North American International Auto Show 2001

By: Kevin Bonsor & Karim Nice
Karim's Pick: Dodge Super8 Hemi

Here are some of the coolest cars we saw at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Click on the ones you like for more information and pictures - we've also chosen our favorite cars. Or go to the next page for the overview of the show, and some neat pictures of the amazing press conferences we saw.

Kevin's Pick: BMW X Coupe
Marshall's Pick: The Ford EX
Ford Forty-Nine
Audi Steppenwolf
Luxury Trucks
Nissan Z
Mazda RX-8
Volvo Adventure
Volvo Safety Concept Car
GM Terracross
GM Sabia
Oldsmobile O4
Isuzu GBX
Buick Bengal
Jeep Willys Concept
Volkswagen Microbus
Chrysler Crossfire
2002 Ford Thunderbird
Infiniti FX45
Mitsubishi RPM7000
Cadillac Vizon
Mini Cooper
Low Mass Concept Car
2002 Jeep Liberty
Honda Model X


Show Overview

The view from the second floor of GM's exhibit, which is the largest at the show.

We're here at the 2001 North American International Auto Show and it is amazing. The show is in Cobo Hall in Detroit, on a 750,000 square-foot show floor; but there are double- and even triple-decker exhibits that add an additional 106,000 square feet to the total area. (That's more than 20 acres of exhibits!)

These exhibits use enough carpet, hardwood and tile for 600 homes, and the lighting during the show will use as much energy as a 360-home subdivision uses in six months. The total value of the 500-plus cars here is more than $200 million!


Some of the cars we'll show you are concept cars. These cars will probably never make it to production, but certain features may show up in future cars produced by these automakers. Others are cars that are headed for production, but not for a year or two. Each unveiling is a huge production.

The huge set used to display the new Jeeps this year.
There are more than 5,000 journalists here at the show, all clambering for a good photo or interview. Believe it or not, there is a car under there.

A good bit of this show is about drama and presentation. For example, Daimler Chrysler debuted the Jeep Liberty SUV by driving it down a steep, rock-covered incline with a waterfall as a backdrop on the huge stage.

Ford VP of Design J. Mays unveiled the Ford Forty-Nine concept car to the singing of a 45-person church choir.

Daimler Chrysler debuts the Jeep Liberty SUV.
The debut of the Ford Forty-Nine concept car.


Luxury Sport Utility Trucks

The Cadillac Escalade EXT has a similar styling to the Escalade SUV.

This year, combining different vehicle types is a big theme at the auto show. There were at least four sport utility trucks (SUTs) presented. These luxury vehicles combine an SUV with a full-size pickup.

GM cited a study finding that 20 percent of luxury-car drivers also own a full-sized pickup truck. To try to expand that market segment, GM showed the Cadillac Escalade EXT, which is due to join the Cadillac lineup in 2002.


The coolest feature of this truck is its flexible bed configuration. Most four-door trucks have very short pickup beds, and the EXT is no exception, featuring a 5-foot 3-inch bed. But here's the cool part: The whole rear wall of the passenger compartment can be folded out of the way, extending the cargo bed into the cab, all the way up to the front seats. In this configuration, the bed is 8-feet 1-inch long.

The Cadillac Escalade EXT -- with the seats and rear hatch folded down, the bed can hold a 4x8-foot sheet of plywood.
Inside the cab, the folded-over seats extend the bed floor.

Nissan revealed a radical concept truck, also a full-size luxury truck. They plan to launch a full-sized truck within the next several years, and this model is indicative of the types of innovations they are planning.

Nissan’s concept truck

This concept truck has a "suicide doors" configuration: the two rear doors open in the opposite direction of the two front doors, and both sets of doors are big and open really wide, with no pillar separating them so that when the doors are open there is absolutely nothing in your way.

The wide-opening suicide doors of Nissan’s concept truck.

The Nissan truck also has a novel tailgate, which is hinged from underneath the truck so that when it opens, it forms a step near the ground. The entire floor of the bed can also slide back to allow for easier unloading.

The Nissan concept truck's tailgate.

