No. 924
November 22, 2017
 

About The UjianNasional

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Ujian-nasional.info, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  ). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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Wednesday
Jan162008

Home #428

by Peter M. De Lorenzo 

Rumors of Our Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated. We Actually Did Get Out of Cobo Hall Alive!

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(Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)
Detroit.
Despite being lost in the crush of the media hordes, being broomed at one point from a "restricted" area by GM security handlers and having to suffer through the usual creative bullshit (literally, when it came to the "new" Chrysler) wafting from the executive speeches ("he did not just say that, did he?"), we still found plenty to be excited about at the 2008 North American International Automobile Show. But true to form, our big horsepower dreams were shattered by enough rampant abject stupidity to make our brains bounce like bobbleheads mounted on custom-made Dodge Ram rear coil springs.

Not to mention the fact that we had a massive technical failure with our server, and tales of our premature demise were swirling around the Internet to the point that we had emails piling up in our inbox inquiring about our health, mental state, "Hey, can I have the green car?" etc., etc. Of course, for some, it was an opportunity to heap derision and shout with joyful glee, reminding me of what the great Mark Twain once said: "I refused to attend his funeral. But I wrote a very nice letter explaining that I approved of it."

But hey, we're back (and with a new look, too, see "On the Table" - ed.), and we're ready to take you through the show.

Speaking of which, the 2008 NAIAS was a study in contrasts, obviously, with virtually every story written to date pegging the show as being a cultural war between Good (Green) vs. Evil (High-Performance). I'm not buying that angle, however, because it doesn't get at the real story. Yes, there was plenty of Green washing over the show with enough hybrids, 2 mode hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cells, bio fuels and every other environmental idea you could imagine floating over the proceedings like an Emerald Happy Mist, but that was just part of the story.

The real story is that for two years in a row now Toyota got shoved to the side and didn't generate the big news here, unless you read The Toyota Times (aka The New York Times), which is still happily functioning as Toyota's house organ (at least until the personnel change in their Detroit Bureau takes place and until further notice). No, the news came from GM, which continued its highly aggressive product offensive on all fronts, including everything from advanced alternative propulsion systems all the way up to 550HP Cadillacs and 650HP Corvettes. And from Ford, with their newly-energized focus bringing more than a glint of hope to their future product lineup - and to their future, period - where none existed before.

But, of course, it wouldn't be a Detroit auto show without a double helping of smoke and mirrors coming from the "new" Chrysler (ugh), per usual, and from new sources for empty-suited merriment like Henrik Fisker, who we wish would just go away never to be heard from again (talk about someone squandering a legacy - yikes).

Hell, for a mildly amusing diversion we even had a phalanx of Presidential candidates and their entourages parachute in to the show so they could ramble on vaguely about Michigan's "problems," as if we all suffered from a medical condition that needed to be addressed. That they confirmed that they knew little about this state and that they didn't have the first clue as to what they're talking about when it comes to the domestic automobile business (except for maybe Romney, who's an ex-homey) was not a surprise. It also wasn't surprising that their measurable impact on the proceedings was less than zero, either.

The rest of the story in Detroit? The 2008 NAIAS came down to the cars, trucks and concepts that were worth a second look, and the ones that weren't. Simple, right?

With that, let's get into the highlights.

We're The All Things to All People Car Company, Didn't You Get the Memo? BMW unveiled yet another niche vehicle, the X6, which is one of the leading contenders for our 2008 AE Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking Award. A 5-series with a bit more ground clearance and enough headroom for your traveling troupe of Shitzu and Corgi circus-dog performers, the X6 "crossover" is a dismal conflagration of design ego and runaway BMW arrogance built with the sole purpose in mind of relieving blindly loyal Bimmerphiles of their wallets. We're still wondering when - and if - BMW will ever get over their sick compulsion to have one of their products in every driveway in America. They're officially beyond tedious - and so is the X6.

