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.
SHORT TAKE WINNERS:
• Audi – Major buzz around the R8, and deservedly so.
• Ford Verve – IF only…
• Nissan – The GT-R is gonna be a HUGE hit
SHORT TAKE LOSERS:
• 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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