Think Pieces

Michael's thoughts on the auto industry, its products, and/or this website.

Day Two at the Auto Show

2008 Honda Accord

The first presentation I attend is Honda's. The exec first reviews how Honda's sales have set records for eleven straight years, then how Honda firmly believes in safety and fuel economy, and then introduces the 2008 Accord coupe in moderately disguised concept form. Like at least half the presentations at the show, he claims that the new styling combines emotional appeal with technical precision. The car is attractive, but isn't as distinctive as the new Civic. People seem underwhelmed. The exec's dry, matter-of-fact-as-read-of-the-teleprompter delivery didn't help. The transition to the loud, vibrant music as the curtain is lifted is an abrupt one. The dry delivery and new-age-at-110-decibels music don't belong in the same presentation.

2008 Cadillac CTS

As soon as the Honda presentation ends I walk quickly to the GM area, hoping to get a seat for the CTS intro. I get lucky, and get a good one, dead center. About ten minutes before the presentation is scheduled to begin a group of classical musicians starts playing. At the time for the presentation all of the musicians stand up, and all but two violinists walk off the stage. The two violinists proceed to duel, and toss in a bit of hip hop. Unexpectedly entertaining. The obvious theme: a new twist on the classics.

When the pair finish their duel the designer of the interior walks onto the stage and presents. He remains as a small group of other GM people who worked on the new CTS walks onto the stage. The leader of the group presents. This continues for group after group after group, designers and engineers and marketers, until the stage is chock full of people, perhaps 60 in total. Each presentation is engaging. These people clearly love the work they did for the new car, even though someone else no doubt had a hand in the words they're saying. Given the canned nature of many presentations, this is refreshing. Finally, Jim Taylor, General Manager of Cadillac, emerges from the crowd on the stage, and concludes the presentation. The crowd parts, the wall behind them rotates, and the new car is revealed.

Afterwards the audience walks onto the stage to examine the new CTS. I briefly sit in the front passenger seat. The interior is outstanding. The styling is neither plain nor forced busyness, but filled with organic curves that form a coherent whole. The materials are top notch. I especially like the door panels, which have stitched padded material both in the cove and along their top section. The seats, with space-saving thin seatbacks, are well-shaped for comfort and support.

The exterior is an evolution of the current CTS that eliminates its flaws without also robbing it of character.

The general consensus: the new CTS is an outstanding.

Lexus LF-A and IS-F

Next I attend the Lexus presentation of the LF-A concept high-end sports car and the IS-F sedan. The cars will no doubt be very quick. Their styling is a bit overdone, especially the body kit on the 5.0-liter, 400-horsepower IS. The Lexus exec reads off the teleprompter how he can't help but smile and get excited when he thinks about these cars, but he never smiles nor does he ever sound excited. Which may well be his personality, but the speechwriter ought to have known this and not put such ill-fitting words into the exec's mouth. Supposedly the IS-F was developed by a skunk works group that went outside the official corporate plan and otherwise broke the rules. Given the nature of the delivery and Toyota's famous internal controls, I'm dubious. Sounds like Holly Hunter's daily scheduled cry in the film Broadcast News. The best news: on the IS-F it will be possible to entirely disable the VDIM system the magazines have sharply criticized.

Jeep Trailhawk and Chrysler Nassau

Then it's back across Cobo to the Chrysler area. I'm too late for a seat, and end up standing a few feet away from where Zetsche and Lasorda are seated. The presentation begins with a lengthy drum concert featuring The Drum Cafe. (Searching online, I now learn that this company teaches drum playing as an exercise in corporate team building. And I thought I was getting an authentic culture experience.)

A strutting drumless white woman--Aviva--tries to fire up the audience while a half dozen men, mostly of color (and one named Africa), beat what I suppose are quasi-tribal rhythms with their bare hands. I don't get fired up. I do photograph her odd facial expressions.

After way too many minutes of this (what's with the overly long intros on both days, Chrysler?), the Jeep Trailhawk concept is driven onto the stage by a The Rock impersonator whose facial expression suggests he has deadly skillz and isn't afraid to employ them. Chrysler design chief Trevor Creed enters and suggests that the Trailhawk is the love child of a Wrangler and Grand Chrerokee, combining the ruggedness of the former with the refinement of the latter.

Trailhawk and Creed exit, and Aviva returns. She asks for volunteers from the audience to attempt simple rhythms on the small drums Chrysler has given many people. The first two people do a decent job of it. She says they're too good to need lessons. She pulls a third man on to the stage. After a couple of brief lessons he gets very good. Yes, we have a ringer. Then he walks behind the curtain and pulls out a modern set of drums, and really goes to town. Next thing you know, the entire ensemble returns. But two of the five have switched over to modern drums from the African ones. The resulting fusion is interesting, and doesn't last nearly as long as the intro bit.

