May/June  2001    


It is the job of car and truck designers to attempt to predict future trends, and design vehicles to meet those trends two to four years in the future. By judging the designs of the concept cars at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it appears the majority of people buying cars will either be mountain bikers, rock climbers or snowboarders, and traffic jams will force many people to travel off-road on their daily commute. 

I say this in jest because of the proliferation of all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive concept cars at the auto show. The Nissan Xterra started the advertising trend of marketing to Generation Y—those born between 1977 and 1994. These are the people you see in the commercials who apparently don’t have jobs and spend all day surfing, skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, skateboarding, mountain biking or camping. According to Honda, this group accounts for more than a quarter of the U.S. population at 71 million people. This is the target market for many of these multi-purpose vehicles. They have durable, easy-to-care-for interiors and don’t look like a family vehicle. 

The Honda Model X and the Isuzu GBX share a similar look. They are very simple shapes with a large interior space able to adapt to a multitude of uses. The Isuzu makes use of an exoskeleton frame that gets its shape from the stagecoaches of the Old West.

The Honda Model X.

The Cadillac Vizon is one of several concept sport utility vehicles (SUV) that blur the lines between sport utility and sport coupe. This vehicle and the Pontiac REV are all-wheel drive high-performance/luxury vehicles. Following along these lines is the GMC Terracross, which is sized more like a conventional SUV. The Terracross concept vehicle sports a three-piece glass-panel roof capable of opening up two-thirds of the roof to the outside. 

The Isuzu GBX.

OEM Industry Increases Use of Primerless-to-Paint Bonding

According to an article in the Essex ARGosy, the newsletter for Essex ARG in Dayton, Ohio, there is a new trend in the original-equipment manufacturers industry to utilize primerless-to-paint bonding when installing original windshields. By utilizing a primerless-to-paint adhesive, a pinchweld primer is no longer needed and the adhesive can bond directly to the paint. Thus, installation steps are reduced, as is material handling, inventory and paint mutilation in the vehicles.

In addition, this trend also is helping the environment by reducing the number of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) that are released into the air through pinchweld primers. According to Essex, the trend reduces the volume of VOC’s emitted into the air by approximately 200,000 pounds per year.

Despite this increase, Essex says this trend will not affect the automotive aftermarket industry because replacement urethane is applied to the old urethane surface, so primerless-to-paint urethane technology is not required in the aftermarket.

The Japanese and the Europeans have joined the game with two German off-road capable luxury sport coupes. The Audi Steppenwolf Project concept vehicle has the familiar feel of an Audi Quattro with a removable roof and an interior that looks like modern art. The BMW X coupe concept vehicle looks like a Z3 hardtop on steroids. Its unique feature is the roof’s ability to asymmetrically open up the back half of the car. The Volvo Adventure Concept Car has achieved a fine balance between sport wagon and sport coupe. While this concept vehicle will not appear in showrooms in this form, many of its features will make it into production. 

The BMW, X-Coupe.

The Nissan FX45 sport wagon concept is powered by a V-8 engine and is described by its designers as a “bionic cheetah.” It is “all-weather, not all-terrain,” according to Nissan vice president for product development, Patrick Pelata. The FX45 has an all-in-one LCD monitor that combines many gauges and functions into one panel. It also has Internet and e-mail access. (If only it had a microwave, too.)

Ford and General Motors showed off their plans for the future of the internal combustion engine. Less emission and better gas mileage are always welcome, as long as there is no drop in performance. Ford has announced plans to introduce a hybrid electric version of the Escape SUV for the 2003 model year. This combination of a four-cylinder engine and an electric starter-generator is predicted to deliver 40 miles per gallon with the performance of a six-cylinder engine. The General Motors ParadiGM hybrid system uses a full-sized engine with a pair of electric motors coupled to a transaxle. The air conditioner is driven directly from the gearbox, allowing it to be powered by either the electric motors or the gas engine. GM States: “ If all of the SUV’s sold in the United States each year were powered by GM’s gasoline/electric ParadiGM hybrid system, it would save enough gasoline to reduce crude oil consumption by 33 supertankers per year.” 

One surprising production vehicle to be introduced is the Pontiac Vibe and its sister vehicle, the Toyota Matrix. These are small vehicles with the features of a SUV, compact car and a sport wagon all in one. The Pontiac Vibe will be available with a Monsoon six-speaker premium audio system and there will be a 110-volt AC outlet in the dash for a variety of electronic devices. It is powered by a 1.8-liter, 16-valve engine and all-wheel drive. The Toyota Matrix will have a similar offering with slightly different styling.

Ford has announced a limited edition Mustang that is based on the 1968 Fastback Mustang GT 390 used in the Steve McQueen movie “Bullitt.” Though this is the age of computer-generated special effects, one of the most exciting car-chase scenes ever was filmed in this car more than 30 years ago. Introduced as a concept car at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show, the 2001 Bullitt Mustang has had some interesting modifications. The C-pillars and quarter panel moldings have been given a special look. The car sports 17-inch Bullitt-style aluminum wheels and lowered suspension. Production will be limited to about 6,500 units.

Last, but not least, is the re-born Mini Cooper, now owned by BMW. This is the 2001 version of the classic Mini introduced in 1959. It may look small, but the interior is surprisingly roomy. It has six airbags and can be easily produced in right- or left-hand drive. Option equipment ranges from a CD player with Harmon Kardon speakers, sunroof, leather seats or rain sensor windshield wipers. The 1.6-liter, 16-valve engine has 115 horsepower (hp). A 160-hp supercharged version is coming in the Mini Cooper S.

From the largest of sport utility vehicles to the smallest passenger car, the North American Auto Show had something for everyone. 

As for me, I am going to look into getting a four-wheel drive to carry my mountain bike. After all it is 2001 … 

Dale Malcolm is the technical services director for Essex ARG of Dayton, Ohio.