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(Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)

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(Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)

Jason's Last Big Idea? No, Just The Most Recent. Jason Vines' last big promotional brainstorm as Chrysler's PR Chief (he is joining Compuware in the same capacity) involved rounding up 120 head of cattle and staging a cattle "drive" right in front of Cobo Hall, complete with cowboys. It was a brilliant stroke that got tremendous media coverage - complete with humping steers - and it was quite the buzz. But was it just another case of the hype outdoing the reality? Pretty much.

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(Chrysler)

Once you got past the "riding herd" over the competition and "all hat, no cattle" jokes, the new Dodge Ram pickup has issues. Or one big one, anyway. The new Ram has a Dodge Charger-esque front end grafted on to it, which on one hand suggests a California Kustom look, but on the other "softens" the truck too much, which pickup owners are notoriously fickle about. It does have several detail upgrades and improvements especially in the interior and the pickup bed, and it boasts rear coil springs, but is it in the F-150 or Silverado league? No. The bottom line? The new Ram looks like it was aimed at people who aren't hard-core truck buyers necessarily, which could be problematic at best for a company that's allegedly on the comeback trail and desperately needs the new Ram to be a home run. It's a giant "we'll see" at this point.

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(Chrysler) 

A New Day for Chrysler? Uh, Not So Much. Take a good long look at the shot below, folks, because it may be the last time you see these three guys in the same photo again. With rumblings of bickering between "Minimum Bob" Nardelli and "Captain America" Press becoming more widespread, and the growing discontent within Cerberus over the whole "we bit off more than we could chew" thing with their purchase of Chrysler, all signals point to the fact that Chrysler's long national nightmare is far from over. Despite Deborah Wahl Meyer weighing in with yet another advertising launch of a "new" Chrysler (how many does this make, now, like five in the last ten years?), there is nothing new about this latest version of the "new" Chrysler. Period. The new Ram pickup is a good effort, but it's not good enough. The rest of their product lineup is suspect, at best, and their concepts continue to amaze with their uninspired irrelevance. Nardelli got up and bored the assembled multitudes before the cattle drive shtick with a rambling diatribe that insisted that Chrysler's indeed has it goin' on. The only thing Chryslerbus should have goin' on at this point is crafting an exit strategy after they dump the whole shebang to Carlos Ghosn.

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(Chrysler)
The Three Amigos? Not. This may be the last time you see these three guys - Tom LaSorda, Bob Nardelli and Jim Press - in the same photo again.

These Guys Couldn't Spell Design Legacy if You Spotted Them The "L" and the ACY." Chrysler Design continued its recent string of major disappointments by unleashing three underwhelming concepts in Detroit where one would have easily sufficed. I have no idea what the problem is at this point, other than the fact that a change in Chrysler Design leadership is long overdue and has been for quite some time. The Dodge ZEO and Jeep Renegade Concepts would never have made the cut at Chrysler as recently as five years ago, but perhaps at this point they're the best that this company can muster. It's almost as if these people are just going through the motions. This was the one show where Chrysler desperately needed to shake the rafters at Cobo with a hot concept or two, and they couldn't deliver. Ironically, the ecoVoyager (a futuristic minivan/crossover execution) was given a design award at the show, and it is clearly the best of the three, but even that concept isn't something people are going to look back on in a couple of years and say "wow." With Chrysler leadership failing at the top and Chrysler Design failing to inspire, it all adds up to being not very good for the No. 3 (and fading fast) domestic automaker. Not very good at all.

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(Chrysler)
The most tolerable of the Chrysler Concepts, the ecoVoyager was a futuristic crossover that still veered dangerously close to rolling blob territory.

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(Chrysler)
The Dodge ZEO (Zero Emissions Operation) was a resounding disappointment and yet another fall down the ladder for Chrysler Design.

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(Chrysler)
This Jeep Renegade concept paled next to the Hummer HX concept. Jeep executed this idea better about seven years ago, ancient history for Chrysler Design these days.

