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Motown Adrift in Cars

Upcoming Detroit Show Will Be Heavy on SUVs, Crossovers--and Snowplows

January 03, 2001|TERRIL YUE JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DETROIT — New sport-utility vehicles, car-truck "crossovers" that incorporate many elements of SUVs, and the most anticipated sports coupe in years look to dominate the Detroit auto show next week, the annual Motor City confab that is quickly developing a reputation as the Snow Bowl of car shows.

For the second time in three years, visitors and exhibitors will be fighting heavy snow that has enveloped southeast Michigan--a record 35-plus inches in December alone--to slog their way to what is formally known as the North American International Auto Show. Press previews begin Sunday; the show opens to the public Jan. 13.

This year, General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., DaimlerChrysler and Bayerische Motoren Werke will show production truck or crossover products in their world debuts, and Ford Motor Co.'s Land Rover unit will bring a truck over from Europe for its North American bow.

On the passenger car side, BMW, Subaru, Toyota's Lexus brand and Daimler's Mercedes-Benz are promising world or North American introductions of production models.

In addition, most of the major auto makers will show concept cars or trucks that could eventually be produced--or that at least hint at design cues and technology that are likely to be adopted in future models.

A review of what's coming:

Ford

The folks from Dearborn, Mich., are likely to steal the show's, well, thunder with the introduction of the 2002 Thunderbird. The two-seat T-Bird looms as one of the most anticipated cars in years, ranking with VW's 1999 New Beetle and Chrysler's 2000 PT Cruiser.

The V-8-powered T-Bird is expected to be little changed from the concept versions that have been shown in recent months, but enthusiasts are eager to see what chief Ford designer J Mays has brought to the final version of the icon that was resurrected--nay, rescued--from a destiny of nondescript banality.

Ford will also show four concepts: two as-yet-undisclosed SUVs; the Sports Roadster, based on a powered-up T-Bird; and the Forty-Nine, Mays' fanciful take on Fords of the early 1950s, with the design envelope pushed "way out," according to sources familiar with the project.

The two-door Forty-Nine has an elongated, tapered look with tiny taillights, multiple-bulb headlamps, a see-through glass roof and "Powered by Thunderbird" on the front and rear bumpers, reflecting the T-Bird engine it borrows, the sources say. Ford is seriously thinking of producing up to 50,000 of them, they say.

Among Ford's luxury brands, Land Rover is premiering its Freelander SUV for North America, the first marketing move capitalizing on Land Rover's acquisition by Ford last year. And Volvo is showing a concept SUV as well as a concept "Safety Car."

General Motors

GM will showcase the Pontiac Vibe, a car-based, SUV-like vehicle first being unveiled for the press Thursday at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, and a variation of the Cadillac Escalade, nicknamed internally the UUV (for ultimate utility vehicle).

The Vibe will be built at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., the joint venture with Toyota in Northern California. Toyota will introduce its own version of the car in Detroit. The UUV is a version of Caddy's luxury SUV with a pickup truck bed, essentially GM's answer to the forthcoming 2002 Lincoln Blackwood.

GM's concept cars, shown in Highway 1 on Nov. 22, include the Buick Bengal roadster, GMC Terracross pickup-SUV, Cadillac Vizon crossover and the Oldsmobile O4, a convertible that has an uncertain future given GM's recent decision to terminate the Olds division.

DaimlerChrysler

A new Jeep leads the lineup for the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler. The Liberty, as it's called, was originally designed as a replacement for the aging Cherokee, but is being added as Jeep's fourth vehicle, positioned between the Cherokee and the upscale Grand Cherokee.

Chrysler also has three concept cars scheduled to take the stage, including the Crossfire, a sleek, even elegant, two-seater sports coupe with rear-wheel drive and a supercharged 2.7-liter V-6 engine putting out 275 horsepower. There will also be a Dodge truck and a sophisticated-looking Jeep concept that represents quite a departure from what has been seen in production.

On DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes side, there is the world debut of the new C-Class wagon, nicknamed the Combi, as well as two new Benzes for North America, expected to be AMG performance versions of existing Benz models.

BMW

From BMW comes the M3 coupe and M3 convertible, screaming four-seat versions of the 3-Series coupe that go on sale this spring. Both versions boast BMW's new 333-horsepower inline-6 engine, which will also go into the M roadster and M coupe.

BMW's beefy X5 "sports-activity vehicle" gets a high-performance version called the X5 HP later this year, with a 4.6-liter engine boosting horsepower from 282 to a walloping 347 and a top speed of 149 mph, the company says.

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