2005 Detroit Auto Show: TCC’s Top Picks

January 16, 2005

2005 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/8/2005)

TCC Team

Best New Concept: Ford Fairlane. Some weird design elements, like the Home Depot plywood accents, but overall, a very intriguing turn of direction that I strongly expect to see in production.

Best New Production Car: Mercedes M-Class, certainly compared to the old car which was never that great to begin with and by now was nearly as ancient as a Model T.

Most Significant Production Vehicle: Infiniti M45. After years of being a sort of undefined, "me-too" luxury brand, this sporty new sedan finally gives Infiniti a real raison d'etre. Now let's see if consumers agree.

Biggest news story: GM's big employment cuts. The automaker admits it will end the year with about 8000 fewer jobs in theU.S. -- but denies the even bigger headcount reduction long rumored and reported by the Detroit Free Press.

2005 Jeep Hurricane Concept

2005 Jeep Hurricane Concept

Best Press Conference: Chrysler's Sunday newser, especially the Jeep Hurricane roll-out. Just when we all thought we knew what was coming, Chrysler pulls off a big surprise. Double HEMI? Four-wheel independent steering? Silly as all get-up, but proves why Chrysler has had the news conference to cover for as long as I can remember.

Worst Press Conference: Mercedes, by a long shot. Hmm, you have a new car and it almost gets lost in all the other stuff you want to talk about, rolling out just three minutes before the next newser, and after many journalists already had left? 

Who’s On Top: There's no denying that Toyota has the "big mo," and that, along with Lexus and Scion brands, this is now the (difficult) one to beat. But after years of being in the barrel, the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler deserves an honorable mention, at least, as it is the one on top of the domestics.  For now, anyway.  Let's see what happens when the new mid-size models roll out.

Who’s In The Barrel: Mitsubishi, without a doubt, is so far down, it's hard to imagine how it will ever pick itself back up again. But one also has to have some serious concerns about Jaguar, among the Europeans.

Personal Best: I've got a thing for over-the-top design in sexy sports cars, and I really do love the look of the Firepower, which I am convinced they'll build.

Prediction for 2005: The Japanese will target trucks, but Detroit will make a big push to rebuild in the passenger car market.  The big losers are likely to be U.S. suppliers, many of whom might be forced to declare bankruptcy.

Marty Padgett

Marty Padgett

Marty Padgett
Editor and Producer

Best New Concept: If the Shelby GR-1 hadn’t been shown at Pebble, it would sweep this category. But of the remainder, I liked the Lexus LF-A – the audacity to out-‘Vette Chevrolet and Ford on their home turf shows you that Toyota ’s mild exterior is hiding some serious claws.

Best New Production Car: Honda Ridgeline. Wait ‘till you drive one.

Most Significant Production Vehicle: Honda Ridgeline. What happens when 500,000 drivers realize they don’t need a full-size truck?

2006 Dodge Charger

2006 Dodge Charger

Best Press Conference: Dodge Charger. In ten minutes we get the past and future of NASCAR, Dieter Zetsche in a black cowboy hat, and a cross-dressing four-door – and great live music, too. Did anyone else notice the plethora of PR people on the floor, too? If you want to know how to do car PR, take in a Chrysler press conference.

Worst Press Conference: Mercedes-Benz. For 30 minutes we get about ten different topics, none of which are the smart formore. Then in about two minutes, they zing over the vehicle that’s probably responsible for a quarter of MBUSA’s profit – the M-Class. Having worked with the Alabama folk, I know they’re peeved over the short show.

Who’s On Top: Fujio Cho, Toyota . Maybe sales were off a little in Argentina this year. Find me a real soft spot in the armor.

Who’s In The Barrel: Rich Gilligan, Mitsubishi. Nearly unanimous here, Gilligan is just the latest skipper at Mitsu to be faced with a mountain of trouble and a teensy trowel to remove it all.

Personal Best: Not a car, not a concept – just kudos to TCC’s team for making my job posting and editing copy this year the easiest Detroit show in recent memory.

Prediction for 2005: We may finally wave goodbye to Isuzu and Mitsubishi if sales trends continue. But Jaguar too? Anything’s possible in the world of $5000 rebates and $5 billion losses.

