Mitsubishi Considers North American Small Car Entry
The Small Car Challenge
Updated February 1, 2006
As Mitsubishi considers the option of an economy or image compact entry for North America, the ConceptCT arrives on the 2006 auto show circuit, starting with the 2006 Detroit auto show in January. The concept uses a system Mitsubishi calls MIEV (Mitsubishi In-wheel Electronic Vehicle) technology. The basics of the system, which uses outer-rotor, in-wheel electric motors to move all four wheels as well as a 1.0L three-cylinder gasoline engine, was introduced at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show. By using the electric motors and a traditional gasoline engine, Mitsubishi is creating a type of hybrid system. While the final decision on a B-segment for the States has not yet been taken, Mitsubishi is seriously considering the option, as well as exploring variations on hybrid technology.
The challenge for any maker introducing a new small car to the American market is how to cut through the clutter and make their small car entry a car buyers want rather than one they are “sentenced” to drive. Achieving an aspirational small car has been the holy grail of automakers since the days of the Pinto and Vega, but Scion and Mini have been successful of late with the xB, xA, and Cooper.
DETROIT’S MUSCLE-CAR REVIVAL: ALL ABOUT STREET CRED
The latest Mustang is a success in the image ranks and in the buff books. Its sales success has surprised even Ford and production capacity has been increased so they can sell even more. The other historic Detroit brands will revisit the rear-wheel-drive coupe idea at the 2006 North American International Motor Show in Detroit. The first announced concept is the Dodge Challenger shown below. Still under wraps is a new generation Chevrolet Camaro.
Though Ford has consistently offered a Mustang since 1964 and kept it alive (even if some iterations were less memorable than others), both GM and Chrysler Group abandoned the product formula. Mustang has the edge and success at GM, Chrysler Group, or for any other contenders requires that they establish modern-day credibility with the consumer.
In the heart of most car product planners at American car companies beats a rear-wheel-drive V8-powered coupe or convertible, going much further back than the muscle-car era that gets so much attention these days. As a result, whether timing is by design or by reaction, Dodge and Chevrolet are expected to show concepts on the muscle-car theme at the 2006 Detroit show this January.
Detroit Show Car Hints at Potential Camaro Revival
Ever since the Chevrolet Camaro was dropped for 2002 model year, die-hard Camaro fans have insisted that it will return, regardless of the business case or lack of an approved programs. Many “Camaro” photosketches found their way from someone’s daydream post to other sites labeled as “the NEXT CAMARO.” There are certainly those within General Motors who would like to revive the nameplate, feeding the fire.
The 2006 concept is said by Automotive News to be based on the Kappa platform and due for production as a 2009MY vehicle. Other sources, however, indicate that the business plan has not been approved, and it remains to be seen if the project arrives on market. The Kappa platform is the basis for the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars. There was also a Chevrolet Nomad concept car a few years ago that was absolutely gorgeous.
What’s the next “new” concept for the Chrysler Group’s successful rear-wheel-drive platform? Back to the history books. Dodge cannot resist the temptation to revive a muscle car entry, given the available rear-wheel-drive platform and current powertrains. Though Dodge may have gone this direction without the success of the latest Mustang, consumer’s response to the latest Mustang is certainly cause for inspiration.
Where the Charger played on the heritage name and some cues in an unapologetic modern package and interpretation, the Challenger is instead all about reviving an icon. The Challenger will be the star of the Dodge stage at this year’s Detroit auto show and likely previews a production car. The concept was directly inspired by the 1970 Challenger, and mirrors that shape and look as best it can on the modern platform.
Every month VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) panel members give their reactions to the styling of eight to ten newly introduced cars or trucks and interesting concept vehicles. The Internet panel is shown photos of the vehicles without identification. Their badges are Photoshopped out so only the cogniscenti might really know what the vehlcle really is. At the end of the Beauty Contest the vehicle names and manufacturers are revealed.
Over the months, we have become pretty good at predicting what will juice up the panel members. Usually a really hot sports car will do the trick. The Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice were tops for “great styling” ratings in the months they were shown. Some interesting recent results show the Ford Fusion and Lincoln Zephyr being strongly rated for having “great styling”. This is an impressive result for mainstream sedans.
