American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit reminds
me of a high-stakes poker game. Automakers throughout
the world gather at the nostalgic epicenter of
American auto manufacturing to show off their future
four-wheelers. It's the culmination of years of development
and design funneled into one make-or-break week. It's
enough drama and performance to make a Broadway
I attended this
year's Detroit Auto Show as part of General Motors'
diversity media tour. (Incidentally, GM swept the show's top
honors: Saturn Aura was awarded the show's car of the
year, while Chevy Silverado took the nod for trucks.)
I teamed up with fellow tour member Joe La Muraglia,
publisher of the online auto site www.gaywheels.com , to sniff out the most significant concept,
luxury, and non-luxury cars to come.
The Chevy Volt had some tough competition:
Jaguar's C-XF, Ford's Airstream, and the Toyota FT-HS
hybrid sports car were all impressive, but none of
them are likely to have the impact of the Chevy Volt. Here's
While most concepts look like they belong on
another planet, the Chevy Volt's styling is futuristic
but achievable. Its low stance and light, airy
interior give it a sporty flavor that actually looks fun to
drive. Many of the materials are prototypes, but you
can easily imagine this car on the road in your
Using a technology dubbed
"E-Flex," the Volt is a true electric vehicle
that can go up to 40 miles on a charge and can be
"refilled" from an existing power grid,
i.e., the plug in your garage. Consider that 78% of
Americans have a daily commute of 40 miles or less, and GM
claims a majority of Volt owners will never use fuel
again. Bravo. GM went a step further and added an
additional 3-cylinder turbo engine that kicks in as a
superefficient generator to recharge the batteries when they
get low. So if you forget to charge it or go away for
the weekend, you'll still get 50 mpg with the engine
converting gas to electricity.
The genius behind
the Volt is that the engine can be altered to meet the
global market. For example, the battery and electric motor
can be paired with a turbo-diesel that runs on
biodiesel in Europe, an engine that runs on pure
ethanol in Brazil, or an engine that runs on E85 in the
Sound too good to
be true? Well, it's still a concept car. The battery
technology doesn't exist, but we don't think GM would be
playing these cards if they didn't have something in
Potentially staggering. The Volt is the first
significant salvo fired from an American car company
in the race for the next generation of propulsion.
Sure, hydrogen fuel cells may be the future, but it's a
distant future. The technology in the Volt is attainable,
flexible and sellable.
2008 Cadillac CTS
When originally introduced in 2002, the Cadillac CTS was
the first example of the new design direction at
Cadillac. Over the next six years, other models in
Cadillac's lineup (Escalade, XLR, STS and DTS) would
adopt the same sharp-edged, aggressive, and bold look while
the CTS was left to bask in its old glory. Finally,
the CTS has had a makeover worthy of attention.
The first generation CTS was a radical departure
for Cadillac, and the effect was polarizing. While it
sold better than expected, many thought the styling
wasn't up to par for a global luxury brand. The 2008 CTS
silences its critics, as it is simply stunning. It is
longer, roomier, and more luxurious than its
predecessor with thoughtful touches like metal, wood,
and stitching paired with a soft leather interior, recessed
LED lighting, and an aggressive grill and front fascia. The
latest CTS is clearly a Cadillac, albeit one that has
gone to finishing school.
The 2008 CTS will launch with two versions of GM's V6
engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The V6 features direct injection and produces 300
horsepower. The basic V6 pumps out 258 horsepower; the
higher-end version features direct injection (a highly
efficient method of delivering fuel) and produces an
additional 42 horsepower. Both engines can be matched
with either rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive.
GM dominated the Detroit Auto Show, and the CTS
was their piece de resistance. Cadillac is
the maker's aspirational brand, though not long ago
there wasn't much to aspire to. A good entry-level Cadillac
is very important because it attracts more people to
the brand. An excellent entry-level Cadillac keeps
them coming back for more.
Whether you read The DaVinci Code or just
saw the less-than-perfect film adaptation, you're
familiar with the Smart Fortwo. On the road in Europe
for years, this cute, affordable, and efficient urban
mobile is finally coming to the U.S. With
Daimler-Chrysler as its parent company, we think this
little car is destined for big things.
Unlike anything on the road here in the U.S.,
the Smart Fortwo is perfect for the attention-seeker
on a budget. Its design was optimized for the tight
Euro streets, and as a result two Smart Fortwos can fit side
by side in a traditional parking space.
Smart has created a small two-seater that's fun
to drive and safe. According to the company, the
Tridion safety cell, an oval-shape frame surrounding
the passenger compartment, keeps occupants protected as if
they were surrounded by "the shell of a nut."
And a three-cylinder engine delivers 40 mpg. It's a
zippy ride-- just don't expect to be hauling a
lot of stuff.
Fact is, most of us drive solo in cars built for
more than five people. Image what driving would be if
even a fraction of Americans traded in their Cayennes
for Smart Fortwos: more room on the road, more parking
spaces, less demand for the evil that is petrol. And with a
starting price under $15,000, it's easy to understand
why the Fortwo is smart.