A Half-Dozen Chicago Takeaways From A Guy Who Could Only Think Of Four, Intially, But Then Realized There Should Be At Least Six

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

It was best of auto shows, it was the worst of auto shows. Actually, it was neither; it was simply a well-planned event which suffered from a near-deadly lack of new product introductions. Probably the most interesting thing I personally saw was the journosaurs hitting a cupcake stand like they were trying to save Private Ryan or something.

There were a few news items and observations which didn’t fit in with our model-by-model reporting method, however, starting with a curious surplus of supercars…

However Limited LF-A Production Was, It Apparently Wasn’t Limited enough. Wikipedia sez that, of the model’s planned 500-unit run, Lexus allocated 150 LF-As to the United States. There were four of them on display at Chicago, in four different colors, lined up very neatly on a raised platform. That’s almost three percent of total production; equivalent to putting seven or eight thousand Camrys in McCormick Place as a promotion tactic. Why? It has nothing to do with the media. Rather, it’s a Hail Mary pass to the Chicago one-percenters who may wander over to McCormick next week during their three-martini lunches. Lexus must be hoping those Masters Of The Universe are still drinking their dejeuner, because very few sober people will seriously contemplate buying a $375,000 Japanese car that isn’t really any quicker than an $82,000 Japanese car. Full disclosure: your humble author is actually a fan of the LF-A. If given such a vehicle as a “long-term tester”, I promise to annoy all of my Facebook friends by vomiting endless LF-A-related status updates. “Just went to McDonald’s — in the LF-A.” “Took the LF-A to the Lion’s Den.” “It’s easy to clean vomit from the passenger side carpet of the LF-A’s spacious and tasteful cabin.”

Cadillac Needs To Let The Ring Thing Go. Back in 2005, I had an STS Northstar AWD as a company car for a while. I liked the car’s relatively sporty stance and demeanor. It made a nice contrast to my Phaetons. How odd, to have a luxurious Volkswagen and a German-feeling Cadillac. Eight model years later, Cadillac is still beating the faux-Kraut drum at deafening volume. The ATS may well be faster than some random 3-Series around the ‘Ring. Nobody cares. This is the same kind of marketing myopia that led GM to think they could sell the Pontiac 6000STE based on skidpad numbers. I’ll tell you a car that for sure is not faster than the 3-Series around any closed course in Europe or America: the Lexus ES350. Odd that anybody buys it, huh? They must think it’s a luxury car.

Meet The New Elantra GT, Same As The Old Elantra GT. When the first five-door Elantra arrived in the United States, I remember thinking that putting red trim and spoilers on a car that was no faster than its sedan counterpart amounted to almost a Eurosport’s level of heresy. And now Hyundai’s doing it again. Put a motor in the car, guys. You have a couple of ’em from which to choose. The easy thing to do would be the Sonata’s 2.4. The fun thing to do would be to drop the Sonata Turbo engine in. Why not?

The Camcord mold is now officially broken. Remember the so-called Univeral Japanese Motorcycle, or UJM? Maybe not. It was a long time ago. The UJM was one of the visually identical early-Seventies Hondas, Suzukis, Yamahas, and Kawasakis that introduced an entire generation to motorcycling. I had a UJM myself — a ’74 Honda CB550, as a matter of fact. Well, it wasn’t that long ago that we seemed to be on the brink of the Universal Japanese-esque Midsizer. The Camry, Altima, and Accord all looked nearly identical. The Sonata looked just like the Accord. The friggin’ Impala got an face-and-ass-lift that aped the Accord of the day more closely than Chinese Smart copies aped the Smart. I still frown when I see that Impala: it’s a visual copy of an Accord that is about to be two generations old, forced onto the template of a platform that dates back to the 1988 Cutlass Supreme. That’s GM for you.

Back on subject. Look at the midsizers now. The CamCordTima may be the same, but have you seen an Optima lately? What about this new goofy-looking Malibu? Let’s not forget the Sonata, which is kind of a poor man’s CLS. Top of the pops is the new Ford Fusion DB7 Edition. None of these cars look like Accords. That’s good news for everyone, including Honda.

Volt’s Lisa Moment Arrives. Last year I suggested that the Volt had a lot in common with the Apple Lisa. Seeing plug-ins from other manufacturers reinforces my already strong inclination to believe that everything I’ve ever written has been completely correct. Time for GM to get the plug-in Cruze and Malibu on the streets. If they hurry, those units could play HHR to the Fusion Energi and Prius Plug-In PT Cruiser, which is to say the usual GM late-to-the-party timing redeemed by strong sales.

The Automakers Don’t See The Same Future I Do. I desperately want to believe that all the recent “the recession is over” editorializing I’m seeing across the national media represents something besides free campaign ads for the sitting President. I’d really like to think that things are getting better for the average American. My pragmatic side, and the evidence I see on the streets, tells me otherwise. Jobs are going to China and they aren’t coming back.

Ratan Tata bet his fortune on the idea of an affordable family car and he lost a lot of that fortune as a consequence, but in a country where used-car prices are out of control, average fleet age is at record highs, and it’s extremely common to see families going to work and school in vehicles with 150,000 miles or more, surely there is a pot of gold for the first manufacturer to come up with a genuine low-cost solution to American personal transportation. Something with the room of the Camry, the economy of the Prius, and the pricing of the Yaris. Or even cheaper than that. Leave the center airbags, Bluetooth integration, stitched leather dashboards, and 18″ steamrollers on the cutting-room floor. This country is poor. It’s getting worse. Let’s come up with safe, affordable cars. Look at it this way: it’s a considerably less-crowded segment than, say, $85,000 four-doors pretending to be coupes for the Viagra crowd.

And that’s it. TTAC auto show coverage will return for the New York event at the beginning of April!

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2 of 43 comments
  • Maymar Maymar on Feb 12, 2012

    Now, hang on now, GM's not blind to the success of the ES350, they just haven't done the greatest job of making the LaCrosse the ES competitor they want it to be. Hell, even Lexus has the IS, so as not to put all their entry-level eggs in one squishy basket.

  • BobinPgh BobinPgh on Feb 12, 2012

    Actually I meant with your hair you could look nice in an underwater video. So get one of your old guitars and jump in the deep end of the Y, we want to see you UW. Or maybe you could do a video about getting out of a submerged car, you would look nice.

  • Art Vandelay I’d grab one of these if I’d spent my working life at GM for sure!
  • Analoggrotto The factory is delayed due to an investigation of a peter puffery ring lead by VoGhost, Tassos, EBFlex a Chevrolet Volt.
  • FreedMike Looking forward to the protests at the factory accusing Toyota of excessive woke-ism. First, EVs...next, grooming. Lord help us all.
  • MrIcky I remember when Gladiators came out and everyone was shocked at how expensive they were. Now all the off road specials have caught up or passed it financially. I like this truck a lot, but I'd still take my Rubicon over this. I'd take this over the Ranger Raptor or Tacoma TRD though. When I found out the increase in track for the new TRD was just wheel offset-I knew they were just phoning it in. Why spend so much R&D on those stupid seats when you could have r&d'd longer arms or a front locker.
  • Alan Hmm, I see a bit of politicking here. What qualifications do you need to run GM or Ford? I'd bet GM or Ford isn't run by experienced people. Anyone at that level in an organisation doesn't need to be a safety whip, you need to have the ability to organise those around you to deliver the required results.