Also at the show was the Lincoln Blackwood, a luxury pickup slated for production in 2002. This truck has a power bed cover, as well as a tailgate that is slit in the middle and opens to the sides.

The Lincoln Blackwood Luxury SUT

And taking the concept to absolute extremes was the Ford Supercruizer. This huge truck has leather upholstery and all the amenities, plus it can tow just about anything. It is so tall that you have to climb two sets of running boards to get into it!

The Ford Supercruizer


Mitsubishi RPM 7000

The RPM 7000

After the laser-light show finished and the smoke disappeared, Mitsubishi's exciting, new concept vehicle rolled out of a side door and onto the stage at this year's North American International Auto Show. Classified as a multi-activity vehicle, this day-glow metallic-orange vehicle looks ready for some serious off-road racing. And it should, considering that the vehicle's design was inspired by the car company's rally racing team.

The racing influence carries over to the interior of the car, where you'll see a race-car inspired roll-cage and 4-point safety belts. The four-passenger RPM 7000 features extensive use of carbon-fiber. Also, the ignition and switches have all been designed for a driver wearing racing gloves.


While the car is built for tough driving conditions, it certainly doesn't lack for high-tech components. The vehicle features a touch-screen monitor that can be used to control the climate system and music system, the latter including a CD-player, satellite radio signals and MP3 files.

Inside Mitsubishi's RPM 7000 concept vehicle.

Underneath the Formula-One-inspired nose-cone hood is a 2.0 liter, DOHC, 4-cylinder engine featuring a twin-intercooled turbocharger. This engine can produce 315 horsepower at 6,500 RPM.


2002 Ford Thunderbird

The 2002 Ford Thunderbird

This two-seat convertible roadster has a style reminiscent of the original Thunderbirds of the 1950's.

Powering the Thunderbird is a brand new, all-aluminum, 3.9-liter, DOHC, 32-valve, V-8 engine, producing 252 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 267 ft-lbs of torque at 4300 rpm. This engine drives a close-ratio five-speed automatic transmission.


Although the 8-track player is gone, the interior still has some of the feel of the vintage T-birds.

The Thunderbird comes standard as a convertible, with an optional removable hardtop that incorporates the distinctive porthole window. The pricing for the 2002 Thunderbird will range from about $35,000 to $39,000.


The Isuzu GBX Concept SUV

The Isuzu GBX Concept SUV

Several cars at this year's car show have a retro look to them; but no one went as far back for design inspiration as Isuzu. The company said the idea for its latest concept SUV was driven by the original utility vehicle -- the stagecoach. You can see hints of the old western stagecoach in this SUV's design.

The black roof rack is built into the vehicle's external frame and outlines the suicide doors. Upon opening the doors, you'll find that there is no middle pillar between them, which seems to be a common theme among many of this year's concept cars. The Mazda RX-8, Honda Model X, Dodge Super8 Hemi and Nissan Truck Concept are among the concept vehicles that have been developed without a middle pillar. Eliminating this middle pillar, also called the B pillar, gives car owners easier entry into the car and imparts an overall roomier look.


Isuzu has designed the GBX to be an "automotive backpack" that can carry everything you need. There is a gear port built into the cargo gate, allowing easy access to small items stowed in the cargo area. A tool-storage set-up and work shelves are incorporated into this port.

The GBX has a V6, 3.0-liter, DOHC, 24-valve, direct-injection, turbodiesel engine. One unique feature of this engine is its ceramic particulate filter. The vehicle is 14.6 feet long, 6.2 feet tall (including the roof rack) and about 5 feet wide.


GM Concept Cars

General Motors has the largest set up at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, with the company presenting five 2001 concept cars. The company says that a piece of each car's technologies will eventually wind up in future production cars.

GM's vision of the future is one that merges designs of sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) with designs of station wagons and pickup trucks. Future GM cars promise to have dashboards free of control panels. Instead, drivers will see their displays and gauges projected on to their windshields, and the cars will respond to voice commands. The following pages are a look at what GM rolled out at the 2001 auto show.


GM Sabia

The GM Sabia concept car

Sabia, making its world debut on at the 2001 NAIAS, was the first to roll out onto the GM stage.

