Machine Design

Dream a little dream

At the 2005 NAIAS, automakers reveal the stuff of dreams: From far-flung fantasy to the not-so-distant-future vehicles.

Once again, the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit attracted journalists near and far, all itching to see how auto manufacturers see the future. Concept cars that make their debut here used to appear and disappear like rabbits in a hat, never to be seen again. But automakers are now turning some concepts into actual production vehicles at a quick clip.

At this year's show, automakers didn't disappoint. Vehicles ran the gamut from a compact armored truck to a 500-hp sports car, promising an interesting future indeed. Will this year's crop of fantasies ever hit showroom floors? Only automakers know the answer. The rest of us will have to wait until next year.


Ford took into consideration how some people eschew suburban life for city living in the design of an urban, compact truck. According to the company, the SYN us takes its styling cues from bank vaults and armored cars, not an image to inspire much confidence in urban life. In the same vein, protective shutters cover the windshield and side windows when the vehicle is parked. Two small rear windows and a glass roof are fixed and sport bulletproof glass. A vault-style spinner opens the rear hatch.

A notable feature is the widescreen LCD in the tailgate. It can be used to watch movies, surf the Internet (perhaps to check out America's Most Wanted site), and also displays a high-definition image of what a rearfacing camera sees behind the truck.

The compact SYN US is powered by a turbocharged, intercooled 2.0-liter four banger diesel with 134 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The powerplant mates to a five-speed manual transmission. With a nod toward green driving, the engine is compatible with biomass diesel fuel. The MacPherson strut front suspension echoes that of the Ford Fiesta (with which it shares the same platform), and a semi-independent torsion-bar rear suspension. The wheelbase is 100.1 in. Syn US is 69.3-in.wide and 158-in. long. For a finishing touch, its 18-in. alloy wheels are wrapped with performance tires.

Saturn Aura

Once rumored to be a dying breed, Saturn looks to the future with its Aura concept sedan. The sporty four-door carries a 3.6-liter DOHC V6 boasting 250 hp, which links to a sixspeed automatic transmission. The biggest news with this concept is its European styling. Normally known for utilitarian looks, Saturn is branching out toward the sophisticated. The Aura features a panoramic roof with four sliding glass panels for a modified convertible feel. Heated leather seats and titaniumfinished controls round out the luxury accoutrements.

Don't let all this flash fool you: Safety features abound in the Aura. It not only carries GM's OnStar Gen 6.1, but also features roof rail-mounted head curtain side-impact air bags, side-impact thorax air bags, four-wheel ABS with traction control, and StabiliTrak, an electronic stability control system. As if this weren't enough, Advanced Automatic Crash Notification (AACN), is along for the ride. It detects collisions and rollovers, independent of air-bag deployment. AACN transmits to emergency crews such data as the direction of impact and the maximum change of impact velocity, as well as how many and which air bags deployed.


Known for its luxurious vehicles, Lexus enters the exotic sports car arena with the LF-A concept. Boasting a 500-hp engine with less than five liters of displacement, the LF-A is said to hit a 200-mph top speed. It features a 103-in. wheelbase, and is 48-in. high and 73.2-in. wide. Nineteen-inch tires front and back finish the LF-A. With a nod to its commitment to Formula One racing, Lexus isn't saying whether this will become a production vehicle, only that the automaker is branching out into new styling.


The RD-X concept is another version of what Acura introduced two years ago at NAIAS. This time around, Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) is the focus of this compact ute. Said to combine sportsedan performance and handling of an SUV, the system distributes torque between the front and rear wheels, as well as between the left and right. A fully independent front and rear suspension accompanies the AWD. Brembo disc brakes with slotted rotors, and five-spoke alloy wheels with 19-in. tires finish the RD-X.

The RD-X concept is tricked out in ivory leather and suede, highlighted by tangerinecolored leather seat accents and finished by metallic gages on the instrument panel and a rosewood-covered floor. An LCD screen sits in the center of the instrument panel for navigation and audio systems. AcuraLink, a satellite-communication system, provides real-time traffic info and a link to Acura's customer service. Two small rear-facing cameras sit on the upper front corners of the driver and passenger doors, taking the place of traditional sideview mirrors. For more illumination, a moonroof extends over both the front and second-row seats.

According to Acura, the RD-X concept is a strong indication of what the production version will look like in 2006.

Mercury Meta One

Said to be the world's first partial zero-emissionscapable diesel hybrid, the Meta One concept is a blend of Mercury's compact Mariner SUV and Montego sedan. The PZEV diesel-hybrid powertrain gets its power from a twin turbocharged V6 diesel, assisted by a 35-kW, three-phase electric motor with a 325-V air-cooled nickel-metal hydride traction battery in the hybrid transmission. The powerplant runs on a special renewable fuel that reduces carbon-dioxide production. Ford is working with BP to develop a biomasssourced diesel fuel. The fuel will come from biological feedstocks that absorb CO2 during their growth. The point is to close the carbon loop, offsetting emissions with the carbonnegative fuel production. The engine produces 248 hp and 431 lb-ft of torque and is said to be 97% cleaner than the Tier 1 emissions standard for NOx.

The Meta One carries an independent MacPherson-strut front suspension and independent multilink coil-over-shocks in the rear, bolstered by antiroll bars front and back.

