The Detroit motor show 2010 review, by Gavin Green

Published: 12 January 2010

Motown may not have rediscovered its mojo but at least the car makers formerly known as the Big Three have regained a little bit of their old swagger since the misery of last year’s Detroit show. After all, it’s not every year that two out of three national car makers go bankrupt. The survivor, Ford, unsurprisingly looked the most confident at this year’s show, never mind that its star car was about as hometown as Bauhaus and bratwurst.

GM’s highlight was a Korean-designed Chevrolet, which just shows how much things have changed for America’s car industry. At least the new Aveo – to be built in Michigan – looks good, which is more than can be said for any current Korean Chevy. GM’s other star was the Buick Regal, flagged as a ‘premium car to compete with the best from Europe’. A European Vauxhall Insignia, with extra brightwork, to you or me.

Chrysler relies on Fiat… and girls

Chrysler has changed even more than its US rivals, and as proof the star cars on its stand were a Ferrari 599XX, the Fiat 500 and a Lancia Delta wearing Chrysler badges. There was not a single new Chrysler of any significance. Ten years ago, Chrysler’s catwalk concepts dominated this show, all swagger and style.

This dearth of new product is why new owners Fiat wheeled in some comely Italian cars and some even more comely girls to disport themselves over the metal. If the cars won’t get the Canons clicking, the crumpet might. The Chrysler product development cupboard is bare. We’ll have to wait a few years for the new Fiat/Chryslers to begin the renaissance.

Let’s hope that the Lancia Delta with frumpy Chrysler grille isn’t a portent of things to come. Grafting Chrysler badges onto an eccentric Italian hatchback isn’t the way to woo conservative Americans.

Yank makers turn to Europe

Ford was in good form and oozed confidence. Its star was the new European-developed Focus, which will go global. It looks like a grown-up Fiesta, if not quite so stylish. Expect it to be the best car in the class dynamically, a step ahead for Europe, a giant leap forward for Yank C-class cars. America will also get the next generation Mondeo, Ford boss Alan Mulally confirmed. Finally, world-class European Fords will be sold in America, as part of a major plan to downsize and boost fuel economy. It’s a good plan – unless the price of gasoline drops and the Yanks go back to their bad old profligate ways (as they’ve done before).

The two best home-grown cars were big muscle V8s

Of the proper home-grown cars, there were two stars. The latest Ford Mustang, complete with new 5.0-litre V8 and lurid tyre-smoking video backdrop, and a coupe version of the Cadillac CTS-V powered by 556hp supercharged V8. Despite all the eco talk, you can see where the Yanks’ hearts really are. The CTS-V was especially impressive, another sign of Cadillac’s slow re-emergence as a serious premium player.

Detroit: As much Electric Avenue as Motor Show

Electric cars were all the rage in Detroit. Every maker is promising them – never mind that, for the foreseeable future, they will remain about as mainstream as low-calorie organic entrees on American dining tables.

The most impressive was the latest Audi E-tron sports car – a battery-powered little brother to the R8. The best hybrids were a mini Prius concept from those hybrid masters at Toyota (the FT-CH) and what promises to be the first fun-to-drive hybrid, the Honda CR-Z – flagged as the spiritual successor to the wonderful CRX coupe. But while the Yanks are weak, and the Japanese were in a surprisingly bashful mood, it was the Europeans, and especially the Germans, who shouted loudest.

A raft of interesting new European cars

There was a new Audi A8, a new hot version of the origami-styled BMW Z4, a ‘compact coupe’ Volkswagen that previews the next Jetta and the latest evidence of Mercedes-Benz’s return to the form, in the machete-styled shape of the classy E-class cabriolet – which looks and feels reassuringly expensive. Clever tech includes a wind deflector at the top of the screen that reduces cabin buffeting and neck warmers. The result, says Merc, is the world’s first four seasons convertible. But maybe not today – in Detroit it’s snowing and minus 5C.

Mini’s biggest market is currently America, which just goes to show that the little car’s appeal is not just to nostalgia seekers (the old Mini wasn’t even sold in the US, apart from tiny volume in its very early days). At Detroit, the Union Jack-waving boys from Munich showed their latest interpretation of Issignonis’s inspiration, the Mini Beachcomber. It was flagged as the Mini Moke of the new decade. It is light-hearted and different, certainly.

After the ugly and pointless Clubman, and the daft Crossman SUV, this is yet another Mini too far. BMW has done a brilliant job of the Mini hatch and its beguiling convertible twin. They virtually invented the small premium car – now copied by the Fiat 500 and Toyota iQ, among others. It’s loved from Beijing to Birmingham. But the more they stray from Issignonis’s recipe and try to ‘think different’, the more they flounder.

Star Production Car: Ford Focus

Star Concepts: Audi E-tron, Toyota FT-CH hybrid

Show theme: The Europeans are coming

Tech talk: Hybrids, EVs (as always at a modern motor show)

Don’t do it: Chrysler Lancia Delta, Mini Beachcomber

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience

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