Not to minimize the horror of the famous tragedy, but the situation in Detroit makes me wonder how the Titanic's orchestra felt as they played amid the panic of the stricken ocean liner; the specter of death certainly cast a pall on their dutiful attempts at distracting entertainment.
The 2009 Detroit Auto Show feels eerily analogous ... a distraction amid a looming disaster. So like the Titanic's band, the annual Detroit auto show goes on, with official show dates from January 11-15.
Thankfully, the analogy between the Titanic and Detroit is not completely parallel. Detroit will survive this crisis, but instead of certain death, only drastic changes are imminent. Proof of the changes will be on the show floor in the new products on display from Ford and General Motors. Plenty will be happening inside Cobo Hall, so don't expect to hear crickets chirping around cobweb-covered models from last year. But if you attend the MoTown event, don't expect to see Porsche, Ferrari, Land Rover, Suzuki or Mitsubishi. To save cash, they've pulled out.
The following runs down the most important announcements from every remaining manufacturer. Since this show is in Detroit, we'll start with the domestics.
Ford Motor Company
Ford is on a roll. They were the only Detroit-based company to come out swinging at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November. There, they showed the four 2010 models; the Mustang, Fusion (and Hybrid), Mercury Milan (and Hybrid), and Lincoln MKZ. These significant introductions went unanswered by General Motors or Chrysler, who elected not to do anything in LA.
Ford held back their most powerful Mustang until Detroit, where they'll show the 2010 Shelby GT500 in coupe and convertible body styles. While the standard-issue 2010 Mustang is big on style, it's significantly down on power compared to the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T and the upcoming 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. With a standard 315 horsepower, the Mustang GT gets walloped by the R/T's 372 ponies. Even worse, the base Camaro with a 3.6-liter V-6 produces 300 horsepower. Ouch! The muscle car game is played by numbers, so Ford has made everything all right again in the Mustang corral by giving the GT500 540 horsepower and 510 lb.ft. torque.
More mainstream than the new Shelby GT500 is the all-new 2010 Ford Taurus. Ford is eager to add flair to their sedan line. This won't be hard, as the outgoing Ford Taurus is a wholly competent but completely dull sedan. This is going to change.
The 2010 Taurus is based on the same mechanicals as the Lincoln MKS sedan. Thankfully, the giant VW Passat look of the old Taurus has been vanquished in favor of a sleeker design.
Power comes from two fuel-efficient V-6 engines, one featuring Eco-Boost, Ford's moniker for a turbocharged engine with direct fuel injection. In the Lincoln MKS sedan, the EcoBoost 3.5-liter is expected to produce 340 horsepower.
While there is no word about anything new from Mercury, Lincoln is going to show the production version of their MKT crossover. Lincoln showed the MKT Concept in 2008. The flamboyantly styled baleen whale grille made the transition to production on the 2009 Lincoln MKS quite nicely, but looks even better on the MKT. While you can't tell from the outside, the 2010 MKT is based on the Ford Flex. This is good news mechanically, because the Flex drives well and is impressively quiet and refined.
The upscale seven-passenger MKT will come standard with a power folding third-row seat, first and second-row heated and cooled seats, and the SYNC entertainment controller. Options will include a new-generation navigation system, Sirius Travel Link and a new Cross Traffic Alert system that warns drivers about obstacles when backing out of parking spaces. The MKT will also offer an auto-park feature that steers the vehicle into a parallel-parking spot at the touch of a button.
On top of these never-before-seen production models, it's expected that Ford will show their production 2010 Ford Fiesta car that they showed as a concept car at last year's show. This high-mileage compact is especially important in today's market, and the Fiesta is a winner in Europe where it is already on sale.
Over the past year, Ford has sold Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover. Volvo, however, remains in the Ford fold, and will show their 2010 Volvo S60 in concept form. This "concept" is a lightly disguised production vehicle that shows the direction Volvo is taking the S60. The sedan presents a smooth evolution of the current vehicle's "coupe-inspired" silhouette. (It seems every automaker is calling sedans coupes these days, like the Volkswagen CC and the Mercedes CLS.)
