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Subaru Concepts Retain Environmental Spirit. Make North American Debut in Detroit.

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Subaru presented two concepts illustrating their continued commitment to preserving the future of the environment while creating fun-to-drive vehicles. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents review the Subaru concepts seen at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Subaru B5-TPH – for the Environmentally Conscious with Active Lifestyles
The first was the Subaru B5-TPH. The B5-TPH is a two door, multipurpose coupe that features a clamshell hatch. The B5-TPH reflects Subaru’s Think, Feel, Drive campaign, yet retains the DNA of an authentic Subaru. Its design is rooted around environmentally conscious individuals who have active lifestyles.
The exterior of the B5-TPH is sporty and sleek yet reflects a rugged image. It could very well provide hints toward the design characteristics of the next generation Outback. The B5-TPH set out to achieve two design themes. One was joy, for versatility, and the second was sustainability, for performance.
The B5-TPH fuses Subaru’s four-cylinder turbo engine with hybrid technology. TPH stands for Turbo Parallel Hybrid and is a strategically important technology for the power source of clean-energy vehicles. The TPH powertrain will be incorporated with Subaru’s Boxer Engine and Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive systems. The TPH powertrain will be test-launched in Subaru vehicles within the Japanese market beginning in 2007.
An electric motor provides smooth power at low speeds, and the four-cylinder turbo engine provides powerful performance in the mid- and high-revolution ranges. The powertrain in the B5-TPH places a thin, 10-kw motor generator between the vehicle’s engine and its automatic transmission. The combination of the motor-generator and the turbocharged Boxer Engine creates a system which will deliver excellent acceleration and fuel economy. For even greater efficiency, the TPH gasoline engine adopts the Miller cycle concept.
The Miller-cycle engine is an improved version of Subaru’s Horizontally-Opposed four-cylinder turbo engine. To achieve Subaru’s level of sporty performance, the engine and automatic transmission torque converter have been linked by means of the motor generator creating a simple powertrain. The Miller cycle engine leaves the intake valve open during part of the compression stroke, effectively shortening the compression stroke to avoid detonation. With assistance from the turbocharger, the cylinder is able to pack a larger “charge” than a conventional-cycle engine. The Miller cycle turbo boxer engine in the B5-TPH operates up to 30 percent more efficiently that a conventional gasoline engine, and reduces CO2 emissions. To further enhance driving performance Subaru plans to equip the system with high-performance manganese lithium-ion batteries. The technology for the manganese lithium-ion batteries was showcased in Subaru’s second concept, the R1e.


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Hyundai HCD-9 Talus Explores Luxury Sport Coupe

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Along with introducing the latest version of their Santa_Fe SUV, at the 2006 North American International Auto Show Hyundai showed off the HCD-9 Talus concept. Though the Talus was just one of the vehicles that Vehicle Voice and AutoPacific correspondents saw during the auto show’s media days, its design was among the more striking. The Talus explores what might happen by mixing a coupe with an SUV, though other concepts over the years have tested this water as well. Hyundai is looking to inspire buyers who are used to the benefits of an SUV but also are looking for sports car styling and performance.
Along with sharing an introduction, there is a similar theme to both the Talus and Santa Fe grilles and headlights, indicating this is the future direction for Hyundai styling and further emphasizing the concept’s relationship to SUVs. Hyundai called the HCD-9 Talus the future of the sports car segment, as it offers sporty car attributes along with space for four and SUV attributes.
It is a bit early to conclude they will build the Talus specifically, though styling cues from the concept and even the rear-wheel-drive platform could be seen on a replacement for the Tiburon due by the end of the decade.


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Infiniti Coupe Concept Refines G35 Design

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Evolutionary Design for Second Generation
Infiniti’s 2006 NAIAS stand prominently featured a concept done by the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan. Though badged as Coupe Concept, the model indicates the next step for the G35 coupe and sedan. Infiniti will show the sedan at the New York Auto Show in March 2006. Vehicle Voice and AutoPacific correspondents were in town to catch the show, and the Coupe Concept was not missed.
This evolutionary design brings a sharper face with more laid-back headlights and a sharper crease in the front fascia. Changes to the rear look are minimal, with the concept using taillights that are nearly the same shape as those on the current car, though the rear fascia is shallower and the rear spoiler integrated into the decklid and more subdued.


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MINI Traveler Concept: Laughing All the Way to the Bank

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If I hear another auto executive say that the B Segment is about explode I think I’m going to climb into the clock tower. The business plan goes like this. Exploding fuel prices will force all right thinking individuals to jettison their gluttonous SUVs and sprint down to the auto dealership to purchase more economical vehicles. Further increasing the prospects for success is a waiting herd of Gen Y new car buyers who are dying to drive a brand new cramped penalty box. The reasons that neither of these will happen are obvious. The former group needs utility and the later group needs cash.
While we will certainly get an increase of offerings in the segment, fuel prices and a demographic subset will not be the reasons for success for any entry into this segment. Unlike Europe, the US is not dominated by six-dollar gallons of gas and streets designed for horses. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) research indicate the B Segment will only grow if a large portion of its entries fit the bill for US consumer acceptance.
The success of MINI in the US has led many to think that the segment is ripe, and that recent spikes in fuel prices are bound to give it stellar growth. The evidence is clear, however, MINI has succeeded with product. Product that inspires passion. Go figure. You only need to look at the Toyota Echo to understand why even B Segment buyers want some passion.
MINI has also identified that fact that there are only so many middle aged buyers who will pay 40% more for a vehicle that lacks the basic utility needed for everyday use. Passion starts the fire. The mind then takes over.
What will add to the prospects for this segment are vehicles that squeeze as much utility as possible into the sheet metal of a vehicle that inspires passion. Enter, the MINI Traveler Concept.


