Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Modesty In Motown

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit kicked off with much less glitz and glitter in a much more subdued fashion. Good ol' American showmanship remained in high gear (no pun intended) on the auto show circuit during the last great recession of 1981 and 1982, when General Motors was so full of itself it boasted it could build a small car just as good as anything from the Japanese . . . and demonstrated their inability to do so with the Chevrolet Cavalier. Even the start of Persian Gulf War in 1991 didn't dampen the enthusiasm at that year's Detroit show. Now GM and Chrysler, humbled by the bad decisions and inferior product, don't talk so loud, especially after they needed government bailouts to stay in business. GM's Pontiac and Saturn brands are down to one car or two each in their last year, and they're not represented at the show. (Even Oldsmobile had a display on the auto show circuit in 2004, its last year.) GMC Truck offers an SUV concept that's about the size of a traditional station wagon. And Chrysler's most exciting products are the Fiat-based Chryslers and Dodges that aren't on sale yet.
Ford is much better off, winning the 2010 Motor Trend Car of the Year award for its Fusion sedan and getting good press for two smaller vehicles due in showrooms soon, the next-generation Focus and the new Fiesta, the latter car set to return to America following a thirty-year hiatus.
The Japanese continue to demonstrate their affinity for hybrids, Toyota displaying a FT-Ch concept hybrid compact and Honda showing a new CR-Z gas/electric sport coupe. Meanwhile, Volkswagen, to quote an old VW tagline, does it again. The German automaker, Europe's largest, unveiled a new concept car - a compact two-door coupe obviously based on the new, upcoming sixth-generation Jetta sedan. This will likely be a two-door Jetta, the first since 1991. This coupe is quite stylish, offering impressive fuel economy and a seven-speed DSG transmission mated to Volkswagen's TSI gasoline engine with a supplementary electric motor. And the company is on track to continue expanding in the United States, as Consumer Reports recommends eight VW models and the new Tennessee factory is on schedule. Learn more - a whole lot more - by watching the video here.
I'm a little embarrassed by the dancers at the end of the presentation. Volkswagen is notoriously famous for avoiding the showbiz razzmatazz at auto shows favored by GM or Chrysler. But they have less reason for such showmanship, which is why they have none this year (no pickups dropping from the ceiling), and VW is bucking the trends of the recession, so I'll give VW a pass.

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