It's January and that means that its time for the annual three day extravaganza of world premieres that is the Detroit Auto Show. Dozens of production and concept vehicles will be vying for the attention of the gathered throngs of journalists that make the trek to the Motor City from all corners of the globe. This year's Detroit show press days run from Sunday, Jan. 13, through Tuesday, Jan. 15.

The Detroit auto show is always an exciting and wonderous place to be. All the major automotive players are there trying to make the biggest, loudest, and most dramatic vehicle introduction possible--some succeed, some fail. And we're there to watch. Last year, it was the year of the car, with the Chevy Volt, Dodge Charger, and Camaro concepts getting all the attention. It was a truck wasteland.

This year, look for many of the traditional truck competitors to come out swinging with all sorts of innovations and unique twists on old problems. Recent governmental fuel-economy requirements have changed our world and we'll start seeing the effects of those changes pretty quickly. There's lots of news about new powertrain alternatives, new engineering solutions, and new diesels making their way into just about every full-size pickup and SUV. We have no doubt this will lead to new partnerships, new technologies, and new vehicles in the coming years. The Detroit Three will be hogging much of the limelight, with center stage likely going to Ford and Dodge, as both will be rolling out all-new versions of their iconic F-150 and Ram trucks. In addition, Chrysler will be showing off a troika of eco-friendly concepts, Saturn will have their Vue Green Line Two Mode and Ford will showcase the possible future of the Explorer with the Explorer America Concept. The Germans are also bringing plenty of sheetmetal from Europe, including the first ever U.S.-bound BMW diesels and the Baby Benz GLK ute.

And we'll be right here to bring it all to you and let you know what it all means. For now, take a look at all the new stuff recently bowing at Detroit, but understand this is only the beginning. We still have New York, Chicago, and others to come as well.

Production Vehicles:
2008 Scion xB Release Series 5.0
BMW X6 - Producton Concept
BMW X5 xDrive 3.5d - Producton Concept
2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
2009 Dodge Ram
2009 Ford F150
Kia Borrego
2009 Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid
2009 Subaru Forester

Cadillac Provoq concept
Ford Explorer Americat
2009 Honda Pilot
Hummer HX Concept
Jeep Renegade Concept
Land Rover LRX
Lincoln MKT Concept
Mercedes-Benz Vision GLK Freeside
Nissan FORUM Concept
Saab 9-4X BioPower Concept
Suzuki X-Head Concept
Toyota A-BAT Concept

2009 Ford F-150
Pushing Evolution to the Fast Track

Making its long anticipated debut here in Detroit, the new F-150 is probably the most important vehicle redesign Ford's done in the last 20 years. It's safe to say that Ford's very survival is riding on the success or failure of this sales leader. To make a mistake in this segment and this time in history could spell disaster for Alan Mulally's Bring-Ford-Back plan. With all that said, it looks like Ford has pushed the half-ton pickup onto a new level of problem solving refinement. To begin with, the frame is still fully boxed but has a new front section that improves stiffness and crashworthiness by more than 10 percent. Front and rear springs have been reset for more comfort and control as well.

The new F-150 (complete with a new F-150 logo) will offer three V-8 engines, with the base engine being the carryover 4.6-liter, 2-valve V-8; the middle offering will be the better-breathing 4.6-liter three-valve V-8; the biggest engine offered will be the 5.4-liter, three-valve V-8. Diesel and EcoBoost gas turbo direct-injection engines are planned for 2010. The exterior design is more in line with the recently successful Super Duty lineup, with a bigger, more block-chiseled front grille, more angular cab lines, and a sculpted tailgate that looks as personality defining as the front grille. Inside, fitment and refinement have jumped into another universe, with living-room-quality woods and plastics that seem vaguely Range Rover-ish. In fact, the F-150 will offer a segment-leading seven different trim levels that allow buyers to choose from the basest plain-Jane to the newly introduced Platinum Edition. Other cool new features include an integrated brake controller, a hidden tailgate step and handle, and the industry-first sidebox step that allows for easier, elevated access into the front the pickup bed.

