Steve Cropley's full verdict on the Detroit motor show, plus pics of every show star
Steve Cropley Autocar
11 January 2011

Porsche, everyone agreed, trumped the rest of the car companies all over again. As they'd done in Geneva the previous March, they announced some earth-shattering news at an unbelievably early press conference on the first morning of the 2011 Detroit motor show – is 6.30am early enough for you? – so that for the rest of the day everyone else's news seemed just that little bit tame.

See all the best show pics from the Detroit motor show 2011

The news? The arrival on the stand of a magnificent coupe version of the previously seen 918 Spyder, under its own power, and the announcement that the transfer of long-time Porsche technical boss Wolfgang Durheimer would probably result in the development of some co-operative performance cars between Porsche and Bentley. Bentley back to Le Mans? No one ruled it in… or out.

Ford was the biggest mover among American companies. It showed the promised range of four 'electrified' Focus family vehicles, plus an elegant SUV called Vertrek, obviously designed to unify the European Kuga and US Escape models in their next generations (a couple of years away) and to correct the one criticism of the otherwise successful Kuga: that its rear passenger and boot package are on the tight side.

There were strong claims for the sales performance of the recently launched Fiesta (which JD Power says has raised the likelihood of repeat purchases by customers by nearly 30 points to Honda-Toyota levels), which makes the company very optimistic about the new Focus, which is nearing launch.

Read all the latest news from DetroitRead blogs from Autocar's reporters in DetroitWatch videos of some of the Detroit stars at the show

The thing that raises a question mark over the wisdom and success of this so-far-successful 'One Ford' philosophy (under which Ford will sell its mainstream cars in near-identical spec in all major markets) is that Volkswagen chose this show to launch a US Passat, having launched a quite different-looking (and shorter) European Passat a couple of months ago.

Ford says the same products can work everywhere; VW chooses to differ. Who's right? It's possible they both are; more than ever, it will depend on the individual quality of the products.

The other big American companies, GM and Chrysler, were in cautious mood. GM, having just pulled off the biggest flotation in US corporate history, seemed to be showing how well it could guard shareholders' money. Its only launch was the conservative showing of the Buick Verano (a booted Astra), which is supposed to sell against the Lexus IS and BMW 3-series. It was no oil painting, but had a price advantage. And Buick has been expanding quickly in America.

Chrysler showed what it called an all-new 300C, a very good-looking, typical car so similar dimensionally to the previous model that it just had to use common underpinnings. Whatever, it looked great. Again, Chrysler was otherwise keeping its powder dry. Restraint was evident everywhere, but so was an expectation that sales would now grow slowly.

See all the best show pics from the Detroit motor show 2011Read all the latest news from DetroitRead blogs from Autocar's reporters in DetroitWatch videos of some of the Detroit stars at the show

Chevrolet was cock-a-hoop with the success of its range-extender Volt saloon in being named North American Car of the Year (besting Nissan's Leaf, the choice of European COTY jurors), but Ford was more restrained about the success of its Explorer as North American Truck of the Year. The Explorer used to sell in huge numbers, but it's a bit traditional and a bit huge to be a true One Ford vehicle any more.

Toyota's fightback continued. Company boss Akio Toyoda was present in person to announce the opening of a $50 million US 'safety centre' and to reveal that the name 'Prius' would soon apply to four vehicles: the existing hybrid saloon, a plug-in version, an estate and the so-called C Concept, believed (despite the lack of hard evidence) to be a spoiler for the recent and increasingly well regarded Honda CR-Z hybrid coupe. Ford has just beaten Toyota to the position of No 2 car maker in the US, something you'd have thought incredible a year ago, but no one doubts the Japanese giant's comeback power.

Others? Honda had a couple of nice-looking, right-sized Civic concepts: a coupe and a five-door saloon, which it frustratingly said weren't relevant to Europe. Just who's right about this global car thing? And Subaru's previously seen Impreza concept, a knife-edged coupe-saloon of handsome proportions, looked more plausible than ever.

There weren't many muscle cars (Ford's M3-busting 302 Boss Mustang was about it) but the place wasn't full of implausible electric cars, either. Those there were made sense, as did the consistently more economical conventional cars. This was the car industry on an even keel again, even in America's beleaguered car capital, and it was a very good sight to see.

Steve Cropley

See all the best show pics from the Detroit motor show 2011Read all the latest news from DetroitRead blogs from Autocar's reporters in DetroitWatch videos of some of the Detroit stars at the show

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