Wednesday, January 12, 2005

One of My Favorite Times of the Year

It's the second week in January...ergo, one of my favorite times of the year -- time for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. OK, its true that I am originally from Detroit and I am constrained to say also that I am employed by one of the principal exhibitors at the show. Nevertheless, NAIAS-time is always an exciting time even for only the casual automotive consumer, which pretty much includes everyone. This is the one auto show where you can almost always count on something new. Oh sure, some years a major announcement is made at the Tokyo show, or the Paris show, or even the L.A. show (which tries to steal Detroit's thunder by opening a week earlier). But almost always there is a major announcement or product introduction (or 2 or 3) at the North American show in Detroit.

Note that I said "almost always". Twice, in fact.

This year, there seems to be a distinct lack of buzz around the show, which usually resonates even down here in the Southeast U.S. I caught one interview early Monday morning between a local anchor and Ford's design V.P. , J Mays (highlighted by the local anchor's clumsy effort at being Ted Koppel). Other than that -- nothing, at least nothing truly automotive that has really captured the attention of anyone whose livelihood does not depend on the auto industry.

There have been a couple of interesting developments, however (one of which is particularly significant for the blogosphere). First is the continued push towards alternate fuel and hybrid models. Toyota (and to a lesser extent Honda) continue to reap the benefit of being there "firstest with the mostest". GM (yes, my employer) has made real strides in this arena, too, but just not so publicly as the imports have. GM introduced the Sequel concept vehicle, which is a second generation "skateboard" vehicle, meaning that the powertrain is actually four powertrains, one for each wheel. What this means is, no "tunnel" running the length of the vehicle for the driveshaft. This leads, of course, to a lot of flexibility in design, according to AutoBlog, which has some pictures of the Sequel on its site. This image is from MSN Autos' coverage of the show. GM Sequel The Sequel builds on the technology first demonstrated in the Hy-Wire vehicle a few years back -- namely integration of hydrogen fuel cells into a workable automotive chassis. The key constraint on widespread acceptance of this technology remains, of course, cost.

The second big development is the introduction of the GM Fastlane blog, featuring GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz (no, I am not commenting on this because I work for GM; it was noteworthy enough to be posted about by such luminaries as Hugh Hewitt (favorably) and by Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit (somewhat less favorably)). What is noteworthy about the GM blog is that this marks a significant milestone in alternative media. GM is the largest advertiser in the United States, spending billions each year to promote its brands. This new blog, which may appeal to real car enthusiasts out there, probably cost relatively little to put together. In just one week, though, it's already generated a lot of "free" advertising. It'll be interesting to see how this goes.

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