We hear the new F-150 will have its own stowable bed extender, cargo management system, SYNC capability, an exclusive capless fuel-filler system, as well as many other segment firsts. We're guessing, in this extremely competitive segment, pricing will most likely stay the same, ranging from $18,000 on up to $40,000. Look for our driving impression when we get behind the wheel later this summer.


2008 Detroit: 2009 Ford F-150 Design Video
2008 Detroit: 2009 Ford F-150 Engineering Video

2009 BMW X6

BMW's X6, the German automaker's curiously styled four-seat "sports-activity-coupe" crossover, is more than just a new vehicle in a segment made up by BMW's marketing department. The X6 is also a launch pad of sorts for a number of advanced technologies that'll undoubtedly be diffused throughout the rest of the automaker's lineup.

The X6 will come in two variants. The xDrive35i is powered by the now familiar 300-horse, 3.0-liter twin turbo inline-six. But the big stuff what's under the xDrive50i's hood -- a new to the BMW lineup 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8. Both engine variants are mated to a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and as the names imply, come standard with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system that sends 40 percent of the power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear under normal driving conditions.

The new V-8 is rated at 400 horses and 450 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful engine ever available in a BMW sport/ute, easily topping the X5's 350-horsepower, 4.8-liter naturally aspirated V-8. Engine torque reaches its peak at 1800 rpm and stays there until 4500 rpm, which makes the M3's rev-happy V-8 -- with its 295 lb-ft of torque -- seem puny by comparison. BMW says the engine will propel the X6 from 0 to 60 in just 5.3 seconds -- an impressive number for a vehicle likely to weigh well over two tons and just 0.4 second slower than the 500-horsepower Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph on 20-inch-wheel-equipped models

Pricing and detailed specifications will be released as the on-sale date approaches. It is not clear exactly at whom BMW is targeting the X6, but the most likely candidates are people who want an SUV that not only goes fast like the Porsche Cayenne, but also looks like it's supposed to go fast. If it succeeds, expect other automakers to hop on the "sports-activity-coupe" bandwagon. Just what we need, another segment.


2008 Detroit: 2009 BMW X6 Unveiling Video

BMW X5 xDrive35d

BMW is finally bringing its considerable diesel experience to the U.S. Initially, there will be two diesel models, the 335d and X5 xDrive35d, and both will be 50-state legal. The X5 xDrive35d will be powered by a version of the company's 265-horse, 425-pound-foot 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six, with an estimated 0-to-62 time of 7.2 seconds and fuel economy of 19 mpg city/25 highway. The system uses urea injection (called AdBlue) in addition to the oxidation catalyst, particulate filter, and SCR catalyst. The AdBlue system, which uses two storage tanks, only needs to be refilled at the same time as an oil change, and will be included in BMW's free maintenance program. The vehicles should be on sale here by late 2008.

2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Cadillac announced the world premiere of the Escalade Hybrid in November around the time Chevy debuted the Tahoe at the 2007 Los Angeles auto show. It's powered by a 2-Mode Hybrid system and will deliver more than a 50-percent improvement in fuel economy in city driving. The Escalade Hybrid will be available in 2WD with 6000 pounds of useable towing capacity or the 4WD with 5700 pounds. The Escalade Hybrid is the first full-size luxury SUV on the market and will be on sale summer 2008. The Hybrid model will be available only in the standard Escalade body style.

2009 Dodge Ram
More like a Mild Revolution

We're never going to the kind of dramatic entrance the new Dodge Ram made in 1994 when it broke all previous design molds. That kind of radical departure, especially when they had nothing to lose, just won't happen again in this highly competitive segment. Full-size truck design now has the fortunes of large corporations at stake and nowhere is that more evident than in the new Dodge Ram. Regardless, and to their credit, they are trying to shake things up with some interesting and dramatic designs and problem-solvers. The first thing you'll notice is the newly styled grille, intentionally made to echo the Dodge Charger (and coming Challenger) tilt-forward cross-haired grille. Designers say they wanted the new face of the truck to be like a finger poking in the chest of any competitor that sees their truck coming.

