Automakers reveal their concepts of the future

March 22, 2001
Automakers read the tea leaves, crossed their fingers, and unveiled concept vehicles at Detroit's North American International Auto Show.

Concept cars. Those two words can spell either elation or disappointment for automakers, depending on the public's reaction. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this January, there were concept cars aplenty. Here's a peek at what may or may not be driving down your street in the near future.

Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster

Before the 2002 Thunderbird even hits showroom floors, Ford ups the anty with the Thunderbird Sports Roadster concept. Inspired by the 1962 Thunderbird Sports Roadster, the concept sports a sloped rear deck with a molded tonneau cover, secured with chrome-finished fasteners.

White leather covers the seats, instrument panel, pillars, scuff plates, and interior door panels. Brushed aluminum accents the white leather interior.

The exterior features an integrated chrome hood scoop and large round head-lamps. A chrome-finished egg-crate grille carries through to the 18-in. chrome-plated wheels.

Ford Forty-Nine

The original 1949 Ford stemmed from postwar America's need to add some spark to life. Feeling that need again, Ford introduces the Forty-Nine custom-coupe concept. An all-glass upper body structure has concealed pillars and windshield wipers. The badging and 20-in. wheels are chrome. The front headlights are round, high-intensity discharge, with narrow wraparound LED tail lamps in the rear.

The interior sports a bench-style front seat with power controls, and a floating center console that runs the entire length of the interior. This gives the look of four-passenger bucket seating, while also stiffening the vehicle's structure. In the floating console sits a five-speed shift lever as well as ventilation for the front and rear passengers. Two-tone leather colors the interior, accented by satin-finished silver. The primary gages sit in a single-round instrument binnacle, similar to the original '49. A two-tone leather-wrapped steering wheel has cruise and radio controls on a metal ring, reminiscent of the horn-ring popular in the 1950s.

Underneath its good looks lies the Thunderbird's 3.9-liter DOHC, 32-valve V8 powerplant. The engine bay is finished in black, stainless steel, and chrome. Intake manifolds are finished in satin metal with gloss-black valve covers accented with polished stainless steel. Filtered interior air inlets perch at the trailing edge of the front-wheel opening, and dual stainless-steel exhausts thrust through the rear bumper.

The rearview mirror sits on a wind-split rod which extends from the instrument panel to the front header. The mirror can be adjusted up or down along the length of the rod, which also houses the antenna that extends through the roof.

And last, but not least, for audiophiles there is a multidisc CD changer, a plethora of speakers, and a subwoofer, all driven by a 200-W amplifier.

Chevy Borrego

The Borrego concept is Chevy's modern interpretation of a rally car, looking like a cross between a sports car and pickup truck. A roll bar accommodates a reconfigurable midgate at the rear of the cab for seating of two more passengers. The rear window retracts, the midgate slides back, and the full roof, stored under the bed of the pickup truck, snaps into place. Expanded seating cuts the cargo bed length from 6 to 3 ft.

The Borrego has an AWD powertrain based on Subaru's longitudinal all-wheel-drive system. Also, a turbocharged version of Subaru's 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine keeps the Borrego's center of gravity low for better handling. The power-plant links to a five-speed manual tranny and puts out 250 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque.

And for the directionally challenged, a portable GPS system navigates in or out of the truck and OnStar keeps a link to civilization. The Borrego also carries an air compressor and pressurized water tank. The air hose can blow dirt out the vehicle, inflate outdoor equipment, or pressurize the water tank so its occupants can shower.

Dodge Super8 Hemi

Dubbed an "all-American sedan," the Dodge Super8 Hemi concept literally parted the sea of automotive journalists at the Detroit Auto show, being driven directly on the show floor to make itself heard. Not that it needed a dramatic en-trance to make an impression. It's rather odd-looking, with a long 117.4-in wheelbase and 62.5-in. wide front, 62.8-in. rear track, sitting low and hugging the road. What all this translates into is plenty of passenger room. Panoramic seating for the driver and passengers is said to give a more in-control feeling compared to other sedans. The rear occupants sit higher than the front passengers, DaimlerChrysler's idea of automotive theater seating.

But let's get to the real attraction of this concept. A prototype 5.7-liter pushrod V8 features hemispherical combustion chambers and two spark plugs per cylinder, giving an estimated 353 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque. This rear-wheel-drive vehicle has a four-speed AutoStick manumatic tranny and is said to reach 60 mph in less than 6 sec. Not bad for a sedan. An independent front suspension with modified MacPherson struts and a five-link coil-over-shock rear configuration is said to give crisp steering and smooth ride and handling.

The interior pays homage to vehicles of the 1950s. It features brushed and painted aluminum gages and trim. There are bench seats both front and rear which slide independently along a custom rail system. The seats, along with the elimination of the B-pillar, create an open area. With a decidedly modern flair, the Super8 Hemi carries a multi-passenger Infotronic system. This includes an off-board navigation system and provides Internet-based real-time weather and traffic updates, e-mail, as well as access to an Internet-enabled home and its appliances. The system activates via voice recognition or through an LCD integrated into the instrument panel.

Voice commands let the driver access the mobile office screens and control audio, climate control, diagnostics, phone and security systems, including a home-security system.

For rear passengers, two LCD touch screens on articulating arms mount to the backrests of the front seats. Rear passengers can access real-time trip status information, play online trivia games with other occupants, or retrieve photos from an Internetbased home-security camera. As if that wasn't enough, a Sirius satellite radio offers digital-quality radio for clear reception from more than 100 channels, of which 50 music channels are commercial-free. Also, a media-beaming application enables wireless transfer of digital audio (MP3) and video (MPEG) files between a home-entertainment system and the vehicle while parked in the driveway or garage.

