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2005 NAIAS: ASC Introduces World's First Modern, Production-intent Four Door Convertible

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Helios(ASC Photo)

Editors note: In an interview with executives at ASC, we discussed a selling price of about $60,000, if and WHEN it becomes real.....this is about $300,000 less than the estimated cost of the soon to be built Rolls-Royce 100ex derivitive. We also spoke with Dr. Dieter Zetsche, President & CEO, Chrysler Group who had a twinkle in his eye when we spoke of the Helios...we think it will be offered next's sure beautiful and unique.

Rolls Royce 100ex story

DETROIT, Jan. 9 -- Named after Helios, the mythological Greek god of the sun, the ASC Helios four-door convertible from Southgate, Mich.- based ASC Incorporated is a bright, shining reflection of the company's automotive knowledge, creative capabilities and technical prowess. ASC, a full-service specialty-vehicle design and development partner for automotive manufacturers, premiered the Helios here today at the 2005 North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center.

"From top to bottom, the Helios is inspirational, setting new standards for convertible performance, as well as offering the potential of creating an all-new vehicle segment not currently served today," said Paul Wilbur, president and chief executive officer of ASC.

With the Helios (pronounced "HE-lee-ohs"), ASC took a large, current- generation hardtop sedan and completely revamped the vehicle using a full- systems approach. An all-new, production-ready, four-door convertible was created-a vehicle that goes well beyond anything currently on the market, and an engineering solution that could be applied to virtually any hardtop car on the market today, coupe or sedan. The highly engineered prototype meets and exceeds, according to ASC engineering simulations, expectations for structural integrity and rigidity, road performance and side-impact safety. In effect, according to the company, the Helios represents a highly feasible prototype that could allow any automaker to create the first production four-door convertible in almost 40 years. The last four-door convertible anywhere in the world, the Lincoln Continental Convertible, was discontinued in 1967.

"In 2005, ASC enters its fourth decade of leadership in open-air engineering," said Mark Trostle, ASC's longtime head of design and chief creative officer, "and the Helios demonstrates that leadership in designing not just convertibles but also the full-vehicle systems necessary to make a state-of-the-art open-air vehicle possible today."

According to Jeff Steiner, ASC's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, "The Helios is a whole new kind of halo car aimed at affluent Baby Boomers and others who seek the freedom, reward and excitement of open-air driving, but combined with four-door room and comfort. There's a big 'white space' on the entire industry's marketing map for a car like this, and we think this type of vehicle might just be what the doctor ordered for OEMs looking for whole new emerging market segments."

Breakthrough Cross-car Bulkhead and Longitudinal Tunnel

To achieve the structural integrity required in a four-door convertible, ASC engineers installed an innovative, patent-pending cross-car steel bulkhead just behind the car's front seats. The bulkhead is attached to new "half" B- pillars positioned between the front and rear doors-all part of a highly engineered system that both keeps the car solid and quiet and also is there to transfer the force of a side-impact collision into the body of the car, rather than its occupants. New, front-seat mechanisms (also patent-pending) allow the front seats to nest over the bulkhead, affording continued full movement, recline and adjustment of the front seats.

Additional structural enhancements in the Pearl-Mist Green Helios include floor-pan "tunnel doublers" that run the full length of the interior, coupled with unique, bolt-on underbody reinforcements that help form a strong vehicle "backbone"-in essence, forming a super-strong, lattice-like assembly under the car. These enhancements also support and complement premium features, items that include full-size, rear bucket seats that recline 5 degrees (with adjustable head rests and an integrated roll-over protection system); frameless, B-pillarless side glass; and integrated seat belts in the front seats.

The resulting vehicle is a four-door convertible that weighs only 300 pounds more than a similar-sized large sedan. In computer simulations, the Helios displayed torsional traits (a prime measure of a quiet, stable ride) that were better than many industry benchmark convertibles, including the Mercedes-Benz CLK Convertible the Lexus SC 430 Convertible, both much smaller and shorter cars. Yet, the favorable performance of the Helios was gained without the need for installation of an unsightly, "basket-handle" B-pillar extension across the top of the car.

ASC also predicts, according to its industry-standard computer simulations, that the Helios' side-impact safety characteristics would be comparable to those of similarly sized hardtop sedans.

The Helios' project manager, Dr. Mostafa Rashidy, adds, "Our goal was to create a vehicle that exceeded the market standards for crashworthiness and rigidity, or what is also referred to as body stiffness. Rigidity is critically important to convertibles, because without it a vehicle would feel 'loose' and will have compromised handling characteristics. And, thanks to engineering breakthroughs such as our cross-car bulkhead, longitudinal tunnel and lattice-like underbody assembly, we feel we've met all those goals-and not just for this car, but for virtually any sedan currently on the market."

Topping off the Helios is ASC's patent-pending xpanse(TM) convertible-roof system. This inward-folding five-bow system, when folded down, provides a 59- inch-long daylight opening-the largest in the industry. The 5'8" top fits into an area behind the rear seats so small (18" across) that there was no sacrifice of rear-seat room, no modifications made to the decklid of the base vehicle and just a minimal intrusion made into trunk space. In fact, with the roof stowed, there is ample room for carrying four, full-size golf bags, along with four, full-size adults in the car itself. The system is operated by either one-touch articulation in the interior or via a key fob.

Sony Joins Forces with ASC

In addition to full-featured bucket seats for all occupants, the Helios offers a wide array of other creature comforts and convenience items, including fruits from ASC's new collaboration with Sony, also announced here today. Two leading-edge Sony in-vehicle systems are integrated into the vehicle, including a Sony-branded portable multi-media entertainment system and the Sony XYZ(TM) (pronounced "zee zed") three-dimensional navigation system, which made its North American debut on the Helios.

On an instrument-panel display, the XYZ(R) navigation system delivers three-dimensional, real-life images of what the driver actually sees in heading toward a desired destination. Its high-resolution, seven-inch touch screen provides a new level of picture quality, convenience and simplicity. Moreover, in addition to navigation, the entire XYZ(R) hard drive/display unit is removable from the vehicle, is capable of home docking and can store thousands of songs, snapshots and motion-video images which can be played back in the vehicle at the touch of the screen. (Note: The video is suppressed unless the parking brake is set.)

The Helios also is fitted with a Sony-branded multimedia system, providing top-quality sound and visual images. This system includes two rear-seat DVD video monitors and 13 speakers, capable of transmitting more than 400 watts of digitally amplified sound at peak levels, to provide plenty of high-quality sound, even with the top down at highway speeds. Rounding out the package on the Helios is a Sony rear-vision backup-assist camera, a full-color, high- resolution unit that is available for display on the XYZ(R) monitor whenever the vehicle is placed in reverse.

Other features on the ASC Helios include a Rain Forrest Green fabric roof, bright nickel-plated accents that wrap the car's beltline, a unique nickel- plated fascia grille, custom 20-inch nickel-plated wheels, and unique exterior and interior badging.

ASC's award-winning programs include vehicle development and sub-assembly of the Chevrolet SSR (winner of a "Gold" award in the 2004 Industrial Design Excellence Awards, or IDEA, competition sponsored by Business Week magazine); convertible systems for the Toyota Solara and Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder; and numerous appearance programs and body packages for such products as the Dodge SRT-4, Dodge Viper SRT-10 and Pontiac Grand Am SC/T. Founded in 1965 and headquartered in Southgate, Mich., the company employs more than 1,200 car nuts at ten facilities in the U.S. and Germany, and is on the Web at