2012 Detroit Auto Show - Purdy and Cannell Wrap-up

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SEE ALSO: 2012 Detroit Auto Show Press Pass Coverage

Coming Back Strong

By Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell
Senior Editors
Detroit Bureau

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 stressed.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

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 saw:

Chevrolet Sonic Coupe Concept (select to view enlarged photo)

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.

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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.

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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 Toyota RAV-4.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

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 transmission.

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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 the show.

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.

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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 Fusion.

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.

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