- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

It's no accident that numerous manufacturers set up design camps in Southern California. Design studios pepper the region, extracting its colorful, trend-setting essence. Odds are that creations brought to life in Southern California eventually will gain acceptance with the rest of the nation. General Motors has unveiled vehicles either inspired by or created in the area.

GM believes these functional vehicles will ignite in California and explode across the other states. These possess the usual Southern California elements fanciful function, low emissions, youthful pizazz and superb performance but with serious practicality that's as attention-getting as their glitzy exteriors. While not pickups in the traditional sense, each offers a convertible load floor for pickup-style utility.

Cadillac EXT headlining this event marquee is a vehicle created to draw rave reviews by consumers who share a special mentality. The source of lighthearted discussions for decades, occasionally seen in radical customized form, is no longer a laughing matter Cadillac actually is building a production pickup truck. Its wreath-and-crest emblem is tacked to the four-door, five-passenger 2002 Escalade EXT, which Cadillac tags a sport utility truck or SUT. Designed to combine qualities of both a premium pickup and SUV, this relative of Chevy's 2002 Avalanche hybrid is specially skinned and V-8 powered to fit Cadillac tradition.

Functionality gets the spotlight at the rear, with a cargo box that can be configured as either a pickup-style bed or enclosed trunk. The key is a flexible, rugged midgate that operates similarly to a tailgate to separate the 60/40-split folding second-row seat from the 5-foot-3-inch bed. When big hauling needs arise, the midgate can be folded into the cabin, and rear seats dropped flat to create an 8-foot-1-inch-long load floor. Escalade EXT features a Utility Enhancement System with a rigid, three-piece cargo cover and lockable tailgate that securely encloses cargo.

Cadillac-style muscle is flexed beneath the hood with a 345-horsepower, 6-liter Vortec V-8 that sends power to 17-inch wheels. Full-time all-wheel drive is standard, as well as the StabiliTrak System that automatically maximizes handling and braking dynamics.

Chevy Borrego Concept a more obvious case of California dreamin' is evident with Chevrolet's Borrego sport truck. Wayne Cherry, GM vice president of design, said it's an example of how GM is focusing on the L.A. culture for design inspiration. It's a vehicle, he said, for young people who believe they "set not follow trends."

Partnered with Fuji Heavy Industries, the maker of Subaru, this vehicle was developed to pique youth awareness by summoning the spirits of Baja desert and European rally racing. Based on Subaru's Legacy, Borrego inherits Legacy's all-wheel-drive system, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission.

Similar to Escalade, Borrego touts a convertible rear end that allows opened or closed configurations. By reducing its 2+2 seating to the front bucket, its designer claims a load floor can be created to accommodate a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood.

Pontiac Vibe excitement reverberated at the auto show's Pontiac display with a cool, ice-blue Pontiac Vibe. Craig Bierley, Pontiac Vibe brand manager, said the youth-focused vehicle seamlessly blends attributes of a sports car, sport wagon and SUV.

Aside from the expected Pontiac split-port grille, Vibe's sleek form offers fresh lines with little comparison to other vehicles in the lineup. Most distinctive is its fastback-style roof line, accentuated by an integrated roof rack. Creating a spacious and flexible interior to accommodate the needs of its active-lifestyle buyers is a focus. Along with the 40/60-split rear seats folding to create an expansive load floor and 57.2 cubic feet of cargo space, the front passenger seat folds flat so extra-long items can be hauled.

Go-for-it buyers can fill the cabin with powerful vibes by opting for the high-performance Monsoon audio system. It delivers 200-watt sound through six speakers. In base form, Vibe offers an AM/FM radio with CD player. An in-dash, six-disc changer is optional.

Standard power under the hood is delivered to front wheels by a 130-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. The show vehicle sports 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in P265/40R-18 tires.

With the continuing trend of manufacturers moving design operations to Southern California, expect many future GM vehicles to reflect the out-of-the-box thinking of the region's trend-setting culture.

MOTOR MATTERS

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