SSR Paces Nextel Cup
NASCAR fans love their pickup trucks. Chevy surprised the crowd at the Auto Club 500, the second race on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup 2005 schedule, by pacing the race with a special-edition SSR. The Chevy SSR pace truck will lead the field at 20 Cup events this year. Chevy is the Official Pace Vehicle of NASCAR, and the SSR joins Corvette, Monte Carlo, and Silverado pace vehicles at a total of 60 NASCAR events in 2005 including 28 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races, 17 Busch Series races, and 15 Craftsman Truck races.

Chevy made sure you won't miss the SSR pace truck - it sports a four-color flame job that starts with Sling Shot Yellow on the leading edge that merges with Hot Orange, then Torch Red, and finally Kinetic Blue on the bed. There's a big red Chevy bow tie on the hood and unique event logos on the doors for each race.

No modifications were needed to keep the SSR in front of the field. Chevy dropped the hot LS2 6.0L small-block V-8 in between the SSR's fenders this year mated to an optional six-speed manual transmission. With 390 hp on tap, the LS2 will catapult the retro SSR from 0-60 mph in 5.29 seconds. For '05, the SSR carries a base price of $42,555, complete with the standard power retractable hardtop that stows in the back wall of the cab at the touch of a button. With the top down, who wouldn't love to see the view the pace driver has in his rearview mirror coming off Turn 4?

'07 Toyota FJ Cruiser Debuts
Toyota will produce the retro FJ Cruiser sport-utility vehicle. Unveiled at the recent Chicago Auto Show, the production FJ Cruiser retains many of the design cues that made the concept vehicle so popular when it debuted at the 2003 NAIAS in Detroit. The production design is a joint venture between Toyota Motor Corporation and Calty Design Research, the manufacturer's California design center.

The FJ Cruiser draws design inspiration from the original FJ40 utility vehicle, which went out of production in 1983 after a 35-year production run. True to the original, the FJ Cruiser is intended to be functional and utilitarian. "The FJ Cruiser effectively fills a gap in the Toyota lineup which was once our core heritage - capable, affordable, and durable vehicles that are youthful, fun to drive, aggressive, and tough." States Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager of Toyota Division. The design is rugged and targets the youth market at the lower end of Toyota's SUV line. Pricing has not been released, but industry insiders project a low-to-mid-$20,000 range.

The FJ Cruiser will be built on a modified 4Runner platform with standard 17-inch wheels and four-wheel disc brakes. Offering seating for five, the two-door, five-passenger body style incorporates hidden rear access doors to aid entry and egress. Toyota's Star Safety System is standard and includes Vehicle Stability Control, TRAC traction control, antilock brakes, and electronic brake-force distribution. A two-part rear hatch offers flip-up glass for easy access to the cargo area. Overall interior feel is functional and utilitarian, reminiscent of the Honda Element and Nissan Xterra.

The FJ Cruiser will be available in both 4x2 and 4x4 configurations. Toyota's 4.0L V-6 is standard, offering 245 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. FJ Cruiser 4x4 buyers will also be able to order an optional six-speed manual transmission. Towing capacity is an impressive 5,000 pounds. Toyota dealers should start seeing the FJ Cruiser in early 2006 as an '07 model.

Nitro Follows M80 Theme
Chicago was also the stage for the unveiling of the midsize Dodge Nitro SUV concept vehicle. The five-passenger Nitro is smaller than the Durango and would fill a popular segment if Dodge decides to take the Nitro to market. Trevor Creed, senior vice president, Chrysler Group Design, says, "This is more than just another typical SUV design statement. The Dodge Nitro concept is brimming with character; it evokes emotion through its rugged styling and dominant stance."

Compared with the rounded lines of the Durango, the Nitro delivers a fresh look with crisp edges. The concept was finished in bright anodized-red metallic paint with brushed-silver accents. The Nitro rolls on 20s and features full-time four-wheel drive, an independent SLA front suspension, and a five-link rear suspension.

Under the hood is a Magnum 3.7L V-6 that produces 210 hp at 5,200 rpm and 235 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Chrysler's 42RLE four-speed automatic handles the shifting chores. According to Dodge, the combination is potent enough to propel the 4,115-pound Nitro from 0-60 mph in 9.6 seconds and through the quarter-mile traps in 16.9 seconds with a top speed of 108 mph.