This concept is laden with bells and whistles including WiFi and streaming video entertainment from Sirius satellite. Lest this be thought of as a potential accident on wheels, Mercury added the Collision Mitigation by Braking system that applies the brakes if a crash is imminent; and Lane Departure Warning, which warns the driver when the vehicle wanders from its lane. Other techie touches include SmartNav, for real-time traffic info and directions; and KeyDA, which marries a personal-digital assistant (PDA) with the ignition key.

Mercury says it will add a crossover vehicle to its lineup in 2007, and it may just look like the Meta One.

Jeep Gladiator

You've got to hand it to the folks at DaimlerChrysler: They're not afraid to experiment. Taking the name from Jeep's 1962 full-size pickup, the Gladiator concept looks like a Hummer H2 crossed with a Wrangler. That aside, the Gladiator is said to be a "lifestyle" pickup that features an open-air canvas roof, removable doors, a fold-down windshield, and an expandable truck bed replete with storage compartments. On the utility side, there's Command Trac, a part-time 4 x 4 system, front and rear-locking differentials, and a front winch and full skid plates.

The Gladiator surges forth powered by a 2.8-liter, four-cylinder common-rail turbo diesel that puts out 163 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The powerplant mates to a six-speed manual transmission and a traditional part-time transfer case. A multilink front and rear suspension assists with off-road maneuvers, with coil-over shocks at all four corners for control. Off-road specs include 13.7-in. of ground clearance, a break-over angle of 23.2°, and approach/departure angles of 47.6/38°, respectively. Fat, 34-in. tires that sit on 18-in. wheels finish off the Gladiator. For those who are directionally challenged, there's GPS, navigation, and communication systems. Also, the 4-ft-wide bed can extend into the passenger compartment when more length is needed, going from 5 ft, 8 in. to 8 ft, 11 in. with the midgate and tailgate down. Weatherproof seats and an interior that can be hosed out complete the utility truck. No word yet if the Gladiator will enter the arena as a production vehicle.


The Toyota FT-SX crossover concept appears to be a melding of a sedan, SUV, and wagon. Geared toward young families and empty nesters, the FT-SX carries a 3.5-liter V6, allwheel drive, glass roof, suicide doors, and 21-in. wheels. At 74.4-in. wide, 61-in. tall, and 187.4-in. long, the crossover concept is lower and wider than an SUV, but taller than a sedan. Apparently, much of the excitement is with the rear hatch. It opens three ways: The upper glass pivots up; the lower hatch pivots down; and the glass roof has two panels that slide toward the center to create an opening as well as a rear sunroof. A boon for older drivers, as well as for moms with their hands full, is the tray in the cargo area. It automatically extends when the lower hatch opens for loading large and heavy objects.

The interior has natural woods, leather, and durable metals, and seats with integrated armrests which are said to create a "living-room effect" and eliminate clutter. Now if they could only apply the anticlutter idea to homes, Toyota might have a winner here.

Infiniti Kuraza

Looking suspiciously like an elongated Mini Cooper, the Infiniti Kuraza concept is supposed to be an "exploration of future luxury utility vehicles." Actually, "utility" could be left out of the equation as cupholders, extra cargo room, and storage compartments are deliberately eliminated. This concept-ute is marked by six doors, with the third set opening from rear hinges. There's stadium-style seating for the second and third rows, and the vehicle is designed to seat only six people. Three overhead glass panels help illuminate the interior which is laid out in leather, handcrafted wood, and aluminum-alloy accents.

Underneath the vehicle are lighted side steps that swing out when the doors open and are, of course, aluminum with dark wood inlays. Multiple-lamp LED headlights feature a tiny surround-view camera to help eliminate blind spots. A 16-in. touchscreen sits in the instrument panel, displaying weather and road condition info. The Kuraza concept is finished with 23-in. aluminum-alloy wheels.

Jeep Hurricane

Teetering on the brink of extreme, the Jeep Hurricane concept just may push itself right over. Said to be the most powerful 4 x 4 ever built, the Hurricane boasts two 5.7-liter Hemi engines: One in front, and one in back. Each engine is capable of 335 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque. To rein in all this power, a multidisplacement system (MDS) lets the vehicle run on 4, 8, 12, or 16 cylinders, depending on the driver's demands. The powerplants mate to a five-speed automatic transmission.

The power flows through a central transfer case and split axles with a mechanically controlled four-wheel torque-distribution system. Suspension fore and aft is SLA independent, with coil-over shocks featuring remote reservoirs. The Hurricane has 14.3-in. of ground clearance, and 64/86.7° approach/departure angles. A zero turn radius is made possible by the ability to turn both front and rear tires inward.

Also, there are two modes of automated four-wheel steering. The first has the rear tires turning in the opposite direction of the front, cutting the turning circle. The second turns all four wheels in the same direction, letting the Hurricane move sideways like a crab.

The one-piece body is structural carbon fiber, and the powertrain and suspension mount directly to it. An aluminum spine runs under the body to connect the underside as well as serve as a skid plate. The powers-that-be at DaimlerChrysler aren't saying whether a version of the Hurricane will blow into production any time soon.


TAGS: Technologies
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