January 16, 2013
The Autoextremist take on the Detroit Auto Show: A Ray of Light, Wandering Weasels, Desultory Dreamers, the Scent of a Nissan and a Hyundai named Desire.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 1/16, 9:00 a.m.) Detroit. The 2013 Detroit Auto Show was the one that was supposed to indicate that the auto biz was back in all of its glory, baby, but that wasn’t exactly the impression that I took away from the proceedings.
Yes, there were some very good things about the show, starting with the rejuvenation of Cobo Hall. To say that the resurrected venue slowly but surely coming into view was an improvement is an understatement of this or any other year. Will it be an instant world-class exposition hall when it is completed in time for next year’s Detroit Auto Show? No, of course not. But at least it won’t be a perennial embarrassment and an insult to this region’s founding industry.
And though it doesn’t sound like that big of deal to outsiders, believe me, it’s a gigantic step in the right direction for the overall scheme of things in this town.
But then again this is an auto show, and I’m not here to talk architecture.
The one thing WordGirl and I noticed about the show was that a reverent hush seemed to hang over the proceedings. Despite some scintillating debuts, it seemed downbeat and restrained, as if the manufacturers had decided to use their inside voices and not make too much noise. Mercedes brought Bruce Hornsby in (yawn), but he just contributed to the hush. Infiniti brought in Cirque de Soleil for their Q50 intro, but that couldn’t mask the giant task facing Johan De Nysschen and his “bold new journey” in the reinvention/reinvigoration of the Infiniti organization from the product up. Ford literally dropped its more-than-a-hint at the next generation of the F-150 pickup – the Atlas – from the rafters in a dramatic touch, but overall the show was q-u-i-e-t. The only sign of irreverence and a little life was the DJ accompanied by two female dancers at the VW display Tuesday morning. For that brief fleeting moment, it actually felt like an auto show.
I get the fact that the products need to (and should) do the talking, but after every single manufacturer spent the first ten minutes touting their sales numbers, I felt like yelling out: “We know you’re the greatest thing since automotive sliced bread and we know you’re going to have another great year on top of the phenomenal year you’ve already had and we know your team members are energized and focused and dialed-in and we know, well, that you’re just so damn glad to be alive but please, for the love of everything Righteous and Holy in the automotive universe, please just shut the hell up and get to the frickin’ point! Thank you.”
Now on to the Big Show. (For more show photos, check out Michelin's site here. -WG)
Abandoning the Watery Oatmeal Playbook? Who knew? Toyota showed up with its Furia concept, which is said to telegraph the next-generation Corolla. Maybe that’s why they called it the Corolla Furia Concept. Wow. And nicely done by the way. Longer and clearly more dynamic, it’s nice to see Toyota having a design point of view for a change, and it’s a welcome development. I actually think it has more going for it than the highly touted FRS. I know, heresy, but get over it. Toyota suggests that the Furia will eventually skew the Corolla younger. I’m thinking it will be a victory if they capture buyers who have a pulse. We’ll see about that. In the meantime I’m just glad that Toyota design isn’t phoning it in for a change.
We’ll forgive the “style rebel” part if you finally deliver a small Mercedes that actually feels like a Mercedes, deal? Mercedes-Benz unveiled its all-new 2014 CLA-Class before the show in a double-secret media event calling the new four-door coupe a “style rebel” (ugh) because it takes its design cues from the CLS. Really? This decidedly junior Mercedes is said to be crammed with advanced technical features, and at a very aggressive price point. If Mercedes can pull it off, it could be a hot player when the 2014 CLA250 arrives in U.S. dealerships next fall. The operative words being if and could be, as in we’ve heard these words from Mercedes-Benz before. They seem to get all caught up in themselves at the most inopportune moments, so I’ll give them somewhere between a “Yeah, right” and a “We’ll see” for now. Left to Uncle Dieter’s minions, let’s say I’m not optimistic.
