Look, I know that in Ann Arbor, cars are little more to you than those big shiny things that almost hit you as you blindly cross the street on the way to class. But in Michigan, the auto industry is massively important to the economic future of the state, and with foreign automakers tightening their stranglehold around domestic producers’ necks, this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is more relevant than it’s ever been. Here are some of its highlights and lowlights according to me, your objective guide:
Best Concept: Toyota FT-HS – The designers call it “perfectly imbalanced.” Despite the tagline not making sense, the car is absolutely gorgeous. Its sweeping lines and protruding taillamps give it the impression it’s flying even when standing still. Don’t let the odd name fool you: This is a thinly veiled concept aimed at testing the waters for the next Supra. Then next time you’ll see it will most likely be with Paul Walker behind the wheel in “The Fast and the Furious 4” in 2009.
Best Production Car: Audi R8 – I dismissed this almost immediately when I saw it as another absolutely incredible but highly improbable concept that would never make it to production. Then I read the sign and my jaw dropped. It’s coming out in the fall. Will Smith drove practically this same car in “I Robot,” and that was set in 2035. This is finally a case where the future arrives sooner than we expect it.
Worst Concept: Infiniti Bevel – Painted a lovely shade of diarrhea, this is by far the ugliest thing I saw all day. The back looks like a massive computer from 1984. The front looks like a hammerhead shark. Sprinkle some LCD lights everywhere, and you’ve got the worst idea someone should’ve never had.
Worst Production Car: Chrysler Sebring – When Michael Scott from “The Office” thinks your car is cool enough to buy, you know you have a problem. The Sebring has always been the choice for people who think that simply driving any convertible makes you cool, but as it turns out, the car is as lame as they come. This new redesign gives a car that should’ve died years ago more life it doesn’t deserve.
Most Important: Chevrolet Volt – Probably the most talked about concept of the show, this car literally plugs into the wall to recharge its motor, and in addition to electricity can run on gasoline, ethanol or biodiesel fuel. Everyone is telling me this is the car that’s going to save the world, although I remember hearing that exact same thing a few years ago with the GM Hywire and most likely a few years before that. The belief we’ll all be driving alternative fuel cars in 10 to 20 years has been repeated constantly for about the past 10 to 20 years.
Most Fun: Mazda Ryuga – It’s not as practical as last year’s Kabura concept, so I can’t say it will make it to production. But it’s still pretty damn cool. The pieces of the chrome-stylized interior flow together like water, and the front and rear lights appear slashed into the body of the car with claws. The Ryuga is less a car and more a masterpiece of art.
Other Attention Grabbers: There are far more cars than you’ll be physically able to see, so here are the ones everyone is either praising or hating.
Ford Airstream – This came close to taking my “Worst Concept.” I hate cars like this, it has exactly 0% production parts and was clearly just something that Ford’s design chief Peter Horbury vomited out of his brain. The interior looks like a playpen for a toddler and there is a central cylindrical television screen that plays video of a roaring fireplace. When your company is on the verge of extinction, it’s clearly not time to be joking around.
Ford Interceptor – In contrast, this almost took my “Best Concept.” Its elongated body and narrow windows are slick as hell. Ford should produce something very close to this and phase out the horribly bland Five-Hundred. If we give our police Crown Victorias, then Jack Bauer himself should drive this badass cruiser. Ford needs exactly this sort of car to keep itself alive.
Kia Kue – This could possibly be the tamest concept car of all time. Oooh, it’s got narrow, aggressive lights – scary! Just because you shape something with unusual angles does not mean it’s “from the future.” Though I will give it points because it doesn’t look like it was designed in 1992 like all other present-day Kias.
Dodge Avenger – I’ve been racking my brain to figure out why they would even make this car. It’s just a pansy version of the Charger which was already a pansy version of the Mustang. In fact, it looks so similar that the spokesmodel was calling it a Charger for a few minutes until someone corrected her.
Chrysler Nassau – Every year Chrysler tries to outdo the 300C, and every year they prove their original success was a fluke because it’s clear they have no idea what they’re doing. This half hatchback/half luxury car has no idea what it wants to be. And seriously – does Chrysler even produce cars that aren’t silver?
Acura Advanced Sports Car Concept – Clearly the winner for most innovative name, this concept is most likely a rebirth of the recently killed NSX. Severe angles and wrap-around windshield make it look nothing like its predecessor, but it’s the NSX’s soul that will live on, not the body. And that’s all we need.
The electricity in the air at Cobo is enough to get anyone excited, and if you’re a car enthusiast, the NAIAS is like Christmas. So if you can scrounge up a ride of your own, I highly suggest you check it out before it closes next Sunday.
The models at the NAIAS are usually nice and tame, but this year, they look a little less Detroit Auto Show and a lot more Hot Import Tuner magazine.
First place: Dodge Nitro Model – I thought about using the pickup line, “what’s a pretty girl like you doing standing next to an ugly car like this?” It would’ve worked.
Second place: Lexus LS600h Model – I’ve no idea what the LS600h looks like, and she’s the reason.
Third place: Chevrolet Volt Model – Had an air of superiority, but I guess that comes with the electric car.
Best Tag Team: Nissan Desk Girls – I didn’t like any Nissans, but you can be damn sure my bag was full of their brochures when I left the area.