2006 Detroit Auto Show: Last Words

January 15, 2006

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

TCC Team

2005 Lexus LF-Sh concept

2005 Lexus LF-Sh concept

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

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 U.S. auto 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.”

Biggest News Story: GM’s nearly across-the-board price cuts. Finally, recognition of the American consumers’ mantra, “more for less.” For decades, the troubled automaker has made excuses to explain why it has fallen short on design and content, while demanding a price premium. Of course, potential buyers haven’t responded positively, so even the most massive incentives have failed to hold market share. Will lower prices reverse GM’s downward spiral? That, according to Dave Cole, head of the Center for Automotive Research, is the “$64 billion question.”

Bengt Halvorson
Copy Chief

Best New Concept: Hyundai Talus. As much of the showgoing press at the auto show was all worked up about the new muscle-car concepts, Hyundai rather uneventfully introduced its upscale and practical Talus concept. While the Challenger and Camaro might gather attention from aging Baby Boomers, the V-8-powered, rear-wheel-drive Talus points to an area of real future growth in the sports-car arena, among buyers who’ve owned SUVs and expect some utility in any vehicle they buy, including a sports car. It might look a little bit like the old AMC Spirit and Eagle to some, but it also looks like a hunkered-down Infiniti FX or Maserati Kubang. Build it.

Best New Production Car: Lexus LS460. You could almost hear the collective gasp of the German automakers as Lexus revealed that the new LS has 380 hp and an eight-speed automatic transmission, and performance to rival the Mercedes S550, at a price tag rumored to be about ten grand less.

2007 Acura RDX

2007 Acura RDX

Most Significant Production Vehicle: Acura RDX. You’re looking at next year’s must-have ride for young professionals. The RDX is a very attractive package that promises excellent performance, and it enters a virtually untapped segment with huge potential. Acura’s almost assured of a sales success here; watch out, BMW X3.

Biggest News Story: GM admitting that sustained incentives aren’t working, and lowering prices almost across the board. Will they stick with it long enough to see if it works, or is this the latest fly-by-night discount scheme?

Best Press Conference: I appreciated the simple, no-nonsense nature of Nissan’s conference. The Urge concept and new Sentra and Versa were simply brought onstage and presented directly by president and CEO Carlos Ghosn, with a brief, substantive talk. No gimmicks, no whitewash, no waiting for dancers or skits to finish.

Worst Press Conference: Chrysler tries to be clever with nearly all of its auto-show intros, and it succeeded on most counts at the Detroit show this year. But the Sunday press conference was an example of how it sometimes doesn’t work. The whole thing just lacked cohesion — and had the feeling that John Zorn was backstage drawing cue cards. Loud, overproduced band on the rafters; clowns shuffling to and fro; Dieter-in-a-box arriving to help Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda; desperate housewife Eva Longoria strutting across the stage; design chief Trevor Creed comparing the Challenger and Imperial to Iron Chef…well, maybe you get the idea. We didn’t.

Who's On Top: It’s hard not to say Toyota — especially when, as others are talking cuts, Toyota is looking to build another U.S. engine plant, in Michigan. Otherwise I’d say Honda. The automaker boasts rising sales at a time when other automakers are feeling pinched. President and CEO Takeo Fukui felt no need to be on the defensive in his speech, and instead focused on corporate responsibility and ethics, something sorely lacking in other speeches.

Who's In The Barrel: At its home show, GM seemed to be on the defensive in so much of the media coverage, about everything ranging from bankruptcy possibilities to incentive issues to hybrid strategy to executive pay. GM execs might need to rethink their responses and step back for a little while. Let the public, media, and speculators discover on their own that GM’s cars are the best they’ve been in decades.

Prediction for 2006: GM eventually sucks up its brand-engineering pride and dumps Saab to another automaker (Renault?) that will respect its safety and rallying heritage as much as Ford has built a very profitable operation on Volvo’s safety/utility heritage. Swedes and Saab fans will rejoice.

Personal Best: While I was taken aback by the disjointed press conference, I couldn’t help but make return visits to the Dodge stand to see the Challenger again — definitely my favorite over the chunky Camaro design. Kudos to Trevor Creed and Chrysler’s design studios for working some Mopar magic with this car — from a distance it manages to look more retro than any retro concept yet, and at the same time it looks fresh up close.

Marty Padgett
Web Monkey

2006 Lincoln MKS Concept

2006 Lincoln MKS Concept

Best New Concept: Lincoln MKS. Finally someone at Ford understands what the Lexus luxury revolution is all about. Thanks for the addition of V-8 power and all-wheel drive to boot — and the substantial application of American-style luxury touches inside. Cadillac spent huge dollars to get itself back in the global luxury game by betting on rear-drive — will Ford do the same with AWD for half the price?

Best New Production Car: Honda Fit, if only because it neatly reconnects today’s car market to the one that existed when I discovered cars about 20 years ago. The Fit’s inexpensive, flexible, cheap on gas — and if they’re not contemplating a CRX three-door version, I’d be shocked.

Most Significant Production Vehicle: Lexus LS460. It’s not every day you begin a Detroit show with a vehicle that openly takes the most expensive S-Class and 7-Series models in its crosshairs and neatly picks them off in terms of styling, equipment, power, and likely price. Toyota is working both ends of the spectrum with a maestro’s touch — and the LS seems destined to take a larger chunk out of the Germans’ hides at a notable low point in their marque histories, in terms of styling and reliability.

Biggest News Story: Page One: Detroit ’s Big Two feel the heat inside Cobo Hall. The displays may get larger, but the market share is still shrinking. Page Two: Detroit prepares to show off the city to Super Bowl crowds — but without an auto show to show off, without a truly first-class hotel to house VIPs, and without the vibrant city life to turn it into an event that could tell the world that Motown is on its way back. Instead, it’s confirmation of the light years left to go.

Best Press Conference: The North American Car and Truck of the Year. From there on, it only got more crowded, more overwrought, and less newsworthy.

Worst Press Conference: Any in which the “buff” magazines were handed stories on a preferential basis — Camaro, Imperial, Challenger and the like. Readers of TheCarConnection weren’t left in the cold — we broke the story of Chrysler’s Imperial concept back in December — but while those magazines were given video, photos, and press releases for what promised to be the biggest stories of the show, the rest of the media had to wait an hour and suffer through stagey press presentations short on news and long on tedium. Please remember that the next time you pay $9.97 to subscribe to what you can read on TheCarConnection.com for free.

Who's On Top: TheCarConnection.com. Thanks to you, our Web site is ranked ahead of online outlets for Automobile Magazine, Road & Track, and is edging closer to Car and Driver. In 2006 we’re expecting even greater things—along with our award-winning auto show and news coverage, we’ll be bringing you even better information on buying and shopping for your next vehicle, as well as more of the spy shots and road tests you read here first.

Who's In The Barrel: Asia’s second tier. Toyota , Honda, and Nissan are in good shape. But Isuzu didn’t even make it to Detroit; Subaru seems destined to become part of Toyota’s collective. And it’s difficult for companies like Mazda and Mitsubishi to get traction when mega-rebates are the order of the day in Detroit . Let’s not even talk about the threat of Hyundai and Kia or — gasp — Geely.Prediction for 2006: The most improved domestic brands in terms of product lineup and sales will be Jeep and Lincoln. Both the new Compass and MKX stake out new niches without sacrificing existing model lines. For the rest of the world, glimmers of hope are peeking through at Volkswagen, now that Bernhard’s in charge. And in Asia, the Hyundai juggernaut will roll on with the new Santa Fe and a new Elantra lineup late in the year.Personal Best: GM’s marching-band introduction for the new Camaro. Having played snare drum and bells and worn the polyester uniform in a prior life, I could tell the echoes in Cobo were making it tough to stay on pace — but Saginaw High School ’s band did it effortlessly.

The Car Connection
See the winners »
The Car Connection
Commenting is closed for this article
Ratings and Reviews
Rate and review your car for The Car Connection
Review your car
The Car Connection Daily Headlines
I agree to receive emails from The Car Connection. I understand that I can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy.
Thank you! Please check your email for confirmation.