Three days of press conferences at Cobo Hall in America’s Motor City, Detroit, for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Why three days you ask? New York Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Geneva, and Tokyo all get it done in two days. Well, it is Motor City; the birthplace of the automotive production line. Most of the other major auto shows also have more press conferences in total each averaging about fifteen minutes in length, but will run as many as three simultaneously to condense the entire schedule. Again, not in Detroit. The NAIAS press conference schedule is traditionally one after another with the “big three” taking up the majority of time. This year’s schedule however varied from previous years without any actual automaker events held on the third day. In case you’ve been hibernating over the past several years, the status of the domestic boys has most certainly dropped.
Toyota recently claimed the number two spot behind General Motors on the U.S. sales charts for 2007, upsetting Ford’s position on the list and Lexus is the current top-selling luxury brand in the States. All of these facts were quite evident during this year’s busy schedule of releases in Cobo Hall.
The following indepth report takes a closer look at all major releases and is very well illustrated with a 200-shot slideshow
Ford began the Sunday agenda in Cobo Arena with some brief comments from Bill Ford before Mark Fields, Ford President of the Americas and Country music superstar and the “Ford Truck Man” Toby Keith presented the newly- redesigned F-150. That was followed by the Verve Concept which is one in a trio of upcoming global small car concept introductions.
Chrysler took the press corps outside for some chilly fresh air in front of Cobo for a unique release. Jim Press, President and Vice Chairman, Chrysler LLC told us this would be the event to remember at NAIAS 2008 and he was right. Ten cowboys on horseback lead a herd of 100 longhorn cattle up Washington Boulevard surrounding the fresh new Dodge Ram. Full of new handy storage compartments and an even bolder front grille Dodge is hoping to pull in the reigns on Ford’s continued success in the U.S. truck market.
The remaining local guys, General Motors rounded out the opening sequence of major releases back in Cobo Hall with Chief Executive Rick Wagoner reciting some staggering statistics regarding Bio-fuels. “If all the flex-fuel vehicles that GM, Ford, and Chrysler have on the road right now. . . plus those that we've already committed to produce over the next 12 years, through 2020. . . were to run on E-85 ethanol, we could displace 29 billion gallons of gasoline annually. . . or 18 percent of the projected petroleum usage at that time. And if all manufacturers in the U.S. made that same commitment, we could save 53 billion gallons of gasoline annually. . . or 32 percent of our petroleum usage.” He followed that with presentations of two E-85 fuel powered concepts; the Saab 94-X and the Hummer HX. The HX display became a hot spot for photographers the remaining two days with its removable doors, rear canopy and fenders for that true off-road look. Chevrolet’s 620 hp Corvette ZR-1 was also on display but was officially released at the private GM Style event on Saturday night. 2008 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Chevy Malibu and coincidentally Chevrolet was also awarded with the Car of the Year award for the Malibu.
The Mercedes-Benz sexy-themed production began with the introduction of two new convertibles in the SLK and the McLaren SLR ranges. TV and movie actress Kim Cattrall assisted Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche in presenting the rugged-looking Vision GLK Freeside and urban-styled Townside. The Freeside version is featured in the upcoming “Sex and the City” movie and Cattrall noted, “I love its masculinity, its assertive qualities, the bulges in all the right places. It’s a tight little package.” Zetsche also noted that production of the Maybach 62 S Landaulet has already begun.
Volkswagen kept the schedule rolling with their coupe-looking four door Passat CC, featuring a large panoramic sunroof. BMW announced they will begin selling diesel-powered vehicles in the U.S. and proceeded to introduce the new production version X6 and 1-Series convertible.
Honda’s Pilot SUV has been one of Car & Driver
magazine’s “5 Best trucks” for six years in a row and deserved an update. Judging by the prototype revealed at their press conference, the second-generation Pilot will have a bolder, more chiseled design, be more spacious and prove more fuel efficient than the original with Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management system.
The mid-afternoon buzz around the show floor was that Audi was planning to repeat on their previous musical performances of previous years. Recording artist Bryan Adams belted out a few verses before Rupert Stadler, Chairman of Audi AG lead into the release of the diesel-powered Audi R8 TDI V12 Concept alongside the production-ready TTS Coupe. As the cloak was pulled from the R8, Stadler noted, “Stand by as we challenge the last piece of conventional wisdom about diesel power.”
Subaru celebrated 40 years in the U.S. with the introduction of the all-new Forester that clearly defines more of an SUV stance than its predecessor. Hyundai launched their new flagship model, the real wheel driven Genesis premium sports sedan. Hyundai is relying on the car’s interior design and amenities to establish its credibility as a lower-priced version of luxury sedan. That includes a 17-speaker Lexicon audio system found only in one other brand; Rolls Royce. Kia followed with an announcement that it’s “Playing ball with the big leagues” with their new 7-seat Borrego SUV and a marketing partnership with the National Basketball Association.
While the Lamborghini stand didn’t reveal any new car models, they did however show off some beautiful models of the female variety. Lamborghini declared the formation of Automobili Lamborghini America LLC since the U.S. is their largest market. Worldwide sales in 2007 were 2,406; an increase of 15% over the previous year and the highest total in the Lamborghini’s history.
Yet another manufacturer to follow the diesel trend was Mitsubishi who un-wrapped their gullwinged Concept RA that extensively utilizes lightweight materials to improve fuel economy. The new Ralliart variant of the Lancer was also revealed alongside the recently released Evolution model. Land Rover finished out the day of events with their LRX Concept, which they hope will help them to plunge in the crossover market.
