North American Int’l Auto ShowChecking out the Chinese

Geely Automobile executives John Harmer and Chairman and founder Shufu Li had to wait to have their picture taken next to their Geely 7151 CK sedan on the show floor until an interested party exited the car.

Who should climb out of the driver's seat but Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda, whom we guess was as eager as everyone else here to see what the first Chinese car ever to exhibit at the Detroit show looked like.

LaSorda got out, took a last glance at the car, appeared to nod at the executives and walked off.

Why Not ZZ Top?

Cadillac’s reception Sunday night left more than a few journalists speechless. The festivities began while General Motors was revealing its hybrid strategy at a press conference.

Just as the press conference ended, a nearby band went full decibels banging out hip-hop music loud enough to make conversations shall we say difficult.

Noted one journalist, straining to make himself heard: “If they weren’t going to bring in ZZ Top, they should have opted for a quieter route.”

More Hip Hopping at the Escalade Party

The Cadillac Escalade is popular with the hip-hop community, and General Motors Corp. wants to keep that going, as evidenced by its edgy introduction of the ’07 fullsize SUV at a media reception during the show.

For entertainment next to displayed models of the new Escalade, GM brought in a legion of energetic young dancers..

It also added a Los Angeles club DJ who played loud, pulsating rap music (some of which featured lyrics that were a bit raunchy), plus a punker-drummer, from the band Blink 182, who had spiked hair and played shirtless, showing off an assortment of upper-body tattoos.

Among them was a Cadillac brand logo on his stomach. A GM spokesman says the body art was done a while back, before the musician was hired for the auto show gig. “We didn’t ask him to do it, but when we heard he had it, we said, ‘What the hell, let’s hire him.’’”

Build It, Already

Early buzz on the show floor has been focused on the Dodge Challenger and whether Chrysler intends to build it. Prevailing opinion says Dodge would be foolish not to put the legendary muscle car on the street.

“Oh, they have to build it,” says a top dealer executive. “In fact, I’m going to hunt down Joe (Eberhardt – Chrysler’s executive vice president-global sales and marketing) and tell him they’d better build it.”

The Chevrolet Camaro has been generating similar buzz, even before its unveiling. Although GM is calling the Camaro a concept, many here expect to see a production vehicle in the very near future, as well.

Chinese Cars, Are You Sure?

The first Chinese vehicles to be showcased at the show here are not products of Malcolm Bricklin’s Visionary Vehicles’ joint venture with Chery, as you might expect given last year’s media hoopla.

Instead, it is Geely Automobile showcasing a Chinese vehicle for the first time, albeit in the lobby of Cobo Hall.

A Few curious onlookers stopped and took a gander at the vehicle, the 7151 CK, while only a few feet away sat Bricklin, with no exhibit, watching Geely execs answer questions.

While Bricklin’s plans for a quarter-million U.S. sales are grandiose and well known, Geely is opting for a more modest entrance.

The auto maker says the plan is to first test the U.S. market by selling cars in Puerto Rico sometime in late 2007. When and if Geely enters the U.S. mainland, estimated sales will be a modest 30,000-50,000 annually.

People Who Live in Glass Houses

Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda rode shotgun as the redesigned ’07 Jeep Wrangler was driven through a plate glass window and then up a steep, faux glacier to a prominent perch across the street from the auto show here at Cobo Hall.

Journalists were wowed, and COO Eric Ridenour was seen hugging LaSorda after the stunt. “Incredible!” Ridenour said.

Outside, a cleanup crew of 20-plus workers was less impressed.

Said one: “You know how a car window breaks in the parking lot and the glass goes everywhere? We’ll be finding this stuff months from now. This sucks!”

Tough Act to Follow

At a post-show dinner, Volkswagen AG CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder introduced journalists to Adrian Hallmark as head of the VW brand’s beleaguered North American operations.

Pischetsrieder boasted of Hallmark’s accomplishments at VW’s Bentley brand, where he saw sales jump 400% with the introductions of vehicles such as the Continental GT.

Turning to his colleague, Pischetsrieder said ominously: “We are only expecting from you slightly less.”

Watch Your Language

Against the backdrop of an industry that has a language all its own, consider this exchange between a journalist and Peter Rosenfeld, Chrysler Group’s purchasing chief.

Journalist: How many of your suppliers are in trouble?

Rosenfeld: We have about 20 on what we call our ‘watch’ list.

Journalist: Is that an acronym?

Rosenfeld: Watch?

Journalist: Yes, W.A.T.C.H.

Rosenfeld: It just means watch. Sorry. I used a real word.

Lids in as Detroit Show Giveaways

It’s auto show tradition for auto makers to present journalists with some type of token or trinket that ties in with the subject of the manufacturer’s press conference or product unveiling.

The giveaways take myriad form, but on the first press-preview day here it appeared hats were the swag of choice for auto makers competing for the hearts and keyboards of the hordes of journalists at the show.

Chrysler Group presented a knit toboggan of the same bright-orange hue as the Dodge Challenger concept car. The moderate temperatures outside Cobo Center didn’t make the toboggan a necessity, but journalists jostled for the freebee, nonetheless.

Chrysler’s cousin Mercedes-Benz also took up the hat theme by giving away more conventional indigo ballcaps emblazoned with “Bluetec,” the auto maker’s all-conquering diesel emissions-control technology.

Mercedes is launching Bluetec this fall, saying it will make the 3.2L V-6 diesel in the E320 CDI the first diesel-powered light vehicle to be emissions-compliant with the latest federal and California standards.

Three’s a Charm for Compact CUVs

Compact pickup trucks now are called “midsize,” and most minivans are anything but “mini.”

Now it appears compact cross/utility vehicles might well be the next models to swell into a new – and larger – size category.

Hyundai, unveiling its all-new ’07 Santa Fe CUV here, reveals the Santa Fe now has a third row of seats, joining the new Toyota RAV4 (also classified as a “compact”) in offering 3-row occupancy.

Hyundai says the move is customer-driven. The company claims no less than 40% of potential buyers desire 3-row seating in a compact CUV.

Matte Finish Deceiving

BMW showed its Z4 Coupe Concept Study with a tasty matte finish that the auto maker says was developed exclusively for the concept car – but don’t look for the unique paintwork in production anytime soon.

A BWM insider says the Glacier Silver finish, meant to give the appearance of low-gloss aluminum, looks simple compared to many of the deep, high-gloss metallic paintjobs evidenced on production and concept vehicles

But the matte effect is highly complex and difficult to consistently apply.

Oh, and it reputedly costs a fortune, too.