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An industry sneak show for souped-up specialties

Chicago Tribune

What if Chevrolet produced a high-performance Malibu Maxx hatchback?

Or Cadillac a souped-up SRX sport utility vehicle?

And what if Hummer focused on high fashion with an H2 Black Ops sport-utility?

The Specialty Equipment Market Assn., or SEMA, show held last week in Las Vegas, is a trade show for aftermarket parts suppliers. It has become the venue where automakers drop hints of vehicles it could produce quickly.

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If those in the trade like what they see at SEMA, automakers prepare the vehicle for the auto-show circuit, which lets them elicit public comment.

“There [were] a lot of good things to watch at SEMA this year,” said Mark Reuss, executive director of GM’s Performance Division, formed two years ago to create limited-edition, performance versions of GM vehicles to spark a buzz.

Though Ford was the featured make at this year’s show, it focused on higher-performance versions of the 2005 Mustang. GM, however, displayed many performance variations on current themes.

For example, the Malibu Maxx Cross Country concept substitutes a 3.9-liter, 240-horsepower V-6 for the 3.5-liter, 200-horsepower V-6 in the car and adds ground effects and 19-inch wheels.

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The Cadillac SRX Sport boosts horsepower to 330 from 320 in the 4.6-liter V-8. A five-speed automatic also allows manual shifting in a version being considered for ’07.

The “black tie” Hummer would feature black-painted chrome accents inside and out, including the grille, for a patent-leather-like look.

And to keep it clean regardless of the weather, the window washer/wiper system could produce hot solvent to remove ice, frost or road grime.

Here are other GM concepts seen at SEMA:

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* A mid-size Chevy Colorado SS pickup is rumored to be under strong consideration and is a candidate for next year’s auto show circuit. The Colorado SS substitutes its 3.5-liter, 200-horsepower inline five-cylinder with the 6-liter, 400-horsepower V-8 from the 2005 Corvette.

The V-8 is teamed with a four-speed floor-mounted automatic transmission that offers manual mode.

* Chevy will offer a supercharged 2-liter, four-cylinder, rated at 205 horsepower, in the Cobalt SS coupe that’s due out in a couple of weeks. But the show car has been modified to deliver 272 horsepower and hints at a more potent offering soon.

* Pontiac showed a GTO with a new 6.4-liter, 575-horsepower V-8 with Ram Air induction, which suggests that the rumors are true that Pontiac is developing an even higher-output GTO. It’s supposed to be dubbed the Judge, the name used on the highest output GTO in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

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