Hits, Misses For Ford. As I said earlier, with their newly-energized focus bringing more than a glint of hope to their future product lineup - and to their future, period, where none existed before - there was a definite glow of optimism around the Ford display. The Verve small car concept tips off consumers on the direction of Ford's burgeoning small/compact car thrust into the U.S. market beginning in 2010, and it's really good. Too bad the company needed it yesterday, but at least they know where they're going with it.

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(Ford) 

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(Ford)

They Don't Call It "The Franchise" For Nothin'. You can take all of the adjectives you can muster like tougher, better, stronger, etc., and attach them to the 2009 version of Ford's F-150 pickup, as it represents an evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary step in the development of America's most popular vehicle. New for this year is the Platinum series (shown), which will be the top of the line for the F-150 lineup when it arrives at dealers next fall. Though I expect the new F-150 to be a formidable competitor, with GM offering its outstanding 2 Mode Hybrid system in the Chevrolet Silverado pickup beginning next fall, Ford is going to have its work cut out for them.

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(Ford) 


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(Ford)

In the spirit of showing the Detroit auto show before we actually got to the show, Ford revealed the Freeman Thomas-designed Explorer America concept last week to the media. The Explorer America is said to deliver an approximate 20 percent fuel economy improvement with Ford's EcoBoost system, while it provides room for six and their gear, along with moderate towing and off-road capabilities. It also forecasts, of course, what the next Ford Explorer will look like, and the fact that it will be a car-based crossover rather than a body-on-frame truck-based SUV. We liked it.

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(Ford) 
Jim Farley introduces the Explorer America Concept vehicle at Cobo Arena.

Oh Well, At Least We Liked Half of It Anyway. Ford billed the Lincoln MKT (already dubbed officially by us as the "Mickey T") as a "premium utility concept vehicle unsurpassed in its balance of spaciousness, comfort and fuel efficiency that shows customers a new way to tour in style." That's all well and good, but when the vehicle looks like this thing, it doesn't matter how good the powertrain is. As a platform to showcase Ford's latest advanced 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine (with turbocharging and direct injection) which produces 415 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque - an impressive 118 horsepower per liter - the MKT is promising. The rest of it? Uh, how about no?  "We envisioned this concept as a modern grand tourer, really a Learjet of the road," said Peter Horbury, executive director of Design, The Americas. "With the Lincoln MKT concept, you find a premium utility that could as easily accommodate a business person slipping into the back seat on the way to his or her next meeting in the chaos of Manhattan as a family packed up for a weekend getaway to the coast." Except that any right-minded business person wouldn't be caught dead in this bustle-backed monstrosity. At least the interior was tasty.

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(Ford)

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(Ford)
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(Ford)

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(Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)
Honda Shows Up With The Sublime and The Ridiculous.
Honda is my favorite Asian car company because it has always been about the motors as its company name - the Honda Motor Company - attests. Honda always seems to get it together to build excellent stuff and racing has always been part of the culture of the company, which makes it even better. We loved 97 percent of the CRZ concept in person – a modern-day successor to the sweet CRX of old - with only the wildly overdone front-end detailing preventing the car from being truly fabulous. But at the other end of the Honda spectrum lies our No. 2 candidate for the 2008 AE Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking Award - none other than the Honda Pilot concept. A thinly-disguised production model, the new Pilot is a mediocre mishmash of every chunky crossover/SUV design cue of the last five years thrown together and topped off by a cheese-grater grille that looks like it was designed by one of their Asimo robots. There is not one thing that suggests this new Pilot came from Honda except for the “H” on the aforementioned joke of a grille. This one pegged the AE wince meter, folks. (More Honda images by Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info HERE)

