Raft of off-road models heads Nissan's European product blitz
NISSAN will increase its range of four-wheel drive vehicles in Europe in a bid to offer more distinctive products.
Its Murano sport utility vehicle (SUV), a runaway success in North America, is being evaluated for Europe after gaining approval for the Japanese market, while a version of the new Pathfinder, launched at Detroit last week, is likely to be built in Spain alongside the replacement for the current Nissan Pickup in 2005.
It is thought that a medium- sized SUV with some off-road ability and competing against cars such as the Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Land Cruiser and Jeep Grand Cherokee, would form a link in the range between heavy duty four-wheel drive vehicles like the Terrano or Patrol and the X-trail and Murano, assuming both would be given the green light.
The Murano (pictured) is a full-size SUV and, if introduced in the UK, would sit above the X-trail in the SUV line-up. As it was designed for the North American market, there would be no diesel version, only a 3.5-litre V6 model using a less powerful version of the engine found in the 350Z.
The company has recently unveiled a large SUV (Pathfinder Armada) and large pickup truck (Titan) in the North American market, using a 5.6-litre V8 engine.
Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn said: 'We will have vehicles across the spectrum in the truck line-up. Our European team isn't used to the idea of all these four-wheel drive vehicles yet, but is getting used to it. With the success of cars like the X-trail and the range of vehicles we offer globally, we are in a position to offer many SUVs.'
The premium range of saloons, coupes and SUVs has been a resounding success in North America and Japan, but Ghosn said it was unlikely to appear in Europe in the medium term. He said: 'We have other priorities. First we must make sure Infiniti is successful in the US, but it is our intention to build Infiniti as a global brand and there is no reason we can't be successful with it in Europe eventually.'
Vauxhall makes its presence felt at Detroit
VAUXHALL'S presence was felt in Detroit as the VX Lightning concept (pictured) was on display to highlight a range of new concepts based on its platform, one designed in the UK.
First shown in May 2003, the VX Lightning's Kappa platform was used for the Pontiac Solstice roadster, as well as the new Saturn Curve and Chevrolet Nomad.
A small team at General Motors' Advanced Design Studio, based in the Midlands and run by Simon Cox, designed the Chevy Nomad.
Its skeleton was developed in the US and shipped to the UK for the exterior and interior design work and Pininfarina built the concept car.
Cox said: 'The Nomad is a thoroughly modern car and very flexible. It can be a sports car or you can remove the roof and it becomes a sort of mini pick-up.'
Cox believes a version of the Nomad could be exported to Europe if it goes into production, but there was speculation that one of General Motors' European brands would sell the car as one of their own.
Vauxhall boss Kevin Wale said he planned to expand the range of cars offered in the UK in future where possible by adapting cars on sale in other markets, such as the forthcoming Vauxhall Monaro which is based on GM's Holden version in Australia, and is sold in left-had drive in North America as the Pontiac GTO.
Volvo extends its safety reputation
VOLVO premiered four new safety systems in Detroit which will make their way on to production cars over the next few years.
A blind spot information system (BLIS) is a warning feature mounted in the door mirror which uses digital camera technology and illuminates a warning lamp near the door mirror to alert drivers when cars enter the monitored zone.
Adaptive cruise control, which is available on some premium and luxury cars as well as the Nissan Primera, will also become available on Volvo cars and can maintain a safe distance from the car in front by automatically reducing speed when necessary.
Volvo has also developed a system to avoid rear-end collisions by constantly monitoring the road ahead and automatically alerting the driver to apply the brakes.
The system uses a radar in front of the car and warns the driver with a buzzer and lamp if the distance to the vehicle or obstacle in front reduces dramatically. If the system thinks the driver isn't braking hard enough to stop the car in time, it increases the braking pressure, or if the driver does not hit the pedal it automatically activates the brakes.
The next-generation Volvo convertible will offer an inflatable curtain as part of the company's side impact protection system. Volvo engineers have found a solution to fitting the curtain to a convertible by fitting it to the door rather than in the roof like the rest of the Volvo range. In a side impact the curtain inflates and pushes upwards between the side window and the occupant's head.
