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2009 Detroit Auto Show - Doomsday Defense

Posted in Events on May 1, 2009
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Photographers: Sean P. Holman

It's been said, in sports, that the best defense is a good offense, and if that's indeed true, then the 2009 North American International Auto Show, held last January in sunny Detroit, should augur well for the survival of the domestic auto industry. Ford and General Motors in particular had their strongest show presentations in years, rolling out one nicely appointed and fuel-efficient production model and ready-to-build concept rig after another; just Google "2010 Taurus," "Cadillac Converj," "Fusion Hybrid," or "2010 LaCrosse," and you'll see what we mean. Sorry to say, this year's Detroit show was a bit shy on new truck tech-it's all being unveiled at Chicago these days, and we'll have complete coverage next month-but we did stumble across a few odds and ends during our time at the Cobo Center:

Kudos to Ford for its unabashed promotion of the new F-series trucks this year. While most other manufacturers scaled back the size and appointment levels of their exhibit spaces, the Blue Oval spared no expense, devoting a sizable portion of its floor space to a full-on interactive salon promoting the F-series, including the upcoming SVT Raptor. Strolling through the exhibit, visitors could check out cut-aways of the new F-150 and Raptor suspension, and see for themselves in hands-on fashion how the factory locker works, how "quiet" the rig's sheetmetal is, and how big the Biggest Bolts in the Business really are. (Size does matter, after all.) Also at the Ford booth was the "SVT Raptor Experience," a virtual wheeling simulation that took riders on a high-speed jaunt through a simulated Baja race environment. The hydraulically-actuated cockpit swivels up, down, side to side, and every which way, depending on how skilled or lame of an off-road race driver you were (and by degrees of throttle and steering input you give it). Judging by the crowds this thing drew, it was one of the hits of this year's show.

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First off, the folks at Chrysler unveiled their new Patriot EV. Now, before we all head down to the local dealership, this is only a prototype and we likely won't see it on sale for another year at least. On the other hand, this electric rig-with-range extender (gas motor) would be easy to bring to market from an engineering standpoint since it utilizes existing technology and componentry, and if there's one vehicle in the Jeep model lineup that would fit the bill as a hybrid or an EV, this would be it. (They're also selling reasonably well, too, which doesn't hurt either.)...

...And with the ability to roll for up to 40 miles on electric power alone before the 2.4L World-banger kicks in, your mileage could be...well, in theory, infinite, though Chrysler projects a nominal 400-mile cruising range per tank for the EV. Which, come to think of it, would be almost twice as much as we're getting now from our normally powered Patriot long-termer, so hey, bring it on, guys. Also in the Chrysler booth was a nifty cut-away of the new Ram pickup, which affords up-close views of its revolutionary coil/link rear suspension.

Because a number of automakers pulled out of the Detroit Show this year, the usual basement denizens were able to relocate to the main floor along with the big boys. As a result, show organizers converted the now-empty basement area into a rambling, wooded indoor slalom course, where you could pilot one of any number of electric and/or hybrid vehicles on a pleasant "Eco-Drive" through your own ersatz Jungle Cruise. It was a little dark down there, and if you like the smell of several tons of freshly watered mulch, you'd have felt right at home, but we got a kick out of it anyway. Now, if this doesn't prove Detroit's dedication to making a Greener World, we sure as heck don't know what does.

The Kia Soulster debuted in Detroit, essentially an open-top SUT version of the Soul Scion-fighter that premiered in L.A. last November. Our first impression of the little thing was "X90 on steroids," but then again, with a mild spacer lift, a more aggressive tire, and some sort of limited-slip in the rear end, we think this mini fun-machine could be a cool little runabout in the dunes. If Toyota's still planning on building their ABAT off the Scion xB platform, they'd better get crackin'-looks like Kia's got a production-ready version that's more-or-less ready to go.

Also on display at Kia's booth was the company's latest experimental alt-fuel rig, a 2009 Borrego that runs on liquid hydrogen. According to Kia, the hydro-burner managed to drive recently from San Francisco to L.A. on only one tank of liquid hydro. Now, we know some HD diesels with 35-gallon tanks that could make a roundtrip from L.A. to the Bay on one tank of Number 2, but hey, baby steps on the road to Energy Independence and all that.

Also in the basement of Cobo, we came across this cool-looking homebuilt desert-race rig built by students at the University of Windsor for the SAE Mini-Baja competition. Drive power comes via a rear-mounted 10hp Briggs & Stratton Intek four-cycle mated to a "severely distressed" (i.e., the housing was chopped down, regeared, and welded back together) Polaris PVT/transfer-case gear combo mounted upside-down and backwards from its normal plane of operation.

This in turn drives the rear axle via a simple chain and sprocket (diff) assembly. Suspension is stock ATV issue-A-arms and struts up front, control arms and Fox single remotes in the rear. It's a fairly low-tech setup, it only maxes out at around 10 mph, but it's still "fun to jump," as one of its builders told us at the show. And no, there's no winch on this rig, but with a total vehicle weight of less than 300 pounds, who needs a winch when you can just pick up one end or the other with two hands?

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