The new look is more balanced and proportional than the previous truck and will offer three different cab configurations: Regular, Quad, and Crew Cabs, the last an all-new offering that will finally give Dodge owner four full-size doors. The three engines are the same 3.7-liter V-6, 4.7-liter V-8, and 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 offered last year, with the bigger V-8 getting all sorts of premium technology and upgrades for 380 horsepower and 404 lb-ft of torque, as well as better fuel economy (thanks to intake improves and a more aggressive MDS computer system).

Interior design is a dramatic change for the Ram with vastly improved seats, soft-touch dash materials, a new center console shifter, and even more storage options. We should also note the transmission will offer a very cool floor-mounted (foot) shifter with either of the V-8 options. Other significant departures from the previous generation are underneath the truck as well. All 1500 Rams will offer a live axle and coil spring suspension in the rear to allow for better empty and loaded ride and handling. Rams will give up a little in max payload and towing capacity, but will most likely offer the best ride of the segment. Additionally, Ram will be the first to offer its RamBox as an option with CrewCab models, where hidden in-bed storage compartments will offer more lockable cargo room than many sedan trunks.

You'll even be able to use two floor storage chests for drinks or gear with CrewCab models. We assume the new Dodge Ram will continue to be aggressively priced, slotting in the $22,000 to $40,000 range, depending on model and engine choice.


2008 Detroit: 2009 Dodge Ram Video
Overview: 2008 Dodge Ram Mega Cab Video

2009 Kia Borrego

Kia is branching into a new segment with its body-on-frame, seven-passenger Borrego sport/utility. The Explorer-size vehicle features a 375-horse, 4.6-liter V-8 (standard engine should be a 242-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6), with a clean-diesel six to follow a year after launch. It rides on an independent rear suspension and comes with a choice of four-wheel-drive systems: standard electronically switched part-time with low range or optional Torque-On-Demand full-time, also with low range. Transmissions are a six-speed automatic with the V-8, five-speed automatic with the V-6. Borrego will tow 7500 pounds, Kia says.

Base price will be in the mid-$20s when the Borrego hits showrooms in late July or August, but a top-trim model with navigation system, backup camera, and the V-8 will breach $30,000. And Kia's on-again, off-again plans for a pickup based on the Borrego's platform are off again.


2008 Detroit: 2009 Kia Borrego Video

Saturn Vue Green Line 2 Mode Hybrid

GM's 2 Mode hybrid system, first introduced for the company's full-size SUVs, will now be available in the Vue. This is the first front-drive vehicle in GM's lineup to have the 2 Mode option--and also is the smallest. The system, co-developed with BMW and the former DaimlerChrysler, features regenerative braking and electric-only power from two 55-kilowatt electric motors at low speed. Higher speeds prompt the use of the Green Line's high-feature, direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 (257 horsepower, 248 pound-feet). The Green Line is said to have 50 percent better fuel economy than the gas-only V-6, and will offer a range of more than 500 miles and max towing capacity of 3500 pounds. Production is scheduled to begin in late 2008.

2009 Subaru Forester

Now in its third incarnation, Subaru's versatile Forester Crossover has received the new, swept-back fascia seen on the restyled Tribeca and Impreza. Overall, the look is sleek and smooth when compared with the current hard-edged wagon. The trustworthy 2.5L Boxer still resides underhood, but with revised tuning to deliver better low-end and mid-range torque. A longer wheelbase (103 inches) with strengthened suspension and Subaru Dynamic Chassis Control Concept improve ride, handling, and quiet. Cancel that quiet with the advanced audio system upgrades like navigation, satellite radio, AUX, iPod, or MP3.

Cadillac Provoq concept

The Cadillac Provoq concept is a small-midsize hydrogen fuel-cell crossover that runs on GM's E-Flex propulsion system. This marks the fifth generation for GM's electrically driven vehicles that combine a fuel-cell system and a lithium-ion battery producing no emissions other than water. The concept's new fuel-cell technology is half the size of its predecessor but Delivers 30 percent more power and performance over the previous-generation fuel-cell system. The concept can drive 300 miles on a single fill of hydrogen. The Provoq has a top speed of 100 mph and its reaches 60 mph in 8.5 seconds.

