The Journey Is the Destination
Standing at a courtyard in downtown Frankfurt where a 2009 Dodge Journey is on display, Trevor Creed, senior vice president-Design, Chrysler, explained how the vehicle is the right size at the right time, not only for the streets of Europe, but for those of the U.S., as well, where the gasoline prices, while not European in extent, have still gone sufficiently high for Americans to be looking for something that provides utility and functionality along with a bit of economy. Thus the Journey, which will be available in the U.S. in Q1 of ’08 and other markets in mid-’08. The vehicle is visually Dodge, with a no-nonsense front end that brings the Nitro to mind, a look that is familiar to Americans, and which, Chrysler management hopes, will be more familiar in Europe and elsewhere, as the company intends to achieve 1.4% marketshare in Western Europe by 2009, which may not sound like much, but which is double what Chrysler had in 2005. The Journey, explained Larry Lyons, vice president, Front-wheel Drive Product Team, is a crossover, based on the company’s D-segment platform. This means that it shares underlying sheetmetal with vehicles including the Dodge Avenger. However, the structure is increased for the Journey, as it has an overall length of 192.4 in., a wheelbase of 113.8 in., an overall width of 72.2 in., and a height (not including a roof-rack assembly) of 67 in. Contrast that with the figures for the Avenger, which is 190.9-in. long, has a 108.9-in. wheelbase, is 71.8-in. wide, and 58.9-in. wide. Clearly the D-platform has some flexibility built into it. And while the Avenger (and stable mate Chrysler Sebring) is manufactured at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Michigan, the Journey is being manufactured at the Toluca Assembly Plant in Mexico—where, certainly not coincidentally, the PT Cruiser is manufactured, too. One of the reasons why the Journey is bigger is because there is a third row available, for what Chrysler is designating “5 + 2” seating. Having just launched the new lineup of minivans, Chrysler engineers brought minivan-like ideas to the Journey. While the minivan has sliding passenger doors and the Journey has conventionally hinged doors, those doors open a full 90° for ingress and egress. The minivan may have Stow ‘n Go seating and storage, the Journey boasts available Flip ‘n Stow in-seat storage: the front passenger seat bottom cushion flips forward to provide access to a 10.75 x 8.75-in. bin where items the size of, say, a purse can be put out of sight. In addition, in the footwell of the second-row there are two storage bins for the transport of things like beverages: each is sized to handle 12 12-oz. cans. For those opting for the standard five-passenger configuration there is a hidden storage compartment under the load floor behind the second-row seat. And for those opting for the third row, there is Tip ‘n Slide second-row seats: by turning a lever on the side of the seat, its cushions fold upward and the seat slides forward, thereby providing ready access to the seats in the back. Under the hood there are various engine/transaxle combos. The standard is a 2.4-liter four that is coupled with a four-speed automatic in the U.S. and Canada; there is a five-speed manual available in other markets. There is a 2.7-liter V6 that is flex-fuel capable in the U.S. and Canada; it is mated to a four-speed automatic, or, for markets outside North America, a six-speed. There is a six-speed automatic available for the U.S. and Canadian markets: it is for the 3.5-liter V6. Finally, buyers outside of North America will have the opportunity to get a 2.0-liter turbo diesel that is mated to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. The automatic is of particular interest: it is a dual-clutch transaxle that was developed in partnership with Getrag; it improves fuel economy by as much as 6% as compared with a four-speed. Given the interest in fuel efficiency not only in Frankfurt but, well, Detroit . . .