As the SUV market slowly matures and minivans, while stable, do not enjoy much growth, manufacturer are again looking at family transportation alternatives. At the same time, Hyundai is expanding into new segments as they push for more sales, and has said they plan to bring two seven-passenger vehicles to market within the next couple of years. One is likely to be a version of the new-for-2006MY Kia Sedona, but the 2005 Chicago auto show Portico concept explores possibilities for the second vehicle. Described at its 2005 Chicago introduction as the next generation of family transport, the Portico’s silhouette is along the direction of the upcoming Mercedes-Benz R-Class or Chrysler Pacifica.
Portico incorporates relatively new solutions to the issue of carrying both people and stuff. Similar to the Honda Edix launched in Europe last year, the Portico featured two rows of seats with three passengers in each. The middle seat could be staggered to keep the center passenger from feeling sandwiched, or it could be folded if not needed. The benefit of keeping all six passengers in two rows is more cargo space behind the seats. Making access easier were pillarless front-hinged front doors and rear-hinged rear doors, an arrangement not likely to reach production. Modern conveniences included a DVD rear-seat entertainment system and DVD navigation and a panoramic glass roof. Should a variation of Portico reach production, the interior would likely be more conservative than the wild purple scheme of the concept.
The Portico concept was shown with Hyundai’s Lambda V6, but is being designed to also accommodate a Hyundai hybrid system under development. Both powertrains are expected to be available in a production model.
Dodge is developing a truck-based mid-size SUV, and the Nitro concept introduced at the 2005 Chicago auto show is a look at what the product might look like. The concept explores adding Dodge’s aggressive attitude to a mid-size SUV, looking to the Jeep Liberty for components and a starting platform.
The Nitro bears Dodge’s signature crosshair grille and bright red exterior paint, for a look that would slot in nicely alongside the Magnum, Ram, and Charger, as well as suggesting Dodge will further evolve this look with other products during the second half of this decade. Jewel-like headlights bore a rectangular shape (avoiding the round headlights that Jeep prefers). Silver and chrome accents could be found in the satin silver and black-trimmed roof rack and crossbars, chrome dual exhaust tail pipes, a brushed silver license plate, and in the brushed silver vents on either side of the SUV.
The satin silver continued inside, most notably on the center console, though also found on the control buttons, door handles, gauges, speakers, and assist handles. The concept interior also featured black and red two-tone interior, and a seven-inch LED screen with DVD navigation, something not found on most mid-size SUVs. The interior holds five people in two rows, with the second row and front passenger seat folding flat. Among the functional interior touches is a cargo bed that slides out for easier loading and unloading, and is also made of a tough, durable vinyl for easy cleaning. The Nitro shown focused on a solid package for seating five, as Dodge has the Durango for those who need to haul more passengers in an SUV and the Caravan for those more comfortable in a minivan.
As Dodge’s upcoming SUV is expected to share with the Jeep Liberty, but the Nitro indicates Dodge is looking for a larger entry than the Liberty. Compared with Liberty, the wheelbase of the Nitro concept was stretched four inches to about 108 inches and Nitro offers a longer rear overhang. The concept featured two rows of seats and a clever easy-load sliding surface (strong enough for people to sit on and tailgate). The Nitro borrowed its 210HP 3.7L V6, four-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive system from the Liberty.
At the 2005 Chicago auto show, Honda showed off a nearly production concept of the next Civic. As the current Civic suffered from some criticism from the influential and passionate tuner market, the concept was shown in Si form. If the concept is any indication, this time around, the Si will be a coupe, however, and not a hatchback. Honda indicated that the concept was 90% production.
At the same time, Honda announced a tighter relationship with this year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association show in November, where Honda will be the official vehicle manufacturer. The production Si will be introduced at the 2005 SEMA show, which caters to the aftermarket and tuner markets, a highly important segment of Civic sales. The Si will get a 200HP VTEC mated to a six-speed manual transmission; the concept wore eighteen-inch wheels and tires and a large but relatively conservative spoiler. Styling is sleek and streamlined, with a very short hood and wheel wells wrapping around the concept’s eighteen-inch wheels and tires.
