After almost a decade of Best Engines competitions, if there's one thing I can say I've learned, it's to never underestimate Detroit's shortsightedness.

Back in 1995, the first year for Best Engines, we had Ford's Duratec, Cadillac's Northstar, Buick's 3800 Series II.

Eight years later, the Duratecs and Northstars soldier on all but unchanged. Meanwhile, there are so many fantastic new 4-cyl. engines at Honda they're tripping over them in the halls. The Germans are operating on a higher plane of existence. And Nissan's mighty new 3.5L VQ V-6 betters Ford's 4.6L V-8 and makes almost as much power as Cadillac's Northstar (in certain applications) — despite the fact the VQ gives up two cylinders and more than a liter to the two American V-8s. Ouch.

At Ford, the last good engine program was the Triton. A worthy Best Engines award winner again this year, yes, but a truck engine program, circa 1997, showing its age and with no serious passenger-car applicability. Ford's all-new 4-cyl. engine family is good, but Ford doesn't have a car worth showcasing it in.

GM this year enjoys two winning engines. One can be had only in medium-duty pickups. The other, the excellent Vortec I-6, also is for truck-only consumption. Indiana Jones is best-equipped to ponder most of GM's remaining powertrain portfolio, so ancient and dusty is its lineage.

And no Chrysler-brand powerplant was even in the Best Engines hunt.

Those ballyhooed domestic war-chests — swollen with truck profits reputedly squirreled away to succor lavish product development “through the next downturn” — have been squandered on anything and everything but development of future world-class engines.

In the interim, the Japanese and Germans continued to spend, developing versatile, high-tech passenger-car engines — engines capable of doing double duty in the kind of “trucks” to which upscale customers now are gravitating.

“The next downturn” is here, and Detroit at last has thrown out most of its brand-management charlatans. Now the latest executives-of-the-month claim to understand “it's all about product” and swear they're getting back to basics.

You don't need the almighty Wharton MBA to know that great engines are crucial to good product — and as “back to basics” as you can get. Now c'mon, Detroit, let's see some action.