Editor’s note: Emmet County residents Douglas Marshall and Michael Derry submitted the following guest column about their visit to the North American International Auto Show Press Preview Monday and Tuesday in Detroit. They were representing Media Development Corp., Derry’s marketing and advertising consulting firm geared toward manufacturers. Marshall currently serves as chief executive officer of the Little Traverse Historical Society and spent about 17 years working for General Motors Corp., primarily in positions relating to corporate strategic planning and international operations.
This year’s North American International Auto Show was more upbeat if less elaborate than its predecessors of the last decade.
There were no vehicle introductions smashing through the roof of Cobo Hall, or Jeeps scaling waterfalls, or ear-splitting rock music to herald the all-new “Whizzer.”
So what is new? One is attitude. There were very few truck or large SUV intros this year. What can be seen are a slew of new zippy small cars, small car concepts and green hybrid-fuel vehicles.
We’re not used to auto companies being in tune with current thinking. The first oil crisis was 39 years ago when fleets of big heavy B-bodied leviathans roamed the highways. These were replaced by better-made, designed for manufacture (DFM) mid-sized cars and light duty trucks — but with quality issues.
Now the emphasis has turned to the needs of small-car buyers. And the new Ford Fusion, debuted on Monday, looks like a home run.
The design is smooth and powertrain options are gasoline, hybrid and plug-in electric. Ford Motor Co. chairman Bill Ford and chief executive officer Alan Mulally turned out to introduce it to begin the show in the Joe Louis Arena.
The small-car theme was echoed by Chevrolet with three concept cars with handsome designs. Two were coupes — a less complicated body type for the clay modelers to produce, and also used as a prototype for the new Honda Accord.
There is also a place within the small-car theme for the retro look. One of the best examples is the traditional Fiat 500, originally launched in 1957, retooled and rereleased in 2012. It targets the Mini Cooper market, but it’s difficult to see how performance is competitive. Chrysler predicted 50,000 sales in the United States last year, but only achieved half those.
Withstanding a Michigan winter
So far, we have looked at how features once reserved for large cars have been adapted for small car use and how domestic automobile companies have invested in small cars to an extent not seen before. Cargo capacity and snow performance are crucial to our own needs.
Few of us in the north need a 3-ton Mercedes Maybach with a sticker price beginning at $370,000 to maneuver through the off-season. Instead, we look for dependability and high ground clearance.
The favorites of the north, if observation is any guide, are the Subaru Outback and Forester. All-wheel drive and generous cargo areas have strong appeal. These vehicles were well represented at the show and reflect deliberate refinement dating back to current body configurations from 2005.
Buyers in search of a truck will be pleased that many makes and models are available on the auto show floor and the number of options seems to increase year over year.
In the unique contenting department is a Jeep camper that offers maximum utility in a small space. With good weather, what more could any dedicated outdoors person want?
The North American International Auto Show is open to the public 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, Jan.14, through Saturday, Jan. 21, and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, at Cobo Hall. Adult tickets are $12; seniors and children are admitted at half price. If you are in Detroit, and enjoy vehicles, you will not want to miss this one.