By on January 9, 2007

maserati.jpgI would really like automakers to cease, desist, and forevermore quit trying to sell me a swayback mare by suggesting it’s actually the Pegasus-winged and My Little Pony-hued reincarnation of Secretariat. Market-speak speakers ought to be hung by their Gucci belts until they learn this lesson. Segment-buster? Lifestyle? Brand frickety DNA? Look, I understand it’s show business not show pleasure, but does everything have to be hyped down to its subatomic particles? Furthermore, there’s no need to yet once again place each of your obscenely-paid executives on stage reading bad jokes off a teleprompter with all the finesse of a teenager asking a girl out on a first date. Stop. Please. I’m losing the will to live.

Yes, I’m a little cranky on the third press preview day of the Really Big Day-twaa Auto Shoe. Bumping from one press conference to another in fashionably constricting slip-ons has taken its toll on both mind and toes. Fortunately, the obsessive compulsives at Lexus have once again demonstrated they sweat the small stuff. They engaged the services of professional masseuses for the sole purpose [sic] of rubbing us fatigued media geezers the right way. As if…

massage.jpgHuh? Where was I? I know what you’re thinking: blubber on some other e-shoulder, you coddled, cosseted, and catered-to little creature. A couple of days glaring at gleaming new sheetmetal, chatting with Jessica Alba turntable clones and gorging on high-caloric (and free!) treats, and you’re tired? Does it hurt and have a temperature? Yes and no. Think Stendhal Syndrome combined with Invasion of the Deadline Snatchers and you know where I’m coming from.

Anyway, the Lexus stand holsters two showpieces: the LF-A supercar and the IS-F sedan, both in concept (wink-wink) form. Some of you have bitched that I haven’t said anything about the actual machinery. So here it is: no matter where it sits inside a car’s chassis, V10’s suck. And Lexus needs a tuner division like Land Rover needs a city car. (Thorazine and fast driving don’t mix.) Happy? 

press-room.jpgWhat in the G5 dominated world is with all the alphanumeric auto nomenclature? Even Charlie Epps would find it hard to memorize all the bechromed badges adoring the butts of Detroit’s multi-million-dollar dream puffs. There’s the MKR, Q7 V12 TDI, C-XF and the FT-HS (in any color as long as it’s BLK). Without peeking, try to tell me which automaker produced what and I’ll suggest you have too much time on your hands. While backing slowly away.

I’ve been occupying my mind with this sort of meaningless intellectual frivolity, now that the manufacturers have thrown the PR pasta against the video wall. I wasn’t alone in wandering around aimlessly seeking angle. I was playing with an interactive kiosk at the MINI display this afternoon when I suddenly realized that I was being filmed by a German guy. (Yes, we’re there: the media is eating its own.) A half hour later I was idly playing with slot cars (magnetized, so they can’t crash, obviously) at the VW display, when German guy was once again burning up lithium batteries on my behalf. We’ll be meeting at a leather bar in Munich later in the year.

food.jpgJuan Pablo Montoya was here. Well, more over there, behind the ropes, far away from the dreaded press pack. He was taking a contractually-obligated bow to coincide with the debut of the stickers that have been printed to adorn his NAS-cookiecutter-CAR. Who knew that before the new season starts he’s required to change his name to John Paul II? Not me.

As I snapped a photo of race boy, I leaned over the barbed wire security net by a centimeter, whereupon an earpiece-adorned thug scowled and waved me back. As the day progressed, I got shooed out of camera range by a perky television reporter, and two guards told me not to touch the sturdy-seeming divider bar separating we throng from the Maserati enclosure or the yawning model contained therein would strip naked and dance the horizontal mambo. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn a T-shirt that says “No pictures!”

Well, it’s time to turn off the lights on another Detroit Auto Show. Before I leave, I’d like to share a couple parting thoughts. 1) The Chinese are coming. Their insanely cheap vehicles will have to be insanely cheap; five minutes later you’ll want to buy another one. 2) Toyota’s stand at this year’s show was comprised of three cars and thirteen trucks. That’s not good. 3) I’ll have the remainder of this toasted potato bread crouton with pulled pork shoulder and Gruyere cheese with braised red cabbage and spring onion; Risotto cake with haricot verts, mixed greens and dual pepper coulis; and mint chocolate and peppermint mousse towers in a doggy bag, Mr. Mercedes Waiter.

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25 Comments on “Fear and Loitering at the NAIAS (Press day 3): The X098TK089 is a Hit!...”

  • avatar

    You gonna meet the Mercedes waiter at the Leather Bar? In all seriousness, a refreshing look at the COBO center antics over the past three days. Nice job Lyn.

  • avatar

    From my armchair outside Boston, I offer the following thoughts of Detroit, based solely on pictures.