Lex Kerssemakers, Volvo vice-president for global marketing and head of product planning, said: 'These systems will be introduced gradually. We expect to see BLIS in production later in 2004, while the door-mounted inflatable curtain will be introduced in the next generation of Volvo convertibles.'
Limited supply for S40 and V50
SUPPLY problems with all-new models could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Volvo Car UK.
After unveiling the S40 and V50 (pictured) for the North American market, it emerged that UK models are likely to be in short supply which will be good news for residual values.
Volvo corporate sales manager Ian Rendle said: 'We have potential issues over S40 and V50 because we've been told by the factory that availability will be tight for some time.
'But the upside is that we will have customers waiting for every car we can get, so residual values should be better.'
As the mid-size range was being launched at the Detroit Motor Show, Rendle claimed higher quality and unique packaging would quickly establish the new cars as Volvo's highest volume models.
He added: 'Irrespective of the supply issue, these cars are great news for Volvo in the UK and we will be working hard to get as many company drivers as possible behind the wheel.
'A total of 230 examples will be available for periods of between three days and three weeks from our corporate demonstration fleet and another 350 will be at our 60 business centres.'
Chrysler sets out fleet aspirations
CHRYSLER will be chasing fleet business later this year as its new 300C model reaches Europe, equipped with a new common rail diesel engine.
The new 300C (pictured), which will compete in the premium sector with a car close in size to the BMW 5-series, will be offered in saloon and estate variants, the latter aimed specifically at the European market.
The only petrol engine confirmed so far is a 5.7-litre V8, which is unlikely to be as desirable to corporate customers as a modern diesel, but the petrol engine will also offer a fuel-saving mode by shutting off cylinders when under light load.
Joe Eberhardt, Chrysler Group executive vice president of marketing, sales and service, said: 'The 300C is a strong design package which will be a refined and comfortable rear-wheel drive car with a 5.7-litre V8 that has a fuel saving feature to reduce consumption. The Touring model features all-wheel drive and will only be available outside North America.'
Although executives made no formal announcement on the diesel variant, the 300C is expected to share a forthcoming engine with Mercedes-Benz. However, right-hand drive has not yet been confirmed for the Touring.
Meanwhile, the company announced other new models in Detroit that are destined for Europe and the UK.
The PT Cruiser and Crossfire will be offered as soft tops later this year, although right-hand drive is not guaranteed, while a high-performance SRT-6 version of the Crossfire will make its debut in Geneva in March.
The group also unveiled three concept cars in Detroit as well as a supercar prototype to rival the likes of Lamborghini, Ferrari and Bugatti.
The Dodge Slingshot is a small roadster concept based on the smart roadster platform, and could be developed into a production model by the time Dodge models are introduced in the UK from 2006.
The Jeep Rescue is a five-door off-roader with advanced navigation mapping and telematics systems suited for an emergency vehicle that needed to travel to remote and unforgiving areas, while the Jeep Treo, a three-seater micro car, was first seen at last October's Tokyo Motor Show.
However, Chrysler's top secret ME Four-Twelve super sports car prototype made its debut and is expected to offer the last word in performance. The 850bhp quad-turbo 6.0-litre V12 is expected to cover the 0-60mph sprint in 2.9 seconds, reaching 100mph in 6.2 with a target top speed of 248mph. The car will shortly begin road trials.
Simon Elliott, managing director of Chrysler and Jeep in the UK, said: 'Chrysler always delivers something exciting at Detroit and this year is no different. The ME Four-Twelve is a real head turner, while the two new convertibles are great additions to the range.'
VW takes the farm track to green fuel
VOLKSWAGEN has teamed up with a global agricultural company in a bid to speed up the development of next-generation clean renewable fuels.
Revealed at Detroit, the landmark co-operation deal holds the promise of achieving major advances in biodiesel, claimed Volkswagen chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder.
He said: 'Given the tremendous environmental, economic and quality-related benefits of increased biodiesel usage, we are confident our joint research agreement will go a long way to advancing this vital renewable fuel choice.'
The car firm's partner is Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), a world leader in agricultural processing of soybeans, corn, wheat and cocoa.