To save money, The General pushed back the introduction of several vehicles that it planned to show at November's L.A. Auto Show. These included the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox crossover, the rakish Cadillac CTS Coupe, and the Buick LaCross sedan. These L.A. holdovers will now debut in Detroit.
GM will also show the 2010 Cadillac SRX crossover, plus the cure-for-the-SUV-and-crossover-fad, the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon. We may also see a full production version of the Saturn Vue 2-Mode Hybrid, a vehicle they tossed into the 2008 show at the last minute.
Starting with the Chevy, their Equinox mid-size crossover gets more economical engines (four- and six-cylinders, both with fuel saving direct injection) plus attractive new interior and exterior styling. Unfortunately for driving enthusiasts, the underlying platform is carried over from previous Equinoxes, and these weren't ultimate driving machines by any stretch of the imagination.
Thankfully, there's no news of a Torrent replacement (Pontiac's Equinox twin). If there will be another non-Chevy Equinox, it will likely be a GMC called the Terrain.
Pre-economic collapse, GM's Cadillac division was helping lead General Motors out of the dumps with truly stellar products. Recent winners include the CTS-V (a BMW/Mercedes killer) and the Escalade Hybrid (a high-mileage out-of-vogue blingmobile).
Pressing on regardless, Cadillac's 2010 SRX crossover (available in front- and all-wheel-drive configurations) portends the trend of smaller, more luxurious vehicles powered by more economical engines. The all-new five-passenger SRX is half a foot shorter than the outgoing SRX, and offers two small V-6 engines instead of larger V-6 and V-8 engines. Vertically stacked headlights and trapezoidal chrome grille give the SRX a Cadillac family look without looking cookie cutter. The dramatic side sections out-RX's Lexus's popular RX in terms of style. We hold out hope for the driving dynamics of the new Cadillac SRX, as it rides on a highly-modified Theta chassis it will share with an upcoming Saab crossover, the 9-4x.
Buick will also show their new 2010 LaCross sedan in Detroit. Designed with the help of GM designers from China (where Buicks are tremendously popular), the LaCross is an elegant but low-key five-passenger sedan. Power comes from two V-6 engines that offer modestly improved fuel mileage. The new LaCross looks to be a high quality and finely crafted. Unfortunately, to our eyes, it's also visually dull and uninspiring.
Chrysler's management teams since 1990s have left much to be desired. Mercedes-Benz (1998-2007) and now Cerberus have cudgeled a once-proud automotive company into a coma. The past few months have been the worst as the stalled economy ruined the launch of two fine 2009 products, the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup and the Dodge Challenger.
Chrysler's news at Detroit is not much better than at L.A. The company will show (almost) nothing it hasn't shown before, and will focus on a quartet of electric vehicles—three of which it paraded before Washington bureaucrats in the hope of winning some loan guarantees last December.
The electrically-powered Dodge sport car, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Patriot, and Chrysler Town & Country van use different motor arrangements and means to recharge the battery packs. None is ready for immediate production, although Chrysler promises to have one for sale as a 2010 model.
While every company that sold cars in the U.S. during 2008 had a tough time, Subaru came away from this drastically down market with a slight sales gain. Their frugal, practical vehicles make sense for today's market.
Subaru continues to move forward and will show a new sedan they're calling the Legacy concept, a.k.a. the new Legacy sedan due later this year. The concept looks like a logical evolution of the current Legacy, but the slotted bumper and LED headlamps lend a technological touch. Expect the new Legacy to include standard all-wheel-drive and boxer engines. The concept is powered by the 3.6-liter six-cylinder used in the Tribeca crossover. Currently, the largest engine offered in a Legacy is a 3.0-liter flat-six.
A second new Subaru will also debut in Detroit. The car will be a concept two-door that shares its running gear with a future Toyota (Toyota owns a major share of Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru's parent company) will also be on the Subaru stand in Detroit. Details are scarce, but the spy shots of the sporty coupe foretell the shape and mission of the new car.
