Friday, January 13, 2006
I Visit The 2006 Detroit Auto Show
I went to the 2006 NAIAS for the industry pre-view, also known as "engineers day", because of all of the engineers, designers, and executives checking out the competition's stuff before the public floods in. This is a quick (not really) photoblog of my trip, with a few comments. I didn't have time to see everything, here is what I found interesting.
Geely was set up in the lobby area of Cobo, and was mobbed. There was a lot of interest, but that was partly because Geely was giving away large logo bags, pens, and other goodies. The Geely vehicle was a small sedan, about the size of an early 1990's Corolla.
The established automakers don't have to worry much about Geely--yet. The car was, by our standards, junk. Think 2006 Yugo. Huge panel gaps. Rattley doors, and cheap materials really put the car on a lower level than even the cheapest small car sold here today. When I slammed the rear door, the whole rear door frame vibrated. I was surprised to see the engine has variable valve timing, however. Apparently, it is a Toyota designed motor. The Geely also won't meet US crash or emissions standards. However, I am sure that Geely and other Chinese companies can buy components and design engineering from eager suppliers, and they will show up here eventually with something better.
Geely engine bay
I wandered into the main hall, and wandered over to Nissan. I wanted to see the Versa, which is Nissan's entry into the apparently resurgent small car segment.
The Versa has a neat door handle design, with the locking lever located in the center hub of the door lever.
Nissan Versa door handle detail
I sat in the Versa, and it seemed nicely done. There was quite a bit of rear passenger room, and I was able to sit behind myself without problems. The seats were a bit on the squishy side for my taste.
The new Sentra looks good, with a somewhat nicer interior than Nissan has been known for lately.
Nissan coupe concept
Nissan coupe concept, rear
I noticed the Infinity M45's engine bay. Apparently, Nissan is ashamed that the M45 has an engine, because they attempted to hide everything under the hood under ugly black cladding. I say, if you have a good engine, flaunt it.
Infiniti M45 "engine"
The M45 interior was a thing of beauty.
Infiniti M45 interior
VW was displaying their DARPA autonomous vehicle challenge winner, along with a short video showing it in action. The truck didn't drive very fast, apparently, but it did finish first.
VW robot Touareg
On the lower level of Cobo, VW hid its new Eos hard-top convertible. The car looks good, but it would make more sense as an Audi than a VW--it looks like it will be expensive.
Also in the Cobo basement, Allstate had set up a small bumpercar ride, as an advertisement for how forgiving they are going to be if you get in an accident. Seemed like an odd idea to me.
Allstate bumpercars ?!?
Michelin was displaying the winners of its Design Challenge. I found the Toyota electric supercar quite striking.
Michelin Design Challenge Toyota
Michelin Design Challenge Toyota
Heading back up stairs, I stopped by the Dodge Challenger concept turntable. I am personally not that hot on the retro musclecar theme, and the Challenger left me cold. It doesn't look fast, it looks kind of bloated to me.
Dodge Challenger concept
The Dodge Caliber was a puzzle. I couldn't decide if I liked it or not--it looks better in person than in photos, I think, but it seems too trucky and garish. It is sharp, but maybe over-styled, with a bit too much flash. There is chrome on the door-handles, which seems silly for an inexpensive car.
The interior of the Caliber is plasticky and feels low-rent. But, remember this is the replacement for the Neon, which was the very definition of plasticky and low rent.
Dodge Caliber interior
The Jeep Compass, like the Caliber, was hard for me to figure out. From some angles (rear) it was attractive.
Jeep Compass rear
I didn't like the front view of the Compass much. I didn't like the flared fenders, either.
Jeep Wrangler interior
I climbed up (illegally) on a fiberglass rock and took a quick snap of the interior of the new Wrangler. Chrysler has rounded off the edges of the Wrangler a bit, on the outside, and has updated the interior.
Next I wandered into Honda's display. I really like Honda's concept car, which was long and low, and looked like it would be comfortable, quick, and efficient.
Honda's new entry into the small car segment is the Fit. It looked very much like the Nissan Versa, with lots of rear room for its size.
Next I went to Ford's (huge) exhibit area, which was pulsing with music and wallpapered with video screens. I quickly got a headache.
Ford's concept truck, the F250 Super Chief, leads me to "what the hell are they thinking?". The thing is a huge, tall silver beast, with short windows. It has rounded corners and a pronounced shoulder line. It looks like a mutant Honda Ridgeline, not like a proper masculine Ford truck.
