Fleet News

Detroit Show: Showtime unveils the future for fleets

THE North American International Auto Show is a barometer for what fleets will be driving in Europe in the future. The 2005 event was no exception. Simon Harris and Maurice Glover report from Detroit.

Opel Astra diesel hybrid is an exercise in what lies ahead

A DIESEL-electric hybrid was unveiled in Detroit based on the forthcoming Astra Sport Hatch.

Although a production version is not expected, the concept Opel Astra diesel hybrid was an exercise in demonstrating how a compact diesel-electric hybrid car could be packaged.

Using a 125bhp 1.7-litre CDTi engine, the car delivers up to 25% better fuel economy while maintaining the driving characteristics of the three-door Astra, thanks to the addition of two electric motors.

Depending on driving conditions, the motors (which are run by a battery recharged by the diesel engine) can provide additional power for the engine or propel the Astra under a full electric mode. The Astra was shown alongside the GMC Graphyte concept – a petrol electric hybrid SUV.

However, GM officials believe that in the medium term, diesel-electric hybrids will become the favoured choice of powertrain by European customers.

General Motors’ chairman and chief executive Rick Wagoner said: ‘Our intention is to improve the internal combustion engine with displacement on demand, six-speed transmissions and state of the art electronics.

‘Then we will address hybrid technology with a patented two-mode full hybrid system being developed with DaimlerChrysler that will optimise torque for city and highway driving.’

Audi concept hints at new road model

AS the new Audi A6 Avant made its debut at a major international motor show Audi took the wraps off a concept car that offers clues to the next Allroad model, as well as highlighting developments in safety technology.

The Allroad Quattro Concept (pictured) marks the 25th anniversary of Audi’s four-wheel drive system and is based on the A6 Avant.

The show car is fitted with Audi’s 4.0-litre TDI V8 common rail diesel engine, producing 286bhp and 479lb-ft of torque, and has a six-speed automatic transmission. It accelerates from 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds and is also the first V8 diesel to comply with Euro IV emissions rules.

The car also features new technology such as Audi Road Vision, which uses an optical sensor to recognise changes in road conditions and while prompting the driver it also modifies the settings of the ESP and adaptive cruise control for optimum safety.

Audi Side Assist monitors traffic approaching behind and alerts the driver when a vehicle could be in the driver’s blindspot. Audi Lane Assist is Audi’s lane departure warning system.

Ford invests in clean fuel alternatives

FORD believes that developing alternative fuels in four areas will give it a competitive advantage over rival manufacturers.

The company will have five different hybrid vehicles on the roads in the next three years, and continues to develop clean diesel, hydrogen combustion engines, and hydrogen fuel cells.

Bill Ford, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said: ‘Making a better world is a key element in building our company for the future, and a way to differentiate ourselves and gain a competitive advantage.

‘My great-grandfather’s vision was to provide affordable transportation for the world. I want to expand that vision for the 21st century and provide transportation that is affordable in every sense of the word – socially and environmentally, as well as economically.

‘That means vehicles that are safe, clean and energy efficient.’

Ford’s Escape Hybrid – a petrol electric compact SUV – has attracted thousands of customers to waiting lists, and the technology will also feature in this year’s Mercury Mariner.

The new Ford Fusion (below) – a large saloon destined for North America, based on the Mazda6 platform – will also have a hybrid model during 2008, as well as the Mercury Milan in three years.

Mazda’s version of the Ford Escape – the Tribute – will be the base for a test fleet of hybrids this year, with full production in two years.

GM aims to re-invent the car

GENERAL Motors’ fuel cell drive system will boast performance on a par with the petrol engine in five years’ time.

It will also match its petrol or diesel siblings in terms of durability, company research, development and planning, vice-president Larry Burns claimed at the Detroit Motor Show.

The latest concept version of the high-tech propulsion system was on display in the GM Sequel and comes three years after the AUTOnomy concept was revealed.