MINI showed that even it will grow—not only adding to its model lineup, which essentially consists of variants on its primary vehicle (e.g., normal, high-performance John Cooper Works, convertible) but now physically bigger, as in a vehicle that is 9-in. longer than the current MINI and with an additional 3.15 in. wheelbase (the vehicle is 155-in. long, 66.2-in. wide, 56-in. high, and has a 100.3-in. wheelbase). This is the MINI Clubman, which is said to be, in the words of the BMW division, “an up-to-date interpretation of traditional shooting brake concepts.” Or, in other words, a contemporary station wagon for those who tend to be a bit more stylish than the norm. As MINI is a brand that hews to its predecessors in a way that is remarkably uncharacteristic of vehicle manufacturers, all of whom, by and large, tend to want to make things look as different from their previous vehicles as possible, the MINI Clubman’s roots are said to be the Austin Mini Countryman, the Morris Mini Traveler, and the Mini Clubman Estate, vehicles that were available between 1960 and 1982, vehicles that are probably remembered primarily by Mini aficionados and people in the Cotswolds, who are still driving them. The MINI Clubman looks like a mash-up between the MINI, a Toyota FJ Cruiser, and the forthcoming Ford Flex. The vehicle has a door system that brings various vehicles to mind, as well. The front driver’s door is conventional. The passenger’s door is, too, except that there is a smaller rear door (a.k.a., the “Clubdoor”) that is rear-hinged so it opens like the similarly comparatively small rear doors of the FJ Cruiser; there is no outside door handle for the Clubdoor; it can be opened only when the passenger’s door is open. Finally, there are the rear doors at the back of the vehicle. Rather than one rear door (or hatch) there is a set of vertically separated rear doors, which is like the door set that Ford had used for its much more massive Excursion SUV (and the previously mentioned British cars of yore). One interesting design/engineering aspect of these rear doors is that in order to provide full 90° pivoting, there are cutouts for the rear tail lamps in the rear door inner and outer so that the hinges can be at the outer-most position; the lamps are affixed to the structure of the vehicle, not the closures. With the rear seats in place, the luggage capacity of the MINI Clubman is 9.1-ft3; folded, the capacity goes to 32.6-ft3. The vehicle is available in three variants, the MINI Cooper S Clubman, with a 1.6-liter, 175-hp turbocharged four cylinder engine; the MINI Cooper Clubman, with a normally aspirated 1.6-liter, 120-hp engine; and the MINI Cooper D Clubman, with a 1.6-liter, 110-hp direct-injection turbodiesel.
GM’s Enviro Future
“A key element of our strategy is an aggressive commitment to environmental and technology leadership, recognizing the very important fact that it’s neither feasible nor optimal for our industry to continue to rely almost exclusively on oil to supply the world’s automotive energy requirements. And it’s becoming increasingly clear to us that no one solution will be best for every part of the world. So our strategy at GM is simple: offer a broad range of clean and efficient vehicles, powered by different sources of energy, to respond optimally to local consumer needs around the world. We view this as an extraordinary opportunity, a chance to, in essence, reinvent the automobile industry through technology and innovation.” So said Rick Wagoner, GM chairman and CEO, before the reveal of another in the corporations E-Flex architectures. Earlier in the year in Detroit they showed the Volt concept which uses a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder internal combustion engine for charging the batteries that actually power the car. In Shanghai they showed one that uses a hydrogen fuel cell. And in Germany there was the Opel Flextreme, a diesel E-Flex variant. (There were also various other vehicles, like the Opel/Vauxhall Agila, a compact five-door, but this was certainly most notable.) The Flextreme uses a 1.3-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel that is used to power the lithium ion battery system. The range on pure electric power is 34 miles. The ultra-modern four-seater (as a concept, it ought to be ultra-modern) has rear-hinged doors; there is no B-pillar on the vehicle. The rear hatch doesn’t open fully; there is a center section that remains in place and the two tailgate doors swing to the side and upward. There is an extensive use of polymer materials for lightweighting. The roof is a transparent laminate. The panoramic windshield is a polycarbonate (it forms part of the roof structure). (GM engineers worked with those from SABIC Innovative Plastics, formerly GE Plastics for reducing weight.) But the real kicker is the pair of Segway PT personal transportation devices located below the cargo floor at the back of the vehicle. They have specially modified handlebars for storage. While docked in the vehicle they are charged along with the Flextreme’s batteries. They can be used to travel up to 23 miles. With 0 exhaust.
