|2005 Tokyo: Nissan's next-gen Skyline GT-R is the talk of Tokyo, and still only a concept|
KEVIN A. WILSON
Bidding to set a record for the longest drum roll in automotive history, Nissan unveiled yet another concept edition of its next-generation Skyline GT-R (that would be R35 if past nomenclature holds) during the Tokyo Motor Show press preview on Oct. 19. Its called the GT-R Proto (as in prototype) and a production version is coming to America. Eventually. If youre thinking havent I seen/heard this before? the answer is yes, and no.
No, you havent seen this particular concept before. But you could be forgiven thinking you recognize it, for it does bear a thematic resemblance to the first R35 concept shown in Tokyo way back in 2001, just before the R34 platform went out of production in 2002. Named the GT-R Concept, that car picked up the key GT-R design cues that still exist on the Proto. The Proto, though, shows more refined aerodynamics and is much closer to sharing the design of current Nissans and Infiniti models. The company says the concept gives a clear indication of the final design direction for the new model. Shiro Nakamura, senior vice president of design, says this design is 80 to 90 percent of the final shape.
The production GT-R, however, is still another two years away, scheduled for introduction at the next Tokyo show in 2007 (the 2008 model year), by which time Nissan will have been pounding the drum for its high-performance flagship for six long years. Why?
The 2001 concept was shown before the Nissan revival got well and truly underway, back when the company really needed whatever positive buzz it could generate. It also had no successor underway for the R34 (introduced in 1999), but needed to stop building the expensive, limited-edition car while it devoted engineering and design resources to the core business. So CEO Carlos Ghosn showed the early concept to assure people that the model still had a future.
At the same time, he made the welcome announcement that Nissan would no longer do the stupid thing it had been doing for a decade before his arrival in 1999: Building three generations of the mighty Skyline GT-R only in right-hand drive, and restricting official sales to Japan. The new version of the all-wheel-drive track star, the boss proclaimed, was being developed from the outset to include a left-hand drive edition for offer to export markets.
What we now know for sure is that those export markets will include America for the first time. (Earlier editions of the Skyline GT-R are available here through unofficial channels via MotoRex; see http://www.skylinegtr.com/ ). Given the expected price point north of $70,000, the 2008 Skyline is likely to be badged as an Infiniti and the name is not set in stone. Thanks to video games and the import tuner craze the Skyline GT-R name has strong recognition and value in America, despite the lack of an official presence, so it should figure prominently in the strategy.
What will we get when it arrives? After a six-year buildup, it had better be good, and Nissan knows it. While still being coy in public about mechanical specification, the company will have to deliver on Ghosns earlier promises of around 400 hp and top level driving performance. Latest estimates move the power target north to 450 or even 500 hp, with speculation centering on either a twin-turbo variation of the current 3.5-liter V6 as found in the 350Z and Infiniti G35, or a version of the Infiniti 4.5 liter V8.
For now, officially, all Nissan will say is this, from Carlos Tavares, executive vice president supervising design and product planning: GTR is so important for Nissan because it is at the roots of Nissan. Were focused on performance and we will deliver accordingly. We dont want to disappoint our customers. We will have measurable performance numbers that will delight our fans.
Developed initially as a homologation special for racing purposes, earlier GT-Rs used a turbocharged inline six that was regarded as a bit peaky for road useyou had to keep the revs up and the turbo spinning to maintain good throttle response. If the new one is to maintain some of that flavor, the V8 option seems unlikely. This seems especially so given the slick hoodline of the Proto, but there is no way to be sure what decisions were made when Skyline was aimed at a global market where it would square off against Corvettes, Maseratis and Porsches.
Those with experience of previous GT-Rs will be watching to see how Nissan addresses the divergent goals of maintaining the originals race-bred characterwith its elemental interior appointments and track-day ride and handling characterwhile appealing to a broader global market, especially when doing so under the luxury Infiniti badge.
Nissan says the new car will have its own body, not one derived from a production sedan range (Skyline) as before. The suspension setup is being done in conjunction with Lotus Engineering, and development mules wearing G35 bodywork have been spied undergoing tests at Germanys Nrburgring. Good performance at this venue is practically a requirement for any serious enthusiast car. The all-wheel-drive systeman element of the GT-R since the R32 debuted as a 1989 model and was regarded as a sort of budget Porsche 959 analogis sure to take advantage of the latest in electronic management. At the least, it has to match the grip management found in Japanese rally-bred performance cars like the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evo.
We similarly suspect well see some variation of a paddle-shifting transmission and certainly some enormous brakes, but Nissan is playing things close to the vest so far.