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2007 NAIAS Show Stoppers

A Grab Bag of Automotive Goodies!

    Auto shows don’t come any bigger than the NAIAS and if day one was any indication the 100th anniversary of the Motor City’s annual automotive celebration will be one long remembered. Today we saw crossovers and convertibles, electric cars, sports sedans and monster diesels with more torque than any one transmission should be asked to contain. No, there doesn’t seem to be a central theme to this year’s show, but one universal truth remains: It’s still the granddaddy of them all!

Chrysler Group
Besides serving as a filling, if somewhat bland, snack bread and butter is also how Chrysler describes its minivans. Even with GM and Ford waving a white flag in the minivan war Chrysler continues selling hundreds of thousands of the people haulers and after trumping the foreign competition with Stow-N-Go a few years back, has decided swiveling seats are the next big thing. Along with the nifty seats come squared off styling, more power thanks to a 4.0-liter V6 and a revised instrument panel. It’ll be interesting to see how much longer this segment lasts before the rising tide of crossover sales start sending the unloved people movers the way of the Dodo. 

There’s a saying in this business that you can tell how good of a year an automaker had by the kind of food they stuff us auto scribes with at auto shows. Well, we didn’t see so much as a Lifesaver at this year’s events and, at least so far, Ford hasn’t joined Oldsmobile and Plymouth at the great auto show in the sky. While the production equipment rolled out today doesn’t get us too excited (a new front end and 3.5-liter V6 for the Five Hundred and a heavily revised Focus, now available in sizes 2-door and 4-door) the concept Ford Interceptor tickled our fancy until we cried like little girls. Here’s the car that could make the 300C yesterday’s news (Senior Editor Muxlow just informed me that the 300C is yesterday’s news). Lincoln actually showed signs of life by dropping a sexy red head in Cobo called MKR. It features a direct-injection 3.5-liter V6 with twin turbos spooling out 415 hp and it all comes wrapped in chrome and some of the best looking sheetmetal we’ve seen come out of Lincoln since their average customers were in diapers (Senior Editor Muxlow just informed me I should clarify we’re talking about baby diapers here). Add some headlights large enough to actually light the road and get this puppy in Lincoln’s showrooms before the brand flat lines for good. Oh yeah, there was something there called an Airstream concept but with a car as classic as the Interceptor on the stage my eyes were blocking out the toaster, oops, concept and focusing on the muscle sedan. Of course, those black spots could have been from the hunger pains too. It must have been a bad year for Ford.

General Motors
A concept called Volt was what the General decided to focus on today. According to them Volt is the answer for just about every problem. Is the world running out of oil? Gas prices too expensive to even pull the car out of the garage? Shoelaces in a knot? It doesn’t matter, Volt will save the day! Actually, it’s a very novel idea that keeps the General soaking up the greenie love. After their Los Angeles auto show announcing a plug-in hybrid Saturn Vue GM has made up some serious ground in the PR war with Toyota. It’s clear to us the best minds inside GM are making some serious headway on the oil dependency problem and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next. GM is already in partnership with two battery companies to develop and test next-generation Lithium-Ion battery packs. As it sits the Volt would charge up overnight plugged into your garage outlet, get you about 40 miles on pure electric power and then, if more range is needed, a small engine running on just about anything except dirt will act as a generator to recharge the batteries.  The mpg numbers General Motors quotes are impressive. We could say the same for their efforts in this area lately.

The Acura Advance concept could make a seriously nice luxury sports car and if we’re really lucky it’ll show up pretty much unchanged as the next NSX. The concept has room for a front-mounted V10 and a rear-wheel biased version of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. Apparently V8s are not Acura’s style. Go big or go home we guess. From the sounds of it they are going big.

Diesel is the name of the game at Audi these days and they are justifiably proud of their oil-burning accomplishments. Not only did their all-conquering R10 LeMans racer conquer all in 2006, new diesel engines are being introduced left and right to expand Audi’s TDI offerings worldwide. A 6.0-liter V12 TDI was the engine of choice in the Q7 concept shown today. It has 738 lb-ft of torque and if you listen very closely you can hear its 6-speed automatic transmission beg for mercy. More important is the 3.0-liter diesel actually coming to the U.S. later in 2008. Better yet, it’ll be legal in all 50-states.

An ice skating rink was installed to drive home the fact that Mercedes offers a lot of all-wheel drive models these days and also that overfed journalists are not as graceful as professional ice skaters. Then, rather at odds with the whole ice thing, Mercedes unveiled an S-class sized sedan with a folding soft-top called Ocean Drive. We like the idea, but the squared-off front end leaves us, ah, cold.

Rolls-Royce buyers will have to reinforce their toupees now that the uber-cool named Phantom Drophead Coupe has made its official debut. The production car looks much like the concept that debuted a few years ago even keeping the brushed aluminum hood, wood tonneau cover and rear-hinged doors. It’s nine inches shorter than its four-door sedan brother but it’s so hard for the proletariat to see your wealthy mug behind the saloon’s giant c-pillar this might be the better option. Seriously, this car looks like a million bucks so considering its only about $400,000 this is really the deal of the decade. We want one.

Jaguar and Volvo
Incase you don’t live and die by the Swedish automaker’s every move, the XC90 crossover has been a success so it stands to reason that a smaller crossover, to be called XC60, should be every bit as popular with the safety-conscious buyer. Except this Volvo looks pretty good so maybe style-conscious buyers will also start shopping in Volvoland. The last car to break cover on the first day of the show was the gorgeous Jaguar C-XF. According to St. Ian Callum, Jaguar’s Dean of Design and automotive hall of famer the car that replaces the S-type next year will look a lot like this sport sedan. If that isn’t the best news Jaguar fans have heard in a long time we don’t know what is. The car looks great with muscular lines flowing in all the right places. We’ve got a nervous feeling this one is going to be watered down when it finally rolls off the line, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed what we see is mostly what we’ll get. For Jaguar’s sake we hope it is.

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