DETROIT — Carl Galeana was waking up at 4:30 a.m., working until after 11 p.m. and expecting the unexpected in between those long hours.
Such was the hectic schedule for the co-chairman of the North American International Auto Show here, which in January kicked off with three days of press previews, followed by two suppliers days and a charity preview and then opened to the public with the expectation of 750,000 visitors.
“You never know what might be required of you during the show,” from interviews to handling various logistics, Galeana says of his co-chairmanship.
He is a 5-franchise auto dealer (Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Saturn and Kia) and past president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Assn., owners of the Motor City's 100-year-old auto show that began in a beer garden, sharing space with a gun and knife show.
“A lot of big auto shows around the world are not dealer run, but we are, and it is one of our strengths,” he says. “Some representatives from Germany said this show is what it is because it is run by dealers.”
Dealers are good at spotting industry trends, Galeana says, and can figure out a way to make things happen, such as accommodating Mercedes-Benz wanting to install an ice rink on the show floor to highlight all-wheel-drive vehicles.
“Another show might not have done that. But we did, because we recognize the importance of selling cars,” he says.
Galeana, a second-generation dealer with stores in Detroit; Columbus, SC; and Fort Meyers, FL, says the Detroit show has become one of the world's premier auto extravaganzas. He and his DADA colleagues want to keep it that way.
One way to ensure that is to increase the size of the 750,000-sq.-ft. exhibit space at the Cobo Convention Center, a proposal that long has been discussed.
But regional governmental agencies have yet to agree on how to finance such a multi-million dollar project. Galeana thinks they ultimately will, as federal, state and local entities finally seem poised to partake in the cooperative effort
“We need to meet the needs of the industry, and everyone has more product, so we would like more space,” he says. “We'd like a bigger venue for the greatest auto show in North America, and possibly the world.”
Some show organizers have alluded to “losing” the show to another city. But Galeana says that's not going to happen. The worry is that auto makers will shift major debuts to other auto shows. The Los Angeles event, for instance, has been trying to increase its standing.
“Nothing happens overnight, and no one has threatened us,” says Galeana. “But we want to make sure this is the place for the industry to showcase its vehicles without any auto maker feeling shorted.
“We have a Chinese auto company displaying this year, and we had no where to put them but downstairs. We'd like to get up to 1-million sq.-ft. of exhibit space, which is what the Geneva show is.”
Detroit is the home of the Big Three auto makers, and the city sometimes harbors a degree of apprehension towards import auto companies. The DADA is careful not to let that xenophobia permeate the auto show, Galeana says.
“What makes this show special is that we're here in Detroit, the center of the American auto industry, but it is a neutral venue. Just look at the large presence of Toyota (Motor Corp.), Audi (AG) and others.
There were 70 vehicle introductions, including 33 concept cars. The following pages feature the big ones.
Plug-in Vehicle Charges GM Hybrid Future
General Motors Corp. shakes up the global hybrid-electric vehicle contest with the Chevrolet Volt Concept, a plug-in HEV the auto maker says could achieve a startling 150 mpg (1.56 L/100 km).
The Volt signals GM's overarching strategy to move from mechanical to electric-vehicle propulsion systems.
The concept is designed to run solely on charged electric power for a range of 40 miles. When that power supply starts to wane, a 1.0L, 3-cyl. turbocharged engine, burning gasoline or alternative fuels, kicks in to generate power to run the electric motor.
Unlike traditional HEVs, the Volt is a series hybrid because the internal combustion engine does not provide propulsion.
— By Scott Anderson
Toyota Introduces Truckzilla
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., taking the need for a true fullsize pickup truck to the next level, unveils the large CrewMax model.
Although anticipation was the CrewMax would match the enormity of Chrysler Group's Dodge Ram Mega Cab, the CrewMax is 19 ins. shorter than the largest Ram offering, with a total length of 228.7 ins. and a 145.7-in. wheelbase.
Like the Mega Cab, Toyota's D-cab only is available with a short bed.
The new '07 Tundra goes on sale this month, while the CrewMax hits Toyota U.S. dealerships in March.
— By Christie Schweinsberg
Chrysler Puts Swivel Seats in New Minivans
Chrysler Group plays give-and-take — but mostly give — when it launches its fifth-generation minivans this fall.
Highlighting the improved-features list are Swivel 'n Go, a second-row, reversible-seat variant of Chrysler's highly successful Stow 'n Go seating system and a 6-speed automatic transmission — a first in the minivan segment.
Undaunted by last year's 12% decline in Chrysler Town & Country sales and a 6.9% drop in Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan deliveries, the auto maker views the future with considerable optimism, if only because Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. are abandoning the market.
— By Eric Mayne
Volvo Goes After Youth Market for First Time
The new '07 Volvo C30 hatchback is the auto maker's first attempt to attract a younger buyer to the upscale Swedish marque.
“The C30 is the first car we're making to attract new customers,” Steve Mattin, senior vice president-Design Director tells Ward's. “It's important to make people aware.”
The C30, already launched in Europe, is set to arrive in the U.S. in mid-summer. Volvo brass say the coupe is aimed at car buyers 35 years of age and under, or empty nesters — those whose children have left home and want something sporty and youthful.
