Billy C's 2008 Detroit Auto Show Round-up

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery
billy c s 2008 detroit auto show round up

The press preview for the 2008 North American International Auto Show is finally over. TTAC’s Texas twosome– Sajeev Mehta and I– did our level best to catch the major reveals, grill some suits and get a feel for the temper of the times. On the plane back to the Lone Star State, I collected my thoughts on the show’s winners and losers. Were the carmakers fiddling while Rome burns, or preparing to rise Phoenix-like from the ashes ahead?

BIG WINNERS: GM and FoMoCo. Call it a home field advantage, but The General’s troops and The Blue Oval Boyz did the most to impress, launching the drop-dead gorgeous, thundering Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 ; the luxe yet yeoman-like new Ford F-150 full-size pickup and the AMG-alike Cadillac CTS-V. Hail Mary passes they may be, but connect they did. (Yoda am I.)

BIG LOSERS: Chrysler and Toyota. Dodge launched their new Ram pickup amidst a gen-you-ine cattle drive outside the convention center. Indoors, the automaker’s displays were equally unfinished and disorganized. Toyota, the masters of organization, revealed nothing more exciting than a station-wagon-on-stilts. While the Camry-based Venza will sell in [non-cattle] droves, it oozed nothing in particular from every pore.

BEST SHOW TREND: diesel. Honda announced its plans to put a four-cylinder clean diesel engine into their [unintentionally] stealthy Acura passenger cars, as of next year. GM took the wraps off a new low-compression clean-burning 2.9-liter oil burner— a potential game changer in a Cadillac CTS coupe, no less. Mercedes, BMW and Audi all announced upmarket oil burners. And Chrysler promised to put a V6 Cummins turbo diesel into their half-ton Ram pickups, after 2009.

WORST SHOW TREND: alternative propulsion. The 2008 North American International Auto Show was the latest venue for the world automotive ecology Olympics. Unfortunately, all the athletes were pumped-up on PR puffery, and no events were actually run. Like the engine-less Cadillac Provoq “hydrogen” concept car, the hype surrounding the efficacy and practicality of a range of alternative propulsion powerplants has obscured the truth of reasonable expectations and anything like a practical timeframe.

CUTTING-EDGE WINNER: Former Aston designer Henrik Fisker’s mob made a major impact with their oh-so-sexy Karma all-electric sports car. Fisker execs say they’ll beat Tesla Motors to market with the first all-electric production sports car. Words are cheap, although neither car is. In theory.

CUTTING-EDGE LOSER: Tesla. Tesla’s no-show at the North American International Auto Show is a major miscalculation; with TTAC-fed doubts about the company’s viability, Tesla needed to fly the flag for their Lotus Elise-based all-electric Roadster. Either the silicon start-up couldn’t afford to lease the COBO real estate, or they didn’t want to face uncomfortable questions from an increasingly impatient press corps and public, or, sensibly enough, they’re conserving dwindling financial resources for more profitable endeavors. Anyway you look at this, they lose.

MEDIA WINNER: Autoblog, Jalopnik et al. The so-called new media continued their rise to prominence. Web slingers wrote stories, edited photos and transmitted the results for near-immediate posting on the Web. With Wi-fi, they didn’t even have to leave the show floor to do so. When The Old e-Gray Lady (the New York Times online) broke multiple photo embargos the night before the first press day, it was abundantly clear that print was dead.

MEDIA LOSER: buff books. The reports and photos from the North American International Auto Show hit the blogosphere within minutes. The buff books’ reports won’t show up in tin mailboxes for at least a month, more likely two. The old tech publications are clamoring to morph themselves into something more relevant by utilizing video and feeding their own web sites. One ink-stained Hungarian-looking scribe called “Chubba” trailed around behind me with a film crew. He pretended not to know who I was but followed me everywhere. Creepy.


• Audi – Major buzz around the R8, and deservedly so.

• Ford Verve – IF only…

• Nissan – The GT-R is gonna be a HUGE hit


• Chinese automakers – Relegated to the COBO basement, where they belong

• Buick – Their only inspiration came from China. How great is that?

