Dateline Detroit
Showtime at the North American International Auto Show
How times change. To walk the show floor of North America's premier auto show today, it's hard to believe that the very first Detroit Auto Show was held in a beer garden with 33 vehicles and 17 exhibitors. The year was 1907 and in the 98 years since, Detroit grew to be known as the Motor City, and the little Detroit Auto Show has become one of the most important automotive events in the world, ranking of equal importance to the large global auto shows in Frankfurt, Paris, Tokyo, and Geneva.

Now called the North American International Auto Show, or simply NAIAS, the statistics are staggering. Press days now play host to 6,600 journalists from 68 countries. NAIAS brings more than $500 million to the local economy each year. Multi-million-dollar displays fill Detroit's downtown river-front Cobo Hall with all the traditional glitz and glamour. The major displays require months to assemble, as auto manufacturers from around the world come to Detroit to unveil their latest product and futuristic concept vehicles.

While the magnitude of the show is impressive, it's the vehicles that really shine. Perhaps a little lighter on truck surprises than recent years, the 2005 edition was still inspiring. The inside buzz is that 2006 will bring major truck news in Detroit. Sport Truck be there to bring you all the latest news and events.

Ford officials hint that their Explorer Sport Trac Concept signals plans for their next-generation Sport Trac. The super-smooth pearl-white concept is highlighted with polished billet aluminum trim shows-off a body that is 5 inches longer and 2 inches wider than the current model. It's lowered with massive four-wheel discs visible through the 21-inch 10-spoke wheels. Power comes from a healthy 4.6L V-8. Other technical highlights include a fully independent rear suspension and Roll Stability Control.

Derived from a concept that was unveiled at the '04 Detroit show, Range Rover launched the production '06 Range Rover Sport in Detroit. The luxury SUV segment is a busy place these days, but the Range Rover Sport should be able to leave its mark, thanks to a 390hp supercharged 4.2L V-8. Priced between the current Range Rover and the LR3, the Sport is scheduled to hit dealer showrooms this summer. Expect a high level of sophistication with a sport touring edge.

Jeep design, engineering, and product-planning staffs have been quite busy. Looking like a super-sized Wrangler in the front and retro pickup from the cab on back, the Gladiator concept hints that Jeep considering growing the brand to perhaps again include a pickup. Power comes from a 2.8L four-cylinder common-rail diesel and a six-speed manual transmission. The long-wheelbase Gladiator rides on multilink front and rear suspensions and offers a 1,500-pound payload capacity.

ASC tricked-out an '05 SSR, appropriately called the Diamondback, to show-off its low-investment OMNICarbon process, featured on the entire upper surface of the truck. The high-performance carbon-fiber finish definitely sets this SSR apart from the crowd. Diamondback's 6.0L V-8 is pumping out 525 hp, thanks to a boost from a Magnuson supercharger and custom side-exit exhaust. Those are 22-inch Budnik wheels in the rear (20s up front) with BFGoodrich G-Force TAs, and 14-inch Brembos provide additional stopping power.

Looking like a bank vault on wheels, Ford's radical SYNus concept is way out there. Who would have thought designers would draw inspiration from a Brinks truck? When parked, the SYNus locks-down with protective metal shutters over the windshield and side windows. The seatbacks flop forward, transforming the seats to rear-facing lounge chairs for viewing the enormous widescreen LCD display occupying the entire tailgate. The screen can display a view from outside cameras, be used as a display to surf the Internet, or show movies.

Infiniti's Kuraza concept SUV drew considerable attention from the press in Detroit. The design features smooth, flowing lines and a very open interior layout that is accessible through double doors on each side of the vehicle. Inside you will find a full-length center console and six individual bucket seats. The center seats mount on tracks with the ability to slide fore or aft. While very refined, the Kuraza concept delivers a strong performance message sporting 23-inch alloy wheels and wide, aggressive tires.

Ford showed the '06 Harley Davidson F-150 in Detroit. Yes, those are factory 22-inch five-spoke polished-aluminum wheels. It will be the seventh model to come from the successful Ford/Harley alliance. The SuperCab limited-edition (10,000) F-150 will be offered in both 4x2 and all-wheel-drive models. All will have the 5.4L Triton V-8 with a specially tuned exhaust system.

Honda made good on its concept sport-utility pickup by unveiling the production-ready '06 Ridgeline pickup in Detroit this year. The Ridgeline will go on sale in March and features a two-way tailgate (conventional fold-down and side-swing operation) and a huge trunk under the rear bed floor. Built on a fully integrated boxed ladder frame with seven crossmembers, the Ridgeline will offer a 1,100-pound bed payload capacity and 5,000-pound towing capacity. Power comes from Honda's 3.5L VTEC V-6 with 255 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque, mated to a five-speed automatic and a standard Variable Torque Management 4-Wheel Drive system.

If you love the Hemi, you're going to double-love this Jeep Hurricane concept. Front and rear 5.7L Hemi V-8s deliver a total of 670 hp and 740 lb-ft of torque. The wild powertrain configuration is complemented by an equally wild chassis and steering system. The Hurricane can turn both front and rear tires to a radical toe-in position that allows the vehicle to turn within its own wheelbase. All four wheels are powered in the same direction during zero-turn maneuvers by a central transfer case with outboard driveshafts to split axles at each wheel. While it is only a show vehicle, Jeep was quick to point out that several of the technologies have been patented.

Mitsubishi is back in the pickup market with the debut of its new '06 Raider midsize. Sharing common components and architecture with the Dodge Dakota, the Raider will be offered in LS, DuroCross, and XLS models with extended cab and double cab body styles. Power will come from a standard 3.7L V-6, or optional 4.7L V-8 with 230 horses and 290 lb-ft of torque. A Getreg six-speed manual comes standard with the V-6, or you can order a four-speed automatic. The 4.7L V-8 is teamed with a five-speed automatic.

Kia's KCD-II MESA concept SUV is a product of Kia's California Design Center and is intended for the U.S. market. The rugged yet sophisticated design has an aggressive stance with 22-inch wheels pushed out to the far corners of the body. There are six individual bucket seats in three rows separated by a center console. Above is a full-length skylight sunroof and alligator-style roof rack. Other unique features include retractable running boards, an electric tow hitch door, and an LED search light for night operations.