Talk about taking the battle to your enemy, the third generation of Toyota's Prius hybrid will make its worldwide debut at the 2009 Detroit show. The first official photos were recently released. They show a little larger Prius that is likely packing a more powerful gasoline engine (maybe the 2.4-liter from the Camry hybrid), a bigger electric motor and more powerful lithium-ion batteries. This speculation but would make sense given the rumors of a Lexus hybrid based off the new Prius.
Toyota will also show a battery-powered city car concept in Detroit. Industry speculation is that the concept will be a version of the iQ city car shown at European shows throughout 2008. The Smart-sized car probably will run about on low-cost nickel-metal hydride batteries that likely limit its range to about 40 miles per charge.
Keeping this green theme going, Toyota will show a new plug-in hybrid concept plus a hybrid version of the compact Lexus IS250.
Not wanting to be out-greened, Honda will show the production version of its hybrid, the Insight. Honda isn't expected to hold a formal press conference because journalists have just driven the new car and reports will be published as the Detroit show commences.
The Mercedes-Benz Detroit display will be busy showing vehicles that bracket the automotive world. At one end will be the $1.1 million 2009 McLaren SLR Stirling Moss. Designed with the legendary Stirling Moss' 1955 300 SLR racer in mind, the 2009 SLR Stirling Moss is based on the SLR Roadster but features carbon fiber bodywork. Only 75 units will be produced. The 650-hp supercharged 5.5-liter V-8 rockets the Moss edition to a top speed of 217 mph.
The roofless Stirling Moss features smaller "swing-doors" with a two-piece tonneau cover that can cover either the entire cockpit or just the passenger side. A retractable air brake, like the one on the Veyron, automatically deploys during hard braking from speeds above 75mph.
At the other end of spectrum is the Mercedes-Benz Concept BlueZERO four-door hatchback. This compact five-passenger car is motivated by electric motors. The motors are powered by batteries, or a combination of batteries plus fuel cell, or batteries charged by a generator driven by an internal combustion engine.
Smack in between (for Mercedes-Benz, that is) will be the 2010 E-Class. The new E seems to have retained several of the features that made the ConceptFASCINATION from last year memorable, including the stout, angular nose and four sharp LED headlights. The rear wheel arches feature swept-up, gentle fender flares and new LED light-bar-style turn signals.
As if the regular V-8 powered Audi R8 sports car weren't fantastic enough, there will be a Lamborghini-powered, 525-horsepower 5.2-liter V-10 edition showing in Detroit. We had hoped to see a production version using a V-10 diesel, but maybe later this year.
More achievable for buyers will be the all-new A7 four door coupe concept. This model foreshadows a new Audi sedan to compete with the sleek Mercedes CLS.
One of the few pure show cars to be shown in Detroit will be a version of the Kia Soul. The production version of the boxy Soul was a hit in L.A., as Kia took aim at Scion and landed a direct hit.
Specialty maker Fisker, promises to show their high-performance hybrid Karma sedan -- complete with GM four-cylinder engine -- at the Detroit auto show. Low-volume manufacturers like Fisker bring some much needed eye-candy to the Motor City.
The new two-seat BMW Z4 sports car gets a folding hardtop to go with its complete redesign. We were never fans of the outgoing Z4's styling, and BMW has toned down the ugly considerably on the 2009 model.
Expect minor changes on the Jaguar XK and XF for 2009 to be on display at their stand.
Maserati will add the luxurious Quattroporte Sport GT S to their small family of vehicles. With a 4.7-liter 425-horsepower V-8 (based on Ferrari design), this special edition is sure to keep the Maserati faithful engaged.
MINI will show their new Cooper Convertible. It's what you expect and costs $6,000 more than a base Cooper fixed roof model.
Volkswagen's Concept R will spin on a turntable amid a sea of Jetta TDI diesels. VW could produce the Concept R in a few years, but we think the economy may keep this project from proceeding.
For more details on all the news from Detroit, stay tuned. AOL Autos will bring it to you.
Rex Roy is an automotive writer based in Detroit. He can be reached through his web site at www.RexRoy.net.