Detroit motor show 2010: the CAR live blog from NAIAS

Published: 11 January 2010

Detroit motor show 2010 CAR blog

>> The CAR live blog filed straight from the show floor at the Detroit motor show by CAR writers Tim Pollard (TP) and Jonny Smith (JS). Top tip: start at the bottom and scroll your way up in blog format for all the 2010 NAIAS news and announcements. All times are Eastern Seaboard Time (-5 GMT)  

MONDAY 11 JANUARY 2010

6.43pm: Standing outside the Cobo Hall entrance
JS
I'm done for. The show is emptying. I borrow a Haagen Daas choc ice from Mercedes on the way out into the D-town sleet. Today's been an exciting bombardment on the senses, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Sadly I never did get to drive like Tiger Woods on the EcoXperience, as some senator (person, not the Vauxhall) and their entourage chucked innocent media folk out so they could look at the tech of tomorrow without 'security risks'. Hey-ho, time to dodge the Dodges back to the hotel. We hope you've enjoyed our whistlestop tour of the NAIAS 2010.

6.30pm: Audi and the new R4
JS
Can the quadruple ringlet ninjas do no wrong these days? Not satisfied with the R8 E-tron, Audi has crafted a bonsai rear-drive concept version about the size of an A1. Those wheels are simply the most awe-inspiring rolling stock since Volvo's T5R of the '90s. I'm serious. They are art in themselves. Car's not bad either.

6.18pm: Next door to Morgan:
JS Now this four-door Tesla is quite something. Boasting a bespoke aluminium chassis and graceful hatchbacked bodyshell, the Model S shares a rear profile similar to a Jag XF's. They won't say how much bigger the motor is than the Roadster's, but it's located forward of the back axle and the battery stack lies flat between the wheelbase. Three states of battery 'tune' will be up for grabs – starting at a 160-mile range, then upping to 230 and topping at a fulsome 300-mile range. Production is supposed to greenlight in 2011 and there have already been orders for this 130mph 0-60 in 5.6sec eco Aston Rapide looker. But the best bit is that it can seat five adults and two children. You see, behind the rear seat is a Merc E-class style flip-up pair of rear-facing pews. My favourite bit? The jumbo 17-inch touchscreen that dominates the dash. Switchgear is dead - this is the future for fully intregrated car tech. Just ask Apple.

5.51pm: Has Chevrolet rediscovered its mojo?
JS Ankle ache kicking in now. Watched Chevrolet unveil its small family revolution with the Spark hatchback, Fast and Furious Aveo RS (Evo X style grille and all) and the Cruze. I'm liking the more confident faces of these cars. Wide double grilles go nicely with the Chevy bowtie on display.

4.19pm: The interview room
TP
About to meet top brass at VW, will be radio silence for some time... Chance for a quick breather during a lull in press conferences. Been an intriguing show, is this the year Europe came to Detroit? Focus coming Stateside, Chrysler showing rebadged Lancias, small cars left right and centre. Food for thought...

4.13pm: Chevy goes hot hatch crazy
TP
The Aveo RS concept car is drawing a big crowd on the GM stand. It gives us plenty of clues about the next Aveo, and looks pert and European in a pocket rocket kinda way. The Volt still inches towards production, but only a few selected partners will trial the first cars in late 2010. Let's hope GM pull this off. The Volt's been full of promise for so long, but you worry that the competition is closing in...

3.45pm: Hyundai love fluffy kittens
TP
Very little real news on the Hyundai stand; they spend most of the press conference on a cheque presentation for inhouse cancer charity Hope On Wheels. All very worthy, but hardly what I've travelled halfway round the world to hear. Brief mention of facelifted Santa Fe, but I'm more intrigued how they've managed to increase US sales 8% in a market slumped by a fifth. I guess the slick Genesis might do some of the explaining.

