Saturn as trendsetter?
You bet. Elements of the automaker's innovative three-door coupe have been expanded and adapted to several concepts unveiled last week at the North American International Auto Show. Many can be expected to show up in a few years in production vehicles.
In 1999, Saturn created the three-door coupe by removing the B-pillar on the driver's side of an S-series coupe and adding a small, rear-access door. The result: Easier entry into and exit from the tight rear passenger area without compromising the coupe's greenhouse styling.
The industry quickly has latched onto the idea, and several makers are working on vehicles with no B-pillar and sliding or rear-hinged rear-access doors. Among the concepts unveiled last week with rear-hinged doors were the Buick Bengal, Honda Model X, Dodge Super8 Hemi and Mazda RX-8.
'My hat is off to Saturn,' said Philip Martens, managing director of Mazda Motor Corp. product development. 'They really helped us in terms of pioneering the design elements that go into doing the RX-8. We learned a lot from their latching strategy.'
When Mazda started looking at a replacement for the RX-7, a big concern was the short shelf life for most coupes on the market, he said.
Mazda's answer: a four-door coupe. Although the RX-8 has the styling of a traditional two-door sports coupe, two rear doors are incorporated cleverly into the vehicle's design, giving it the function of a four-door sedan.
The GMC Terracross sport wagon concept has rear passenger doors that glide rearward, parallel to the sides of the vehicle. The Pontiac REV, a sport sedan about the size of the Grand Am that will bow next month at the Chicago auto show, also has sliding doors for the rear-seat passengers and they can be opened independently.
But what's the rush to eliminate the B-pillar?
That 'gives you a sense of spaciousness and freedom and makes it easier to get in and out of the vehicle,' said Trevor Creed, senior vice president of design at Chrysler group. The automaker's Dodge Super8 Hemi concept is a 1950s-style four-door hardtop with a wraparound windshield and side window vents.