Ford once again began the day’s proceedings, this time with their Lincoln brand. Peter Horbury, Executive Director of Design, The Americas was quick to point out the ‘recycled’ nature of the MKT Concept luxury utility vehicle. The MKT’s lightweight body panels are made of a synthetic resin made of 85% post-consumer plastic waste, the carpet is produced from renewable banana-silk fibers, the wood veneer is reconstituted and the leather is chromium-free.
Cadillac’s Vice Chairman Bob Lutz is known for his need for speed and power. During last year’s presentation of the all-electric Chevy Volt, Lutz seemed to knock his own company’s idea of power without gasoline. His introduction of the new CTS-V was the complete opposite this year and appeared to warm his heart when broadcasting the power figures of 550 horsepower and 550 lb ft of torque. They supposedly benchmarked all of the world’s best sport sedans during development and “believe this to be the fastest four-door sedan in the world”. Sporting Brembo brakes and available Recaro seats the CTS-V will also be offered for the first time outside of North America. As if this upgrade CTS wasn’t enough to satisfy the hungry press, Cadillac managed to keep a concept tucked up their sleeve. A stunning CTS Coupe concept extended Cadillac’s design language with a definite aggressive stance. “Of particular interest are the rear fenders, which have ‘just a hint’ of Cadillac fin” said Ed Welburn, GM Vice President of Global Design. Cadillac also displayed the Provoq Fuel Cell concept that was released recently at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Toyota’s Sunday evening premiere of the A-BAT Truck Concept didn’t appear on any press conference schedule, so as it appeared on the show floor Monday morning, the media was questioning what was to be revealed during the mid-morning Toyota event. Based on the FTSX Concept they unveiled in Detroit three years ago, the Venza “hopes to launch a new segment, not just join one,” said Bob Carter, Vice President and General Manager of the Toyota Division. Developed exclusively for the U.S. market and on sale later this year, the Venza’s styling is reminiscent of the Lexus RX and is decidedly sleeker than Toyota’s current SUV’s. Toyota’s Lexus brand added to their new ‘F’ marque with a roadster adaptation from last year’s LF-A Coupe Concept. While there wasn’t a Lexus-specific press conference for the LF-A Roadster, it was prominently displayed at the front of the Lexus stand and generated a lot of talk on the show floor.
While there were a few major players not in the hall this year like Porsche and Aston Martin, there was a new sports car builder receiving some well-deserved attention. Henrik Fisker of Fisker Automotive Inc. is calling his company the “green American premium car company” and had two locations in Cobo hall including some prime real estate on the main floor adjacent to Ferrari, Maserati and Rolls Royce. He debuted the Karma plug-in hybrid sport sedan and is proposed to start at $80,000 USD when deliveries begin in the fourth quarter of 2009. The car can be charged from a conventional 110Voutlet and also utilizes solar panels on its roof for recharging.
The Chinese manufacturers were in stronger force this year with five names present. Changfeng, Geely, BYD, Chamco and Li Shi Guang Ming Auto Design were all showing their wares to the world media, via Detroit, in hopes of someday entering the competitive North American market. Both Changfeng and Geely were in attendance last year and are by far the furthest along in production and quality, although lacking in the latter category.
General Motors third and final press conference featured Saturn and their next evolution of hybrids. “The Vue 2 Mode Hybrid will be the world’s most fuel efficient V6 SUV,” says Tom Stevens, GM Group Vice President of Global Powertrain and Quality. Its concept is similar to the current Toyota and Honda hybrid systems; however the Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid presented is entirely electric. Saturn finished up with the Flexstreme Concept that employs a lithium-ion battery and a 1.3 liter turbo-diesel engine.
Much like Lamborghini, Ferrari posted a 14% increase in worldwide sales in 2007. They too have considered greener methods of fueling and showcased a bio-fuel powered F430 Spider. “We want to reduce emissions, but we can’t lose the sportiness and performance of our cars,” noted General Manager Amedeo Felisa. We happily agree.
Following suit with the rest of the majors, Chrysler finished their NAIAS Press Days with three concepts for a green world, each displaying ideas from their three brands. The Jeep Renegade is a B-segment sized two-seater with traditional Jeep stylings and an electric/diesel powerplant. Dodge stayed true to its powerful appearance with a low-slung scissor door two seater named Zeo and is powered entirely by battery modules. The Chrysler ecoVoyager rounded the trio out with an elegant four-door four passenger design making use of electric motors and a hydrogen fuel cell.
Most press conferences include musical accompaniment but most motor heads would consider a finely tuned engine and melodious exhaust note to be music to their ears. Mid-afternoon a beautiful, albeit very loud tune, could be heard across the entire hall coming from the Mazda stand where executives presented the extraordinary Furai Concept. Based on an American LeMans Series racing car, this rotary-powered beast kicks out 450 horsepower. Furai means “sound of the wind” in Japanese but it produced a reverberating roar that sounded more like a tornado. Mazda was also presented with the Truck of the Year award for their very successful CX-9 SUV.
While another year in Detroit fulfilled my craving for new and wild concepts and crammed my brain with several more future propulsion options that will take a few more years to comprehend, I couldn’t help but notice that the show on the whole has lost a lot of hype. Some may say we need more horsepower to retain the hype but I disagree. We just need to be excited about what the automotive industry provides us and the 2008 running of the NAIAS was suffice, but I’ll be expecting more stimulation next year.