Annual North American International Auto Show Report - 2002
© Ed Noonan, January 2002

(click on photos for enlargements)

For the past ten years or so, I've been attending the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit every year. I'm not as much in the market for a new car as I'm fascinated by industry trends. The auto industry is dynamic. Just when I thought on several occasions that Detroit was dead, it rebounded. Just when I was convinced that Japan would dominate the industry from then on, the Japanese offerings fizzled. Europe went from boring to exciting and innovative.

With over $500 Million spent annually on this show, it reminded me of some of the World's Fairs I'd attended.. The exhibits were state of the art.

The auto show has as much to say about the North American lifestyle as it does about automobile styling. There are several sideshows to the automobiles at the auto show. A few years ago, all the cool cars had cool babes standing by them giving prepared speeches about features. That seems to have tapered off. The 2000 show featured bicycles on many of the cars. That image seemed to call upon an image of healthy lifestyle as a sales vehicle. The industry was appealing to the Sierra Club and Outside magazine crowd. In 2001, most manufacturers prominently displayed Macintosh and iMac computers near the cars. They'd apparently aimed the show at the high tech crowd.

This year was different. There were still some bicycles, a couple of whitewater kayaks, and a handful of iMacs, but the dominant theme was "big and ugly." It was as though the industry had forsaken the environment, and had concluded that the healthy lifestyle folks were outnumbered in society by the "shit-kickin" truckers epitomized by the Chevy, Dodge and Ford truck ads. Post 911, they were thumbing their noses at the Middle East by producing a gaggle of gas guzzlers. Gosh, this year, even the U.S. Army showed up exhibiting special tactical vehicles. It was a year of flag waving.

The Ford F350 Tonka Truck (5 seats) and the Chevy Avalanche (4 seats) were bigger than big and the people surrounding them were about equally oversized.

Surprisingly, however, the crowds were especially tightly packed around the European luxury brands. Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, Maserati, Lamborghini, Volkswagen (evolving toward luxury like its sibling Audi did) all packed them into their brightly lit exhibit areas.

 
BMW exhibit before the crowds arrived

Ford seemed almost embarrassed to be displaying cars that its Chairman Bill Ford had axed just the day before the show opened to the public. The public avoided the Mercury Cougar, Mercury Villager, Lincoln Continental and Ford Escort, all slated for elimination from the lineup. Down in the basement Kia and Daewoo were even more sparsely attended.

At last year's auto show, I was so impressed with the Ford Escape SUV, that I bought one that month.

Four cars really interested me this year.

(1) Audi TT: This was my favorite car last year too. I am really jealous of my friend Bob, whose wife gave him a TT roadster for his 60th birthday. If only I could sell my book, I'd buy my wife a TT coupe for our anniversary. I'm sure she'd let me borrow it once in a while.

 
 (2) Chrysler Crossfire: Price is the issue. It looks too good to be in my price range. If it had AWD (all wheel drive) and a sticker price of about $25,000, I'd buy one.

(3) Pontiac Solstice: If only GM could get the mechanical aspects right, it could be a classic sports car, but I've never been impressed with any GM product, so I have my doubts.

 
(4) Willys: This Jeep sibling would seem to be the car for a drive around the world.

 

I am not much interested in big Detroit iron. I favor what used to be called sports cars. I'd kill for a TT or a Porsche Boxter. I'm not adverse to American cars. I just don't think they're that interesting right now from an evolutionary standpoint. And there hasn't been an American sports car since the Corvette of the nineteen fifties. Oh yes, I do intend to buy a hybrid Ford Escape when they come out for the 2003 model year. I was shocked not to see one at the show this year when they're already prominently displayed on the . Also notably absent from this year's auto show, were all the Ford SVT (Special Vehicle Team) offerings. That was especially odd when the 170 hp Focus SVT is due in select showrooms this year.

All the Bicycles

All the iMacs