The Provoq's sleek, athletic shape reflects the second-generation CTS with the shape of the front grille. Neon-lit taillamps blend in to the rear hatch with style and are aerodynamically efficient. The Provoq has short overhangs and a sporty ride height complemented by 21-inch wheels wrapped with Michelin tires incorporating Green-X technology.

The Cadillac Provoq features several new advancements in luxury-hybrid such as a solar panel integrated into the roof to help power onboard accessories, front grille louvers that close at highway speed to aid aerodynamics and open at low speed to provide maximum cooling to the fuel-cell stack, flush door handles that feature push-to-release operation, and low-drag roof rack. A variety of recycled and recyclable materials were used on the concept. The headliner is lined with a soy-based material, the carpet is made of recycled polyester and jute, the chrome trim is made with less-harmful materials, the door/instrument panels are made from a carbon-fiber-type material called Xorel, and the leather is free of harmful chemicals.


2008 Detroit: Cadillac Provoq Concept Unveiling Video

Ford Explorer America

Ford's Explorer is an icon and for 15 years was the best-selling SUV in North America. Now, in the era of crossovers and higher gas prices, the Explorer needs to reinvent itself.

We caught up with designer Freeman Thomas and the new Explorer America concept crossover from Ford on a recent trip to Detroit. "Think of this modern vehicle as a 'smarter utility' that visually demonstrates how we're making vehicles more fuel efficient, lighter, and more aerodynamic--while still providing plenty of space and capability," says Thomas. The grille, while bold and trucklike, seems to be out of sync (pun intended) with current Ford thinking as well as with the 2009 Ford F-150. Additionally, in spite of its practicality, the passenger-side sliding rear door doesn't seem likely, either. Much of the popularity of the Explorer has been due to its "anti-minivan" configuration. What we would expect is a much lighter and smaller Explorer; in fact, Ford has targeted an average of 500 pounds of weight reduction in the coming decade as part of its plan to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy and CO2 targets. Beyond weight reduction, the Explorer and almost all Ford vehicles will be powered by a new generation of highly fuel-efficient and CO2-friendly gasoline turbocharged I-4 and V-6 direct-injection engines mated to six-speed transmissions. In the case of the next-gen Explorer, we expect the elimination of the currently popular V-8 option, replaced by a 4.0-liter V-6 with more horsepower. As to what kind of underpinnings the next Explorer will have, we've been told by insiders that it'll go to a car-based unibody platform.

When pressed on this point, Freeman Thomas responded, "With the Explorer America concept, we're showing how that migration might work and how we could strike the balance of functionality and more fuel efficiency, while providing traditional midsize SUV customers with the space and functionality they need and want."--Richard Truesdell


2008 Detroit: 2009 Ford F-150 Design Video

Honda Pilot Prototype

This isn't the production version of the 2009 Pilot. Rather, Honda describes it as a prototype of the next-gen SUV. Yet the actual vehicle is supposed to make its debut by spring, so it's hard to believe that much will change between now and then. Little information was released about the eight-passenger model. We know its V-6 will now use three-mode cylinder shutoff (six-, four-, and three-cylinder modes) to save fuel, the cabin is said to have more space in all three rows, and the body structure will use more high-strength steel than any other Honda to date. You can bet most of the more aggressive styling will be part of the production model.

Hummer Hx

This short-wheelbase dune-runner concept is part Trophy Truck Baja racer, part trail buggy, with an independent suspension, high-output E85-capable V-6, and seating for four. The doors and roof reconfigure easily, while many of the interior controls can tuck into the console and dash to create an open cabin layout. Wide openings allow for huge wheel-travel numbers and big, aggressive tires are designed for any trail challenge. Hummer is hoping response will make this short-wheelbase model the new entry-level Hummer, helping expand the brand. And, even though this could become the smallest Hummer in the line, it could potentially be priced higher than the H3--think an ultra-deluxe Wrangler Rubicon.