Joe Szczesny
News Reporter

2005 Ford SYNus concept

2005 Ford SYNus concept

Best New Concept: Ford SYNus

Best New Production Car:
Toyota Avalon

Most Significant Production Vehicle:
 Honda Ridgeline

Biggest News Story:
  In less than 12 months, hybrids have gone from being clever experiments to mainstream. Higher gasoline prices have prompted consumers to look at them and more manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon. Even the Germans seemed to be wavering on their diesel gamble here.

Best Press Conference:
I like them clean and simple. Subaru, Hyundai and Kia all showed off significant vehicles and the low-key approach actually got them attention.

Worst Press Conference:
 Chrysler's overproduced extravaganzas are getting old and tired.

Who’s On Top:
Toyota, by about a mile.

Who’s In The Barrel:
A tie between General Motors and Mercedes-Benz. A special place in the barrel, however, should be reserved for Jaguar or perhaps somebody should create a permanent barrel for them. If you stuck a fork in the company you'd find it's done.

Prediction for 2005:
My prediction is Ford gains market share, despite the fifteen-year Jaguar debacle. The guaranteed success of the Mustang in all its forms and the aging of GM’s truck fleet offer Ford a big opportunity in red-state sales.

Jim Burt
Marketing Reporter

Best New Concept: Chrysler Firepower. The world doesn't need this vehicle. But it's fun to see Chrysler flick GM's temple.

2006 Saturn Sky

2006 Saturn Sky

Best New Production Car: Saturn Sky

Most Significant Production Vehicle: Honda Ridgeline. Odyssey admirers will love it for after the kids go off to college.

Biggest News Story: GM exiting locomotive business. Just kidding. Search for WMDs halted? Nah. Of course, it’s Toyota adding more plants in North America. Toyota will pass GM, by Bob Lutz’s own admission. $10 billion a year in profit. And no American stomach for protectionism.

Best Press Conference: Jeep. Chrysler puts on a good show. Dieter Zetsche always looks like a German toymaker. Maybe it’s the mustache? He’ll do anything for laugh – or a cover story.

Worst Press Conference: Mercedes-Benz. The droning! Honorable mention: Subaru. Since when is this a Champagne and stinky-cheese brand?

Who’s On Top: Toyota COO Jim Press, BMW chairman Helmut Panke.

Who’s In The Barrel: GM. Bob Lutz looked angry wherever he went.

Personal Best: The MINI Cooper is still the most appealing production car on the stands.

Prediction for 2005: It's going to be a tough year for the Chevy HHR, Rick Wagoner and Bob Lutz. Volkswagen will have a tough slog selling the new Jetta and Passat without a sexy PR producer like a new New Beetle or Microbus to drive traffic.

Greg Sanchez

Greg Sanchez

Greg Sanchez 
TCC en Español Publisher

Best New Concept: Chrysler Firepower – Sexy machine, and I loved the fact lots of GM & Ford people were taking pictures of it!

Best New Production Car: Honda Ridgeline – A class act folks, and wait until people drive it. They’ll fall in love.

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Most Significant Production Vehicle: Corvette Z06 - It is the fastest, most powerful car ever offered by Chevrolet and General Motors. It is comprised of an unprecedented level of capability and technology, making it one of the greatest performance values on the market.

Best Press Conference: Dodge Charger - I thought it was one of the best productions I’ve seen in a while, plus the legend on stage – Richard Petty.

Worst Press Conference: Mercedes-Benz - Boy oh boy! Long, tedious, and higgledy-piggledy. By the time the models are unveiled, half of the journalists are history!

Who’s On Top: Dieter Zetsche, DaimlerChrysler - Between the momentum DC has, the radical & awesome award winning designs, HEMI & NASCAR; what else can we ask for?

Who’s In The Barrel: Rich Gilligan, Mitsubishi - The poster child for optimism!

Personal Best: Jaguar Advanced Lightweight Coupe – BEAUTIFUL! This is a stunning, fast Jaguar, true to the brand's past and future. It embodies sporting luxury and represents the future of Jaguar, as an ambassador for a brand whose reputation was founded on beautiful dynamic sports cars.

Prediction for 2005: I think there is a bright future for Alternative Fuel Vehicles. The year ahead looks promising for biofuel and hybrid vehicles, but my opinion doesn’t imply that such mainstays as natural gas and propane are dead. In fact, worldwide market growth appears to be steady, and in the U.S. , proponents of these fuels are working to expand their niches.

Henny Hemmes

Henny Hemmes

Henny Hemmes
European Bureau Chief

Best New Concept: Lexus LF-A. A gorgeous design, penned by a (still secret) Italian designer of fame. Seen testing at the Nurburgring last fall and to be considered a serious production car.

Best New Production Car: Dodge Charger. Chrysler extends the design of the gorgeous Magnum station wagon and the 300 sedan to yet another model, a coupe in four-door disguise.

Most Significant Production Vehicle: Mustang Convertible. Muscle car fans from all over the world love the Coupe already and will hear the V-8 roar even louder in the Convertible.

Biggest News Story: Saturn introducing Sky and soon to be Aura. By using GM’s proven platforms and Opel technology, the brand is also rejuvenated with excellent design.

Best Press Conference: Jeep Hurricane with the largest wow factor (big surprise), the most engines (two) and the best fun (likely) to spin around.

2004 Ford Shelby GR-1 concept

2004 Ford Shelby GR-1 concept

Worst Press Conference: Mercedes-Benz. A case study in wow not to draw attention to a new model that looks better than its predecessor.

Who’s On Top: Toyota , by far.                              

Who’s In The Barrel: Mitsubishi. Although the struggling car maker showed a big truck and a nice coupe, both vehicles will not generate lots of sales. Where is the bread-and-butter vehicle?

Personal Best: Ford Shelby GR-1. So attractive, I could sit in it for days, let alone drive it – preferably at a race track!

Prediction for 2005: Toyota is on its way to being Number Three. That is where courage, long-term vision and loyalty to your own goals can lead.

Bengt Halvorson
Copy Guru and Token Norwegian

2005 Lexus LF-A concept

2005 Lexus LF-A concept

Best New Concept: Lexus LF-A or Ford Fairlane. A new Ferrari-like 500-hp supercar from Lexus will bring international respect. And Ford's Fairlane looks like a lowered Land Rover LR3 given a slight makeover, but that's a good thing; the stylish ute/van exudes style and utility.

Best New Production Car: Subaru Tribeca. Never mind its silly name. The Tribeca looks to be this year's hot new crossover and paves the way to Subaru becoming a full-line brand considered by a new segment of buyers. GM's Rick Wagoner was seen at the introduction, eagerly waiting with a Saab badge in his pocket.

Most Significant Production Vehicle: Honda Ridgeline. No surprise here; the Ridgeline is every bit as competent and cleverly packaged as we expected it to be.

Biggest News Story: As other automakers move en masse to hybrid systems for passenger cars, GM holds to its vision of an economically competitive fuel cell car in the next four years.

Best Press Conference: Lexus. Seating for all in a comfy side ballroom. Substantive information without boring. No gimmickry; no press-kit stampede or pushing; plenty of photo ops. Was orchestrated with as much quality as their cars.

Worst Press Conference: Suzuki. Cramped, lacking substance, and only one way out for the press-kit stampede. Also Ferrari, who staged an address to the press in the middle of a walkway, keeping them fenced off their stand, then went on to pass out press kits around the side of the stand, at the end of a narrow walkway, inviting smashed toes and stray elbows.

Who’s On Top: Chrysler -- The 300C and Charger say it all.

Who’s In The Barrel: Mitsubishi -- Depressing. Raider has the V-8, but the reskin is chintzy in the flesh. Eclipse was also a letdown; not nearly like the radical departure we were promised last year when Mitsu showed an attractive concept with a performance hybrid powertrain that was being considered as an option.

Personal Best: Kia Mesa. The Mesa's sharp detail, inside and out, really surprised me. This is the first Korean-brand concept that seems classy and exclusive, rather than awkward and garish.Prediction for 2005: Whether gas prices go up or stay where they are, consumers will flock to the new generation of hybrid vehicles, agreeing to pay thousands more for vehicles that offer no sacrifice in performance or luxury. 

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