Detroit Auto Show 2009 – A Sign Of The Times

Today we welcome a guest post by Ron Doron, Sr. Test Drive Editor for The Drivers Seat.TV, who attended the North American International Auto Show in partnership with Life Goggles.

The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is the premier stage for launching new automobiles and concepts destined for American roads. The 2009 NAIAS was no different from past shows, except that some key players like Nissan and Mitsubishi were absent, America is in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the great depression, and new car and truck sales have plummeted to a 30-year low.

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Still, the show must go on, and during the past three years, Detroit (and other shows) have been experiencing a new trend that features cars that are green and ones that don’t cost a lot of green. This may be a sign that automotive companies are listening and realizing that American consumers care about the environment as well as their budgets.

Ford made the first big green announcement with a promise to deliver an electric strategy consisting of three types of electrified vehicles by 2012– Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV). The BEV is an all-electric vehicle that when fully charged, has a range of 80-100 miles. HEVs consist of vehicles like the Prius that can run on pure electric, pure petroleum, or a combination of both. Expect the next generation of Ford HEVs by 2011. And last but not least, the PHEV is an electric car that has a gasoline-powered generator to charge the electric motor (if needed), but does not actually power the vehicle itself. Clearly this move by Ford is in direct response to the most newsworthy PHEV to date, the Chevy Volt which is expected in showrooms by Fall of 2010, two years ahead of Ford’s expected launch date.

Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford didn’t stop there as it followed up on its 2008 NAIAS news and rolled out the 2010 Flex Ecoboost, the first production vehicle to utilize the Ecoboost technology. This Flex will be powered by an Ecoboosted 3.5-liter V6 that yields 22MPG, but manages to deliver V8 performance with its 355 horses. The Flex joins America’s most fuel-efficient mid-sized sedan, the 41 MPG, 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. This was clearly Ford’s show which also took Truck of the Year honors with the all-new F150.

The journey through the Detroit Auto Show continues with the most significant green car on the planet, the third generation Toyota Prius. The all-new 2010 Prius is bigger, sleeker, and burns less fuel. In fact, at 50 MPG it’s the most fuel-efficient car in America and with a coefficient of drag of 0.25, it’s also the most aerodynamic car in America.

Not to be outdone, Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus, unveiled the HS250h compact, near luxury, hybrid sedan. Essentially, this is a Prius for the luxury market and a vehicle that makes sense for those who want the greenness of a Prius combined with the luxury of the Lexus brand. Styling is a bit odd. Almost Corolla meets Fusion, but we’re confident Lexus will have little trouble selling every one they manufacture.

It has been rumored that General Motors may eliminate some brands in order to improve its chance at a viable future. Brands like Hummer, Pontiac, GMC, Saturn, and SAAB received no attention in Detroit, while Chevy, Cadillac, and Buick (the three brands that may lead the New GM) were front and center.

Cadillac Converj

Buick may not be a significant brand in the U.S., but in emerging markets like China, it’s considered a status vehicle. GM unveiled the al-new Buick Lacrosse which competes directly with the Nissan Maxima and Lexus ES350.

Cadillac unveiled the SRX crossover and CTS SportsWagon, two attractive luxury people movers that provide a glimpse into the future of the segment. The new SRX is a sleek crossover that should give the Lexus RX some competition. The CTS SportWagon is more of a true wagon or estate which is also likely to be sold in Europe where this segment is quite popular. But the star of the GM exhibit – and perhaps the entire show – was the Cadillac Converj. This concept coupe looks like it was designed by Lamborghini even though it is a plug-in hybrid.

Chevrolet, the brand that will carry the bulk of the load for GM, also made significant product announcements. The Chevy Equinox has been completely redesigned to become the most attractive compact crossover in America. It’s quite evolutionary with its aggressive styling, much-improved interior, and an inline-4 that delivers 30 MPG. There were some concepts as well, but the Chevy Spark is the most important one. This is a micro-car that rivals the popular Smart car, but with sporty styling and seating for four.

Clearly struggling, Chrysler had little to say about its future or make any significant product announcements. They did however roll out the 200C concept, a plug-in hybrid that is based on a shortened 300C platform and with a driving range of 100 miles. This four-door sedan is actually quite appealing and might offer a glimpse into the next Sebring…..if Chrysler survives that long.

Lincoln EcoBoost

Audi made it official by confirming plans to bring the A3 2.0TDI to the U.S. It only makes sense since the VW Jetta TDI, which shares the same technology, has been quite successful since its U.S. debut in September, 2008. Clean diesel still offers Americans a viable, non-electric solution, but is plagued with perception problems from the seventies and eighties. Hopefully Americans can forgive and forget as more of these clean diesels continue to trickle into showrooms. Audi also rolled out the R8 5.2, a V-10 version of the RB with over 525 hp. But the star of Audi’s exhibit was the SportBack Concept, a four-dour coupe that may offer a glimpse into the upcoming A7 Coupe.

In the automotive industry, two years is an eternity, but that’s when Chinese car manufacturer BYD (which is an acronym for Build Your Dreams) plans to start selling cars in America. And when it does, it will be launching with green technology including an all-electric vehicle with the claim of a 250-mile range. They also have a few hybrid vehicles in their lineup, but it’s too early speculate on what will actually arrive here by 2011. Since BYD’s background is in consumer electronics, it is safe to say they will want to leverage their competitive advantage.

There were no newsworthy announcements from Honda, Hyundai, and Mercedes, although the Hyundai Genesis did win the North American Car Of The Year. Other brands like Nissan, Infiniti, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki chose to stay home, to either make a statement or simply save money.

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