California Autos Examiner

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010 North American International Auto Show: Initial thoughts

January has once again arrived and I find find myself in Detroit for the Auto Show.  I have posted random tidbits on my Twitter account and full reports and interviews will be posted later on, but for now I just wanted to share some general observations.

The mood at the show this year is markedly different than 2009.  There is more confidence and optimism being shared by executives who are all too happy to close the books on a year that had more downs than ups.

Looking at the three domestics:  Both General Motors and Ford are showing a strong lineup of products, heavily influenced by future fuel economy mandates.  Chrysler was pretty quiet at the show.

In the GM aisle we saw the Aveo RS "concept" that basically shows us what the next Aveo will look like (minus the show car jewelry).  It is a stylish number that holds a lot of promise.  We also saw the Spark which will slot beneath the Aveo as the new entry level model in the lineup.  Also on the stage was the Cruze,  replacing the Cobalt,  which promises to offer a tremendous jump in refinement.

GMC showed us the Granite concept and it ranks up near the top of the charts for me at this year's show.  I honestly was not expecting to be so impressed with a car that had been described by some as a Scion xB, Nissan Cube type of vehicle. The Granite is much more than either one of those vehicles, its interior shows a real maturity and premium look that pleases the eye.  I spoke with Margaret Brooks, Product Marketing Director for small cars and crossovers at Chevrolet, and what she said applies to the Granite:  You cannot appear as though you are trying too hard or be overly juvenile in marketing to youth.  For me, the Granite might be in the shape of an xB/Cube, but it is in the spirit of Mini and I estimate it would likely command a similar pricing of $20K-$30K should it be produced.  My only hope is that the interior not be watered down too much in a production model.

Buick showed us the Regal GS concept and it has received a lot of compliments on the show floor.  The wheels on that car are fantastic and who is going to argue with more power hooked to a manual transmission?

Cadillac's CTS-V coupe takes a beautiful car and dumps a Costco sized container of chili pepper flakes on it.  It just might melt cars parked next to it.

Cadillac's XTS concept is thinly veiled look at the STS/DTS replacement.  I will be having a closer look at it today.

Over on the Ford stand the biggest news is the Focus and what a story it is.  The current U.S. Focus is a dumpy design whereas the new sedan and hatch are simply beautiful. We finally get the same car as the Euros and that can mean nothing but good things.  There is a lot of nice detail work in the sheet metal and the sedan does not get the short end of the stick:  It's just as attractive as the hatch!

Bottom line is that Ford and Chevrolet have two extremely competent entries in the Focus and Cruze that will give consumers powerful reasons to buy domestic again.

Lincoln showed us a refreshed MKX.  The new nose of Lincoln looks the best on this crossover. The interior also gets a nice touch-up, with touch sensitive controls on the center stack and better materials. The rear does see improvements, including a novel approach to LED lighting where the lights are turned around and reflected back, eliminating the "hot spots" that most LED taillights have.

Chrysler placed beautiful models in front of its vehicles and a Chrysler badged Lancia Delta hinted at what the future might hold in store for the brand.  Overall the only production news at the show were some special edition models, not much to write home about. Most interest was placed on Sergio Marchionne walking around the show floor.  He certainly has his work cut out for himself.

Honda showed us the CR-Z hybrid, a car I was prepared to hate.  However, in person it looks quite nice.  The only disappointment for me was that its mileage was only in the 30s for both city and highway.  I was shocked when I heard those figures.

Toyota displayed the FT-CH hybrid concept.  This car would be a little brother to the Prius and likely be part of a Prius family. I didn't spend a lot of time looking at it, but I have no initial objections.  Seems like a good idea.

Volkswagen showed us its NCC concept, but lets just call it the Jetta coupe and be done with it.  Very good looking car and the interior is attractive.  If I had to quibble, VW's instrument panels have become a bit ho-hum, how about shaking things up?

Audi showed us its latest take on the e-tron electric sports car concept.  This Detroit model is much better than the orange monster that I recently looked at in Los Angeles.   If the production model looks like this, it will be a clear winner.

When you add up all the debuts at this year's show, it wasn't quite the bumper crop of some years past.  For example, there was no news conferences from Nissan, Infiniti, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Acura, and Volvo to name a few.  When you add that together with the brands that are no longer with us this year, it adds up to a lighter schedule.  What was displayed at the show was good, there really were no stinkers from anyone.  Ford and GM really did the heavy lifting, the home teams have a lot to be proud of.  It would have been nice to have seen more from Chrysler, but they are in a major transitional period.

General Motors covered my expenses so that I could attend the show.

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