• Mercury – Who? What? Where? No one. Nothing. Nowhere.

• Jaguar – Jag needs a homerun. The XF ain’t it.

• Pontiac – Why would anyone buy a G8 over a CTS?

Taken as a whole, the 2008 North American International Auto Show did little to suggest that major manufacturers have busted any moves to meet the twin challenges of recession and regulation. Those that are ready, are. Those that aren’t, aren’t. I read somewhere that Nero was a pretty good fiddle player. So is Detroit.

[For full TTAC Auto Show coverage, click here.]

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  • Jthorner Jthorner on Jan 21, 2008

    "Stop blowing your horns and speaking of the demise of the print media." The decline of print media is well documented if you follow business news. Various reports put the annual sales declines in the 5%-10% per year range for printed newspapers and magazines. The situation is very similar to that of the photography business which has been in a painful transition from silver based (film) imaging to digital imagining. That shift has already put a number of once proud companies like Konica, Minolta, and others completely out of the business and has decimated employment and profits at once huge companies like Kodak. Here you can see Kodak bldg 65 blown up. Then there was building 9: And yet another Kodak building coming down: What really makes me sad is that the crowd cheers every one of these implosions. This is what happens when an old way crumbles under the onslaught of the digital age. There is absolutely zero evidence print media will escape a similar fate. Luckily the offices of Car & Driver likely are easier to put to another useful purpose than were the highly specialized Kodak production facilities.

  • Faston Faston on Jan 23, 2008

    Sajeev Mehta : While Bill and I did the best we could (equipped to be self-publishing with a camera, laptop, note pad, cell phone, battery chargers) the sheer volume of Autobloggers and Jalopniks really drove the point home: new media ruled this event. Yes, and Fast Lane Daily delivered the Auto Show to me daily through a season's pass on my Tivo. How cool is that? jpc0067 : I think that as long as people need to defecate, there will always be a home for the print media. I used to think that too. Then I bought an ipod Touch. My car magazines are now pretty lonely sitting there as I surf digg, TTAC, e-mail and youtube with this amazing little device. The auto show coverage has always been one of the least interesting parts of the print mags to me. As you point out, it's 2 months too late and I was more interested in the strengths of the magazines: in depth reviews and comparisons.

  • Chris P Bacon I had a chance to drive 2 Accords back to back as rentals. The first was a base ICE LX. I was underwhelmed. The next was a Sport Hybrid. Like night and day. So much so that I ventured on to the grounds of my local dealer. Was looking for a Sport or Sport-L. Autotrader showed nothing within 250 miles. Dealer confirmed. Told me I'd have to "get on the list" for a delivery, and there was a non-negotiable $3k "market adjustment". I guess I'll have to hope to see one on the Emerald Aisle again.
  • DungBeetle62 I just this past weekend rented one of these for 5 days in SoCal and with $5.29 the best I could find for gas, this ride's wonderful combination of comfort and thrift was welcome indeed. My biggest real beef is with the entire Accord product line - with that angle of backlight, not having this as a 5-door hatch seems a real waste of space.
  • RICHARD I bought my wife the exact car in the picture 3 weeks ago. Acceleration is average for the class. Smoothness of the powertrain, competent ride dynamics, quietness, and comfort are definitely pluses. The styling is restrained for sure, but we weren't looking for a shouty car that doesn't deliver on the design statement. She drives about 8,000 miles per year, mostly around town. At the current rate, we expect to buy about 16 gallons of gas per month. This really is a car that appears to do everything well rather than excelling at a few things to the detriment of others.
  • Ajla "2010-2019 Borrego"The Borrego only had model years 2009 - 2011 in the United States. The Borrego/Mohave did exist in international markets beyond them but the NHTSA of the United States would not be handling a recall on those. It's annoying that apparently the manufacturer, the federal regulator, and automotive press didn't notice this.
  • SilverCoupe The last Accord I test drove was in 1978, but I ended up buying a VW Scirocco instead. The Accords have put on quite a bit of weight since, then, but then again, so have I!