When the great auto shows are discussed, the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit will be one of the big memories. It displays a thrilling bunch of cars and trucks.
And it breaks several molds. No longer must vehicles be fun or practical. No longer must environmental cars be drab, or sexy vehicles be irresponsible. And no longer are there American car companies and foreign car companies.
DaimlerChrysler, ranging from Plymouth to Mercedes-Benz, began to look like an enterprise, not just a holding company.
Ford Motor Co. boldly displayed itself as a world company with six major brands, including three based outside the United States. Under one corporate umbrella, the Ford stand presented the Lincoln, Mazda, Jaguar, Ford, Mercury and Aston Martin brands.
Surely this is a Golden Age of Automobiledom.
The theme of the Detroit show is a non-theme: Any-thing goes as long as it delights the customer (and maybe is also easy on the environment). And the old categories are out: Niches, sub-niches and vehicles for every taste are in.
The old three-box car is still around, but the future belongs to creative use of interior space and maybe to innovative powertrains.
The show shed a new light on environmental initiatives. Despite the cheap gasoline that herds Americans into big trucks, the automakers displayed their considerable work on green vehicles. Good news: Automakers are doing green vehicles that are also sexy, or more appropriately, sexy vehicles that are also responsible. Example: the beautiful and evocative Dodge Charger R/T that runs on compressed natural gas. Medicine doesn't have to taste bad.
This Detroit show will be talked about for years. But remember the famous 1989 Tokyo show, with its crazed sprouting of countless showy, often goofy concepts. It presaged the end of the unsustainable Bubble in Japan.
The creative renaissance at Detroit suggests that the world's auto industry can respond both to the picky American consumer and to the environment.