you can easily see the future of the family vehicle. They’re not your parents’ station wagons, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Other Innovations
Vehicle manufacturers offered up a typical mix of production and concept vehicles at this year’s auto show. Many vehicles that were shown as concepts as little as a year or two ago are now in production for the 2003 model year.

The Nissan 350Z and Mazda RX-8 sports coupes will be re-introduced as total re-designs of the original Datsun 240Z and Mazda, respectively. The Mazda RX-8 will have a “suicide” panel to assist in rear-seat access and a rotary engine. The Nissan 350Z returns to the roots that made it a classic. It has an all-new light and clean design that appears to be carved from a solid piece of metal and polished to high luster. Joining the ranks of retro sports coupes are the all-new Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S. The British cult classic base model 115-hp Mini Cooper will have an MSRP of $16,850. The 163-hp Mini Cooper S (S for supercharged) will only be $3,000 more. This is a bargain for a car manufactured by a division of BMW.

The Ford vision of a “big kids toy” was the F-350 Tonka concept truck. The Tonka will have an air-supported suspension that will allow the vehicle to “kneel” 5 inches and self-deploying running boards that appear when the doors are opened. High-intensity light emitting diodes (LEDs) are positioned throughout the truck—from the interior lights to the running lights that are mounted inside of the windshield. Ford also introduced a hybrid version of the popular Escape SUV that will appear in showrooms in 2003. The Escape hybrid will use a combination of a four-cylinder gas engine and electric assist motors. According to Ford, the Escape hybrid saves fuel by recovering energy while braking using its electric generator and traditional hydraulic brakes. The Escape hybrid is projected to get nearly 40 miles per gallon in city driving while having the same performance as a 200-horsepower V-6.

Cadillac and Ford each debuted a high-performance sports car. The Cadillac Cien is a 750-horsepower rear engine screamer (I know, I heard it!) with a composite body. Not to be outdone, Ford drove its GT40 concept car onto the stage in Detroit to the delight of those present. The sound of the 5.4-liter, 500-horsepower V-8 engine was loud enough to cause Ford to distribute earplugs before the press conference. This modern engine has the same power as the 7-liter engines that won the 24-hour race at Le Mans in 1966 and 1967.

A pair of classics debuted with 21st-century technology and retro styling. The Lincoln Continental concept had several innovations including a trunk that pulls out like a dresser drawer and powered front and rear-hinged doors that open with a touch of its flush handles. With both doors opened to a 90-degree angle, the pillarless opening is almost 5-feet wide. The Chevrolet Bel Air concept is a tribute to the 1955-1957 models that have become legends. This convertible has many features from the past including a column shifter, body-on-frame construction, and yes, the gas filler is opened by lifting the taillight lens. The 5-cylinder inline engine has a button on the steering wheel that activates the powertrain control module to trigger a more aggressive spark and fueling calibration for maximum horsepower.


LINCOLN CONTINENTAL STEERING WHEEL Lincoln Continental concept

AUDI AVANTISSIMO   Audi Avantissimo

ACURA RD-X Acura RD-X concept


Looking to the Future
Just as many of the concept cars revealed last year came into being this year, we can expect the same to happen before the next show rolls around. It’s never too early to start preparing for this colossal event. The 2003 North American International Auto Show is slated for January 2003 in Detroit.

For more info on the 2003 North American International Auto Show.

Dale Malcolm is technical services supervisor with Essex ARG in Dayton, Ohio.

AGRR

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