March/April 2000


Motor City Runway

America’s latest models hit Detroit’s catwalk
at the North American Auto Show

by Dale Malcolm


It’s no secret that the American public has had a love affair with the automobile. Every few years we get tired of the same old thing. The car manufacturers react by capitalizing on a current trend or by creating something totally new and unique. In the 1970s, it was muscle cars with huge extended hoods and tiny rear decks. This was offset in the 1980s by a combination of squeezing every mile possible out of a gallon of gas to turbo-charging anything with wheels. The late 1990s brought us a bounty of electronic gadgets and sport utility vehicles the size of small houses. This process has never been more apparent than it was this year at the North American Auto Show in Detroit.

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DaimlerChrysler PT Cruiser

The latest variation on the pickup truck craze is the hybrid Sport Utility Pickup (SUP). These are an evolution of the extended cab pickups that have been stretched into four-door trucks. The main difference is that SUP’s have a very short bed, most of them are less than 5- feet long. Chevrolet introduced the Avalanche, to be sold in 2001. This truck has four doors and a “mid-gate” that opens between the bed and the passenger compartment. This feature allows the Avalanche to accommodate a full sheet of plywood with the tailgate closed.

There were several concept vehicles that carried the SUP theme, including the Dodge MAXXcab, the Ford Equator and the Volkswagen Advanced Activity Concept.

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Chevrolet Avalanche

The recent increase in gas prices may be a factor in the latest trend in SUV’s. Ford introduced the Escape which is intended to compete with the Honda CRV and the Toyota RAV4. Smaller than the Explorer, the Escape will be offered in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations. Other SUV’s incorporating smaller platforms are the Hyundai Santa Fe, BMW X5 and the Pontiac Aztek (Sport Recreation Vehicle). Several of the smaller concept SUV’s that debuted were the Jeep Varsity, Acura MD-X and the Isuzu VX-4. General Motors even found a way to downsize the civilian version of the AM General Hummer. The Hummer II concept vehicle has the look and feel of the original in a more manageable and civilized package. While Sport Utility Vehicles get larger with each model year, they continue to outsell production.

Two years ago, the show buzzed about the re-introduction of the Volkswagen Beetle. This year it was DaimlerChrysler’s PT Cruiser. These “retro-styled” vehicles seem to defy definition: are they mini-vans, station wagons or trucks? However they are classified, they are cool! There is even a panel-truck version in the wings. With a starting price of $16,000, and a loaded version for $19,995, expect to see a lot of these head-turners on the street.

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Dodge Maxx Cab

While the most popular vehicles all seemed to have at least four doors, there were some vehicles that did fine with two. Chevrolet’s contribution to the “retro” theme was the SSR Super Sport Roadster. This is a pickup with a 6.0-liter V-8 and a retractable power roof. Chrysler showed off its 300M Hemi convertible concept vehicle. Not to be upstaged, Jaguar unveiled its F-Type Concept Roadster. Described by Jaguar as “an exercise in pure Jaguar sports car design,” its powerful stance and clean lines are reminiscent of the “C” & “D” types that were so successful on the racing circuit in the 1950s.

The glass area on these vehicles continues to increase. There are more antennas and sensors attached to the glass than ever before. Deep-set glass with the reverse-lip style trim is here to stay, as is bare-edged glass that has no exposed trim. The key to working on these vehicles is skill and time.

Large and small SUV’s, sleek and powerful convertibles, and four door pickups with the comfort of a luxury sedan. Is this what we will remember about the 2000s in 2010?  

Dale Malcolm is technical services supervisor with Essex ARG of Dayton, Ohio.



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