Sherri Koucky
Stephen Mraz
Staff Editors

Every January, consumers and journalistsdescend upon Detroit like bees swarminga lemonade stand on a hot summer day.This year, car buyers and reporters fromaround the world came to see the newestautomotive eye candy being offered byautomakers. All the major manufacturers unveiledconcept cars, trucks, sport utilities, and a variety of

hybrids that combine truck and SUV features andqualities. And for those tracking productionvehicles, a jury of automotive journalists choseFord Focus as the North American Car of the Year,while the Nissan Xterra captured the award forNorth American Truck of the Year.

 

The Viper is refanged for the street
The new Viper GTS/R concept car is a street-legal version of the Viper GT-S, which is the all-out racing version of the GTS Coupe. It carries the same 8-liter aluminum V10 and high-performance six-speed manual gearbox, but the engine is dry sumped to deliver 500 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. The chassis and body have been lowered 3 in. and the body is slightly larger. Electronically controlled aerodynamics front and rear, along with a driver-controlled rear wing, generate downforce for roadhugging handling. Zero-to-60 times should be in the 3.8-sec range and the car should have top speed over 200 mph.

EXPANDING THE SPORTS-CAR PARADIGM
Mazda is trying to change your thinking about sports cars with its four-door, four passenger RX-EVOLV. Under the hood, a two-piece clamshell hinged at the front and rear, lies a 280-hp rotary engine mounted behind the front axle. This gives the car a 50/50 weight distribution between the front and rear wheels. The twin-rotor motor revs to 10,000 rpm and delivers more horsepower than any other normally aspirated rotary engine. A six-speed auto-shift manual transmission lets drivers choose automatic shifting or clutchless manual shifting using switches mounted on the steering wheel. The engine and transmission are solidly connected to the rear suspension by a carbon-fiber powerplant frame. Active cornering systems control braking forces at each wheel individually, letting drivers adjust handling anywhere between understeer and oversteer.

The car's "freestyle door system" eliminates the center pillar and provides easy access to the interior. Double-hinged front doors extend and rotate forward to open. Rear doors, on the other hand, open to the rear. The powerplant frame, together with hydroformed, high-strength steel tubes in the side sills, roof rails, and door edges give the car the same rigidity as conventional sedans but without the center pillar. The car also has an access ID card that locks and unlocks doors, starts the engine, varies engine output, sets parameters on the braking system, and transmits medical information in emergencies.

SUV meets truck, Part I
The Avalanche concept vehicle from Chevrolet represents a melding of the pick-up truck with the sport-utility vehicle, a common theme at this year's show. The rear seats fold down, along with a midgate, to extend the 5-ft 3-in. truck bed to a full 8 ft 1 in. And the bed is wide enough to carry 4 8 sheets of plywood. The truck's exterior carries armorlike body cladding to give it a rugged look and a sail panel that smoothes the transition from cab to cargo box. Engineers ended up making the sail panel functional, designing it to add stiffness to the body for more structural integrity and a better ride, according to John Carfaro, lead designer on the Avalanche project. A Vortec 5300 V8 and four-speed automatic 4WD transmission power the five-passenger vehicle. A production version of the truck could be in showrooms next year.

 

Tomorrow's sport-ute

Acura's MD-X concept vehicle features many of the technologies and amenities that will be found on the company's SUV debuting this fall. An all-aluminum engine generating low emissions feeds power through an automatic four-wheel drive transmission. For high-tech travelers there's an onboard GPS-based navigation system and cellular Internet access. Large 18-in. wheels, Michelin tires, and a "safari-sized" glass moonroof on the outside are complemented by hardwood flooring, four bucket seats, and brushed nickel accents on the inside.

 



A Gran Turismo for the next century
With the Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 Silver Arrow racer and their 1950s SLR sports car as inspirations, the Vision SLR combines high-tech performance and materials with vintage styling, according to the company. The body, a combination of aluminum and composites, cuts weight by 40% compared with steel construction. A supercharged, water-cooled 5.5-liter V8 delivers 557 hp and gives the car a 200-mph top speed. Gull-wing doors attach to the front roof pillars and swing forward 75 to let passengers in and out. Door handles pop out when the driver activates a remote control; they retract automatically when the doors close.