2008 Detroit: Hummer HX Concept Video

Jeep Renegade

The 2008 Jeep Renegade Concept clearly has sport on its mind. With a chopped-down, speedster-style windscreen, roll bar, convertible body style, and a hose-out, water-friendly interior, the Renegade Concept has been designed with a go-anywhere attitude. And of course, its lithium-ion battery combined with a small-displacement Bluetec diesel engine ensures that it stays true to the eco-theme. Emphasis has also been placed on light weight with the extensive use of aluminum in the concept's construction. A range of 40 miles on pure electric power and combined electric/diesel fuel economy of 110 mpg are impressive figures -- that is if they are actually attainable in a production version.

The press release doesn't say how far up the Rubicon a 40-mile on-road range translates, but when it's spent the Renegade's battery gets recharged by a small-displacement Bluetec clean-diesel engine said to be capable of averaging 110 mpg. A speedster windshield, rollbar, hose-out interior, and wheels way out at the corners for optimal approach/departure angles add off-road cred to this tiny B-segment player.

UPDATED!! January 14, 2007 The 2008 Jeep Renegade Concept clearly has sport on its mind. With a chopped-down, speedster-style windscreen, roll bar, convertible body style, and a hose-out, water-friendly interior, the Renegade Concept has been designed with a go-anywhere attitude. And of course, its lithium-ion battery combined with a small-displacement Bluetec diesel engine ensures that it stays true to the eco-theme. Emphasis has also been placed on light weight with the extensive use of aluminum in the concept's construction. A range of 40 miles on pure electric power and combined electric/diesel fuel economy of 110 mpg are impressive figures -- that is if they are actually attainable in a production version.


2008 Detroit: Jeep Renegade Concept Video

Land Rover LRX

The LRX concept is a smaller, sportier alternative to the Range Rover Sport. It blends traditional Land Rover exterior design elements with a sports-car fast windshield, low, sloping roofline, and see-through C-pillars. The 2+2 has full-time AWD with HDC, uncovered aluminum (no wood), and an easy-to-configure cabin. The LRX is green-friendly--the leather seats are vegetable-tanned (chromium-free) and headliner and door inserts are made from recycled glass bottles. Seen as Land Rover's Mini Cooper or Audi TT, this concept could go on sale in about three years and, despite being 10 inches shorter than the LR2 it's based on, would likely start at a higher MSRP.

2008 Lincoln MKT Concept

With Lincoln expected to get a version of the 2009 Ford Flex crossover, we can't help but think the Lincoln MKT concept is a preview of the car caught undergoing preliminary testing a couple weeks ago. Significantly, the MKT concept makes use of Ford's anticipated EcoBoost engine technology (formerly dubbed "Twin Force") in the form of a 3.5-liter V-6 which uses direct injection and turbocharging to produce the power of a V-8 with the fuel efficiency of a V-6.The AWD concept's flex-fuel capable 3.5-liter V-6 makes 415 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque according to Ford, which is sent through a six-speed select-shift transmission. In the spirit of responsible, environmentally-friendly luxury, the MKT uses Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ -- two oddly named recycled plastic materials -- in body panels, energy absorbers, wire bundles, and glazing. Ford says the material helps the vehicle resist heat and helps quell noise and vibration as well.

Mercedes-Benz Vision GLK Freeside

All that seems to separate the Vision GLK from the spied vehicle are its 20-inch wheels the concept's off-color cladding that we can only hope won't be a production feature -- even GM has given that up. The vehicle is powered by a 170-horsepower, 2.2-liter four-cylinder diesel engine featuring the automaker's Bluetec emissions-reducing technology.

When the production GLK arrives, it will reportedly come with two gas engine options, both of which are available on the C-Class (the vehicle is said to be based on a C-Class wagon), a 228-horspower 3.0-liter and a 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. A diesel option along the lines of what powers the concept will likely arrive later, although no official announcement has been made. Mercedes claims the five-passenger SUV will be as off-road capable as its ML-Class, thanks largely to a new 4matic all-wheel-drive system.