In that time, the technology used in the GM Sequel – fuel cells, by-wire and wheel hub motors – have developed so fast that GM has been able to double the range and halve the 0-60mph acceleration time.

The GM Sequel is about the size of a large European SUV, travels 300 miles on its hydrogen supply and accelerates to 60mph in less than 10 seconds.

By launching a trio of concept models – a diesel-electric Opel Astra hatchback, a GMC hybrid SUV and the latest GM Sequel hydrogen fuel cell vehicle – the company had made a significant step toward cutting the dependence on fossil fuels, said GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner.

He added: ‘Our ultimate aim is hydrogen fuel technology. We’re working to re-invent the car.’

Vision R to become a reality

MERCEDES-Benz unveiled petrol versions of its new M-class in Detroit. Both petrol and diesel versions of the car will go on sale in Europe in the second half of the year.

The US-built 4x4 promises improved quality, refinement and better on-road and off-road performance.

Mercedes also showed the Vision B ‘Compact Sports Tourer’ concept car unveiled in the Paris Motor Show in December as well as the Vision R ‘Grand Sports Tourer’. The company confirmed the Vision R would become the R-class in production form with different versions being offered for North American and European markets. Europe will have a shorter version than the one offered on the other side of the Atlantic.

The final Mercedes-Benz debut was the high-performance AMG version of the CLS-class ‘luxury four-door coupe’ the CLS55 AMG.

Nissan shows off baby Azeal

NISSAN could add a small coupe to its line-up in the future based on the Azeal concept unveiled in Detroit.

The first concept car to be conceived by Nissan Design America, the Azeal, if approved for production, would become the smallest car in the Nissan range in North America.

All new Nissans are now designed with global markets in mind, so if the car was introduced in America successfully, a case could be made for Nissan to bring the car to Europe.

The 350Z and Murano were not originally designed for Europe, but have since been introduced. The Azeal show car uses a turbo-charged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission and has a two-plus-two seating arrangement.

Dateline for Volvo small car

VOLVO will introduce its long-awaited new small car next year.

Company president Hans-Olov Olsson confirmed the model would be called C30 and would be significantly shorter than the S40, which is based on the Ford Focus platform. He said the styling of the four-seater coupe had been inspired by the SCC and 3CC concepts.

Back to the future with Fairlane

FORD’S latest people carrier concept has been designed to take drivers out of large SUVs.

The Fairlane, reviving a name from the 1960s when Ford gave the name to a large saloon, is aimed at people who might currently use an SUV as their family car. It is essentially a design study of how a people carrier might look in the future taking some of the styling cues of an SUV.

Retro Mustang goes topless

FORD unveiled a convertible version of its latest retro-styled Mustang in Detroit and is currently evaluating the Mustang range for sale in Europe.

Ford’s rival General Motors, with Vauxhall in the UK and Opel in Europe, already offers a V8 engined four-seater coupe in low volume with the Monaro.

The Mustang, available in North America with a choice of V6 and V8 petrol engines, would give Ford a vehicle that might appeal to Monaro drivers.

Jaguar prototype is a show-stopper

JAGUAR rolled out a prototype of the coupe it will launch as the first step in an ambitious plan to drive back to profit.

Jaguar’s best-looking model for years, it should provide tough competition for the Mercedes-Benz SL and Porsche 911. Despite a hitch with a faulty headlamp as the car was driven on to the stage by designer Ian Callum, the Advanced Lightweight Coupe was the show highlight, winning praise from industry analysts.

‘If you want to know about our future, this is the answer,’ said Jaguar chairman and chief executive Joe Greenwell.

The aluminum four-seater has more space for rear occupants and 40% lighter bodywork means its supercharged V8 engine zips from 0-60mph in under five seconds. The show car is also a hatchback. A production version of the car is expected to replace the XK range Priced between £60,000 and £70,000, it is due to arrive in 2006.

