Detroit 2010: Kudos and Kicks
By Chris Haak
With the 2010 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in our rear-view mirror, let’s take a look at some of the vehicles deserving of kudos. Also, in spite of what the seventh-place ribbon you won at field day in sixth grade, not everyone can be a winner all the time, so we’ll also look into some models that need a kick. Some vehicles might fall into both categories simultaneously. Let’s begin.
KUDO to Volkswagen’s New Concept Coupe (NCC), which showcased an attractive design direction for VW’s bread-and-butter Jetta in the US. The NCC also added a first-for-VW hybrid drivetrain. Could the maker of diesel vehicles change its tune in the US market and offer hybrids instead of (or in addition to) diesels toward its goal of doubling US sales in the next three years? Subaru outsold VW in the US last year, and Subaru proudly embraces its niche brand status. It seems that the largest European automaker may not be quite aware of its own place in the US.
KICK to Chrysler for not having anything to show in Detroit other than a Lancia Delta rebadged as a Chrysler (which will not ever see the light of day) and a few trim package updates. I did like the look of the 300C S8 with the 20 inch SRT8-like wheels and upgraded seats. Why couldn’t Chrysler at least bring out the 2011 Grand Cherokee concept that it displayed in New York nearly a year ago to give one glimmer of hope for the struggling company?
KUDO to any manufacturer who rolled out a new hybrid or electric vehicle concept. I’ve lost count of how many hybrids and EVs were introduced this week, but with new concept or production models from Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Honda, Toyota, and Volvo. Hybrids and EVs are clearly where the industry is moving, but I’m not convinced of the customer acceptance of EVs, particularly at the price points being bandied about. Would you pay $30,000 and up for a car that can only travel 100 miles before a multi-hour recharge?
KICK to Honda for a disappointing production CR-Z. The concept sounded good and looked decent; a sporty, small hybrid in the spirit of the original Honda CR-X. Perhaps they should have named it the CR-Y, since it fails to hit the larger/heavier Insight’s EPA numbers and looks somewhat clumsy with its l-o-n-g front overhang. I do like the interesting shape of the taillights, but a two-seat “sporty” car that is going to match a Chevrolet Cruze sedan in fuel economy (and probably straight-line performance) seems to be the answer to a question that nobody asked. It’s a shame Honda didn’t make it a true CR-X in the spirit of the original, without the hybrid drivetrain (and therefore without the cost, complexity, and weight).
KUDO to Buick’s Regal GS concept. While I would have preferred to see the Opel Insignia OPC in all its glory (but with a Buick shield grille), a reasonable facsimile with everything but the OPC’s 325-horsepower turbo V6 isn’t a bad consolation prize. I can’t believe that the car has a true six-speed manual in it, too. The interior of the production Regal is very nice; nearly Acura-like, with a snug but comfortable passenger area and attractive, functional switchgear. Having a turbo V6 in a high-end Buick Regal would have been at least a little magical, though, considering the history of that name and engine combination.
KICK to GMC for one lame concept, and another really cool one that has no place in GMC’s lineup. The Acadia Denali is a minor model extension barely worth mentioning; it applies the signature GMC Denali grille to the Acadia crossover, adds a few minor trim touches and quieter tuning, and skips any kind of powertrain upgrades. In other words, it’s basically a Buick Enclave – which is sold in the same showroom as the Acadia – that looks like a GMC. The GMC Granite concept is really cool looking, with an interesting shape and a functional layout. It looks tough, contemporary, and efficient. Problem is, it’s basically a car. I overheard one journalist asking, “since when does GMC build cars?” Indeed, the Granite is a good idea in the wrong place. I fear that its presence in the GMC lineup might further dilute a brand that’s already struggling with the ingestion of the Acadia and Terrain into GM’s former “Professional Grade” tent.
KUDO to Ford for the impressive 2012 global Ford Focus. In one fell swoop, Ford managed to not only let we Americans forget about getting the short end of the Focus stick as the rest of the world moved onto the second-generation model and we soldiered on with refreshed (and awkward) versions of the first-generation car, but also to put its C-segment competitors on notice that it will be a serious competitor in the space. To my eyes, the 2012 Focus – which we will get in the US the same time the rest of the world gets it – has a pleasing, interesting, contemporary design that leaps to the head of its class (or at least near it). Features and gadgets available in the 2012 model appear to also be far beyond what is expected in the class and at the price point. GM’s Chevrolet Cruze suddenly looks like old news, and the Cruze isn’t even on the market yet.
KICK to Toyota’s FT-HS concept, as the company tries to expand the Prius brand beyond the bread-and-butter five-door hatch family car template into something less expensive and more appealing to younger buyers. To see middle-age Toyota executives presenting the car to the media, and talking about video games and catering to the “8-bit generation” that grew up playing Super Mario Brothers and the like could reasonably be described as painful. The company claims that it hasn’t shown the car to any consumers yet and that it doesn’t even know what kind of powertrain would be under its hood. My question is, why do automakers insist on making their dedicated hybrid models out of hatchbacks? Couldn’t they find something cooler, at least for some of them?
KUDO to Audi for yet another e-tron concept. The version shown this week in Detroit is the third – and most polished – of the company’s e-tron concept EV sports cars. The Detroit e-tron was the most attractive and most finished of the three (the original was shown in Frankfurt, with a slightly-modified version shown in Los Angeles). The Detroit e-tron is shorter and lighter than the previous ones, making it a better performer. The company claims a sub-five second 0-60 time and a battery range of 155 miles. It’s also speculated that Audi could use the e-tron concept’s architecture (and indeed, much of its design) for its rumored R4 sports car (smaller and cheaper than an R8). The R4 would have the e-tron’s electric drivetrain as one choice, plus a more conventional drivetrain or two as alternatives.
KICK/KUDO to Cadillac’s XTS Platinum concept sedan. The car is a much-needed replacement for the aging and slow-selling DTS and STS sedans, but the design is very derivative of the CTS, and while the car does a decent job of hiding its Epsilon-based front wheel drive roots, it’s hard not to daydream about the flagship that the car could have been for Cadillac with a long wheelbase Zeta platform under the skin instead. The interior is very nice, with interesting materials, shapes, and colors. Let’s hope the production car matches this car’s interior as closely as possible, and that the non-Platinum XTS still tops Buick and Lincoln in terms of luxury accoutrements. And why not just call the darn thing the DTS rather than the XTS? I hope the XTS name is only for the concept, because Cadillac should call the car what it really is.
So, do you agree or disagree? Did we miss any notable kudos or kicks? Please let us know in the comments section.
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