The Sabia is an SUV with a pickup-truck bed.


GMC Terracross

The GMC Terracross concept car

The age of clearly-defined vehicle categories is beginning to fade. Many models debuting this week, including the GMC Terracross, combine attributes of several types of vehicles.

The Terracross is a futuristic SUV that has some very cool high-tech features, including a roof comprised of three glass panels that can be adjusted electronically into several positions.


Buick Bengal

The Buick concept car

The Bengal is a roadster-like car that appears to have two seats; but retracting the cover reveals two rear passenger seats, which can be folded down.

Inside the Buick concept car.

Under the hood is a supercharged, 3.4-liter, V6 engine with 250 horsepower. Perhaps the most intriguing advance in the Bengal is its sleek dashboard, which lacks the clutter of traditional gauges and controls. In the future, controls will be projected onto the windshield, and we'll tell our car exactly what we want to see.


Oldsmobile O4

The Oldsmobile O4 concept car

The O4 is named for its four-seat, convertible style -- O is for the open top, or oxygen, and 4 denotes the four seats.

Inside, the O4 is a technophile's dream. It has an information ring around the steering column, replacing traditional display panels. The car is also equipped to swap information with a personal digital assistant by way of a Sony Memory Stick storage device on the key chain and a docking port that uses Bluetooth wireless technology.

Cadillac Vizon

The Cadillac Vizon concept car

The Vizon concept vehicle combines the best of an SUV and a station wagon.

The design of the Vizon eliminates protruding objects like rearview mirrors. Instead, the vehicle includes a rear-view video system. Inside, the car has night vision, adaptive cruise control, which maintains a safe distance between the Vizon and the car in front of it, and EZ key, a device that identifies the driver through a chip on the key. Once identification is confirmed, EZ key automatically unlocks the vehicle and sets the seat and mirrors to the driver's preferences.

2002 Jeep Liberty

The Jeep Liberty makes a dramatic entrance, driving down a steep, rock-covered incline in front of a waterfall.

Daimler-Chrysler started their presentation with a fireside chat by "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" author Ken Kesey. Mr. Kesey reminisced about the days before interstates, quoting, among others, Robert Frost and famous road-tripper Charles Kuralt.

Daimler-Chrysler unveiled the 2002 Jeep Liberty SUV, which has some of the character of the original Jeeps, including good off-road capability, but with a refined on-road ride -- their idea of the perfect vehicle for taking the "road less traveled." Unlike Ford and GM, Daimler-Chrysler chose to unveil an actual production car, rather than a concept car.

The 2002 Jeep Liberty

One of Daimler-Chrysler's visions for this vehicle is that people will customize it, much like they have with the PT Cruiser.

The Renegade, a demonstration of how the Jeep Liberty can be customized.
The interior is simple, with stainless steel accents.

Nissan Z

The new Nissan Z

Nissan unveiled its new Z concept car today. This car is the successor to the 1990 300 ZX and the original 1970 240 Z sports car, which was the fastest-selling sports car of all time. Nissan is hoping to capture the affordable sports-car market again with the new Z, which will go on sale in mid-2002.

Equipped with either a 3.5-liter, V6 engine producing more than 360 HP, or a 222-HP, 3.0-liter V6, this car should perform well.

The new Z takes some of its design cues from the original Z sports car, but is not as retro as such revival cars as the Volkswagen Beetle or the Ford Thunderbird.

This sports car should do 0 to 60 mph (97 kph) in less than 6 seconds, and cost around $30,000, positioning it in roughly the same category as the original 240 Z.

The original Nissan 240 Z

Ford EX

Ford's truck division presented the EX concept vehicle -- an extension of the Ford Outfitters Family of customized SUVs.

Amazingly, the EX burst through a giant video screen onto the stage. This concept car is designed for one thing only: high performance off-road driving.

The Ford EX

The car is designed to have a 50-50 weight distribution. The body panels are made from composite materials and the frame is chrome-moly steel.