The front end is massive, and silly; the Ford emblem is ~9" wide.
Ford Superchief concept
The interior is also silly. It is something like a country club, with wood floors and trim and brown leather all around. The rear console holds decanters, and a leather trimmed footrest comes out of the rear floor.
Does the world really need a luxury truck the size of an F250 crewcab?
Ford Superchief interior
The Ford Edge looked nice, but not stunning. Too jellybean.
The Mazda CX7 was nearby, which may have not been a smart move on Ford's part, because the two vehicles look very similar. Unlike the Edge, the CX7 does have some character.
I liked the Reflex concept much better than the Super Chief. It has a much more organic form than the current Ford styling.
Ford Reflex concept
Ford Reflex Concept
I also like Mazda's Kabura concept, on the outside. The car has an offset seating arrangement, where the passenger seat is forward of the driver, so that the single rear passenger has lots of leg room. This is a bad idea, I think, because having a passenger sitting forward of the driver will block his sight lines, and will probably be distracting.
Mazda Kabura concept interior
Mazda Kabura concept, and girl
The Volvo C30 (3-door) looked good in front, but the strange shape of the rear window reminded me of the Suzuki Aerio wagon, or maybe the current Subaru Forester rear.
The Aston Martin Rapide concept gets my vote for "best of show". The rear passengers probably can't be more than 5'6" tall to ride in this thing, but it looks fantastic--long, low, wide. It looks like a missile, fueled and ready.
Aston Martin Rapide concept
I walked through Jaguar's area, not much new is going on there. The current star of the show is the new XK coupe, which looks like it is part Taurus (oval grille) and part Aston martin (the rest).
Why do they put little vestigial seats in expensive convertibles? Is there really a point? Only double amputees could sit back there.
Jaguar XK rear "seat"
The light blue XK appeared to have large gaps between the hood (sorry, "bonnet") and the nose, fenders. I hope it was a trick of the color, or maybe it was a prototype that was being shown.
Next, to Lincoln. The Mark S, (not just MKS, apparently) looked decent, somewhere between conservative and exciting. I am confused why the MKS has the waterfall grille, but the MKX has the chrome eggcrate design--which will it be?
The interior looked quite good, from a distance, competitive with other luxury cars in the $40,000 price range.
Lincoln Mark S interior
Lincoln Mark S
The Mark X left me cold. The grille isn't interesting, and the overall shape is very rounded and bland, nearly identical to the Edge until you see the rear view. I don't see this one selling well.
Lincoln Mark X
The spokesmodel was boasting about the Mustang GT500's big horsepower and torque. She was annoying me. The GT500 has a very nice bulge in the hood, hinting at the monster supercharged V8 that sleeps underneath. 475HP and 475FT-Lbs, she said, and that was "a conservative number".
I passed by the new Acura RDX. It looked angry to me, and I got frightened and walked away quickly. Thought it was going to eat me.
GM had a neat hybrid powertrain cut-away display. Can you spot the Tin Man?
GM hybrid cut-away.
Not to be out-done by the likes of the Super Chief, GM displayed a huge Chevy truck. I think this is a Kodiak with a bed and a leather interior treatment.
Chevy "BFT". Silly.
The new GMC Yukon. Not my thing, but a huge improvement on the outgoing model, especially on the inside. GM needs to hurry and refresh its entire line of trucks and SUVs with up-to-date interiors.
Unlike Chrysler and Ford, GM is making an effort to market conversion vans to consumers. I think this is smart, because vans are much more convenient for most things than large SUVs. This display could start a fight, however, as GM has put UofM and MSU parephernalia together at one tailgate party.
GMC conversion van.
Buick's new large crossover, the Enclave, is clearly close to production--it has weatherstripping, door latches, and snapped on door panels. The interior is quite nice.
Buick Enclave interior
The Enclave is very cat-like, with many sensuous curves and sharp creases. Is Buick going for an American homage to Jaguar?
Proof that GM isn't dead yet--the Saturn Sky.
The Saturn Aura also suggests to me that GM is not going to go quietly, if at all.
The big event at GM was the Chevrolet Camaro concept. The second "me too" to the Mustang, after the Challenger, this retro muscle car looks much better to me than the bland looking Dodge. The Camaro looks mean and fast, with a sharp crease at its wasp waist, glowering tail lamps, and wide toothless grin up front.