SUV meets truck, Part II

Applying cab-forward styling to trucks, the Dodge MAXXcab concept vehicle "reinvents the truck interior," says its designers. The center console houses an LCD laptop, and a voice-recognition system lets drivers use the computer, a built-in navigation system, telephone, or the Internet while driving. An overhead "kidview" camera gives upfront passengers a look at what's going on in the rear seats. A 4.7-liter Next-Generation Magnum V8 pumps out 238 hp and gives the truck a top speed of 114 mph through an all-wheel drive, electronically controlled, multispeed transmission.

 

One ssstylish sssedan

The SSS is Mitsubishi Motor's "enhanced utility sedan," a concept car created by the company's 26-year-old lead designer, John Hull, at its design center in Cypress, Calif. He designed the vehicle on a computer, then translated the model directly into milled forms for both the interior and exterior, skipping the clay-model step. According to Hull, this gave him more control over the finished car and let him complete the project more quickly.

The SSS uses parallelogram-hinged doors thatslide forward or aft to minimize space needed toopen doors. A blade manifold headlight systemuses high-intensity (HID) technology for morelight on the road than with conventionalheadlamps. Dual front bumpers — one above theother — lowers the risk of nosediving under alarger SUV or truck in rear-end collisions. Aneight-step paint process gives the car a milledmetal look. On the inside, a center-consolecomputer and mouse puts driver data on thewindshield through a heads-up display (HUD).Folding down the rear seats opens enough cargospace to stow two full-size mountain bikes in astanding configuration.

THE HEMI REBORN
The Chrysler 300 Hemi C, a rear-wheel-drive, four passenger convertible, carries an updated Hemi engine — an all-aluminum pushrod V8. The engine uses two spark plugs per cylinder and generates an estimated 353 hp with 353 lb-ft of torque, according to DaimlerChrysler. The engine uses only four cylinders during highway driving and deceleration for fuel economy and emission control. The vehicle zips from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 sec and has a top speed of 160 mph. A trunk-mounted computer and Internet access give up-to-date weather and traffic information, as well as e-mail. A fingerprint scanner and camera prevent the car from starting if the driver's face and fingerprints don't match those stored in the security system.

Roadster for the Millennium

Jaguar is testing the waters with its F-1 Type concept car, a roadster the company hopes will tap new segments of the global market. It's the most compact sports car from Jaguar in 40 years, measuring 13.5 ft long, 5.75 ft wide, and 3.6 ft high. The nose of the car carries a "splitter," a low-set airfoil that automatically adjusts to boost downforce at higher speeds. A fixed diffuser tunnel at the rear also uses increasing speed to add downforce. Interior switches and driver controls are fashioned from solid aluminum, providing what the company calls "a precision-engineered tactile quality." The car accepts a range of powertrain options, starting with the 240-hp AJ-V6 introduced on Jaguar S-Type sedans. A 300-hp supercharged version of the engine is another option.

German pocket rocket
Mercedes-Benz designers based the Vision SLA roadster concept on their successful A-class compact platform, including the 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine. The engine is rated at 125 hp, enough to give the 2,000-lb convertible a top speed of 130 mph. Seats are multilayer fiber composites, letting engineers do away with joints and hinges for adjusting the backrest. The seats are also 25% lighter than conventional seats. As part of the company's "transparent technology" styling theme, the upper attachment points of the front spring struts protrude through the perforated aluminum hood panels. The outerbody shell consists largely of plastic with aluminum sheets used only for door paneling.

 

SUV meets truck, Part III
The Ford Equator, based on the best-selling F-150 truck, is a concept vehicle that "screams adventure," says Ford. An independent suspension, inspired by off-road racers, uses aluminum upper control arms designed for maximum travel, adjustable 32-in. coils over gas-linked shocks, and a custommachined steering linkage. Bumpers, fenders, wheel wells, and lower trim panels are Kevlar. The four-passenger vehicle also has a panel beneath each high-cut door that hydraulically folds down to create a step. When the steps are folded up, they provide a watertight barrier for the passenger compartment.