The rear of the Ford EX

This design study reveals many interesting features that may show up in future production cars. It has easily removable body panels; the windshield folds down; it has four-point seat belts instead of the three point system found in most cars. The floor is washable, with drain plugs that let the water out of the car. The steering wheel can move from side to side to make it easier to get in and out of the car. And finally, the upholstery is made from a new material designed to be weatherproof and resist fading in the sun.

Inside the Ford EX
The Ford EX suspension

Dodge Super8 Hemi

The Dodge Super8 Hemi

Daimler-Chrysler rolled out a new concept car, the aggressively-styled Dodge Super8 Hemi. This car makes passengers the priority, featuring the car-equivalent of stadium seating -- the back seats are higher than the front ones.

Like so many other concept cars we've seen at the show, this one has rear-opening rear doors and no b-pillar separating the front and rear doors. It has a very cool interior -- a retro look that incorporates ultra-modern technologies like wireless Internet access, and voice control of many car functions including audio, climate-control, phone and even e-mail!

The Dodge Super8 Hemi

The rear passengers also have their own LCD touch screens so they can watch movies or access the Internet. It has satellite radio, and can play MP3 music that you transfer from your home stereo to the car while it is parked in the driveway or garage.

The Super8 Hemi has three side moldings, which should give it extra protection against dings. And let's not forget about the engine, a prototype 5.7-liter, pushrod V-8 that should generate 353 horsepower. Like those found in the original Hemis, this engine has hemispherical combustion chambers.

Chrysler Crossfire

The Chrysler Crossfire

The Chrysler Crossfire concept car, unveiled by Daimler-Chrysler, is a small, sporty coupe.

This distinctive two-seater has a 2.7-liter, 275 horsepower, V-6 engine, along with nineteen-inch front wheels and huge 21-inch rear wheels. The designers figure the car will do 0 to 60 mph (97 kph) in about 5.8 seconds.

The Crossfire also features some impressive technology; but, unlike the Super8 Hemi, this technology is aimed at highlighting the performance of the car, rather than entertaining the passengers. The car has a data-acquisition system, much like the ones used on Champ Cars, that displays information on acceleration and other performance parameters.

Jeep Willys

The Jeep Willys

One of the most recognizable vehicles on the road since World War II has been the original Jeep Wrangler. At this week's auto show, Daimler Chrysler revealed a 21st century version of the Jeep. The Jeep Willys (pronounced Wil-eez) is named for the early Jeeps that were built by Willys-Overland.

The Willys' body is made with injection-molded plastic, a new body-technology that saves up to 50 percent in body weight and manufacturing costs. The injection-molded plastic allows designers to create shapes that can't be made with conventional stamped metal. And this plastic is nearly 100 percent recyclable.

Another striking feature of the Willys design is the light gray tires from Michelin, which compliment the color of the vehicle's body. Inside, the Willys concept has a satellite-radio receiver built into the pastel-green dash.

The Jeep Willys is powered by a 1.6 liter, in-line four-cylinder engine that produces 160 horsepower. It has a four-speed automatic transmission and a shift-on-the-fly transfer case with full-time four-wheel drive.

Honda X

The Honda Model X

Honda's Model X concept vehicle is aimed squarely at young, active males -- their focus groups were college-age males attending sporting events. The Model X is sort of a cross between a pickup, an SUV and a mini-van.

The vehicle is designed to hold everything from surf boards to mountain bikes. The floor is made from a waterproof washable material, and the seats are also very easy to clean. The floor is flat, so you can sleep in the vehicle, and there is a novel sunroof in the rear.

Equipped with a navigation system, DVD player, satellite radio, wireless Internet connection and a stereo that also plays MP3s, which it can download from the Web, the X seems to have everything but a beer fridge.

Inside the Honda Model X

Like a couple of the other concepts we've seen, the X has no b-pillar -- when the doors are open, the whole side of the vehicle is open and accessible.

Volvo Safety Concept Car

Volvo Safety Concept Car

Volvo rolled out its 2001 concept cars, including one laden with new safety features that you may find in your next car. The Volvo Safety Concept Car (SCC) has been designed to give the driver increased control and visibility.

