Category Archive:

Toyota CS&S

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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.
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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.


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Ford Visos

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It has been quite some time since Ford of Europe has done a design study on its own. The Ford Visos design study represents Ford of Europe’s first such effort in several years.
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The Visos is not intended for production in its current form, but word has it that Ford of Europe has been considering a replacement for the long departed (and well-loved) Capri – a European automotive icon of the 70s and early 80s. Indeed, while Ford claims that its looks draw heavily on all manner of past Ford products, the Visos is clearly modeled after the Capri, particularly its side window graphics and the little scoops ahead of the rear wheel openings.
This four seat coupe is claimed to have superb packaging for four adults despite its being a sporty coupe. Compared to the Capri, the Visos has a relatively upright C-pillar, though this is cleverly disguised with the very Capri-like rear quarter window shape. Special attention was paid to making the car adaptable to the driver’s mood, from changeable mood lighting to seats that actually change shape depending on whether the driver wants comfort or aggressive bolstering. The overall look is very consistent with J. Mays’ “retro-futurist” style – very clean, simple, yet somewhat organic.
Underneath, the Visos is based on the C1 small car platform that also underpins the Mazda3, the new Volvo S40/V50, and the next generation European Ford Focus. In the case of the Visos, the car is fitted with all wheel drive, and power comes courtesy of a twin turbo 3.0L V6 capable of 350HP.
While Ford insists the Visos will not see production as shown, it is definitely gauging interest in its nouveau-Capri concept. Problem is, as attractive as the Visos may be, the market for sporty coupes, both in North American and abroad, has decreased very significantly over the decade.
Nonetheless, sports and sporty cars can bring attention to the brand, and if such a car succeeds in increasing overall interest in the brand, the car’s value can be priceless.

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Seat Altea Prototipo

Building on the 2000 and 2002 Salsa concepts, the Altea Prototipo is a near production-ready view of the all-new small MPV that is without a doubt the most unique Seat to date.
This long-awaited new entry for Seat was previewed by yet another concept, the MPV or Altea Prototipo, at the 2003 Frankfurt auto show. The concept, as well as the production model going on sale in mid-2004, is based on the new-for-2004MY Golf V. Seat expects the Altea to become one of its main products, alongside the Ibiza and Leon.
When it reaches showrooms wearing the Altea badge, it will ride on the latest Golf platform and incorporate cues from its Salsa show car predecessors from 2000 and 2002. The 2003 Frankfurt concept front features a large grille and Seat emblem and cat-eye headlights. The flowing lines of the side view will be common to Seat design in the future. The Altea is perhaps really the first Seat to truly make good Seat’s claim of being a unique alternative to Alfa Romeo. The car’s styling is fresh, different, and unmistakably Latin. And it’s very functional and practical, too boot.
The Altea Prototipo features a combination of sporty design, a dynamic driving experience, and the functionality of a mono-space interior layout. The concept backs up its sporty look with the first FSI application for Seat, using VW’s 148HP 2.0 FSI mated to a six-speed Tiptronic transmission. The concept’s nineteen-inch wheels are not likely to make production, unless on an option package, but the 2.0L FSI is likely to be one of the engines on offer.
The Altea is the first product developed after VW reorganized and moved Seat to the Audi Brand Group.
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Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch

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Ever since the introduction of the new 9-3, Saab traditionalists have been screaming about the lack of a traditional hatchback model. Despite this, sales of the new 9-3 are far exceeding those of the old model, meaning that Saab’s decision to offer the car as a notchback sedan was obviously a wise one.
Still, those Saab enthusiasts are a pretty rabid bunch, and Saab would be unwise to completely ignore their needs. Plus, with functionality being all the rage these days, why not offer a more functional bodystyle in addition to the sedan?
The 9-3 Sport-Hatch concept previews the next bodystyle in the 9-3 range, codenamed 444 and due in 2004CY.
A hatch it may be, but it’s not a hatch in the way the old 9-3 was. The four-seat Sport-Hatch concept features a fastback shape drawing from the 9-3x concept. Inside, one can find more cues inspired by the 9-3x as well. According to Saab, while the 9-3x is a coupe-meets-SUV concept, the Sport-Hatch is meant to blur the distinction between five-door hatchback and wagon bodystyles.
As no proper concept car is shown underpowered, the Sport-Hatch features the 250HP 2.0L turbo-charged four-cylinder that can be found in Aero models in the lineup, and will likely be offered in the production Sport-Hatch.
Will this bodystyle appease the Saab traditionalists? Probably not, but this wagon bodystyle is even more practical than their old Saab hatchbacks, and by any standard the Sport-Hatch is a very handsome car. It should help add some incremental sales to the already popular 9-3 sedan, and offer one more reason to check out the Saab dealer. Finally, GM is paying some attention to this high potential brand.


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Citroen C-Airlounge – Paris Auto Show

The C-Airlounge five-door hatchback concept indicates the direction of the long-awaited C6. It also indicates that Citroen may launch a bodystyle to compete against the new-for-2004MY Opel/Vauxhall Signum. The interior features an ingenious modular seating system for maximum use of space, as well as a new approach to interior lighting systems.
We may be seeing more of these types of vehicles in the future, depending on what the market makes of these vehicles. First to market, of course, was the recently introduced (and sales challenged) Chrysler Pacifica. The Mercedes-Benz R-Class is coming within the next couple of years, and while we won’t ever see the C6 in North America, the Europe-only Opel Signum is sort of a guinea pig for this concept in the European market.
The C-Airlounge prioritizes interior space and therefore features a tall roof that allows a higher seating position for all passengers. Still, the car manages to look sleek and fast. Perhaps the somewhat stiff A-pillars help prevent it from looking too much like a minivan.
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The interior is indeed roomy, and features individual seats for all five passengers. The center rear seat can be folded down into the floor, providing maximum comfort for two rear seat passengers. Also of note is the unique mood lighting system – it’s too complicated to be described here, but it really must be seen to be believed. The system can change the car’s interior color scheme instantly.
The production version of this car, the C6, is due to make it to market by fall 2005. When it arrives, the C6 will be larger than the long departed XM, positioned further away from the C-segment Xantia, and based on the PF3 upper-medium platform also used by the C5. The next-generation Peugeot 406 (2004MY) and 607 (2007MY) will also use the front-wheel-drive, transverse-engine platform.


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Audi Le Mans Quattro

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For over a decade Audi has shown concept supercars at numerous auto shows, from the all-aluminum Avus (which foreshadowed Audi’s extensive use of aluminum spaceframes) to the stunning Auto Union-inspired Rosemeyer. Still, Audi has yet to bring one to actual production.
The latest in this line of concept supercars is the Audi Le Mans Quattro, a stunning piece that in all likelihood will actually come to fruition. The working name of the 2006MY supercar is RSR, and this concept previews Audi’s first production supercar.
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Based heavily on Lamborghini Gallardo underpinnings (remember, Lamborghini exists under Audi’s wing), the Le Mans Quattro is relatively small for a supercar, meaning that it will likely be faster and wieldier on twisty two-lanes than cars like the Murcielago and Ferrari F360.
The Le Mans Quattro has numerous features that will ensure that it’s a real performer. Weight is kept down due to its aluminum spaceframe construction, as per Audi’s own A2 and A8. The engine is a 5.0L V10 that is presumably based on the Gallardo’s V10, and has twin turbochargers and a version of Volkswagen AG’s FSI direct fuel injection. This powerplant is good for a crushing 610HP. As implied by the car’s name (and consistent with the Audi brand image), the car is equipped with Audi’s Quattro all wheel drive.
Performance specs are impressive. The car is expected to accelerate from 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in a mere 3.7 seconds and has a theoretical top speed of 345 km/h, or about 215 mph.
The car’s proportions are markedly cab forward, giving the car just a hint of the visuals of the stunning Rosemeyer concept car, or going even further back, the record breaking Auto Union GP racers of the 1930s. Still, there is nothing retro about the Le Mans Quattro’s styling; the car does in fact preview some upcoming Audi design themes.
So far, word is that the RSR will be a reality, and if it’s anything like the Le Mans Quattro concept shown here in Frankfurt, wealthy enthusiasts appear to have a lot to look forward to.