Jeep Willys

The Jeep Willys (think Bruce Willis) concept is said to invoke the traditional body of past Jeeps and combine it with modern technology. An injection-molded plastic body is said to cut weight by 50% compared to traditional vehicles and is completely recyclable. Also, the molded-in color plastic lets designers create shapes not possible with stamped metal as seen in its crisp, rigid lines. This concept has a lightweight aluminum frame-web. Eliminating sheet metal and using carbon fiber simulates the weight savings of injection-molded plastics. Frame-web technology molds the one-piece carbon fiber body to an aluminum frame for rigidity.

A 1.6-liter four-cylinder supercharged powerplant delivers 160 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque. The engine links to a four-speed automatic tranny coupled with a shift-on-thefly transfer case with full-time 4WD. A custom, independent SLA front and multilink solid rear axle suspension with coil-over-shock setup and 22-in. wheels lets the Willys travel where its driver desires, including back to the rock it rolled out from under.

Like its distant cousin the Super Hemi8, the Willys has a long 95-in. wheelbase and a wide 58.9-in. front and 59.4-in. rear track. And, like the Hemi8, the Willys also has a Sirius satellite radio.

Chrysler Crossfire

The Crossfire concept coupe is built as a one-piece carbon-fiber body on an all-aluminum frame. The exterior has a "boat-tail" which emphasizes the rear wheels, tires, and wide fenders, highlighted by aluminum accents. It has a long 102.6-in. wheelbase and wide 58.3-in. front and 59.9-in. rear track. The Crossfire takes many cues from the 1995 Chrysler Atlantic concept car including a center spine that runs the length of the car.

A supercharged 2.7-liter V6 boasts 275 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, mated to a five-speed manual tranny. The Crossfire is estimated to reach 60 mph in 5.8 sec and a top speed of 148 mph. A custom independent SLA front and rear suspension uses coil-springs placed over shock absorbers. Nineteen-inch front and 21-in. rear wheels are said to give ride and handling typical of a rear-wheel-drive coupe.

On the inside, the Crossfire houses an on-board vehicle data-acquisition center. The Electronic vehicle information center (Evic) gathers vehicle performance data and displays it on a passenger-side LCD. The Evic measures acceleration, lap time, and g forces so the driver can assess peak performance. The vehicle also features electronically adjustable competition seats, manually adjustable pedals, and an integrated trunk space for two helmets.

BMW X coupe

Based on the chassis of the X5 sport-activity vehicle, the X coupe is entirely aluminum. Some might call the X coupe the melding of a sport-utility vehicle with a sports coupe. A turbodiesel 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine has state-of-the-art common-rail direct fuel injection, producing 184 hp. This powerplant produces 332 lb-ft of torque and peak speed of 125 mph.

A five-speed Steptronic automatic tranny can be "manually" shifted by paddles on the steering wheel. To give the X coupe a firm grip on the road, it has all-wheel-drive from the all season traction (AST) control, as well as dynamic stability control (DSC-X) and hill descent control (HDC), systems common to the BMW lineup. High-speed stability is enhanced by a rear spoiler that lies beneath the bottom rear edge of the vehicle. It automatically extends down at 68 mph to keep the rear end on the road.

Lest the X coupe be considered just another concept, look again. Instead of symmetrical surfaces taken for granted in most vehicles, the X coupe goes asymmetrical, starting with the taillights. Inboard taillight edges are parallel, both pointing down to the right. However, the left light continues down through the rear surface. Also, the right-hand side has no C-pillar. The right side-door window continues into the rear window. The entire rear section opens and tilts backwards, revealing cargo space and rear seats. The hatch includes the entire rear window, creating an opening that makes loading cargo and entering and exiting via curbside easy.

Headlights steer with the wheels for illumination of curves. Additional input from a GPS navigation system even lets the headlights anticipate curves ahead. The brake lights, carried in the dual rear-lighting clusters under glass covers, indicate to drivers behind how hard the X coupe driver is braking. On the basis of an electronic signal of deceleration, light braking makes only the outer rings illuminate. As deceleration increases, the light spreads towards the center until, under full braking, the entire lens lights up.

VW Microbus

Trying to duplicate the success of its 1950-vintage Microbus, Volkswagen introduces a modern concept version. It shares the short body overhangs reminiscent of the first VW bus. But, the concept Microbus is both longer and wider. Under the front hood lies a 3.2-liter V6 that produces 231 hp. An obvious break from the past Minibus is the flat, thin-line Xenon headlights with clear glass optics, wholly opposite from the rounded headlights of the original VW bus. Windows dominate the concept Microbus. An additional side window sits ahead of the A-pillar, and D-pillars have integrated glass slits and large sliding doors. The doors open and close with a push of a button.

The interior of the Microbus features large lights integrated into the roof area. A semitransparent urethane material covers the floor with an aluminum layer under-neath which shines through. The instrument panel has an asymmetric design, coming out closer to the driver. The panel contains circular instrumentation with an analog tachometer as well as digital information. The gearshift sits in the instrument panel and looks like a joystick for a video game. The shifter links to a five-speed automatic gearbox with tiptronic and can be shifted either automatically or manually.

The Microbus concept contains three rows of seats. The middle row center seats can be turned 180°, and the third row is a bench seat with two individual contoured seats. A rail system makes a multivariable layout of the two rear rows possible.

Information systems include a 7-in. screen in the center console with four large monitors in the backrests of the first and second rows, as well as two extendable displays between the second and third rows, located in the rear bench. A second 7-in. screen and backeye camera, along with the side mirrors, give a look at what's going on behind the vehicle. The monitor sits in the roof in the exact position where the interior mirror would be located. This system also alerts the driver by voice commands if an obstacle is getting too close during parking.

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