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2006 Detroit Auto Show: Last Words

2005 Lexus LF-Sh concept

2005 Lexus LF-Sh concept

2006 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/7/2006)

TCC Team

2005 Lexus LF-Sh concept

2005 Lexus LF-Sh concept

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Best New Concept: Chevrolet Camaro. Okay, maybe I’m taking the easy way out here, but considering what GM could have come up with, this show car really pulls it off. Finally, a clear example of the difference between “retro” and “heritage.” Mazda’s Kabura pulled off a very close second, in my mind, with runner-up honors for the Aston Martin Rapide. Personally, I’d be pleased to see all three go into production.

Best New Production Car: Lexus LS460L. I can already hear the criticism from colleagues, and will likely get a lot of withering e-mail from readers. There are, indeed, a bunch of worthy alternates, but there’s something about this massive, lavish sedan that got my attention. While Lexus is still not quite there, it’s finally showing a sense of design aesthetics, and the technology on this stretched platform is absolutely amazing. Self-parking? Auto-deployed rear ottoman? Toyota boss Jim Press captured the degree to which the new LS goes over the top when he noted there’s not only an ambient temperature sensor, but another to detect body temperature. “I don’t think I want to know where that sensor goes,” he ad-libbed.

2005 Kia Sedona

2005 Kia Sedona

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Most Significant Production Vehicle: I’ll give the edge to the Ford Edge, with the Dodge Caliber close behind. Ford blew it bad with the Freestyle crossover, a vehicle so bland that even Mark Fields admitted you wouldn’t recognize one unless it ran over you. Edge finally deserves such a sobriquet. It’s stylish enough to actually get a second glance from potential buyers. As to the Caliber, it's even more distinctive and, while a risky bet by Chrysler, “anything is better than Neon,” as celebrity preview guest, the comic David Spade, was quick to point out.

Best Press Conference: Baby, it ain’t cold outside, and Detroit’s equivalent of a heat wave may have been the biggest news of the show. But inside, Chrysler’s show-biz team staged what had to be the goofiest preview we’ve seen in years, dumping a foot of confetti snow on the assembled media horde before rolling out the new Dodge Aspen. At the other extreme, we want to give some kudos to little Geely, the Chinese maker putting in its first show appearance. Wow, except for a syrupy video about the humble rise of its CEO, this was the only news conference to deserve that description. Questions from the audience? Reasonably candid responses from Geely executives? What a concept.

Worst Press Conference: Chrysler created the modern, theatrical auto-show preview, and like big-budget Hollywood movies, these either score big or fall flat. The first of the automaker’s three reveals at this year’s show was as close to a disaster as Chrysler has come. The Desperate Housewives gag didn’t work, especially when another celebrity guest, Housewives co-star Eva Longoria, forgot her one and only line. Yet we have to call this one a tie. GM’s unveiling of the Buick Enclave was long, pompous, and boring. Twenty minutes to tell us about the quality and craftsmanship of guitars and bicycles, and then 20 seconds to talk about the new crossover/ute. Better hope it stays on the consumer’s radar screen a bit longer than that.

Who's On Top: It’s hard to argue against Toyota , which continues to roll out must-see products, such as the Lexus LS and the new Camry, which also debuted in Detroit . Sure, the automaker has to keep looking over its shoulder, but right now, Toyota ’s the company to benchmark.

Who's In The Barrel: GM’s been down so long, it may have actually climbed up enough to peak over the top after announcing its risky but brave price-cutting strategy. Meanwhile, with its desperate turnaround plan set to be announced in a matter of days, we have to say that it’s Ford’s time at the bottom of the barrel. Now let’s see what President of the Americas Mark Fields has in mind.

Personal Best: The crossover. Collective kudos for the fastest-growing product segment in automotive history, and the vast range of models that came close to dominating this year’s NAIAS.

Prediction for 2006: Detroit automakers will gain a little bit of traction in the months to come, thanks to cost-cutting efforts and, more importantly, new product. But come the end of the year, structural problems and union intransigence will leave them with serious problems that might have no alternative solution other than the “B” word. The possible exception could be Chrysler. If it gets the same healthcare concessions as Ford and GM, and it hits with new products, like Caliber, the DaimlerChrysler subsidiary could prove the exception to the Big Three rule. But that’s a lot of “ifs.”

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