A sleek sedan with no exterior mirrors, a "passenger priority" pickup with a mega-cab, a 500-horsepower race-inspired sports car and a retro/futuristic vehicle with a slide-out luggage tray and rear-hinged rear doors are just some of the many concept vehicles that debuted at the 2000 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit last month.
"The trend for so-called crossover vehicles — vehicles that defy categorization in a single product segment and cross over into multiple segments — was evident in this year’s array of concept cars," says an NAIAS press release.
In all, more than 25 concept cars were unveiled at the auto show — most of which manufacturers kept a tight lid on until scheduled press conferences, when members of the press, including us, were the first to see these visions for the future of motoring. With our press badges in hand and our cameras ready, we caught a glipse of these elusive concept cars. (Jealous?) Here’s an insider’s look at some of them.
Dodge Viper GTS/R — This street-legal, race-inspired concept car features a one-piece carbon fiber body painted in Enhanced Viper Red and an engine that delivers 500 horsepower. The body features a higher belt line, a dramatic side grille, "bump up" rear fender shapes and a more defined side crease. Crisper lines replace the more sumptuously rounded lines of the current version, and the front-to-rear stripe is now tapered for a more dynamic appearance.
Honda Spocket — It’s a convertible, a sport coupe and a pickup — all rolled into one. At the touch of a button, the Spocket retractable roof slides back, transforming the car into a convertible. When the roof is forward, a jump-seat allows room for two more passengers or folds flat, converting the rear of the car into a pickup bed. The aerodynamic body features gun-metal gray carbon fiber with bright-red highlights and tilt-up doors.
Jaguar F-Type — The most compact Jaguar sports car in more than 40 years, this stylish concept features aerodynamic aids for optimum dynamic performance. The nose carries a "splitter," a low-set aerofoil designed to move automatically with increasing speed in order to increase downforce. At the rear, a fixed diffuser tunnel also uses increasing speed to generate additional downforce. Inside the minimalist interior, switches and cockpit fittings are fashioned from solid aluminum.
Acura MD-X — Featuring a Southwest-themed interior, the MD-X sports a tri-color earth-tone leather interior, brushed nickel accents, a safari-size moonroof, individual bucket seats and hardwood flooring with sisal accents. The concept SUV also features an integrated cellular Internet access system and a GPS satellite-linked navigation system.
Cadillac 2000 — Designed as a limited, luxury sedan for affluent car enthusiasts, the Cadillac 2000 offers first-class seating for all four passengers, including infotainment systems, state-of-the-art night vision and rear-seat display screens. The rear seats also recline with articulating footrests. Sharp exterior lines and crisp intersections provide faceted, diamond-like styling.
Mercedes-Benz SLA — Wing profiles and an arrow-shaped front-end are the main stylistic features of this roadster’s front section, while a built-in luggage rack with integrated rear spoiler accents the rear. Door handles pop out mechanically on touch and spring back flush to the vehicle exterior once you’re inside. Inside, you’ll find neither carpets nor fabric seat covers. Instead, primed metal surfaces, gleaming aluminum elements and dark-brown leather dominate the look.
Hummer H2 — A modern version of the current Hummer production vehicle, the H2 features a clean, round shape; bronze glass; an integrated winch; a large brush bar that moves in tandem with the hood for easy, one-step access to the engine; and multiple exterior hooks for pulling an hauling. A full-width, power-operated canvas sunroof lets sun shine in on both rows of the five-passenger compartment. Inside, the instrument panel was inspired by radar controls on military fighter jets.
Lexus Sports Coupe — At the touch of a button, a retractable aluminum hardtop transforms this high-performance luxury coupe into a convertible in 20 seconds. For inspiration, designers spent several weeks in the French Riviera to gain insight into truly luxurious lifestyles and then interpreted that lifestyle into the car’s sleek lines. (We get sent to Detroit. They get sent to the Riviera. So much for the glamorous life of a journalist.)
Jeep Varsity — A "go anywhere, do anything" urban adventure concept, the Varsity features Jeep’s unmistakable seven-slotted grille, trademark trapezoidal wheel openings, radical approach and departure angles and ample ground clearance. The body features chiseled lines in the hood, bumper, decklid and lamp surrounds, while center-mounted, chrome double-exhaust pipes accent the rear of the vehicle.
Ford Equator — This concept SUV — painted in Serengeti gold — screams adventure. The bumper, fenders, wheel wells and lower trim panels are made of Kevlar, which makes them resistant to stone damage and nearly indestructible. The bottom of the doors is cut high, and when a door is opened, a lower panel can be hydraulically deployed to create a step unit. Inside, the Equator’s instrument panel features clamp-on gauges, which allows users to select the exact components they want as well as the exact position. A centerline-mounted compass can be removed for outdoor use.
