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the 2007 NAIAS, All Others

The North American International Auto Show is an international event (says so right there in the title), and while the domestic two and a half automakers did dominate the proceedings, the foreign brands did not hold back. Here are some highlights:

Toyota showed its assault weapon of choice in the pick-up truck wars, which has been dominated by the domestics as long as there has been a pick-up truck market. The new Texas built Toyota Tundra—and its massive quad cab derivative-- is the first Asian brand truck that might stand a chance against such segment stalwarts as the Ford F150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Dodge Ram. It certainly has the size to compete. And while the Tundra’s power-train options are not as varied as that of its US competitors it will be interesting to see how much of an impact it can make in the most nationalistic of market segments.


Proving that nobody is immune from the Toyota onslaught, the Lexus division kicked off the “F brand” within brand. When it comes to solid luxury, Lexus has no equal, but when it comes to driving enthusiasm and passionate performance, Lexus is left wanting. Like spilled coffee on a messy desk, the Toyota machine is seeping into every open segment, niche and crevasse in the market. The IS-F is the first of the performance tuned Lexi put up to do battle against the M, AMG, and RS branded cars from the Fatherland. With a 400 plus horsepower high revving V8 engine, 8 speed auto-manual gearbox, massive Brembo brakes and stiffer springs, Toyota has the basic formula down. The question remains if all those parts come together in a satisfying package. At the very least, those less hard edged people that went to BMW M or Mercedes AMG because there was little other choice now might find the perfect compromise between bullet proof quality, seamless luxury and at least some sport over at Lexus.


Mitsubishi introduced their new Lancer compact sedan, which shares the global DCX platform on which the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass/Patriot also ride. Along with the updated Lancer, which is actually quite handsome for its class, they showed the “X Concept” previewing the next Evolution. Labeled a concept, I can’t imagine how much more toned down it needs to be to be called production. My guess is that the exterior of the concept is exactly what we can expect on the next Evo X. Most of the interior save for some of the switchgear and the suede dash covering will make it into production as well. With a rumored 300 plus horsepower turbocharged engine, rally inspired all wheel drive, and aggressive handling this will be one fun car.


The BMW group chose to show off a trio of new convertibles, from its premier brand Rolls-Royce to MINI and BMW in between, all brands had a new ragtop of sorts to show off.

MINI unveiled for the first time to the American public the second generation new MINI. Slightly larger in almost every way, the new for 2007 MINI and MINI Cooper S is a very calculated evolution over the last generation which was so successful. The 07 MINIs don’t break any new ground in exterior styling. Underneath and inside is where the redesign action went with a set of new engines and better quality interior materials. Gone is the engine that was developed jointly with DCX and built in Brazil and in comes a new range of engines, this time jointly developed with Renault. The little 1.6 liter 4 cylinder now has BMWs patented fully variable valve lift and timing VALVTRONIC engine technology. The base engine has 120 hp and the Cooper S engine with added turbo-charging musters a 175 hp and 177 lb-ft torque, with an over-boost effect during hard acceleration providing brief bump up to 192 lb-ft torque.

The new MINI Convertible is actually the old MINI with a new name and equipment package. Called the MINI Convertible Sidewalk it is based on the outgoing model and makes due with unique colors, graphics, and equipment.

The most impressive display of hardware at the show was tucked underneath the BMW lounge mezzanine towards the back of BMW’s display. They had every iteration of M car available on the market today parked in a single row—all in sparkling alpine white paint—ready to pounce. Lexus and its “F” cars have a long way to go to match BMW’s rich heritage in the factory tuned category.

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The fourth generation of BMW’s four seat 3 Series convertible, now with a folding hardtop in place of the usual cloth, took center stage up front. The new convertible will come in 328 and 335 guise and offer all the amenities already available on the 3 Series coupes.

The most outrageous car, and one I must confess that I absolutely love for its pure (and fitting) audaciousness, was the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé. This is a larger than life car befitting the long and storied history to the Rolls-Royce marque. With its optional brushed stainless steel hood section and teak wood deck that covers the largest convertible top on the market (while its stowed beneath the belt line) the Drophead is a $400,000 plus jaw dropper. The convertible Roller shares much of its underpinnings and drivetrain with the sedan, but gets unique styling including a swept back grille flanked by menacing looking lights. If I had the money, this car along with its sedan brother would be in my fleet…

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Audi brought their mid-engined super car, the R8, to Detroit with little fanfare, having already introduced it in the streets of New York back in the fall. Based on the Lamborghini Gallardo chassis, the R8 is very much its own car nonetheless. One of the most beautiful cars at the show the R8 is currently outfitted with the RS4’s 420 hp V8 engine but it is rumored that it may eventually have a sport tuned diesel engine in honor of Audi’s diesel powered LeMans winning prototypes.

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What really had people singing over at the four ringed VW offshoot was their ridiculous Q7 6.0 V12 TDI concept SUV. Sporting a 500 hp, 737 lb-ft 6 liter diesel engine, the Q7 concept car was meant to showcase… what I’m not exactly sure. It did have the whitest of white pearl paint and enough bling accoutrements that would make the most ostentatious of hip hop stars happy.

Porsche continued its assault on its good name by introducing an even uglier Cayenne sport-ute. The only saving grace at the Porsche stand was the white GT3 tucked in the back corner. Let us have a moment of silence for what Porsche was, and still could be as proved by the GT3, were it not for the overthrow of the engineers by the marketing and finance departments.

Back in Italian row, where Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini were situated not much new was debuted. Then again, if you’re Ferrari, Maserati or Lamborghini and you flank your lust worthy cars with beautiful models you don’t really need to show much new to keep the hoi polloi journalists salivating. A new automatic transmission for the Quattroporte, 60 year anniversary for Ferrari, and a new engine at Lamborghini sums up the news from Italy.

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So the North American International Auto Show in Detroit may be a home team favorite, but it has enough clout in the world of car shows that even those pesky foreigners show up with serious iron.

A side note about the venue: we get predictions every year that the show will lose its stature if floor space isn’t increased and every year we get grandiose plans to fix this, yet Detroit politics being what it is, nothing ever gets done.

The automakers may complain that they need more space and the journalists may bemoan the idea of coming to Detroit in the winter, but the character of this show would surly be missed if it were changed dramatically or didn’t exist at all. Its relative compact dimensions compared to the foot blistering, time wasting expanses of Frankfurt or even Chicago may worry the organizers and local politicians but not me. You’re blinded by all the sights and sounds the minute you step into Cobo Hall thanks to displays set up back to back and side to side with one another. How interesting would Tokyo or Manhattan be if it were spread out like Los Angeles? It’s the density of sensory delights that makes the Detroit show what it is, and while it could use some more space because of the increasing number of cars and brands in the market, I hope it never grows too large.