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Detroit in a Nutshell

February 7, 2007

After the epic chaos that was CES, I have to admit that the North American International Auto Show (and you wonder why everyone shorthands it to the Detroit Auto Show…) was something of a disappointment, even to a car nut like myself.  This disappointment wasn’t merely a function of Detroit being the smaller of the two shows.  It also had its roots in the lack of accessiblity to the newest, coolest models (which were roped off, eyes only), and the lack of surprise and discovery.  Where CES had thousands of new product launches, Detroit managed around thirty, half of those being concept cars that will never see a dealer lot.  And of those thirty or so new cars, not one of them was a surprise.  I and anybody else browsing Autoblog, Left Lane News, or any other auto-slanting website had seen every new model and every concept car before the first press conference on the first press day.

In my opinion, the rise of the internet has crippled the auto show model as we know it.  You no longer have to go to the show to see the latest models.  Instead, you can browse through dozens of high-resolution images from the comfort of your home.  And, to be honest, doing so delivers about 85% of the experience, without the crowds. 

Even so, I did find the show experience to be worthwhile, and it was something of a blast to have such an assortment of cars under one roof.  Read on for my impressions.

Favorite Concept:  Honda’s Accord Coupe concept, hands down.  It may not be as sleek as the Lexus LF-A, or as green as the Chevy Volt, but the Accord Coupe represents a massive swing in Honda’s design philosophy.  Vanilla is out.  This car is more Mint Chocolate Chip.  Smooth, delicious, and refreshing.  If the production model can get anywhere near this, Honda will be in good shape for the foreseeable future.

Accord Coupe Concept

Favorite Production Model:  I’m going to go for extremes on this one and declare it a tie between the Smart ForTwo and the Audi R8.  One is a tiny, pod-shaped city car, now into its second generation and due to make its way across the Atlantic next year.  The other is a Lamborghini-based supercar aimed right at the Porsche 911.  Both are awesome in their own ways, and both drew among the largest crowds of the show.

I Am So Smart, S-M-R-T!   Audi R8

Best Display: Acura, whose interactive demo for its Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive was head and shoulders above anything anybody else had on the floor.  Hit the "Snow & Ice" button on the touchscreen LCD, and you are treated to a brief video of how the SH-AWD system transfers power to the wheels to deal with the slushy stuff.  Then, right before your eyes, an RL chassis demonstrates, complete with operating driveshaft and spinning tires (that would even light up to indicate they were receiving power).  Very cool.

Acura's SH-AWD Demonstration

Worst Display: Toyota, who was so worried about convincing the world that its Tundra is tough and manly that they forgot to call any attention to their hybrid lineup whatsoever, and basically buried them in the back corner of their exhibit.

Understated

Bad Sport Award: Jaguar, who shuttled their sleek C-XF concept off to some undisclosed location before the show was even over, leaving a poor XKR to stand in while the C-XF video kept playing on the ginormous screen in the background.

Jaguar Exhibit

Best Technology: The Chevy Volt’s plug-in hybrid system.  Yes, it has a gasoline engine, but only uses it to recharge the batteries.  The car itself is powered by electric motors (massive torque, huge power band, no gears).  Too bad the Li-Ion batteries it was packing are years away from even the hope of mass production.

Shocking

Best Display of Paint Offerings: Tie between Toyota and Volkswagen.  Toyota, again trying to prove how tough and manly its Tunrda pickup was, used construction hard hats to display the available colors.  Volkswagen went a more subtle route, turning its color offerings into an array of spray paint bottles.  Either way, better than the color squares in the back of some brochure.

Macho, Macho Man  Paint

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