BY SHARON GITTLEMAN
Press days at the 2007 North American International Auto Show offered a snapshot of the wobbly economic state of the world’s car manufacturers.
Where new model unveilings once took on the trappings of Las Vegas shows – complete with jaw-dropping stunts, the best word for this year’s event is subdued.
Much of the flash is gone – from the big-name celebrity appearances to the dozens of lavish spreads catered by chefs flown in from Europe for the three-day press extravaganza.
Some thrills still remain.
With thousands of print, radio and TV journalists crowding into the Cobo Conference/Exhibition Center from 62 countries around the globe, the person standing next to you in line is as likely to be speaking Urdu as English, just as in days gone by.
Reporters continue to pack the auditorium and exhibit floor, camera flashes snapping like waves on the ocean. You feel your anticipation building as heart-stoppingly elegant concept cars are driven out onto the stage before you.
And just like last year, designers, engineers and Big Three executives are there to personally take you through their new model’s innovations – from the high-tech features under the hood to the latest trims.
Those in the know might even catch sight of the occasional industrial spy or two, eager to report on the competition.
Several models stood out amongst the dozens of new and concept cars introduced at the auto show.
Ford Motor Company had more than its fair share of stunning vehicles, including the 2008 Focus. The Focus and other models come equipped with Sync, an innovative voice-activated communication and entertainment package arising out of a partnership between Microsoft Corporation and Ford.
At the unveiling, Ford CEO Bill Ford spoke onstage with Bill Gates from Microsoft, linked up by satellite from a Las Vegas trade show, to describe the new system. With Sync, phone calls are a matter of pressing a button on the steering wheel and saying the name of the person you want to reach. Text messages from your cell are converted to audio and read out loud to you as you travel down the road. Features like caller ID, call waiting and conference calls are also available.
You can listen to your iPod or other MP3 player, by speaking up and naming the song, artist or type of music you want to hear.
Sync understands English, French and Spanish.
Small car buyers will appreciate more than the upscale communications technology available in the Focus. Its bold new lines and chrome-bar grille design are just part of the styling changes that make this vehicle appealing. Inside, an option offers you ambient lighting in more than half-a dozen colors through a dash-mounted switch.
Economy wasn’t forgotten.
The Focus has earned an EPA rating of 37 miles per gallon for highway driving.
The Ford Airstream Concept was one of the wilder vehicles at the show. Lucy and Ricky wouldn’t find much they recognize in this futuristic crossover van. While its silver bullet-shaped exterior provides a nod to the 1950s, its geometric-shaped orange trimmed window cutouts adds a touch of 2001.
Inside, you’ll find other ultra-modern features combined with a touch of nostalgia. While the driver and front passenger seats swivel and rotate, in the rear you’ll find a screen that includes a lava lamp setting.
Ford isn’t the only trendsetter.
General Motor’s Volt concept vehicle was introduced, along with the news that the automaker may soon begin production on electric cars that could eventually eliminate the need for gas stations for near-distance driving. The battery-powered Volt lets drivers hit the road for 40 miles after a six-hour charge on a household electrical outlet. The model has a supplemental gasoline engine that can be used to create the electricity to power the car for another 600 miles.
The Chevrolet Camaro Convertible concept model is another don’t miss for auto show visitors in love with hot sports cars.
It is painted orange, a ’70s-style shade you’ll see in abundance on the exhibiter’s floor, along with dulled-down deep-toned metallics.
The North American International Auto Show
9 a.m. – 10 p.m., Jan. 13-20, with no admission after 9 p.m.
9 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Jan. 21, with no admission after 6 p.m.
Cobo Conference/Exhibition Center in Detroit.
Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for seniors 65 and older and $6 for children 7-12. Kids under 6 free.