— By Byron Pope
Exterior Lines Softened on Cadillac CTS
The Cadillac CTS, which five years ago breathed new life into the listless brand, returns as a redesigned '08 model.
The updated sedan softens the angular lines of its predecessor, a design cue that will carry over into a coupe, wagon and cross/utility vehicle variant that are on the way.
GM's new focus on interiors is evident, with a brighter and more upscale ambiance.
A more powerful engine is intended to allow the CTS to compete with BMW, Nissan and Toyota brands, all of which have crested the 300-hp mark.
— By Scott Anderson
Order Early for New Lamborghini
Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A showed off its Murcielago Roadster LP 640, which is slated for U.S. dealerships early this spring. The U.S., though only will receive 100 of the new convertibles (with a price tag of $350,000) this year.
Customers should place their orders early. “The order books are full with a wait list of one year,” says Stephan Winkelman, CEO of Volkswagen AG's Italian supercar division.
The new LP640 features a V-12, 6.5 L engine that produces 640 hp at 8,000 rpm and goes more than 210 mph.
Lamborghini sales continued their upward climb, finishing 2006 with 2,087 units worldwide. Six U.S. dealerships were added last year in Detroit, Seattle, Las Vegas, Boston, Houston and Washington. Another five are planned for 2007 in St. Louis; Chicago; Calabasas, CA; Greenwich, CT; and West Palm Beach, FL.
— By Cliff Banks
Accord to Get More Power, Edgier Design
American Honda Motor Co. Inc. promises a more powerful V-6 engine for its eighth-generation best-selling passenger car, as it debuts its Accord Coupe Concept.
Honda says the new engine will use the next-generation of the auto maker's fuel-sipping Variable Cylinder Management technology and produce less-harmful emissions.
Marking the first time Honda has shown an Accord concept at a major auto show, the coupe hints at the design language of the new Accord lineup, due out in the U.S. this fall.
Honda's Coupe Concept represents a stylistic departure from current Accords with its sportier stance, highlighted by an extended hood and fastback roofline.
— By Christie Schweinsberg
Hyundai CUV Goes Upscale with Veracruz
Hyundai Motor America says its all-new '07 Veracruz large cross/utility vehicle is its best attempt yet at attracting upscale customers.
The 7-passenger vehicle slots in above the midsize Santa Fe CUV and churns out an estimated 260 hp from its 3.8L V-6 engine.
The Veracruz joins the burgeoning large CUV segment in the U.S., and is expected to attract buyers of traditional body-on-frame SUVs who are seeking more comfort without sacrificing power.
“The vehicle's designers recognized that the needs and desires of traditional SUV buyers weren't being met and focused on meeting those needs in an elegant and ingenious way,” says Hyundai COO Steve Wilhite.
— By Christie Schweinsberg
Avenger Pricing Gets Aggressive
Prices for the '08 Dodge Avenger will start at $18,895 when the all-new midsize sedan launches this spring, the Chrysler Group announces.
The Avenger's starting price for the SE trim level is $1,605 less than the base sticker of the outgoing Dodge Stratus. But the new sedan offers additional content valued at $985, Chrysler says.
Chrysler's aggressive pricing strategy reprises the one it adopted when Avenger's platform mate, the all-new, front-wheel-drive '07 Chrysler Sebring midsize sedan launched in September.
— By Eric Mayne
Mini Folks Satisfied Despite Sales Decline
It's not often you hear an automotive executive express pleasure over a sales decline, especially at BMW AG, but board of management member Michael Ganal is “satisfied” with Mini's global sales slipping 6.2% last year to 188,000.
That's because, he stresses, the slump had nothing to do with flagging demand. Significant production was lost because Mini's sole plant in Oxford, U.K., underwent major renovations to increase capacity from 200,000 to 240,000 units.
Ganal says the U.S. soon could become the largest retail market for the brand, outpacing even Mini's U.K. home market.
In Detroit, the auto maker introduces its Mini Sidewalk convertible, a special version featuring exclusive interior appointments, wheels and exterior colors that will be available in mid-April.
— By Drew Winter
Airstream Trailer Inspires Ford Concept CUV
Ford Motor Co.'s Airstream concept cross/utility vehicle is the result of a fun and innovative process for designers thought up by Freeman Thomas, director of North American Strategic Design.
The Airstream concept stemmed from exterior designer Jordan Bennett's creation of a storyboard titled an “American Journey,” along the lines of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806.
Thomas approached Chief Creative Officer J Mays with the idea. Mays suggested the Airstream travel trailer as the basis for the show vehicle, Freeman says.
“J Mays has a wonderful love affair with iconic brands like Airstream, so he created the bridge,” Thomas says.
— By Byron Pope
Lexus Enters Performance Realm with IS-F
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.'s Lexus luxury division unveils the IS-F — a 400-hp performance version of its IS sport sedan — which goes on sale in the U.S. in early 2008.
Also unveiled is the LF-A sports car concept. “Lexus has long been perceived as the maker of mainstream luxury vehicles. But the unveiling of the IS-F and LF-A not only changes this perception, it also introduces a new Lexus marque,” Bob Carter, Lexus group vice president and general manager, says of the new “F” branding.
