The 1995 version of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) a.k.a. the Detroit Auto Show is -- in a word -- explosive. WithMotor Co's 1996 Taurus/Sable bowing amid billowing smoke, fire and earthquake effects, 's '96 minivan leapfrogging over Chairman Bob and President Bob Lutz, and Pontiac's Grand Prix 300GPX showcar punching through a curtain of flame, it's clear the excitement (not to mention cash) is back in the auto industry.
Record throngs share in the industry's new-found furor, setting several new show records including: 4,400 attending media, 10,140 Supplier Preview Days registrants, 13,527 guests at the black tie charity preview, a one-day attendance of 135,210 (Jan. 14), and total attendance of 703,709.
The masses, as well as seasoned industry watchers, were caught off guard by the sudden appearance of the redesigned Taurus/Sable with sleeker, lower lines and an elliptical, sculptured look. Other surprises include two decidedly different ideas for GM's W platform plans for 1997 -- the 300GPX and Oldsmobile's Antares -- and the relative low profile of the Japanese makers. The proliferation of sport/utility vehicles at virtually every exhibit leaves no doubt of their importance to automakers.
Splashy introductions of new American products give this year's NAIAS an overwhelming red, white and blue tint, yet the growing presence of suppliers like Michelin, Delco Electronics Corp., Johnson Controls and Gm's Saginaw Div. makes it a little more like European shows.
Looking past the smoke, mirrors and otherwise Hollywood-style unveilings the industry's designers make a big impact with a full set of concept car showings.
One of the most talked about concepts in Detroit is theAtlantic, spawned from a sketch by Mr. Lutz, says design VP Tom Gale. Actually Atlantic was a collaboration between Mr. Lutz and engineering Vice President Francois Castaing (see Auto Talk, p.23).
Chrysler's other concepts -- Plymouth Back Pack and Eagle Jazz -- are sporty, futuristic creations compared to the retro classic look of Atlantic. The result of an effort to re-invent the dune buggy, Back Pack is built on a Neon platform for "young, active people who want to go everywhere, do everything and have a great time doing it." But its chances for production, says Chrysler, are slim. The aerodynamic gumdrop Jazz, called a representation of Eagle's future, is a possible future Eagle JA entry.
's impressive stable of concepts include a full-size Triton pickup, said to be close to the F-series makeover coming for 1997 -- complete with hood hump to compete with macho-looking Dodge Ram. Ford also debuts a Shostar minivan, a Windstar with a SHO engine, aiming to divert attention from Chrysler's new minivans.
Moving upscale, Lincoln-Mercury folks insist there are no plans to produce the elegant Lincoln L2K roadster, which was a hit with the media. However, Ford insiders say the company covets a small luxury roadster, so L2K's out there to test public reaction. Ford also shows the GT90, a much more futuristic concept supercar with an aggressive, decidedly non-aero stance. it's not at all likely to become a production vehicle, since the company hasn't even test-driven the potential rocket.
Buick's XP2000 -- with its more traditional lines and styling - looks more like a future midsize production sedan than an advanced concept. But you can't judge a book by its cover. XP2000 has just about every realistic futuristic gadget imaginable. Features include a remote keyless system for setting the car's seats, climate controls and vehicle dynamics for specific drivers; a system that automatically charges tolls, fuel and other travel costs; a head-up display that can be used with a personal computer; a navigation system; eight air bags and an obstacle-detection system.
Three concepts are more harbingers of things to come than design and engineering exercises. Acura's CL-X concept, for example, will be a North American-built luxury sports coupe fitting between Integra and Vigor in the current lineup.
With an intentional resemblance to the very popular new-for '95 Aurora, Oldsmobile debuts its Antares, which General Manager John D. Rock says the marketing folks told him he couldn't say, "Looks a lot like the new (1997) Cutlass Supreme."
And, Pontiac General Manager John Middlebrook says a production version of the 1995 300GPX concept car -- probably with Grand Prix badging -- will be on display at next year's Detroit show. This year the vehicle debuts with supercharged 3800 V-6 power capable of 300 hp, 335 ft.-lbs. (454 Nm) of torque and a 0-60 time of 6 seconds. Styling is a strong point, giving the 4-door the lines of a coupe. The 300GPX is longer and wider than the current Grand Prix, has three more inches in wheelbase (I 10 in.) and -- they say wide track's back -- six more inches in track.
Beyond the concepts, sport/utility vehicles, minivans and pickups are taking their rightful place among the meat and potatoes of the industry. That's not surprising, since these are the very autos doing the most to resurrect a once-foundering North American industry.
Proof of SUV popularity is in the SUV concepts on display in Detroit, including's stylish bright-yellow HCD-III. The full-time all-wheel-drive vehicle is built on a car platform. also takes the wraps off its idea for the next generation SUV -- the XU-1. Built on the Trooper platform, the XU-1 has gull-wing doors and sleek, aggressive styling.
A showcar bound for showrooms this fall is's two-passenger X-90, which the automaker says bridges the gap between the subcompact car and the compact SUV segments.
So important is the SUV segment that Chevrolet and GMC Truck, in an unprecedented move, jointly unveil Tahoe and Yukon. "We feel a lot of people have outgrown Explorer and Cherokee," says GMC General Manager Roy S. Roberts during a carefully rehearsed duet with Chevy's Jim C. Perkins. Gm's offerings are positioned between the Blazer/Jimmy and Suburban a market that so far belongs to the two divisions. "We see about 19 months without strong competition," says Mr. Roberts.
AM General Corp.'s newest version of the Hummer military vehicle-turned commercial SUV debuts with a gas engine option, auxiliary seating for eight, upgraded HVAC, seat-back storage pockets and a lighted vanity mirror.
Minivans and pickups also grab a few headlines, thanks in no small part to Chrysler's van-jumping stunt. The new Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager and Chrysler Town & Country feature a cab-forward design, an optional left-side sliding door, "easy out" roller seats, dual-zone climate control and memory seats and mirrors. They will hit dealer showrooms in the spring.
Dave Illingworth, head of's North American operations, kicks off what he calls "the year of the truck and sport/utility vehicle for Toyota" introducing the company's T100 XtraCab pickup. Three more truck intros will follow this year, says Mr. Illingworth. Toyota's sixth-generation compact pickup, Tacoma, will bow this month at Chicago, followed by a revised Land Cruiser in April, and the RAV4 mini-SUV (built on the Celica platform) by year's end.
In other show news:
* Chevrolet shows a C/K pickup with a rear access door. It'll be available as an option on 1996 models for about $500.
* Acura introduces an open-top version of its NSX luxury sports coupe, the NSX-T.
*unveils four new models for the North American market: two long-wheelbase versions of the 1995 7-series, the 75OiL and 74OiL; the M3 Luxury Edition; and the 318ti.
*introduces its new Accent, which replaces Excel when it goes on sale this month
* Jeep/Eagle Div. unveils its 1996 Eagle Vision TSi with Autostick, an automatic transmission that can be operated like a manual.
* Automobili Lamborghini offers its re-engineered 1995 Diablo VT. Enhancements: a lighter clutch and deeper and wider seats.
* Porsche Cars North America will bring out a new model every six months over the next few years. Next up is the 911 Carrera 4 AWD with Triptronic transmission.
*is one of the more active Japanese automakers at the show with three new-model introductions: 1995 1/2 Esteem GL and GLX that will reach dealers in April and 1996 Sidekick Sport.
*says it will launch a new diesel strategy in the U.S. in 1995 that will downplay traditional diesel marketing concepts and focus on pushing the engine as a high-tech "alternative fuel" powerplant.