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The return of razzle-dazzle

Los Angeles and Detroit are fighting for auto show dominance. LA’s claim to the throne is California’s car culture, but it’s the upstart. Detroit says it’s the historic birthplace of today’s auto industry and is holding the crown in a death grip.


March 2, 2011
by Howard J. Elmer

FLEET MANAGEMENT, Jan-Feb 2011 Print Edition: Los Angeles and Detroit are fighting for auto show dominance. LA’s claim to the throne is California’s car culture, but it’s the upstart. Detroit says it’s the historic birthplace of today’s auto industry and is holding the crown in a death grip.

This contest has been going on for a few years, but became serious when LA started hosting a pre-emptive new-year car showcase in November. Detroit, which used to be the first show of the year in January, now has to contend with manufacturers trying to decide where to show their new vehicles—and how early.  Having attended both shows this year (and in previous years) what I have to say is: thank God there is still an auto industry to fight over.

More Auto Show coverage:

Ford seat belt wins best new technology at Canadian International Auto Show

2011 Canadian International Auto Show premieres

2011 Canadian International Auto Show concept cars

Both shows were packed with new models, innovations and popping with energy—a fantastic change from the last two years where the funeral march would not have been out of place as theme music. Leading the charge at both shows were the American builders, with the rest of the world hot on their heels.

LA gets a jump on the year

Chrysler pulled the sheets off new models of the Dodge Charger, updated the Challenger, Grand Caravan, Journey crossover, Avenger sedan  and even resurrected the Durango SUV—and that’s just on the Dodge side. What’s odd, yet perfectly understandable, is that these are 2011 models rather than the 2012s everyone else is showing. Obviously straining to get back into the game, these guys are not willing to put off intros into next year—all their design work is on display right now. And while some updates are just refreshes, the Charger and Durango are fully new vehicles featuring new chassis, suspension architecture and engines.

Chrysler also showed the 200, the Avenger clone, and the name that replaces the Sebring. As the little brother of the successful 300, it may herald more “hundreds” to come.

In the centre of it all was the Fiat 500, a car that’s been dangled in front of the public for over a year now. However, with this intro the most important bit of information has finally been revealed—the price. Canadian dealers have now been chosen and the 2012 Fiat 500 will go on sale here (starting now) at a base price of $15,995.

For 2012 the Chevy Camaro showed a convertible—an addition to the line-up that will make it that much more popular. On sale this February, this classic convertible will feature a three-ply canvas fabric top with solid glass rear window, all operated with a single button and one centre latch. This car gets strategic reinforcements that eliminate common convertible maladies like cowl and steering wheel shake.

Ford showed off a new Focus, a “world car” that promises to further speed its recovery. This 2012 model has a striking front end, sleek profile, dramatic rising beltline and an athletic stance—all surrounding the latest in electronics.

For power, the EcoBoost 2L engine will pump out an astounding 247hp and 250lb-ft of torque while still delivering up to 5.8L/100km. Interestingly, that fuel figure does not equal slow or underpowered—not with those numbers. Instead the character of this Focus is rally-sharp and racer-fast.

The 2012 Buick Regal.

Over at Buick the venerable Regal gets a new model for 2012, the high-performance GS. This sportier Regal Sedan will feature a 2L Ecotec turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed manual that will make 255hp and 295lb-ft of torque for 0-100 kmh performance of less than seven seconds.

Due out next summer, this hopped-up Buick will also feature a four-wheel independent suspension with HiPerStruts in the front.

Europeans take Detroit

The Detroit show dealt with the immediate release of models, especially as shown off by the European builders. A larger, more sophisticated VW Passat was on show. It’s not only new, but will also be built in the US for the first time. And this is a 2011 model, available now.

Its design is classic VW: clean, with the horizontal brand face featuring a grille and headlights forming a single unit. Coming out of a new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, this Passat will be available with either a 2.5L gas engine, 2L TDI clean diesel or muscular 3.6L VR6 motor. Gearing for these new engines will be handled by a standard six-speed, dual-clutch transmission.

Another highlight of the Detroit show was the number of hybrid and electric entries shown for the first time. For instance, also on stage at the VW booth was the recently released third generation Touareg, this one a hybrid version. The same in all regards to one we tested in late November, it adds a parallel hybrid system to its powertrain that will boost horsepower while retarding fuel consumption. It’s due later this year.

As for straight-up electric, Volvo pulled the sheets off a crashed C30 at the show to demonstrate the fact that they have not strayed from their mantra of “safety first” even though they too are moving into the electric car field. They say the actual construction of an electric car presents new concerns in the area of crash protection because of the batteries, weights and differences in design components.

With a range of up to 150km, this new C30 Electric is apparently ready for use; with the first 1,000 produced going to test fleets in Europe, China and the US. It’s hoped that within a year or so the vehicle will be available to the public.

Audi’s A6 has been restyled and reworked with extensive new use of aluminum and high-tech steel in a slightly stretched body that also incorporates additional luxury and ergonomic interior features. Audi will be offering the A6 with five engine options, two gasoline and three TDI units. Best of all, Audi says that throughout the line fuel consumption is down 19 percent compared to previous models.

Audi has also added a hybrid version to the A6 stable. This, its second hybrid model, will employ a parallel hybrid system. The idea is to provide the power of a V6 with the fuel economy of a four-cylinder engine. The company estimates this fuel consumption to average 6.2L per 100km.

The Ford Explorer is 2011 Truck of the Year.

Ford, which is getting great reviews of its new Explorer, has shown a new crossover SUV, the Vertrek Concept. This smaller SUV may well be the replacement for the Escape. However, even if it’s not, it looks good and if Ford knows anything, it’s SUVs.

There is little new in trucks this year, at either show, but in Detroit it was satisfying to see the HD Chevy Silverado with the Motor Trend Truck of the Year award perched in its bed. Satisfying because this was also our First Place pick during this year’s Canadian Truck King Challenge (see the Nov-Dec 2010 issue of Fleet Management).

Other products of interest include the new Chrysler 300. This is the one car that seems to clearly define what a Chrysler is, and they have carefully crafted this next generation. Hopes are that between this vehicle and the new Town & Country minivan, the brand as a whole will get a boost.

The two final concepts that caught my eye were the 2012 Hyundai Veloster and the new Honda Civic Si concept. The Hyundai is an exercise in style and also bravado in showing a three-door car (two on the left, one on the right).  It appears to be a Honda-fighter, and one that they will probably build, despite the strange name.

Over at Honda they showed off a coupe and sedan version of the Civic Si. Certainly an important car for Canada, as we seem to sway between Civics and F-150’s as our most popular models year after year. Again, it’s said to be a concept, but believe me this car is coming.

For more Auto Show coverage see these articles:

Ford seat belt wins best new technology at Canadian International Auto Show

2011 Canadian International Auto Show premieres

2011 Canadian International Auto Show concept cars