North American Int'l Auto Show Review
John D. Stoll
year's past, I have spent endless hours trolling the floor of Detroit's
North American International Auto Show sniffing for news. Interviews,
sound bites, photo ops, new technologies, and innovative concepts.
If Jacques Nasser, former Ford CEO, sneezed, I wrote about it.
year, Jacques Nasser's gone and I have a newfound respect for the
auto show experience thanks to an influx of cash and my need to
spend it on a new car. With that in mind, I took one Sunday morning
to walk the show floor and simply be a consumer, after living four
full days immersed in the extravaganza of media preview days.
result? I now have a list of vehicles I'd absolutely love to have,
most of which I can't afford, but still would love to have. Unlike
your average twenty-something male in the market these days, I'm
not going for the two-seat, drop-top or the import compact fresh
for tuning, dropping the suspension and a fresh set of sport wheels.
I'm looking for room to breathe and throw stuff. I'm looking for
functionality and I'm looking for safety. And not safety of the
standard dual-airbag sort. No, I'm looking for visibility, a drivetrain
designed with snowy roads and bumpy back roads in mind, and brakes
that get the hint immediately.
course, my new sled needs to come standard with style.
In the end, I found the experience to be a bit like a fishing outing.
I netted a lot of ideas, but few were keepers. Still, make no mistake,
there were keepers and here are some of the best:
is definitely a new, but welcome look for Nissan. In fact, this
vehicle may initiate the comeback for which the minivan segment
has been looking.
teaming with Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury division for the better part
of the 1990s to build its first generation Quest, Nissan adopted
a totally new and independent strategy for the next version of its
minivan. This version is very California in its approach, yet extremely
minivan practical. The glasswork on this vehicle gives the driver
and passengers the impression that we might be camping out in a
greenhouse. It's larger than the current Quest and it's 20-inch
wheels and forward sloping belt line make for an aggressive, almost
taken in as a whole, this minivan is actually elegant, if not outright
sexy. From the front end, its uniquely clean grille combines smoothly
with a keystone placed Nissan badge in its center. From the rear,
the Quest resembles a sportiest of sport-utilities, save that annoying
spare tire that you find in that class. As Nissan designer Alfonso
Albaisa insists, this baby screams the very opposite of "soccer
The Chevrolet Bel Air concept
Motors' insiders are tipping the company's hand, saying that this
sporty little retro six-seater is close to actually being produced.
While GM, once again, seems to be late to the party when it comes
to retro vehicles, the Bel Air would offer a lower-priced alternative
for those in the market for Ford's 2002 Thunderbird, while maintaining
a fiesta of 50's styling cues.
Thunderbird can demand more than $40,000 when fully loaded, partly
because the rear-wheel drive vehicle sports the same V8 engine that
is in the Lincoln LS luxury sedan. Chevy engineers slapped the Bel
Air's body on the same platform as a pickup truck and put a five-cylinder
engine in it. The bad news is that this vehicle won't drive as nice
as the T-Bird. The good news is it that it can't possibly cost as
much as the T-Bird.
2003 Ford Expedition
has once again proven itself the king of the SUV market with its
second generation Expedition. Unlike any sport-utility before it,
the 2003 Expedition has a third row of seats that folds into the
floor at the push of a button. In addition, Expedition is the first
of the full-sized SUVs to be engineered with independent rear suspension.
Ford engineers also lowered the floor of the vehicle nine inches
so as to give more comfort to rear passengers. Styling-wise, this
is a bit too much like its smaller brother, the Explorer, but I
guess that's the point of having a family of SUVs such as Ford does.
In fact, although Ford has signaled the death of its largest sport
utility, the Excursion, in days to come, it will soon introduce
a mini-SUV dubbed Fusion to the U.S. market to help boost sales.
9-3X concept car
enthusiasts should just start praying now that Saab actually makes
This coupe is an absolutely stunning alternative to everything else
out there in its class and it is built with the grit and guts of
your favorite sport-utility. Outfitted with all-wheel drive, a powerful
V6 engine and a bit more ground clearance than a typical sports
coupe, the 9-3X is capable of keeping even the most picky drivers
What's more, Saab has mastered a concept that automakers have been
floating for a few years, orchestrating the look, feel and handling
of a sports car with the capabilities of a sport-utility as only
the Swedish maker could do. Thank you Saab.
Pacifica and Mercedes-Benz Vision GST
a decade ago, a Chrysler and a Mercedes-Benz wouldn't have been
uttered in the same breath, now the brands are sharing the same
used this year's show as a launch pad for a pair of vehicles it
has dubbed "sports touring" cars. Both vehicles exhibit
characteristics of no other car currently available in the United
States. With two rows of captains chairs and a third row of bench
seating, the Pacifica and Vision GST accommodate with the comfort
of a minivan. But these vehicles are not minivans -- they are roomy
all-wheel drive sedans.
Chrysler anticipates its Pacifica, to be priced near $25,000, to
go on sale early next year at production volumes in excess of 100,000
units. Mercedes-Benz' version of the sport touring car, complete
with suicide doors opening from the middle-on-out rather than the
standard anterior hinge, will cost more and be aimed at luxury shoppers.
Land Rover Range Rover
the 31 years that Land Rover has been selling its Range Rover to
markets around the world, it has only redesigned the luxury sport-utility
that is, until this year.
Nevertheless, if you want to get your hands on - or your butt in
- one of these mighty machines, you're going to have to pay around
$70,000. That's because Land Rover believes it makes the world's
highest quality sport-utilities for an elite clientele.
this isn't the same old Range Rover you've come to know and respect.
This new generation of Range Rover is going after the luxury sedan
market instead of just being a high-priced alternative to other
The strategy seems a bit odd for one of the most storied SUVs in
the history of automobiles, but true. In fact, Land Rover has completely
revamped this vehicle's interior as to make it into a roomy, airy,
almost wilderness-like touring vehicle.
a ride standpoint, Land Rover has worked to ensure the best possible
handling it can offer. Air suspension is controlled electronically
and the vehicle can be raised or lowered by switches within reach
of the cupholders. Also, Land Rover is rolling out its first ever
four-wheel independent suspension on the Range Rover so as to lighten
any truck-like tendencies drivers might expect.