Celebrating its hundredth anniversary, the 2007 Detroit Auto Show or North American International Auto Show saw the introduction of dozens of new production and concept cars. Compared to recent years, there was quite a dramatic change in approach with more realistic concept vehicles and in contrast more advanced production cars. Especially for the American manufacturers, these are exciting times and we discovered they have not given up; quite the contrary. We have spent the past three days in the Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit to capture release after release and have compiled our thoughts and impressions in the following report and 310-shot slideshow
At the inaugural Detroit Auto Show a hundred years ago Henry Ford announced the introduction of the Model T, the first mass produced automobile. In that century the car grew from a luxury item, to a means of transportation used and loved throughout the world. Following in the footsteps of Ford, the other two major manufacturers from the Detroit area were the market leaders for the large majority of that time, but it has all gone a little sour for them in more recent years. Received at first with skepticism, the Japanese gradually claimed a larger market share by consistently offering higher quality vehicles often for less money. The current estimates are that Toyota will be the best selling manufacturer in North America whereas both General Motors and Ford are on the verge of bankruptcy. There has even been talk in the last few days of a Ford buy-out by Toyota. Another problem facing the industry as a whole is the dependency on and pending shortage of fossil fuels. Both these problems were ignored for many years, but now the Americans are looking to make up ground quickly.
Taking a page out of the Japanese book, both GM and Ford are fighting back by increasing the overall quality of their line-up and the introduction of new technologies. Great examples are the new Ford Focus and Cadillac CTS, which are packed with new technology. Ford have signed an exclusive agreement (until the end of 2008) with Microsoft for the all-new SYNC software package that enables the car to communicate with a large variety of electronic devices, including Apple’s Ipod. Available in many more Ford vehicles before the end of this year, Sync will be introduced in the Focus as the target group for that car is the group of buyers that has grown with 24/7 connectivity. The 2008 CTS combines a host of new features with a fit and finish that equals the benchmarks set by Lexus.
General Motors’ answer to the fossil fuel problems is a technology called E-Flex, which was introduced on the stylish Chevrolet Volt concept car. At the heart of the new drivetrain is a lithium ion fed electric motor with a range of 40 miles (the average daily commute for over 75% of the Americans). The batteries can be charged by simply plugging the car into any electric socket or by using the onboard generator; in the case of the Volt a three cylinder E85 internal combustion engine. In contrast to the now commonly available hybrid cars, the internal combustion engine does not power the wheels. If GM can roll this technology out quickly, it could be a very interesting alternative.
It was a good week for General Motors anyways, as the Saturn Aura and the Chevrolet Silverado were named the Car and Truck of the Year in North America by a group of 49 Canadian and American journalists.
If it isn’t broken ..
Seemingly undisturbed, the Japanese companies, led by Toyota, continued to expand their ranges. With not a mention of the expected rise to number one, Toyota’s press conference saw the introduction of the new Tundra truck; the last piece of the market still dominated by the Americans. The top of the range model is powered by an all new 5.7 litre V8 engine, which is good for over 350 bhp. While pulling a load of 5000 lbs, the Tundra reportedly accelerated to 60 mph 2 seconds faster than the closest competition. Market-leader Ford was ready to up the ante though with the F250, which could ensure the company’s number 1 position for the 31st year running. Building on their hybrid drive technology, Toyota also introduced the FT-HS concept car; possibly a forebearer of the Supra replacement. Fortunately the bright white coupe looked a lot more appealing in the metal than it did in the pictures, but more about that later. Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus looks set to take on the European sports-sedans with the V8-engined IS-F, which is the first of a series of high performance Lexus models.
Honda and Acura debuted concept vehicles that could very well become production models in the near future. Particularly the two-door Honda Accord Concept seemed production-ready and a major step forward compared to the current model. Acura showed the Advanced Sports Car Concept that fits nicely in the slot left by the discontinued NSX, but for the fans of the NSX there is one major problem; it’s front-engined.
Mitsubishi celebrated their 25th year on the American market with the introduction of the tenth evolution of the Lancer model. It was further livened up with the Prototype X Concept on which the next ‘EVO’ model will be based. The company’s rally heritage was also celebrated with a 1973 Safari Rally Lancer and the 2006 Baja 1000 class winning Raider.
An odd one out among the Japanese was Nissan, who took the wraps of the rather ungainly Bevel concept. Staying somewhat true to its moniker, it sports a rather unusual asymmetric shape. For Nissan’s sake, we can only hope that this was a one-off experiment. Already introduced two months earlier, the shark-inspired Mazda Ryuga concept again confirmed the abundance of talent in Mazda's design staff. If only some of the unconventional features of the recent Mazda concepts would make it out to the road.
For the automotive enthusiast looking for something a little more special, there was also plenty of news in Detroit. Our favorite was Jaguar’s new C-XF; the styling exercise the new S-Type replacement will be based on. When we first received the images, we were not quite so enthusiastic, but as often seen before, the pictures deceived us. The same was the case with the Giugiaro Mustang launched in LA of which the pictures released by Ford really did not do it justice.
Rolls Royce used the always sunny Detroit (insert laugh here) to unveil the Phantom Drophead Coupe. The less than subtle styling was carried over from the EX100 concept car launched in Geneva in 2004 and will guarantee the two-door luxury cruiser to stand out. On a part of the show floor converted into an ice rink, Mercedes Benz showcased a potential competitor in the form of the four-door convertible Concept Ocean Drive. However, to be a serious competitor, it should have sported a Maybach badge.
Maserati’s re-entrance into the American market has been nothing short of a success, thanks in a very large part to the Quattroporte sedan. The sole complaint many had about the Pininfarina designed machine was the sluggish paddle operated gearbox, but with the introduction of a full automatic version, those complaints should be silenced now as well.
Porsche had big news for the soccer moms with an expensive taste as they launched an all-new version of the Cayenne SUV. In good Porsche tradition, little was changed to the exterior, but just enough to spot the difference ... if you really try. The top of the range Turbo model now packs a 500 bhp punch. That same punch is also found in Audi’s V12 engined Q7 model, present in Detroit as a concept car. Cashing in on the success of the R10 sports racing car, it marks the introduction of diesel engines in the American Audi range.
The most unusual stand was Aston Martin with just two cars on display without a booth. It must be part of their Ford farewell tour.
While not as spectacular or lavish as previous years, the 2007 North American International Auto Show showcased a plethora of interesting new releases. The new found realism of the American manufacturers seems essential for their survival. It will be very interesting to see wether Ford and GM can fight back like Chrysler has done in the last few years and whether the new technologies shown in concept form will become reality soon.