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VARIATIONS ON A THEME FROM DETROIT

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Jan 14, 2007

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

VARIATIONS ON A THEME FROM DETROIT Words by Christopher & Chuck Dapoz; Pictures by Mark Dapoz Yogi Berra famously said, "You can observe a lot just by watching." There's a lot to watch while attending the media days at the North American International Auto Show. Here are a few observations from Cobo Center this week: What's A Concept Vehicle Anyway? A continuing trend is for manufacturers to use the term "concept vehicle" to describe soon-to-be produced products. For example, the Honda Accord Coupe, Chevrolet Camaro, Mitsubishi Prototype X and others are thinly disguised production vehicles. Sure, they may be refined before they arrive at dealerships, but they're not "concepts" as we use the term. At the same time, we're seeing fewer over-the-top concepts. This year the Nissan Bevel, Ford Airstream and Mazda Ryuga qualify as honest concept vehicles. We enjoy seeing them, and we assume automakers not only enjoy producing them but learn from them. Give us more concept vehicles! Do You Want Mileage Or Horsepower? We see opposing trends in performance and efficiency. On one hand, manufacturers are building vehicles with more power than ever before. On the other hand, they also work hard to create vehicles that reduce emissions and increase fuel economy. What Strategy Will Work With Diesels - If Any? It's interesting that the push in diesels is coming primarily from luxury brands, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. Is this because they're European manufacturers and diesels account for more than half of all auto sales in Europe? Or is it because luxury manufacturers think they're more likely to sell diesels to well-healed customers? Why isn't there a greater push to use diesels in trucks? Mood Lighting Ambient lighting seems to be everywhere. From entry-level to luxury models, LEDs provide soft lighting and highlight features from cup holders to door sills. We Live In Cars, Not Just Drive Them Cocooning is popular. Witness the new Dodge and Chrysler minivans with swiveling second-row seats that can be turned backward. The Ford Airstream concept vehicle offers the same idea. Minivan sales may be falling, but their utility continues to improve. We expect minivan features will be carried into crossovers. We live in our vehicles, not merely use them to transport us from A to B. Can Badges Get Any Bigger? Brand badges are getting supersized. From Ford to Mercedes, it seems manufacturers want to make their names and logos more prominent than ever.

A Breath Of Fresh Air For Ford? Every year we see senior auto industry executives walking through Cobo Center. It was great to see Alan Mulally, Ford's new president and CEO, shaking hands, looking at competitive products, and smiling. What a contrast from the conspicuous absence of his boss, Bill Ford. Has Mr. Ford ever toured Cobo in his eight years as chairman of Ford Motor Company? Happy Anniversary! This year is the 100th anniversary of the Detroit Auto Show. Hidden Meaning In Black? The security wristbands for this year's show are black. Did someone decide black is classy? Or is black a comment on the dark mood surrounding this year's show?

Isuzu: MIA Isuzu is missing from this year's show. Will it be back? Do Auto Shows Need Media Days Anymore? Are there still valid reasons for holding "media days" at auto shows? In years gone by, media days were the first time people from outside a company - i.e., reporters - saw or even knew about new vehicles, which were "revealed" in grand fashion. The reporters then broadcast and circulated information from manufacturers to the public. The Internet's changed that. Reporters now come to media days knowing all of the vehicles they'll see - because they've previously seen the vehicles online if not in person because it seems manufactures are more liberal about getting info out early. And if reporters know about vehicles before they're introduced, that means anyone with an Internet connection can know the same information. Why should reporters travel to Detroit, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo and other cities to see what isn't truly news? Why should hungry consumers wait for media to transmit information when manufacturers can transmit it directly? Do manufacturers need reporters and the media anymore to serve as conduits? A notable trend: When manufacturers first created media websites, access was limited to credentialed reporters, who needed IDs and passwords to see information online. Increasingly, manufactures don't require IDs and passwords for their media sites, so anyone can see what used to be filtered and disseminated. Might there come a day when the public no longer needs to drink from the filtered pipes of "the media"? We're already seeing manufacturers use blogs to get around the media. Or does the live nature of media events add sizzle and turn information into news? Do these live events provide value, such as credibility, that manufacturers can't do by communicating directly with the public? We'll ponder these issues at some further time. To go to LA Car's report on the NAIAS, click here.

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