Driving off the end of the Lodge freeway deposits you smack dab in the middle of downtown Detroit. You're welcomed to town by a sculpture of a huge bronze fist that's large enough to TKO Godzilla. This sculpture is just about as friendly as Detroit's January weather, but the two together are no match for the heat generated by what's going on inside Detroit's Cobo Center. It's the 2008 North American International Auto Show, otherwise known as the Detroit Auto Show.

Inside, hundreds of vehicles are parked, perched or otherwise taking up space on Cobo's not-large enough show floor. Amidst the pulsing lights, dramatic music, and smiling turntable models, what is truly worthy of your attention? Eschewing dozens of less critical reveals and introductions, the following list highlights must-sees in Detroit. Each entry stands out because of its potential for market impact, or because it reveals and/or supports an emerging trend. In addition to this quick overview, your team from AOL Autos will bring you detailed coverage on key vehicles so you're up to speed on all that's new. Enjoy.

See Our Full Coverage of the 2008 Detroit Auto Show

Toyota

A-BAT | See Photo Gallery

This compact truck's name, A-BAT, makes us think aye-batter-batter-batter. Will it be a swing and a miss, or a home run? For the overall design, think Honda Ridgeline only smaller, and powered by Toyota's extant Hybrid Synergy Drive technology. Features like a Chevy Avalance-esque midgate expand the versatility of this small truck/utility, and clever features abound. We see an opportunity for a fuel-efficient compact truck, and the A-BAT seems to be pointing in that general direction.
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Venza

Further expanding their crossover portfolio, the Venza takes a different path to its CUV-ness when compared to the RAV4 or Highlander. Built off of the Camry/Avalon platform, expect a decidedly more sedan-like CUV, perhaps more in the same vein as the Infiniti EX35 or BMW X6.

Ford Motor Company

2009 F-150

It's only the most important vehicle on the planet in terms of volume, so no pressure on the Blue Oval. The new F-150 is considerably better looking and gains features and capabilities, many lifted from last year's all-new Super Duty. Read Full Story

Explorer America Concept | See Photo Gallery

This concept certainly showcases Ford's new gasoline turbocharged direct-injection engine (GTDI) and may hint at a new design direction for the Explorer badge. Ford will roll out its efficient and powerful GTDI technology across four- and six-cylinder engines -- 500,000 units annually within five years. The technology increases fuel economy 20 percent while cutting C02 emissions 15 percent. The Lincoln MKS also gets GTDI fitted to its 3.5-liter V6 first, boasting 340 horsepower and 340 ft-lbs of V8-beating torque.
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Verve | See Photo Gallery

This sub-Focus-sized sedan is designed by Ford Europe and is expected to be built South of our borders in time for the 2010 model year. Anticipate seeing something like this handsome concept along with the Verve Coupe that debuted in Frankfurt in the near future. But don't expect to see the frameless door glass make production. Pity.

Chrysler

2009 Dodge Ram

The Ram is thoroughly redesigned for 2009, and it's about time. A more powerful and efficient Hemi is under hood, but more importantly, a new Cummins light-duty clean diesel will be available in 1500s (this is a trend in itself). Plus, to improve stability and ride refinement, the live rear axle is now suspended with coils instead of traditional leafs. In a breakthrough of common sense, Dodge figured out how to use all that wasted space in the rear fenders too.

Alternative-Fueled Concepts | See Photo Gallery

Judging by the three's-not-a-crowd POV, Chrysler is showing the world it knows how to do "alternative." Their Dodge ZEO, Jeep Renegade and Chrysler ecoVoyager concepts all run on electric power, but produce and store that power in different manners. This is a continuation of the auto-show trend of 2007, where manufacturers fell all over themselves attempting to "out green" each other. Read Full Story

General Motors

Cadillac Provoq Fuel Cell Concept | See Photo Gallery

Cadillac's mid-size hydrogen fuel-cell powered concept looks like a 2008 Saturn Vue on glamour steroids. That's not a bad thing. Use this concept to see where Cadillac sees its styling headed and for specific engineering features to look for on Chevrolet's upcoming Volt (like the grille with computer-controlled openings to help better control aero drag). Read Full Story

Saturn Flextreme | See Photo Gallery

Remember last year's show-stopper for General Motors? It was the Chevy Volt -- an advanced, practical, electrically-powered four-seat automobile that caught the eye of the press and public alike. After the positive response, GM dedicated huge resources to speed the Volt to dealerships sometime around 2010. The Volt is built on a new vehicle platform that GM calls the E-Flex, and what you see in the Flextreme is what a Saturn "Volt" might look like. GM has made great progress since last years Detroit auto show, and the Flextreme is looking much more "production ready than the Volt. Highlights include plug-in charging of the battery back for fully topped-off batteries when you leave the garage, and an efficient diesel engine to charge the batteries when needed while you're on the road.
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Hummer HX | See Photo Gallery

Hummer isn't kidding anybody with their HX. It's the H4; a smaller Hummer aimed to challenge Jeep Wrangler and Toyota FJ. Our guess (based on general dimensions) is that this "concept" points to a production model built on a shortened H3 frame. GM's new 4.5-liter light-duty diesel will probably fit under the HX's hood. The engine that's already there is an E85 version of Cadillac's direct-injection 3.6-liter V6.

Performance Models

Proving that eco-friendly vehicles aren't the only things that attract attention, GM will publicly debut the 2009 Corvette ZR1 (See Photo Gallery) and Cadillac CTS-V (See Photo Gallery). There is a school of thought that frets over C02 regulations and murmurs that cars like these -- of this immediate era -- may be the last best performance cars our generation will ever see. The performance envelopes of both cars are staggeringly good. Take that, eco-weenies!

BMW

Paging Dr. Diesel

Apparently, diesels are now cool enough to propel The Ultimate Driving Machines for sale in North America. BMW's sequential twin-turbo 3-liter in-line six-cylinder diesel will be on the corporate stand under the hood of at least the 2008 X5 and 3-Series. In Europe, the engine powers 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7-Series plus the X3 and X5, so expect the 265-horsepower/425 ft-lbs torque engine to show up in more US models.

X6

The production X6 debuts with styling that combines a 5-Series sedan with an SUV's stance and the coupe-like roofline of a Mercedes CLS. Add another to your tally of new CUVs ...

Mercedes

Vision GLK

The brand continues its expansion with a crossover built on the new C-platform. About the size of a Ford Escape, the harshly styled, angular SUV-like didn't look very charming in pre-show photos, so a look at the real thing may reveal a pleasant surprise. Or not. The GLK, expected to go on sale in the US next January, targets the X3 with a 7-speed automatic hooked to a 2.2-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel. The expected MSRP is around $38,000.

Nissan

Forum Concept | See Photo Gallery

Something funny happened on the way to the forum ... everybody ended up loathing minivans. These eminently practical transportation appliances have generally fallen out of favor, but Nissan still believes the segment is worth their attention. The Forum carves curves into the traditional brick minivan shape, eliminating the B-pillar and exposed sliding door tracks in the process. The Forum is powered by a clean diesel hooked to a CVT. Nissan claims the CVT isn't dead. We'll see ...

See Our Full Coverage of the 2008 Detroit Auto Show


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