Detroit 2011: Taking the Kids to Cobo
By Charles Krome
For most of the industry, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit already is essentially over. The press conferences are finished, the execs are back in their offices and the auto media is turning its focus to Chicago and Geneva. But for the public, things were just getting started this past weekend, so I made the trip to Cobo Hall one more time, most of the family in tow, to get the real-world Detroit auto show experience. Here are the highlights:
We arrived to little traffic on Sunday, the second public day of the show, about 45 minutes after the doors opened at 9:00. While mom steeled herself for the ordeal with a cup of coffee, I took our two youngest girls—aged 11 and 8—to the Ford exhibit. They had seen a photo of the new Ford C-MAX mounted vertically on a column to show off its interior, and that was the first thing they wanted to see.
The thing is, we came in at the wrong door, and ended up in this sort of secret niche behind the Mercedes display, where the company was hiding a roped-off SLS AMG. The girls usually love gull wings and scissor doors, but with the M-B in “flaps down” mode, and the nearby E-Cell closed up as well, their attention was taken by a display of the SLS’ big V8. It was flat-out fascinating to see how they viewed the mill as a piece of sculpture onto itself, but we had to catch up with mom and didn’t dawdle much.
At Ford, the girls were duly impressed with the gravity-defying C-MAX display, and surprisingly attracted to the vehicle’s exterior. I find it to look a bit like an egg on wheels from certain angles, but the girls thought it seemed “cool.” Less cool was the vehicle’s “+2” seating. A little testing made it clear that no one over the size of four feet tall—the height of my 8-year-old—would fit in these seats in anything like comfort. Seeing how close the confines were back there also suddenly made me very curious about third-row safety in the C-MAX, MAZDA5 and anything similar that may come our way.
(Note: I touched base with someone from the IIHS on this, and he indicated that although they haven’t tested either of those vehicles, “When we look at real-world crash statistics, we don’t see many cases where people in the third rows of minivans were killed in rear-impact crashes. Still, the safest position in a 3-row vehicle is the middle. Parents should put children in the third row only if they have more children than they have room for in the middle row.”)
The Mustangs also made a nice impact, although the doors of the Shelby GT500 weren’t open, and the Focus ST, especially its color, was a big eye-catcher.
Our next big stop was the Hyundai exhibit to see the new Veloster. The girls weren’t especially geeked by the car’s dramatic exterior, but they did enjoy the passenger-side third door with its hidden handle. They also found a bit more room in the Veloster’s back seats than in the C-MAX’s third row, and we were all surprised by the size of its hatch-enabled cargo area. The high point here? A “trompe l’oeil” sewing-inspired paint job on a show car.
We then hit the Smart display, where it became obvious that all the company needs to do to make the U.S. best-seller lists is start selling to 11- and 8-year-old girls. The toy-like dimensions and cartoonish exteriors of the Smarts made my daughters feel right at home behind the wheel, and, of course, they especially loved the cabriolet. The Scions garnered the same kind of positive reactions from the kids, which made it clear to me that the OEMs’ push for more radical, youth-oriented designs, on smaller vehicles, is hitting the mark with future generations of car buyers.
Thus, the girls also had plenty of love for MINI, especially a hard top kitted out to look like a plane in the show’s lobby, along with the Fiat 500 art car and even an original 500 that was on display. Another notable winner for my daughters was the Kia KV7, a gull-winged minivan concept with hardwood floors, mod-looking seats and a smooth Ford Flex-like exterior.
At this stage in the game, though, my littlest one was starting to run out of steam, and we finished up with quick visits to some of the German OEMs. In another fascinating bit of life imitating marketing, I watched my daughters take explicit notice of the quality of Audi interiors, then they put a BMW ActiveHybrid X6 through the Krome girls interior durability testing regime. We ended at the Porsche display, where they finally found the perfect comparison point for the C-MAX’s third row—the rear “seats” of the Carerra cabriolet.
Coincidentally, that was one of my top choices as a people mover, too.
(All photos courtesy the Krome girls.)