Sustainable Chic vs. Cheese

Yesterday’s experience at the Detroit auto show was like looking at a display of shoes in hopes of seeing Manolo Blahnik and finding Hush Puppies instead. I ran into one of my editors who asked what I liked, and I couldn’t think of anything at all. She mentioned the Ford Fiesta. It’s nice enough, but just another European design. In past years, when the show presented many splendors, the Focus would’ve been a mere footnote.

Toyoto FT-CH Concept Car

Everywhere I went, there was talk of sustainability. This was nearly the first word uttered at the Toyota press conference, where Roger Penske was seen shaking hands with a Japanese executive and where the FT-CH was introduced. It’s 22 inches shorter than the Prius and aims for a lower price point. It was designed in Europe with the “eight-bit” generation in mind and will be a way of extending the Prius brand. It looks great, and I also liked the computer-generated improvisations on the familiar Toyota musical theme, even though this caused Bill Milliken to squirm in his seat next to me. As the attendees left the presentation, we were invited to pick up a jump drive (rather than a press kit, as in the olden days). This jump drive has a beautiful bamboo cover and is engraved with the Toyota logo and a web address.

The talk went on and on at the next press conferences as well. I heard “sustainable mobility” at the Mercedes-Benz display, where the real eye-catcher was the SLS AMG with its unsustainably enormous V-8 engine. Mercedes introduced the E-Class Cabriolet with the ingenious AIRCAP wind-blocker, an airfoil that extends from the windshield header and deflects the rush of air that would otherwise blast back-seat passengers.

BMW said it’s number one on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and has achieved greater CO2 reductions than any other automaker. Its ethic of Efficient Dynamics is achieved three ways:

  1. Improvements in conventional aspects such as powerplant efficiency, aerodynamics, and reduced weight
  2. Gas-electric hybrid technology
  3. Emissions-free technology

The company showed a 1-Series car with electric drive, called the Concept Active E, designated as their next step toward urban mobility, following the Mini E. The most telling review of the Mini E is ambiguous.

Audi introduced its e-tron coupe, which is utterly beautiful. Before this happened, I had fallen into a conversation with Jack Keebler, and we stood in the aisle gabbing about his job in advanced product planning at GM, so I missed Audi’s spiel about the car.

A welcome relief from the oppressiveness of politically correct sustainability was provided by Kia’s early afternoon press conference. Hosted by Discovery Channel “PitchMen” star Anthony Sullivan, it daringly adopted the cheesy style of a late-night TV commercial. I found myself enthralled. (It did make me recall, somewhat unhappily, the time Chrysler brought a “Desperate Housewives” actress onstage with executive Tom La Sorda.) Here was the antithesis of the slickness of the German companies’ techno-themed presentations. Kia had nothing whatsoever to say about sustainability, no hybrids, no EVs, BEVs, or REVs. (That’s electric vehicles, battery-electric vehicles, range-extended vehicles.) But they did introduce Microsoft UVO, the voice-recognition software that will be available in the new Sorrento, enabling text messages to be read aloud to occupants.

After this, because my feet hurt in the snowboots I’d worn, and all I’d eaten during the day was a bagel, courtesy of the Michelin Media Center, and a biscotti, courtesy of the Acura stand, I decided I had seen enough and went home.

2 thoughts on “Sustainable Chic vs. Cheese

  1. Thanks for sending this to me – Charlie will ingest it, whereas I appreciate your writing skills and enjoy knowing what you’re doing these days.

    Winter is severely ensconced here – there, too, I’m guessing. Keep it up. Love, Marge.

  2. Even though I haven’t been to that many car shows, I enjoyed the pomp and circumstance. Remember the Cirque de Soleil like dancers marching through introducing some Dodge trucks? Or waiting in a line 10 people deep just to get a glance at the new Camaro? And I can’t forget walking past the Ferrari display entranced by the attractive Italians (and the cars).
    Sounds like the show needs a boost of optimism. Sustainability is good (and important) it’s just not interesting in an automotive context. It implies keeping things the same, not charging ahead loudly like big V-8.

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