I've seen three cars, the new Jaguar S-Type, the Audi TT sports Coupe - both coming here - and the Rover 75 sedan, which isn't being sold in the U.S.
As the oldads say, this trio of designs, particularly the interiors of the Audi and Rover, "changes everything."
It's a new style. Call it "Neo-Retro."
We've seen Neo-Retro before: the '94Mustang with sheet metal touches of the '64 original, the colorful interior of the Mercedes SLK and 's New Beetle. But these were baby steps. The Audi TT interior, the Jaguar exterior and the Rover 75 interior and exterior are giant steps.
Designs such as this matter because, and are taking less than 60% of U.S. passenger car sales this year. All three are off, not just strike-ravaged GM.
Two of these three cars come from the Germans (Rover is owned by, Audi is part of ). It seems they are kicking our bottoms in design. Worse, many of their designers are often Americans who apparently aren't good enough for Detroit.
Let's start with the Audi TT interior (the exterior is great, too). Most interiors in American cars are boring: no color, no chrome, no glitz. The instrument panels are black or grey, and the seats usually match, mouse grey and mud brown. They haven't yet transcended the Teutonic minimalism which came into fashion with the first Ford Taurus.
Let me try to describe the TT interior. There is metal everywhere, not bright chrome but brushed aluminum. There are metal circles over the emblem on the steering wheel, around the air vents, around the dials, around the buttons, around the bottom and top of the shifter, even with screw holes in the metal circles. There's a rectangle of metal over the radio and inserts over the pedals. The theme seems to be the circles, as in the circles of the Audi emblem. It's all stunningly gorgeous.
You just feel good inside the little sports car. I call it Neo-Retro because it's a throwback to the metal brightwork on those dashboards of the '50s.
Next Jaguar. The exterior of the new S-Type is an obvious throwback to the Jags of the 1960s. It is lovely. The competition in this $40,000 to $50,000 class is fierce - Mercedes E class,5 series, Lexus GS 300 and 400. But I predict the Neo-Retro Jaguar look will succeed. You've all seen pictures of the S-Type so there's no purpose describing it. The interior, however, is all Neo and no Retro. That's all right. This is one handsome car and a real alternative if you're tired of the Germans.
The third car is the Rover 75, which I saw at the Birmingham (England) auto show. It is the most Neo-Retro car yet.
I see the scene now. The BMW Germans, who own Rover and apparently are losing their lederhosen on the deal, have finally hit upon something here. I can imagine the internal discussions in Munich.
With the need to create a new Rover that was decidedly not German looking, designers successfully reached back 40 years for their inspiration.
And they pulled it off. This car says "Olde England" in a modern way.
The exterior is a throwback to the '60s. But it is the interior that blows me away. The seats, with piping all around, were like the seats of 40 years ago.
"Its elegance recalls Rovers of the past," is the way the company puts it. And chrome. I haven't seen so much chrome since Bill Mitchell laid it on those old Buicks with spade and shovel. The chrome mines of Russia will be working overtime all next year. At least someone in that country will have a job.
The bottom line: Neo-Retro will sell. Mustang has blown the Camaro away, the Mercedes SLK is a sellout, and they line up for the New Beetle.
Okay Detroit, what are you waiting for? Go Neo-Retro on exteriors where justified, but get indiscriminate on interiors. Bring back the color, bring back the chrome, bring back glitz. Let your new motto be, "Delightfully tacky yet unrefined."
Go ahead, laugh at me. But if you fail to see what's going on here, the domestic share of the U.S. car market could be down to 50% of the car market in a year or two. - Jerry Flint is a columnist for, and former senior editor of, Forbes magazine.