The Kids Are Indifferent
“If the motor industry is going to survive beyond the next few years, we are going to have to work hard to attract future generations of drivers—people who currently find it difficult to love the car. Mixim is one way to do that. It combines a sociable three-plus-one interior with controls and visual projections that are familiar to the computer generation. And it uses environmentally friendly battery power.”—Shiro Nakamura, senior vice president and head of Design, Nissan Motor Company. The Mixim is an electric vehicle concept that deploys two Nissan “Super Motors” (Super Motor rotors are positioned on the inside and outside of a single stator so that power can be delivered through two shafts; because of its design it can be a third smaller than two comparable conventional electric motors), one for the front set of wheels and one for the rear. The “one” in the seating layout is the driver: there is a central driving position. The steering wheel is said to be predicated on a controller for a driving video game and the gauges are setup so that there is a “virtual display” under the display of reality as seen through the sloped windshield. The work that led to the Mixim was conducted by the Nissan Exploratory and Advance Planning Dept. Explained its general manager, François Bancon, “The young of today have a different sense of reality. They are no longer so interested in products but in experiences. They interface the world through the computer. Our task was to develop a program that they could identify with. And out of that program came Mixim.” Said another way, perhaps, is that kids care more about iPods and the Internet than autobahns and interstates. Bancon: “Teenagers seem to have a pretty similar outlook on the car whether they live in Europe, the United States or Japan. We found that they are not car enthusiasts; the car is simply not part of their culture.” So if companies like Nissan are going to have a future that involves things with tires and wheels, then it is important to create something that would be appealing. The design team for the Mixim, headed up by Masato Inoue, had an average age of 25.
One Is Not Enough
BMW owns MINI. MINI has proven itself to be quite a success in the U.S. (and elsewhere) for those who are looking for a stylish, fun-to-drive vehicle, a vehicle with character, not a penalty box. But BMW is now adding something to its lineup that could, in some ways, be competitive with the MINI. It’s the BMW 1 Series Coupé. And, yes, it is coming to America. Specifically, the BMW 135i Coupé. (There are also five- and three-door versions.) Unlike most compact cars, this is a rear-drive vehicle. The Coupé is 171.6-in. long and has a 104.7-in. wheelbase. Although this is a diminutive BMW, it is still a BMW, including the kidney-shaped grille openings in the front and the Hofmeister kick on the bodyside. As the vehicle is positioned more in terms of performance than economy, the hood is comparatively long and the decklid (which features a built-in spoiler) is short. However, BMW’s new watchword is “EfficientDynamics,” so they’re paying attention to things somewhat ecological. So the top-end 306-hp straight six is fitted with two turbochargers for more efficient performance: the vehicle is electronically limited to 155 mph; the average fuel consumption, based on the EU standard (not the EPA) is 22.5 mpg.
While we don’t ordinarily get into things political, one thing is certainly striking as regards the introduction of the Volkswagen up! (yes, that’s right, lower-case sort of like smart cars, but with the addition of punctuation, which isn’t often used in the names of vehicles). First of all, this diminutive (it is 135.8-in. long and 64-in. wide) four-passenger city car with a rear-positioned engine is a concept vehicle, not a production car. Walter de Silva, VW’s chief designer, remarked, “The up! is not a car whose form will become obsolete within a very brief period of time,” but Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, VW board member with responsibility for Technical Development, stated, “For Volkswagen, the response of IAA visitors will be a decisive test to determine whether the concept has the same kind of potential possessed by the Beetle at one time or by the Golf today.” In other words, while the design may have legs, like many concept cars, it may be seen not on roadways but only the runways at show venues. Still, the up! has a bit of uncharacteristic significance, at least based on the photo opportunity that brought together Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, chairman of the VW Board of Management, and Dr. Angela Merkel, German federal chancellor. We can’t think of the last time we saw the top-elected official of the U.S. at an auto show with, say, an economy-driving vehicle like the F-150, to say nothing of a tiny concept car.