Fields, rather than factories, cause land disputes for GM

General Motors Corp. has given up on building a vehicle distribution center on farmland in rural Milan Township, MI, and says the idea likely has been dusted, along with 45 jobs. GM will now sell the 140 acres. Meanwhile in urban Warren, MI, GM is facing opposition over plans to develop 300 acres that it has rarely used since buying the real estate some 50 years ago. GM has used the grounds for marshalling company cars and as a dirt and heavy equipment depository for the renovation under way at the nearby Warren Tech Center. Zoned heavy industrial, GM considered using the land for a Tech Center expansion, but opted to refurbish the existing campus. That made the acreage expendable, and GM has hired an urban planner to help decide how to use the land. Residents want the land undisturbed and say deer would be displaced.

Isuzu plans Sport Trac competitor, low-priced SUV

American Isuzu Motors Inc. will have a short-box sport/utility vehicle (SUV) on sale in 2003, and it will show off a new low-priced SUV concept - also headed for production - at the upcoming Detroit auto show, President and Chief Executive Yasuyuki Sudo tells WAW's. Mr. Sudo says the Ford Explorer Sport Trac competitor will be built off a "Rodeo-type" platform. It is unclear whether this will be a platform Isuzu will share with General Motors Corp. The new low-priced SUV is dubbed the BVX. It is said to be larger than the current Isuzu Trooper and could start as low as $15,000. Mr. Sudo doesn't reveal when it will hit the market. But the company's upcoming Axiom SUV, which will be in showrooms in April, bowed at the New York auto show last spring, so a similar timetable might be possible.

Ford pursues valve deactivation, new family of I-4 engines

Ford Motor Co. says it will produce a variable- displacement (valve deactivation) engine in calendar 2005 as part of a promise to improve its sport/utility vehicle (SUV) fleet average fuel economy by 25%. In addition to that power-plant, the automaker says it will use a new continuously variable transmission on its small SUVs and launch production of a new family of 5- and 6-speed automatic transmissions for its bigger models between now and 2005. It also will employ variable valve timing on a number of engines and continue a switch to 3-valve head designs - all aimed at hitting its 25% improvement bogey. Meanwhile, launch of a new 2.3L, 16-valve 4-cyl. is under way in a $400 million upgrade at Ford's Dearborn Engine & Fuel Tank Plant. Production of the I-4 engine family is projected to be 2 million units annually by '04. Initial U.S. application is in the '01 Ford Ranger.

Delphi, UAW team up in NASCAR campaign

Delphi Automotive Systems, along with the United Auto Workers union, announces it will jointly sponsor a team to run in the popular National Assn. for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) circuit in the 2001 season, beginning in February. The announcement came at the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo in Las Vegas on Halloween day. Delphi's booth looked like Frankenstein's lab, with a monster laid out under a massive white tarp. With Las Vegas glitz, the monster was raised from the table, revealing the No. 25 car underneath. Delphi and the UAW team up with Hendrick Motorsports and driver Jerry Nadeau in preparing the car for competition. The UAW already sponsors a NASCAR team with GM. That relationship remains unchanged.

If a downturn's coming, Subaru doesn't see it

The growing number of crossover utility vehicles coming to market will put some pressure on Subaru of America Inc., but not enough to curb the 10% sales growth the importer is targeting for 2001, SOA Chairman T.K. Saito tells WAW. In addition to the 10% sales rise next year, he predicts annual growth of 7% to 8% between 2002 and 2005, when the company will reach a volume of 240,000 units. The Subaru chief says he expects the crossover segment to grow rapidly this decade. That's why he is not concerned about Subaru's volume eroding, despite the increasing competition. This year, SOA's sales should total about 171,000 units, the highest tally since 1988. The equity alliance formed earlier this year between Fuji and General Motors Corp. may result in other products being made available to SOA. There also is talk of GM supplying a hybrid powertrain to Fuji and of the automaker using some of its excess capacity around the world to build Subaru vehicles.

Don't get stuck in a bog - get a Unimog!

DaimlerChrysler AG's Freightliner Corp. confirms it will introduce an all-terrain vehicle with serious off-road capabilities similar to General Motors Corp.'s Hummer large sport-ute. Called Unimog (a German acronym for Universal Motorized Unit), the existing version is sold by Mercedes in 150 countries and used solely for commercial purposes. It will wear a Freight-liner badge in the U.S. Freightliner will start production in late third quarter 2001 with delivery to North American customers possibly prior to year's end. There's no word on sticker price, sales volumes or production location. Unimog comes standard with all-wheel-drive, and powering options will be the Mercedes MBE 904 4-cyl. and MBE 906 6-cyl. engines. The powerplants will be coupled with a standard automated-mechanical transmission, a combination of manual and automatic gearboxes. A wheelbase of up to 141 ins. will be available.

VW shying away from' platform strategy'

Savvy European buyers have gotten wise to Volkswagen AG's all-encompassing "platform" production strategy - and now VW chief Ferdinand Piech appears to be looking for some wiggle room. For instance, a vehicle from VW's low-priced Skoda brand enjoys the same major components as a vehicle from the Audi prestige division. Buyers can eschew the trappings of upscale brands and still get roughly the same car for a lot less money. Now Mr. Piech is speaking of a refinement of the platform strategy. The answer, he says, is "joint production systems," which will have a wide range of models, possibly, sharing major components. VW is cautiously spinning this new course as "phase two" of the platform-sharing strategy, reports the Wall Street Journal. But Mr. Piech does offer in a separate interview that by 2005 he envisions 11 of the new joint production systems - and VW currently builds all of its vehicles on just four major platforms.

American Suzuki stretches Grand Vitara

American Suzuki Motor Corp. says its '01 Grand Vitara XL-7 will be the first small sport/utility vehicle to market offering standard 7-passenger seating. The XL-7 is a stretched version of the company's successful Grand Vitara, but calling it a small SUV is a bit of a stretch. It's 20 ins. longer than Grand Vitara, 18 ins. longer than the Toyota RAV4 and 10 ins. longer than the Ford Escape. Besides, the XL-7 is the biggest passenger vehicle Suzuki has ever built. Call it what you want, the XL-7 is a unique package because of its third row, which accommodates average-size adults thanks to second-row seats that slide fore and aft. The base 2-wheel-drive version has a suggested retail price of $19,800, and the 4-wheel-drive rendition starts at $21,000. Power comes from a 2.7L all-aluminum twin-cam V-6. Dealers begin receiving the XL-7 in December. Projected sales for '01: 30,000 units.