As a result, I'm actually left wanting a bit more when they yield the stage to a second concept, the Chrysler Nassau. A rounded five-door hatch on the 300's platform, I don't care for it. The side profile is too much like that of the awkwardly proportioned Subaru Impreza wagon, while the front is too generic.

We get Mr. Creed once more. He talks about the Nassau being for the active professional and such. Then we get the point of it all: the concepts are two different rhythms that share a common element: Chrysler's talented design team.

2008 Hyundai Veracruz

I take a DCX-provided cold boxed lunch worthy of 7-11 to the Hyundai area, where I manage to get a seat. Hyundai gives us over 15 minutes of a couple playing guitar music with an energetic Spanish flavor. They're obviously very talented--turns out the man is the lead guitar for the Detroit Symphony Orchestras (I didn't even know orchestras include guitars) but I'd enjoy them more if I were on a date and seated comfortably in a high-end bar. Instead I'm in a cramped, uncomfortable, stadium type seat eating a chilly bland sandwich.

When the music ends, Hyundai gives us video footage of focus groups where crossover owners talk about what they want in their next vehicle. Still on the video, these people are led outside to drive Hyundai's new three-row crossover, the Veracruz. They love it, they say it's exactly what we just heard them ask for. The badges are hidden. When asked to guess the brand, they go for Lexus, Infiniti, and even Dodge. All express surprise when the tape is removed to reveal a Hyundai emblem.

The video ends, and a Hyundai exec announces that the three families in the video are all here to answer our questions. They run out onto the stage, complete with kids. The audience goes down to the stage, but pays much more attention to the vehicle than to the families. I find that the interior is nicely trimmed in brown leather, and that the third row is a bit above average for the genre. Meaning the seat cushion is low to the floor, but I have enough room for my head and legs. Like the similar Mazda CX-9, it's much roomier than the Subaru Tribeca. However, as with the Mazda and Subaru, I do not like the overly round and overly lengthy front and rear overhangs. I much prefer the tighter proportions of the half-size-smaller Santa Fe, or the new Acura MDX.

Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Equinox Sport

Burned out on presentations, I skip the next few in favor of checking out various cars. I sit in the Buick Enclave, and find it roomier than expected but also lower in interior materials quality than I expected. It's about equal the related Saturn Outlook in terms of materials, but the Buick's fancier styling requires better.

The Chevrolet Equinox sport's front seats have prominent bolsters, but like the mushy ones in the Enclave they're spaced too widely to do much good.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

The new Lancer and future Evo have much-improved exterior and interior styling. So they're now at least up to the class average, perhaps a bit better. Just about anything would have been a huge improvement. The Evo concept actually has a fantastic interior, with extensive use of alcantara (premium fake suede) and ambient lighting. The seats look fabulous. Much of this won't make it to production, though.

Changfeng

At the end of the day I attend a presentation by the Changfeng Group, a Chinese manufacurer that wants to export to the U.S. The presentation is barely understandable, though I admire the Chinese exec for even attempting it. He then shows a video which is the funniest I'll likely ever see at an auto show--and not intentionally. Changfeng was part of the Chinese military until 1996. Then it started building SUVs with help from Mitsubishi. Recently it has ventured some of its own designs.

But I cannot pay much attention to the vehicles. It's the content of the video that nearly kills me. It melds a positive glow with regard to the company's Red Army heritage (the employees and vehicles are frequently shown in formation) with a glorious celebration of "ten years' reform." We see these words flashed on the screen about half a dozen times in the midst of a flame special effect that would have been cheesy back in the early 1990s. The video concludes:

"The new century has started. Dragons are taking off in the new millienum, and cheetahs are leaping forward in the new century. Dragons are taking off to indicate the resurrection of China as a nation. Cheetahs are leaping forward to present a powerful auto industrial village. With world's leading technologies to build a leading brand on the SUV market in China, Changfeng Group."

Note: the company's symbol is a leaping cheetah--liebao in Chinese. Most of its vehicles are SUVs based heavily on late model Mitusbishis.

The info sheets for the firm's products are also worthy of quotation. On the Liebao Feiteng:

"Adopt an off-road attitude towards the city and life. Liebao Feiteng brings a new off-road idea and a true free city life. It carries forward the pure notable blood relationship. Based on Mitsubishi core technique and superpowerful engine, it is equipped with a super-select four-drive system SSR-i."

On the Liebao Black Giant:

"The vehicle body is broadened, thus body becomes more well-stacked and smooth. Strong power drives the mighty body. You will feel full of momentum and great dignity."

I grant Changfeng Motor my "auto company most in need of a good marketing firm" award.

Thanks for reading.

Michael Karesh, TrueDelta

First posted: January 8, 2007
Last updated: January 10, 2007

Also:
Noob at the Auto Show
Day Three at the Auto Show

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