ADM chairman and chief executive G Allen Andreas, said: 'Biodiesel is one of the most promising renewable fuels on the horizon. This agreement clearly demonstrates the commitment of both companies to developing environmentally-friendly, next-generation alternative fuels that address global energy needs.'
As Volkswagen gave its V10 turbodiesel Touareg sport utility vehicle its US debut at the show, board member Detlef Wittig told Fleet News: 'Nothing better shows our attitude to making clean, efficient and powerful TDI diesels and we have long had a leading role in next-generation fuels in Europe.
'We're delighted to be involved in researching biodiesel and I think it's fitting that we're also launching the Passat as the only TDI-equipped mid-size car in America.'
Head of Volkswagen Group research Matthias Rabe said: 'In our view, the hydrogen fuel cell is clearly the way ahead, but it is still 30 years down the road in practical terms.
'That's why we need to make cars more environmentally- friendly in the meantime. Our work with Shell has already produced synthetic fuel from natural gas and we're getting good results from our work to produce fuel from biomass.
'We call this programme Sunfuel because we're getting a liquid that can be used by any diesel motor without modification and it almost neutralises the emission of CO2.
'This is an exciting prospect for the future, because we're now able to design fuels that will optimise the combustion process. It is also a win-win situation for the US, which is now highly dependent on imported oil and is now keen to make use of its natural resources to create a fuel that is non-toxic and completely safe to handle.'
Rabe claimed the cost of gas-to-liquid alternative fuel was equal to that of normal oil and would be available in Europe in two years' time.
He added: 'I think the biomass-to-liquid products we are researching will take longer to come into general use because they are not yet cost-effective and require tax incentives.'
Prius named car of the year
TOYOTA'S Prius petrol electric hybrid has been named the North American Car of the Year by a panel of journalists in the USA and Canada. It outscored the second-placed Mazda RX-8 by more than 130 points.
Achieving 65mpg on the combined cycle and with carbon dioxide emissions of 104g/km, the Prius offers zero emissions at low speeds over short distances by running on its electric motor whose battery is charged by the engine under braking. The Prius, which went on sale in the UK on January 2, is expected to gain 1,600 sales in the UK this year.
Saab-aru set for UK?
SAAB showed the production-ready Subaru-based 9-2X Aero in Detroit with an announcement expected soon on whether it will go on sale in Europe.
Based on five-door versions of the Subaru Impreza, the car will go on sale in North America in July, but could boost Saab's line-up in Europe next year.
The front end of the vehicle is all new, along with new rear light clusters, while Subaru's trademark frameless windows are carried over from the Japanese cars, as are the engines. While the interior is similar to the Impreza, materials have been upgraded and Saab has changed the seats which also include active head restraints.
Its suspension has also been re-engineered to give a softer ride than the Impreza. The car has been made possible through the partnership between Saab owner General Motors and Subaru parent company Fuji Heavy Industries.
Bob Lutz, General Motors' vice-chairman for product development, said: 'Our role is to enable Saab to grow its range. So when Saab requested to work with Subaru we were very supportive as the Saab and Subaru relationship is a natural one.'
Saab president and chief executive Peter Augustsson said: 'This global joint effort so far has run exceedingly well. Leveraging the resources within General Motors truly is a competitive advantage.'
Spectra gives clues to new Kia
KIA will launch a new four-door saloon this autumn based on one of the vehicles on its stand in Detroit. The Spectra (pictured) was unveiled at the show, but a European version called the Cerato was revealed in Brussels this week. The Cerato will replace the Mentor in the range and will have a choice of petrol and diesel engines.
Lexus unveils view of 2005 luxury
LEXUS gave visitors to the North American International Auto Show the first glimpse of the next generation GS which will go into production in 2005.
The car heralds a 'more passionate' design for future vehicles, according to Denny Clements, vice-president and general manager.
He said: 'When the third-generation GS arrives next year it will be the first in a new wave of vehicles that will reflect a new, more passionate direction in styling inside and out.'
As well as a 4.3-litre V8 engine, there will also be a new V6 engine developing 245bhp, and both engines will come with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift facility.
