2010 North American International Auto Show
DETROIT, USA – A year after the North American automotive industry was hit hard by corporate bailouts, buyouts and downright bankruptcies, the hallowed halls of the Cobo Center opened once again to host the year’s first important auto show: the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Colloquially known as the ‘Detroit Auto Show’, this year’s show promised to be better and bigger than last year; and it should, considering the 2009 event was considered by many as lukewarm at best.
If NAIAS were the barometer of the automotive industry in general, then at least you know the worst is over. Though some cornerstone brands still aren’t present like Mitsubishi and Nissan, this year’s show had more pizzazz according to regular show goers and media critics. The changing attitude of car manufacturers was also prevalent. This year, high horsepower machinery was out of fashion, and in their place came environmentally-friendly small cars. It’s not exactly the sort of move that wets the appetite for some car enthusiasts, but for the general consumer, it’s a sign that green is finally in.
Here’s a rundown of the most significant displays at the North American International Auto Show:
Audi E-Tron / A8 / R8 Cabriolet
Upon entry into the Cobo Center, the bright lights of the Audi stand were like a ‘moth to a flame’ attraction (it was so bright that it caused a fire to temporarily disrupt the show for an entire morning). There were two big highlights for Audi: the E-Tron Concept and the all-new A8.
The E-Tron Concept is the second such electric concept car (the first was unveiled at Frankfurt). Not to be confused, the new E-Tron is smaller and lighter than the one shown earlier. With a stance that looks like a cross between a TT and an R8, the E-Tron Concept is powered by two electric motors in the rear axle and can hit 100 km/h. Audi hopes that the word ‘E-Tron’ would be globally recognized as its ‘Quattro’ and ‘TDI’ marks.
In terms of production cars, the all-new Audi A8 made a splash at NAIAS. Though it made a reveal at Frankfurt also, Audi’s flagship still took center stage along with the E-Tron. Tucked neatly at the side was the cabriolet version of Audi’s R8 supercar. This top-down will make its movie debut alongside Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG / All-New CLS Preview
To the right of Audi’s bright display is Mercedes-Benz’s monolithic pavilion. The sprawling display covered in good and granite showcased the brand’s complete North American line-up including the refreshed for 2010 M-Class and GL-Class, but more importantly, the new SLS AMG grand tourer was there to be sat and fiddled with. The low slung sports car is powered by AMG’s 6.3-liter V8 modified to include features like dry sump lubrication.
Revealed during their short corporate presentation was the officially livery for their Formula One team as well as a preview to the all-new CLS four-door coupe. However, instead of showing it off as a thinly disguised concept, the CLS made its Detroit debut as a metallic sculpture, which some absolutely didn’t get.
Honda cemented their reputation as America’s most fuel-efficient car company by unveiling their new CR-Z two-door coupe. The spiritual successor to the late 1980’s CR-X, the CR-Z was leaked on the Internet a full month before its NAIAS debut. That said, the CR-Z still grabbed some attention by promising to be a fun-to-drive gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle. It was announced at the show that the CR-Z will be sold in the North American market to compliment the Honda Civic Hybrid as well as the Insight.
Hyundai Sonata / Equus
Much like all other displays at NAIAS, Hyundai had their own plug-in electric vehicle (the Blue Will), so people actually paid more attention to the all-new Sonata and Equus cars. Hyundai’s Korean flagship Equus is being studied for a North American launch after the success of its Genesis. The Equus promises the comfort and technology comparable to that of the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class at prices considerably less.
Grabbing even more attention is the all-new 2011 Sonata. Hyundai’s mid-sized passenger car piqued the interest of some Japanese car executives (which will remain anonymous) which snapped photos of the Sonata’s suspension bits as well as its rubber seals and door hinges. The Japanese have every reason to be fearful of the new Sonata since it’s the most convincing sign that the Koreans have closed the technological gap. Like the Tucson SUV, the Sonata will shun away from having an optional V6 and will only be made available with a 4-cylinder engine. The Sonata’s unit though will feature direct gasoline injection and on the range-topper will have a turbocharger installed.
Chrysler Delta / Dodge Viper ACR / Fiat 500
Once considered by everyone as the ‘sick man of Detroit’, Chrysler suddenly found itself alive and kicking thanks to the deep pockets of Fiat. The Italian car company which also owns Maserati and Ferrari announced the US introduction of its cutesy and best-selling Fiat 500. Shown in Abarth form, the Fiat 500 takes a decisively retro approach. Looking like a Mini in some angles certain help too!
The Dodge Viper sees its curtain call with the introduction of the ACR. Breaking lap records at the Nurburging, the ACR is the last hurrah for the V10 American supercar that first saw action in the early 1990’s. The ACR is considered to be fastest, baddest snake of them all. Rumor has it that the Viper will return in the 2012 model year sporting a chassis shared with Maserati. But while the Viper bids its goodbye (at least for two years), Fiat showed what’s in store for Chrysler as they take over the company: the Chrysler Delta. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a rebadged Lancia Delta—a car that’s already available in Europe. Whether or not Americans accept this five-door hatchback though remains to be seen.
Tesla Roadster / S Sedan
The Silicon Valley based car maker Tesla Motors made waves with its all-electric sports car, the Roadster. For the Detroit Auto Show, Tesla showed off a sport version of their Roadster as well the very car they used for their coast-to-coast run—a proof that electric cars can indeed go the distance. Next to the Roadster is Tesla’s S Sedan. It’s a more affordable all-electric car that promises even better range and more comfort features.