For the rest of the Civic range, the sedan and coupe will also arrive in fall 2005. An updated hybrid will be offered and Civic will continue to offer a natural-gas-powered version.
Ever since the demise of the Corrado in 1995, Volkswagen has not had an overtly sporting model in its lineup. Sure, there have been sporty versions of its mainstream models, but a pure sports model has been lacking from the VW lineup for years.
And it makes perfect sense – sports and sporty cars have declined in popularity worldwide as people have instead become attracted to vehicles that offer functionality and practicality along with high image (like SUVs). VW was forced to abandon the sporty Corrado because buyer interest faded.
Hardcore VW enthusiasts have been moaning about the death of the sporty VW ever since, and now it looks like they may soon have reason to rejoice. The Concept R is a design study for a pure sports car that is arguably more focused on pure performance than any VW before it, and word has it that the car will be produced, at least for the European market.
Based around Golf V components, this two-seat roadster is nonetheless an extremely unique model in and of itself. For starters, the Concept R is a mid-engine, rear wheel drive design, like many of the most renowned sports cars. The concept is powered by a 265HP version of the 3.2L V6 engine that currently powers the Touareg V6 and the upcoming Golf R32. VW’s acclaimed DSG gearbox transfers this power to the rear wheels. For those not familiar with DSG, this is a semi-auto manual transmission that utilizes a secondary clutch to keep the next gear engaged and ready to go in the blink of an eye, unlike competing systems that feature a noticeable lag between shifts. It also features a full automatic mode, allowing automatic-style ease of use and refinement with manual transmission fuel economy. Really, the best of both worlds.
The exterior is wildly expressive for a VW, featuring many design cues never before seen within the VW brand. It’s less Bauhaus and more organic. The interior is also very organically styled for a VW, and it does feature some interesting features, like seats that can be adjusted for firmness.
While AutoPacific does not forecast the budget sports car market to undergo a significant resurgence anytime soon, such a car can have a positive halo effect on the brand – which can sometimes make this kind of car worth doing (just look at what the new Z is doing for Nissan). The fact that the VW brand is showing signs of stagnation in the US could make this car worthwhile, perhaps creating some buzz for the lineup in the way the New Beetle did in 1998. If VW can produce this car for a reasonable price (avoiding the brand’s current upscale meanderings), a production version of the Concept R could be very enticing indeed.
It’s pretty safe to say that Toyota is way ahead of the game when it comes to hybrids. Whether or not hybrids are the way of the future certainly remains to be seen, but as of right now, no one makes a better hybrid than Toyota. Because Toyota got into the hybrid game early (1997 in Japan), Toyota has been refining the concept longer than anyone else, and it shows.
The new Hybrid Synergy Drive system is Toyota’s second generation hybrid system and offers numerous advantages over its first generation system. It relies more heavily on the electric motor, meaning better fuel economy. The system also allows the air conditioning to be used while the motor is stopped, say, at a stoplight. Overall, it’s just plain more efficient and advanced than the other hybrid systems on the market, or coming soon to market, for that matter.
Toyota wants to show that hybrid powertrains have their place in more than just bland little sedans. Therefore, they installed the latest Prius’ Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain into a 2-seat, mid-engine roadster concept call the Toyota CS&S. About the size of an MR-2 Spyder, the CS&S is an attractive little piece, but the real point of interest is its hybrid powertrain.
Over the next few years, Toyota plans on introducing its hybrid powertrains in a variety of cars and trucks. Furthermore, its Lexus subsidiary is also introducing hybrids – but tuned more for performance. For Lexus vehicles, hybrid powertrains will be offered as the performance option, starting with the 400HP RX400H.
In the meantime, Toyota will be pitching its hybrid offerings as environmentally friendly and totally transparent to the use. Unlike first generation hybrids, Hybrid Synergy Drive powered vehicles are not slow or have that engineering student science fair feel about them.