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Published on Tue, Jan 22, 2008

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Herd of cattle meets herd of press at Dodge's new RAM intro at the Detroit Auto Show

TURNING UP THE HEAT IN JANUARY The 2008 North American International Auto Show Words by Christopher Merlo, Mark Dapoz and Chuck Dapoz Pictures by Mark Dapoz and Chuck Dapoz

NAIAS banner

It's the dead of winter in Detroit, yet despite the cold, more than 7,000 journalists from around the globe descended on the Motor City to attend the Press Preview Days prior to the public opening of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), which runs through January 27th. Global automotive manufactures in turn, did their best to put on their finest and turn up the heat on their competitors by taking the wraps off their latest concepts and product entries. This year, 28 news conferences were hosted by both the major automotive manufacturers as well as those just entering the global arena, namely the Chinese. Indeed, the presence of Chinese automotive manufactures at the Detroit show has grown year to year. Nearly 40 new concept and production models were introduced at the show. As in years past, our report covers the good, the bad and the purely ugly as well as the underlying mood and tone of this year's show, considered the most important auto show in North America. The news conferences and the new sheet metal are a unique opportunity to assess the state of the industry. It's no secret that for a number of years the Detroit Three have been on the ropes. Their market share and fortunes continue to decline due to the unrelenting competitiveness of their foreign rivals. On many fronts - x whether full-size pickups, the luxury segment, small cars, hybrids, you name it - foreign competitors have been taking it to the domestics and in many cases beating them at their own game. The bottom line, there is no longer any segment in the market the Big Three can claim as their own. As 2008 begins, there is yet another cloud on the horizon. Thanks to credit crunch, a sluggish economy and the rising cost of gasoline, people are buying fewer new vehicles. Detroit is understandably nervous. With yearly sales edging downward and dipping well below the robust 17 million annual sales of years past, the question remains, How will the competitive landscape look with more manufacturers entering the market, and who will win a larger share of a shrinking market? The real winners are consumers. Today's automotive enthusiasts and the buying public at large are the beneficiaries of what is one of the most highly competitive markets in the world. And to that we let loose with a collective "hurrah." This hyper-competitive environment raises the overall quality of vehicles while giving us an unprecedented range of choices. Before looking at the world premiers at this year's NAIAS, here are some notable trends that were evident at this year's Detroit show:

  • With the growing importance and immediacy of the Internet, there are fewer surprises unveiled auto shows. More often than not, reporters - and anyone with a computer - know the news before it's announced at the show. That's because manufacturers are falling all over themselves to get out the news before their competitors do.
  • The chill in the economy seems to be dampening the spirits of the manufacturers. The tone of this year's show is somber and practical. Without exception, every manufacturer is talking about reduced CO2 emissions, improving fuel economy, and alternative propulsion systems such as clean diesels, hybrids and fuel cells. Even Ferrari showed a biofuel sports car.

Ferrari's biofuel sports car

  • We've noted this in years past and the trend continues in '08: small is big. A number of manufacturers showed small car concepts and production-intent models.
  • Being environmentally responsible does not mean being boring. Several concepts at this year's show are fun to drive as well as "clean."
  • There were significant absences at this year's news events. While Porsche chose not to have a display at this year's event, saying it has too few customers in the Detroit area, several other high-profile brands also were mysteriously absent, including Acura, Jaguar, Lexus, Nissan and Volvo. That's hard to understand when you have the opportunity to talk with 7,000 journalists at once. But maybe that also points to the reduced importance of auto shows in reaching vehicle buyers in the Internet age.
  • For the first time in recent memory, Chrysler did not reveal a near-production concept or prototype. That leaves us wondering whether CEO Bob Nardelli and team are simply holding their cards close to their chests or if the product pipeline is dry.

Now for the fun stuff... AUDI TTS

Ten years after the introduction of the first TT sport car, Audi is introducing the high-performance TTS. Its 265 hp, turbocharged, direct-injection, 2.0L engine is mated with standard, all-time all-wheel drive, letting the TTS jump to 62 miles per hour in 5.2 seconds. In the U.S., the only transmission is Audi's six-speed S tronic, which offers manual shifting through the floor-mounted shifter as well as paddles on the steering wheel. In Europe, the TTS is priced at $65,625 for the coupe and $ 69,790 for the Roadster. U.S. prices will be announced before its end-of-year launch. AUDI R8 V12 TDI CONCEPT

