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2010 Chicago Auto Show TACH Wrap-up

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: 2010 Chicago Auto Show-Press Pass Coverage

Chicago Auto Show 2010
By Thom Cannell and Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

How was it this year, the first year of emergence before the predicted resurgence of the automobile industry? It was a like a Presbyterian service, not an AME service or Baptist revival. In other words, restrained, more so than even Detroit.

Introductions were few as were attending journalists, though those attending got to hear Mark Ruess, President of GM North America, promise that he and other GM employees were personally dealing with some customer complaints though we don’t have his email for you. We did take a bit of heart as his product plan makes sense and the new vehicles we’ve seen, the truly new ones, also seem to make as much sense as the Chevrolet Malibu. On the subject of the 2012 Corvette, Ruess was cryptic, reciting “aluminum, carbon fiber, power train, direct injection” in an incantation.

Ruess, son of Lloyd Ruess, GM’s 18th president who presided over the corporation in the early 90s, also restated GM’s commitment to repayment of all US and Canadian government loans by June of this year.

Ford displayed its Transit Connect Electric (select to view enlarged photo)

Ford displayed its Transit Connect Electric, a purely battery-powered version of the award-winning Transit Connect designed for fleet use along defined routes, its 80 mile range should serve many milkmaids and bread lines. Power is delivered by Azure Dynamic’s Force Drive battery electric powertrain using batteries from Johnson Controls—Saft’s lithium-ion batteries.

Ford builds many vehicles including the Flex, MKT, MKS, Taurus, and Edge in the Chicago area so they debuted the updated 2011 Edge and Edge Sport. Edge will be the first recipient of Ford’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4 engine in North America, an engine which the company promises will improve fuel economy 30% over the 2006 model and 15% better than the standard 3.5-liter V-6 while delivering similar power. Beyond that standard 3.5-liter V6 engine, Edge Sport will borrow Mustang’s 305 horsepower V-6. All Edge V-6 powertrains will have fuel-saving 6-speed transmissions and have twin independent variable valve timing.

Ford’s MyFord information and entertainment electronics, a combination of touch-activated entertainment, communication, navigation, and climate control absolutely rocks. Controls located in the steering wheel activate instrument cluster displays and those actions are echoed in a touch screen center stack. That display uses corners assigned to functions and is color coded, for instance red for entertainment. The system is fully customizable to display the functions and tools you use most frequently from phone to CD to monitoring your engine.

Toyota put the meat before the dessert as Bob Carter, general manager of Toyota Division at Toyota Motor Sales, updated the press on its efforts to repair the gas pedals of the millions of cars effected by the controversial recall at a rate of 50,000 per week. So far 250,000 have been completed and software updates to hybrid braking systems are also underway. Carter insisted that Toyota is “completely confident in this remedy.” Time will tell, we insist, but there is no question the Toyota image has been tarnished.

Having taken care of that unpleasant business Carter then unveiled the new Toyota Avalon, the Camry-based, full-size sedan first presented in 1995. The list of standard equipment is impressive including reclining rear seats, 17-inch wheels, 7 airbags, a 268-hp V6 and backup camera. Predicted fuel mileage is 20-mpg in the city and an impressive 29 on the highway.

Honda was next up with a third generation Odyssey concept that was engineered and designed in the US. Honda says Odyssey was the best-selling minivan in the US in 2008 and 2009. The Alabama-built update has a stated goal of redefining the minivan and is scheduled to be on sale late in 2010. With a lower, wider stance it is aimed at convincing nay-sayers that a minivan can be cool, stylish, and even sexy. If they can keep the design cues shown — amazing tail lamps and tightly drawn curves with an angular, pleasantly discordant theme that breaks away from any shoe box or doorstop metaphor, more resembling hot European wagons like Audi’s Avant - it will. It also features Honda’s optional i-VTEC V-6 engine with three modes of cylinder management which allows it to run on 3, 4 or 6 cylinders, depending on conditions.

Silverado 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty
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Chevrolet previewed a Diamond Edition of the Suburban to celebrate 75 years of that storied brand. Can you think of another model that old? Chevy’s star, however, was the Silverado 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty trucks with the new 6.6-liter Duramax diesel engine and 6.0 Vortec gasoline engine. Even more than the Duratec torque monster, the chassis is ultra-new and refined utilizing precisely one carryover part, a slender link between sway bar and control arm. It was the one part that did not require an upgrade. The frame is now fully boxed and welded, most bolts are 2 mm larger and everything is just beefier. We can’t wait for a product demonstration in April and a summer drive.

2011 Chevrolet Caprice Police version(select to view enlarged photo)

One other note from the Chevy stand is important, but got no official attention. A couple of police vehicles occupied a small corner of the stand, one of which is the new Caprice. While that’s an old, resurrected nameplate it is now the moniker for the surviving rear-wheel drive, V8-powered car that was the late, super-cool Pontiac G8 GT. It’s now decked out as a cop’s cruiser. The folks at Chevy insist that there is no plan to make a civilian version. Too bad, we say, since the G8 GT was a hoot.

Kia Ray Concept Plug In Hybrid(select to view enlarged photo)

Kia delivered the only real concept car at the Chicago show, the Ray, a cleverly aerodynamic “car” with completely flat under-tray, articulated tail for high speed aerodynamics, and a single glass windshield-roof-backlight that employes nanotechnology sun screening and solar power for some accessories. It also uses openable front vents to supply engine air at higher speeds. Oddly, it appeared nearly production ready in spite of its futuristic look! Well, except for the totally glass top which we think would have a difficult time with roof crush regulations.

Well, there was one more “concept car,” of interest primarily to the racing community. We refer to the wild Delta Wing Concept for an “open-wheel” race car — like the ones competing in the Indy Car series. The Delta Wing resides on an angled platform at the Bridgestone display along with some fascinating technology displays. It has a most unusual shape with the “open wheels” nearly surrounded by body cladding and an extremely narrow front track that makes us wonder about its stability.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Part of the charm of the Chicago Auto Show is that they have plenty of space to include exhibits we’d never see on the main floor in Detroit. The US Army, for example, has a huge display they use for recruiting that is full of interactivity including a couple of huge armored vehicles.

Finally, as we were wrapping up our exploration of the show floor I encountered an interesting fellow with a familiar last name and three specialty cars for which he and his team were responsible. I’m referring to Ken Lingenfelter and his mega-hp Camaros and a even more powerful Corvette. The “LPE” Corvette, with a 7-liter, supercharged 800 horsepower LS7 engine is primarily designed for track use but can be driven on the street as well. His sexy brute LS7 Camaro SS makes 750 horsepower and is dressed with eye-catching cladding, air-extracting hood, spoiler, wild wheels and enough performance and appearance stuff to make a car guy drool. We’ll do a feature story on Mr. Lingenfelter and his cars soon.

The traditional wrap-up of the Chicago Auto Show is the Economic Club luncheon where each year a different industry mogul attempts to project optimism. Sergio Marchionne, Fiat boss and now boss at Chrysler as well, was scheduled to speak but he was called away on urgent business. In his stead Chrysler’s VP of design, the young man who led the team responsible for the most honored design in modern times, the Chrysler 300, Ralph Gilles presented an optimistic and entertaining speech, prepared at the last minute, within which appeared to be a promise that the Viper will survive. Life will not be without lusty cars from Chrysler after all.

Cannell & Associates and Shunpiker Productions