You can just imagine all the Mustang vs. Camaro drag races that the paunchy, graying baby boomers are going to have, once they raid their fatted 401(k)s. The teenage punk drag racers will be pissed, because no one will be able to buy high octane fuel or cigarettes for year to come, with all the old fogeys hanging around reliving their youth.
Chevy Camaro concept
Chevy Camaro concept
Subaru's display was a lonely place. Maybe it was the depressing, dim blue lighting. Or maybe it was the ugly cars. Between the Tribeca and this concept, I found little to look at. Subaru did have a few young ladies in close fitting jeans handing out brochures.
Speaking of young ladies, there were very few blatant appeals to male hormones at the show, until you get to the Italian section. This should be no surprise, as Italians have long used sensual design to sell their cars, since they could not always sell them on the merits of their mechanical durability, from what I have heard. Maserati, Ferrari, and Lamborghini all had suggestively dressed young women on their stands.
Maserati doesn't make much of an impression on me. Yes, it is a fast, exclusive, hand-built car... but with the portholes and rounded features, they look a little too much like Buicks and Jaguars to me. What does it matter, what I think, I won't ever be able to buy one!
Maserati Quattroporte and girl
Maserati girl #1, "I wish I was blogging"
Maserati and 2 girls
Unlike Maserati, who had 3 girls in elegant black dresses, all brunettes, Ferrari goes for diversity, and has its girls wearing tight red dresses. That is probably why they are hiding behind the counter, so they aren't ogled as much. (There was a moat of drool flowing around this area).
Ferrari, and girls
Lamborghini chose a more minimal approach--one tall blonde Amazon dressed as you would expect a high-class European hooker or rich playboy toy to be dressed. The Lamborghini girl wasn't shy, she posed at all comers.
The Lamborghini concept was nice, but it seems old after the recent success of the Ford GT. I like Lamborghini's modern evil-wedge designs much better. So do most Euro-hookers.
Lamborghini and girl
Lexus' big deal was the LS460. I was not overcome with awe. It is a nice car, but it suffers from a little bit of Bangle-butt. It does pack an almost 400HP 4.6L V8, as well as a very comfortable looking rear seat.
Lexus LS460 rear, hint of Bangle.
Toyota's mainstay, the Camry, has been restyled. I heard that Toyota wanted to add some excitement to the Camry, but I don't think they even came close. Look at the nose profile of the Camry--instead of something with some personality, or a suggestion of speed, it is very rounded. Maybe they were going for a bullet-shape?
Toyota Camry nose profile
The interior of the Camry was well done, but the clear aqua plastic accents seemed odd to me.
Toyota Camry interior
Toyota Camry center stack, with clear colored plastic inlays.
Toyota had two concept vehicles, a small van and a larger one. Both were an exercise in the strange Japanese idea that a vehicle should transform into some kind of lounge/disco/massage studio. The smaller concept vehicle had some of the usual concept bling that never seems to get built--gull wing doors and 4 wheel steering.
The larger Toyota concept was downright ugly, with a high belt line, and a grille that appears to have been stolen from Ford's Fusion design reject pile.
Toyota concept van thing
Toyota concept interior
Bucking its environmentally friendly, high tech hybrid tree hugging image, Toyota has gone and built a body on frame, rear wheel drive, solid axle 4x4 SUV, the FJ. I wonder if they will build separate showrooms, to keep the spotted owl eating off-roaders separate from the vegetarian Prius fondlers? A real brawl could break out.
Toyota FJ underside
Toyota FJ interior
The FJ looks like a fun vehicle, if you actually go off-road, but the styling is very toy-like. It is like a butch Honda Element.
Toyota's small car entry is the Yaris, which comes in a sedan and 3-door arrangement.
Toyota Yaris 3-door
Outside the main hall, near Geely, Giugiaro and Saleen had small displays. Giugiaro was showing the very sensuous GG50.
Saleen had an S7, in a striking metallic copper color.
Saleen was also showing this Ford GT. There wasn't any signage, but the banner says "650 HP", which I suppose means that Saleen monkeyed with the GT. 500HP isn't enough for some people?
Saleen Ford GT
The Detroit Auto show always under-over-whelms me. The newest stuff is sometimes neat, but there is so much to see, it is exhausting. After a while, you just get car-ed out. Because it is a show intended to sell the glamour of the new models, very little detailed information about actual vehicle specs and new technologies is available. The spokes-models who attend each new vehicle have memorized a short script, and can't really tell you anything about the vehicles.