Show has hits and misses, and no home runs

Richard Truett is an Automotive News staff reporter.
DETROIT -- Anyone coming to the auto show looking for a headline-stealing, jaw-dropping concept or future production vehicle on par with last year's Chevrolet Volt is going to be sorely disappointed.

No vehicle has the automotive press buzzing, and none has yet emerged as the "gotta have it" car of this year's show. But that's not to say there weren't a few stars of the class of 2008. Here's a look at some of the hits and misses.

Honda CR-Z
Hit: Honda CR-Z -- Honda fans have been waiting since 1991 for a successor to the much-loved two-seater CRX. They'll finally have it when this car goes on sale in about 18 months. Like the old CRX, the CR-Z is a stubby, two-seat commuter car.

The CR-Z has a wedgy stance and will likely be the platform that Honda uses to launch its next generation of hybrid powertrains. That would make perfect sense, because one version of the old CRX, the HF, delivered an EPA rating of 51 mpg city and 60 highway.

2009 Dodge Ram
Miss: The new Dodge Ram pickup -- Getting this vehicle wrong is a move Chrysler can ill-afford to make now that Toyota is gobbling up market share with the full-sized Tundra. But it is hard to see how the 2009 Ram, which arrives this fall, will improve sales. At best, the truck might hold its own.

The problem? Let's start on the inside. The new F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado interiors blow away the interior of the new Ram. Both the Ford and Chevy trucks use better materials, such as real aluminum or classy-looking wood grain trim.

The Ram interior is a dark plastic jungle. The door panels are hard plastic. The chromed door handles look substantial, but they aren't. They are also plastic. Hopefully, it is not too late for Chrysler to perform some emergency surgery on the Ram's interior.

Lexus LF-A
Hit: Lexus LF-A -- Here's a 500-hp, V-10-powered, Corvette-sized roadster with cool, futuristic, Blade Runner-like styling. It has more air scoops than any production car to come out of Japan. Lexus has to figure out what kind of top to put on the car -- either a folding metal or composite roof or an old-fashioned ragtop -- then it should be ready to go.

Hit: Land Rover LRX -- This isn't just a vehicle Land Rover wants; it's a vehicle Land Rover must have. The compact SUV will boost Land Rover's corporate average fuel economy ratings, something the company must have when tougher European standards take affect in 2011. The concept version is powered by a gasoline-electric powertrain and gets around 50 mpg.

The styling is cool, too. With its narrow headlights, the LRX has the meanest face ever seen on a Land Rover. The LRX comes from the pen of Gerry McGovern, one of the industry's most underrated designers.

Mercedes-Benz Vision GLK concept Photo credit: RYAN BEENE
Miss: Mercedes-Benz Vision GLK concept -- This is what happens when you take a Subaru Forester and have a Chinese automaker install a Mercedes knockoff grille. It's awful.

Hit: Smart ForTwo. Here's an affordable, easy-to-park microcar for city slickers and tree-huggers who crawl along on surface roads at 10 mph under the speed limit to save fuel. Look for this tiny car to become a favorite of elderly drivers who live in gated communities, and look for it to be pulled behind Winnebagos.

A car this size can be used for many things. It will be a hit, although it won't light up the sales charts like the Mini Cooper.

Miss: The Chinese, but not for long. Five Chinese automakers are displaying this year at the Detroit show, and this may be the last year we can summarily write off Chinese vehicles. They've already picked off the low-hanging fruit and improved the quality of paint finishes, door gaps and seams.

At first glance and from a distance, cars from such automakers as Geely and BYD look pretty good. All the vehicles I saw looked to be assembled well, with tight-fitting weatherstripping and flush shut lines.

But now the Chinese have to do the hard work and get the body hardware right. Things that need work are door handles, latches, plastic surfaces, switches, seat upholstery. It all has a very cheap look and feel, and several of the cars I sat in had broken or malfunctioning trim items.

Hit: BMW X6 -- This swoopy crossover should be a major hit for BMW. It's a tall wagon with a sloping roof and a hatchback rear door that opens to a cavernous cargo bay. A nifty optional V-8 engine has twin turbochargers with inboard-facing exhaust manifolds that save space and weight.

You can reach Richard Truett at




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