Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Detroit Auto Show: the other stuff that caught our eye

Since the 2015 Detroit Auto Show itself is now in our rear-view mirror, it's time to wrap up our photo visit with Monique and me with a quick look at the rest of what caught our eye this year.

The Toyota FT-1 concept car. Dang, this thing looks sleek.

Porsche Panamera. Yeah, half a dozen Porsches and the one that really captured us this year was the four-door hatchback. What can I say? We thought it looks great.

Also from Germany, the VW Beetle is still cute as the Dickens after all these years:

Like most convertibles the VW Beetle looks better with a smokin' hot model in the passenger seat.

Mini brought a very cool concept car of their own to this year's show:

The Mini Superleggera Vision. I can't help loving the useless single tailfin down the middle. But even aside from that detail this car just looked great.

Alfa Romeo brought a strong display this year, featuring their return to North America with the 4C:

Alfa-Romeo 4C Spyder

Alfa-Romeo 4C

And, heck, have a few bonus photos of antique Alfas while we're at it:

Much to our surprise one of this year's hands-down best looking concept cars came in the form of a full-size Buick sedan:

The Buick Avenir. This car was long and lean and looked as if it was going 90 mph just standing there on the turntable. Really, the picture doesn't do it justice. If they built this car I could honestly be tempted and the last thing I need in all the world is a full-size Buick sedan. That's how great this car looked.

This might look like another concept sports car, but it is in fact the production version of the new Acura NSX. The NSX is a hybrid-powered supercar built in the US. It's full of all sorts of supercar goodies and will sticker somewhere around $150K. I look forward to seeing how the Stig does with it on the Top Gear test track.

You might think this is Monique behind the wheel of an Acura NSX...

... but in fact she's behind the wheel of a Cadillac ELR, Cadillac's plug-in hybrid coupe, which is based on the Chevy Volt and has a 30 mph all-electric range before the gas range extender kicks in. To be honest, the ELR didn't really make our hearts go pit-a-pat, but if GM wants to compete with Tesla for California's luxury-car commuters, this is probably the car to do it.

Speaking of Tesla...

Monique sits behind the wheel of an all-electric Tesla Model S: 0-to-60 in 3.2 seconds, up to 270-mile range on a single charge, autopilot, and a five-star crash rating.

And speaking of luxury cars, yes, I can see myself in the back seat of this new Mercedes-Maybach S600. This is the sort of unbelievable ultra-luxury cruiser that could one day be a successor for Big Smoky, my ridiculous Jaguar Vanden Plas Supercharged long-wheelbase saloon. (Chauffeur not included with either, alas.) I couldn't get a good picture of the exterior because so many people kept crowding around to peer inside. It looked smooooooth, both inside and out.

This Mercedes AMG GT S sports car grabbed our attention. It looked faaaaaaast.

Another eye-catching concept car, the Mercedes F 015 Luxury in Motion self-driven vehicle:

Not only did it have a very futuristic outer shell, but they had done some real thinking about what it might mean inside if your car drove itself. And what they decided is that the front seats would swivel, so that you could have a nice chat with your passengers while nobody was at the wheel.

Also from the world of ultra-luxury cruisers, Bentley brought another couple of superfast, superluxurious cars to the show:

The Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible in Azure Purple: 626 hp, 605 lb-ft torque, 0-to-60 in 3.9 seconds, and a top speed of 203 mph. I recommend a strap for your hat if you plan to go more than 200 mph in your convertible.

The ever so slightly more sedate Bentley Flying Spur W12: 616 hp, 590 lb-ft torque, 0-to-60 in 4.6 seconds, top speed of 200 mph. It should get you to the board meeting on time.

Our final stop, something from the opposite end of the scale:

The 2015 Smart all-electric convertible. Its range is only 68 miles, but it's cute as can be, incredibly easy to fit into a parking space, gets 93/122 (city/highway) MPGE, and it costs less than 1/3 the price of the Tesla Model S. This looks like a pretty sweet car for a short city commuter, especially someplace with sun.

Our final installment from the 2015 Detroit Auto Show is coming soon: the thing that (sadly) didn't catch our eye....

Friday, January 23, 2015

Detroit Auto Show: The Dodge Challenger Hellcat - Officially Crazy

One of the most popular new cars at this year's Detroit Auto Show is the Dodge Challenger Hellcat:

Unfortunately, I don't really have a good picture of the Hellcat because so many people were crowded around it. But here's a nice front shot of a Challenger RT to remind you all of what they look like:

The Challenger Hellcat became instantly famous because it comes from the factory with a supercharged V8 engine that produces 707 horsepower and a tire-melting 650 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful mass production car in history. To put that into perspective, the cars that race at the highest level of NASCAR will be limited to 725 hp this year because last year's 850 horsepower limit was too much. Those are race cars traveling just over 200 mph with steel roll cages, HANS restraining devices, and some of the best drivers in the world clad in fire suits and helmets.

