What's new on the road
Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 12:24 a.m.
It is often easy to categorize an international auto show: the year of the truck, the year of the small car, the year of the minivan or crossover vehicle.
But that's not the case at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, which ended Sunday. The news out of Detroit was all over the place.
On the eve of the State of the Union address and the recent call by executives of 10 major corporations urging President Bush to support mandatory controls on carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse" gases, car manufacturers unveiled concept cars for most every consumer persuasion.
General Motors, at a time when some have already written obituaries for the electric car, rolled out an electric car.
While American companies try to get a piece of the expanding small-car market, Toyota roared into the Motor City with its biggest pickup truck ever. European makers are promising cost-saving, clean diesels for all 50 states within two years. And Chrysler launched a new version of the minivan - a vehicle it invented - even while Ford and General Motors are abandoning the minivan market to Asian competitors.
Here are some especially noteworthy cars on display at this year's show.
They are bringing back the Camaro. Cool. Can the Pontiac Firebird be far behind? But Ford has done this so successfully with the Mustang - priced at less than $30,000 with 300 horsepower and a leather interior - that it will be difficult for Camaro to compete. That's because the Camaro convertible has beautiful exterior body lines that will be expensive to stamp out. Bends, folds, and kinks cost money, a wise designer once told me. Here's hoping style and cost match up.
Have we forgotten that the minivan - long of tooth, politically incorrect in certain circles these days - originated in the United States? Ford and General Motors have abandoned the market, and Honda, Toyota, and the Korean automakers are happily taking their sales. And while the market for minivans may not be booming, it is lucrative. So Dodge (which is German-owned), has come out with a "family room'' on wheels, complete with swivel seats for gaming.
It comes in 31 varieties and is being built in the heart of truck country - Texas and Indiana - but the Tundra hit this show like a hurricane from offshore. How will American companies react? And can they? Ford's F-Series is already the best selling vehicle on the planet, Chevy's Silverado leads that company's truck sales, and Dodge is burping with its big trucks. We can only look at this big Toyota as a new bully on the block.
What was Ford thinking about when it let this utilitarian, compact and affordable car slip from the American scene even as Honda (Fit), Toyota (Yaris), and Nissan (Versa) introduced subcompacts in a time of high gasoline prices and consumer anxiety? So here we go again and, hopefully, Ford gets it right this time. If you have a good idea, keep building the cars.
Watch out for Cadillac. While Buick seems to be fading the way many of its buyers don't come down to breakfast anymore, Cadillac has gotten more edgy. This car will be the base of the brand's future.
A significant style statement from Honda. Will the humped rear, sharp lines of its front, and elongated hood transfer to the rest of the line? And when does Honda/Acura make it clearer that the company is more than a tossup competitor to Toyota?
Hopefully, Ford will not let its own woes bleed into the Volvo brand because Volvo is a small company that needs support. It builds great and safe cars. Volvo's foray into small cars - like the upcoming C30 - is highly anticipated at this address. Its reduced-size crossover concept had German engineers crawling all over it in Detroit.
I thought the electric car was dead. But here comes General Motors with a vehicle that runs on battery juice, uses sips of gasoline to keep charged, and when charged from a wall socket should be able to travel 40 miles in all-electric mode - more than enough to cover most people's daily driving using nary a drop of gas. Should the vehicle need to go farther, a super-efficient one-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine onboard will act like a range-extending generator. The numbers suggest the Volt could be capable of up to 150 miles per gallon on trips of 60 miles or less, and 50 mpg on long-distance drives.
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