Drives: The Next Generation
After two days of strolling among elaborate unveiling platforms, smoke machines, and neon lights at the North American International Auto Show, it hit me: There are just too many vehicles out there. It’s a wonder any car makes a dent in the overcrowded marketplace, especially since a vast number of the new models look interchangeable when they’re lined up one after another. Still, I saw a few autos of note headed for the roads, as well as a few concepts headed for the roads to nowhere. Some observations from Detroit:
- Hybrids are in for the long haul. Every maker seems to have new models in the works, including Ford, Mercedes, Lexus, and GMC, which showed the Graphyte-a concept SUV that makes enviro-driving cooler by means of poor spelling.
- The military is hot for 2006. Jeep’s Gladiator, a truck concept that seems ready for production, looks like it rolled right off the battlefield. It features a moveable midgate between the truck and cab that adds a foot to the bed, with fold-down jump seats, a side-mounted tire, and a doggy door (for snipers perhaps?). Also from Jeep is the far-from-reality Hurricane concept.
- Everyone wants to play pickup. Lincoln is making the luxury Mark LT, a truck that will soon either prove that the elegant pickup niche is underserved or cannibalize the parent company’s perennially best-selling Ford F-150. Honda plans to launch its maiden pickup, the Ridgeline.
- Ferrari is trying to get on our good side. The Superamerica, one of the finest imports since we borrowed Amerigo from Vespucci, is a 540-hp V-12, 200-mph convertible based on the 575 coupe. There will be only 160 of the vehicles in North America this year, so act now and a $300,000 slice of Italy is yours.
- Motown has a sense of humor. The Ford SYNus is sort of a Brinks truck hammered out by Fisher-Price. When it’s parked, you can watch movies on a 45-inch flat-screen LCD on the inside rear door panel. When you’re driving, the screen works with cameras to function as the rear window-because, you know, having an actual window is too 'burbs for city living.