What a concept...

Top automakers unveil their latest creations at show

Chrysler Group COO Wolfgang Bernhard rides a Dodge Tomahawk concept motorcycle during its unveiling at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 6, 2003. The 500-horsepower Viper V-10 engine gives the vehicle a potential top speed of nearly 400 miles per hour.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 10:38 p.m.

DETROIT (AP) - DaimlerChrysler AG's beast of a concept vehicle looks like a motorcycle, sounds like a muscle car and packs a 500-horsepower, V-10 engine that would give it a top speed above 300 miles an hour.

Nobody has yet tried to make the four-wheel, single-passenger Dodge Tomahawk go that fast. But Chrysler Group's president and chief executive Dieter Zetsche says the company might bring the gleaming engine on wheels into production one day for a limited run -- if there's enough interest.

"It's about pure performance, in-the-face excitement and not being scared of any limits," Zetsche said after helping introduce the Tomahawk at the North American International Auto Show.

Two other Dodge concept cars also are aimed at the more adventurous consumer _ one, for the racing fan, the other for the minivan driver who might have a penchant for say, surfing.

The Avenger is a four-door rally-car inspired vehicle, complete with racing harnesses for seat belts, a prominent instrument panel and almost oversized wheels. The all-wheel drive vehicle has a 3.5 liter, V-6 engine. The rear doors open to 90 degrees.

The Kahuna has an interior that can transformed into a lounge, with a front passenger seat that can flip around to face the back. It's a minivan that "doesn't fall into the usual soccer mom category," said Trevor Creed, Chrysler's senior vice president of design.

Toyota's minivan

Toyota Motor Co. says its chief engineer drove 50,000 miles through every U.S. and Mexican state and Canadian province in the quest to improve the company's Sienna minivan. The result is the 2004 Sienna, introduced Monday, a low-riding, angular minivan that has 44 cubic feet more interior space than its predecessor.

Toyota says the new minivan has substantially more power and fuel efficiency. The 2004 has a 230-horsepower, V-6 engine and can go from zero to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, the best time for a minivan in its class. It also gets 25 miles per gallon on the highway, one of the highest in its class, according to Toyota division general manager Don Esmond.

The Sienna will sell for a base price of $22,955. Despite a shrinking market for minivans in 2002, Esmond said the company hopes to sell 120,000 Siennas this year, an increase of nearly 40,000 over 2002 sales.

Toyota officials have expressed some concern over Nissan's Quest, a competing minivan unveiled Sunday. The Quest has some distinctive design features, such as two vertical sunroofs that run the length of the van, that aren't matched by the relatively traditional Sienna. But Esmond said he's still confident about Toyota's chances.

Infiniti innovations

Two years after introducing its "Bionic Cheetah" concept crossover at the Detroit auto show, Infiniti is bringing the product it inspired to the market. The FX45 crossover, a bulbous, low-slung ride with sports car-like styling, will go on sale Jan. 24.

"We expect it to quickly become one of our best-selling Infiniti models," Infiniti general manager Mark McNabb said.

The FX45 comes with a 315-horsepower, V8 engine. The crossover also comes in the FX35 version, with a 280-horsepower, V6 engine.

"This is one SUV that is a thrill to drive," Infiniti chief product specialist Ejiro Fukai said.

The FX45 will start at $44,225 while the FX35 will start at $34,200, McNabb said.

Infiniti also introduced the bullet-like Triant concept on Monday. Designed to reflect a classic coupe, the Triant features electronic gullwing doors that clear seven feet when opened as well as contoured front seats mounted on active shock absorbers.

Mercedes new class

Mercedes-Benz introduced its 2004 E-Class wagon on Monday, an elongated version of its top-selling E-Class sedan. The wagon features the undulating hood, silver stripe and distinctive oval headlights of the sedan.

"I think this car is incredibly sexy," Mercedes board member Jurgen Hubbert said.

The wagon, available with a V6 or a V8 engine, has a standard electronic braking system that controls the brake pressure on all four wheels. It has an optional storage system that allows quick folding of the back seats and a hydraulically-controlled loading floor that can slide out for easier loading of heavy objects.

The wagon will be available in August or September and is not yet priced, Mercedes officials said.

Maserati's wagon

Maserati introduced a concept crossover on Monday, a vehicle designed to increase U.S. sales. The Kubang GT Wagon is low and long, with opaque glass that forms the windshield and the sunroof in one continuous line.

The Kubang has a 390-horsepower, a V-8 engine and can go from zero to 62 mph in 5.4 seconds, Maserati officials said. The company plans to introduce a sedan at the Frankfurt auto show later this year.

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