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Skoda Roomster

The Skoda brand has really become a player in the European market, where the former Iron Curtain brand was the butt of countless jokes and jibes, much like Yugo was in the US. When Volkswagen AG took control of the brand, the cars were rapidly improved, and the current generation of Skodas are now merged with current and modern VAG platforms.
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In Western Europe, the brand has an image somewhat analogous to the Hyundai brand in the US. That is, it’s no longer the butt of jokes and the brand is seen as being definitely on the rise, but it’s certainly not yet aspirational or even at the level of mainstream brands like Ford or Toyota. This is despite the current Skoda products being engineered from the same component sets as Volkswagen’s core products, namely the Polo (Fabia), Golf (Octavia), and Passat (Superb).
The Skoda Roomster represents the brand’s new design direction, intended to make the brand’s cars more expressively styled while remaining true to Skoda’s values. The Roomster is a very functional small car that is presumably based off VW Polo underpinnings and is proportioned like vehicles like the Renault Kangoo, which has found success with young and active types despite its origins as a commercial delivery vehicle. This is because vehicles like the Kangoo are tall, can fit really bulky items like bicycles in an upright position, and very inexpensive. In a sense, not really too different from the Honda Element in the US.
The Roomster is less formally styled than current Skoda products but remains identifiable as a Skoda at a glance. Like other similar vehicles, it has a very high roof and a sliding rear door on the passenger side(why doesn’t it have two like most vehicles in this class?). The look is youthful and fun, and it certainly has more than enough space for people and cargo – the car’s height is the key here.
As Volkswagen AG’s entry level brand, Skoda really should try to shoot for younger buyers, and that’s precisely what the Roomster aims to do. It’s commendable that the brand isn’t trying to appeal to these buyers by building an all-too-cliche sports or sporty car, but rather a fun and useful vehicle that can fit younger buyers’ gear and lifestyles. There is no word yet on production possibilities, but such a vehicle seems like it would be a perfect addition to this rising brand.

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Opel Insignia concept

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While Opel still offers the venerable Opel Omega in Europe, sales have tailed off greatly over the last few years. First of all, the current generation was introduced for the 1994 model year, and second, demand for mainstream brand E-Segment cars in Europe has decreased greatly.
In a way, this is analogous to the US market where demand for cars like the Ford Crown Victoria has dwindled greatly, with the model appealing mainly to senior citizens, police departments, and taxi fleets. In North America, it was GM that discontinued its large mainstream sedan, the Caprice, several years ago (unlike Ford in Europe, which killed off its E-Segment Scorpio several years back).
The Opel Insignia concept shows a possible replacement for the old Omega, and applies Opel’s current and more expressive design language to a large car. Part of the Omega’s problem was that it was a bland car with a mainstream brand name. The Insignia still has a mainstream brand name, being an Opel, but it does possess far more interesting styling than the Omega ever had. In addition, the Insignia puts an emphasis on functionality and utility, being a 5-door hatch much like the upcoming Citroen C6 and Opel’s own Signum.
The concept features sliding rear doors and no B-pillars for maximum access to and from the interior, and the interior is warm, inviting, and generally looks like an upscale place to be. Opel obviously wants the car to be thought of as an upscale device, as the concept features a cigar humidor and a refrigerator for two bottles of champagne.
Will Opel replace the Omega with this car, or will it abandon the segment completely, as Ford has done? This remains to be seen, but the Insignia is, if nothing else, an elegant look into what executive transport could become in the future.

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