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Jan. 20 2010 - 12:53 pm | 350 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Detroit auto show: A dose of reality hits the Motor City

Ford Focus at the NAIAS

Ford Focus at the NAIAS

Dream cars and exotic concepts have been in short supply during this year’s Detroit auto show.  Reality has set in, with mega horsepower motors and flamboyant styling giving way to small cars and speeches about fuel efficiency.  But the harsh economic realities that sent car sales tumbling – and brought Chrysler and General Motors to the brink of collapse – have provided some welcome surprises during this year’s show.

When was the last time an American car maker stole the limelight with the introduction of a smartly styled economy car?  That’s what Ford Motor Company managed when it introduced the new Focus compact.  Available as a sedan or hatchback, the Focus will finally bring the flair (and small car smarts) of Ford’s European lineup into U.S. showrooms when it arrives here in early 2011.

Powered by a 2-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with direct injection and Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing, the Focus won’t sacrifice performance for fuel mileage.  This is not the economy car of yesteryear, which meant dealing with wind-up windows, a crummy stereo and wheezy engine.  The Focus will be available with everything from Bluetooth to touch-screen satellite navigation and voice-operated controls.

General Motors also had a few tricks up its sleeve, such as the sporty-looking Aveo RS.  Who would have thought a new Aveo – a car whose best attribute was being the cheapest rung of rental car – could outshine small cars and design concepts from Honda (CR-Z) and Toyota (FT-CH Concept) in Detroit?  Technically still a “concept” – according to G.M. – if production versions of the Aveo look anything like the RS then Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai will have some serious small car competition from G.M.

Chrysler Concept at NAIAS

Chrysler Concept at NAIAS

About the only major disappointment amongst the Detroit Three was to be found on the Chrysler stand.  The Chrysler Concept didn’t even have a proper name, and proved little more than a Lancia Delta hatchback with Chrysler logos slapped on the grill and wheels.  Now under the control of Italy’s Fiat Group, Chrysler needs new product asap – but  the company also can’t afford to rush things.  Yet a little more imagination should have been applied to this concept.

A glimmer of hope could be found amongst the crowds surrounding two Fiat 500 city-cars located on the Fiat-Chrysler display.  Cute and nimble, the 500 should arrive in the U.S. later this year.  Of course, being an Italian car company, Fiat simply couldn’t resist adding several slinky models to that display too.  Seeing a leggy European model next to a tiny hatchback was almost as strange as seeing a Ferrari (also part of the Fiat empire) parked next to a Jeep Wrangler display.

Times have certainly changed in Detroit.


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    About Me

    I'm an automotive journalist based in New York City and a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Edmunds.com, Gaywheels.com, CarandDriver.com, Bimmer magazine and many other well-respected publications.

    I recently spent nearly 5 years in the wilds of Paris, France, where I was reporting about the European and Indian automotive world. But no matter where I am, there is always a great car story waiting to be told.

    I've poked my head under the hood of a New Delhi taxicab, worked the pits at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and driven 197-mph on the German autobahn.

    Now that I'm back in the U.S. - along with Matthew, my partner of 10 years - it's thrilling to get reacquainted with N.Y.C. and American car culture.

    I love my job no matter if I'm driving some jaw-dropping exotic car or, much more likely, hunting for a parking spot in my downtown neighborhood.

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