Each year, the Detroit auto show begins as a spark of original thought. Maybe a rogue idea wandering through a PR maven’s head, or possibly a stray shape floating through the grey cells of a designer or engineer. Then, somewhere along the line, concepts move out of heads and begin taking on life in clay and fiberglass, and before you know it, $300 million gets spent on carpeting, hired spokespersons, and a week’s worth of radio knobs that inevitably are stolen from cars on display.
A huge amount of mental and physical effort goes into each year’s Detroit auto show. You see, there’s always a better idea — a more outrageous concept car, a glitzier display, heck, even a better quality of cocktail sauce for the post-press-conference shrimp. It’s up to the experts to hash through it all and see what’s really innovation and what’s simply smoke and mirrors.
With more that 100 years collective experience covering the Detroit show, TCC’s crack band of roving car reporters has an almost-instinctual sense for the good, the bad, and the ugly among show cars and presentations. To close out our coverage of the event of the year, TCC brings you the best and worst of the 2000 Detroit Show. Don’t agree with our opinions? You can vote on your favorite concept in this week’s poll – just click the buttons below.
Without further fuss, here are TCC’s winners and losers of the 2000 NAIAS:
2000 Jaguar F-type concept
Best In Show: Jaguar F-Type. The sound of two hands clapping greeted this sexy, slinky two-seater at its Detroit introduction. The F-Type, we hear from Jag and Ford execs, is a shoo-in for production. The work of the late Geoff Lawson and current Jag design director Ian Callum, the F-Type doesn’t have a platform yet, but its success seems assured — especially considering the rumored 300-hp supercharged V-6 engine.
Honorable mentions: Chevrolet SSR, Chrysler 300 Hemi Convertible
2000 Pontiac Aztek NAIAS
Worst In Show: Pontiac Aztek. For sheer ungainliness, our pick would be the Pontiac Aztek. What began life as a thoroughly pleasant GM minivan now has neither the ample room nor the good looks of its donor. We actually wish there were less to dislike about the Aztek exterior: a happier shape would live up to the promise of the creative and innovative interior. Flexibility aside, the Aztek is proof that an intervention is still needed in some GM design quarters. Very close runner-up: Ford’s 24.7 concepts, the cars that have nothing to do with driving. As one TCCer put it, "high tech without style is nothing."
Honorable mention: Ford 24.7
Concept cars most likely to succeed: Jaguar F-Type, Chevrolet SSR. Our two favorites in this category have already been excluded, with both Chevrolet and Jaguar acknowledging their concepts will be headed for production. With them out of the way, we'll lean toward the Volkswagen AAC pickup truck as the next to set a date with an assembly line. We don’t know where they’ll build it, but Ferdinand Piech’s all-out assault on every market niche extant just has to include the profit-rich U.S. truck market. We’d say a 2003 version of this truck is likely – but will it arrive too late to conquer any particular truck niche?
Honorable mention: Volkswagen AAC
2000 Ford Escape concept
Ford’s natty new Escape is a sure hit.
Production vehicle most likely to succeed: Chrysler PT Cruiser. Though we knew it would be a hit at its debut last year, the Chrysler PT Cruiser’s crowd-wowing base price of $16,000 announced at this year’s show guarantees a sell-out in its first year, we think. Also on the hot list: Ford’s handsome Escape midi-ute and Explorer Sport Trac, which will give Ford the most interesting inter-family squabbles since maybe the Simpsons, and the $35,000 Toyota Sequoia, which will seem like a bargain to everyone who bought a smaller-inside Land Cruiser.
Honorable mentions: Ford Escape, Toyota Sequoia
Best press conference: Any one where journalists could ask questions. Most press conferences were jammed tighter than L.A. traffic and void of any interaction with audiences, but a few manufacturers actually let journalists speak to company officers. And some, like Hyundai, actively engaged the press without triggering a media frenzy. When Finnbar O’Neill, president and chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor America, welcomed reporters to the Hyundai stand, he told them: "I have to tell you that we have no ear-splitting music; we have no pyrotechnics. The only sound you will hear is the sound of a company quietly going about its business." Thanks to those companies that provided enough chairs for working press and to those that left the fireworks at home.
Worst press conferences: Ford and DaimlerChrysler, Day One. Ford’s 24.7 introduction proved to be a low point for the first day of the show. A dark arena, no Q&A session — plus, what was the guy doing dancing and conducting Jac Nasser’s speech from the center aisle? Security eventually removed him, but he was the liveliest thing in the whole of Cobo Arena. Ditto for the intro of the DaimlerChrysler concepts: imagine being ushered into a conference with limited seating, visibility, and access to executives, then being told that press kits weren’t passed out until after the "show" was over.
2000 Ford Equator
Strangest non-press conference. Did someone forget to put the Ford Equator intro on the schedule? Did Jac Nasser have a last minute change of heart and decide to orphan this Hummer wannabe? Or was Ford wondering if this mammoth machine could build some buzz all on its own? We can’t figure it out. Maybe someone at Ford can let us in on this hyper-underground strategy — what do you say, guys?
Best rumor: Chrysler’s back in Hemis. What’s to become of the Chrysler 300 Hemi Convertible’s Hemi motor? If you believe the hype, the Hemi could appear in a limited run of convertibles, as well as pickup trucks — and logically, then, the company’s new NASCAR racecars. We can picture a limited run of 300Cs alongside the Viper, once the Prowler goes to the big petting zoo in the sky — the question is, can the Daimler half of Chrysler imagine it?
Jaguar F-Type: ready to build, ready to rumble with a 300-hp supercharged six.
Buick LaCrosse: stylish and flexible — what Buick needed ten years ago.
Jeep Varsity: maybe headed for production, maybe just a great idea.
TH!NK Neighbor: you can practically hear "Come Together" in the commercial.
Lexus LS 430: could it look any more like the last S-Class? Does it matter anymore?
Toyota Sequoia: do Indianans like overtime?
Pontiac Aztek: a vivid counterpoint to the stunning Chevrolet SSR and suave Buick LaCrosse.
Ford 24.7: does anyone really need the Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe in their car?
Chrysler minivans: handsome and filled with considerate features, but have they lost their styling edge?
Dodge MAXXcab: maybe a case of too much up front.
GMC Terradyne: Star Wars meets the full-size truck. Does this mean we have to wait 16 years for the next version to come out?