The North American International Auto Show marked its 100th anniversary this year. It became an international event in 1989 and its name was changed from the Detroit Auto Show to the North American International Auto Show. The first Detroit Auto Show was a regional event held on December 9th of 1907 at the Riverview Park with 17 exhibitors showcasing their combined 33 vehicles. Admission was just fifty-cents; if one was to attend the 'society night', the cost rose to $1.00. In modern times, the 'society night' is now known as the Charity Preview with tickets to this black-tie gala fetching $400. In years past, nearly 18,000 attendees forked over the $400 to attend this event.
During the outbreak of World War II, the US government outlawed the sale or delivery of automobiles. As a result, there was no auto shows from 1941 through 1953.
As demand for the automobile grew, so did the show. The event was relocated to several venues throughout the years before landing at the Cobo Conference Center in 1965. In 2006 there were 70 new vehicle introductions including the first Chinese vehicles to ever be displayed in the US. There were 6,647 members of the media on location from over sixty countries on six continents. Three-quarters of a million people attended the event making it on of the world's top international shows.
This is its 19th year as an international show and its 100th year since its inception. It is one of the longest running auto shows in the country. The very first Detroit Auto Show saw Henry Ford announce the introduction of the Model T. At this year's centennial celebration, we expected to see a Ford Model T as one of the exhibits or during an introduction. Sadly, this was not the case. The only introduction that had connections to the past was the Dodge Viper. The first Dodge Viper Concept Car was introduced in 1989, the first year the Detroit Auto Show became an international event. Coincidental or not, it was a delight to see the latest iteration of the 600 horsepower Viper.
The Ford Model T was a practical, mass produced automobile offered at a very affordable price. Over time, other manufactures created automobiles in similar fashion in order to compete and remain in business. The tradition of creating large, luxurious, and custom built automobiles slowly went the way of the dinosaur. Throughout the years the Big-Three automakers have increased their market-share by continuing to offer affordable and reliable vehicles; other marques struggled to compete and ultimately went out of business. The introduction of European and Japanese vehicles has reversed the fortunes of the large American marques and changed the marketplace from national to global. It is now estimated that Toyota will surpass Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler as the best selling manufacturer in North America. Their formula for success can be traced back to the Model T. An innovative, affordable, durable, reliable, and practical means of transportation that is superior to the rest of the competition. At this years NAIAS, many of the introductions were based on practicality and on the shortage of fossil fuels. These simple truths have been ignored for too many years, which have caused many manufacturers scrambling to play 'catch-up' and offer vehicles that are consistent with the demands of the public. As a result, there were mostly 'realistic' concepts on display. For example, General Motors introduced their Chevrolet Volt concept car, which is powered by new technology dubbed, E-Flex. This system utilized a lithium-ion powered electric motor that has a range of about 40 miles. Though this may not seem like a far distance, it is the average daily commute for over 75% of Americans. To recharge the batteries, simply plug the vehicle into an electric socket. To increase the vehicles practicality, an onboard generate was installed that uses E85 fuel to power a three-cylinder internal combustion turbocharged engine which spins at a constant speed to create electricity and replenish the battery. If the vehicle ran solely on the regenerative power of the combustion engine, it would still get 50 mpg and have a range of up to 640 miles. It should be noted that this is not a hybrid car, as the combustion engine does not power the wheels; rather, it is used to revitalize the batteries. This is a brilliant concept that embodies innovation, technology, design, and needs of the consumer.
Examples of 'practical' debuts by the Big Three were the Cadillac CTS, Ford Focus, Chevy Malibu, and Chrysler/Dodge mini vans (to name a few). The lead-up to the introduction of the CTS was fifteen-minutes of an orchestra playing classical music. This was done to symbolize the general mentality of their vehicles; a vehicle that is sophisticated and personifies the notion that 'you have arrived.' The classical music was followed by two stagehands grabbing violins and energetically playing and dancing around the stage. The mood of the crowd quickly reverted from calm and relaxed to energized and smiling. This routine was done to symbolize the new direction of the CTS; elegant, sophisticated, aggressive, dynamic, and expressive. It expresses its serious performance intent while providing luxury and style. The Ford Focus brings with it technology that answers the requests of an emerging and evolving generation. Ford has teamed with Microsoft to provide the all-new SYNC software package, which allows the car to communicate with a vast array of electronic devices, including the Apple Ipod.
