A Car with a Difference | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 10.01.2002
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A Car with a Difference

This year's car trends are for those who want the off-road feeling without sacrificing the luxuries.


James Bond would have loved it - the SmarTruck

It may look like a formidable Ford F350 heavy-duty pickup. But when it's under fire, the SmarTruck can paralyze attackers with electric-shock door handles, fire pepper spray, spread an oil slick and spew tire-puncturing tacks. In addition, the rear roof retracts to expose a turret with a high-powered laser weapon that's operated with a joystick.

What sounds rather like a vehicle in a James Bond film, does in fact, have a James Bond origin. Apparently, the designers from the US Army's National Automotive Centre, who thought up this weird and wonderful machine, were made to watch 4 Bond films before starting on their design.

The vehicle, called SmarTruck, also uses biometrics, leaving only those with the right fingerprints access to the touch-screen main controls. And future versions are said to require fingerprint identification even to open the car doors.

The car, which was originally designed for peacekeeping missions, is just one of several cars on show at this year’s Motor Show in Detroit. However, the SmarTruck is not just proving fascinating to visitors of the show. The US government, especially FBI and the Foreign Office, are showing interest, according to Dennis Wend from the National Automotive Center.

Both offices are on the look out for discreet vehicles, which guarantee safety despite their "everyday" looks.

But not all cars at the Motor Show are as dark and sleek-looking as the SmarTruck. Germany’s carmakers are offering a range of trendy automobiles, designed for the elegant, the stylish and the sophisticated.

Off-road luxury

This year’s main trend at the Motor Show is reflected in these models: the so-called "Crossover" – or off-road-luxury-limousine. The cars are aimed at a young public - for people who want the off-road feeling without sacrificing the luxuries.

Mercedes’ Grand Sports Tourer, Audi’s Avatissimo and VW's Magellan are all aimed at gaining a stronger foothold in the lucrative US market. And German carmakers are putting their money on the crossover mix between station wagons and so-called SUV's, or Sports Utility Vehicles, too.

The crossover is forecasted to boost a dwindling European car market. "I think two ideas are merged into one here, which will probably ultimately lead to the European and US markets pulling closer together, VW head Bernd Pischetsrieder says.

But will the new species of car be successful? According to Pischetsrieder, "The classic SUV was nowhere near as popular in Europe, because it was simply too big".