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Youth Is the Message at Chicago Car Show

Trends * Toyota and others display vehicles aimed squarely at the customer of the future.

February 14, 2001|TERRIL YUE JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHICAGO — Eager to keep building momentum with young buyers, Toyota has pulled the wraps off a two-door, off-road concept vehicle it hopes will define a new niche of flexible, entry-level vehicles.

The RSC--for rugged sports coupe--comes out of Toyota's Calty design center in Newport Beach, which was given a simple instruction: Come up with something that would have strong visual appeal with the under-30 crowd.

"Calty was given no specific guidelines regarding platform, powertrains or dimensions," said Kevin Hunter, the center's vice president for design, in introducing the RSC at the Chicago Auto Show last week. "Our designers were floored by the offer."

The response, though, was a bit over the top: a low-slung dune buggy with high ground clearance and a jumble of exterior design features. Its sharp lines, chiseled looks and beefy wheel flares exude toughness--but they're overwhelmed by all the orifices in the sheet metal. Headlamps, turn signals and fog lamps all create separate gaps. And that's in addition to a four-holed hood scoop and two front air intakes.

Although a concept car, Toyota sources say they're close to giving the green light to the RSC.

Youth is the message of most exhibitors at the Chicago show, which continues through Sunday and features a number of specialty vehicles catering to today's young buyers. It's an audience that will be the mass market auto customers of the future.

Among them:

* Saturn Corp., the General Motors subsidiary, revealed a pair of show-car variants of the upcoming VUE sport-utility vehicle, Saturn's first offering in the segment, to highlight aftermarket customization possibilities for a vehicle that will have a base price of less than $20,000.

The VUE Urban Expression is lowered about two inches and has sportier front and rear fascias, a spoiler, 18-inch wheels and a rear-seat video game system. Its mate, the Outdoor Expression, sports modifications tailored to drivers with camping and mountain-biking interests: a front brush bar, roof rack and rubberized cargo area and floor covers for easy cleaning, with ostrich leather accents inside.

Once the VUE goes on sale later this year Saturn will work with parts suppliers on aftermarket possibilities for the vehicle.

"Customization is an important factor among automotive buyers in today's marketplace," says Jill Lajdziak, vice president of Saturn sales, service and marketing.

Appearance accessories represent the largest growth segment of aftermarket products, with sales more than doubling from $1.8 billion to nearly $4 billion in the last 10 years. "The ability to customize a vehicle is especially important in the entry-vehicle segment and among younger buyers with active lifestyles," she says.

* Hyundai Motor Co. continues its string of roadster show cars with the sleek HCD6, a concept two-seater that the South Korean car maker is developing as an "affordable exotic car."

Designed at Hyundai Motor America's styling center in Fountain Valley, the HCD6 has a roll bar that rises out of the center console and runs from the front to the rear of the cockpit instead of side-to-side; a see-through cover over its rear-mounted engine; and floating front and rear carbon-fiber bumpers that are not only detachable but also interchangeable.

Senior designer Dragan Vukadinovic says the deeply sculpted side air intakes turn the entire side of the HCD6 into ducting for the engine, a design that "improves aerodynamics by taking normally turbulent wheel-well air, smoothing it out and using it for engine cooling."

*

Terril Yue Jones is The Times' Detroit bureau chief. He can be reached at t.jones@latimes.com.

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