    Chrysler: B
    At least there were no crazy, unproducible sports cars, other than more power for the Viper. Exactly what the Viper needed, more power.

    Nassau: I actually thought this was attractive. I hope they build it, because I have to believe there is a market for a vehicle this size – long wheelbase for plenty of room, but short overhangs and a disguised hatchback. I expect the classy interior will show up in the next 300.

    Minivans: Certainly not a groundbreaking exterior, but this market is more about sensible shoes than Manola Blahniks (sorry, Lyn, I’m not an expert on ‘fashionably constricting slip-ons’). But the interior looks cool, and the stow-and-swivel seats will definitely sell, provided people aren’t put off by the lack of leg room. They got the basics right, with the 4.0, upgraded transmission, and safety features standard. I assume the non-grand version is dead, as well as AWD option. I suppose that’s what Aspens are for?

    Trailhawk: The last few Jeep concepts really didn’t go anywhere – the Hurricane and Gladiator – so I’m glad Jeep stayed reasonable. While I personally don’t know any Grand Cherokee owners who need to go topless (mostly middle aged moms who breastfed and really should ignore WOW stickers), I suspect we’ll see the design cues tarting up the next generation GC, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

    Avenger: Well, not great. It certainly looks like a Dodge and it is way better than the Sebring, but shares the Sebring’s mess of a C-pillar, which it complicates with the hump over the rear wheels. Not good at all. I hope DCX got the manufacturing cost on these very low, because they aren’t commanding a premium, by any means.

    Ford: B
    Interceptor/MKR: I lump them together since I assume they’ll share a platform. They look great, although I doubt they’ll be that roomy, so they can’t be considered replacements for the Crown Vic/Town Car. Should be interesting to see how they price/position these, especially the Ford, as it isn’t clear what the competition is or how big the market. Pontiac sure failed with the GTO…

    500: A sensible update addressing its weaknesses (Taurus engine and blandness) while building on strengths – safety, stable chassis, decent interior and NVH.

    Focus: Ditto the 500.

    Airstream: waste of time and money. Does nothing for Ford’s image and offers no direction for Ford to go in.

    GM: A
    Volt: great looking car with the potential to change the world. This is what the Prius will be in 3 years, except it’s attractive, works as a plug-in, and looks like its actually fun to drive. Now let’s hold GM’s feet to the fire to ensure they bring it out in volume.

    Malibu: best looking midsize sedan in America. Interior *looks* great, although I worry about the quality of the materials in the actual production vehicles.

    CTS: best looking entry premium car in America. Obvious that Cadillac gave it all they had with this update, and by the looks of it, it beats out the G35. Sure, C/D will prefer the 335’s driving dynamics, but you have to keep in mind how tiny the Bimmer is inside. The current CTS played a big part in the reinvention of Cadillac, and the new one looks to build on that momentum.

    Toyota: B
    Tundra: uh oh. Definitely a problem for the domestics, unless Toyota is able to expand the market. Perhaps there are Camry owners out there who wanted a gigantic pickup, but were waiting for Toyota to introduce it. Dodge can hope, can’t they?

    FT-HS: how is it possible to make a V-10 sports car boring? Only Toyota knows.

    Nissan: C
    Bevel was weird without bringing anything new to the table. Nothing wrong with the Rogue, although given how late Nissan is to the cute-ute game, I doubt it will be the “cash cow” they expect. Altima coupe shown in L.A. looks better than the Accord.

    Volvo: A-
    XC60 is a great reinterpretation of the Iosis. Well executed, and nice to see Volvo taking some chances with this and the C30, as opposed to the humdrum S80 styling.

    Mazda: A+
    I thought the Ryuga was absolutely stunning, inside and out. This is a car that the design community will be talking about – and copying – for years to come. Great dimensions, great flow from one part of the car the next; truly integrated in every dimension. The sooner Mazda can follow up by integrating the Ryuga into production vehicles, the better.

    Acura, Audi, BMW, Honda, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, M-B, et al: didn’t register with me.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    The 2008 Focus: the 1980’s Ford Tempo reincarnated. New Edge morphs into Old Bland.

  • avatar

    Amazing that Ford continues to screw up a free lunch with the Focus. How expensive could it *really* be to make the Euro Focus meet US Fed requirements? Instead, we get this contraption. Keep it up Ford, and you’ll continue to erode market share while filling Hertz’ parking lots. Dolts.

  • avatar

    Replying to SherbornSean:

    GM: A
    Volt: great looking car with the potential to change the world. This is what the Prius will be in 3 years, except it’s attractive, works as a plug-in, and looks like its actually fun to drive. Now let’s hold GM’s feet to the fire to ensure they bring it out in volume.