The Green Monster is well known to baseball fans as the left field wall in Boston's Fenway Park. But maybe the moniker should be applied to the Audi R8 V12 TDI Concept. Its 6.0L, twin-turbo, 12-cylinder diesel produces 500 horsepower and 738 foot-pounds, with peak torque reached at only 1,750 rpm. Zero-to-60 time is 4.2 seconds. In spite of these extreme numbers, the R8 V12 TDI Concept meets Euro 6 emissions standard, likely to take effect in 2014, which calls for sharply reduced nitrogen oxides. There are no plans for production, but as a technology showcase, this Green Monster impresses. BMW 135i CONVERTIBLE

BMW unveiled its 1 Series coupe at the LA Auto Show in November. Now we get our first look at the convertible, which goes on sale in time for summer, shortly after the launch of the coupe. Under the hood of the 128i Convertible is a 230-horsepower, 3.0L inline six. The 135i Convertible will appear later in the year, with a twin-turbo upping engine output to 300 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds and giving it a zero-to-sixty time of 5.6 seconds. The dimensions of the 1 Series approximate the 3 Series of 20 years ago. BMW X6

BMW created the Sport Activity Vehicle segment with the X5, which it introduced in 1999. Now it says it has again created a new segment with the X6, which it calls the world's first Sports Activity Coupe - with the performance of a sports car and versatility of an SAV. Like BMW's other X models, the X6 features full-time all-wheel drive. The base engine is a 3.0L inline six. A new 4.4L V8 with twin turbos and direct injection produces 400 horsepower and 450 foot-pounds. The X6 goes on sale in the second quarter. CADILLAC CTS-V

GM's Bob Lutz introduces the Cadillac CTS-V How do you improve on the CTS, arguably the most capable vehicle in the Cadillac lineup? Put 550 horses under the hood, and make it the most powerful Cadillac sedan ever. It was introduced by GM Vice Chairman and product tsar Bob Lutz (above), who said the CTS-V was benchmarked against all of the top German high-performance sedans. Features include a new automatic transmission with paddle-shift control, Magnetic Ride Control and Performance Traction Management. The CTS-V goes on sale in the fall. CADILLAC PROVOQ CONCEPT

General Motors continues to put resources as well as fresh thinking into its Cadillac brand. The Provoq Concept is a counterpoint to the performance orientation of CTS-V. The Provoq is green vehicle, powered by GM's E-Flex hydrogen fuel cell, for a 300-mile driving range, plus a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Two separate motors distribute power to the front and rear wheels, and Cadillac promises "excellent driving dynamics." CADILLAC CTS COUPE CONCEPT

GM says the CTS Coupe Concept is only a design exercise and not destined for production. It keeps the same wheelbase as the sedan but loses four inches in height. Possible engines include existing Cadillac powertrains or the new 2.9L turbo-diesel still in development for Europe. Its unveiling was one of the true surprises of the Detroit show, and consensus of the reporters was this chiseled concept looks ready for production. CHEVROLET CORVETTE ZR1

The 2009 Corvette ZR1 goes on sale this summer as the first 200-mile-per-hour production Corvette ever built. With 620 horsepower and a curb weight of 3,350 pounds, the ZR1 offers a higher power-to-weight ratio than supercars such as the Porsche 911 GT2, Ferrari 599 and Lamborghini LP 640. Price isn't announced, but rumors say the ZR1 will run about $100,000. CHRYSLER ECOVOYAGER CONCEPT

Nice. It's great to see Trevor Creed and the Chrysler design team exercising their mental muscle. And their results never disappoint. The ecoVoyager is one of three environmentally friendly concepts Chrysler unveiled at the show. (The other two are Dodge and Jeep concepts.) Building upon Chrysler's groundbreaking minivan heritage, Trevor characterized this concept as a "living room on wheels." The elegant and simple swoop back design is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack supplemented by a regenerative braking system along with a hydrogen fuel cell, giving the vehicle a 300-mile driving range. The entire propulsion system is housed under the vehicle's floor thus providing maximum space for passengers and cargo. DODGE RAM

Dodge is going all out to impress with its revamped and upgraded 2009 Ram pickup. Some models feature a coil-spring, multilink rear suspension on a solid rear axle, designed to provide superior ride and handling compared with traditional leaf springs. Interiors have been upgraded to be more car-like, an area where Dodge had fallen behind its competitors, and for the first time Ram is available as a crew cab. Among the attention-grabbing innovations are RamBox bins, which can hold 10 cases of 12-ounce soda cans. The new Ram goes on sale in the fall. DODGE ZEO CONCEPT