The Hellcat's 199-mph top speed comes with leather seats, air conditioning, satellite stereo, and a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty.

Stare into the maw of crazy:

It looks so innocent, doesn't it?

One of the things I can't help but love about the Hellcat is that it gulps so much air that they had to convert one of the headlights into an extra air intake just to keep up.

Look closely:

It's like a clever little tracheotomy for the front grill.

Honestly, in some ways I don't really know what to think about the Challenger Hellcat. I've always loved the look of Challengers, both the old ones from the 60s and 70s and the new ones. I had a great time blasting around the California coast a couple of years ago in one that had a mere 305-hp V6 engine. (Sunset in San Gregorio and A Fast Ride in Search of a Sunset.) Believe me, it seemed plenty zippy enough.

And yet ... I want. I want.

There's no rational reason for this car. But it's awesome. Maybe that's reason enough.

Final photo. Since I didn't manage to get a full-car photo of the Challenger Hellcat itself, here's a Challenger T/A concept car with a Hellcat engine in it:

It'd do nicely, in a pinch.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More meandering through the Detroit Auto Show: 3D Printing and Chevrolet

Continuing on through the auto show, one of the coolest displays is by a company called Local Motion. They're using a full-size industrial 3D printer to create a car at the show. It takes them 44 hours to print a fully functional carbon fiber and plastic car (battery, motor, wiring and suspension not included.)

This is what the future of an awful lot of manufacturing looks like:

On to the Chevrolet display:

The new Covette C7.R race car.

Monique sitting in a new Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup truck.

General Motors returned to the mid-size pickup segment this year with the Colorado and the GMC Canyon. The near-total disappearance of new compact and mid-size pickups has been a complete mystery to me, since my own rather ancient Dodge Dakota is a mid-size pickup, and I really like its size. Few suburbanite truck owners or even working truck owners need or use the full capacity of a full-size pickup, so something a bit smaller and more affordable with better mileage makes a lot of sense. But compact and mid-size truck sales really plunged over the last decade. I dunno ... maybe those buyers migrated to compact and mid-size SUVs. Or maybe salesmen succeeded in getting a lot of people to buy way more truck than they needed. But I'm happy to see the segment coming back a bit, since I really will eventually need to replace my elderly Dakota one of these years.

Chevy also had a couple of electric/hybrid cars that caught our eye. Here's the new Chevy Bolt concept car, an electric vehicle with up to 200 miles of range. This starts to look like a pretty practical vehicle:

Chevrolet Bolt.

And here's the next generation Chevy Volt, which has increased its electric-only range from 38 miles to 50 miles and improved its gas-engine mileage from 36 mpg to 41 mpg. If Chevrolet had made this car back in 2008 when we had to buy a new commuter car, we might very well have bought this car instead of our Honda Civic Hybrid.

Most of the pictures of cars coming up in future posts are going to be cool-looking cars that caught our eye. We weren't trying to exhaustively photo-document the entire auto show. But the two pictures of a 3D-printed car at the top of this post and these two photos at the bottom with GM's increasing commitment to electric and hybrid cars are probably the most important photos we took at the show. This is the future of the automobile industry. It looks pretty darn cool.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Continuing through the Detroit Auto Show

Walk along with us as we continue through the 2015 Detroit Auto Show....

A mid-60s Ford GT350 Shelby Cobra sitting among the Ford Mustangs. A smarter photographer would've taken a photo or two of the new 350 Cobra, or at least a 2015 Mustang or two so that you could compare. You've got me. Let's move along.

A new pickup truck looks pretty good on me, doesn't it?

Here's a shot of me standing in the middle of the Lincoln display. I mostly include it as a placeholder to mention one of the most pleasant incidents of the show for us. We mostly stopped by the Lincoln exhibit to enter a couple of songs we really like in the Essential Driving Songs contest being hosted by Ann Delisi and sponsored by Lincoln, Shinola, and Revel Speakers. As it turned out, Ann Delisi herself was there taking entries. She hosts a true bright spot for Detroit radio -- her Essential Music Show -- on WDET from 10 am to 2 pm on weekends. We had a really nice conversation with her about the current state of the business of music and publishing, and learned quite a bit about the business of voiceover talent in the bargain.

Our essential songs? Monique entered "Torque Wrench" by The Reefriders, since it's the favorite of her songs from their album of surfing music, "Two Wave Hold Down." I entered an old favorite of mine ,"Ska'd for Life" by Shu. (I suppose I could've entered "Running Down a Dream" by Tom Petty, but that song just makes people speed. I didn't want to be responsible for the ensuing tickets.)