Firepower’s shining concept

AN outrageous coupe concept has a chance of becoming a production car in the Chrysler range.

The Chrysler Firepower is based on an existing platform and uses the engine that will power high performance versions of the 300C.

Sharing its platform with the Dodge Viper (Dodge SRT-10 in the UK), the Firepower also has a 6.1-litre V8 engine that will be used in the Chrysler 300C SRT-8.

Although only a concept car, it is thought that a production car based on the Firepower would act as a ‘halo’ model in the Chrysler range, as sister company Dodge has the Viper.

Your next company car?

THE new Saturn Sky roadster is all set to become the next General Motors car to reach the UK.

When it gets here it will be badged as a Vauxhall, but will be available only in left-hand drive form, according to GM vice-president of global design Bob Lutz.

The car first appeared wearing a Vauxhall badge – a prototype VX Lightning was shown in Detroit last year.

Created to spice up the dowdy image of GM’s Saturn brand, the two-seater is based on the Pontiac Solstice from UK designer Simon Cox.

With near 50-50 weight balance, the rear-drive Sky will have a 2.4-litre Ecotec engine and five-speed manual transmission.

Due to arrive early next year, the car is likely to be priced at under £20,000. This high-value fun car should be another boost for Vauxhall.

High-tech Mondeo on the way

FORD’S next Mondeo will bristle with advanced features that include lane departure warning and crash avoidance systems.

Due to be launched in 2007, the new model will benefit from equipment introduced on the Mercury Meta One concept revealed at the Detroit Motor Show, said Ford engineering chief Richard Parry-Jones.

‘Technologies like lane departure warning and collision mitigation by braking are developed on a global basis and made available for all our brands to employ. This is simply the first time they have appeared in Ford.

‘The systems will be out as early as next year on some Volvo products,’ he said. Described as an advanced research vehicle, the Mercury is the world’s first partial zero emissions capable diesel hybrid and blends a twin-turbo V6 diesel engine with an electric motor. A production version is due in 2007.

MX-Crossport for Britain?

A Mazda crossover concept could soon be heading for showrooms in Britain.

Ford’s Japanese division unveiled its MX-Crossport prototype at the Detroit Motor Show, but even though it was intended only for the US, it was now felt the design had wider appeal, said senior managing executive officer John Parker.

He said: ‘Our view is that this concept has potential applications around the world. I can’t seen why a production version couldn’t go to Britain.’

Now’s the time to reinvent the wheel

CARS and light commercial vehicles could soon be running on tyres that use no air, making punctures and pressure checks old hat. Fifty years after inventing the radial, Michelin claimed another breakthrough development when it unveiled the Tweel at the Detroit Motor Show.

Using flexible polyurethane spokes instead of an air cushion, the Tweel is said to perform better than traditional tyres.

‘Major revolutions in mobility don’t happen often, but this is one of them. We’re certain this concept will be on the road in less than 10 years,’ said Erwin Wall, a Michelin Automotive Industries executive.

Another air-free tyre concept is Michelin Airless, which doesn’t have to stop even if one or more of the radial bands break or are damaged.

The Michelin Airless is being tested on cars and motorcycles, but could be fitted to other vehicles as well.

Range Rover Sport is looking good

WITH advance deposits from more than 1,000 customers already in the bank for the new Range Rover Sport, Land Rover managing director Matthew Taylor is upbeat about the car’s future.

‘This is the best-performing and most aerodynamic Land Rover yet and it has the sports cockpit to match.

‘We’ve designed it to be road-biased, yet accomplished when the going gets tough. There’s never been a fast car better able to cope with adversity,’ said Taylor when the model was unveiled in Detroit. The fifth successive year of growth took Land Rover sales to 47,000 in 2004, and the lower, more dashing Sport looks set to win even more 4x4 fans.

The bullish Midlands company also showed off its 2006 model-year Range Rover, boasting added refinement and improved economy even though its supercharged, 400bhp engine makes it the company’s most powerful model.