Clements also revealed more details on the new hybrid vehicle based on the RX, which will go on sale in North America before the end of the year before European sales follow. The vehicle was displayed as a concept at last year's show and is a key model in Europe as Lexus does not offer a diesel engine.
The RX400h's hybrid system uses a battery capable of delivering twice the power as that used in the Toyota Prius, and its electric engine can operate at 12,000rpm – twice the speed of the motor in the Prius.
The hybrid system will have a maximum power output (engine and motor combined) of about 270bhp, and will accelerate from 0-60mph in less than eight seconds. Along with improved mid-range torque, other benefits are expected to include a touring range of 600 miles on a full tank of petrol, equivalent to fuel consumption close to 40mpg.
Revised Vision GST points to Mercedes' future
MERCEDES-Benz unveiled a revised version of its Vision concept car (pictured) a year after it first went on show in Detroit.
The six-seater Vision Grand Sports Tourer is meant to combine aspects of a saloon, MPV and sport utility vehicle on one car and is powered by a diesel-electric hybrid powertrain and full-time four-wheel drive, a seven-speed automatic transmission and air suspension.
Professor Jurgen Hubbert, member of the Daimler- Chrysler board of management, said: 'The new Vision Grand Sports Tourer is a highly appealing and versatile touring car that offers space, comfort and power.
'This latest trend-setter will enable us to gain a firm foothold in what is a new and exciting market segment in mid-2005. We believe that the concept offers enormous potential for the launch of a new Mercedes model family.'
Mercedes-Benz also used the show to introduce the E320 CDI to the North American market, where diesel take-up in cars is restricted to a few models, and a hybrid concept based on the S-class.
Hubbert added that the company was developing hybrids intensively, and would introduce them in 'suitable markets', implying that Europe, where diesel sales are strong, would be a lower priority.
Honda creates 'the perfect company car' – but not for UK
BOFFINS at Honda have come up with the perfect company car – a six-cylinder luxury saloon that has the fuel economy of a four-cylinder family hatchback. But the bad news for Britain's corporate drivers is that the new version of the latest Accord model is unlikely to be seen on European roads.
The clever saloon features Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid technology and uses an electric unit to boost the output of the regular V6-powered Accord sold on the American market.
Yet technology that allows half of the engine to lie dormant during motorway cruising means the car has better running economy than the Japanese firm's four-cylinder Civic hatchback.
The technological tour de force won applause at the Detroit show when it was revealed by Honda president and chief executive officer Takeo Fukui.
But a Honda Motor Europe spokesman told Fleet News: 'As good as it is, this is one model we don't want to make available to company car drivers.
'We have just invested huge resources into developing our first in-house diesel engine for the Accord (the CTDi), so that powertrain will remain our number one priority for some time to come.'
The Accord Hybrid uses the same IMA technology that is employed in the Civic Hybrid and the electric engine boost makes the car more powerful than the standard 240bhp V6 model.
Honda claims the variable cylinder management technology it has developed allows the engine to deactivate three of its cylinders when it is being driven under light load conditions, such as main road cruising.
Fukui said: 'This is a 'best-of-both-worlds' compromise that delivers higher fuel efficiency with no sacrifice in performance.'
Subtle changes to S-type
JAGUAR introduced a raft of detail improvements to the S-type range in Detroit.
Only months after getting new engines, fresh front and rear suspension units and a complete interior makeover, the company's mid-size model appeared with further enhancements.
Chief executive Joe Greenwell said: 'We are continually working to hone our cars and we'll keep on introducing the changes as they happen.'
In its latest guise, the S-type features a lightweight aluminium bonnet, revised lamp clusters and a higher rear boot to give a more aggressive appearance.
Ride and handling are claimed to be further improved by chassis refinements that include changed damper settings and low-friction ball joints.
However, officials at the Coventry-based company are saving the most radical change to the S-type – turbodiesel power – to the Geneva Motor Show in March.
'I may be biased, but I believe that in its latest form and with our new 2.7-litre bi-turbo V6 engine under its bonnet, this will be a difficult car to beat when it goes on sale in May,' said Greenwell.
'We are still working on the pricing and final specifications, but we have high expectations from what we rate as a really competitive and refined engine.'
