It helped that Chrysler unveiled still another mainstream hit at the Detroit show: the redesigned and larger minivan.
The van, in showrooms this spring, was widely praised as a great leap forward for the dominant minivan maker.
The left-side sliding passenger door, the big, bold expanses of glass and the seats on rollers drew admiration from the 4,000 reporters and countless executives at America's top auto show.
And Chrysler's show-business experts recruited Chairman Robert Eaton and President Robert Lutz to act in a fairy tale that climaxed with the new van literally leaping into a pond. The point: leap-frogging the competition.
Ford Motor Co. shared the spotlight with the introduction of the new Taurus and Sable. Many designers and auto executives praised the 1996 Taurus as an elegant, almost daring reworking of America's best-selling passenger car. Others criticized the design.
David Hackett, studio director of Toyota's Calty Design center in Newport Beach, Calif., and an admirer, praised Ford for taking nearly as bold a step forward as it took in December 1985 when the original jellybean Taurus took America by storm.
But some competitive designers were less than enthusiastic.
'The new cars are a major and progressive step forward from the current Taurus and Sable,' ob-served John Herlitz, Chrysler's vice president of product design. 'They are a very logical next step into the future based on the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique.'
Said John Schinella, director of Chevrolet interior and exterior design studios: 'When I saw this car I wondered, 'What are they doing?' What this shape reminded me of was a Bonneville that's been out for three years. The Ford looks awkward on its wheels. And there isn't enough luggage space for this segment.
'But it is expressive. It's got an E-Jag front end. And really, the important thing will be the customer reaction.'
WHERE WAS GM?
International-nameplate companies made few splashes in Detroit. Like their Big 3 counterparts, heads of U.S. importers mainly gave thanks for a good 1994 and predicted even better things for 1995.
But if Ford was a strong second in Motown, where was General Motors?
Chevrolet and GMC pulled the wraps off the Tahoe and Yukon four-door, full-sized sport-utilities. Apart from those trucks, GM generated little excitement.
Pontiac displayed a show version of the 1996 Grand Prix, and Oldsmobile showed the concept version of the new 1997 Cutlass Supreme. (See photos on Page 2.) Buick exhibited the XP2000 concept: a rear-drive, mid-sized sedan based on the Opel Omega platform, with a 5.0-liter V-8 and eight airbags. Cadillac simply canceled its press luncheon.
It was Chrysler that continued on a roll in Detroit. In the same week that it announced record corporate sales for 1994 (see Page 52), Chrysler dominated the consciousness of the world's automotive press through its amusing unveiling of the minivan and a more conventional introduction of three concept cars.
With the help of a lighthearted frog that sounded suspiciously like Kermit, Chrysler launched its minivans. Chrysler claimed it was 'leap-frogging' the competition. The scene: an elaborate stage set up as a swamp.
Attendance at the introduction was estimated at 1,500. The 800 seats were filled an hour before the press conference. Eaton and Lutz read a rhyming tale about how Chrysler invented minivans.
Chrysler spokesman Tom Kowaleski said the staging cost less than $1 million. 'We got coverage all over the world, and we reached better than 1,000 of the world's most influential auto journalists,' he said.
Ford, with a sulphurously smoky stage, dull speeches, a blinding light show and a deafening sound system, did not impress the media at the intro of the Taurus and Sable. Ford Chairman Alex Trotman quipped that he suspected 'we've violated the Clean Air Act.'
The all-important Taurus got mixed reviews from the press.Ford also showed a tantalizing gaggle of other new vehicles - including an early look at the 1996 F-150 pickup, an important redesign of America's best-selling vehicle. (See Page 4.)