A parade of positive thinking, paced by new Corvette

Written by New York Times | Updated: Jan 26 2013, 07:45am hrs
Lawrence Ulrich

Cobo Centre in Detroit has 723,000 square feet of exhibition space, enough to spotlight hundreds of new cars. Mysteriously, as journalists gathered here for press previews of the North American International Auto Show, it seemed as if there was room for only one vehicle: the 2014 Corvette.

Chevrolets 2014 Corvette Stingray revived a storied sports car name, ruling the show the way it hopes to rule the street. And General Motors hopes the 450-horsepower Stingraypowerfully reloaded for a post-recession comebackcan help to revive the company in both symbolic and sales terms. The Vette, that most aspirational dream car for heartland buyers, may be a bellwether for Americas recovering car industry and economy: when middle-class strivers feel flush enough to splurge on Corvettes again, the good times may be about to roll.

GM grabbed more attention as its Cadillac ATS won the North American Car of the Year award, chosen by a jury of auto journalists. Cadillac also unveiled the swoopy ELR, a plug-in hybrid coupe based on the Chevy Volt.

Of course, buyers have mostly shunned todays crop of electrified cars. After years of EV frenzy, Detroits show saw a dearth of electric models.

Instead, automakers poured out creamy luxury models, especially in entry- and mid-price territory thats prized for sales volumes and attendant profits. Seemingly unprecedented in blue-collar Detroit, if not at any American auto show: only two non-luxury, truly all-new showroom models were introduced. They were Nissans Versa Note hatchback and the Kia Cadenza.

Emboldened Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50 luxury sport sedans represented the latest attempts to go mano-a-mano with the BMW 3 Series. BMW kept pace with its alluring 4 Series coupe.

Mercedes-Benz will look to conquer $30,000 territory with the curvy, compact CLA sedan, which it introduced to the press on the eve of the shows opening but chose not to display during the public show. It also delighted showgoers with a handsomely refreshed E-Class line-up.

The space-age Nissan Resonance crossover was one bravura concept that had journalists buzzing. And the subtly contoured Volkswagen CrossBlue Conceptimagine a minimalist German take on a Jeep Grand Cherokeeseemed a prime candidate to continue VWs remarkable turnaround in the US.

Highlighting the industrys tussle between power and fuel economy, Detroits luxury gave way to, well, Lutzery. Robert A Lutz, the retired GM vice-chairman who championed the Chevy Volt, was up to his green-tweaking tricks. His company, VL Automotive, showed the Destino, a doppelgnger of the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sedan with the hybrid system rudely replaced by 638 horses worth of CO2-spewing Corvette V-8. If Fiskerwhose production has been on hold for monthscant survive, and Mr Lutz delivers a handful of six-figure Destinos, Detroits show may have produced a future collectible on the order of a Tucker. As an auctioneer might intone in 2043: This primitive plug-in hybrid has a Corvette V-8 under the hood and is actually the last Fisker-bodied car ever made. And as you older folks might remember, Fisker and GM both owed their existence to government aid. Enough fantasy; here are some high points from the 2013 Detroit show:


The exterior of the MDX design study is a near-clone for the production version that goes on sale in the US in summer. The big news for Acuras mid-size crossover is likely to be a front-drive version, with all models powered by a 3.5-litre V-6 of 310 horsepower.


Answering Mercedes-Benzs power-mad AMG unit, Audi cranked up the RS7 and SQ5. The former is a 560-horsepower version of the sparkling A7 hatch, with a twin-turbo 4-litre V-8. Starting from the Q5 crossover, the SQ5 adds a 354-horse supercharged 3-litre V-6.


Bentley sales are booming again. The hand-crafted $238,000 Continental GTC Speed convertible follows suit with a 616-horsepower twin-turbo W-12 engine that booms to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds.


Longer and wider than the 3 Series sedan its based on, the new 4 Series is an opulent coupe that BMW will hoist up the price ladder to meet the likes of Audi S5.


To go on sale a year from now, the Chevy Volt-based ELR coupe will cover 35 miles on battery power before its 4-cylinder gasoline engine starts, generating electricity to keep the car moving down the road. The lavish Caddy should deliver a sportier driving experience than the Volt, but at a price that may approach $60,000.


The seventh-generation Vette rolls into US showrooms this summer with an expected price of $56,000. Its faster and newly refined to measure up with more costly rivals like the Porsche 911.


Fords Atlas design study looked strong enough to hoist the world onto its pick-up bed. The Tonka-like Atlas previews the crucial 2015 F-Series.


Hondas riposte to the Nissan Juke will be a cautious effort, judging from the styling of the Urban SUV Concept shown here. This sub-compact crossover is based on the Fit.


Styled in Hyundais California studio, the HCD-14 Genesis Concept suggests the direction of premium Hyundai sedans to come.


The Q50, a replacement for the G37 sedan, goes on sale in the US this summer with the worlds first steer-by-wire system; electronic controls replace the mechanical link between the steering wheel and turning wheels.


The mid-life upgrade of the Grand Cherokee gets Chryslers new 3-litre diesel, with 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. Chryslers seamless 8-speed automatic transmission will help it achieve fuel economy as high as 30 mpg, Jeep says.


Appropriately, Kia used the luxury-heavy Detroit show to introduce the richest sedan in its history, the Cadenza, which is a sister to the front-drive Hyundai Azera.


With a glowering front end thats one part Predator and one part Kabuki mask, the Lexus IS elicits love-it-or-hate-it reactions.


Based on the Ford Escape compact crossover, Lincolns close-to-production preview of its upcoming MKC looked sharp. But to compete against Audi, BMW and Land Rover, the newly renamed Lincoln Motor Company will also need sharp performance.


Mercedes plans an onslaught of more affordable models in America, led late this year by the roughly $30,000 CLA250 sedan. Looking like a baby CLS, the CLA gets a 208-horsepower turbo 4. The hyper-aggressive E63 Benz sedan and wagon amass 550 horsepower from a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V-8.


On sale in the US in June for $13,990, Nissans sub-compact Versa Note hatchback trades power for economy, scaling back to a 1.6-litre, 109-horsepower 4 that delivers up to 40 highway mpg. The Resonance is an imaginative vision for a future Murano crossover designed by Nissans California design studio.


The Corolla may be a bland econobox, but that hasnt kept Toyota from selling nine million of them in the US since 1968. Still, Toyota wants more emotion in a coming 2014 model, and the Furia design study teasingly suggests the hottest Corolla ever.


The CrossBlue concepts powerful plug-in diesel hybrid unit is said to deliver 89 mpge and a 661-mile driving range. But VW isnt ready to introduce such costly technology in a production version. The CrossBlue melds SUV tradition with VWs new, space-efficient modular construction. The six-passenger mid-size model would also fill a big hole in VWs ambitious, expanding line-up.