TrueDelta Does Detroit Pt. 3

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh
truedelta does detroit pt 3

First, I visited the Eco drive event in the basement. In past years, they stuck suppliers and the Chinese down here. This year, with Nissan and Porsche absent and others asking for less space, most everyone moved to the main floor. So what to do in the basement? How about a lavishly landscaped road course on which to sample hybrids and such?

The public will only be able to ride along; it’s been deemed too risky to let them drive. The press gets to drive, but only up to 10 mph, with a guide in the passenger seat. One guide talked my ear off– you’d think I’d never driven a car before- but the others were mercifully silent. Up to 10 mph, most hybrids and EVs feel like… any other car with lifeless steering (nothing but electric-assist systems here). To their credit, the vehicles’ brakes all felt natural; a welcome improvement from older hybrids. I sampled a Chevrolet Equinox powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Yep, felt just like a regular Equinox, at least at these speeds.

Next, I stopped by the presentation of the “Eyes on Design” awards. Unlike most “the media are the massage” awards, the Design gongs are meaningful. Dozens of actual designers vote to decide the best vehicles at the show. Four awards are given: two for concepts and two for production cars. Unlike past years, nothing distinguished the two winners in each category. Not even first and second place.

The concept category winners were no surprise. The Cadillac Converj, based on the Chevy Volt, easily had the strongest reaction of any concept during the show. And the Audi Sportback was chock full of interesting details The only other concepts that deserved a shot were Chrysler’s 200C EV (photo in earlier post) and Volvo’s S60 precursor (photo below). Other concepts were either weird (Lincoln’s) or uninteresting (the precursor for Subaru’s next Legacy). There weren’t many concepts this year. Not much money to spend on them, and all that.

The winners in the production category were a surprise, at least to me. First up, the Audi R8 5.2. Sure the V10 is new, and I believe the body was lengthened a bit to include it, but the design isn’t new. In fact, one wonders how it even qualifies for consideration. Well, if the Malibu could win car of the year when it was a reskin of the previous year’s winner (Saturn Aura), anything’s possible.

The other winner: the BMW Z4. Which is good mainly to the extent that it isn’t bad-i.e. Bangled like the first-gen Z4. There’s nothing particularly new or exciting about it. So if an already familiar Audi and cleaned-up BMW scooped design kudos, what does this say about the designs Detroit is counting on to save it? I’m not a huge fan of the exteriors of the Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Taurus or Lincoln MKT, but some of them do more for me than the BMW. Then again, the same could be said for a bar of soap.

The interiors of the Buick and Lincoln are the best yet from their manufacturers. Still, it seems that designers weren’t enthusiastic about Detroit’s 2010s. Also absent from the winners: both of Fisker’s Karmas. Apparently designers aren’t impressed when one of their own starts his own company from scratch. Or maybe they’re just past pastiche.

Finally, Tesla presented. How did they end up as the only manufacturer presenting on this sparsely attended third day? Clearly someone didn’t do their job. Or is it cheaper to present on the third day?

The focus of CEO Elon Musk’s presentation: Daimler just gave Tesla permission to announce that the Silicon Valley start-up will be supplying batteries and chargers for the upcoming Smart EV. Which will enable Tesla to reap greater economies of scale, and advance the day when electric propulsion is cheap enough for the masses. In theory.

Questions centered on Tesla’s reliance on a large number of small cells, the planned S family sedan, and what Elon Musk has learned from his venture.

Economies of scale are much greater with small cells, so it’s cheaper to use them for at least the next few years. The S sedan will cost $49,900 after a tax credit of $7,500, and will be introduced two years after they get a hoped-for Department of Energy loan. My pricing analysis: this price makes it about half that of the Fisker, so the two won’t directly compete. The Volt will be a direct competitor. In theory.

After investing $70m of his own money, Musk learned you need car people to run a car company; nearly the entire executive team has been replaced. Mr. Musk seemed a bit worn out, and less confident than the bunch across the aisle at Fisker.

Tesla also showed video of an upcoming higher-performance variant of their Elise-based roadster. Acceleration time to 60 will improve from 3.9 to 3.7. No one in the press corps seemed to care.

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2 of 8 comments
  • ZoomZoom ZoomZoom on Jan 19, 2009

    "Tesla also showed video of an upcoming higher-performance variant of their Elise-based roadster. Acceleration time to 60 will improve from 3.9 to 3.7. No one in the press corps seemed to care." Let's not put too much importance on what the press corps likes and doesn't like. What YOU think, yes, though I mmay disagree (I like the Z4). What Car and Driver or Road and Track thinks, not so much... Where there any "average john and jane does" there when you where there? Those may or may not have been interesting conversations to overhear.

  • Tankd0g Tankd0g on Jan 25, 2009

    "Hopefully somebody can roll back the bounds of my ignorance here. What does “bangled” mean?" Chris Bangle, chief ruiner of BMW sheet metal among others.

  • Azfelix From certain angles the bonnet appears oversized with respect to the rest of the car - like a skinny teenager wearing a bulky sweater nicked from her older sister's wardrobe.
  • Tassos This is way too god damned OLD, 21 years old to have all the necessary options you need TODAY. You need a 10 year old or less car. AND if you give us THIS POS, a 21 year old model, that is not even a LUXURY car, whoever pays $10k for a Golf, And I Do NOT care what anniversary it is (they are all UTTERLY INSIGNIFICANT) deserves to get this MOST UNRELIABLE AND COSTLY TO REPAIR OF ALL LOUSY ECONOBOXES< EVEN THE DOMESTICS AND THE KOREANS.
  • Tassos As you say, Toyota confirmed this on TUESDAY. Today is WEDNESDAY. Why is everything on TTAC held back one or more days before you tell us the NEWS when it is NO MORE THE NEWS?
  • MRF 95 T-Bird You can find a decent and far more stylish Audi TT or an S4 of a similar vintage for under $10k.
  • RHD "In all situations, the grip of the tires (225/40R18 front, 225/35R18 rear) brings with it road noise."Are the rear tires actually smaller than the fronts??!! Adding just a bit of sidewall would take care of the bumps and rough ride. I'm not a fan of BMWs, personally, but this is a very enjoyable car. There are times when driving a convertible is pure bliss, and with a bit of power it's fun as well. (And certainly a better drive than a gussied-up, overpriced German taxicab!)