New shape of things
Green fever drives the debuts at Detroit Auto Show
Published 12/01/2011 | 05:00
Austerity has been the watchword at the Detroit auto show for years now -- but there was a noticeable shift in optimism this year.
One sign of the renewed confidence: vehicle debuts are expected to roughly double at this year's show with as many as 40 all-new vehicles, up from 18 in 2010.
Many of these are new small cars, electric vehicles and hybrids. The Detroit show is always significant for the US automakers as they struggle to make a comeback.
After massive recalls and US market share losses in 2010, Toyota aims to turn the tide by expanding its Prius hybrid into a family of vehicles in a bid to add to consumer perceptions that the automaker is a leader in "green" technology.
A marque not noted for being that 'green' managed to lead the way as the show opened. Porsche rolled out its stunning coupe version of the 918 Spyder.
The car is powered by a 555bhp V8 engine and a pair of 100bhp front-mounted electric motors. Ford showed its promised range of 'electrified' Focus family vehicles (Focus, C-Max Energi and C-Max Hybrid) plus an SUV called Vertrek (a unification of next generation Kuga and Escape models).
However, other American giants, GM and Chrysler, adopted a more cautious approach with the Buick Verano (a booted Astra), which is supposed to sell against the Lexus IS and BMW 3-series.
Chrysler showed what it called an all-new 300C, quite similar in looks to the existing one but that was about that: the byword was restraint for the big makers. Chevrolet's electric Volt saloon was named North American Car of the Year, a surprise as it beat Nissan's European award winner, the Leaf and that was seen as a real boost.
Toyota continued its fightback with the news there will be an extension of the Prius range: the existing hybrid saloon, and plug-in version, an estate and the so-called C Concept.
Honda showed off two Civic concepts: a coupe and a 5dr saloon -- but they are not planning on targeting Europe with them -- yet, anyway.
Safety remains high on buyers' concerns and Volvo took the unusual step of showing a Volvo C30 Electric that has undergone a frontal collision test at 64kmh. Its chief, Stefan Jacoby, said: "Our tests show it is vital to separate the batteries from the electric car's crumple zones to make it as safe as a conventional car. In Detroit we are the first carmaker to show the world what a truly safe electric car looks like after a collision with high-speed impact."
And Mini confirmed the latest concept -- an SUV-style coupe dubbed Paceman -- will go into production. The concept has four seats and two lengthened doors. It is smaller than the Countryman but can use the four-wheel-drive system, ALL4.
Hyundai gave its Veloster coupe -- scheduled here for October -- its global debut at the Detroit auto show. Extraordinarily there are two doors on the passenger side for easier access to the rear seats, but just one door on the driver's side.
The shape of things to come? Time will tell but there is no doubt Detroit has opened more doors this year than it has for some time.