Detroit Auto Show 2011: Attack of the Small Car

Well I’m back from Detroit, refreshed, and ready to return to writing. Rather than go over every single thing I saw, I’m gonna give you a quick overview followed by a few in-depth articles later on. Let’s get to it.

First though, I want to thank Ford for flying me and my girlfriend/photographer Nicole out to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was my first time, and hopefully not my last, and in addition to seeing the show, Ford showed us a whole lot more including a factory tour and test drive. I’ll get to that in a later post. Let’s talk auto show.

As you might have guessed from the title, the theme here was less-is-more. Just about everybody introduced a small car, concept, or crossover. Green was big too, and all the automakers had something green going on (except Jeep of course, who isn’t bringing their Euro-diesel to America again). Hybrids, fuel-cells, and electric cars were all on display, and there was even a green test track downstairs with a Smart EV, an AMP Equinox, the Chevy Volt, Lincoln MKZ hybrid, and even a biogas truck (that I somehow failed to get a ride in, stupid man).

It’s amazing how much the Detroit Auto Show has embraced the green theme, and the attitude of the locals I encountered was remarkably upbeat. I got a sense that even here, people are daring to hope again. The auto industry is a big part of that, but so are the people of Detroit. I saw big, empty boulevards and board-up houses, but I also saw a lot of new ideas and positive attitudes. Believe me, Detroit has a long way to go, and the rest of America isn’t there yet either. Bu as cynical as I usually am, I feel a lot better than I did a few days ago about Detroit, the American auto industry (and that includes any company that has a factory here), and America as a whole.

All in all, show and Ford Green experience was a bit overwhelming for me. I’m still learning the ropes, and while I did a lot, and saw a lot, I probably could have seen and wrote more. Even with the aid of Nicole (who took all of these pictures, by the way) the pace was hectic and it felt like I was leaving Detroit almost as soon as I got there. I’m still tired, so please, pardon the tardiness. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.


Porsche: After getting a lot of positive feedback about last years 918 Spyder Concept, Porsche unveiled the much-anticipated the 918 RSR Hybrid. This single-seat hybrid racer features a Kinetic Energy Recovery System, which stores energy from braking in a flywheel system situated where the passenger’s seat would go. At the push of a button the racer can unleash this stored up energy for a quick burst of speed. The 563 horsepower V8 can be coupled with two electric motors to provide up to a total of 767 horsepower. My kinda hybrid.

Mean-lookin' little fella, ain't he? Amazing what accessories can do.

Chrysler/Fiat: At past auto shows the Chrysler displays have been underwhelming to say the least, but the Pentastar was back in a big way this year in Detroit. While they didn’t have any groundbreaking concepts to display, they did officially unveil the new Chrysler 300 (which I couldn’t get close enough to take pictures of, and by the time I came back it had been driven off the stage. Sigh.) Supposedly over $1 billion went into redesigning this vehicle, and it will soon get an eight-speed automatic transmission that Chrysler says will deliver 30 mpg when coupled with its 292 horsepower V6 engine. I was under whelmed with the looks, but the proof is in the driving, so I’ll reserve judgement…for now. Also, the Mopar-ized Fiat 500 looked hot. Yes please.

Vertrek Concept

Ford: While I already covered both the C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi, Ford arguably had the most bombastic presentation at the show, filling up half of the Cobo Arena (where my beloved Red Wings play) with eager journalists. On stage they rolled out the new Focus Electric, Transit Connect Electric, and my favoriate concept car of the whole show, the Vertrek. With a 1.6 liter EcoBoost engine under the hood, eager, sporty looks and a lot of utility, I’m thinking this is a soon-to-come replacement for the aging Escape SUV. If they can bring this concept to production and keep it looking this good in addition to having a turbocharged engine, they really might have a winner on their hands. Also, I got some news about that new, not-for-America Ranger that gives me hope.

