DAIMLERCHRYSLER SEBRING/STRATUS: Look for replacements to be taller, wider with AWD variants. Papers filed with the State of Michigan indicate DCX’s Sterling Heights, MI, plant is being overhauled to handle vehicles 5.0-in. taller and 3.0-in. wider than the current cars. This suggests a vehicle reminiscent of the Avenger concept vehicle shown in Detroit in 2003. Expect a crossover rumored to combine the best features of minivans and SUVs in one vehicle.
FORD CROSSOVER SUV: To be built on the Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan CD3 platform, this SUV will share its architecture with the next Lincoln Aviator, and give Ford a direct competitor for Nissan’s stylish Murano. A performance version is under consideration, and would use the driveline and powertrain from the Mazdaspeed version of the Mazda6.
LINCOLN TOWN CAR/LS: The Ford 500/Mercury Montego platform will do double duty at Lincoln. A mid-size sedan based on the standard 500/Montego platform will replace the rear-drive LS, and be powered by Ford’s new 3.5-liter "Cyclone" V6. Stretch the wheelbase, increase the width slightly, and there’s the replacement for the aging Town Car. It will use a version of Volvo’s transverse V8 and all-wheel-drive. To amortize costs, Ford and Mercury may get their own versions to replace the Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis.
GM CADILLAC: The front-drive BLS is Europe-only for now, but the next generation is being designed with North America in mind. Look for it in 2008. It will join a Cadillac version of the Saturn Vue/Chevy Equinox small SUV due to arrive in 2007. That vehicle will look like a shrunken SRX and have only V6 engines under the hood. Interestingly, a V Series version may arrive 12 to 18 months later.
MINI COOPER/COOPER S: Subtle exterior changes make the MINI easier and cheaper to assemble. The clamshell hood, integral headlamps, and slanted grille will be replaced by a more conventional hood design, headlamps that are part of the fenders, and a more upright and larger grille. Underneath the new face will sit a brace of new engines developed by BMW and Peugeot (http://www.autofieldguide.com/articles/wip/0205wip06.html). Word is the John Cooper Works (JCW) edition will start at 200 hp, with a rumored 230-hp edition packing a Getrag-developed 4wd system in the pipeline. This driveline also may be used in a potential MINI SUV. The wheelbase will increase by under 2.0-in, as will the cargo area.
ROADSTER: Take one MINI convertible, add a hard tonneau over the rear seats, and fit a near-fastback soft top. Voila! Instant sports car. TRAVELER: The first in a long line of MINI line additions will be the four-door Traveler station wagon. Like the standard cars, it will come in standard and "S" versions, but add a longer cargo area to the stretched wheelbase.
NISSAN SENTRA: The name is dead as Nissan will use three vehicles to fill this slot. One is based on the Tiida hatchback platform and will be powered by the 2.0-liter MR20DE mated to either a manual transmission or the Xtronic CVT. This platform also supports a compact crossover codenamed "P32L" that will be built at Nissan’s Sunderland, England, plant and could be adapted for the North American market. The other is the next-generation Nissan Cube, which also will use the Tiida platform.
INFINITI G36: Take the sleeker curves of the new M Sedans, add a few avant-garde flourishes, increase size slightly, add more power, and you get the replacements for the G35 Sedan and Coupe. The G36 will officially launch the second generation of Nissan’s FM platform, and promises to be stiffer without being significantly heavier. The Skyline model won’t come to North America, but buyers may be able to order the G36 Coupe with the 4.5-liter V8 and all-wheel-drive.
ALTIMA/MAXIMA: These platform mates are due for a major overhaul around 2007, and will use a modified version of the current platform. Once again, the Altima will offer both four- and six-cylinder engines, while the Maxima will have a larger version of the VQV6. Nissan designers and product planners have worked to increase the distance between the two cars, aiming the Maxima at an upscale, performance-minded buyer with more distinct sheetmetal and a sport/luxury interior. Unfortunately, a twin-turbo 4wd version has been discussed but is unlikely to reach production.
VW BEDOUIN: VW will finally build the small SUV it needs. Based on a combination of new Golf and Passat parts, the small 4x4 has the same wheelbase as the smaller Golf, but the track width of the larger, but still Golf-based, Passat. Which means greater on- and off-road stability. Powerplants will include the 1.8-liter turbocharged inline four and 3.2-liter V6, which means the rumors that the uplevel model is aimed at BMW’s X3 aren’t far off the mark. Where Audi’s version of the Bedouin will be aimed is anybody’s guess.
COUPE: You didn’t think VW would go the expense of creating a hybrid platform for the Bedouin and not use it elsewhere, did you? A long-wheelbase version of the platform will underpin an upscale coupe VW will launch later this decade. Unclear at the moment is whether this is a traditional two-door coupe, or a four-door coupe like Mercedes’ CLS. The model will sit above the Passat and below the Phaeton in VW’s lineup. It will be available in two- and four-wheel-drive versions, and may reintroduce the V8 last seen in the Passat to VW’s lineup. This same platform, in a shorter wheelbase version, reportedly will be used for the TT replacement at Audi.
ROADSTER: Reportedly Wolfgang Bernhard is said to be taking a keen interest in this one: a mid-engined two-seater that draws from the Polo and Golf parts bin. Engines ranging from the 2.0-liter four to 3.2-liter V6 will be offered if the cost equation can be figured out. Audi will grab a version of this platform for its own affordable sports car, though the Audi model will arrive initially as a coupe.