The concept's interior is trimmed in rich black leather with bright-red inserts and offers electroluminescent instrument lighting, and a satin-silver center console that carries the DVD-based navigation system with a 7-inch LED screen. The Nitro's interior is designed to be functional as well; the front passenger and rear seats all fold-flat to provide exceptional cargo volume. One of our favorite features, however, is the textured-vinyl rear cargo floor that slides rearward with the hatch open to aid loading and unloading.

Jim Baldwin Buys Corr
As this issue went to press, breaking news out of Indianapolis reveals that major Southern California land developer Jim Baldwin has purchased the Championship Off Road Racing (CORR) Lucas Oil Racing Series and the production assets of Marty Reid Enterprises from Marty Reid. Baldwin, an avid off-road racer and fan of the sport, has ambitious plans to take professional short-course off-road racing to the next level with an infusion of operating capital.

CORR grew out of the long-running Short course Off-road Driver's Association (SODA) Series in the Midwest. Though CORR has sampled races in Vegas and Glen Helen, California, in the past, the move west didn't stick. Baldwin plans to remedy this with growth in Southern California. According to Baldwin, "California fans, sponsors, and racers have been waiting on CORR to bring its show to the West Coast. This will happen very quickly. Several potential Southern California locations are presently being looked at." CORR offers an impressive television package, with a total of 84 hours of exclusive coverage on the Speed Channel network.

Duramax Production Increases
DMAX, the joint-venture General Motors/Isuzu production plant in Moraine, Ohio, is being updated with $50 million in new equipment. The expansion will allow DMAX to increase production of the Duramax from 172,000 units in 2004 to 195,000 units this year, with production targets above 200,000 next year. The 6.6L Duramax turbodiesel is currently offered in Chevy Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD pickups. Hummer will put the Duramax in the special-edition H1 Alpha model, and the company is considering making the diesel an option on the H2 in the near future.

Quadrasteer Option Canned
Delphi's innovative Quadrasteer four-wheel steering system won't be an option on the next generation of fullsize General Motors pickups when the '07 models debut next year. Currently offered on the Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra fullsize pickups, and Chevy Suburban and GMC Denali SUVs, Quadrasteer has proven to be a low-volume option.

The system turns the rear wheels as much as 12 degrees in the opposite direction of the front wheels to substantially reduce the turning radius. Towing was a target market for Quadrasteer, since the improved maneuverability makes backing a trailer and threading a long rig through tight spaces much easier. At high speeds, the rear wheels turn at a very slight angle in the same direction as the front wheels, reducing yaw and improving overall stability.

GM has an exclusive on the Quadrasteer technology, which prevented other manufacturers from adopting the system. Several manufacturers have expressed interest, and Delphi is hopeful Quadrasteer with be an OE option again in the near future.

GMC Envoy XUV Discontinued
Poor sales numbers are blamed for GMC's decision to pull the plug on production of the sliding-roof Envoy XUV. The power rear roof section XUV provides headroom for carrying tall cargo and incorporates an Avalanche-style mid-gate for flexible loading. The XUV found a market niche with pet owners and contractors, but that niche wasn't large enough to support continuation of the production line.

GMC projected the XUV would account for one-third of Envoy sales. Unfortunately, the current product mix is closer to 10 percent. The limiting factor seems to be the XUV's five-passenger seating configuration in a market that likes three rows of seats. The Oklahoma City production plant where GMC builds the XUV has switched over to production of the seven-passenger Envoy Denali XL.

Ram Daytonas Lap The Speedway
The first 75 production versions of the winged-wonder Dodge Ram Daytona were treated to track time at the Daytona Super Speedway prior to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season opener in February. The special-edition '06 Daytonas were used during driver introduction parade laps. Dodge also used the event for a dealer drive-away event, with participating dealers driving the first-production Ram Daytonas home to their dealerships.

New Fullsize Gm Suvs On The Horizon
Keep your eyes peeled for a new big utility vehicle from the General. At the recent Chicago Auto Show, GM officials confirmed that the North American International Auto Show, more commonly known as the Detroit Auto Show, will be the stage for the unveiling of the GMT900 line of fullsize SUVs. Large luxury SUVs offer sizeable margins and as such are a big money maker for GM. The next generation is said to push the comfort envelope with a much more refined interior and improved ride and handling characteristics.

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