LOS ANGELES - Isuzu Motors Ltd., which has a tradition of turning its concept vehicles into reality with regularity and quickness, will unveil the VX-4 sport-utility at this week's North American International Auto Show.
The VX-4 is a four-door concept version of the production Isuzu VehiCross. Many of the underpinnings are straight from the VehiCross, which lends belief that the VX-4 could be much closer to market-ready than most other concept vehicles on display this week.
It is powered by an existing 3.5-liter V-6 mated to Isuzu's Torque On Demand limited-slip four-wheel-drive system.
Its front suspension is relatively delicate for an off-road vehicle, using double wishbones for more on-road comfort. In back, the VX-4 uses a four-link coil setup, with expansion chamber-equipped shocks.
Inside, the VX-4 features luxury touches, such as Recaro seats with heating and cooling systems, front and rear air conditioning, a DVD video player, and a 550-watt stereo with satellite-based audio programming. The mounting of the spare tire on the rear cargo door permits limited rear-view visibility, so Isuzu installed a video camera that can be seen on a touch screen in the center console.
So why would the VX-4 necessarily reach production when the original VehiCross is such a low-volume model? Not only are four-door sport-utilities more popular, but Isuzu has access to manufacturing technology that allows for low-volume production runs at low cost.
Rather than using costly steel dies, Isuzu has partnered with Japanese ceramics firm Ceraform to develop ceramic-based dies. Not only are ceramic dies cheaper to make, they also cost one-third less - even at their early stage of development.
With steel dies for an entire vehicle costing tens of millions of dollars, using a much cheaper alternative could make a low-volume vehicle such as the VX-4 feasible. While ceramics can't last as long as steel, the point is moot on limited-production models.