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Toyota
Despite its Smug Air of Superiority, Toyota Gets Accustomed to a New and Uneasy Feeling - Serious Competition.
It's no secret that Toyota pulled the rug out from under the rest of the industry when it came to building - and hyping - its hybrids. And now that Toyota is on top of the Green Mountain, it isn't going to be easy to knock them off of it. In the past, Toyota operated in a rarified atmosphere unchallenged by any other manufacturer when it came to the business of being green, but that's not the case any longer. For the second NAIAS in a row, Toyota played second fiddle to a competitor, and even though they replied with their usual arrogant pronouncements implying they're not worried and that they expect the good times to keep rolling, trust me on this one, they are worried. More on GM in a bit, but suffice to say Toyota is having to deal with the fact that GM is starting to win the PR war when it comes to Green marketing, and Toyota doesn't have an answer for a reawakened GM right at this moment. That said, a few things at the Toyota stand were worth mentioning. We liked the funky little A-BAT compact hybrid pickup concept, didn't really care for the unfortunately named Venza compact crossover thingy at all, and absolutely <i>loved</i> the LF-A Roadster, which was gorgeous up close. (more Toyota images HERE)

Audi's Big Leap Leaves the World's Other Manufacturers in the Dust. Audi unveiled a concept version of its new R8 sports car in Detroit that is powered by an engine inspired by its 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning V-12 turbodiesel. The R8 turbodiesel concept has a 500hp, V-12, 6.0-liter turbodiesel engine using lessons learned from the 650hp, 5.5-liter, V-12 diesel found in Audi's all-conquering R10 prototype racing cars. By testing the waters with this concept for a production turbodiesel sports car, Audi is distancing itself from the world's other manufacturers when it comes to pioneering and proving new technologies through racing and then subsequently applying that technology to its production cars. Memo to the rest of the world's manufacturers: The Game has changed. If you're not operating a racing program that is proving Green technologies for production applications, then you're going to be left behind down the road when it really matters. 

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(Photo by Colleeen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)
The R8 turbodiesel concept is powered by a 500hp, V-12, 6.0-liter turbodiesel.

From the "We Tried to get Excited About VW, But Couldn't Quite Get There" File. The VW Passat CC, at first blush, was cool with its Mercedes-like "4-door coupe" styling, but when rumblings of the price point surfaced (it's around $50,000) it became apparent that this is a Phaeton Jr. and that VW is right back where they have been over the last five years. And where is that, you might ask? Beating their heads against Audi in the market. Taking the lead from their maniacal leader, Ferdinand Piech, VW executives refuse to accept that VW is slotted in the $20-$35,000 Hell in the U.S. market in perpetuity and keep trying to position themselves like Audi, but different, or some such nonsense. Well, it didn't work for the Phaeton, and it's not going to work with the CC, no matter how nice looking it is (and even that is questionable, as the design seemed to age right before our eyes). We went back three times to look at the CC just to make sure. Yup, it's just a giant Not So Much.


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(Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)

Firing on all Supercharged Cylinders - with a few Batteries and Fuel Cells Thrown in for Good Measure - GM dominates the 2008 NAIAS. For a company that was left like a steaming hulk by the side of the road not that long ago, the transformation of GM has simply been incredible. It's one thing for a company to do cool concepts and a few hot production vehicles to signal that they're back and that they get it, but since Bob Lutz grabbed this organization by the lapels and willed it to greatness, GM is now operating at a level product-wise that is surpassing even its own Glory Days, back when it dominated the auto industry. The magnificent Corvette ZR1 you know about, but what it represents is still mind-boggling. A limited-production supercar that goes 0-60mph in the mid-3-sec. range, tops 200 mph yet is tractable in everyday driving and even delivers outstanding fuel economy on the highway for the performance envelope it operates in is beyond remarkable. And all for around $100,000? I'd say that qualifies as amazing. If this truly is the end of the Big Horsepower era, then this car represents a milestone in American automotive history.

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(GM)
The Corvette ZR1.

