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All eyes on Detroit's debuts

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  January 5, 2009 01:21 PM

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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.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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15 comments so far...
  1. Clifford,
    How did you weasel your way into this jocb of being a writer....
    Obviously you are not American....

    Posted by Anonymous January 5, 09 02:15 PM
  1. The American car companies do not need my hard-earned dollars in their coffers. What they do need is less union benefits and interference to level the playing field as far as costs go, and secondly they need innovation, something American car companies have a long & proud history of doing very well.

    Quite frankly, they've grown fat, dumb and extremely uncompetitive since the 1970's gas shortages. They've had almost 40 years to get their companies together. When they start making better cars, I'll buy one. Until then, I will continue to drive my safe Volvo that is also a good investment as it holds its value (unlike its American counterparts.)

    And, Anonymous, that makes me and Clifford good Americans.

    Posted by USAYeah January 5, 09 02:30 PM
  1. "Clifford Atiyeh edits the Cars section on and is an automotive correspondent for The Boston Globe. He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
    In the garage: 2008 MBTA Zone 1A monthly pass, 1995 21-speed Iron Horse"
    (Source: look up to the right)

    ?? Really?? like a veggitarian judging a chilli contest?

    Posted by 21-speed Iron Horse January 5, 09 03:06 PM
  1. The new Fusion Hybrid looks impressive. Now if only they'd made it pluggable so it could be charged at home, ideally off PV or Wind.

    Anonymous - Clearly you are a coward and know nothing of being an American.

    Posted by Brendan January 5, 09 03:14 PM
  1. Iron Horse,
    Do you know what a sense of humor is?
    Until the Globe thinks you're good enough to have a blog, keep your comments about cars.

    Posted by SteelPony January 5, 09 03:42 PM
  1. "But since the Big Three weaseled their way into $17.4 billion government loans . . ." Excuse me, did I miss something? I believe that Ford, as one of the Big Three, did NOT accept any "bail out" money form the feds.

    Posted by Always Reading January 5, 09 03:52 PM
  1. Always Reading, you're correct - it is just GM and Chrysler. While Ford has not accepted any current loans, the company will likely change its mind should sales worsen further.
    More here:

    Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 5, 09 04:08 PM
  1. Redesign the engine to get 45-60 mph with the same horse power so we don't have to give up the roomy luxury that we have now. There's your answer..

    Posted by Dan January 5, 09 04:25 PM
  1. SteelPony,
    Keep your comments about the artical and not about the bloggers... dont hide behind your computer muscles, lets settle this.. frogpond, 330, be there.

    Posted by 21-speed Iron Horse January 5, 09 04:47 PM
  1. Wow! Good looking cross over ;Cadillac is doing a great job of trying to bring younger buyers to the line and this will take time . What really seems to be a real challange for US automakers is that they keep over producing product forcing rebates and all sorts of programs that effect resale or trade values. Catch 22 .
    A new to the buyer loves the car, loves the dealer gets great service. But when he or she tries to move into a new model 1or 2 years down the road bam! No resale value now that customer that was a possible repeat is furious and moves on good luck US autos

    Posted by Steven Walker January 5, 09 08:24 PM
  1. Re: "since General Motors and Chrysler weaseled their way into $17.4 billion government loans" ... Interesting choice of words. It would be interesting to see that words the writer would use for the finance industry which is refusing to be held accountable, got many more times billions than the auto industry, and if I remember correctly are outright gifts from us, not loans.

    I find it interesting that someone with the name USAYeah and who claims to be good Americans dengrates American products for Volvos. Not saying that a good American has to buy American - but the vitriol expressed unfairness doesn't seem very American to me.

    Some people make up their minds and they will find the means to support their viewpoints what ever they are on any topic. Not just cars.


    P.S. Since the article focused on Cadillac and one person expressed a preference for Volvo I have say after seeing the aftermath of my best friend's Cadillac being hit by a Volvo I would much rather be in the Cadillac.

    Posted by Marie January 6, 09 08:46 AM
  1. I think half the problem is these American companies are making these cars overpriced. I think their products are good, and getting better but who is going to pay 35k for a Ford Flex Wagon. 20K for a Chevy Malibu. These cars depreciate so fast it is contributing to the credit crisis because everyone who buys one of these cars is so upside down in it they will never buy American again. They need to continue to improve their cars, undercut the competitors prices, and start giving services to the customers instead of ripping them off. If that means loaner cars, free service packages, good return on trades for repeat customers then Americans will slowy start to come back to the better deal. We always do!!!

    Posted by Jim January 6, 09 12:20 PM
  1. pop quiz....who do you think owns Volvo Cars???? try Ford

    Posted by Michael January 7, 09 08:59 AM
  1. Will the Honda Insight prices, versions, and actual on sale date FINALLY be released at this show?

    Posted by Erin January 7, 09 01:46 PM
  1. You mean to tell me that bailout money went to create ANOTHER "crossover"!!!! Take the money back from GM, immediately! Did anybody see the gas mileage on this POS?

    I say give all the money to Ford. They, at least, are trying. It is too bad they could not have gotten into the hybrid game earlier and taken some of the early market share. They are a little late to the game and it might take them a little time to pry people away from Toyota and Honda. That is, of course, if their product is as good in quality as Honda or Toyota.

    Why does everybody think Clifford is un-American? Because he said GM and Chrysler "weaseled" their way in to $17.4 billion in government loans. Well, they did. Honestly, their crappy products and crappy business model should have been allowed to fail. End this crossover crap and develop a vehicle that gets 50+ MPG!!! and if it happens to be a crossover, all the better.

    Posted by go_sox January 7, 09 05:22 PM

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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