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2011 North American International Auto Show: The Renaissance of a Classic?

Click Here to Download the .PDF version of this story

by Robert Powell
rpowell@powellassociates.com

 

|

The Dark Ages

OK, maybe it wasn't a medieval festival with wooden tables displaying unwieldy armor just before artillery was invented, but the last North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) I attended three years ago was not far from it. Cobo Hall was dingy and patchwork leaky, a significant number of the displays had the equivalent of armored horsepower that resembled testosterone extracts on wheels, with the humongous and egregious Hummers sucking up oor space in the same way they suck up gasoline. I didn't even go back for two years, figuring that I personally needed a mental reboot to accompany the design reboot needed by the manufacturers. I think we both succeeded to some extent.

The Enlightenment

For the past couple of years I watched in a slightly unsurprised state as the downturn in the economy dragged the roadway behemoths to the guillotine of stark reality and the companies that built them into a Libertarian's (not me, get real) nightmare of government bailouts. But the slicing and dicing has seemed to at least push the Overton window of "rubber meets the road" transportation into the possibility of acknowledging the realities of both global warming and our lack of control of the world's oil supplies (you do realize that 2010 tied for the warmest year in recorded history, and also the wettest, while 2001-2010 was the hottest decade, right?). Suddenly, with some contribution from screwing the old stockholders, pensioners and the union employees, our auto industry is developing new plans, entirely new car designs and making money again. The 2011 NAIAS was like a hazy but happy childhood sunrise compared to 2008's drunkenly passing out on the curb at midnight.

Tech Displays Galore

I don't think the new Fords will actually climb a vertical surface, but with the technology on display at the North American International Auto Show it's just a matter of time. And it wasn't just the automobiles, which were quite impressive, but the very design of the displays, the electronics, the iPad kiosks, and the relatively seamless integration of these components that gave me renewed hope for the state of our auto industry in Detroit, around the country, and internationally. For the first time, I saw Detroit's cars, and the presentations of those cars, going toe to toe with the best of those from Italy, Japan, South Korea, Europe, and China in the same price range.

My Future as a Futurist (you can help me with this, buy an electric car)

The reality is hybrids and electric cars; the future is nearer than we probably thought. Although gasoline and diesel will probably always have a role in the heavy lifting of industrial needs, most of us will be driving electric cars within 20 years (I'm hoping I can become a futurist and make the big bucks; hear that Patrick Dixon, you'd better watch out). And the plug-in car models were there in large numbers, often setting next to displays of commercial and personal charging stations from GE and other manufacturers. I began imagining one in my garage and rows of them in the work garages and parking lots where we park.

Hopefully we won't run over them or short them out with the 30 gallons of snow that melt off our cars in the garages...Yes, it will require some new infrastructure and changes in habits to make this high-probability reality an actual reality, but this country has faced bigger challenges and mostly succeeded, often when we didn't have a plan or know what we were doing. Since this is at least partially planned, I think we have a pretty good shot at solving some of our major environmental issues, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and still being able to drive cars that will be really cool, fun and stylish. So get out to this year's NAIAS and check it out, it's a great way to spend the day and see the future without resorting to the fantasy of Walt Disney's Tomorrow-land.

By the way, one more prediction because I'm taking this futurist thing seriously; Detroit is making a comeback and it's making it relatively soon. It won't be the same, it will be better than ever. Give it a few years and see.

 

This page was last updated on Mon, January 17, 2011 11:36 PM

 

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