2008 Detroit: Mercedes-Benz Vision GLK Concepts Video

Nissan FORUM

Nissan is looking to make over the minivan image. The new FORUM concept focuses on a hipper, younger audience that would normally shun the stodgy soccer-mom image. The FORUM would retain the minivan passenger/cargo functionality in a more aggressive and appealing package. It has also upped the fun factor with increased performance and handling capabilities. Nissan is aiming to entice Dad back into the driver's seat.

2008 Saab 9-4X BioPower Concept

The 9-4x will be built on a new version of an existing platform called "Premium Theta." Regular Theta underpins the Chevy Equinox, Pontiac Torrent, Suzuki XL-7, Saturn Vue, and Opel Antara. Saab will share Premium Theta with the 2010 Cadillac BRX, and both will be two-row-only crossovers. It gives Saab an SUV it can sell against BMW X3, Infiniti EX35 and others of that ilk, including Volvo's upcoming XC60.

The Saab Premium Theta will stand out for its Aero X concept-inspired three-hole grille and sculptured hood, wraparound windshield, fuselage side surfacing, and signature Saab 900-inspired C-pillar. It also features a ski-equipment storage system designed with partner Salomon and, of course, the ignition key on the floor. Saab stylists referenced ice sculpture and Swedish design icon Hasselblad cameras for the 9-4x.

Suzuki X-Head Concept

Beyond looking like a miniature dump truck, the X-Head features an adaptive bed that can be fitted with a number of modules that serve different purposes. For example, a "Camper" module provides enough sleeping room for two adults, a "Fashion" module provides "stylish urban mobility"(whatever that means), and a "Rescue" module is equipped for, well, rescue operations in various conditions.

The X-HEAD is a cross-utility vehicle that offers unprecedented possibilities. With DNA reflecting the rough-road performance and toughness of the Jimny and Grand Vitara (Escudo) and the load-carrying capability of the Carry, it's the epitome of functional dependability and fun. Its name signifies diverse new potential for accommodating the lifestyles and priorities of users.

A key feature of the X-HEAD is that it can hold various load-bed units for diverse purposes. For instance, it can hold a unit called the Camper, which allows two adults to sleep in comfort, a unit called the Fashion, which provides stylish urban mobility, or a unit called the Rescue, which is designed for rescue operations in a wide range of road conditions.

Toyota A-BAT Concept

Toyota returns to its compact-truck roots with its latest concept vehicle, the A-BAT (Advanced Breakthrough Aero Truck). The A-BAT uses a hybrid powertrain reported to provide modern versatility, roominess, and style for a new kind of buyer.

"Driving from the suburbs to the city is a way of life for many people," says Kevin Hunter, president, Calty Design Research, Inc. "We've taken Toyota's truck heritage to a different level by envisioning a vehicle capable of maneuvering the suburbs as well as dirt roads. This compact truck is as comfortable for long commutes as it is for road trips. It can accommodate outdoor toys and home-improvement supplies. Plus, customers benefit from the hybrid powertrain's low emissions and fuel economy."

2008 Scion xB Release Series 5.0

Customization is big with Scion owners, but the Japanese automaker has announced that it's pre-customized 2008 Scion xB Release Series 5.0 will hit showrooms this February.

Featuring Gold Rush Mica paint (similar to that seen on the 2007 Chicago Auto Show xB show car), the xB R.S. 5.0 will incorporate a KenStyle body kit, Release Series wheel covers, and a moonroof -- available for the first time on an xB. The interior trim features Gold Rush Mica accents to match the exterior, while individually numbered badges designate each xB R.S. 5.0 as the genuine article.

Scion will sell 2,500 examples of the xB Release Series 5.0 and will fetch a $2,470 premium over the xB's current MSRP of $15,650 with manual transmission or $16,600 with automatic. An optional color matched spoiler adds an additional $320 to the package price, while the destination charge of $620 is not included in the MSRP.