2009 Detroit Auto Show

This morning when the Ford F-150 was named North America Truck of the Year, reporters and photographers warmly applauded the hometown choice. When Car of the Year honors subsequently went to the Hyundai Genesis, the same people gasped. The few who clapped were probably from Korea. Hyun Soon Lee accepted the award and said he was “really excited.” He read a nice speech (and did a good job of it, too). He said the car was Hyundai’s first global luxury sedan, its first rear-drive platform, and has the company’s first V-8. As an engineer himself, the global acclaim for the Genesis has really touched him. The press crowded around, and he kept on beaming. One of my friends on the award committee said the Genesis is just a “value proposition.” (I don’t see anything particularly new about the F-150, either, as compared to its competitor, the Dodge Ram.) Nevertheless, the Genesis is an excellent value proposition, and it raises the question why the hometown carmakers couldn’t have done something like this.

MMM

While I stood around waiting for the General Motors press conference to get started, a couple of GM guys in front of me were gabbing about their medical problems, golf handicaps, and backup generators for the house. Then one got a phone call and told the other that the plug-in version of the Saturn Vue wouldn’t make the coming “parade” because of technical glitches. “Better to have it a no-show than be DOA,” he said.

The presentation started with Little Ricky Wagoner taking the stage, and you could just see he’s been working extra hard in the gym and is ready to take on Chris (“Friend of Anthony”) Dodd for fifteen rounds and will still have enough left for three more with Nancy Pelosi and Waxy Hank together. Then, Tigers announcer Mario Impemba relieved us all of our misery and emceed the rolling review of new GM products. There was a pep rally theme to this show, and a bunch of employees held up corny signs. The first car in the parade was the Volt, that hypothetical harbinger of GM’s revival, and walking behind it was Governor Jen Granholm, carrying a placard proclaiming “Here to Stay,” and it was difficult to know whether this slogan referred to the General or to Jen’s inability to get a Cabinet position and get the hell out of Michigan.

The best cars in the parade were the 2010 SRX, which looks great; the CTS Sport Wagon; and the “library-quiet” Lacrosse, a very nice car if there were any hope of getting at least two lost generations of buyers back into a Buick showroom for a front-wheel-drive luxury ride.

Next we were treated to the Chevy Orlando crossover, which looks like a hungover HHR and concedes that Hyundai got all the rugged-sounding names. The Beat was back to foreshadow the production 2011 Spark, a pug-nosed, two-door hatch that reminds me Honda already builds the perfect micro, the four-door Fit hatch. Then Bob Lutz showed up in the Cadillac Converj, an electric-car concept that’s so beautiful, as he correctly said, we’ll want it no matter the propulsion system. It features the next-gen Voltec System, and the owner may never suffer range anxiety or need to buy gas for the range-extending gas engine.

Parting message: The company is capable of innovation. I’ll bet Little Ricky insisted on saying so.

MMM

Ford’s presentation was a curious thing. A couple of years ago they bludgeoned us with the P-p-p-owerStroke truck and locomotive styling and gargantuan output. Today they professed their deep love of four-cylinder engines and six-speed trannies and their “comprehensive approach to electrification.” Ford will be a leader or maybe the leader in sustainability. Hearing it said so tediously was sucking the marrow out of everybody in Cobo Arena until Mark Fields, President of the Americas (sort of like Maximum Leader?) announced the 2010 Shelby GT500 and then kissed up to Ol’ Shel about his birthday, the date of which I guess everybody was supposed to know. I almost broke out singing “Happy Birthday.” But what if the day was actually tomorrow?

The 2010 Taurus had a super-glitzy presentation, and I hoped Congress doesn’t find out or they’ll demand this sort of thing be stopped. The car is much better, and really emphasizes the lunkheadedness that led to creation of the present one.

MMM

Chrysler’s austere stage reminded me of glass shattering in past years and Eva Longoria flirting with Tom La Sorda (for money) and 2008’s herd of cows in the street behind the all-new Ram pickup. Vice chairman Jim Press took the stage and said the cows had visited the cow czar in D.C. and gotten chewed out for traveling there in the cattle car. Like most people within earshot, I injured an abdominal muscle by laughing uncontrollably.

They revealed the Dodge Circuit EV, a swoopy two-door coupe that looked like an update of the Mistubishi 3000GT/Dodge Stealth GT. Take that, Tesla! Then they showed just how diminished the expectations are by revealing the Chrysler 200C EV concept. Hard to imagine it hitting the market as anything but a V-6. It’s very nice looking and has a cool, computerized dashboard with a heavy emphasis on connectivity, and it would make you think twice about buying Car of the Year Genesis, unless they’re the same price, in which case the Genesis is the obvious choice.

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