As you would expect from Dodge, here's an environmentally friendly technology that's wrapped in an exciting and fun-to-drive package. It goes by the name of ZEO - Zero Emissions Operation - a flame red, sporty 2+2 design that satisfies the need for speed and the desire to be environmentally responsible. ZEO is a four-passenger, all-electric vehicle powered by a lithium-ion battery that delivers 250 horsepower and is capable of accelerating to sixty miles per hour in under six seconds. And it can cruise for 250 miles on a single charge. Yes, the ZEO is totally an experimental concept but you have to applaud the daring and dash of this deign exercise. FISKER KARMA CONCEPT

Fisker Karma concept car

Billing itself as the first luxury plug-in hybrid, the Fisker Karma has a lot more going for it than its ecofriendly technology. This is a stunning design by former Aston Martin designer Henrik Fisker. The Karma can travel up to 50 miles on an overnight charge. For distances beyond, the vehicle's small gasoline engine turns a generator that charges a lithium-ion battery pack powering the electric motor that turns the rear wheels. The Karma accelerates to sixty miles per hour in 5.8 seconds and has a top speed of 105 miles per hour. Look for the Karma to come to market in the fourth quarter of 2009, priced at $80,000 and up. FORD F-150

Ford is quick to remind anyone that its F-Series pickup has been the best-selling vehicle in America for 31 consecutive years. It takes its truck seriously - and puts maximum effort into improved capability and comfort to ensure it remains the industry leader. The 2009 F-Series has undergone significant upgrades - and in fact AutoWeek calls it the "Most Significant" vehicle at the auto show. Engines are more powerful and fuel efficient, the interiors have more space and are quieter, the SuperCrew frame is both stronger and lighter, and Ford says its new Platinum Series "redefines truck luxury." FORD EXPLORER AMERICA CONCEPT

The America Concept is a study in looks and technologies to come for the venerable Explorer. Shifting over to a car-based, unibody platform, this new Explorer "explores" a lighter, more fuel-efficient future with a 2.0L engine teamed with Ford's EcoBoost technology that uses turbocharging plus direct injection to "boost" engine performance to 275 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds. The America also sports a more streamlined design, heightened by a narrower greenhouse along with a hint of muscular SUV capability and ruggedness. FORD VERVE SEDAN CONCEPT

Ford could have another winner on its hands with this very attractive subcompact sedan. But it may not be here soon enough. Ford says the Verve sedan is scheduled to arrive in showrooms in the 2010 timeframe. Ford dealers need it now. Relying on its global engineering and design resources, this European-inspired vehicle is slotted to fill a niche below the current Focus. Moreover, Verve represents the company's first efforts to harness its new global product development system. By all measures, the Verve has the design appeal and packaging to be a crowd pleaser. HONDA PILOT CONCEPT

Calling this a prototype for the next-generation Pilot set to debut this spring, Honda has slightly upsized this popular crossover with more interior room, capable of seating eight passengers. While based on a car platform, the Pilot carries decidedly truck cues with beefy grille and straight sides. With all-weather and off-road capabilities, the Pilot is powered by a V6 that features variable cylinder management - allowing for six-, four- and three-cylinder operation based on cruising speed. HUMMER HX CONCEPT

The poster villain of the environment, the Hummer nameplate gets downsized to a more earth friendly yet still rugged SUV with the HX Concept. Powered by a flex fuel 3.6L V6, this compact package features removable roof panels, fenders and doors allowing the vehicle to be reconfigured as a pickup or convertible. Despite it smaller size, the HX carries the signature Hummer look with its trademark grille, oversized tires and high ground clearance. HYUNDAI GENESIS SEDAN

The 2009 Genesis Sedan marks Hyundai's most dramatic move yet in moving the brand upmarket. Hyundai is positioning the Genesis as a "premium" sedan that will compete with the likes of BMW 5 Series - at a savings of tens of thousands of dollars. In reality, though, its competitors more likely will be the Chrysler 300, Buick Lucerne and Lincoln MKS. The Genesis is Hyundai's first rear-wheel-drive vehicle. With a 4.6L V8, it runs to 60 miles per hour in "well under six seconds." Two V6s also are available. The Genesis goes on sale this summer. JEEP RENEGADE CONCEPT

Bearing a "Go Green, Go Anywhere" image, the Jeep Renegade is yet another design study on the ever-popular dune buggy concept. This B-segment sized two-seater treads lightly on the environment complements of its lithium-ion battery pack capable of a 40-mile driving range in all-electric mode. When combined with a 1.5L, three-cylinder BLUETEC diesel engine, the driving range increases to 400 miles. When you add up the numbers, Renegade is capable of achieving an equivalent petroleum fuel economy of 110 miles per gallon. With its iconic Jeep design cues and traditional Jeep capabilities - in a body constructed of "environmentally friendly" materials - the Renegade delivers all-terrain fun on a clear conscience. KIA BORREGO