UPDATING FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE
The KAI concept vehicle takes its name from the Chinese character (kanji) for "a return." The Isuzu offering represents the company's return to basics. The four-passenger car follows the company tradition of chassis-frame construction, but overhang is minimized for maneuverability. Narrow, lightweight 20-in. tires offer low rolling resistance and improve off-road performance. A new four-wheel independent suspension uses a multilink approach in the rear and a double wishbone up front.

There are also two stretch-and-detach shocks per wheel and an electronically controlled torque-splitting transfer case. Power comes from a 3-liter DOHC, 24-valve, direct-injection V6 turbo diesel.

A jeep for the boulevard or the boulders
The Jeep Varsity from DaimlerChrysler is an "urban adventure concept," according to the company. The five-door hatchback packs a 300-hp, 3.5-liter V6 under the hood and a four-speed automatic transmission. The transmission is mated to a shift-on-the-fly transfer case with fulltime four-wheel-drive, rear-wheel drive, and fourwheel drive low-range modes. Custom front and rear suspensions use a coil-over-shock set-up and 19-in. wheels for a combination of performance and off-road handling.

GM'SCONCEPTCAR LINE-UP

Chevrolet engineers have combined a truck with a roadster for a new kind of truck, the two-seater SSR (super sport roadster). It features a 6-liter V8 that sends power only to the rear wheels and a retractable hardtop that stows vertically between the seats and the rear storage bed.

Saturn's first concept vehicle, the CV1, is a sevenpassenger, all-wheel-drive multifunctional vehicle with bifolding doors and 85 ft3 of cargo space. Its 2.2-liter inline four-cylinder DOHC engine meets ultralow emission standards. Safety features include four-point seat belts on all seats, run-flat tires, and integrated tire-pressure gages on the wheels.

The Profile, a concept car from Oldsmobile, features a supercharged 24-valve V6, a Smart Card keyless ignition, GPS navigation, and voice-activated controls. A DVD player with headrest entertains rear-seat passengers. Bosch's four-channel Precision Control System optimizes steering control and works with the ABS for safe braking in emergencies.

Buick LaCrosse converts from a luxury sedan to a cargo carrier when voice commands open panels to reveal a pick-up style bed. The five passenger concept car has a powerful 265-hp 4.2-liter V8 linked to an electronic four-speed automatic transmission. Portholes, officially called ventiports and a Buick tradition, cool the engine compartment.

The Opel Zafira Snowtrekker, a compact van, sports full-time fourwheel drive and a 150-hp, 2.2-liter aluminum engine. A glass panorama roof made of insulating safety glass sheds natural light on all six seats. Seats in the third row stow in the floor, freeing space for cargo.

SUV meets truck, Part IV
The AAC (advanced activity concept) from Volkswagen uses a V10 direct-injection diesel with twin turbochargers to generate 313 hp. A six-speed Tiptronic transmission lets drivers enjoy clutchless shifting or leave it to the automatic mode to shift. An air suspension gives drivers adjustable ride height. The vehicle is 17 ft long, 6.54 ft wide, and just under 6 ft wide. Doors are unlocked by a remote control "Communicator," which must be inserted in a dashboardmounted holder before the engine starts. A separate button starts the engine.

A crosscountry roadster
Isuzu calls its latest concept vehicle the VX-O2, a two-seat, convertible version of the VehiCROSS. (The VX comes from VehiCROSS and the O2 is for oxygen, which you presumably get more of in a convertible.) The fourwheel-drive car features a 3.5-liter V6, voice-activated audio and navigation systems, a semiactive suspension, and vivid red and black Recaro seats. A hardtop roof folds down and into the trunk.

Upscale engine technology
The XVL sedan, Infiniti's first-ever concept car, gives hints of where the company is going in its second full decade of business in the U.S., says the company. On the outside, designers were going for the elegant look rather than the "boy racer." The powertrain, however, is designed for high-tech performance. The 3.0-liter V6, for example, features continuous variable-valve timing, variable intakes, and an electronically activated swirl-control valve. The engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission, the first designed for large engines and rear-wheel drive. The gearbox uses pairs of discs and power rollers with toroidal rolling surfaces for changing gear ratios and transmitting torque.