3.36pm: SMS Supercars stand
JS
Like that West Country bloke who gets all excited when he unearths Roman pottery on Time Team, I've finally discovered a rare slice of Detroit V8 muscle. SMS - Steve M Saleen is the man behind the 1000bhp S7 supercar. Next to that, though, are a pair of warmed over Dodge Challengers. Both supercharged and running after market V8s, one is a 570X (700bhp 6.4), the other a 570 (5.7 500bhp). By all accounts SMS has built the perfect bank job cars, because they not only have crazy horses on tap, but feature radar jammers on every side of the car to detect police helicopters and speed cameras. If only moonshine was still illegal...

3.12pm: The Chrysler-Lancia mash-up
TP
The Lancia Delta turned Chrysler is intriguingly out of place - sitting in a thoroughfare next to a Ferrari 599XX and a Dodge Viper. It's all part of a newly shuffled Fiat-Chrysler megaplex. Turin seems to have insisted on Italian-spec spokesmodels. Huzzah!

3.08pm: The Jaguar stand
TP
A quiet show for Jaguar, but the XJ is still box fresh. I reacquaint myself with a LWB supercharged model. Tellingly, there's a queue of BMW engineers waiting to sit inside after me.

2.55pm: The surreal Mini stand
TP
Just out of an Audi interview - only to catch the Mini press conference. Sales big cheese Ian Robertson has swapped his BMW suit for jeans and a sweatshirt, as he introduces the new Beachcomber concept. He openly admits it's previewing the new Crossover we finally see this spring: expect four full seats, four-wheel drive and a footprint 4m long. Let's hope it doesn't come with shark driving it and surf dudes break dancing all around the car. Even the coconuts on the palm tree turned into disco lights. Quite the most bizarre unveiling yet.

2.38pm EcoXperience
JS
Downstairs in the Auto Show EcoXperience: When in Michigan, eat....erm... Sushi. Escaped the neons and toned legs of the Fiat stand to grab grub and see the (sadly under promoted) EcoXperience area. In short, this is a large area of the showfloor cordoned off and turned into an outdoor leisurely driving course for hybrid vehicles. There are planted trees, faux grass carpet, daffodils and water features to replicate a real world. There are no prostitutes or litter in the bushes, though. It looks like Tiger Woods' private drive, and there's even a few SUVs should you want to recreate his low-fi incident using a dual power vehicle. To be honest it's a good idea, especially if it spreads the gospel of powering traditional American iron using electric assistance.

1.55pm: First sight of the Honda CR-Z
JS
Honda: Exec VP of American Honda, John Mendel, has just driven on stage in the new production CR-Z hybrid coupe. It looks remarkably like the classic cult CRX two-door of the '80s on which it pays homage. 'A low emissions car you don't have to abandon your passions for,' he says. Basically, this promises to be a fun (hopefully more refined) two-door Insight. Using a 1.5 i-VTEC with 122bhp and 128lbft, the CR-Z is set to go on sale in the states this summer. Economy? They are saying 56.4mpg. Is it me or does that not sound too impressive?

1.28pm: Trucks and hunger
JS
Honda: No time for food yet, as Honda are about to show the final production CR-Z hybrid coupe. Before the curtain rises I forgot to mention that the Ford F150 is back to being America's best selling pick-up truck. The Raptor is a twin-cab extreme sports version, which doesn't claim to be anything revolutionary, but looks hardcore. Love the F.O.R.D letters proudly tattooed across its chubby grille. Back to the real world of mpg-conscious motoring: the Honda. Did you know it was the 50th anniversary of Honda's business in America last year. Just watched www.dreams.honda.com on the big screen...

1.12pm: Bentley fights back
TP
Just missed the Bentley sales blurb, but it can't have been pretty judging by the long faces of those on stage. Help is at hand though in the pretty shape of the new Mulsanne, which starts production in summer 2010. It looks so much better in the metal than those first grabbed spyshots we published last summer. Engineering chief Uli Eichorn confirms a forthcoming flexfuel version and points out it'll be the torquiest V8 on sale, bristling with 750lb ft for that Bentley waft.