Mystery over new Mazda
MAZDA unveiled a family-sized concept car at Detroit – but it won't let on where the car will go on sale.
Dubbed MX-Micro Sport (pictured), the family hatchback is slightly larger than the recently-launched M2 model on which it is based. Mazda plans to launch it this year, but where remains a mystery.
Steve Odell, Mazda senior managing executive officer, said: 'In a market where a dozen brands compete for the consumer's eye, it's all too easy to get lost in the crowd and we know that to stand out, we have to be really outstanding. We have to pick our targets carefully, get it right and do it fast. We've made this concept different in every respect to be a pure driving car. It will be launched into a major world market this year – but I'm leaving you to guess as to where.'
Appearing ready for Europe, the concept featured keyless entry, high-grade interior treatment, all-disc braking and 17-inch wheels. It also used a 2.0-litre petrol engine, 'but the production version will come with less power,' Odell told Fleet News.
BMW took the wraps of the convertible version of the new 6-series (pictured), which will go on sale alongside the coupe. It made its public debut at the show and when it reaches the UK will be priced from £55,355 on-the road – £4,500 more than the coupe. Available in either grey or black, the vinyl roof can be raised or lowered in 20 seconds by a button on the dashboard or by remote control on the key fob.
Longer, faster A8
AUDI'S world premiere at Detroit was the first public showing of its 6.0-litre A8.
The A8 6.0L quattro will be Britain's first 12-cylinder Audi when it is launched in the spring and will feature unique front end styling with its single frame radiator grille.
The 6.0-litre W12 engine produces 444bhp with 428lb-ft of torque, 95% of which is available between 2,300rpm and 5,300rpm. Audi promises a 0-62mph time of 5.2 seconds thanks to the A8's lightweight aluminium construction, reaching its electronically limited maximum speed of 155mph in about 30 seconds.
ASTON Martin used Detroit to display the convertible version of the DB9 – the replacement for the DB7. The two-plus-two DB9 Volante (pictured) will share its V12 engine with the DB9 coupe which goes on sale in the spring.
Cobra bites back
FORD is harking back to its glory days of the 1960s with a new concept car based on the same platform as the new GT.
The GT40 concept was unveiled in Detroit two years ago and is now about to go into production. This year there was a Shelby Cobra concept, clearly inspired by the original Cobra.
Range Stormer guns for luxury SUV rivals
A STUNNING concept car unveiled by Land Rover in the US is set to form the basis of an all-new range of trend-setting sport utility vehicles from one of the oldest names in go-anywhere motoring.
Called Range Stormer, the high-performance 'mini' Range Rover is based on the platform of the next-generation Discovery line-up and allows Land Rover to develop the additional products it needs to counter increasing competition, Fleet News can reveal.
Due to go on sale in less than 18 months, a five-door model will take on rivals like the BMW X5, VW Touareg and the Porsche Cayenne S in the fast-growing segment for luxury cars with full off-road capability.
Likely to be priced from around £40,000, it will be positioned to fill the gap between the new Discovery – due to be launched in spring – and the Range Rover. And as the first member of a Land Rover model line-up boasting sporting credentials, it is expected to offer a 155mph top speed from a supercharged and specially adapted Jaguar 4.2-litre V8 engine. Using an electronic six-speed automatic transmission, the production version of the concept car will also be available with the 2.7-litre V6 turbodiesel engine due to power the new Jaguar S-type.
A patented feature set to be adopted across the Solihull company's next-generation products is a computerised suspension system that allows the driver to select any of six terrain settings that sets up the car for conditions varying from extreme off-roading to high-speed highway motoring.
Designated L320 but yet to be named, the car will be based on the T5 platform developed by the company to provide even greater strength than the underpinnings of the Range Rover.
Managing director Matthew Taylor said: 'T5 represents a huge step forward for our company because it gives us unprecedented flexibility.
'We could even use it when we come to replace the Defender because it promises unrivalled capability in the most arduous off-road conditions. Yet it is also remarkably good on-road.
'This new platform allows us to broaden our range in the most cost-effective way. That's significant because we want to grow our business while retaining our position as a niche maker. By the end of the decade, it will play a major role in helping us take annual output to more than 200,000 units.'