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Lincoln MKS Concept – Japanese Flavor for American Luxury

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The Lincoln MKS Concept shown at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit will likely be added to the Lincoln lineup in 2007 as a 2008 model year vehicle. Attending an early December 2005 review of Ford auto show concept cars in Dearborn, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific analysts were struck by the Japanese and European ambiance of the car. The MKS has the presence of an Acura TL with some styling cues from Chris Bangle’s BMWs.
The MK S is another derivative of the Volvo S80 platform which is also shared with the Ford Five Hundred, Mercury Montego and Ford Freestyle. The MK S is all wheel drive and uses the Yamaha-Volvo 315HP 4.4L V8 engine found in the Volvo XC90 luxury sport utility vehicle. The MK S is deceivingly large with an 114-inch wheelbase and 204-inch overall length making it slightly larger than the Ford Five Hundred and substantially larger than the Acura range-topper, the RL. It is about the same overall length as the long wheelbase BMW 7-Series, but with a much shorter wheelbase.
While some of our staff would prefer for Lincoln to go the route of Cadillac with rear wheel drive platforms, the MK S appears to have the presence and credibilty to replace the Lincoln LS Executive Luxury Entry.
Now, the next question… what will the replacement for the venerable Lincoln Town Car look like and how large will it be? Will the next Town Car be the MK T?
Ford’s press release for the MK S is shown below


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Buick Shows Off its Enclave

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In this case, the Enclave is not really a country lying within the boundaries of the Buick, but the company’s preview of a vehicle to replace the Rendezvous crossover SUV (and Rainier?). Buick’s replacement for the Rendezvous moves to a new platform (the Lambda platform) and will carry the new Enclave name. The choice of “Enclave” demontrates how tough it is for any car company to identify catchy names for its vehicles.
The Enclave is due in early 2007 as a 2008 model-year vehicle and was shown at GM’s first press conference at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in January. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were there to get the scoop. And while getting the scoop several agreed that the Enclave may, indeed, be the first Buick they would actually consider and that this Buick may actually appeal to other than geriatric buyers.
2006 Concept: The New Vision of Buick Style
The 2006 Enclave concept closely previews the vehicle, though it still offers a significant amount of concept eyewash. Unless there is too much confusion and laughter, Enclave is the name the product is due to wear in production. The Enclave concept focuses on furthering Buick’s luxury position, with a highly sculpted and detailed design. Buick describes the Enclave name as evoking images of style, luxury, and the privacy of a quiet, protected space. The style and luxury association with the word Enclave seems a bit of a stretch when compared with the definition of the word, but the Buick concept does succeed with demonstrating images of style and luxury.

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While the concept of the Enclave may be suspiciously similar to the Chrysler Pacifica, the Enclave styling is much more upscale and serious looking. Additionally, there is likely little risk that Enclave will be confused with a Minivan or station wagon.
The interpretation of the Buick grille is nicely proportioned to the rest of the nose, and moving the portholes from the fender to the hood gives them the appearance of being functional, whether they are or not. The chrome accents are nicely done and not overdone. Among the styling elements that are more concept than production is the way the front and rear fascias completely hug the twenty-one-inch wheels. More bumper would be needed for production, and it is unlikely twenty-one-inch wheels would be offered. The jewel-like headlights incorporate GM’s version of cornering headlights, and those will be included on the production car.
Note: All Enclaves will have portholes (Cadillac calls them “gills”). Six-cylinder vehicles will have three portholes per side while eight-cylinder vehicles will have four per side.


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Volvo C30 Design Concept Very Near Production

Volvo’s star at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit was the C30 Design Concept. There will only be minor changes between the C30 Design Concept and the 2007 C30 that arrives in Volvo showrooms late in 2006. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) correspondents were on hand for the unveiling of the agressive new small Volvo at Detroit.
A Lifestyle Vehicle for the City
The C30 gives Volvo an entry to compete with the Audi A3 (introduced in 2005 in the USA) and, in Europe, the BMW 1-Series. This small, three-door coupe targets young urbanites, single or couples, but without children. Featuring the floating center console of the S40, the interior is geared for people who rarely have more than one passenger along with them, though there is seating for four. The rear liftgate allows easy access to the cargo area for daily gear, like gym bags and briefcases and laptop computers. The second-row seats fold for those infrequent occasions when C30 owners need to haul something bigger.