1.01pm: I'm thirsty
JS
Ford stand: mouth is drier than a Mexican cactus. Rule 1 of motor show press day - bring your own big bottle of Volvic. Rule 2 - like a bird looking for a suitable nesting place, seek out a good lunching spot. Lunch is vital, and those Germans eat early. I fear I've missed the boat for decent cuisine, mostly because I've been hunting down Detroit muscle. It saddens me to say that for 2010 and beyond the muscle car is quickly becoming a dinosaur weekend warrior. Ford have just thrust their new 5.0 'Stang under the stage lights. I stand by the opinion that facelifted retro style cars never work. The 300Cc is worse, the VW Beetle was terrible, Mini a bit Lego Duplo and the Mustang has eyes like Paul McCartney. It does have a five-point-o though. You won't miss the wing badge. The 4951cc Pony car gets variable valve timing, 412bhp, 390lbft, Brembo anchors and the choice of 6-spd manual cogs (5-speed overdrive with 1:1 ratio) or slush box. But if you want a worse exhaust note and less visits to the fuel station there's a revised 3.7 V6 that punches out 300 horses and will do up to 30mpg. Right, lunch.

12:48: Another Audi E-tron
TP
This is getting a bit confusing. Audi has unveiled a second e-tron concept car. It's totally separate from the original R8-based e-supercar at Frankfurt 09 – this is supermini petite, sub-4m, like a baby TT. There are two electric motors, not four and power falls to a more modest 201bhp and a stout 1954lb ft of twist. Lightweight aluminium and composite pare the weight back to 1350kg, light enough for 0-60mph in 5.9sec. Why use the same name? Audi wants E-tron to become like Quattro - a badge to be used across the range to demark its electric cars. Remember the VW Bluesport concept from Detroit 09? Well, the new 2010 e-tron is the same size. Do the maths: this is a pretty good steer to what a potential R4 sports car could be. It'd be in addition to the TT, and not necessarily below it in the pecking order – I get the impression it could be a premium small sports car, especially if the electric or hybrid powertrain makes it into production. In other Audi news, it'll be a busy year for Ingolstadt: eight new models are coming in 2010. It should pep up demand, after a modest 5% fall in 2009 to 950,000 sales. But in Europe, Audi maintains its leadership, with 620,000 sales making it premium no.1.

12:46pm: BMW's new electric car
TP
No musical fanfare at BMW. Sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson drives onto stage in the new Z4 35iS (his normal steer? An X6 ActiveHybrid) and announces a 10% drop in global group sales last year, a fall to 1.29 million BMs, Minis and Rollers. US sales were even worse, collapsing by a fifth, but things are picking up, vows Robertson. Then it's on to the metal of the day: the new ActiveE concept. Visually lacklustre (it's a 1-series coupe), it's all about the hardware. This is the second chapter of Project i, following on from the Mini E, and its new synchronous electric powertrain is the developmental version of the new MCV multi city vehicle's EV version. Range? A hundred miles. Drive? To the rear axle. Usefulness? Four seats and a 200-litre boot. We'll have more of an idea about this car when we drive a testbed version in 2011

11:46am: Merc's new headwear
TP
Merc boss Dieter Zetsche (sling, arm injury, new skis for Christmas) steps on to the stage and spells out Mercedes' extensive hybrid range in the US. Daimler has a myriad of developments in the pipeline, with electric Smarts and A-classes, diesel hybrids and further improvements to the good old-fashioned ICE to come. But we're all here to see the new E-class Cabriolet, the fourth and final member of the E-class range. I like the 'AirCap', a new pop-up wind deflector that rises from the top of the windscreen. One for our Does It Work? video series, perhaps. Interestingly, the only press conferences with live music and showmanship are the Germans'; VW had a dance troupe spinning on their heads, while Merc' musos performed a mash-up of The Beatles' Here Comes The Sun. Not in Detroit, it doesn't - it was 16deg F and snowing heavily when I last looked outside the Cobo Hall.