The car will be launched in the UK this summer and is expected to cost somewhere between £35,000 and £80,000.

The incredible spinning Jeep

JEEP unveiled two concept cars in Detroit, although production versions are unlikely. The Jeep Gladiator is based on the Wrangler, but has two seats and a pick-up bed in the rear. Its short rear overhang would mean exceptional off-road capability and its side-mounted spare wheel harks back to the original Willys Jeep.

It also has a flexible load area, with the bulkhead at the end of the flatbed able to slide forward offering an extra 12 inches of load length.

It was shown alongside the Jeep Hurricane, which was inspired by remote-control race cars. With double the ground clearance of many off-roaders, the Hurricane also contains patented technology. Opposing front and rear wheels can steer in opposite directions, allowing the Hurricane to turn on its axis and offer a turning circle of zero. It is powered by two 5.7-litre V8 ‘Hemi’ engines – one mounted over the front wheels and one mounted over the rear wheels, offering a total of 670bhp and 740lb-ft.

Subaru unveils SUV crossover

SUBARU has unveiled a new SUV crossover which will also result in a Saab version, likely to be called the 9-6x.

The Subaru B9 Tribeca has four-wheel drive and is powered by the 3.0-litre H6 ‘boxer’ engine used in the Legacy and Outback.

Its styling will split opinion, with new grille design and strange mix of tailgate curves and sharp lines. A concept version of the Saab 9-6x is to be revealed at the New York Auto Show in March before a production version is made.

Unlike the Subaru, the Saab is expected to have just two rows of seats instead of three.

No-emissions diesel from VW

VOLKSWAGEN will be the first car company to produce a virtually emission-free diesel engine.

The claim came as the German firm unveiled its new Jetta model (below). Product development chief Professsor Wilfrid Bockelmann revealed that more than 100 researchers are working on reaching the next emission level standards, including Euro V and the tough BIN5 to be introduced in the US in 2007 to equal the Californian LEV2 legislation.

‘VW was the first to achieve Euro IV and it will be the first to achieve BIN5. But all the indications are that the solution will not come cheap,’ he said.

Bigger than before, the US version of the car has a 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine producing 150bhp. It will reach UK showrooms as the Bora at the end of the year.

MINI Cooper S auto launch

MINI launched the automatic version of the Cooper S, which should make the car even more popular in North America.

The transmission option will also be offered in the UK from February and, unlike auto versions of the MINI One and MINI Cooper, the Cooper S has a conventional six-speed Steptronic gearbox rather than a continuously variable transmission.

The transmission offers a choice of ‘sport’ or ‘comfort’ modes, while the driver is also able to select gears manually via paddles on the steering wheel.

The show also marked the debut of the Cooper S Convertible in North America. MINI sales in the USA are second only to the UK, with more than 36,000 sold in 2003, most of which were Cooper S variants.

The US is expected to overtake the UK as the largest market for the MINI in the next few years.

Renault diesel to give Infiniti power

RENAULT will develop a new six-cylinder diesel engine fit for a premium car to launch the upmarket Infiniti brand in Europe. The luxury arm of Renault’s alliance partner, Nissan, launched its new rival to the BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz E-class, the M saloon, in Detroit. It is pencilled in to use the new engine.

The M35 and M45 are derived from the M45 Concept shown in the New York Auto Show in March 2004. The M35 uses a version of the Nissan 350Z 3.5-litre V6 engine, while the M45 uses a 335bhp 4.5-litre V8.

According to Mark Igo, vice-president and general manager for Infiniti, the M was ‘designed to perform like a sportscar’ and also features rear active steering, keyless entry and ignition, active headlights and Bluetooth compatibility.

Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury brand, is being rolled out globally following success in North America, where it was launched.

The brand is also to be launched in Korea, Japan, China, Russia and Europe, but European sales will not start until the diesel engine has been developed.