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Volvo sees C30 owners as urbanites with active lifestyles. In this case, active does not refer to the outdoor- and adventure-oriented lifestyles usually indicated by the term “active lifestyle.” Volvo instead has developed a vehicle that fits well into an urban active life, for people with hectic lives balancing developing careers and busy social lives. They’re looking for attractive cars with entertaining driving characteristics and terrific stereos, and are not quite so concerned with off-pavement driving, trips to Home Depot and sheets of plywood, car seats, or getting to the mountains in the middle of a blizzard. Given, too, the rising concern with fuel costs and smaller cars allegedly becoming more hip than SUVs, the C30 could be arriving at just the right time.
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Kia Soul Concept. Will it cause a stir and find life in the heart of consumers?

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Vehicle Overview
Kia showcased its Soul crossover utility vehicle at 2006 North American International Autoshow. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) correspondents were there to get the scoop.
Development was a collaborative effort between Kia’s design studios in California and Korea with styling building on last year’s Mesa concept. The vehicle’s name is a homophone and originates from Kia Motors corporate headquarters located in Seoul, South Korea.
There is a quote from the movie , Planes, Trains and Automobiles , “she’s little, but she’s strong.” The Soul sits on a small car-based platform, but its exterior has an athletic appearance flexing its muscles through large wheel arches posing on a wide-track wheelbase. The Soul has a big interior with reconfigurable cargo space designed to be flexible in function to meet active and diverse lifestyles. Front passengers sit in two semi-bucket seats, with flat folding seats in the second row. The Soul concept is front-wheel drive, powered by a 2.0L inline four-cylinder gasoline engine, equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission and manual shift capability.
The Soul roofline has an integrated roof rack and a panoramic sun/moon roof. The front section slides backward and fits over the rear section, allowing unobstructed views for both front and rear occupants. Safety was part of the Soul’s design and it is strong enough to allow the passenger doors to be mounted on rear hinges, which, when opened reveals the absence of a B pillar. This design is more convenient for rear passengers to enter and exit the vehicle.
In-vehicle technology is a major theme for auto and consumer electronic shows for 2006 and the Kia Soul does not disappoint in this area. The ambience of the Soul’s interior is all about technology, and was inspired by high-quality audio equipment. The dash area was designed around the front audio speakers and is equipped with a multimedia entertainment center, showcasing a notebook computer and multi-purpose video game monitor housed in the glove compartment area. The notebook computer sits on a tray that swings outward and becomes accessible to either the passenger or driver.
The multimedia system is also equipped with Bluetooth and MP3 technology as well as multiple USB ports, Wi-Fi and telematics. The Soul concept also has video monitors that fold up and out, similar to the way airline trays function, which are found on the back of an aircraft’s passenger seats. Lighting which surrounds the panoramic sun/moon roof illuminates the cabin. Another technology is adaptive cruise control for active driver control and convenience.

Posted in: Concept Cars

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Volkswagen Shows Concept Motorcycle – GX3

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Three-Wheeled, Two-Passenger Toy
Volkswagen AG dispatched a group of German engineers, planners and marketers to the USA to learn about the American car market. The code name for this group of traveling market monitors was “Moonraker”. The Volkswagen GX3 concept is a product of the Moonraker project.
Volkswagen’s Design Center in California worked with the Moonraker team to develop a new concept for fuel-efficient fun mobility specifically geared toward U.S. buyers. The direction was to create a quintessential and pure driving machine. The inspiration was the minimalist design language found in GP motorcycles and F1 race cars. The result is the GX3. Though not the first time that VW has studied a three-wheeled vehicle, this one the company claims may be built if reaction is positive. VW is looking beyond the typical vehicle shapes and segments to come up with new opportunities for increasing U.S. sales.
At its introduction at the Los Angeles Auto Show in January 2006, the GX3 created a mob scene when Wolfgang Bernhard, the new head of the Volkswagen group in Germany, drove the GX3 onto the stand. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were on hand to learn what GX3 has to offer. The first thing to come to mind is a striking similarity to a twenty-plus year old concept called the Trihawk that used a Peugeot front wheel drive system and a single rear wheel “dragged” along for the ride. Trihawk was purchased by Harley-Davidson in the mid-1980s but never saw production after Harley bought the brand and the vehicle. In those days, Harley was in dire straits and had no resources to expand beyond its bread and butter motorcycle lineup.


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Ford Reflex Concept Explores Small-Car Market Potential

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Reflex Introduction at 2006 NAIAS
It is said around town that Ford is considering how and when they may re-enter the (very) small-car segment, which includes cars priced from around $10,000 to $15,000 or so fully equipped. This segment is expected to see substantial growth over the next several years. These cars are smaller in size than entries like the Ford Focus or Honda Civic, and most typically wear sedan or hatchback bodystyles. Chevrolet’s Aveo, Toyota’s all-new Yaris and the defunct Echo, the Scion xA, the Hyundai Accent and Kia’s Rio are among examples of vehicles in this segment.
While the 2005 Ford SynUS concept explored the possibilities a boxy urban vehicle might provide (certainly in part inspired by the Scion xB), on the 2006 auto show circuit the concept is for a sporty small car that takes into account room for small children. Enter the Reflex. Reactions by VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) analysts are very positive.

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