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'Merican Micros - Tech Scene

Aaron Bonk
May 31, 2007

Will American carmakers ever gain footing in the high-performance, small car market long dominated by the Japanese? Maybe not. Despite our sincere hopes. But if the rumors and what the domestics rolled out at this year's New York Auto Show are any indication of what's to come, good news is on the horizon for the guy with the "Buy American" bumper sticker on his Buick.

General Motors: The people with the Bow Ties recently unveiled three new minicar concepts, one of which piqued our interest: the Beat. While it's still in a conceptual stage, the Beat looks promising enough to at least make a couple of Japanese B-segment automakers squirm a little. A gas-burning, 1.2L turbocharged engine sits underneath the three-door hatchback's hood and powers the front wheels through an automatic gearbox. The automatic transmission bothers us a little but Chevy's choice to go with a turbocharger couldn't be smarter. If released, Chevy plans on taking cues from companies like Scion who offer performance-oriented, dealer personalization. And the styling, the Beat just may be Chevy's most un-domestic-looking small car ever. Sorry, but that's a good thing. There's a reason why cars like the Cobalt SS - which features one of the most impressive four-cylinder powertrains ever - isn't shattering sales records. What would make the Beat better? Chevy's latest micro-SUV concept, the Trax, features an electronic limited slip differential that drives an electric motor powering the rear wheels. Think: AWD, turbocharged Beat.

Ford: Rumor has it Ford's latest Fiesta creation could make its way over to the U.S. after all. The Fiesta name is old. The car predates its B-segment competition like the Yaris by 30 years - before there even was the term B-segment. The new Mazda 2, I mean Fiesta, is almost SUVish enough for us not to care about it, but still enough of a car for us to like it. Several engines will be offered for this mini ride including a turbo diesel and a 1.8L, direct injection, gas-burning Duratec. Focus turbo diesels achieve over 50mpg and can do over 120 mph. Match the overseas Focus 4x4's drivetrain with this world car's eye-pleasing bodylines and turbo diesel powerplant and Ford just may have a winner.

Chrysler: With the Neon gone Dodge needs to do something to regain what share of the compact car market it once had. If anybody can do it, Dodge can. The SRT-4 was the best thing we've seen with anything less than eight cylinders from the domestics in a long time. As far as Dodge is concerned, the SRT-4 is gone and forgotten but other small car prospects lie in wait. Speculation has it Chrysler's next small car addition will be one acquired from Chinese carmaker, Chery. Unfortunately, Chery's A1 might be the car they go with. The econobox blends in well with the likes of the Yaris, Fit and Versa but is severely underpowered with either an .8L three-cylinder or 1.1L four-cylinder engine, both naturally aspirated. Either way, it looks as though Chery's going to make something for Dodge but, with the Beat and Fiesta being strong possibilities, lets hope Dodge takes at least a few cues from it's own engine development department and not leave everything to Chery.

I don't have the "Buy American" sticker on my bumper, and I don't drive around with an American flag draped off my antenna. But I'd like to see carmakers from the country I live in make something I'd actually want to own, or at least drive once in awhile. They can do it. And if cars like the Beat are any indication of what's to come, my hopes are up. Even if the Beat is going to be made in India.

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