After our pleasant conversational interlude it was back out onto the floor. Next up, the next generation of the Mazda MX-5 Miata:

Monique thinks it would look pretty good on her.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The State of the Union 2015, a before and after experiment

The State of the Union address is on my mind today. It is apparently a very "State of..." time of year because Michigan governor Rick Snyder is delivering his State of the State earlier in the evening and I finished off my own little "State of the Village" article for Wolverine Lake's January newsletter just last night.

I thought I'd try a little experiment this year and post a few paragraphs before and after, just to see if anything I hear tonight changes my mind about ... well, about anything I think about our the current state of national politics.

Musings Before: Usually I look forward to the State of the Union address, but I just can't muster any enthusiasm this time around. I'm not sure why, but I suspect that it's because I foresee two years of brutal partisan bickering and gridlock in Washington. And so I suspect that what I'm going to see this evening is a set of moderate and achievable ideas -- well vetted beforehand with polling research and focus groups -- that will disappear into two years of vetoes, never to be seen again.

The Republicans are feeling bold now that they have gained control of both houses of Congress. If Obama's domestic policy announcements consisted in full of naming July "Apple Pie Month" I fear that the Republican response would accuse Obama of a government takeover of the baking sector.

We shall see. It's easy to be cynical about national politics in any age. But I don't recall an era in my lifetime that has so fully rewarded cynicism as the proper tool for forecasting. I hate going into this thing expecting to see more evidence that our political system is broken. And yet ... that's all I expect.

Interim Musing: Just watched Snyder's State of the State for Michigan. I thought it was pretty good as these things go. It'll be interesting to see if his "River of Opportunity" attempt to restructure government becomes a genuine effort to improve how government helps people or if it just becomes an excuse for cutting support for the folks who most need it. The rhetoric doesn't really matter, but the reality does.

Musings After: Well, that was considerably better than I expected. I thought the first part was especially strong, where Obama laid out what he was going to try to do and what he would oppose. The latter parts -- when he tried to appeal to idealism and call for bipartisanship, common ground, etc., kinda felt like a rote exercise in things all of us know aren't going to happen, but that poll well.

I don't recall another State of the Union with so few applause lines inserted to give the opposition party a chance to stand and applaud. On the other hand, since the Republicans weren't even willing to applause his long list of current good economic news, what would have been the point?

If nothing else, it set the tone for the next two years. It felt to me as if Obama's now officially given up on trying to appease the Republicans in Congress. Obama's going to send some very popular things to Congress where they will be dead on arrival. The Republicans are going to send a lot of unpalatable bills to the White House, where they will be promptly vetoed.

As a speech it felt as if Obama committed to being engaged for the next two years, something I felt has been badly lacking since his 2012 reelection. Perhaps it's like a racehorse coming around the final corner and spotting the finish line. He has less than two years left to make a final impact, and I'm sure his legacy is on his mind.

Mind you, none of it makes me think anything about Washington, D.C., will be any less toxic over the next two years. But at least we got one decent speech out of it, so these two years have already exceeded my expectations.

Final musing: The content was pretty bland, but that Republican Senator from Iowa who delivered the rebuttal has a big smile and a lot of teeth. Jimmy Carter would be proud.

P.S. Oooh, look. Here's the first post-speech interview with a Republican Congresswoman and I've already heard "shameful", "class warfare", "punishing the job creators", and "not based in the real world". The era of State of the Union bipartisanship officially ended 34 seconds after the end of the opposition rebuttal.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Detroit Auto Show 2015: the new Ford GT

It's Detroit Auto Show time again. Monique and I took our nearly annual sojourn down to see what the automotive world has to offer for the new year. We saw some pretty cool things that I'd like to share over the next few weeks. We'll start with the new Ford GT.

Who says that bitter industrialist rivalries aren't beautiful? The original Ford GT40 was born in the early 1960s after negotiations for Ford Motor to take over Ferrari collapsed amid a dispute between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari over the future of Ferrari's racing program. In a fury at Ferrari, Henry Ford II ordered his racing division to build a Ferrari beater.

The Ford GT40 first hit the track in 1964. By 1966 Ford GT40s finished 1-2-3 at the 24 Hours of LeMans, the first of four consecutive victories at LeMans. A beautiful Ferrari beater, indeed:

1966 Ford GT40 Mk1.

The original GT40 program made cars from 1964 to 1969. In 2002 Ford brought a new GT40 concept car to the Detroit Auto Show. They sold more than 4,000 of the retro-styled GTs in 2005 and 2006.

Ford GT One, the first of the 2005-2006 cars to roll off the line. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

This year Ford brought a new Ford GT to the Detroit Auto Show and announced plans to begin production again with a 2016 launch of the revived supercar. The new GT will supposedly have a supercharged V6 with 600+ horsepower, a 0-to-60 time of three seconds or less, and a top speed of more than 200 mph.

We shall see about the performance, but after seeing it at the show I can tell you one thing for sure. It's every bit as pretty as its predecessors:


I reckon I better start putting away quite a few pennies if I want one of my own next year.