With the Borrego, Kia expands it product portfolio with yet another SUV entry that arrives in showrooms this summer. Based in part on the Mesa concept unveiled two years ago at NAIAS, this midsize SUV is built on a truck based, body-on-frame platform - as opposed to the increasingly popular move to car-based platforms by most manufacturers. Borrego seats seven passengers, has a fully independent suspension and will be available with a 3.8L V6 or, and this is a first for Kia, a 4.6L V8. LAND ROVER LRX CONCEPT

The LRX Concept could be called the Prius of Land Rovers. It's a diesel-electric hybrid, six inches shorter and eight inches lower than the LR2. The 2.0L turbo can run on regular or bio-diesel, and Land Rover says the powertrain could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 30 percent compared with other SUVs of comparable size. Though compact, the three-door LRX is still a luxury vehicle, designed for premium SUV buyers. It may give hints of Land Rover's design direction, but there are no plans to put the LRX into production. LINCOLN MKT CONCEPT

Lincoln MKT concept vehicle

The MKT Concept represents a vision of an environmentally friendly, spacious luxury sedan. The glass of the windshield flows into the roof, giving even rear seat passengers a sense of spaciousness - not to mention natural light. A center console runs the length of the MKT and contains air vents, audio and climate controls, and storage bins. The flex-fuel V6 is turbocharged with direct injection and produces 415 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds. Plastic body panels are made from discarded soft-drink bottles and other polyester waste, keeping them out of landfills, reducing energy consumption and shrinking the vehicle's carbon footprint. MAZDA RX-8

The RX-8 has been freshened inside and out for 2009. Structural rigidity is increased, and the rear suspension geometry has been reconfigured to improve handling and reduce NVH. Two rotary engines are available: 232 horsepower with a six-speed manual transmission and 212 horsepower with a six-speed Sport A/T automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. A new R3 sport package adds a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks and front suspension crossmembers filled with urethane foam, for a smoother ride and greater suspension control. The new RX-8 arrives at dealerships in the first quarter. MAZDA FURAI CONCEPT

Mazda Furai concept car

Furai is Japanese for sound of the wind. The Mazda Furai is clearly is not a production car. Franz von Holzhausen, Director of Design for Mazda North American Operations, says it's a design study to bridge the gap between motorsports and production vehicles. The Furai was initially tuned to operate on 100 percent ethanol, a first for a rotary engine. In gasoline form, the RENESIS-based R20B engine produces 450 horsepower. MERCEDES-BENZ SLK

The new SLK hits the road in April, promising more power and better fuel economy. A new 3.5L V6, in the SLK 350, pumps 305 horsepower - up 33 horses from its predecessor - and fuel economy is up to 27 mpg, from 25. Not bad. Power for the base 3.0L V6, at 228 horses, and the 5.5L V8 on the AMG, at 355, are the same as the current SLk. Mercedes says a new direct-steering system provides sportier handling and increase ride comfort. MERCEDES-BENZ VISION GLK CONCEPT

Dieter Zetsche introduces Kim Cattral, who introduces the new GLK

The Vision GLK Concept is an all-new SUV. It's called a concept, but production versions will be launched in Europe at the end of the year and in the U.S. in early 2009. There are two models. The Vision GLK Townside is meant primarily for on-road driving, with a lowered chassis and sportier ties. The Vision GLK Freeside is the off-road version. The vehicle introduction included an appearance from Sex in the City star Kim Cattrall, and an outtake from the show was shown that included her using the f-word, the first time we've ever heard it from a press preview. MITSUBISHI CONCEPT-RA

The RA stands for Road Alive, and by all appearances this attractive and aggressively styled sport coupe will do quite well on the road. With its 21-inch wheels and slanted jet fighter nose - reminiscent of the Audi R8 - this Eclipse-like sized car has a big surprise under the hood, with a 2.2L 16-valve, 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine that delivers 210 horses and 310 foot-pounds while delivering 40 miles per gallon. NISSAN FORUM CONCEPT

The Nissan Forum Concept was unveiled to the media last month in Detroit, but this was the first time the vehicle is being shown to the public. It's a seven-passenger minivan with a glass roof the full length of the vehicle. The second row includes "turntable seating" with motorized seats that can swivel 90 degrees, for what Nissan calls grandstand seating, to look out the side windows, or the seats can turn 180 degrees to face the third-row seats. An interesting feature is the lack of B-pillars, which creates an extra-wide opening for access to the rear seats. SAAB 9-4X BIOPOWER CONCEPT