He says the IS-F with a 5L V-8 and an 8-speed automatic transmission, is not intended to be a competitor to other performance sport sedans but rather is a sport sedan made “in the Lexus way.”
— By Christie Schweinsberg
New Malibu Is Longer and Wider
The '08 Malibu sports several new Chevrolet design cues, plus engineering from General Motors Corp.'s Adam Opel AG GmbH subsidiary.
Although the Malibu was the second best-selling car in GM's U.S. fleet in 2005 with 245,861 deliveries, 2006 sales through November fell 34.2% to 152,465.
The '08 Malibu is longer and wider than the outgoing model. It goes slightly upscale with an available 2-tone trim interior and gauges with blue backlighting.
— By Scott Anderson
Ford, Microsoft In Sync with In-Car System
Ford Motor Co. President-The Americas Mark Fields and Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates reveal details of Sync, a new in-vehicle technology that will debut in the new '08 Ford Focus.
Eventually Sync will be offered in 11 Ford, Mercury and Lincoln vehicles.
The factory-installed system will enable hands-free calling via a Bluetooth connection as well as connectivity to MP3 players, such as Apple's Ipod or Microsoft's Zune.
Sync also boasts voice recognition and can convert cell-phone text messages into audio and broadcast them through the vehicle's speaker system.
“In the past, (a technology like) Sync would have been offered in luxury vehicles,” Fields says.
Meanwhile, the redesigned Focus is expected to achieve a miserly 37 mpg.
— By Byron Pope
Around the Show
Easy for Him to Say
Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor North America, says adversity is a good thing, and he would do well to seek advice from rival General Motors Corp. as “it is easy to get complacent.”
Press advises those in the auto industry to maintain a positive outlook, despite news of plant closings by the Detroit Big Three auto makers and some analyst projections of a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate as low as 16 million units this year.
“I know it's easy for me to say that,” Press says, referring to Toyota's continuing sales growth.
“Things are not as bad as they look,” he says, advising GM to “not read the newspapers. You're doing fine.”
The Bombs Stop Here
It's fair to say Rick Wagoner had a better 2007 North American International Auto Show than in 2006.
Taking home both the North American car and truck of the year awards (Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Silverado) would do that for any top auto executive, but particularly for the General Motors Corp.'s chairman and CEO, who among other formidable challenges in 2006 faced drastic company restructuring.
He says the awards sweep shows that, while there were “bombs across the air last year in every way, shape and form they could have come, the vast majority of the people at GM were doing exactly what they should.”
GM in 2005 lost $10.6 billion but is set for profitability this year after massive cost cutting last year, Wagoner says. Nevertheless, he sees a very “long runway” for GM's turnaround.
If You Can't Stand the Heat…
Food Network star Bobby Flay skewers Chrysler Group President and CEO Tom LaSorda during the introduction of the auto maker's redesigned minivans.
As LaSorda helps Flay prepare a pair of dishes in a live demonstration to reflect brand attributes — a spicy salsa for Dodge; a rich ganache for Chrysler — the celebrity chef compliments the executive's culinary skills.
“It looks like you've spent time in a hot kitchen,” Flay says.
Without missing a beat, LaSorda ad-libs: “Kitchen's been pretty hot lately. Thanks for reminding me.”
Right Guy and a People Person, Too
The airplane guy is a car guy after all. Questioned for bringing in an industry outsider when he hired Alan Mulally from Boeing as Ford's new CEO, Chairman Bill Ford says his handpicked successor is “the right guy” and “a car guy.”
Ford goes on to assure Mulally is a “people person” and appreciates Ford's heritage and culture, but is helping to tear down the things that “have been holding us back.”
Says Ford in summation: “I have never enjoyed working with anyone as much as I have with Alan.”
The Old British Stiff Upper Lip
Leave it to the British to be civil when talking smack.
Responding to Rolls-Royce Chairman and CEO Ian Robertson, who says the $412,000 Phantom Drophead Coupe unveiled here is “a car for owners to drive and enjoy,” an insider from competitor Bentley observes: “Rolls has an owners' club. Bentley has a drivers' club.”
Asked if Rolls has a comeback, a spokeswoman sniffs, “We rise above that.”
Ford Thinks Small, Contemplates Bringing B-Car to U.S.
Ford Motor Co. has not committed officially to bringing a B-segment car to the U.S. market, but if it does, it will leverage its global resources to do so, the auto maker's top North American chief says.
“If we do a B-car, it's going to come off global architecture,” Mark Fields, president-The Americas, tells Ward's.
As fuel prices in the U.S. rise, so does the popularity of the small B-car segment. Most of Ford's competition has either entered, or plans to enter, the ring. Recent hits in the segment include the Nissan Versa, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.
Recently, Chrysler Group announced it has entered into a partnership with Chinese auto maker Chery Automobile Co. Ltd. to import B-cars and rebadge them for sale in the U.S.
Fields is confident Ford can compete because “we have a pretty thriving global B-car business in Europe and Asia/Pacific.”