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Best of show on Detroit's fashion runway

By Eric C. Evarts / January 24, 2000


Every year Cobo Hall, overlooking the Detroit River in this rather dingy city, serves as runway for the haute couture of automobiles.

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The vehicles at the North American International Auto Show may or may not make it to the streets, but they set the fashion tone for the cars that will.

Here are 14 of the most-interesting and influential concepts shown in Detroit this year. Several are destined for the road. And those that aren't could be if manufacturers receive enough positive public reaction. What do you think?


DaimlerChrysler's trendy PT Cruiser is a roomy, upright four-door wagon with retro looks, an economical four-cylinder, and the utility of a truck. At $16,000 with lots standard, it's almost guaranteed to be sold out for at least a year - if dealers don't gouge consumers.

The company also showed two concept Cruisers: a hot-rod turbocharged GT and a panel truck. Both could go into production if public reaction is enthusiastic.


Volkswagen Advanced Activity Concept is unlike any earlier truck. It's as big as traditional American pickups, with a bed that will hold a little bit of gear. But it's designed for the Range Rover set, with enough class to drive to the opera.

Inside, the AAC is decked out in thick leather, polished wood, and aluminum. A giant 10-cylinder, twin-turbo diesel engine powers all four wheels all the time, and pneumatic suspension hunkers down on the freeway or raises up for more than 15 inches of clearance.


This Mercedes-Benz open two-seater concept car may fill out the bottom rung of a four-roadster lineup at Chrysler's German parent. Smaller than today's little SLK, the Vision SLA is a tiny Batmobile look-alike based on Mercedes's European subcompact A-class.

The "A" is the company's smallest car to date and won't make it to the US except maybe as a battery or fuel-cell vehicle. The SLA would be powered by a small four-cylinder and priced to compete with the Mazda Miata.


Welcome to the future of pickups. While Nissan recently abandoned plans to build a sport-utility truck, everyone else has picked up on the idea. Chevrolet's macho-looking full-size rig is for Suburban owners tired of trashing nice interiors. It seats six. A hard plastic lid secures cargo in the Avalanche's pickup bed. Just fold the back seats flat and the rear cab wall forward to make an 8-foot floor to carry lumber -still secure beneath the cover. The rear window pops out to create room for taller cargo, such as motorcycles. Two lockable bins in the sides fit backpacks or briefcases.


This so-called "sport-recreation vehicle" is the smaller counterpoint to the Chevy Avalanche crossover vehicle. It's designed more for occasional play and urban commuting than hard work. The Aztek looks like an SUV with the roof cut down like a hatchback. Aztek has stereo controls in the rear for those who picnic on the old-fashioned fold-down lower gate. A flat floor inside can fit a 4-by-8-foot piece of lumber. And a cooler lifts out of the center console. Aztek comes with a 185-horsepower V-6 in front-wheel-drive or an ingeniously simple all-wheel-drive system.


This represents the beginnings of a move from crossover vehicles to truly modular ones. One day it can be a sedan and the next a pickup. LaCrosse is a beautifully sculpted sedan, but its real coup comes when its rear hatchback slides forward into the roof, the rear seats fold forward, and the center of the back end slides into the floor to make a nearly full-size pickup bed in the rear. A third variation keeps the back seat, adds a small rear window, and has a small, square pickup bed in back. Advances, mostly in chassis stiffness, mean it could be for real, GM says.