Well, the first day at the 2009 North American International Auto Show wasn’t such a bust in the end.
I began the day by attending the Intro and North American Car of the Year Awards. During the intro talk the Detroit show sought to demonstrate that it was still relevant by trotting out senior executives from the auto companies that didn’t opt to skip this year’s show. Among the execs from GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, VW, and so forth was…Henrik Fisker. “Which one of these is not like the others…” started running through my head. Must have felt good to be Henrik Fisker up their with the big boys.
Biggest surprise with the awards was that, looking over the finalists from my place amidst the crowd of journalists, I was wondering what the Infiniti G37 was doing among them. The engine is new for 2009, but the rest of the car is entering it’s third model year. Well, it wasn’t the Infiniti. The car in question was a Hyundai Genesis, which one the award. Apparently when you can only see the top half of the car the resemblance is rather strong.
I then attended the General Motors presentation. A couple years ago when the then-new Cadillac CTS was introduced I commented that it was nice to see the people involved in creating the car up on stage with it. Especially since I knew some of them.
Well, this year GM decided to do something like that, just taken up to the next level. They brought in a crowd of 100+ employees, and had them stand behind the seated press and engage in a pep rally. Holding signs that said things like “here to stay.” The journalist next to me asked who the group of prostesters were. I explained to him that thos weren’t protesters, they were the cheering section.
The presenting GM execs called for a cheer from said cheering section each time a car rolled up on stage–and they paraded about 15 of them. A couple of times the exec called for a louder response. A bit much.
Some of the new GM cars were surprisingly impressive. The interior of the 2010 Equinox compact SUV is the best interior in a Chevrolet so far. It’s much nicer than that in a Toyota RAV4, and I’d also place it ahead of the Honda CR-V. Seat comfort is also excellent, front and rear. Why aren’t the seats in the larger Lambda crossovers nearly this good? I actually found the firmer seats in the Cadillac SRX less comfortable than those in the Chevrolet. There’s also less rear seat and cargo room in the SRX. Overall, while the Cadillac’s interior is nicer than the Chevrolet’s, it will also be much more expensive. I expect the Cadillac will have a much harder time achieving its sales targets.
The new Buick LaCrosse is a mixed bag. The exterior doesn’t quite work for me. The “sweep spear” comes up too high on the overly tall front fender. As a result, your eye is pulled in one direction by the beltline (base of the windows) and in the other by the “sweep spear.” Beyond this, the proportions of the front fender are generally forced and awkward.
On the other hand, the interior of the new LaCrosse is outstanding, the best yet from GM–better even than that in the Cadillac CTS. Real stitching on the instrument panel and door panels has been achieved at a Buick price by molding this stitching into the polymer panels. The panels aren’t actually upholstered as they are in newer Cadillacs–but they look upholstered. The center stack is very nicely executed, with a definite upscale appearance. The curvy door panels are exceedingly well done. They combine a nicely padded armrest with a comfortable door pull, and flow organically into the instrument panel.
Is an outstanding interior enough to get people under 70 to consider a Buick sedan? Probably not.
Looking back across the GM area, I wondered what a previous generation Audi A4 was doing there–except it was actually Chevrolet’s next compact car, the Cruze. I haven’t been impressed by the Cruze in photos. In the metal, it looks great, at least when fitted with 19-inch five-spoke alloy rims. Inside, the instrument panel in the Cruze is trimmed in a woven fabric. This might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a huge step up from most compact car interiors.
Ford has thoroughly revised the Taurus. The new car looks much more upscale, inside and out. Though the new grille is a bit too Subaru nondescript, the rear fenders have strong Bentley overtones. Viewed from the side the car has more presence than a Taurus has any right to.
The interior of the 2010 Ford Taurus is nice, not far off that in the related Lincoln MKS, but not up to the level of the Buick LaCrosse. The panel fits aren’t as tight or as precise, and the materials seem a bit cheaper. I was surprised to hear that features such as adaptive cruise control and massaging seats–things usually only available on expensive luxury cars–will be available on the Taurus. On the downside, the interior is much less roomy than that of the current Taurus. Inside, it does not feel like a full-size car.
I skipped the Chrysler presentation, figuring the company had nothing in the pipeline to reveal. I later learned that they’d shown a possible next-generation 300, billed as the 200C EV with an alt fuel powertrain. This concept, much more curvy than the current 300, is very attractive, a huge advance over recent Chrysler efforts like the Sebring. But is there enough trunk space inside the sportily bobbed tail?
That’s it for today. More tomorrow.