    My prediction: the Volt will be forgotten before the show is officially over.

    Just some more empty words from GM, intended as eye catchers. They claimed that they would do a fuel-cell when Toyota is improving the Prius. Tell me, where are the GM fuel-cell cars? When? And how much? FYI, Honda will be mass producing hydrogen fuel-cell cars starting 2010 in Japan (and in the US shortly after).

    Next time, notify me when the actual model arrives at dealerships.

  • avatar

    The battery technology to make Volt doesn’t exist. There’s currently no-one out there who can produce the needed long-life li-ion batteries.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Odds are the batteries will be readily available before hydrogen will be.

  • avatar

    And lithium batteries have NASTY problems when damaged, burned or mistreated. Which is par for the course with cars.

  • avatar

    very well-written review. as a matter of fact, knowing how strenuous auto shows are, i would say: better than being there.

    there is only one comment i would add if farago allowed us to attack writer’s prose. i would say (but i am not saying it, because i don’t want to be banned): a gentleman doesn’t use the word “suck”, unless he is under 20 or is talking about sex.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Fear and Loitering = best pun ever.

  • avatar

    Dittos Sherborn on everything. Malibu is everything it should have been at last refresh. CTS from the front look stunning. New DCX minivans have some neat new features inside but look like nothing more than first generation Kia Sedonas from the outside – hardly anything to inspire the masses. New Focus looks like a tossed metal/plastic salad on wheels. 500 is more of the same only dripping in even more sameness. New Tundra is by all accounts the pickup to beat in America – it is everything the 2.5 have yet to deliver and looks fantastic. Why it isn’t truck of the year is bizzare.

    Battery vs Hydrogen – I predict GM and 2.5 will once again lose the race and hydrogen (starting with Honda) will be the next big thing. Strange how the domestics keep chasing down the wrong cat. I see very little in the Volt or this technology that advances hybrids that much, and the max proposed distance on a charge is still to low to make it viable to most of America.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    The electron economy, or the hydrogen economy? I suspect it won’t come down to a ‘choice’ of one or the other, in fact. I suspect we’ll see both – some day.

    Actually, Li-Ion batteries are problematical, but BYD (2nd largest cell phone battery manufacturer and also Chinese automobile manufacturer) are planning on iron-based batteries. Hopefully this will place viable, affordable electric cars on the street within a few years. BYD have not announced US marketing (yet) but I suspect they’ll be here with electric cars and hybrids (all the more BYD batteries to sell en masse, right?)

    See for yourselves. (Google search, cached version)

    Honda have stated they will introduce the FCX hydrogen fuel cell car (for lease, only) in Japan and the United States NEXT YEAR – 2008. We’ll see….

    I also know a company called Miller is supposedly bringing out a family sized, practical electric sedan (?) for $28,500 within about a year (from China). Promises, promises….

  • avatar

    and two guards told me not to touch the sturdy-seeming divider bar separating we throng from the Maserati enclosure or the yawning model contained therein would strip naked and dance the horizontal mambo.

    must’ve been one ugly model if that was supposed to be a deterrent.

  • avatar

    Let’s get back to reality.

    The self immolating batteries in plug in cars draw their power from coal or oil burning power stations.

    Until nuclear power becomes common, the tree huggers won’t be happy. (If it’s ever possible for them to be less than insanely pessimistic).

    If hydrogen cars were on the road now, instead of gasoline powered vehicles, three out of every five such vehicles would be a hydrogen tanker.

    Until a huge pipeline infrastructure is developed and made secure from hydrogens’ volatile ability to demolish several city blocks, diesel is king.

    And so it’s a bit of a shame that TTAC didn’t review who has what in the way of diesel engine options for 2008.

    Maybe there’s still time?

  • avatar

    You are correct that PHEVs will increase use of coal, but that may not be such a bad thing. New coal-fired electricity generators are relatively clean, and at least lower America’s dependence on imported oil. Besides, people will be charging at night, so any excess electricity currently generated at night by nuclear or wind will be soaked up first.

    Also, your knock on Hydrogen may not be that big a deal. Honda’s system includes a station you install in your garage that converts natrual gas to Hydrogen to refill your tank. You would only need hydrogen infrastructure if you took a road trip of longer than 500 miles. If you have 2 cars, its not an issue so long as one uses gas or diesel.

    I’d like to see more diesel too, but so long as gas prices are low (compared to the rest of the world), there isn’t that big an incentive.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Though some of the new models are dazzling, I didn’t see anything in the NAIAS articles regarding the domestic automakers dealing with poor reliability, recently identified by J.D. Powers as their No. 1 sales killer.

    The majority of new car buyers never see an auto show’s glitz and glitter. They consult Consumer Reports and purchase the most reliable car their budget will allow. That leaves the domestic makers dead in the water.

