The North American International Auto Show is one of the premiere events for the international automakers and a must-see for the media who want to be up on all the newest developments. What else would get us to gather in downtown Detroit in the middle of winter? While it's exciting to be one of the first to see all the new production and concept vehicles, the best part of being at the NAIAS is getting a feel for the trends the OEMs are setting with each vehicle unveiling. Sometimes the carmakers are showing you bits and pieces of production cars that are already in the works, and oftentimes the public's reaction will inevitably dictate whether a styling or technology trend makes it into production. We were there trying our best to read between the lines and want to share with you our take on upcoming 4x4s.
Build This Jeep!
If DaimlerChrysler doesn't build the Rescue it will be a mistake. Making the transition from concept vehicle to production vehicle could be as easy as leveraging the Heavy Duty Ram platform for the chassis and drivetrain and putting a new Jeep body on it. A fullsize Wrangler on 38s sounds good to us, don't you think? Depending on the marketplace, the Jeep Rescue could be positioned as an H2 competitor with the upscale high-adventure interior and air suspension shown in this concept, or as a back-to-basics SUV that would have all the hard-core components (like a Hemi V-8 or Cummins diesel) for us gearheads who want a larger 4x4. The styling is 99 percent of the way there (don't hold your breath for the carbon-fiber body!), because the Jeep look has never strayed from what it should be. Give us front and rear lockers (they only exist on paper for AAM axles at this point), the option of a manual transmission (the concept had it), and 37-inch MT/Rs on Hutchinson bead-lock wheels and we'll wheel a path to the dealership.
Bronco Could Go Either Way
It's no secret Ford is relying on retro-styling for its most exciting new vehicles ('04 GT and '05 Mustang), so it shouldn't surprise you Ford's latest 4x4 concept looks an awful lot like a '66-'77 Bronco. But what you don't know is that the idea of a new Bronco has been kicked around inside Ford for years as both a large SUV built on the Super Duty platform and as a Wrangler-size SUV built off the Ranger platform. It's hard for us to predict which version will see production when it doesn't seem that Ford's even figured it out yet! Given the success of the H2 and the appearance of the Jeep Rescue concept this year we'd like to say a fullsize Bronco is in the future, but our Ford sources are giving us a vibe that it's leaning toward a smaller vehicle for the off-road market. The fact that this new concept Bronco looks so much like the original reinforces that assumption. Please, Ford, just don't rebadge the Escape with the Bronco name.
In other Ford news we've seen some prototype '05 Super Dutys running around with solid axles (Dana 60) and coil-sprung front suspensions similar to what Dodge offers on its Ram HDs. And we're hearing reports of a larger, 6.4L Power Stroke diesel engine in the works. We've even started fielding questions from Ford personnel about what kind of hardware we'd like to see in the ultimate 4x4...could be something, could be nothing. We'll keep our fingers crossed!
While the rest of the automotive media at the Detroit Auto Show was reeling over the Toyota FTX concept's radical appearance and talk of a hybrid V-8/electric drivetrain, we saw hints of the 31/44-ton Tundra that we've been hearing rumors of for the last two years. Here's why. We know Toyota is opening a plant in San Antonio to build trucks starting in 2006. We know Toyota is interested in building a horsepower image with middle America through its new NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series program. And we've heard from product planners at both Dodge and Nissan who are worried about a larger diesel-powered (31/44-ton) version of the Tundra on the horizon.
We say the FTX concept looks too bold to be just an update for the current Tundra. And a Texas assembly plant sounds like the right place for Toyota to build a real fullsize truck. For our money there's no doubt that a bigger, more powerful truck is coming from Toyota, and we'll wager a diesel version will be available by 2007. The current Tundra and Tacoma have won Toyota a lot of credit with truck buyers, and based on Nissan's early success with the larger-than-life Titan, we think the Big Three better step it up if they want to keep selling so many trucks.
Nissan's All New
Those Nissan engineers must be working a lot of overtime, because in two years they've redesigned almost their entire line of trucks with this new '05 Pathfinder and Frontier. Styling for the new midsize siblings is simply a scaled-down Armada and Titan but on a ladder chassis that shares parts with the Titan (the previous Pathfinder was unibody). Cleary even Nissan acknowledges that the old supercharged V-6 wasn't cutting it so a new 4.0L V-6 engine that promises more than 250 hp looks to be the standard engine.
Both 4x4s will offer five-speed automatic transmissions, but the Frontier will be available with a six-speed manual. We're hoping for a granny-low First gear. The Frontier also offers a spray-in bedliner and "Utili-track" bed channel tie-down system. But for us some of the biggest news comes from underneath the Nissans. Hopefully we weren't the only ones who took the time to notice, but the Frontier had a selectable rear locker that is driver-selectable by a switch on the dash. Way to go, Nissan! We asked if the Pathfinder's independent rear axle would also get the locker, but the answer we got was a negativo.
Our long-range predictions for Nissan also include a 31/44-ton variant of the Titan with a serious diesel engine. Whether it ever happens depends on how well the current Titan does, and how well Toyota's larger Tundra sells.
If you've ever been late on a homework assignment and handed it in anyway hoping to get some credit from the teacher, then we think you'll understand the Concept-T Volkswagen rolled out in Detroit this year. We could be wrong, but the radical looks of the crossover sports car/off-roader seem dated now that VW sells a production version called the Touareg. We're not bashing VW-we liked the V-8-powered Touareg so much we named it 4x4 of the Year-but VW could have come up with something better to show off the new 5.0L V-10 twin turbodiesel engine also on display this year. Heck, the Concept-T only had the 241hp V-6 base engine. We would have built a Touareg bulldozer and slipped the new V-10 between the framerails!
Volkswagen's new V-10 twin turbodiesel will offer 310 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque and be backed by a six-speed auto transmission and New Venture Gear transfer case just as in the 310hp and 302 lb-ft V-8 model currently available. According to VW's own data, the Touareg will gain almost 500 pounds with the diesel engine option, but will have similar performance numbers and better fuel economy.