It's not only green, its Blue

Volkswagen: Vdub unveiled their new Passat, which looks like a Jetta that lingered too long in a candy shop. More interesting to me, though, was the Golf Blue e-Motion electric car. I like it (especially the charging location under the VW symbol on the front) but I’ll like the e-Motion even better when I can buy it.

Toyota Prius "C" Concept

Toyota: This was probably the biggest, greenest news from the whole show. Here they unveiled a “family” of new types of Prius, including a plug-in with 13-miles all-electric, the Prius “V” MPV with 50% more cargo room, and the “C” concept, a coupe-like hybrid that looked a lot more aggressive than anything else Toyota put forward with the Prius. Also, Toyota is running a concept to once and for all decide on a plural version of Prius (which in Latin means “to come before”). I selected “Prium,” because it sounded the least awkward. I’ll get into the details later.

The "Curb" Concept

Hyundai: The Korean juggernaut introduced two cars, the “Curb” concept and the soon-to-hit-showrooms Veloster. I thought the Curb looked cool, but the Veloster was underwhelming. The third door is awkward, but it is projected to get 40 mpg though I imagine at the cost of acceleration. Hyundai made it clear that even though it looked fast, it isn’t. Also, as a member of Generation Y, I felt more than a little pandered to when Hyundai marched trio of their young employees out to convince a crowd that was, on-average, twice my age, that this car suited all their needs. Yeah, social networking is neat, but when you’re reading from a teleprompter, it just doesn’t feel as genuine.

Civic Coupe Concept

Honda: Meanwhile over at the Honda booth were two new Civic “concept” cars, a sedan and coupe. They looked sharp, with upgraded interiors, though hardly a radical departure from the current crop of Civics. Honda also announced that for the first time, buyers in all 50 states can buy a natural gas powered Civic (Mr. Jo Borras covered this in detail), and the Civic hybrid will be getting lithium-ion batteries, which should improve the electric-only range.

Mercedes SLS AMG E-Cell: I don't care what you automotive allegiance, this is awesome in any color

Mercedes-Benz: 2012 bringeth the Mercedes SLS AMG E-Cell, an all-electric supercar with 649 ft-lb of torque, a 0-60 time of about 3.7 seconds, and zero emissions. Badass. Mercedes hasn’t said what the range or charging time is, but who cars? Look at this monster. Also, Mercedes is one of the few brands to announce that they are going to bring a diesel car to the United States, the S350 Bluetec. With 455 ft-lbs of torque on tap, the large sedan still manages to get 20 mpg city/31 mpg highway, even with all-wheel drive. Also from the big M-B was the B-class F-cell, a fuel-cell car that can go about 240 miles on a tank of hydrogen. It will be getting a lot of fil-ups though, as it is heading on a world-spanning journey, leaving Germany later this month.

The new not-Aveo Chevrolet Sonic; I see potential, don't yoiu?

Chevrolet: I don’t think anybody will defend the Chevy Aveo. So GM has ditched the name and debuted two new cars called the Sonic; one hatchback, one sedan. The hatchback looks awesome, and the Z-spec Concept (missed it) hints that GM has sporty aspirations for this car. The sedan? Meh. Not so exciting, but GM is heading in the right direction with this small car I think, and it’ll give the Fiesta a run for its money methinks.

Tesla Model S body-in-white

Tesla: No big news from Tesla, but they did have a body-in-white Model S sedan on display. The Model S is slated for sale in 2012 at a price of about $57,000.

That just about covers all the press conferences I was able to make (although there was some stuff I’d really have liked to see). That pretty much covered my entire Monday. On Tuesday, Ford took me, and about 100 other bloggers that they flew in, on a tour of their Rouge factory, as well as a test drive in some of their new cars and I even got a crack at their VITTREX driving simulation machine. I’ll cover all of this soon, soon, soon. I’m snowed in with nowhere to go (got my errands down during the worst of the storm, yay Jeep) so I might as well write. Stay tuned!

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.