Luxury fast automobiles, powerful pickups, innovative prototypes and smart cars dominate the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The era of restraint is definitely over. Backed by a resurgent US market, America's three leading carmakers are presenting the fast, the powerful and the luxurious at this year's Detroit Auto Show.
Chrysler spotlights its jeeps: the Grand Cherokee, the Grand Cherokee SRT and the Compass. General Motors (GM) features two exclusive eye-catchers, the hybrid Cadillac ELR and a next-generation Corvette Stingray sports car.
Ford has its trucks lined up on a large stage. "The market for utility vehicles amounts to almost one third of worldwide automobile sales," Mark Fields executive vice-president at Ford, said. In the US, almost half of all commercially used trucks are Fords, Fields added.
Accordingly, Ford presented a sneak preview of the Atlas, a vision of the future direction of its highly popular F-150 pickup truck series. While rugged, the imposing vehicle is fitted with an EcoBoost engine aimed at improving gas mileage and cutting back on carbon emissions by 15 percent.
General Motors' elegant ATS sedan won the North American Car of the Year award at the Detroit show this week. But GM's main attraction is the ELR, a Cadillac with a hybrid engine that promises an almost 500-kilometer range on its battery. According to design chief Mark Adams, daily commuters will use "zero gasoline and be emission-free."
The luxury car does not yet carry a price tag and is designed for customers who take pride in parking a vehicle like that in the driveway, said GM vice-president of marketing, Don Butler. He argued that is the right strategy despite the present economic situation in the US. "We can sit in a corner, pull a blanket over our heads and hope for better times - or we can live, breathe, make a spectacular impression and declare the times are getting better and we lead the way," he said. "We have decided to be leaders."
The reintroduction of the Corvette Stingray, an automotive legend and heartthrob for car enthusiasts for more than 60 years, was a much-anticipated debut at the show. Product marketing manager Harlan Charles is proud of the two-seater. "We have proven we can build a world class sports car that can hold its own among the world's best - and win."
The quintessential American sports car, on the market later this year, can accelerate from standstill to 100 kilometers per hour in four seconds. The redesigned Corvette has a lighter, aluminum frame and is expected to have improved fuel efficiency. And, like the other vehicles at the Detroit show, it has its share of technical gimmicks. Twelve settings are individually adjustable.
"People expect cars to offer the same features they have on their cell phones, tablets and computers," Charles said. "In the Corvette, we use that technology to help the driver."
That's exactly what Covisint specializes in: the Internet-connected automobile. "We're moving in the direction of making your entire networked life accessible in your car: Facebook, Twitter, your music - and the option to check the oil," Covisint's chief security officer David Miller said. Covisint provides secure cloud computing to link the social media to your car.
"If you have accident," said Miller, "the car doesn't just call the firefighters, it sends your medical information so that the emergency doctor knows your blood group and allergies before he arrives."
Some new auto models already have the technology for secure data transfer, Miller said. Covisint hopes to have the corresponding software on the market soon - if not this year, then at the latest in one or two years. The company advertises its services with the legendary James Bond car, the Aston Martin. The special agent was always ahead of his time where connectivity was concerned - the cinematic version of his car may soon become reality.
From there, it is but a small step to the driverless or autonomous car. Last year, the US state of Nevada issued Audi, Google and auto parts manufacturer Continental permission to test hands-free driving systems. In about three years, Helmut Matschi of Continental said, drivers will be able to let go of their steering wheels in stop-and-go traffic.
An entirely driverless vehicle is not on the horizon - at this point, the system is merely being designed to relieve or support drivers in dull or dangerous situations. It is essential for hands-free driving systems that the car should automatically be able to recognize the driver's line of vision and use an LED display to draw attention to a precarious situation. Weather information and data from a 360-degree view would also be part of the package.
Around-view monitors are already standard in many models, for instance Nissan's new Versa Note hatchback. Along with the sub-compact car's debut, Nissan launched a company fragrance: a delicate aroma, "modern, oriental, with a hint of green tea." The company may not want to rely solely on the attractiveness of its vehicles after all.