Actic gives clues to look of the next generation Nissan Almera
NISSAN has revealed clues to its thinking behind the future of the Almera with the Actic concept (pictured) in Detroit.
The company has confirmed that when the Almera is replaced in 2006, the next vehicle will not be a traditional lower-medium hatchback, but is more likely to be a crossover niche vehicle, or could be replaced by a number of derivatives using the same platform. Nissan unveiled the Actic at the show to highlight the future design direction for the company's smaller models as well as a possible body style for a new compact car.
One of the innovative features of the Actic is a distinctive tyre developed in conjunction with Michelin which wraps around the wheel rim.
HYUNDAI made a bid to join the sports car club in Detroit with its HCD8 concept.
Styled at Hyundai's design centre in California, the HCD8 (pictured) uses a supercharged 2.7-litre V6 engine and six-speed manual transmission. The car is fitted with adjustable air suspension for varying road conditions and LED lights.
TOYOTA took another swipe at North America's domestic truck market with the FTX pick-up concept (pictured).
Although not destined for production, it hints at the next generation Tundra, which is on sale in the US. The hybrid power FTX is a double cab with rear-hinged doors, removable rear seats and front seats with their own suspension.
NSX version two
HONDA offered clues to the next generation NSX with the HSC concept car shown in Detroit. Viewed by the North American audience for the first time, Honda president Takeo Fukui said the company was committed to achieving industry-best performance for the new vehicle and it would appear 'within a few years'.
VOLKSWAGEN unveiled a coupe/SUV crossover vehicle called Concept T (pictured) at Detroit.
It uses a 240bhp V6 engine and features wing doors and a T-bar roof. Volkswagen claims to be inventing a new segment with the car.
Halewood is tops
FORD revealed in Detroit that its Halewood plant on Merseyside, which builds the Jaguar X-type and will soon assemble the Land Rover Freelander, is rated as its number one factory worldwide in terms of production systems.
'And now for something different…'
Quiet debut for new oil burner
MERCEDES-Benz bravely introduced the E320 CDI to the North American market in Detroit by showing a short video sequence in which a middle-aged father and his embarrassed teenage son face-off in a race against a souped up Japanese coupe.
The stars of the sequence then appeared from the audience and took the keys for the E320CDI on the stand before driving off. The largely derv-ignorant American audience must have been impressed with how diesel technology has improved over the last few years as the E-class wafted down a gentle ramp in silence. However, having driven plenty of diesels we can only assume the engine wasn't fired up for its short trip and gravity was doing the work.
Red Mustang causes red faces
RED-faced Ford executives at the show on the morning of the second press day did their best to hide their embarrassment as a Ford Mustang appeared in front of the line-up of cars representing each of General Motors' brands sold in North America.
It was reported that photographers wanted to take pictures of the car, but as there was nowhere on the Ford stand deemed suitable by suits from the Blue Oval they denied the request. Rival manufacturer General Motors came to the rescue offering some of its free space for the car to be photographed. However, in the background of photographs taken was Chevrolet's new Corvette, ensuring GM's new star had some free coverage.
Voyager gets a starring role
THE Chrysler Voyager is about to join the likes of Doctor Nookey and the Khasi of Kalabar in British film history with a starring role in the latest film in the Carry On series.
A quartet of Chrysler cars is being lined up to take part in Carry On London, a £10 million Pinewood production due to get under way in April. Although the latest installment in the saucy series has links with an earlier film, there are unlikely to be any exasperated cries of 'Ooo, Matron!' as the setting is neither a hospital, a police station, the jungle nor a camp site.
According to insiders at Chrysler, it's all about a dodgy taxi firm that gets into scrapes obtaining people carrier models when it is contracted to provide the transport for a particularly posh event in the West End. It is unclear whether they will be Voyagers or Grand Voyagers, but we are sure the possibilities of having an extra 13 inches is a joke that will not be lost on the film's writers.
Suzuki unveils GM lookalike
GM Daewoo's presence was felt indirectly at Detroit by a new model on the Suzuki stand. The Forenza bears a striking resemblance to the Daewoo Nubira and appeared identical even down to the distinctive radiator grille.