Geneva Unveils Hit at Core of Automakers' Class, Style

International automakers unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show new concept cars, some of which were thinly veiled production models or, at the very least, point the way to a brand's styling future.

If there was one showstopper, it surely was Saab's Aero X. Saab executives say it is purely a concept that won't go into production, though its styling cues will.

The Aero X is a performance-oriented two-seat sports coupe. It plays to the hilt Saab's Swedish heritage -- the automaker hauled in blocks of ice from Sweden to decorate the runway for the Aero X's debut. It also capitalizes on Saab's aviation history -- the company's founders were aviators, not car guys.

The concept's most striking feature is the canopy top that resembles that of a jet aircraft. The doors, windows, windshield and a portion of the hood lift skyward like a fighter jet's canopy. The windshield has no pillars, providing an unobstructed 180-degree view.

The driver's cockpit also resembles a jet fighter with gauges looking three-dimensional set in a special kind of Swedish glass. The Aero X is all-wheel drive and is powered by a 400-horsepower, twin-turbo, BioPower V6 engine that is fueled entirely by ethanol.

Hyundai introduced its Genus concept, an attractive crossover that looks like it could go into production tomorrow and sell equally well in the U.S. and overseas.

Designed in Europe, the Genus rides on the Sonata sedan's platform. Inside, it resembles a minivan, with a roomy cabin and a rear seat that is a traditional bench seat, or folds flat into the floor or slides outside of the vehicle's body to carry a bike. It also features a panoramic glass roof and has all-wheel drive.

Hyundai executives have said they intend to emphasize crossovers in their future product portfolio. In fact, the Genus is the second crossover concept unveiled this year. The sporty Talus made its debut at Detroit's auto show.

Kia introduced its Cee'd concept, a five-door C-segment hatchback for Europe only. The minivan-like vehicle goes into production later this year at Kia's new plant in Slovakia as part of Kia's ambitious plans to boost European sales by 60 percent to 500,000 vehicles a year in the future.

BMW's Mini presented the fourth and final chapter in its Traveller concept car series. Like those shown in Frankfurt, Tokyo and Detroit, the Traveller unveiled in Geneva is based on a stretched, wagon version of the Cooper, but with two, not four, doors. Each concept were meant to show regional variations on the Traveller theme. The Geneva theme was ease of access with front and rear doors that have doors that swing out and front. The rear side windows open electronically.

Mini announced in Detroit that it will produce the Traveller in the next few years.

Nissan unveiled an out-of-this world concept called the Terranaut. The company described as "a manned, mobile science laboratory -- earth's equivalent of a lunar rover."

The three-passenger SUV, styled by Nissan's European design studio, has two front seats with a laboratory in back. It features a workstation, giant video screen for its satellite communications system, swiveling chair and refrigerator for provisions. Tents and cooking facilities are stored in compartments. An airtight lock drawer slides out for storing collected samples. The two doors open like clamshells with no pillar between them.

More down to earth, the concept hints at a future Patrol SUV replacement in Europe from Nissan, though styling cues could show up on U.S.-sold SUVs.

Rolls-Royce took the wraps off its 101EX concept. The four-passenger coupe rides on a Phantom chassis but with a shorter wheelbase and an overall length that is nearly 10 inches shorter than the sedan. Its roofline is lowered and its glass is narrower to give it a lower-to the ground look. The cabin is outfitted in machined aluminum and leather, accented by rosewood and red oak. The concept features a ceiling with hundreds of fiber-optics to give the impression of a starry night.

The concept hints at a future coupe, to arrive a year after a Phantom-based convertible.

Another concept that appears destined for production is Toyota's Urban Cruiser. It is based on the Daihatsu BeGo, also unveiled in Geneva. The tiny, SUV-sort of vehicle borrows the RAV4's all-wheel-drive system though the vehicle is smaller than the RAV4 and would slot below it when it goes into production in Europe, and possibly the U.S.

The Volkswagen Concept A earned the name Baby Touareg at the Geneva show. Indeed, it shares the face of the larger Touareg SUV.

VW describes the Concept A as a four-door coupe because it has the silhouette of a coupe more than a sedan or SUV. It is based on the Golf, has all-wheel drive and would compete against the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. No pillar exists between the front and back seats, a feature unlikely to go into production.

A production model based on the concept is planned in the next couple years though its features likely will be toned down from the concept.

Suzuki showed the SX4, which will replace the Aerio late this summer as a 2007 model. In the U.S., the SX4 will be available with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 147 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque.

Aston Martin held the European premiere of its four-door Rapide concept, which made its world debut in Detroit.

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