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Published: Thursday, 1/12/2006

Automakers look forward, go retro in annual Detroit show

BY JENNY MOUNT
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Ford's Super Chief concept pickup would burn a combination of ethanol, hydrogen, and gasoline. the blade/lori king GM's concept Camaro would revive a beloved name from Chevrolet. ASSOCIATED PRESS Subaru's R1e is the smallest car on the show's main floor, Chevrolet's Kodiak is the largest. Ford's Super Chief concept pickup would burn a combination of ethanol, hydrogen, and gasoline. the blade/lori king GM's concept Camaro would revive a beloved name from Chevrolet. ASSOCIATED PRESS Subaru's R1e is the smallest car on the show's main floor, Chevrolet's Kodiak is the largest.
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DETROIT - Pass through the doors of the 2006 North American International Auto Show and get a glimpse of the next decade of the 21st century - and be reminded of the middle decades of the 20th.

Stroll the exhibits and see newly introduced fuel-thrifty compacts, subcompacts, and sub-subcompacts, within a few feet of cars and trucks too big to fit into many garages, with similarly proportioned appetites for petroleum.

Widely split parallel trends are among the hallmarks of this year's show, which opens to the public Saturday at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.

Representing extreme ends of the size and fuel economy spectrums is Subaru's R1e prototype, an all-electric-battery-powered three-door liftback that, at 129 inches long, 58 inches wide, and 59 inches high, is the smallest car on the main exhibit floor.

It uses a technology its manufacturer considers a future alternative to internal combustion.

The company hopes to sell the car, which does not require special recharging stations, in the United States as early as 2007.

The R1e would fit into the cargo bed of the show's biggest vehicle, the Kodiak medium-duty pickup from General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet, with room to spare. This behemoth is 267 inches long, 96 inches wide (115 with mirrors), and 95 inches high. So far off the ground that climbing a set of four steps was required for a tryout of the driver's seat, it conveys an immediate king of the highway complex.

Meanwhile, as automakers aim toward the youth market with concepts like Nissan's Urge, with its built-in video games, more names that resonate with the boomer generation are being resurrected.

A trend that began in the 1990s with Volkswagen AG's New Beetle is picked up most strongly by DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler arm, with three retro badges.

Chrysler Imperial, a luxury car that competed in the 1950s and '60s with Cadillac and Lincoln, is reincarnated in a visitor-stopper concept that

takes, and expands, styling cues from Chrysler's hot-selling 300.

Dodge Challenger, also from Chrysler, is a concept that links directly to the original, from muscular engine to body lines to its oh-so-'70s orange paint.

Chrysler's other name that blasts from the past is Aspen, borrowed from a boxy Dodge station wagon of the 1970s and applied to a production Chrysler sport-utility vehicle that shares the Dodge Durango platform.

GM has resurrected the beloved Camaro name in a low-slung silver concept with rear-wheel drive. Its wide stance and sweeping lines make it a must-see.

Also not to be missed is Ford Motor Co.'s concept Super Chief pickup, which is nearly as large as the Kodiak. The back of the crew cab is outfitted with an entertainment center and a mini-bar. The engine, under a hood that tips forward like a trailer-hauling tractor, is designed to run on a combination of hydrogen, gasoline, and ethanol.

Designed to run on gasoline only (high test and lots of it) is the Miura from Italian automaker Lamborghini, which now is owned by Volkswagen.

It is a 12-cylinder, 680-700 horsepower (most passenger cars are about 200 hp) electric-yellow two-seater with a pavement clearance of less than five inches.

A Lamborghini representative said the company is testing reaction at the Detroit show and the Los Angeles show a week earlier to help decide whether the Miura will go into production. If it does, the price for the few made will be about $700,000.

Displays for the show's more than 700 vehicles in about 700,000 square feet have been brightened and modernized. Wraparound video provides a dramatic backdrop for the sheet metal on display, and lighting and other demarcations make distinguishing automakers' turfs less confusing.

With so much to see, it may be easy for visitors to pass by some gems.

Tucked into a corner opposite the Porsche stand is tiremaker Michelin's exhibit with the race cars that won the 2005 24 hours of LeMans (an Audi) and the 2005 Formula One (the Team Spirit Renault R25), both while wearing Michelin tires.

An escalator ride down from the Volkswagen stand, in Cobo's lower level, are treats including souped-up versions of Toyota Scion and Honda Acura economy cars, the University of Michigan's solar car, stock-car racers, and PlayStation 2 racing simulators.

Contact Jenny Mount at

jmount@theblade.com

or 419-724-6060



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