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(GM) CTS-V
BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz Get Some Company in the Fast Lane. For Real. The 2009 Cadillac CTS-V is everything that the original CTS-V and subsequent STS-V promised to be but didn't quite deliver. The next-generation CTS-V has an aggressively refined aerodynamic package, tweaked suspension, big brakes, a 6.2-liter 550HP supercharged engine and a tasty interior that is detailed for the enthusiast driver. Another "no excuses given, none asked for" grand slam home run from GM. (for more CTS-V images click HERE)

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(GM)
Dumb Name but a Peek at a New Smaller and Smarter Crossover for Cadillac.
The Cadillac Provoq Concept is a crossover that's smaller than the current SRX based on GM's E-Flex vehicle architecture, which will also be used in the Chevrolet Volt. The primary difference is that the Provoq Concept is powered by GM's latest generation hydrogen fuel cell system, instead of the electric with ICE assist system utilized on the Volt. Good from every angle, this design study could see production by 2011 with conventional and hybrid powertrains. Hydrogen? Who knows? (click HERE for more Provoq images)

Saturn Moves to the Fore, Comfortably Ensconced in GM's Happy Green Valley. Though Saturn has suffered through some product marketing missteps of late, with an underfunded Aura launch that got lost in the shuffle being the most glaring example, the new combination of German Opel-based products and GM's latest green technology could prove to be a boon for Saturn fortunes. The Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid is due at the end of the year and the Saturn Vue 2 Mode Plug-in Hybrid, which may arrive as early as 2010, both signal that GM isn't going to sit idly by and let Toyota have its way in the green marketing battle.


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(Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)
As GM spreads its 2 Mode Hybrid technology throughout its divisional stucture, individual brands will benefit. In this case the Saturn Vue Green Line arrives at the end of the year.

Now on to the odds and ends, Bests, Worsts, etc., and our annual AE NAIAS Awards.

Yes, the Hyundai Genesis has Potential, but Our Hype Meter is Going Off Because It Ain't No BMW or Cadillac CTS, No Matter How You Slice it. Not even close, actually, but that didn't prevent Hyundai executives from overpromising this car whenever they had the opportunity (it will out handle a 5 series!). The Genesis is the rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan (or near-luxury, depending on how you view it) designed for the U.S. market that's due to arrive next summer. As we said last week, this is the vehicle category that the Koreans have been hot to enter for years, and several American executives who were blessed with brains and a sense of reality lost their jobs while trying to talk sense into the Koreans suggesting that this move was a recipe for disaster. But true to form, and while ever-marching to the dulcet tones of the sounds of their own voices, the Koreans are barging into a segment with the wrong car, at the wrong time, with the wrong dealers and the wrong brand name. But hey, other than that we'd call it a brilliant move.

We Gotta Better Idea, Turn This Thing Into a Boat Anchor And Drop it in the Detroit River. Scoring a rare clean sweep of our least desirable manufacturer awards - and with more creases in its bodywork than the table cloths at a dry cleaning convention - the Mercedes-Benz GLK smaller crossover is an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions and winner of the 2008 UjianNasional Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking Award (but Best Imitation of a Subaru Masquerading as a Mercedes). How this company can put a three-pointed star on this abomination and call it "good" is beyond me. And judging by the tone and tenor of the murmurs around the vehicle, I was certainly not alone in my opinion. And of course, it didn't help that Mercedes enlisted long-past-her-prime Kim Cattrall to help introduce the GLK in a (painfully) scripted interlude with Dieter Zetsche, either. Ungainly, homely and a flat-out insult to the once-proud Mercedes-Benz brand, I can just imagine the runaway delusional thinking that went into the development of the GLK (let's see, how 'bout we just make a Junior G class! Ya!). Mercedes has now officially become the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde car company, swinging wildly between The Good - the S class and the AMG stuff - and The Bad - the trucks, SUVs and crossovers, R class, etc. - with the GLK being the new low point. These just guys don't get it. And even worse, they think the rest of the world is out of sync with them. All together now, Not Good.  

