Having endured a marathon 12-hour day of press conferences, walked the show floor numerous times, and inspected dozens of models, the emerging theme for this year’s Detroit auto show seems to be how practical, and downright sensible, the unveiled vehicles are, a few exceptions notwithstanding.
In years past, the Detroit show was home to all manner of smoke, mirrors, and stunts that were high-dollar entertainment productions to show off wild concept cars that bore little resemblance to anything built in the real world. To be sure, it was fun and certainly fueled automotive passions, but the disconnect from what consumers want and can afford seemed shameful. (But boy, were there memorable unveilings, like a Jeep Grand Cherokee driving through the glass doors to enter the convention center, but I digress.)
For 2011, there were numerous right-sized models within the grasp of most new-car shoppers, such as the Ford C-Max, Honda Civic, Hyundai Veloster, updated Jeep Compass, Toyota Prius V, and Volkswagen Passat. Real vehicles for real consumers, rather than just chum for the media feeding frenzy. Even the concept vehicles were less fanciful, with the Porsche 918 RSR a notable exception.
One downside is that there were fewer models than in years past. With concept cars costing $1 to $4 million to design and construct, it was smart spending on automakers’ part to focus on efforts that will actually sell.
Only a few press conferences focused on “active lifestylers,” leaving most vehicles as possible choices for those less-active shoppers—a large market segment that gets too little attention.
As media days wind down, the show feels smaller, but more significant. There are two more new-car events in the season—Chicago and New York. I’m betting this trend will continue.