The 9-4X BioPower Concept confirms Saab's plans to join the crossover bandwagon. The turbocharged, direct-injection, 2.0L engine with variable valve timing is optimized for E85 to deliver 300 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds. The 9-4X BioPower Concept features Saab's XWD ("cross wheel drive") all-wheel-drive system with an electronic rear limited-slip differential, which debuted on the 9-3. There's an innovative storage system for stowing three pairs of skis as well as equipment inside the car and also an underfloor, heated compartment for boots. No word on how close this four-passenger concept might be to a production vehicle. SATURN VUE GREEN LINE 2 MODE HYBRID

General Motors packed a double punch in its ongoing campaign to claim a leadership in the alternative vehicle propulsion market with the introduction of two hybrid versions of the Saturn Vue. Bearing GM's new Green Line brand identity, the 2-mode hybrid version goes into production in the fourth quarter of this year. This GM's first application of the 2-mode technology on a front-wheel-drive vehicle and uses the same technology available on the full-size Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon. GM claims the Saturn Vue hybrid will be the most fuel-efficient SUV in the world, getting 50% better fuel economy than the gasoline-only version and capable of traveling 500 miles on a single tank of gas. The system turns the engine off at idle, switches to electric mode at low speeds and uses regenerative braking to recharge the nickel hydride battery. By 2010, GM plans to introduce a plug-in version of the Vue hybrid - the first commercial application in the U.S. Equipped with a lithium-ion battery pack and capable of plugging in to a household electrical outlet, the battery will recharge in four to five hours. SATURN FLEXTREME CONCEPT

Saturn Flextreme concept vehicle

Flexteme is a plug-in hybrid that demonstrates two future directions in the Saturn brand: striking European-inspired designs and efficient, clean vehicle propulsion technologies. The idea behind the model pictured here is to drive the Flextreme to an urban destination and then unload the two Segway Personal Transporters for movement around the city. Flextreme utilizes General Motor's E-Flex technology featuring a 1.3L turbo diesel engine supplemented by an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. Flextreme can travel up to 34 miles in all-electric mode. Note the gull-wing doors for both the passenger and cargo areas as well as the innovative undercarriage storage for the two Segway Transporters. SUBARU FORESTER

Subaru is practically synonymous with all-wheel-drive performance, and the Forester has helped define the SUV/Crossover segment with its carlike handling and SUV capability. The all-new Forester is higher and longer than the model it replaces, with a wheelbase extended 3.5 inches for added stability and ride comfort. Powered by a 2.5L Boxer engine, the naturally aspirated version delivers 170 HP, and with a turbo power is boosted to 224 HP. TOYOTA VENZA

Toyota launched yet another shot across the bows of the domestics - and specifically the North American crossover market - with the surprise unveiling of this stunning new model slated to go on sale in November. Designed, engineered and built in the U.S., the Venza will be exclusive to the North American market. It underscores the importance of the fast-growing crossover segment. Built on the same platform as the Camry and Highlander, available in only one trim level, this fully equipped model is powered by a 3.5L V6 and rides on 20-inch wheels (19-inch on the four-cylinder version). All-wheel drive is optional. Overall, this stylish crossover is all about appealing to the family buyer, with roomy interior that seats five, an optional panoramic roof that stretches over the second row and the protection of seven airbags. Venza raises the bar in terms of styling and content in the hot crossover segment. Look for this to be winner. TOYOTA A-BAT CONCEPT

The A-BAT (Advance Breakthrough Aerodynamic Truck) is the most interesting offering we've seen in compact pickups in a long time. This innovative concept vehicle includes a versatile cargo bed capable of 4-, 6- and 8-foot configurations, depending on positions of the rear seat and tailgate. Additional features include a slide-out storage drawer under the cargo bed, a removable power stack for auxiliary power, and a solar energy panel on the dashboard. With gas prices rising, we wonder if Toyota knows a few things about predicting trends. VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT CC

Volkswagen made big news and generated a lot of buzz at this year's show with the worldwide premier of this stunning, upscale sedan called the CC. Built on the Passat platform, this design-oriented sedan sports a coupe profile with narrow greenhouse and overall aerodynamic shape. Powered by a 3.8L V6 that accelerates the CC from zero to sixty in six-plus seconds, the CC is sure to be a winner and brand builder for the Volkswagen marquee. Content for the North American version is yet to be finalized. Nonetheless, the real stunner here is that the base price is just over $26,000! Expect the CC to begin arriving in showrooms later this year.

See also: Back Seat Driving: In Detroit, The Auto Show Is Bigger Than Big The Chinese Are Coming For more information on the NAIAS, click here.

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