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(Photo by Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)
Even the Sport version of the GLK couldn't mask the folds, creases, and abject stupidity going on in this design.

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(Photo by Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)
It's rare when a contemporary piece of automotive design can be described succinctly in one negative word, but the Mercedes-Benz GLK takes the cake. Tragic.

The five-minute intro that was four minutes and 37 seconds too long. GM's reveal of its new Saab 9-4X and Hummer HX concepts began with a tremendously talented juggler who did his thing to a Beatles song. Repeat those words and then imagine how tedious this really was. Now, I have nothing against jugglers per se and I've always loved the Beatles, but together? Yikes. This one went right into the Just Shoot Me File.
Fortunately, the concepts were great looking, or it would have been a real dud. As it was, the audience was noticeably relieved when it was over. Last seen, the Juggler Guy was wandering off to the Chrysler exhibit to see if they wanted him to juggle the rear coil springs out of the new Dodge Ram.

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(GM)

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(GM)

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(GM) 

Most Significant Thing at the Show That Wasn't a Car. General Motors announced a partnership with Coskata Inc. to use the company's breakthrough technology that affordably and efficiently makes ethanol from practically any renewable source, including garbage, old tires and plant waste. Coskata uses a proprietary process that leverages patented microorganisms and bioreactor designs to produce ethanol for less than $1 a gallon, about half of today's cost of producing gasoline. Coskata's process addresses the issues most often raised about grain-based ethanol production. According to Argonne National Laboratory, which analyzed Coskata's process, for every unit of energy used, it generates up to 7.7 times that amount of energy, and it reduces CO2 emissions by up to 84 percent compared with a well-to-wheel analysis of gasoline. Coskata's process uses less than a gallon of water to make a gallon of ethanol compared to three gallons or more for other processes. Coskata, based in Warrenville, Ill., can use its technology practically anywhere in the world where a carbon-based feedstock is available. For GM, this could lead to joint efforts in markets such as China, where growing energy demand and a new energy research center could jumpstart a significant effort into ethanol made from biomass, Wagoner said. More immediately, GM will receive the first ethanol from Coskata's pilot plant in the fourth quarter of 2008. The fuel will be used in testing vehicles at GM's Milford Proving Grounds.

Quick Hits, Etc. The Ferrari F430GT Scuderia display was set up like a giant elevated car model box with just one car in it. Magnificent. And oh, by the way, the models in the Ferrari display were Best in Show, too, hands-down, not that I noticed or anything. And despite their bone-headed X6, the BMW 1 series was damn near perfect. We have no idea what it will do to the 3 series sales, but who cares?

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(Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)

The Chinese manufacturers were present, and they provided the media with stories that wrote themselves, but the fact of the matter is that they're nowhere near ready. Yes, they're learning curve will go quicker than the Koreans were able to do - blah-blah-blah - but the bottom line is that they're not ready, and their vehicles aren't even close to being ready. Not to mention the fact that it will take years for them to establish dealer networks in this country. We'll give them a serious look in five years.

Now, on to our big awards.

Best Concept Interior.
The Nissan Forum crossover was unfortunately hyped by Nissan as some sort of uber-Mom-mobile, and they completely missed the point about their own concept, which surprisingly enough, isn't that unusual in this business. Nissan got caught up in all of the Forum's alleged parenting-assist functionality and forgot to just stand back and admit reality, which is that the Forum interior is sumptuous and beautiful. And they should leave it at that and stop talking.

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(Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)

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(Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)

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(Colleen Egan for Ujian-nasional.info)

Most Fun Concept and Jeep's Worst Nightmare. The Hummer HX Concept clearly telegraphs the direction of the upcoming smaller H4 for the Hummer lineup. We saw this concept just over a year ago in unfinished form (no interior) and loved it. Since then, GM has refined and tweaked it, and given it a sparkling interior - and we love it even more. The good news? This is the future of Hummer in that this vehicle will be built, and make no mistake - when that happens it will be the Jeep Wrangler's worst nightmare. The bad news? It's three years away at the earliest. Fun, funky and imaginative, the production version of the HX will be slated for a small diesel or a 2 Mode hybrid configuration, or both, when it hits the market.

