Detroit Auto Show: What Worked. What Didn't

By Bill Visnic January 14, 2011

2011 Detroit Auto Show Logo - 150.jpgThe 2011 edition of the Detroit auto show, coming at the start of what may be a long, gradual industry rebound, certainly wasn't as downtrodden as the 2010 version. The 2011 Detroit show was, in fact, surprisingly interesting if one discounts the fact the three headline unveilings - Honda Civic, Volkswagen Passat and Toyota Prius V - all could broadly be described as comparatively mundane family cars.

Here's how AutoObserver grades the Detroit auto show's most significant vehicles:


Ford Vertrek ConceptFord Vertrek concept - 300.jpg

Clumsy name, but it was almost universally agreed this was the killer concept of the show.

The Vertrek married shades of Focus with overtones of Land Rover and Audi. If the production Escape crossover that results isn't watered down - keep those magnificent creases in the rear doors, Ford metal benders - and the powertrains are worthy, Ford will have a stampede going. And General Motors Co.'s big-selling Equinox looks like yesterday's plate of fish.

BMW 1-Series M Coupe2011 BMW 1-Series M - 300.jpg

The ungainly 1-Series has always needed something, and the butching-up from all that hung-on M bodywork, though overwrought, seems to help.

What's really titillating is the potential guided-missile performance from the 335-horsepower straight-six stuffed into the comparatively light 1-Series bodyshell. But $47,000? The battle here will be whether the car becomes a limited-edition track-day icon or a dentist's wife shopping cart.

Hyundai VelosterHyundai Veloster - 300.jpg

The Veloster ain't perfect. The bulbous, hunched-down rear looks semi-bad and semi-comical - a reader at's Inside Line summarized it better than we ever could: "the back end looks like a baboon in heat." Still another called it the "Hyundai Gremlin."

But overall, the Veloster is interesting and appealing. Combine the Veloster's strong exterior and interior design statement with affordable pricing with the potential for entertaining dynamics and Hyundai could have yet another hit on its hands. The Veloster looks a lot like the simple, sporty-handling cars Honda forgot how to make.


Honda Civic ConceptHonda Civic concept - 300.jpg

Speaking of Honda, the Civic Concept unveiling was fascinating to watch. Nobody hated the car, but nobody clapped, either.  

Honda's propensity is to show concepts that are barely disguised versions of the planned production model, so taken in that light, the all-new Civic coming later this year (and delayed by a year for Honda to fettle) is an evolutionary styling step.

The Honda faithful seemed marginally satisfied the car wasn't a mess. Using Ford's Focus as a benchmark, the Civic may launch in catch-up mode. Saving grace could come from a still-undisclosed drivetrain innovation (it's been a while for one of those from Honda) or, at the very least, a return to the double-wishbone front suspension that used to make the Civic something special.

Volkswagen Passat2012 Volkswagen Passat - 300.jpg

Derided as hopelessly bland and disappointingly dumbed-down, the new-age, U.S.-built 2012 Passat definitely is a double scoop of vanilla.

But the car is immense inside, rear-seat legroom is vast (VW claims best-in-class), the accountants didn't have their way with the rear axle and there's at least one unique calling card to offset the Passat's phoned-in styling: the availability of diesel power. Too bad the interior materials are visibly downgraded (the analog clock pressed into the grille of the upper dashboard vents looks like VW grabbed them from bins at Dollar Tree) and the sparkling 2-liter turbo 4-cylinder is nowhere to be seen.

Still, VW planners may have accurately pinpointed the Wal-Mart influence that prevails over many Americans' purchase decisions. But in the end, VW's gonna discover they would have been better off going Target. Just ask GM.

Ford Mustang Boss 302S
2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302S - 300.jpg

Probably the last thing anybody needs is another variant of the Mustang.

But heaven help us if the Boss 302S doesn't live up to the part. That stonking new 5-liter V8. The front chin so recklessly low. The orange display car on the show floor was almost perfect, even though you'd probably eventually kick yourself for investing upwards of 50 grand on this car with a solid rear axle, 444 horsepower or no. And the door stripe looks cheesy.