(And by the way, the Mercedes display looked like a giant parking lot crammed to the gills with everything they could possibly muster. The term “edit yourselves” doesn’t seem to resonate with the Three-Pointed Star posse. Too bad, because their display had all the elegance of a used car lot.)
Who said de-contenting was a bad word? And BMW, ever conscious of its pricing (and ever conscious of its search for more revenue and more niches to exploit) announced the new 2013 320i Sedan for the US market. The more “affordable” 3 Series (prices begin at $33,445) has a 180-horsepower TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder engine and goes on sale in late spring 2013. An xDrive version will be available as well. Imagine the lease specials, ladies and gentlemen! Come on down! BMW is hell-bent on covering every possible niche that they can think of, and everything else will be covered by MINI, apparently. Stars for BMW? The new 4 Series Coupe concept looked dynamite in person and the M6 Gran Coupe was silky smooth, like Adam Sandler as The Zohan would say.
P.T. Barnum called. He wants his circus back. Speaking of MINI, I cannot for the life of me do justice to the sheer chaos going on at the MINI display. There were legions of cars bumping into each other, only a few of which had anything whatsoever to do with the original concept. Come to think of it, what was that concept again? Whatever it was MINI’s overlords at BMW have completely lost it. Their quest to extend the brand has taken a deep and irrevocable turn for the worst. The cars have gone from cute and spirited to clownish and cartoonish. It’s just sad and pathetic in a kind of "The End of the Automotive World As We Know It" kind of way.
We’re Ferrari… and you’re not. The Ferrari display was mildly disconcerting as looped videos showed the horrifying FF bounding through the snow like a refugee from a Jeep commercial, but there was nothing disconcerting about the F12 Berlinetta on display. Nothing whatsoever, in fact. Untainted – for now – by the unrequited Hell soon to be unleashed by Marchionne’s Minions and the looming Fiat disaster, the F12 Berlinetta is as sumptuous, sensual and elegantly rendered as the Corvette, well… isn't. (More on the new Corvette later.)
From the “Milking The Family Jewels” File. Since Fiat-Chrysler isn’t really making any real money on anything else, it’s all about the new Ram pickup and Jeeps for them. The Ram was the North American Truck Utility of the Year (much deserved), and the Jeeps, well, uh, the idea here is, apparently, to do as many versions as possible so that the Italian overlords can generate as much money from the brand as possible. Seems about right. But then they showed up with one of this year’s Answers to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking, a freshened Compass, of all things. Yikes. It’s still an abomination, no matter how hard they try. Here’s a suggestion: Stick a fork in it, boys and girls, you’re just embarrassing yourselves at this point. And then there were even more versions of the Grand Cherokee to show, including one with a V6 diesel. The Italians seem to know enough not to screw up Jeep. At least for now, anyway. We’re pleased and proud for them. Actually, that’s not true. Oh never mind.
You will enjoy the vehicle as presented. Thank you for coming. Porsche introduced its new Cayenne Turbo S without a media conference because they’re smart enough to realize that they didn’t need to waste their time, or ours. We think they may be on to something. Either have something newsworthy to say, or just display your new vehicle and be done with it. All of their machines were in traditional German Silver Metallic except for the Cayenne Turbo S, which was white with a luscious lipstick Carrera Red interior. Perfect.
Because after all, what would the automotive world do without us? The Bentley display was all understated fabulousness with a V8-powered GT Coupe in Storm Gray, a V10 GTC Convertible in Nautilus blue and a Mulsanne sedan looking positively sinful in a bronze-gold called Gazelle. I mean, what’s not to like?
Thanks, but we better not see it again for eighteen months. Ford showed its mighty Atlas Concept pickup, aka the next-generation F-150, in stirring fashion, but the big question is why? As in why now? We get the fact that GM showed the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups before the holiday break, and the new Ram pickup has made a big splash, but why tip your hand when the truck is a full 24 months away? We loved the look and the promise of technology in Ford’s next-gen truck, we would just rather have seen them save room for at least a modicum of anticipation. But then again the truck battle in the U.S. market is where all the money is, and no one wants to be left with nothing to say, apparently. Or as Chris Rock likes to say: “You never want to be the old guy at the club.”