New technology developed for the car allows the vehicle's interior to adjust to the driver's eyes and body size. Sensors scan the precise position of the driver's eyes and then adjust the driver's seat to offer the best possible vision. The steering wheel, floor, pedals and center console also adjust to a more comfortable position for the driver.

The SCC includes active rearview mirrors and rear bumper sensors that alert the driver to approaching traffic in the blind spot. Rear-facing cameras also add to the driver's field of vision. Adaptive headlamps monitor the car's speed and steering wheel movements and adjust lighting to suit progress. For example, at high speeds, light beams are given a longer reach. The car is also equipped with an infrared light enhancer to improve night vision.

Drivers moving outside of their lane will be warned by the car's remain-in-lane technology. Forward-facing cameras monitor the car's position in relation to the road's centerline and side-marker lines for 20 meters ahead of the car. If the car begins to veer out of the lane, a warning is sounded.

The SCC also has a new feature that is closer to being incorporated into future Volvo cars. Volvo showed off two types of 4-point safety belts in this car. These belts are designed to hold occupants more securely during accidents. The X4 CrissCross harness belt is a conventional 3-point safety belt that includes a retractable, diagonal chest-belt that extends from the shoulder to the hip. The Center Buckle V4 belt is similar to the harness used in racing cars. This type of belt is worn over the shoulders like backpack straps, and retracts into the seat's frame when not in use.

Volvo Adventure

Volvo Adventure Concept Car

The Volvo Adventure Concept Car (ACC) also had its first showing at the auto show. The company said that although it plans to introduce an SUV within the next two years, the Adventure wouldn't be that vehicle. Instead, the ACC will be used to draw customer feedback when the auto show is opened to the public next week.

Infiniti FX45

Infiniti FX45

Infiniti is one of several carmakers who have debuted a type of vehicle being called a "crossover SUV." These are SUVs that aren't quite SUVs, targeted at drivers who want an off-road look that has an elegant design. Infiniti's entrant into this market is the FX45 concept vehicle.

As with all concept cars, the FX45 may never be built; but Infiniti will likely build something similar to it. The FX45 has the look of a bionic cheetah in a crouching position ready to pounce.

While the outside has the design of an SUV, the inside is more like a high-end sports car. It has a tight interior; but its glass roof gives it the feel of a roomier car. In the rear, passenger features include a rear game system, DVD video and water bottle cooler. A 9.5-inch LCD display with navigation and audio system controls, plus Internet and e-mail access, is just to the right of the driver.

Under the FX45's hood there is a 32-valve, 4.5-liter, DOHC, V8 engine that produces more than 300 horsepower. It is equipped with a vehicular control system for improved stability. A laser-based adaptive cruise control system is also integrated into the car. Adaptive cruise control is a new technology that allows a car to follow the car in front of it, continually re-adjusting its speed to maintain a safe distance.

Mazda RX-8

Mazda RX-8

Mazda unveiled a new version of the rotary engine, simultaneously showing off a new concept car designed to use it. The Mazda RX-8 is very close to what a possible production car will look like; but Mazda hasn't announced plans to build it just yet.

This four-passenger sports car is powered by the new RENESIS rotary engine. Unlike previous rotary engines, which had side intake ports and peripheral exhaust ports, the RENESIS has intake and exhaust ports in the side housing. This setup eliminates overlap between the opening of the intake and exhaust ports, enhancing combustion efficiency. The intake ports are 30 percent larger, and their timing has been changed so they open sooner than in the older rotary engines. The RENESIS engine produces 250 horsepower.

One of the coolest features of the RX-8 is the "freestyle door system," which has eliminated the center pillar (a common theme at this auto show). This design makes it easy to get in and out of the rear seats.

Ford Forty-Nine

J. Mays introduces the Ford Forty-Nine Concept Car, inspired by the original 1949 Fords.

Today we saw Ford CEO Jac Nasser and VP of Design J Mays unveil the Ford Forty-Nine concept car. This retro car was introduced after Ford displayed two original 1949 Fords, one stock and one highly customized.

An original 1949 Ford that has been "chopped and channeled."

