2012 Detroit Auto Show - Purdy and Cannell Wrap-up
SEE ALSO: 2012 Detroit Auto Show Press Pass Coverage
NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW 2012
Coming Back Strong
By Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell
We stayed in a remarkably shabby hotel in downtown Detroit this year
(good thing we were only sleeping there) but it was close to the infamous
“People Mover” and next door to $5/day parking. The Milner, we
were told by a formerly reliable source, was an interesting old place built
in 1917 and refurbished into sort of a boutique hotel. We’ll not rely
on that source again. If that’s “refurbished” . . .
I’ll eat my hat.
On the upside, the weather was as gentle as we’ve seen in many
years, the skies perfectly clear and the moon full. We rode back from
Camilo Pardo’s Designer’s Night party with sunroof open and the
moon casting crisp shadows between the downtown buildings.
On the floor of this, the most important auto show in the country, we
found much to be optimistic about. After some mighty dismal years we began
to see a modest resurgence last year and for 2012. Cobo Center has added
some additional space and freshened the public spaces, looking less
The North American International Auto Show always kicks off with the
presentation of North American Car and Truck of the Year Awards, a highly
respected pair of awards voted on by a 50-member panel of professional
automotive journalists. This years winners were the new Hyundai Elantra and
the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque (Land Rover by the way did not exhibit at this year's Detroit show, busy at the India Auto Show, they tell us.)
The 2012 NAIAS presented more new products than we expected to see and
the optimism exuded by the manufacturers seemed much less manufactured than
in the past few years. Here are some of the highlights and trends we
I was amazed at how much space GM allocated to Sonic and its many
derivatives. The entire back wall of the GM display and a deep alcove, were
filled with all the current iterations of GM’s little Michigan-built
subcompact along with the upcoming RS sport version and a sleek, stylish
concept coupe, a racing version and some customized Sonics. Consideringthat a few years ago subcompacts were just an afterthought to The General,
this represents a huge shift in market emphasis.
Up front at GM Cadillac presented the ATS we’ve been anticipating.
This will be the smallest Cadillac in the lineup, competing with the BMW
3-Series and its rivals. ATS is on a new rear-wheel drive architecture and
will be built along side the CTS in Lansing, Michigan. The styling is a bit
less bold than I had expected but exudes the distinctive Cadillac design
language. And, the interior looks great. Three engine choices and manual
transmission available – coming to dealers soon.
The new kid on the Buick stand seemed to get much less attention. A
small crossover derived from the Sonic structure, the Encore gets the
1.4-liter turbo that powers the base Cruze and is appointed with soft touch
and luxury amenities we would expect from Buick. It will compete with
BMW’s X1 and the Audi Q3 and be a half step above the Honda CR-V and
Ford made plenty of news with the new 2013 Fusion, a mid-market,
bread-and-butter sedan that, in my humble view, never had much panache.
While they kept the same interior volume and cargo space the Ford designers
made it look lower, more swoopy and much more stylish, garnering an
enthusiastic response from the jaded press.
Most notable in the Ford corporate space, I thought, was the Lincoln
stand spread dramatically across the north wall, where in years past we saw
Ford’s premium brands – Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin.
The theme of the multi-level, bright, aesthetically intense display
reflects what they think the tastes of their premium customer might be. Two
large dynamic sculptures expand and contract smoothly and display panels
house an eclectic array of three-dimensional art. In the center, a large,
tilted turntable presents the concept of a revised MK-Z, Lincoln’s
mid-size sedan, in this case shown in an odd, unphotogenic dark maroon,
representing an evolutionary new design theme for the brand.
Over at the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Fiat-Maserati stand two vehicles deserve attention. First,
the new Dodge Dart, named for a compact dodge of yore that was stylish but
not particularly well built, represents that brands entry into the
uber-competitive compact sedan segment of the U.S. market. No surprises
here in terms of design and, though it’s on an Alfa Romeo platform,
we don’t see much innovation to brag about.
The other news there is the Kubang Concept, a destined-for-production
Jeep Grand Cherokee designed, styled and badged as a Masariti. It will be
built in the North Jefferson plant in Detroit for European consumption.
It’s profile breaks no new ground but the gaping Maserati grill and
rear details are strikingly attractive.
Other production sedans saw full redesigns or significant upgrades. BMW
introduced a freshened 3-Series, Honda showed an Accord Coupe and Volkswagen
added a Passat Hybrid option to the Passat gasoline and diesel powered versions.
Of course, part of what we all find exciting about the NAIAS is the
plethora of over-the-top concept cars, and we saw more of this car
guy’s eye candy than we have in years. Two of these fit easily into
the exotic category – the Acura NSX and Lexus LF-FC. These are the
ones that rang my chimes.
Sports car nuts will remember with affection the Acura NSX of the early
1990s, a sexy mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, 300-hp coupe as balanced and
beautiful as anything on the race track or street. For years we’ve
been teased with at least two previous concepts that “might be”
the new NSX. Neither have come to fruition. With this one the Acura folks
are saying this “will be” the new NSX in the next three years,
though purists may shudder at he hybrid power and automatic
As Lexus pursues a less stodgy image and less conservative model lineup
they punctuated their presence at the NAIAS this year with a brash,
angular, intense and striking concept sports car called LF-LC. With hybrid
powertrain and stellar good looks we wish they would produce it, though we
surely wouldn’t be likely to get the thrill of driving it. With the
dynamic, kaleidoscopic backdrop this might be the best eye-candy display at
We saw only three manufacturers this year paying homage to their past with
historic cars. In years past this was much more common. But, by mentioning
them here we hope to encourage more companies to add this wonderful
dimension to their stands.
In the Lincoln display we found Edsel
Ford’s 1934 Special Speedster. Edsel, by the way, was a remarkably
aesthetic fellow with a great eye for design. And, Mercedes-Benz
prominently displayed the 1953 Mercedes 300 SL couple that preceded the
classic Gullwing 300 SLs of a few years later. In the Honda display an early Accord stood side by side with is progeny.
The Detroit show wraps up each year with another set of awards, these
presented by the EyesOn Design team that puts on one of the best classic
and collector car shows of the season in the area. They assemble an
impressive group of active and retired designers who browse the show and
decide upon two vehicles that exhibit the finest in design quality –
one for concept and the other for production vehicles.
And the winners
were: Best Concept – Lexus LF-LC
Best Production – 2013 Ford
Great choices, we agree and you can see them as well as the complete video of EVERY PRESS PRESENTAION here in The Auto Channel's 2012 Detroit Auto Show Press Pass Coverage...see ya next year in Detroit, but first the 2012 Chicago show...stay tuned.