(The Lincoln Motor Company)
Signs of Life, at least. The Lincoln MKC made its debut and the prevailing consensus seemed to be that it was pretty good. The clamshell rear hatch was interesting and the details were nicely rendered, not that I’d expect anything less from Max Wolff, Lincoln’s design chief. I actually think the MKC has more potential to generate buzz within its segment than the MKZ, but since it is a year away, it’s a giant “we’ll see” for now.
A Hyundai named Desire? Absolutely. The Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept (boy, those Korean car execs sure have their naming shit together, don’t they?) was unexpectedly gorgeous. Bold, confident and beautiful in an almost brutish sense, the Hyundai Concept was a grand slam home run. Especially when you consider they delivered their latest take on an imposing luxury sedan in Detroit’s backyard. With the Chrysler 300 long in the tooth and Lincoln still finding its footing, this Hyundai sent chills down the spines of Detroit executives, I can assure you. It’s that good.
Attention Touchy-Feely Hollywood Types: Your Show Pony is Ready. The new Cadillac ELR is aimed right at the touchy-feely enclaves of Hollywood and other points coastal, where one’s Green image is as carefully orchestrated as the outfits picked for awards season. And it’s a direct hit. A seductive combination of appealing and expressive design inside and out and with a semi-guiltless drivetrain thrown in for good measure, the ELR should be green-hot, at least for those willing to spend around $65,000, that is.
Quick Hits. The other Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One was Asking? The VW CrossBlue. Big and nondescript, it made the Touareg actually look tolerably cohesive, which heretofore was an unimaginable feat. Plus, they touted the CrossBlue’s diesel electric plug-in hybrid system, while at the same time saying it would never be offered with that drivetrain because it would be too expensive. WTF? The VW CrossCoupe, which has been shown before, was much more interesting, but we assume its Galactic Phaser Turbo with Electrolyte Pulsing drivetrain was made with Unobtanium, so it won’t be coming here either. At least they had the DJ and the eerily funky dancers, so there’s that.
And of course since the Great and Powerful Oz, I mean, Sergio, can’t get Alfa Romeo off of the ground, he and his espresso-swilling posse have turned their attention to making Maserati into a household luxury brand. Thus all the fuss over the new Quattroporte, which was nice enough, but really? Do you think consumers are going to abandon their German luxury cruisers and go all-in for a Maserati? I think not. Marchionne and his minions have seriously miscalculated the depth and breadth of their brilliance yet again, not to mention the true cost of establishing a luxury brand in this market. But how is that different from any other day for these guys when it comes right down to it?
Audi took the wraps of its RS7, which was typically Audi-esque, meaning it was beautifully dressed for its purposeful high-performance mission. Very nice. The same goes for the SQ5 high-performance SUV. And finally the Honda Urban SUV Concept demonstrated signs of intelligent life at Honda Design. After all, it’s easy to do an NSX, but to come up with a small urban crossover with real potential is tough. And Honda has something with this one. Now if they’d just build it.
But let’s face it - there was only one debut that really mattered at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. The introduction of the seventh-generation Corvette, or should I say, the new Corvette Stingray is a very big deal. A Joe Biden kind of big frickin’ deal, if you know what I mean. And for the most part GM Design and the True Believers in the Corvette Program delivered.
That the new Corvette will be the best driving Corvette in history is indisputable. The advancement of technology alone in the ensuing years since the development of the sixth-generation Corvette ensures that. The new Corvette utilizes the latest in advanced materials and it also uses a stack of technical knowledge gleaned from the world-class – and wildly successful – Corvette Racing program. The lessons learned on the racetrack through that championship-winning program have contributed immeasurably to the development of the new Corvette, especially in terms of aero performance. (And it will make a sensational-looking GT racer for the 2014 season as well.)