Volkswagen Advanced Activity Concept (AAC) — Combining the function of a pickup with the luxury of a top-class sedan, the AAC features A-posts that are steeply raked, side widows that form a single visual unit and C-posts that slope down at an angle to the load platform. Black Alcantara material and aluminum accent the vehicle’s dashboard and door trim. A navigation system, complete with 7-inch color screen, is built into the dashboard.
Chrysler 300 Hemi C — In a thoroughly modern way, this rear-wheel-drive concept pays homage to the legendary ’57 300 C with its monocoque profile, pronounced wheel flares and seemingly endless hood that seems to be stretched over the engine. A center peakline runs from the front to the rear and works with the raked chrome bodyside moldings to give the car its chiseled appearance.
Ford 021C — This urban concept car doesn’t use typical automotive design cues. Light, likeable and fun, it’s a study in "retro-futurism," featuring clean, simple shapes and surfaces with minimal decoration. The exterior features single lamp front and rear graphics, a slide out luggage tray and rear-hinged rear doors. Inside, the orange, silver and white interior features pedestal-mounted front seats that swivel 90 degrees to facilitate entry and egress and a completely flat floor.
Bugatti Veyron — Short body overhangs and bold curves make this sports-car study eye catching. Viewed from the rear, the Veyron features voluminous rear side panels, circular rear lights and two large air intakes in gleaming silver, the tops of which extend up beyond the roof. Bugatti intended the three-color paint finish — a "blue-in-blue pearl effect" — to be a stylistic link between the past and the future of this marque.
New for the New Beetle — From the moment the New Beetle debuted in the United States in 1998, Volkswagen has been bombarded with requests for a convertible version. Hang onto your hippie beads — a ragtop will roll into showrooms in 2002.
"We’re working as quickly as possible because we know there’s a desire out there in the marketplace," says Jens Neumann, Volkswagen AG board member for North America. "We want to keep bringing new and exciting things for the New Beetle."
Which includes new and exciting colors! Volkswagen added orange to this year’s available palette of exterior colors. Also, at the Los Angeles auto show, held prior to Detroit’s, the automaker unveiled its Volkswagen Dune concept, reviving the dune buggy craze of the 1960s. It’s a New Beetle with a 150-hp, 2.3-liter V-5 engine and an all-wheel-drive system called 4Motion. The off-road concept also features a transparent, removable middle portion of the roof. An updated grille provides protection from underpinning and is constructed from aluminum. Aluminum also lines the trunk, the rear side of the single seats and the interior floor.
Mitsubishi SSS — Combining the driving pleasure and passenger comforts of a sports sedan with the versatility of an SUV, the SSS defines a whole new vehicle category — the "enhanced utility sedan." Functional touches include parallelogram-hinged doors that minimize the space needed to open side doors and protect against door dings; a steering wheel covered in Plasmium material, which increases grip and holds body temperature; and a full-function center-console computer system with mouse and heads-up display. An eight-step paint process gives the car a milled-metal look.
Honda FCX — To help reduce drag, Honda engineers eliminated exterior mirrors on the FCX concept car and replaced them with miniature video cameras and an interior video display. Additional interior features include a smart-card ignition key and fingerprint ID system, a large-screen multi-informational monitor on the center console and rear-seat passenger airbags.
Chevrolet SSR — This retro roadster with pontoon fenders reminiscent of those found on 1950s GM pickups. A retractable hardtop automatically folds in two and sinks vertically between the cabin and pickup bed. Inside, there’s room for a third person in what appears to be a two-seat roadster cockpit.
A Real Humdinger
In Detroit, General Motors announced it will begin selling a new, smaller Hummer sport utilitity in 2002. The H2, which is based on GM’s full-sized truck platform, will be very close to the H2 concept vehicle revealed at this year’s auto show (see page 36). In preparation for a family of Hummer sport utilities, GM has renamed the existing Hummer the Hummer H1. Ron Zarrella, president of GM North America, says the H2 will most likely be followed by the H3, an even smaller and less expensive version, aimed at a younger audience. Though Zarella says Hummer is "an enormously strong brand with young people," he doesn’t see the Hummer family ever achieving sales volumes comparable to Chevrolet’s or Jeep’s sport utilities. "Hummer will remain more of a specialty brand," he says.
Writer Melissa McGee is managing editor of BodyShop Business.