Kuraza is about hospitality, not transport

INFINITI unveiled a six-door concept car in Detroit, described as a design exploration of future luxury utility vehicles.

The Kuraza has four conventional doors with the fifth and sixth doors for the third row of seats hinged at the rear.

Mark Igo, vice-president and general manager for Infiniti, said: ‘As SUVs have become the American family car and luxury features have become more common, we need to re-think what luxury owners really want.

‘The Kuraza is about hospitality, not about transportation.’

The Kuraza features luxurious ‘kimono-style’ seats for six with layered, leather and silk construction, stadium-style second and third row seating, panoramic views for all passengers with large windows, overhead glass panels, driver-oriented cockpit with analogue and digital instruments, wood and aluminium-strip inlay flooring and wood and aluminium pedals.

200mph Lexus supercar

LEXUS could be on the verge of joining an exclusive automotive club with the unveiling of a 200mph supercar concept in Detroit.

The 500bhp-plus LF-A produces more than 100bhp per litre and is the latest concept car to highlight a change in design direction for the Japanese luxury brand.

Denny Clements, group vice-president and general manager of Lexus, said: ‘The LF-A represents much more than an exercise. It is a vision of a future product.’

The LF-A is a little shorter than a Porsche 911 Turbo, but has a wheelbase nine inches longer.

It’s all change for the Kia Rio

KIA will offer a diesel version of the new Rio after the car’s launch later this year. The new five-door Rio will be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March, a hatchback version of the four-door model revealed in Detroit.

The new Rio is roomier inside than the current model, has a longer wheelbase and wider track for improved ride and handling, and the US version has six airbags as standard.

Peter Butterfield, president and chief executive of Kia North America, said: ‘The only thing we didn’t change is the name.’

The five-door Rio will be launched as a petrol-only line-up, but a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel will be introduced later, broadening its appeal for European customers.

Show diary

Acura’s wiperless screen

WINDSCREEN wipers could be a thing of the past when Japan’s latest SUV model reaches the production line.

The RD-X concept launched by Acura, Honda’s upmarket brand, replaces wipers with two powerful air vents mounted at each end of the windshield.

‘When it rains, the force of air from the vents simply blows away the droplets,’ said American Honda executive vice president Tom Elliott. ‘The RD-X will be built next year, but I don’t know if it will have a wiperless screen. It’s common practice to take a few liberties with concepts.’

Duff bulb lets the side down

A MINOR glitch proved a major embarrassment as the sleek and low-slung next-generation XK8 concept made a spectacular laser-light debut at the Detroit Motor Show.

The failure of a single headlamp bulb on the sky-blue car sent out anything but the message that chairman and CEO Joe Greenwell intended when he told the show’s biggest media gathering: ‘At the heart of our revival is a new range of products representing all that makes Jaguar such a special brand across the world.’

Later, chief designer Giles Taylor described the failure as a ‘frustration’ and added: ‘Unfortunately, it’s one of those things you can’t legislate for.’

Charger evokes memories

DODGE revived an evocative name from the past for its new model in Detroit. The Charger conjures up images of the classic car chase in the 1968 film Bullitt, with Steve McQueen driving a Ford Mustang, or the orange ‘General Lee’ from the 1980s TV series the Dukes of Hazzard.

However, the new Charger is a four-door saloon, although some of its styling details echo the original.

Based on the same platform as the Chrysler 300C, the Charger is not expected to be one of the Dodge vehicles offered in Europe when the brand joins Chrysler and Jeep in 2006.

Ridgeline pick-up is a bruiser

TOO big for Europe but big enough to frighten the likes of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler Group, Honda unveiled the Ridgeline full-size pick-up truck in Detroit.

Powered by a 255bhp 3.5-litre V6, the Ridgeline joins the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan in the Japanese attack on the domestic large pick-up truck and a sign of further pressure on the ‘big three’ US-based vehicle manufacturers.

  • Photographs: Peter Burn and MSN Auto
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