The Forty-Nine Concept car has many retro styling elements, including a modern, 3.9-liter, DOHC, 32-valve, V-8 engine that is finished with brushed stainless steel, chrome and satin-black paint.

The retro-styled engine on the Forty-Nine barely looks like a car engine.

Inside are more retro features; the gauges and controls are finished in brushed stainless steel, in a simple round pod.

The instrument pod

The car also has a roof that is almost all glass, and the pillar separating the front and rear side windows is invisible, so the cabin has the feel of a greenhouse.

BMW X Coupe

The BMW X coupe

BMW unveiled a stunning next-generation sports car at the NAIAS. The 4-seat X Coupe convertible combines sports-car styling with off-road capabilities. But it is truly a high-performance sports car at heart, with a 3.0-liter, common-rail injection, 6-cylinder, turbodiesel engine boasting 184 horsepower.

One of the cool features of the car is the paddles on the steering wheel that allow the driver to shift gears, similar to the configuration on Formula One race cars. However, unlike a Formula One car, the X coupe has an automatic transmission.

Low-Mass Concept Vehicle Design

A table-top model of the low-mass concept vehicle, which could one day be marketed to developing countries.

As the major car manufacturers are showing off their best concept and production ideas, student designers have presented some intriguing designs of their own. One forward-thinking design has drawn the interest of car companies such as Ford and Toyota. Herain Patel, a design student at the Center for Creative Studies - College of Art and Design in Detroit, has proposed a low-mass vehicle.

Patel's design would allow for a car to have interchangeable parts, so that fewer pieces would need to be molded, and less glass would have to be cut to different sizes. For example, the front driver-side door would be interchangeable with the rear passenger-side door. That would also work with the rear driver-side door and the front passenger door.

From the rear

The car would weigh about 30 percent less than current cars of comparable size, according to Carl Olsen, an instructor at the center. Because the car uses interchangeable parts, it would be cheaper to make. It will likely be marketed to developing parts of the world, such as India. A running prototype of the car could be developed in just a few years.

VW Microbus

VW Bus

In the spirit of the new VW Beetle, Volkswagen presented a VW Microbus concept car.This car is reminiscent of the original 1960s microbuses.

The snout is a little longer than the original microbus, accommodating modern crash standards.

Volkswagen also presented some scale models of possible Microbus configurations, such as the pop-up camper top.

There was also a pickup/bus configuration!

Mini Cooper

The Mini

The Mini Cooper made its return at the NAIAS. Now owned by BMW, this 40-year-old car, which is very popular in the British Isles, has been updated and modernized, but it retains all of its original appeal.

This tiny car, which is less than 12 feet long, is powered by a 115-HP, 1.6-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine. With the car's light weight, this powerplant should give it snappy performance.

The Mini should be on sale in the US by early 2002, priced at about $18,000.

Audi Steppenwolf

Audi's Project Steppenwolf Concept

Audi's Steppenwolf concept vehicle, which was unveiled at the 2000 Paris Auto Show, made its North American debut at the 2001 NAIAS in Detroit. The Steppenwolf is another of the many crossover SUV concepts being presented at this year's show. It is designed to be an off-road vehicle that is equally at home in the Australian outback as it is on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

A 3.2-liter, V6 engine powers the two-door Steppenwolf. Generating 225 horsepower, this engine takes the Steppenwolf from 0 to 62 miles per hour (100 kph) in just under eight seconds. It tops out at 143 miles per hour (230 kph).

While the outside of the Steppenwolf is off-road tough, the inside is one of luxury.

On the inside, passengers and drivers will find an elegant look. The instrument panel is covered with shoe-sole leather, and a navigation system with LCD monitor is integrated into the center dash. The seats are covered with black and cognac beige leather, which is also used for the leather inserts in the footwell.

One unique feature of the Steppenwolf can be found in the rear of the vehicle. A drawer under the luggage compartment houses the spare wheel; this moving compartment can also be used to carry a tire-repair kit and a 12-volt compressor. An alternative drawer insert provides space for a winch. The vehicle can accommodate two running boards, which can be attached below the side doors.