Toyota introduced their FT-HS hybrid sports concept, which pairs a hybrid powertrain with essential sports car fundamentals. 'Drivers today are not satisfied with cars that are simply fast,' said Kevin Hunter, vice president, Calty Design Research. 'In addition to driving enjoyment, today's drivers are concerned about safety, ecology and social responsibility.' The 3.5-liter V6 hybrid engine is capable of producing 400 horsepower and can race from zero-to-sixty in the four-second range. According to Hunter, the purpose of the vehicle is to 'answer the question ‘What is a suitable sports car for the 21st Century?'' Acura introduced their Advanced Sedan Concept that was an exercise in performance, luxury, sophistication, and advanced design in a refined sedan. Though it is front-engined (the NSX was mid-engined with excellent weight distribution), it is expected to take the place of the NSX. The Honda Accord Concept (eight-generation Accord) is a realistic look at the next generation of the popular Accord. It is expected to continue Honda's tradition of performance, refinement, style, safety, and efficiency. Mitsubishi celebrated their 25th year on the American Market by displaying a 1974 Safari Lancer GSR 1600 that won the grueling Safari Rally with Joginder Singh as driver. It was quickly joined on stage by the tenth evolution of the Lancer model and the all new Prototype X Concept. Nissan unveiled their Bevel Concept, which had many scratching their heads trying to interpret the purpose. According to the press release, the 'Bevel offers unique, function-inspired asymmetrical styling, a high-utility three-zone interior and technology ranging from glass roof-mounted solar panels to drive-by-wire steering, throttle and braking.' Jaguar introduced their C-XF, which is arguably one of the top highlights of show. It is a four-door sports saloon that signals the future direction of the next generation of Jaguars. Its styling is breath taking with innovative technology throughout every aspect of the vehicle. It is a modern car that odiously drew inspiration from its past. 'Throughout its history Jaguar has created some of the most striking, modern and beautiful sports saloons imaginable and our objective with C-XF was to recognize those principle design disciplines,' explains Ian Callum. 'The values that I see in Jaguar aesthetics include purity, dynamism, latent power, balance and modernity.'
Rolls-Royce and Chevrolet introduced drop-top versions of two of their popular cars, the Phantom and Camaro Concept respectively. Mercedes-Benz also introduced a convertible, the Concept Ocean Drive. This four-door, one-off creation was created to compete with the world's most comfortable and elegant convertibles and based on the twelve-cylinder Mercedes-Benz S 600. Though each of these three convertibles probably made it in the top-ten most exciting introductions of the show, it was hard to get too excited about them with thoughts looming about Detroit's chilly-January weather. Maybe the Nissan Bevel Concept wasn't all that bad after all - it seemed very insulated and cozy.Conclusion
There were some exciting and daring concepts introduced this year but probably not as many in comparison to years past. What was showcased this year were practical, innovative, and realistic concepts. A few years ago Chrysler introduced their ME412, which was a mid-engined sports car powered by a quad-turbocharged, V12 powerplant. This year, they showcased their new minivan with 35 new and improved features. The highlight was the new 'Swivel 'n Go' seating that offers second row seats that swivel 180 degrees to face the third row.
Many factors affect the future design and direction of the automobile; the fossil fuel crisis, slowing housing market, the American green-back loosing value in comparison to some key foreign markets, stiff competition, and more. Automakers, especially American brands, are really working hard to answer the needs and wants of the people. Henry Ford revolutionized the world with his Model T; many introductions from this year's NAIAS followed in those footsteps. In recognition for the hard work of the American marques, General Motors was awarded with the Car and Truck of the Year Award in North America. Their Saturn Aura Sedan and Chevrolet Silverado truck took home these top honors.
Though bold and flamboyant concepts often bring the most smiles to a visitors face, it is the practical and realistic concepts that have them reaching into their pockets searching for their wallets.