I'm not sure if I've asked this before in this particular venue, but why is the Detroit Auto Show 'officially' referred to as the North American International Auto Show? Geneva, Paris, Tokyo, and Frankfurt are all sufficiently proud of their cities to not name their events the German, Swiss, French, and Japanese shows; is 'Detroit' really that embarrassing? [Don't answer that]
Anyway, that being said, the first big auto of the new year is just about over, as far as the public is concerned, and ancient history, as far as the industry is concerned. So what happened?
- The Chinese showed an ability to learn--just barely--from their mistakes, and that they have a long, long way to go before they're ready to sell in Western markets. Word was that Changfeng--who thinks their rather crude SUVs will be on sale here in 2009--distributed trinkets with the company name wrong. One Chinese designer was quoted, per the New York Times, “Hilter failed on the battlefield... but in automotive he can be counted as a victor.” Obviously, cultural sensitivity has yet to be incorporated into Chinese marketing courses. Meanwhile, communications materials--including brochures distributed to the public--were littered with enough grammatical and spelling errors to force people to ask, "Are they serious?" Changfeng, for example, described the CS6 as designed to 'move you in a moment--no splurge, no scrupulousness, but only pureness.' And the vehicles? Slightly more modern-looking, and slightly higher quality, but still far below what Americans are willing to pay for--especially when the same money will get you a used vehicle of much higher quality and reliability. And, yes, with more automakers here, that meant more cloned designs as well. That whole intellectual property ripoff thing won't fly here, either.
- While Chrysler picked up some kudos for the all new Dodge Ram--despite launching said pickup in a market not exactly clamoring for fullsize pickups--there were other gaffes along the way. The three concepts were art-school-sophomore level execution, neither stunningly attractive nor connected to any real future products, and powered by a collection of largely fictional hardware (a three-cylinder Bluetec diesel? Really?) The planned 'running of the bulls' in front of Cobo Hall turned out to be more like the strolling of the bulls, and it forced one to jump to the conclusion that, at this year's auto show, the road to Chrysler was indeed paved with bullshit.
- Subaru's new Forester got a grown-up makeover to make it a far more legitimate player in the highly competitive compact SUV market--and, apparently, Subaru decided to sell the tools to the old Forester to Mercedes for the their GLK. The latter was launched in two concept forms--Freeside (more outdoorsy) and Townside (more urban), which, roughly translated, meant that one was a little bit country, and the other a bit rock-n-roll. Sex and The City star Kim Cattrall--whose character is unfortunately burdened with driving a new GLK in the SATC movie due this spring, drove one out on stage for some rather awkward banter with Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche. Not exactly Tony-winning material, but far better than Chrysler's waste of Eva Longoria last year.
- Like the guy who's been dating the same girl steadily for three years but still refuses to go out and get the damn ring, Lexus rolled their third LF-A supercar concept since the first was shown here in 2005. The big news? No roof! Oooh, clever... But, still no commitment to actually build the thing. After three years of all talk and no action, I think most enthusiasts have given up and are saving money for Nissan's smokin' GTR...
- Diesels--not just for semi-trucks anymore. At least, that was the idea behind Mitsubishi's 204-hp Concept RA and Audi's 500hp R8 TDI, both two-passengers sports cars powered by a couple of nice diesels. Neither will likely see production in diesel form, but it certainly helps to explain to John Q Consumer that these aren't your father's diesels.
- Former Aston Martin chief designer Henrik Fisker positioned himself to become this generation's Preston Tucker (or perhaps John DeLorean) with the presentation of the Fisker Karma. The plan is to build this sexy $80,000 plug-in gas-electric hybrid four-seater at the end of 2009. But here's the catch: Fisker has yet to show a working battery, nor to sign an agreement to buy four-cylinder engines from an existing OEM--and yet they're asking for deposits. Would you drop a couple of Gs deposit on vaporware? We'll believe it when we see it...
- And one of my favorites? Land Rover's LRX concept, a sneak peek at a likely entry-level model due in a couple of years. Sure the production model will lose a lot of the concepts fancy bits--iPhone dock in the center console, iPod dock and speakers in the cargo area, bottle chiller, and suede trim made from recycled plastic bottles--but it was a slick, contemporary little package that was just my size.