2007 Detroit Auto Show - Purdy's Best, Worst and Most Surprising!


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2007 NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW HIGHLIGHTS
By Steve Purdy
Photos By Joe Chagnon
TheAutoChannel.com
Detroit Bureau

The one hundredth anniversary of the Detroit auto show - more formally known as the North American International Auto Show - was celebrated modestly during unusually mild early January weather here in the Motor City. The lack of emphasis on the show’s tradition reflects the subdued tone of the show. There were some exciting moments, some thrilling new products and a few over-the-top concepts. The operative word here is a ‘few.’ We continue to see a trend toward practicality guiding this, the most important motor show in the US.

For example, about five years ago GM made a big deal of their all-new display area featuring two levels, huge press conference area and money-is-no-object stands. They spent many, many millions of dollars on the project. This year we have an entirely new GM display area again. But they wisely spent a fraction of what they spent last time while maintaining enough drama and aesthetic appeal to impress the crowds. I think that was smart move and one of the reasons GM is getting out of the hole they’ve been in. The money is going into product, where it needs to be. The new press conference stage and structure worked well and didn’t distract from announcements. And their announcements were encouraging.

Ford, on the other hand, has farther to go. Less pyrotechnics and smaller staging characterized their presentations in the old hockey arena attached to Cobo Center. The likeable young Bill Ford and his staff introduced some badly needed new products, but some were conspicuously less than what will be needed to get out of their hole.

Chrysler provided some top-notch entertainment and presented some of the most creative concept cars, as usual but they didn’t drop trucks from the rafters, drive through picture windows or put vehicles on a 30-foot catapult as they have done in the past. Over reaction by the security folks to an apparent threat made attending their press conferences feel particularly inhospitable though.

A large percentage of the new products shown and many of the concepts represent bread-and-butter cars and crossovers. Ford’s 500 is freshened, restyled and given more power. Chevy’s Malibu is completely redefined, Dodge Avenger was introduced to compliment its sibling Chrysler Sebring. Honda Accord’s sleek future replacement was previewed. Cadillac’s phenomenally successful CTS has been thoroughly freshened. Nissan’s Rogue, a small Sentra-based crossover, was revealed to appreciative crowds of journalists. Mitsubishi Lancer and Ford Focus were shown along with Chrysler and Dodge minivans and Toyota pickups. Everywhere we look practicality permeates the 2007 show.

Don’t get me wrong, there was exuberance at the show, as well. Chrysler set the tone with an African drum group whipping the press audience into a frenzy to punctuate the concept and performance cars being introduced. There was no shortage of cars costing over a hundred grand or cars that approach 200-mph top speed. Horsepower numbers ranging up to 400 and beyond are no longer so rare. Convertible hard-tops, a few full race cars and plenty of tire-screechers contribute to the color and variety of the show.

After four days of cruising the floor, talking to the experts and attending press conferences, here are my picks for highlights of the show:

BEST OF SHOW

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Chevy Volt – Not only is it reasonably cool to look at but Volt also represents what could be the first step of the next great path of automotive innovation. Volt is an electric car with an on-board generator to feed the batteries. The generator, in this case, is powered by a little 3-cylinder gasoline engine, E85 compatible of course, but could easily be supplanted with a diesel, fuel cell or any other power source. A motorist with a 40-mile-per-day commute may not need to burn any fuel at all from the 12-gallon tank since he can plug into his regular home outlet each day. With a 60-mile commute he could might get 150 mpg. On a sustained drive the mileage may go all the way down to about 50 mpg. Why didn’t they do this before? We’re still counting on a major advancement in battery technology. That’s a complex story and one we’ll tell another time.

MOST LUST INSPIRING SPORTS CAR

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Dodge Viper SRT-10 – The wild-eyed folks at Dodge Street and Racing Technology shop have added another 100 horsepower to the already raucous Viper SRT-10. Now it’ll go zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds - zero to 100 and back to zero in less than 12 seconds. The one at the show is red and looks ready to leap out of its moorings. The only thing that could trigger more adrenalin would be a space shuttle launch.

MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED

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Smart Fortwo - The stubby little Smart Fortwo will be seen on US roads in about another year. I’ll go way out on my predictive limb here and say that this will be the greatest fad in the car industry since the Beetle. Roger Penske, former race driver and business man extraordinaire, will be importing and distributing the little city car made by a division of Mercedes. It’s sturdy, economical, and cuter than a new puppy, but it ain’t cheap. Urban youngsters with deep pockets will be lining up – guaranteed.

SEXIEST CAR AT THE SHOW

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Jaguar C-XF - This was a good year for sports cars with fresh exotic concept and production sports cars from Audi, Toyota, Mercedes, Acura, Mazda, Lexus, Hyundai, Kia. The sexiest is the concept from Jaguar called C-XF - destined to be the new S-Type sedan, we hear. Sleek and sexy, the C-XF has four doors but little hint of a sedan’s personality. You’ll never feel stodgy in this one.

BEST NEW CONCEPT CAR

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Ford Interceptor – Lengthened Mustang underpinnings form the base upon which Ford designed what will probably be the next full-size sedan from the troubled Dearborn auto maker – bold, confident and distinctly American. Runner-up has to be the Lincoln MKR concept car on the same platform. The Lincoln has a particularly well-executed and sophisticated level of bling.