Kia KV7 ConceptKia KV7 concept - 300.jpg

This concept looked superb on the platform, although the most anybody could say is that the KV7 looks like Kia's interesting interpretation of the Ford Flex, the car everyone loves but nobody buys. Take a shot, Kia. You might end up doing it better - you'll almost certainly do it lighter - than Ford.


BMW 6-Series Convertible2012 BMW 6 Series convertible - 300.jpg

Looked like something Chrysler would roll out if you gave it unlimited budget and said, "Do another one of those Marchionne makeovers on the Sebring."

Ford C-Max2012 Ford C-Max - 300.jpg

Watching the impact of this rather mommyish-looking people-mover will be one of the industry's more interesting pastimes in 2011. Ford hasn't had a genuine minivan for years and its dealers can sell anything. But the C-Max's dorkiness factor seems high, as does the likelihood of the thing befuddling buyers.

The C-Max has the look of another excuse to avoid mixing it up in the traditional minivan market. Buyers probably aren't going to buy this any more than they have the Flex, unless pricing is aggressive.

Buick Verano2012 Buick Verano - 300.jpg

The Regal isn't doing much, so maybe if Buick goes yet another size smaller?

Verano is a rebadged Chevy Cruze and gramps' bowling buddies aren't going to dig the zero inches of rear-seat legroom. Oh, wait - Buicks are for young people now, that's why this is going to all work out.

Chrysler 200Chrysler 200 - 300.jpg

Watch out Camry and Accord: Chrysler found religion and started spending money on interiors. Well, some money, anyway.

Mini Paceman ConceptMini Paceman concept - 300.jpg

Oddly alluring, we'll admit, but the verdict's in: Mini is out of ideas and out of bandwidth. And probably out of buyers.

The Clubman was a dud. The Countryman isn't going to do any better - after all, is all-wheel-drive really necessary for a Mini? Uh, Mini, step over here - the VW Beetle and smart fortwo want to have a word with you.

Toyota Prius V2012 Toyota Prius V - 300.jpg

Did Toyota do the Prius V specifically for the hybrid taxicab market? Because if there's not going to be a third row of seats, what's the point? Then again, kiddies way back there would suck precious battery power.


Toyota Prius C Concept Toyota Prius C Concept - 300.jpg

Sorry, greenie bashers, but this car looked edgy and hip. And the idea, a costed-down hybrid city car, is better than the Prius V. Stay true to the concept sheetmetal, Toyota, and you may have something here. Looks loads better than an Insight, Honda's smarmy idea of affordable hybridization.

Audi A72012 Audi A7 - 300.jpg

While all the attention was on the ho-hum A6 unveiled at the show, the Audi stand also held a stunning example of the soon-to-arrive A7 hatchback sedan - a car that looks much more convincing and desirable than BMW's interpretation of this odd species. Or Mercedes-Benz's, for that matter.

Chevrolet Sonic2012 Chevrolet Sonic - 300.jpg

This car's trying, it really is, and some angles aren't bad. Inexplicably, it's still kinda dumpy, though, as if GM (and its Korean arm) is unaware of the Ford Fiesta. Or even the Honda Fit.

And how did the name, Sonic, get past the focus groups? Or maybe that's exactly how the name came to be.


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ed124c says: 12:25 PM, 01.14.11

The Sonic is the least viable model here-- unless, of course, gas goes off the map.
The Civic will do just fine. Why does it need to be all new and different? Does BMW do that?
The Passat seems to be a dumb move by a company whose niche is supposed to be just below entry level luxury. 20K? Good luck.
Verano-- who asked for it? Overpriced, underpowered, cramped inside. But nice looking.

fulcrumb says: 9:16 AM, 01.15.11

Buick, Verano: See? They shoulda kept Pontiac. Nice G5. Where did the rear seat legroom go that the Cruz has?
Ford C-max: Needs a name with a "-star" suffix. Mallstar? Dancestar? Gangsta(r)?
THIS JUST IN: Sonic Drive-ins just announced the new AveoBurger. Wwe felt we needed a name that was easy to pronounce and identify with" said boss Joe Sonic.
THIS JUST IN AFTER THAT: Sonic Corporation's website opens with an animation showing a Ford edge driving into a Sonic Drive-in and then a group of happy kids enjoying ice cream cones-with a first generation Ford Winstar in the background.

Are you on this, Mr. Ewanick?


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