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Coming Up Tomorrow - Maybe

by Bob Hagin

January 22, 2001

The auto industry is always making new vehicles it hopes will capture the imaginations of potential buyers. Today's feature lists a few of the current crop of "concept cars" that may or may not make it off the end of an assembly line:

VOLVO ADVENTURE - Even stoic Volvo is climbing onto the boppy on-road/off-road bandwagon. The company makes much of its Cross Country awd (all-wheel-drive) station wagon but, alas, it's just another station wagon with all-wheel-drive. Not so with its Adventure Concept Car that's probably going to be marketed here in 2003. It's based on the Cross Country but quite a bit taller and wider. It's bound to be a heavyweight since the base Cross Country comes in at over 3300 pounds. The powerplant is to be the same five-cylinder turbocharged engine, probably with updates, that currently puts out 195 horses. Its entry and departure angles (indicators of its ability to climb into and out of steep terrain) are high and the traditional Volvo boxy profile is a thing of the past. Maybe Ford's acquisition of the company infused it with a dash of joie 'd vivre.

NISSAN Z - This one jogged my own personal memory banks since I was working as a mechanic in a Datsun dealership when the original Z-Car came on the market in 1970. Lots of water (and red ink) has passed under the corporate bridge since then, including a name-change to Nissan and an ownership change to Renault of France. The new Z is once again front-engined and rear-driven with a 250-horse V6 that promises a 0 to 60 time of around six seconds. Like most modern sports cars, its lines are very much on the bulbous side and it seem to have derived its inspiration from the Audi TT Coupe. Like its illustrious ancestor, it's a hatchback with room for only two: the driver and a lucky passenger. Although the reappearance of a modern Z has been kicked around for several years, it took the French board of directors to edict that it will come to fruition in 2003.

VOLKSWAGEN MICROBUS - It's going to be hard for Volkswagen to come up with a retro that will match the wild public acceptance that greeted its introduction of the New Beetle in 1998, but the company is going to try. We all remember that architypal Hippy wagon of the '60s, the VW Microbus, and how it became the canvas for thousands of psychedelic paint jobs. These are the fond memories Volkswagen will be trying to tap into when it introduces its New Microbus. The new version is based on the current Eurovan that's sold here in limited numbers, probably because it's large, boxy and underpowered in the highly competitive minivan market. The new Microbus gets away from that very Teutonic utilitarianism with a soft, curvy silhouette and hopefully enough power to keep up with traffic, a problem that has plagued its ancestors.

MITSUBISHI ASX - As if we don't have enough sport/utility vehicles on the market, Mitsubishi is set to introduce yet a third one to compliment its large Montero and its almost-as large Montero Sport. In truth, the Mitsubishi ASX is one of the new breed of SUVs that are actually sedans with attitudes. The ASX is about the size of the Toyota RAV4 and its front end looks like a cross between a bulldog and a Darth Vadar mask. Its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is on the small side, and horsepower figures weren't given, but knowing Mitsubishi's innovative technology and ability to extract lots of power from a small engine, it probably won't be a problem. Like most of the other CUVs (car/utility vehicles), it's based on a unibody platform using sedan parts and can be had with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

INFINITI FX45 - Nissan vehicles aren't the only one that have profited from the new mindset developed by its Renault ownership. Infiniti is the luxury line of Nissan and to add luster to the name, it plans to have its FX45 "sport wagon" to compete in a new market niche that's creeping into the industry. The FX45 really looks more like a fastback coupe than either a station wagon, a four-door sedan or an SUV. Its body styling is - well- "unique," with sharp edges that blend into its sloping top. Estimated time of arrival: 2003.

FORD FORTY-NINE - When I was a kid in high school, a classmate had a maroon '49 Ford convertible that he was sure was the most beautiful car on earth. It seems that someone at Ford has belatedly come to that same conclusion. The Ford Forty-Nine is an updated and corporate version of the one-off chopped-and-channeled California Custom Cars that came out of small body shops all over California in the '50s and '60s. The underpinnings of the car are from the rear-drive, front-engined Lincoln LS. Frankly, I don't think it will ever go into production. Like the originals, it looks too low to even make it up most suburban driveways without scraping off its mufflers.

All of these newcomers are exciting and most of them are do-able, according to their manufacturers, but their existences are all tenuous and depend on the economy. If it goes much lower, it will be discounts, rebates and rehashed designs for most auto makers.