11:05am: En-route to the Merc E-class cabrio unveil
JS
There's a midget inside a clock work Robot outfit shuffling towards me. I think I've bumped into Chrysler's answer to the Honda Asimo. Chrysimo?

10.58am: VW's world debut
TP
Volkswagen is actually quite a small player in the US market, but harbours ambitions for growth. Hence a new factory opening in 2011 to build Volkswagens on US soil for the first time since the '70s. And the new Compact Coupe concept previews the new 2011 Jetta. Ok it's a sleeker, two-door version but this affords plenty of clues to the four-door for Europe and America. And judging by the executives' body language, it seems this junior coupe could be a shoe-in to slot alongside the Eos, Scirocco and Passat CC in VW's burgeoning coupe line-up. It's an elegant car, something of the Audi A5 about it. Especially at the rear.

10:48am: Foiled at Ferrari
JS
Ferrari: 1 x 599 FXX on display surrounded by glass fencing. 1 x pouting girl (see picture right). No hope of going near it, even though this is press day. B*stards.

10:40am: Dead Dodge
JS
Everyone look busy, it's a Dodge Viper. With a roof and an even bigger wing. I'm all for flamboyant Yank tanks but this car should be laid to rest. Oh, this is the run-out model. It's the UBF (ugly best friend) next to the Plum Crazy Challenger RT.

10:35am: Chrysler is broken
JS
 'Proud to an American' reads the T-shirt on the repair bloke's back who is knelt on the Chrysler stand poking the faulty turntable with a screw driver. How apt, that he's proud to be working for a car company that has unveiled their new car - the Chrysler Chrysler (I seriously think that's its name) which is a re-grilled Lancia Delta, complete with two-tone paint, Beaver face and all. 'Whatever happened to style? It's time for America to arrive in style' says the TV screen montage. I know the answer to that. I think you do too. Chrysler is trying to tell us that re-igniting the American dream involves poor Italian tailoring? Oh please.

10.23am: A Toyota world debut
TP
After a long lecture on Toyota's eco credentials (530,000 hybrids sold in 2009, nearly 200k of them in the US), North American boss Jim Lentz announces that the Prius family is about to grow. CAR's Georg Kacher first broke the story a couple of years ago, but now it's official: there will be Prii of all sorts of different shapes and flavours. And judging by the retro, Space Invader light show on stage, Toyota's itching to funk up the Prius's fuddy duddy, goody-two-shoes image. The new Toyota FT-CH is 25cm shorter than a Prius and is likely to share its petrol-electric hardware with its Lexus brethren. It was designed by ED2 in the Nice-based European styling HQ and looks like a mash-up of iQ and FT-HS supercar - all wedgy angles and crisp lines. I like. Off to Volkswagen next.

9.55am: Big Bentley
JS
Not had a chance to see the Mulsanne in the metal before. To be honest I hated its face in the pictures but am glad to report it's a more handsome slab in reality. The headlights are still wrong (they should be oblong or have the small lights inset rather than out) but the side profile is pleasingly Brooklands-esque. The 'ring of wood' interior surrounds passengers with deep chunks of tree, seen best in cross section when the doors are opened. Internal head of design Robin Page sat me through the glass switches, MP3 'drawer', and I think the flat polished stainless 21-inch wheels are glorious. Right, Chrysler...

9.51am: Buick and GMC look to Europe
TP
We're only a few hours in and there's already a glaring trend staring me in the face. Buick's just unveiled the new 2011 Regal and a sporting GS version. It's a lightly repackaged Vauxhall Insignia, right down to that stylistic tick on the flanks and a near-identical interior. Like Ford with the Focus, GM is looking to Europe for assistance with smaller, cleaner cars. GMC, too, focus on a new, smaller concept: the Granite is a full 2ft shorter than other models, a sort of chunky, American-style Honda Element with suicide doors. GM North America-types spend ages humbly talking about new beginnings and rebuilding buyers' trust. The bankruptcy of 2009 weighs heavy in the air; every day counts in this turnaround and New GM is just 185 days old.