Lexus LF-Ch / LFA
Next to Tesla’s austere display sat the grand display of Toyota Motor Sales. Though Toyota only had a refreshed Sienna to show, Lexus showed off a sort of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” persona. On one hand is the limited-edition LFA supercar. With a 0-100 km/h time of less than 4 seconds, this V10 powered supercar is a technical tour-de-force for Lexus, proving that it can mix it up with Italian and German exotics. The entire run of the LFA is already spoken, so displaying it here at NAIAS was nothing more than a brand-building exercise.
Meanwhile, sustainable motoring was also a focus at the Lexus booth with their LF-Ch Concept. The sporty five-door looks fairly like the FT-86 Concept from some angles, but instead of being powered by a 2.0-liter flat-4, the LF-Ch makes use of a gasoline-electric hybrid engine. This four-seater has already been green lighted for production.
Cadillac CTS-V Coupe / Chevrolet Volt
The car that’s been dubbed as ‘the car that can save General Motors’ hogged a lot of media attention inside the Cobo Center and for good reason: this is the first time a production version of the Volt is seen by the public. Retailing for about US$ 40,000, the Volt is an extended range plug-in electric vehicle. This means the car can run purely on electrical power for around 80 miles. After that a small gasoline motor kicks in to charge the batteries. However, if you’re near a standard 110-volt outlet, the Volt can quickly top up its electric juice without the need to crank up the motor.
With the US government owning a majority of General Motors, it made the American car giant focus on developing more fuel-efficient vehicles rather than gas-guzzling performance cars. Thus, cars like the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe maybe the last of their kind. But what a way to go: the ‘V’ badge stands for a Corvette sourced V8 engine with a sheet metal that looks sharp and angular enough to cut the skin. Regular V6 powered CTS Coupes will also be made available, but it will be initially sold in its V8 variant only.
Mazda3 / Mazda2
Next to the gigantic General Motors and Toyota displays, Mazda’s looked fairly simple. However, they took on a bold approach by showing off just their new compact and sub-compact car offerings as opposed to having the entire line-up. Taking center stage is the all-new Mazda 2 which will also be brought into the North American market exclusively as a five-door. Providing that small doesn’t necessarily mean dull-to-drive, Mazda even had a raced-up version.
Sitting next to the Mazda2 is a parade of the all-new Mazda3 compact car. Since it’s not yet available for the local market, this is the first time anyone from here has seen it in the flesh. The large smiling ‘Pringles’ grille makes it a real standout and fitted with large wheels (18-inchers are now standard on the Sport) makes it a real looker. Its ‘hotted up’ brother, the Mazdaspeed3 was unmistakable with its large hood air intake. Mazda also displayed some its trophy ware with the Mazda3: it recently made as part of the Automobile All-Stars, Car and Driver’s 10Best and even more recently, Car of the Year at the on-going Chicago Auto Show.
Ford Fiesta / Mustang / Focus
By far, the largest display of the entire North American International Auto Show belonged to the Ford Motor Company. Occupying what looked like a good forth of the Cobo Center, Ford went all out to prove that everything’s rosy at the Blue Oval. At the center of its display are two robotic assembly arms that showcased Ford’s new line of EcoBoost engines from a 1.6-liter EcoBoost all the way to the 3.5-liter EcoBoost found in the Taurus SHO. The rest of the display was split into different ‘avenues’, and had one for each of their core products.
At the Pony Avenue, Ford took the wraps off its new aluminum-engined V8 Mustang. Absent from the market for a good six months or so, the new 5.0-liter V8 Mustang GT comes back revitalized with a new 412 horsepower engine. In addition to the new powerplant, the Mustang receives a slightly reworked exterior and interior to compete with the Chevrolet Camaro.
Next to the horsepower centric display of the all-new Mustang was the youthful and hip Fiesta area. The European market Fiesta will be Ford’s first foray into the sub-compact segment in a very long time. It developed a huge following (60 percent of Americans know about the Fiesta even before its launch) thanks to an unprecedented and unique ‘Fiesta Movement’ campaign. The Fiesta showed its vigor by being presented in a variety of different colors and two body styles: a five-door hatchback and a four-door sedan. Both promise excellent fuel economy thanks to its small displacement four-cylinder engine and technologies such as the PowerShift dual clutch automatic.
Undoubtedly, the star attraction of the North American International Auto Show was the 2012 Ford Focus. It was repeatedly shown in various television coverage as well as the Cobo Center’s own exterior electronic billboard. The car not only represents Ford’s serious commitment to developing more fuel-efficient vehicles, but also represents the future direction of the entire company. From developing regional platforms, Ford hopes to develop vehicles using common global platforms. This will keep their costs down while giving more features that the customers want.
The Road to Recovery
For some media critics, the luster of the North American International Auto Show is starting to fade. Some have even gone to quote that attendance figures has been steadily going down the past few years. But perhaps that’s what you get by being too complacent with mediocrity. With the drastic change of attitude, focusing on what customers really want (as opposed to the bottom line), the US car industry should once again find itself revitalized once again.
However, these things will certainly take a lot of time, but if the baby steps taken by the manufacturers at the NAIAS are any indication, the future is starting to look bright. In the midst of the cold wintery air in the Motor City, a feeling of warmth and pride can be felt in every man and woman entering the Cobo Center. They’ve gone through pretty rough times after all, and things can’t go anywhere but up.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang