2009 Detroit Auto Show: Best In Show

January 14, 2009

The 2009 Detroit auto show opens to the public on Saturday--but the media has slipped out of Cobo Hall after one of the shortest press days in recent memory.

Despite the gloom surrounding the industry, there were glimmers of hope. Each of the Big Three showed an unexpected concept car--and each was compelling in its own way. Toyota and Lexus recast the Prius and a new HS 250h hybrid as their halo cars, and even the Chinese auto companies and the EV makers Tesla and Fisker showed that you don't have to be big and experienced to find new ways to lose money selling cars in the U.S.

While you're cruising around our 2009 Detroit auto show page--where you'll find all the links to stories from this year's gala event, and tons of photos, too--keep in mind these scene-stealing vehicles that our editors have chosen as the best in show from Detroit 2009:

2009 Detroit auto show

2009 Detroit auto show

Marty Padgett, Editor

Best Concept: Chrysler 200C. Since the dark days of the Nardelli era ushered in, we in the media haven't had the easiest time finding the light at the end of Chrysler's tunnel. If--and it's a huge if--they can find a sugar daddy willing to invest in its future and donate a mid-size, front-drive platform to build this concept, they could easily charge back into the game of profitability and electrification. While the U.S. Government screws around with building bridges to nowhere, this sleek, techno-savvy concept could be Chrysler's bridge to sustainability. Points also for realizing that a long-term future doesn't involve all cars chopped, channeled, and turned retro.

Best Production Car: 2010 Lexus HS 250h. It's a logical step for Toyota to add the Prius luster to the Lexus brand--and with a four-door body, better power and a finer interior, the new HS 250h gives Prius owners a luxe step up while simultaneously sending the Lexus ES 350 off into the sunset formerly occupied by the Buick Century. Right car, right time.

Top news story: During the show press days, the reality of the financial crisis in Detroit was never far from reach. Chrysler and GM going back to Congress during show days and asking for another $17 billion or so just to stay in business was pretty sobering. And yet, Ford reported that its sales in January were tracking higher than it expected. For the foreseeable future, this is the only story Detroit needs to worry about.

Top moment: Returning to the Detroit auto show a year after change came to TheCarConnection.com--and reporting to you that we're growing like crazy, with traffic more than doubled from this time last year, and a slew of new Web sites about to usher in a new era at High Gear Media. Keep an eye on our new sites as they launch and grow--you'll find out about them here first. On the down side, realizing that I'll never be appointed the industry's "car czar" as long as I keep tellingother major media networks that "Congress must be on crack" for not compelling a pre-packaged Big Three bankruptcy.

Lincoln Concept C Reveal - Detroit

Lincoln Concept C Reveal - Detroit

Bengt Halvorson, Reviews Editor

Best concept: Lincoln Concept C. This little concept was a real surprise, and such a refreshingly different take on a small car for the American market. The shape isn’t gimmicky or retro, though I it's hard to deny the French design aura; but I also see the wide lower body of a small roadster. Now the reality check: Every small car Lincoln and Mercury have had in decades has been basically ignored by dealerships (and customers). Could it fly as a Lincoln, and how would it be different this time? If I could call a runner-up, it would be the very attractive Chrysler 200C.

Best production car: 2010 Fisker Karma. The production-version Karma shown at Detroit has an attractive, plush new interior that better matches the curvy exterior shown at last year’s show—and incorporates trim and material firsts. The entire package shows a lot of new thinking and a strong understanding of who Fisker customers will be.

Top news story: Who will be car czar? It dominated the news this second day of the press preview, and I heard colleagues in the media split on whether it should be a detached financial expert or an industry veteran of some sort.

Top moment: GM's battery announcement. Could have been better received, but the Korean cell sourcing irked some.

2009 Chrysler 200C Concept

2009 Chrysler 200C Concept

Rex Roy, Detroit Editor

Best Concept: Chrysler 200C EV. Chrysler didn't let the media know that it was planning a traditional show car for the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, so when the 200C EV rolled onto the platform, it caught everybody by surprise. While the exterior of the little 200 is handsome and the electric powertrain is politically correct (and politically expedient), the 200C EV gets my vote because of its instrument cluster. There are no traditional switches or levers. Everything is controlled by the same technology that makes your iPhone work. Chrysler worked with Nartron (a technology supplier from Reed City, Michigan) to create the gesture-based system. Nartron owns the patents behind much of the technology that makes the iPhone and the 200C EV's interface system work. Expect to see this technology on cars within the next decade because Narton recently signed a manufacturing deal with mega-supplier Sanyo to handle production.

Best production car: 2010 Ford Taurus. With a base price expected to be around $26,000, the 2010 Ford Taurus is my pick. My reasoning is not so much based on style (it's not ugly), size (it's big inside), and practicality (the trunk is enormous … something buyers replacing SUVs will appreciate). The 2010 Taurus shows that Ford has its act together, and right now for a Detroit manufacturer, that's significant.

Top news story: That the show happened at all. Things aren't great in Detroit these days. Several non-Detroit-based manufacturers pulled out of the show last fall … not good pre-show news. More current news is that two of Detroit's three manufacturers are on government life support. Beyond this, the city's former mayor is in jail. The replacement mayor is dealing with a huge budget deficit and untold crises. And to top it all off, it snowed heavily the Friday before press days, a meteorological occurrence that in past years overwhelmed the city's limited snow clearing capabilities. In spite of all this, Detroit still put on a good auto show in 2009.  Atta boy, Detroit.

Top moment: On Monday, right after GM announced their battery manufacturing program and the addition of 300 battery engineers at a new 31,000 square-foot facility, BYD from China held their press conference. Along with showing three vehicles, one already on sale in China, the company revealed their all-new ferrous battery technology. According to BYD, it offers significant performance and cost benefits compared to lithium ion cells (like those GM is committed to). With batteries holding the potential to become the internal combustion engines of the future, the significance of BYD being first a battery company gave us cause for pause. According to BYD officials, the company already has 11,000 people working on battery technology and production. The 300 engineers GM is adding to their small battery team seems like a drop in the bucket with this as a frame of reference.

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