DETROIT – With newfound relevance in the war on terrorism, the U.S. Army's vehicle research and development unit is working on a next-generation, multipurpose military vehicle that could evolve into a heavy-duty pickup truck for civilians.
The National Automotive Center made its debut Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show, highlighting projects — such as the SmarTruck built by MSX International — under development with companies including the Big Three automakers.
"Today we're on a new battlefield," said center director Dennis Wend. "That battlefield is terrorism, and the automotive companies are pitching in here today to help us with technology."
The SmarTruck concept dominates NAC's display — and is a stepping stone for the future. Looking like a customized Ford F-350 pickup, it features bulletproof armor, as well as gadgets to make James Bond proud, like the ability to toss out dozens of tire-popping tacks.
In the works is a new version that considers concerns — and threats — raised since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as homeland security demands, said GerMaine Fuller, lead project engineer on the SmarTruck program.
Unlike the current SmarTruck, this new version — 18 months from completion at the earliest — isn't expected to remain in the concept stages, Fuller said. Contracts for the chassis it might be built on, as well as design specifics, are being worked on.
"We are still trying to hammer out the details for it, but the next one will go beyond a showpiece," Fuller said. "It will actually be something that we can put in the field."
Any new version would have issues raised by Sept. 11 in mind. Occupants could be protected from nuclear, biological or chemical attack, as well as traditional weapons, Fuller said. It would be capable of rugged driving and work without need for constant maintenance.
Features could be added or removed relatively easily if the vehicle it makes it into production.
"The concept is very agile, very chamelion-like," Fuller said. "The vision was to have something that the military could use as well as other law enforcement agencies — but even for private security types of purposes, obviously without all of the features."
The NAC is part of the Warren-based U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, or TACOM. It acts as the Army's link with the auto industry and universities in developing technology for both defense and commercial applications.
Other concepts on display at the NAC booth include a program developed by DaimlerChrysler AG and Oakland University for automotive electronics design, and General Motors Corp.'s hybrid electrical transmission that produces lower levels of carbon monoxide.
"Not everything you see will be on every single vehicle, but many of the features will find their way into the trucks used to protect the embassy, the personnel, patrol our hot zones around the world," Wend said of the NEC's truck projects.
"Still, other advances will be adapted by trucking companies looking for state-of-the-art location reporting systems, and a few might even find it onto your new SUV."