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(GM)

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(GM)

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(GM)

Best Blue Sky Concept That Might Actually Be Seen Outside of an Auto Show. The Mazda Furai Concept wraps Mazda's latest design language on a Courage American Le Mans Series prototype chassis. It's simply fantastic in the flesh, and if Mazda decides to actually race it, it will be even better. We'll show you one photo here, but you can see more photos and read about the Furai's significance in this week's Fumes column.

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(Ford)

Best Concept and Best in Show. After clearly dominating the auto show circuit over the last several years, GM Design has now officially reestablished itself as the global leader in automotive design for the first time since the end of the Bill Mitchell era in the early 70s. At the 2008 North American International Auto Show, GM Design once again put on a show that overshadowed its competitors. But not only is GM winning the design concept competitions, it's bringing more design-leading production cars to market at this point in time than any other manufacturer, too, with cars like the Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Malibu, Corvette ZR1, Saturn Aura, etc.

Back in the glory days of GM Design ("Styling" way back then), the company did the same thing. While it was showing concepts that blew everybody else away, the real secret of GM's dominance back in its heyday was that Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell had an uncanny knack for translating what was going on in the halls at the GM Tech Center into production realities for the masses that were like concept cars for the street. And now GM Design chief Ed Welburn has managed to capture that same spirit by leading his troops to do great work for the auto shows while making sure that the stuff that gets to the street doesn't get watered-down in the process. Bob Lutz deserves much of the credit for the rebirth of GM Design, too, because from the moment he set foot in GM he made it his crusade to give the car business back to the creative leaders of this industry - the designers. And he succeeded.

GM Design's legacy is the richest and most highly decorated in automotive history, and I can confidently say now that they have reached the mountain top again. Now the work really begins. "Complacency Creep" must be ruthlessly purged whenever it rears its ugly head, and Ed Welburn and Bob Lutz must keep the troops focused, because in the end, design is the crucial initial product differentiator in this business, and it will grow exponentially in importance as this industry moves into an environmental technology-driven cycle.

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(Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for GM)
Our Best Concept and Best in Show is the stunning Cadillac CTS Coupe Concept. Penned, and I do mean penned (without computer), by GM Design's John Manoogian II (with assistance by Bob Munson and Paul Scicluna, lead designer and lead sculptor, respectively), the CTS Coupe is exquisite and pure, with the kind of emotional tension that all great automotive designs throughout history have shared. Every taut line and surface detail of the CTS Coupe is perfectly executed and beautifully rendered, and it just glistens and glows with a presence that reminds me all over again why this business can be exciting.

The Cadillac CTS Coupe Concept is unveiled at the 2008 North American International Auto Show on Monday. (Click HERE to view CTS Coupe Concept Gallery)

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(Photo by Steve Fecht for GM)
General Motors Vice President Global Design Ed Welburn unveils the Cadillac CTS Coupe Concept.

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(Photo by John F. Martin for GM)

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(Photo by John F. Martin for GM) Cadillac Exterior Design Director John Manoogian II (left) and Cadillac Interior Design Director Eric Clough display the Eyes On Design Best Concept Car award for the Cadillac CTS Coupe concept at the 2008 North American International Auto Show yesterday.

And the best news about the CTS Coupe? It's a "go" program for GM. I have no details on the timing, but I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't appear in the fall of '09 as a 2010 model.

That about covers it for the 2008 version of the NAIAS. Despite the dismal economy and the fact that 2008 is shaping up to be a miserable year in this business, there's still a lot to be excited about as far as I'm concerned. We're embarking on a new era that will be filled with new challenges and the fact that design is back in the forefront of importance for this business makes me happy.

Thanks for listening, see you next Wednesday.