In short the new Corvette is flat-out better in every way. So is it the best production Corvette ever built? Absolutely. Will it be the best driving Corvette ever built? Emphatically so, yes. Does it boast the best interior environment ever put in a Corvette? No question. But is it the best-looking Corvette ever built? No.
Now don’t get me wrong, the overall shape and packaging of the new Corvette is excellent. And there are pieces of the design that I really like. And it pains me to say this because the only person I’ve met with the knowledge, understanding and appreciation for the legacy of Corvette that I have is Ed Welburn, the Chief of GM’s Global Design.
I know Ed’s troops worked overtime on the new Corvette, and make no mistake these are some of GM’s truest True Believers, the people who eat, sleep and breathe Corvette every day. And Ed is the most committed of them all. And overall they did a superb job.
But the new car falls down in two major areas in my estimation. 1. The side detailing and surface development of the car, and 2. The overall look, feel and detailing of the tail.
Now to the first point, that the side vent and surface development of the car clearly borrows from the Nissan GT-R was shocking to me. The GT-R, though an impressive performer, is a mishmash of design elements tossed together and shaken in a bag, resulting in one of the most unimaginative super car designs of all time. And to “borrow” from that car? The explanation given for this was that this new Corvette is supposed to skew younger and that it’s more of an “international” design and not as overtly “American” in its look and feel.
I vehemently disagree. First of all, if there’s any car that should exude its American-ness, it’s the Corvette. If you’ve attended the 24 Hours of Le Mans you’d know what I’m talking about. The international audience there isn’t clamoring for an “internationalized” Corvette. They love the Corvette for what it is: Bold. Loud. Fast. And American. So that “international” rationale shouldn’t have been applied anywhere to this new Corvette. Period. It’s flawed and wildly inappropriate. (Thank goodness the True Believers working on the Viper don’t get caught up in that bullshit-think.)
And secondly, this car isn’t going to skew younger because young people can’t afford the car. But I’ll have much more to say about that in next week’s column when I discuss the marketing of Corvette.
And finally, there are only two cars in the world that should be allowed to have round taillights: Ferrari. And Corvette. It has been pre-ordained by the automotive gods for more than 60 years now. The explanation as to why the new Corvette doesn’t have round taillights is because this is supposedly a Corvette for a new generation and again, the design is more “with it” in its attempt to appeal to younger buyers.
But throwing that “you’re just not hip enough to understand” rationale – something car designer’s do when they’re out of ideas – is just unmitigated bullshit. The rear end of the new Corvette is busy and uninspired. And the Camaro-esque taillights are wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin. Really? The True Believer designers entrusted with the legacy of Corvette used a Camaro design cue on the taillights? It doesn’t get any more ridiculous than that.
Here’s the deal. As someone who has been immersed in this business since I was a kid and someone who has been privileged to know some of the true legends of this business firsthand, including the legendary GM designer Bill Mitchell, and someone who has been a student and appreciator of design from way back, I feel more than a little qualified to critique the Corvette. And even though I love the new car, it could have been so much more by being so much less, if you can understand what I’m getting at.
And as I talked to top designers roaming the show, they all said the same exact things: “They needed to dial it back about 25 percent.” Or, “They nailed the overall shape but it’s just too busy.”
Listen, the new Corvette is a great car. The best Corvette ever built by a long shot, with enough advanced technology and cool stuff baked-in to savor for years to come. It will be a sensational performer and it will move the enthusiasts who love them to tears. And the True Believers on the Corvette program who toiled long hours on the C7 should be justifiably proud.
But it’s not a great design because it’s overwrought and overthought and overdone.
Or as Bill Mitchell would say, “You gotta know when to lift the brush.” In other words, there’s a point when you have to stop the tweaking and the fussing and the hand-wringing and just stop. And walk away.
I just wish they had.
We’ll have more Detroit Auto Show coverage and updates throughout the day in this week’s “On The Table.”
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
Subscribe via iTunes:
Subscribe via RSS: