All eyes - including pairs that normally turn blind at the sight of auto shows - will be fixed on Detroit this weekend.
Car enthusiasts with burned retinal images of Ferrari Californias and Corvette ZR1s already know what to expect at the 2009 North American International Auto Show, the industry's first of the year (there won't be any Ferraris, actually, or Nissans or Porsches ...). But since General Motors and Chrysler weaseled their way into $17.4 billion government loans (plus an extra $6 billion for GM and its GMAC financing division, and possibly later, Ford), everyone else is suddenly interested. Interested, that is, to see the cars sell.
Judging by the debuts from GM and Ford, they should indeed. Tired of playing fifth fiddle to the Lexus RX, Cadillac has overhauled the SRX crossover into a tighter, more aggressive package (from January through November 2008, Lexus sold five times as many RX crossovers as Cadillac). The current model's rear-wheel drive, optional V-8, and third-row seating are scrapped in favor of front-wheel drive, a 5.5-inch shorter wheelbase, and a turbocharged V-6. The CTS wagon will also debut, but expect this model to be as rare as a 5 Series Touring around these parts.
The Ford Fusion Hybrid is nothing short of a breakthrough for mid-size family sedans, promising spectacular mileage without looking like an egg (Dan Neil reported 52 miles per gallon in his mixed city-highway testing). The Taurus is also getting a slab-sided makeover at the Detroit show, but the ancient, US-spec Focus remains.
Chrysler, however, doesn't have any new or significantly-updated production models to show. Besides the hairy Dodge Challenger introduced last year, there's nothing but hearsay (Jalopnik reports the possibility of updated 300 and Charger models later this year).
This won't be an easy year for any automaker. But the industry has unwittingly created a spectator sport far better than reality competition shows on television, a literal race to build innovative and unconventional products before the money runs dry. May the best cars (and companies) win.
The author is solely responsible for the content.