  • avatar
    son of Bob Lutz

    The problem I have with hydrogen is that it cannot be transported in liquid form, severely limiting the amount of fuel on board. Check out this link from ASME. It suggests using ammonia as fuel.

    This seems like an interesting solution as a transition fuel. It can be used in both IC engines and fuel cells, transported as a liquid, and should be nearly pollution free (formula for ammonia is NH3, so exhaust consists of nitrogen and water vapor when operating properly).

  • avatar

    Most significant cars, IMHO:

    1. Malibu: I had a feeling this was the next logical direction (Opel) for this nameplate, especially after the Aura was announced. Given the Aura’s fairly decent critical acclaim so far, I think it will be a hit…maybe not the outright best car in the class, but it will introduce small-town America’s Malibu-buying contingency to European design and demeanor with a bowtie on the front. Chevy will eat it up and tout it as a 100% American triumph with a straight face. Hope it sells with no incentives needed!

    2. Caravan/T&C: Finally, something really competitive with Toyota and Honda’s stranglehold on that market. It’s about time. Offer the Bluetec and sign me up…these things are alternative to pickups for many, with more space than wagons or SUVs.

    3. Toyota Tundra: Younger buyers needing bigger pickups will seriously consider it, since they grew up in the era of bulletproof Toyota reliability and with fewer alliances to the Big 3. This is the first time that notion has met an actual LARGE truck. Sure to be a quality testosterownership experience.

  • avatar

    I’m beat after 2.5 days at the show. Still need to type up my thoughts from yesterday.

    Jalopnik did put the Chinese video on YouTube. If you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out. The DVD actually contains two additional videos that are each twice the length of the one shown. Haven’t viewed them yet, but will when I need a few good laughs.

    Not that the videos mean anything about their ability to produce cars. All they need is a good American marketing agency and the video problem would be fixed pronto.

    My take on Day Three:

  • avatar

    Dea Twaa

    “Does it hurt and have a temperature?”
    Was that Bayer aspirin for children?

    Maybe you could research my Bayer recollection during your Lyn in leather, does Munich visit.

    I like your style!
    Good work and Thank You!

  • avatar
    Lyn Vogel

    Thank you to everyone who took a moment to post to the installments.

  • avatar

    And thank you Lyn for that photo of the model. And I guess that Maserati that’s posing with her is ok too.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Wow, I guess I can shelf my regrets over missing the show once again. The guards are that rude huh? At the Toronto show, they’ll come over and ask if you’d like the barrier moved out of your photo. I’ve only had tv people try to muscle me out of the way once, my response was “piss off til I get my shot, I was here first.”

  • avatar

    Replying to Glenn A.:

    The electron economy, or the hydrogen economy? I suspect it won’t come down to a ‘choice’ of one or the other, in fact. I suspect we’ll see both – some day.

    That I do not object. But no matter what technology prevails, the D2.5 won’t be the leaders. The problem with them is not that they cannot find the hot thing. They just cannot compete.

    When Toyota sold its 1M’th Prius in 2004, GM knew fully well that it’s the right time to get into the market. But, instead, they gave the fuel cell marketing BS, to hide the fact they just couldn’t offer a decent model.

    Now, with the Honda’s fuel cells coming, GM has to change its cover up BS. Count on my words, when Toyota/Honda introduce their all electric plug-in in 2015, GM will show a nuclear concept (if GM still exists).

    The fact is, a competitive car maker should lead in all fronts. It’s not a coincidence that Toyota/Honda’s internal combustion engines are also superior to GM’s.

    P.S. I think Ford is better than GM, in that Ford acknowledges its shortcomings. The Ford hybrids are a good start in its planned revival.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Well, I can sympathize with getting the one-up treatment from television people. I think they are the bane of the existence of most print and Internet journos. Whereas at one time, a journo would stand down and say, “Sorry to get in your shot,” television people stand as among the most egocentric of humans. And since their role is really entertainment – few Edward R. Murrows left amongst them – they are not really journos. But getting back to NAIAS, I think Warren Brown caught the importance of it best in the Washington Post this week when he wrote, “Big trucks are forever, even in an era of rising fuel prices.” And finally, when he wrote, “Toyota isn’t bragging about fuel economy in this brawl. Its new CrewMax gets 16 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway, about the same as the Silverado. To the extent that there is something that might pass for a single theme at this year’s Detroit show, it is represented in the one characterizing the truck battle: more power, less fuel.” So maybe ignoring product was the right choice after all, Lyn. Nonetheless, admittedly that gas hog of a Maser certainly does have probably the best exterior design of any four-door sedan on the planet; now if there was just a way to reduce the weight about 1,000 pounds.

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