9.21am: Meeting the man from Volvo
JS
Just bumped into Volvo design chief Peter Horbury. A few years ago I went to his house in the D-town 'burbs for coffee and a drive around Dearborn in his answer to a Rolls Royce pick-up truck - the Ford Superchief. These days he lives in Gothemburg. 'I'm glad people are actually here,' he says about the Detroit show. 'Last year it was a sorry sight, and LA show the year before was terrible. The Chrysler stand had no lights on, with a grey Challenger stood on grey carpet. It was invisible! Meanwhile VW next door was using half of LA's electricity for their showcase.' Talking of Chrysler, I've heard some noises about a re-badged Italian oddball....

9:11am: The Ford Focus is unveiled
TP
Bill Ford announces the new Focus, which is already swarmed by photographers. It looks good, with plenty of Fiesta in the rakish rear - and seeing it in the metal quashes my fears it's too Korean. It's certainly sporty, low set - especially for a five-door. With CEO Alan Mulally, you're left in no doubt over Ford's commitment to building world cars. They both mention convergence: tastes around the world are melting into one cosmopolitan style, and they're confident the new Focus will cash in on converging global tastes. If their projections of 38 million C-segment sales globally by 2012 are accurate, they should be onto a good thing. They've already sold 600,000 Fiestas globally, and it's about to go on US sale. In other Ford news, they announce a next-gen hybrid will be launched in 2012 - built in same Michigan factory that will build an electric Focus. It used to assemble SUVs and trucks. Times are changing...

8.42am: The Ford press conference
JS
 About to see the new Focus - a car that, like the Fiesta, will go on sale in the US barely changed from its European spec. And there's a saloon version that looks better than the hatch, just in case mainstream America can't be weaned off their sedans. Follow Tim Pollard's report for the detailed press conference trail - meanwhile, I'm off to sniff out something rarely seen these days: V8 muscle dinosaurs. 

8.16am: On the Mercedes stand
JS
Got the super-sized media accreditation pass/medallion (it's about 6" square dangling off your neck) and I'm through (no K9 dog units) and thrust straight into the glitz. Immediately the show has a more European flavour about it. Not least because the Germans (BMW, Audi, VW) are showing their market dominance. I have the chance to finally clap eyes on the Benz SLS - love Merc's chiselled design language right now. I'm off to the first press conference, and it's a rather important one: Ford.

7.29am: COBO: Hello MoTo(wn)
JS
Just left the Westin Book Cadillac hotel and the chauffeur is guiding the tinted-out Merc GL through Michigan's -5 snow, skidding yellow cabs and steam-spewing manholes. Time to trade the gritty street furniture for the bright lights and warmth of the NAIAS (North American International Auto Show). With a huge portion of Euro-designed metal being uncloaked, it's going to be an interesting day for America's car culture.

7.23am: Dieter Zetsche in a sling
TP
Just nibbled my American-spec breakfast next to Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche. He seems to have broken his left arm, which he carries in a sling. It must be strange for him to return to Detroit after the DaimlerChrysler years. The alliance/takeover (delete as applicable) never worked and it'll be intriguing to see if Fiat can succeed where Mercedes failed.

6.15am: A wintry morning in Detroit
TP
Unusually, for once Detroit is barely any colder than London – such is the cold snap that's characteristically brought Britain's creaking infrastructure to its knees. But there's a chill wind of a different variety in Motown this year. The cold grip of two catastrophic bankruptcies is still in the air. Detroit hoteliers, airport staff, bus drivers: they all acknowledge the hubristic fall from grace of GM and Chrysler, two homespun giants that failed so spectacularly in 2009. We're about to head over to the Cobo Hall to see if the American car industry is recovering fast or if it's back to the bad old ways of yore. Stay tuned throughout the day as we file real-time updates to this blog with all the news the minute it happens.

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