An alternative experience of the Detroit auto show

Detroit Picture 1

With some extra time on my hands, I checked out Cobo, the home teams' offerings, and more through a different set of lenses.

Car manufacturers put a lot of time, effort, and money (some more than others) into preparing the perfect auto-show press conference. And sometimes, when we're lucky,;the conferences aren't a drag: Sometimes the scripted speeches are entertaining or interesting. Sometimes the multicolored, special-effect lighting doesn't burn those too-many-flashbulb spots into your field of vision. Sometimes you don't choke on the Smoke Machines Gone Wild at the Ford press conference. Sometimes you can find a chair to sit in if you arrive at a given maker's booth less than half an hour before showtime.

Instead of playing the flittering editor role on the opening day of the Detroit auto show, I played, for the first time, the wannabe-art-director role. And it wasn't bad. Instead of hitting up every third or fourth press conference and filing/editing a story on the newsy cars, I was responsible for making sure that our photographer, Tim Andrew, and our esteemed design editor, Robert Cumberford, hooked up on a handful of cars that we'll be thoroughly covering in our print edition. Those two are pros, so I had ample time on my hands to wander around,;socialize,;and observe what I felt like observing. Some of my observations:

-Last year, Chrysler brought out the superhot Desperate Housewives;star Eva Longoria to help break the cover of its Challenger and Imperial concepts. Times are tougher twelve months later: this year, Chrysler opened the show's main conferences with the help of;chef Bobby Flay. Yeah, I didn't know who he was either (and neither does my wife, who's a much better cook than I), but at least he seemed to do better with his teleprompted lines than Ms. Longoria. Oh, and I'm happy that Chrysler;new minivans;signal an end to;the jellybean era of their offering in the;segment they invented.

-The design of the new Dodge Charger is finally starting to grow on me. Sort of. But if Chrysler had premiered the car in the plum crazy (retro purple) of the Charger R/T that's currently on the stand in Detroit, I bet the reception would have been exponentially better--at least to the Mopar nuts I know.

-Ford's new Sync system by Microsoft has the potential to revolutionize the way we multitask in our automobiles. Let's just hope the system doesn't freeze as much as my home computer does.

-Ford's Interceptor concept could appropriately be described as the Chrysler 300 reinterpreted. But who cares? The 300 unabashedly and wonderfully does the American car (even though it's built in Canada, etc etc). A little rear-wheel-drive competition from Ford and Chevrolet would be more than welcome, in my eyes. And the Ford is smoother, and its racing V-8 sounds great.

-It may just be the bright orange paint and rally stripes, but I think Chevy's Camaro convertible concept looks much better than last year's coupe. I've never been a Camaro fan, but I'm now actually starting to get excited about the upcoming production Camaros. Too bad we'll still have to wait another year or so.

-Just when I finally sat down with my pizza flip lunch after 3pm, I thought it was all over when the bomb-sniffing dogs started going crazy. Or so I thought. It turned out to be the vocal canine participants from Mercedes-Benz's ice-skating-and-dogsledding conference, which;hailed their 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.

-What's wrong with this picture? Prior to the public days at the auto show, alcohol flows freely in Cobo Hall. Let's hope this scenario doesn't play out on the streets: empty wine glass tipped over in the cup holder of a 500-hp Ford Mustang GT500. Nice.

-My favorite concept: the Mazda Ryuga.

Nothing matches an auto show near your hometown for putting the most metal, important people, and excitement into one building. But it sure is nice to set your own schedule!

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