TRAVERSE CITY, MI – ASC Inc. is developing an open-roof version of an unnamed SUV for the ’07 model year, Vice Chairman Chris Theodore tells Ward’s in an interview.

ASC exhibited a Hummer featuring such a system at the North American International Auto Show last January. However, Theodore would not name the vehicle ASC is working on.

As displayed in Detroit, the Hummer’s roof was open from the B-pillar to the tailgate with an intermediary structure stretching between the C-pillars. The roof can be covered with a fabric developed by ASC.

Additionally, Theodore says ASC has elicited interest in an open-roof concept for minivans, also unveiled at the Detroit show in a Toyota Sienna. This version uses glass or Lexan roof panels.

Theodore sees a bright future for open-air minivan, SUV, crossover and pickup niche markets.

“We could see an additional 1 million open-air vehicles by 2012,” he says.

Although the North American and European markets long have established open-air niches, “the Asians aren’t there yet, but they will be,” he says.

ASC builds convertible versions of the Toyota Solara and Mitsubishi Eclipse for the U.S. market.

“Everybody is going to attack every niche, so the challenge will be, how do you stand out?” Theodore asks.

One way is to increase speed to market and to have a series of niches lined up to replace those that drop out.

“The biggest risk to developing niche vehicles is to cancel or defer programs. Otherwise it’s a waste of time and resources,” he says.