BEST NEW PAINT COLOR

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Special Edition Volkswagen GTI Fahrenheit - They call it Fahrenheit Orange. I call it “Butterscotch Pudding” because that’s exactly the color. The GTI, by the way, is near the top of my list of fun-to-drive cars, affordable sporty cars.

MOST ANACHRONISTIC

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The Chinese company Chengfeng brought a half dozen cars including a mid-sized crossover sport-utility that, from 20 feet away, looks like it belongs with all the other crossovers at the show. Don’t look too closely though. But their little concept car, a boxy, angular affair with a single wheel front and rear and a wheel on each side for a diamond-shaped footprint, looked like something right out of 1972. It was awful.

MOST ASTUTE

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The Chrysler/Dodge Minivans – These minivans are redesigned with amazing cleverness, competence and a tad more aesthetic appeal. Most of the other manufacturers are getting out of this market segment. So these Chrysler Group minivans, that now have 40% of this 1-million-unit market segment, will have and even bigger position. The minivan is still the most space-efficient layout of any vehicle. This new minivan will go a long way toward mitigating the disrespect for these efficient people haulers. And this will go down as a singularly astute business decision by DCX.

MOST IMPROVED

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Chevrolet Malibu - The old Chevy Malibu was a small, boxy, uninspired design that was competent and cheap. No pizzazz. No panache. The new Malibu shares a platform and other ingredients with the award-winning Saturn Aura. It’s bigger, much better dressed, and ready for prime time. I love that two-tone interior. Here’s another feather in the cap of GM.

BEST TRENDY NEW FEATURE
Let’s make it best new features - plural. There were two that stand out. Many concept cars and a surprising number of new production cars use ambient or indirect, lighting, often with a colored neon sort of look. This will be more than a fad, I’ll bet. The other new feature is the styling trend of decorative, and often functional, fender vents. In fact our friends at AutoWeek will be having a contest next week wherein winners will have to recognize and name the magazine’s 50 examples of fender vents photographed on the floor Thursday.

MOST OSTENTATIOUS

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Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe – Look at the details on this one - brushed stainless steel hood and windshield frame, polished wood top boot, a 453-hp BMW V12 engine, coach (rear-hinged) doors, soft leather and a soft top with cashmere lining. Figure on 350-grand and up, but don’t dawdle. They’ll make only 100 of them.

MOST MEMORABLE

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Holden Efijy - This dark purple reiteration of an early 50s Holden fastback coupe portrays the image of a wild custom car with a Southern California attitude. Holden, you probably know is GM’s Australian unit. Underneath it’s a Corvette. The styling details are amazing, although it reminds me more of a Mercury custom rather than anything GM.

MOST UNUSUAL CONCEPT

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Ford Airstream – Codesigned with the Airstream travel trailer folks this weird little creature has red neon around the odd-shaped windows. The entire side wings up to reveal recreational space inside. And, it’s powered by a plug-in hybrid fuel cell electric system. Ford styling queues punctuate this Airstream shinny metal body.

SUPERFLUOUS SEMANTICS

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Toyota hosted a nice party for a few hundred of their favorite journalists to introduce two sports car concepts. In doing so they indulged in the most exaggerated semantic exercise I’ve heard this year. They wanted us to know these are “suitable and appropriate sports cars.” Since when should a sports car be suitable and appropriate? That more describes the image of a conservative sedan. Or how about this one - “Obtainable exotic.” Seems to me being unobtainable is an essential criteria of being exotic. The design language included phrases like “subtractive mass” and “vibrant clarity.” Huh? Hey, I’ve got one: the complex, swoopy lines of both cars they claim to be aerodynamically efficient. I’d call it “aerodynamic chaos.”

CONCEPT CAR ONLY ITS DESIGNERS COULD LOVE

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Nissan Bevel – One in a series of playful concept vehicles by Nissan, this one is designed for a handyman with lots of features to accommodate his problem. The only problem is that it is uuuuugly, with a poochy-mouth grille and rounded corners that imply a rough-sanded 2X4. I could have done without that one.

BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE SHOW

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The Toyota Stand – Who-da-thunk! Nearly half the Toyota stand is dedicated to trucks, mostly the new Tundra in all its iterations – a reflection, I suppose, of the company’s full court press in pursuit of leadership in the US light truck market. A new plant in Texas, a full four-door cab, second-to-none towing capacity – look out GM, Ford and Dodge Ram. Toyota’s award-winning, bread-and-butter sedan, Camry, was barely in evidence.

ORPHAN OF THE SHOW

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At the far end of the Ford complex of stands is Lincoln. By the isle is the eye-catching concept MKR. At the back, near the exit door, a few steps from a hidden bathroom, behind two panels that nearly hide it entirely is Lincoln’s long-in-the-tooth Town Car. Sure, it will be going away sometime soon, but it’s still the marque’s flag-ship and the most popular limo ride. Seems like a shame to hide it like that.

So, that’s the 2007 show. My work table is piled high with press kits that need to be rummaged through at a more leisurely pace than I have time for now. So I’ll be sorting through them for the next couple of months, and I’ll let you know as I come upon interesting or surprising tidbits.

In the meantime, be assured that the automobile business and all those products that promote our personal mobility are advancing at an ever more intensive pace. To those who say they all look alike, I say, “bunk!”

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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