Think Pieces

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

Day Three at the Auto Show

2008 Chevrolet Malibu

The first presentation I attend is Chevrolet's. The intro video shows Ed Peper, the head of Chevrolet, getting a "Malibu makeoever" from Bobbi Thomas, host of The Fashion Police. It's a TV show with which I am personally not acquainted, but I get the idea. The video includes appearances from Ed Peper's wife (taking us through his closet), Bob Lutz (captioned without a name--everyone here knows who he is--as "Ed Car Guru"), and a few other prominent people. Each says that Ed needs a new, more contemporary look.

So the Fashion Policewoman takes Ed to a clothing shop and gets him with a new wardrobe. The goal is "something handsome, nicely tailored, and that looks expensive even though it's not...and that most of all is not boring"

The video ends and Ed walks out onto the stage. The Fashion Police host joins him. He's back in his old duds, but says that the Malibu will experience a more lasting improvement. The goal was to create a sedan that inspires emotion and that looks like a $40,000 car even though it's not. The new Malibu is then driven onto the stage. Ed asks Bobbi if the makeover is successful, and she says it is. Ed then goes over the design cues that we'll also be seeing on other future Chevrolet cars, including the dual port grille and the "island" hood.

Ed Peper turns the presentation over to Troy Clarke, president of GM North America. Troy thanks Ed for being such a great sport with the fashion makeover. (I hear other people during the day talking about how gutsy Ed was to have the way he dresses critiqued.) He says this proves that Ed will do anything to sell a car. He then talks about the Malibu, saying it's what happens when you let the designers do their jobs and that we should "make no mistake: GM is back in the car game." He talks about how GM has taken the lead in trucks, and "we're now restaking our claim to the midsize car market." To reinforce this new determination, he shows video of yesterday's CTS launch then has a Camaro convertible driven onto the stage.

At the end of the presentation, we are invited up to look at the cars. My personal feeling is that the Malibu's exterior achieves all of the goals they set out for it. The basic shape is very similar to the Acura TL's, a design I have always liked, but with some smoothing of the edges and additional length, which make it less edgy but also more upscale than the Acura--which can cost nearly $40,000. I think it will sell very well.

The interior isn't as strong as the exterior. The styling is good enough, with a touch of retro flavor in the two-tone dual-coved instrument panel. But the materials are, like those in the related Saturn Aura, not even up to the class leaders among $25,000 cars.

I press on the upper part of the interior door panel to test its solidity, and get an admonition from Dave Rand, head of GM's interior design staff. This interior is not production-spec, and the bits in it could be fragile. Similarly, my concerns with the sheen of some of the plastics may not apply to the production car. I tell him I wish this interior were closer in quality to that in the new CTS, which is fantastic. Yes, I know, different price points, but it could still be closer.

2008 Cadillac CTS, with Ask Patty

I then walk over to where three 2008 CTS are on display. I ask to sit in one. They're wary, as some journalists serve as fronts for the competition. I explain why I want to sit in the car, that many readers have been asking about it, and gain entry. I end up in the driver's seat with Jody DeVere, president of in the passenger seat. Her business has a site with information for women car buyers, and teaches dealers how to better cater to these buyers. She's been geting a fair amount of press coverage lately. I plan to speak with her soon, as I could use some tips.

A Cadillac design exec peers in through the window as we sit in the car, so he can answer any questions. I point out that some recent GM products, including this one and the Saturn Outlook, have door pulls composed of two pieces of hard plastic that could be more tightly joined. As a result, when the door pull is grasped it does not feel as solid as it should. I compliment him on the rest of the excellent interior.

2008 Dodge Avenger, Magnum, and Viper

After getting out of the Cadillac I get over to the Dodge presentation, which at this point is nearly over. Apparently it used a race car theme, as a professional racer is up on the stage with the cars. It ends, and I go take a look at said cars. The 2008 Avenger, which replaces the Stratus, looks a bit better than in photos. The C-pillar doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would. I'd still rather it did without the large triangle of black plastic that fakes a larger, racier side window outline. It does have a much more aggressive look that any of the cars it will compete against, which should guarantee healthy sales. The interior lacks the heavy art deco trim you'll find in the related Chrysler Sebring. It looks much like the interior in the Dodge Charger, though with a bit more flair in the form of two-tone leather seats and a less rectangular center stack.

For 2008 the Dodge Magnum wagon gets a cleaner, less menacing, and less truck-like new nose. The car's appeal should be broadened, at slight cost to its distinctiveness.

The updated Viper has half a dozen vents in its hood to help dissipate the heat produced by a 600-horse powerplant. The exhaust system has also been redesigned so the interior will less resemble a sauna.

Eyes on Design Awards

My final NAIAS event is the presentation of four design awards. I try to guess the cars these will go to, but only get one right: the new CTS. The other three awards all go to concepts, two from Chrysler and one from Hyundai. Apparently I'd forgotten how much designers prefer far-out stuff, and they were the ones who voted. As part of the presentation the panel is invited onto the stage. You'll rarely if ever see so many prominent past and present car designers in one place. A fitting conclusion to my show.

Thanks for reading.

Michael Karesh, TrueDelta

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

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