Best Kept Secret at the Detroit Auto Show - Autoline with John McElroy

The Detroit auto show gets unbelievable international coverage from thousands of journalists, and they're all hoping to come out of the show with some kind of scoop. But with everyone attending the same press conferences and interviewing the same executives, that's practically impossible to do. And yet, this year they made it easy for me to get my own scoop, because most of the media ignored what may be the most important design awards in the industry.
They call it the Eyes on Design award, and it attracts the top automotive designers in the world to Detroit. The idea is for the designers to gather into four groups, fan out through the show armed with their ballots, and vote on what they think is the best new production car and truck, and the best concept car and truck.

In the design community, the award has become a big deal, since it's literally an award from your peers. And the designers are pretty good about giving their honest opinions as to what they like the best (or what they ignore!). It's a secret ballot, so they can vote their conscience without any fear of retaliation from their employer.

Maybe the awards are so invisible because they actually benefit a non-profit organization called the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology. And being a non-profit, there isn't a big marketing machine promoting it. Tom Gale, the former head of design at Chrysler, is the founding chairman, and with him involved it's no wonder they're able to put together such an impressive panel of judges. I've included the complete list of jurors at the end of this article.

OK, enough suspense already. The judges determined that the best new production car at the show is the Cadillac CTS-V, with the award going to John Manoogian and Eric Clough of the GM Design staff. And the best new production truck was the BMW X-6, with the award going to Anders Warming of BMW Design. And they voted to give the Cadillac CTS Coupe the best concept car award, with the award going to the two designers already mentioned, and the Chrysler Eco Voyager the best concept truck, with that going to Greg Howell and Ty Stomp. Chrysler may be a bit miffed to see the Eco Voyager is perceived to be a truck, but I'm sure getting the award more than makes up for that.

Actually, there is a surprising amount of design related activities at the North American International Auto show. AutoWeek magazine holds its Design Forum at the NAIAS every year, which pulls in hundreds of people. And every year Michelin holds its design challenge, which is open to anyone who wants to compete and is judged by eight top designers in the industry. For 2009, the challenge is to come up with the next iconic American car. Want to throw your hat in the ring? You can get an entry form here.

I don't think any other auto show puts nearly this much emphasis on design, and I sure hope the Eyes on Design awards start to get the kind of media attention that they deserve.

2008 Eyes On Design Judges

Chief Judges
  • Tom Gale - Founding Chairman, Chrysler Head of Design and Product Development Chief - Retired
  • Chris Bangle - BMW Group
  • Jack Telnack - Ford Motor Co - Retired
  • Nate Young - Art Center College of Design

  • Anne Asensio - Dassault Systemes
  • Wayne Cherry - General Motors Design – Retired
  • Trevor Creed - Chrysler Corporation Design
  • Willie G Davidson - Harley-Davidson, Inc
  • Henrik Fisker - Fisker Automotive
  • Fabrizio Giugiaro - Guigiaro ItalDesign
  • Dale Harrow - Royal College of Art – England
  • Kevin Hunter - Calty Design Research
  • Chuck Jones - Whirlpool
  • Charles Jordan - General Motors – Retired
  • Dave Marek - Honda
  • Tom Matano - Academy of Art University
  • Imre Molnar - College for Creative Studies
  • Shiro Nakamura - Nissan
  • Akinoro Nakanishi - Mitsubishi Motors Corporation Design Office
  • Suk-Geun Oh - Hyundai
  • Peter Pfeiffer - Mercedes
  • Stewart Reed - Art Center College of Design
  • Peter Stevens - Stevens Design - England
  • Mark Trostle Sr - American Speed Company
  • Franz VonHolzhausen - Mazda
  • Ed Welburn - General Motors Design
  • Mark West - College for Creative Studies

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